All aboard the disclaimer trainAs usual, I'm at least a few steps behind the blogging sistern. Here, brought to my attention by the estimable Bitch, PhD, is my reinterpretation of the trenchant and witty disclaimer first posted by Lauren of Feministe.
Both of them are using these disclaimers in particularly blogocentric ways, as befits their vast readership and lively comment sections. I can't claim such an active, if occasionally hostile readership.
But since I am a) now officially Spring Breaking; and thus b) blissfully free from my students for 10 days; and therefore c) eager to vent the frustrations that have built up over the first half of the semester before the headlong race to the bitter end (I love my job, I love my job--really, I do), I want to fantasize about the kind of disclaimer I could give my students on the first day of a class. I would ask them to read it carefully, then quiz them on the material on day two. Those who choose to stay in class must earn a B or better on the quiz and sign a waiver indicating that they are now fully aware participants in MY pedagogical universe (which I would, of course, call "Our" pedagogical universe).
1.) I have been teaching college courses independently for (gasp) almost ten years. Over this time, I have had my teaching skills challenged, berated, chided, and belittled by far more sophisticated and articulate students than you. I have been accused of playing favorites, and of hating all my students. I have been informed, each time completely inaccurately, that I do not like a particular student merely because of the student's age, sex, hair color, town of origin, computer font, politics, food preferences, diagnosed disability, or choice of eau de parfum. (I have also been told that a student disliked me for each of the above reasons). In neither case was it true. If I don't like you, it's probably because you are a) dumb, b) belligerent, c) rude, d) unkind, or e) arrogant. If you are certain none of these applies, then I guarantee that the reason is a).
Chances are, if you have something nasty to say about me, my politics, or my pedagogy, I have not only heard it before, but have heard it several times. Thus, if you intend to hurt my feelings, please be creative and grammatically correct. Compliments are always welcome, but they should be substantive and relevant to my pedagogy, not my fashion choices. You are not my target fashion audience, and I don't care if you like my shoes or not.
Here is A Glossary to Words and Phrases That are Inaccurate, Overused, and Thus Meaningless: feminazi, socialist, Marxist, intellectual, liberal, leftist, man-hater, frigid, bitch. And I know perfectly well that I don't want you to write only what I already think, I want you to write what you think--and if you don't think at all, then this will be painful for you, I know. But don't bother telling me what you think I "really want to hear." It ain't so.
2.) This course is not an opportunity for indoctrination by either of us. I am not, by my choice of material, necessarily advancing its agenda. Nor am I interested in your refusal to read things that do not conform to the childhood beliefs you carted with you to college, along with your boombox and your fantasies about fraternity life or finally losing your virginity. I am paid to have a broader range of knowledge than you do, and to use it in order to help you develop a critical mind intelligent enough to argue in an intelligent manner without resorting to sarcasm or the above-mentioned insults. If you disagree with materials, comments from me, or comments from your peers, please state so, but only if you are interested in a civil debate.
2a.) I am not interested in conforming to your media-fueled fears that the university is being "taken over" by elitist leftists. If I fail to conform to your negative expectations of my role in your indoctrination and brainwashing, I heartily apologize, but do remember that I and my colleagues are complex individuals in a complex world. I am genuinely committed to my beliefs, but recognize that there are contradictions among them. My philosophy is not composed of a bullet-point list of talking points and behaviors--especially not a list composed by those seeking to discredit me and what I represent. If you don’t understand that, chances are you are not yet ready to benefit from higher education.
3.) If you have a sincere question, frame it respectfully. Show me the courtesy that I show you. One cannot expect a thoughtful and intelligent answer to an unthoughtful comment. One of the things I am helping you learn is how to disagree and debate from a position of nuance and respect.
4.) If you send me an email, be savvy enough to do at least a perfunctory proofread. And here's an insider tip: get my name and title correct--especially if you are requesting a favor (extended due date, extra meeting, late admission code).
5.) Do not assume that you know everything there is to know about me simply because you attend a particular course on a regular basis, or because you have particular associations with what you are asked to read. Any judgments you make will be based on the information I have provided about myself, which is probably vague, incomplete or embellished. What you hear from me may include any combination of the following: hyperbole, sarcasm, humor, "devil's advocate" points of view, summaries of other people's ideas, personal philosophy. You will probably get very little of the latter. In every course I teach, I choose works from a political, social, and cultural spectrum. I do this on purpose. That purpose is called "learning."
6.) My sincere commitment to you, to your ideas, and to your education does not allow you to impede my ability to express myself. The classroom is our shared space, in which we have different but complementary roles toward each other and the material. My relationships with colleagues, my private life, and my publications constitute my rhetorical space and I have put hard work into establishing an identity and a certain level of credibility. If I did not personally provide you with information about my life outside of the classroom, it is probably because I may not want you to read certain things I might write about you or others.
Once you enter the academic community, as a student or a professor, you are no longer able to make decisions about your beliefs and opinions merely by reverting to how you feel about them. If we make our opinions public, we will be held accountable for them. We have to own our words, be willing to take responsibility for what we have said, admit flaws and quibbles in our rhetoric. We have to pay attention to the particulars of language, how punctuation and word choice can shift an entire argument. We have to be our own and each other's editor, personally and publicly.