15 April 2008

Down a peg

I really like this post over at the DrugMonkey blog about the role of authority in science. I like it even though it has South Park pictures in it, which I detest.

Near the end, the talk turns to university intructors:
Your whole professional life is predicated on you as the Authority. In the classroom, you have all the knowledge and the students have relatively little. They are explicitly seeking you out for your authority. Even within most "teaching departments" you are the sole expert in not just a narrow area but in several subfields, are you not? And...c'mon, 'fess up. It goes to your head after awhile doesn't it? ...

Is it any wonder you develop into a know-it-all who cannot conceptualize anyone else having valid opinions or rationales? Any wonder you start to broaden the scope of your claimed authority? After all, nobody challenges you in your day to day life. And for the most part, you are right. But not all the time, my friend, not all the time.
I think this is one of the reasons that extreme deference in my students drives me absolutely insane. I hope that at some level, I want to be challenged.

Having authority should mean recognizing challenges as challenges (in the best sense of the word) , not threats.

1 comment:

Drugmonkey said...

It seems that your observation is a fairly common one when faculty who really like teaching are lamenting the dismal "kids these days". Faculty would much prefer good quality challenge than "what do I need to know for the test, Professor?".

Any ideas on whether college education can take specific steps to promote the "organized skepticism" that Dr. Free-Ride talks about? In other words, are we failing to teach the right scholarly behaviors to the undergraduates?