Clearly, having them do the work --- the more actively, the better --- is a way better way of getting them to understand the work. And yet, there is still the "making" them of making them do the work, which I find exhausting. It is certainly clear to me that wherever power is exercised, so too is resistance, as my students have to be prodded, cajoled, reminded, nagged, ordered, threatened, and reasoned with, at every moment. Never can I simply tell my students to do something and have them do it. Well, Postdoc 2 reminds me that I didn't have this last semester until I did finally have my peeps all socialized to do things in the amount of time I demanded and I've just started over with a new group, but damn, I'm tired. And before I even start the nagging and the threats, I have to make very extensive directions for them to follow that they can't wriggle out of. And not only do I have to ride them to get them to do any work for me, but I also have to constantly be checking on them to make sure that the quality of what they are producing is acceptable. And nowhere do I get more resistance than anything having to do with "critical thinking."
Yeah, I'm still not sure what that means. My students can all talk about it --- they always have; it's a buzzword they all know to pay lip service to --- but they can't give an example or demonstrate it. In my experience, any decent answer to an open-ended question or hypothetical solution to a problem requires critical thinking. "So is the answer to that going to be on page 156?" asked one of my students today. "Dude, no. You're going to have to create an argument about it. You are going to have to use the text, but this is not about recopying a sentence from it and having that be the answer." As soon as I said that, the student got his oh-hells-no expression on his face. How should we know what the author thinks about X if there is not a sentence saying "I think this about X" in there? How can you ask us questions if there isn't a bolded word in the text that counts as the answer? I'm starting to worry that the strategy of having factual-answer questions as constant homework (like Postdoc 2) won't just be reinforcing bad anti-critical-thinking habits and expectations for profs further down the line.
The only thing I have more trouble with than critical thinking this semester is getting students to comprehend abstract concepts, and to not generalize out from their experience to entire societies and worlds. Actually, I'm having this in my comp class too, where several of my students --- ones who, I can already tell, are significantly weaker writers than the others; is this connected? --- are having weird reactions to the readings about the purpose of college, in which they project bizarre things about their personal experience onto the writers. For instance, being adopted. Dude, most of the people of the US were not adopted and you're just saying really weird things about parental expectations about college that neither the writer nor, really, anybody in the US believes. Can you not tell that your personal experience is not really a standard one?
But anyway, I've totally gone rogue and am being a sociologist --- I may actually print out some stuff from wikipedia on "agency" and systems and bring them in to my other class (anybody have some good exercises or writing exercises to get students at this idea of larger social structures shaping people in ways they are not really in control of?) Now I have my beefs with sociology and sociologists --- and have figured out that while I like teaching sociology there's no way in hell I could do research their way --- but I really really think that the ability to see and comprehend abstract structures in our society --- no, to think critically about abstract structures in our society --- is the most important thing students can take from college.
If that means I'm a heretic who is throwing over the study of literature, then so be it. I've already tossed all the "literary" type assignments and readings out of our textbook, and I may chuck the personal essays next. Read personal essays? Fuck personal essays --- my students can write personal essays til the cows fucking come home, and they can do it without ever having a thought. What they can't do is admit that their taste in music is at all influenced by popular culture, or that their gender assumptions aren't invented all by themselves, or that not everyone has undergone the same experiences as them, or even that not everyone in the US is 18. (Seriously. I don't know why I've run up against this so much already this semester, but multiple times I've had to stop while putting a brainstorm list up on the board and chide students for not varying their answers to think about age. "What about parents?" I ask. Then the next example is of an 18-year-old parent. "No, what about your parents? Grandparents? Expand your sample!")
Sigh. In short, I am about to hit the part of the semester where I usually get the "well I have never seen/experienced this kind of discrimination, therefore it doesn't exist!" And this class has already been very resistant (ok, some more than others) to any notion that social structures shape us or affect different people differently, and I think this semester once we hit this new topic is going to be brutal. I still have people in this class who refuse to believe that words can't mean anything they want them to mean; that language is a social endeavor. "Really?" I shout. "Look, I have a feminism! I am sitting on the feminism! Would you like to trade me my feminism for your misogyny?" I say, pointing to someone's pencil. They giggle, but nope, there is still a segment of my students who are not convinced. "You don't get to make up word meanings and still communicate!* Groop fleep balp meebeltephooo!" I holler. Nope, some of them are still shaking their heads. "That's only your opinion," they say. "These words have a personal meaning for me that's whatever I want."
Do I have any sociologists in the audience? Got any special tips or tricks that could help me get them to understand abstract things like social structures? Or is it, like critical thinking, one of those things where there's no shortcuts or speedups, just the long, hard work of slogging through and practicing and beating it into them? Jeez, what a semester it's going to be. I better get out my whip.