Hasty Generalizations on Day 1
|Today was my first day of teaching at my new school, and normally this would be the post where I would indulge in some hasty generalizations about:|
That said, it will be interesting getting to know a different group of undergraduate majors and to see, over the course of the semester, whether and how they differ from what Steely Dan called "my old school" (no, I never taught at Bard). I'd be surprised if they didn't. Not because one group is necessarily smarter than the other--I'm expecting a broad range at my new school just as at my old, though I wouldn't be surprised if the median level differed. But more because I've come to believe that schools can differ pretty dramatically in "student culture," and that student culture has a stronger shaping effect on individual students than just about any other force in the institution--certainly more than professors. (The professoriate, after all, is far more homogeneous around the country than the student body.)
What I mean by student culture is the prevailing attitudes towards education, intellectualism, scholarship ... but also (more specifically for us Renaissance professors), such elements as how the majors approach older literature. Basically, I'm talking about the habitus of students, in Bourdieu's sense. These habitus can differ dramatically from school to school, I think, and can have a far greater impact on the classroom than factors that tend to be given more weight, at least in the public imagination, like "intelligence," or preparedness, or average SAT/ACT scores. How these habitus get formed is, as any Bourdieuian could tell you, a highly complex question, and one to which I currently have no answer, though one would want to start by rounding up the usual suspects, I guess--socioeconomic background, curriculum, Greek life, geography, etc.--but none of them seems quite satisfactory to me. There's a certain dynamic that develops in the classroom, as I'm sure many of you out there have noticed: if you have even two or three highly motivated, articulate students who are willing to speak up in class and to do so in a way that challenges, thoughtfully, what's being discussed and leaves room for others to respond, suddenly the entire class gets on board. The same kind of "tipping point" can occur across the entire student body, I think.