I’m co-teaching this semester, a cross-listed honors course. My colleague is tenured faculty in a STEM field, and a nice guy in his 40s. I like him and we have a pleasant, easy-going professional relationship.
But lately, I’ve been bothered by what I can only call his emphasis on a competitive, even bloodthirsty attitude to learning. I fear revealing too much, but we’re using a game-based pedagogy made up of lecture and debate mostly carried out by students themselves. We serve as guides and coaches to all players, and do all the assessment and grading, of course. Each student must weigh in on a larger historical issue (pro or con) but also has individual goals requiring them read critically, write and speak informatively, and employ primary sources to persuade others to adopt their views.
And here’s the deal: the students are fucking petrified. Honor kids or not, they’re being thrust into what seems like a very adult skill set (it’s amazing how real “playing” can feel). We’re concerned with motivating them to do their best work, and Prof. X has repeatedly taken on militant, dare I say macho, language like “ideally, you’ll crush your opponents” and “there’s nothing more fun than humiliating an enemy.”
I understand why he’s doing it; using people’s inherent competitiveness can motivate them to work hard, but I doubt it’s the best or only way to do that. First, because I fear that language is further adding to some students’ anxiety, which isn’t going to help them do their best. And second, because working collaboratively and learning to negotiate and comprise is actually the best way to win the game (by meeting one’s objectives), and one of the most important, hardest things one can learn: how to deal with those who disagree with you, and how to come to some compromise without completely selling out your goals.
I did, after Prof. X’s pronouncements, try to provide a countering voice (“Remember though, you don’t get points for being rude, and beware ad hominem attacks. Use the sources, build your arguments with care. Do the work.”), but:
1) it’s not as sexy (violent rhetoric is more appealing than concern for building rhetorical skill), and
2) I’m a chick advocating chick stuff like collaboration. I know of at least one male student whose eyes gleamed at hearing that “humiliate the enemy” stuff. It’s not what I want my students to practice, either in or out of the classroom.
Because we are a man and woman in front of the class, and are advocating positions that are conventionally gendered (compete/collaborate), I worry that our male students, in particular, are going to embrace the masculine model and go for the throat, rather than focus on doing the work and learning the material.
But maybe I’m being the essentializing one here by assuming that competition is inherently macho and problematic as educational model. I’m not terribly competitive–except against myself–and although I like to win things, the idea of winning something so that someone else will lose/fail/be humiliated is really just repellent to me as an individual and as a feminist.
So, readers, those of you are competitive, and who do respond to a dog-eat-dog ethos: can you explain to me how this squares with your feminist leanings?