I continue to think a bit about new models for understanding student engagement with the learning environment. Over the last few weeks, I have been reading more on everyday forms of resistance, and this has added a different perspective to my notes on resistance and teaching as articulated here and here. These forms of resistance typically lack articulated political or social goals, often rely upon anonymity, deception or ambiguity, and tend to be deeply embedded in everyday life. At the same time, they are the products of power differences and mark out clear efforts on the part of less powerful to establish a identity and agency in relation to the dominant group. Classic examples of this kind of behavior are slow work, gossip, poor communication, and other actions that tread the fine line between outright defiance and actions easily confused with laziness.
Anyone who has taught recognizes some resistance in students. My previous musings on using historical and anthropological definitions of resistance to understand student behavior tended to see student behavior in a far more systematic way. Models of resistance that suggest behavior rooted in practice may have a better applicability for describing, predicting, and (gasp!) maybe even validating student behavior.
These models may also point to some root causes of resistance. Many of the scholars who study resistance in everyday life tend to see resistance as a key component to class struggle. While it is difficult to understand the student-teacher relationship in terms of traditional definitions of class, it would be profoundly naive to deny the role that class plays in the structure of the American university. With the post-war boom in enrollments the student body has become more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and, indeed, class. The traditional humanities had strong ties to traditions of elite education and values that have not entirely translated to a more diverse student body with more diverse goals and expectations.
Resistance in the classroom, particularly the subtle forms, may well represent the long conflict between democratized higher education and the core elite values that continues to guide many aspects of the humanities.
My post today is intentionally short to encourage you to head over to Teaching Thursday and celebrate with us our 100th post at that blog!