Last night I got mad at my students who admitted that they haven’t been reading Paradise Lost, who admitted that they haven’t read any of the books, who admitted that they read Spark Notes, that they “skimmed” it, maybe, sort of. Many of those who admitted this made As on the test. I knew that this was the case. It was no surprise, but I cracked clean down my center. And I sent them this:
The world needs critical thinkers. The United States needs critical thinkers. If you do not think critically, if you are not willing to risk your own discomfort to broaden your mind, then you are one of the masses of people who can easily be taken advantage of. If you are not willing to ask questions, to doubt things, to probe into things, then your mind will never open and no light will get in there. The most important thing, the REASON for education is to outfit you for this world, to give you a fighting chance to DO SOMETHING with your life. But if you aren’t willing to listen to other opinions and ideas, you will never move forward and become part of the great, global conversation.
But maybe none of this is important to you. Maybe you don’t want to think or question or doubt. Maybe you don’t want to read important books and take risks. Maybe you want to hold on to the same ideas that you were taught and never, ever move beyond them. Just think of the old south. Hell, just think of the current south. If people had not been willing to THINK and LEARN and LISTEN, then there would be no civil rights for black people. We would still have Jim Crow, the maid would still enter through the back door. If not for critical thinking and courage, it would still be okay for a husband to rape his wife and beat her, and his kids, too. If it weren’t for stubbornness and courage, women wouldn’t have the rights they have today—just think, women were beaten and sent to prison and even force-fed during the suffrage movement. EDUCATION and CRITICAL THINKING are the only ways that we ever move forward.
The reason I want you to read these books is because they are important. They have influenced culture, often shifted it forward. Do you think it would be better if we read romance novels or Archie comic books? That would be easy and maybe you just want it to be easy. Maybe we should just watch cartoons. Maybe you aren’t interested in reading about important things. Maybe you aren’t willing to listen to language that is difficult for you. Maybe you just aren’t interested in learning.
But why, if you don’t like to read and learn, would you take this course? If you aren’t interested in general education, then why enroll at UTC? Why not just get a degree at a community college? Get a technical degree, start your job, your family, your day-to-day existence and never ask why or how or when or what the hell am I doing here?
I am angry that so many of you aren’t reading. But I can’t make you read. I can’t make you interested in life, in the world, in something outside your own little, sealed, comfortable, and dimly-lit box. One day the river may come and wash away your little box and you’ll wonder what just happened. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll just get another box and put it in the exact same place on the riverbank because surely, surely nothing bad will ever happen again. Until it does.
I want a paper, by next week, 3 pages double-spaced 12 pt. font. I want a paper from you. I want you to explain why you believe what you believe and why it’s so precious that you can’t question it. I want you to tell me what you’re afraid of. But, if you’re not afraid, if it really just boils down to your own laziness, your dead-beat disgusting lack of interest, then I want to know why you should pass this class. I want to know what in the hell you are doing here. I do not want you to come to my class and heat up a seat with your ass. Prove to me that you are worth your own salt. And if you can’t do that, then maybe you should really look hard at whether you’re wasting your comfortable little life. It doesn’t go on forever, you know. It only lasts a little while. And then it’s over, maybe sooner than you think.
Obviously I was very angry and there’s a lot of vitriol here, but I think I’m entirely justified. However, one of the students has complained to my department head, so I have to see him tomorrow to discuss this matter. I suppose anything could happen. I don’t think I’ll lose my job or anything, but they could certainly punish me in some way. The last time I got called out was when I wrote “shit” on a note. I wrote “Rebecca feels like shit today, so class is cancelled.” There was quite a ta-do over that one. The dean of that department talked to my department head who talked to my director. Luckily I only got a stern email. But Jesus the Christ.
Forgive them Lord, for they are idiots.