9.04.2006

Let's Play Humiliate The Teacher!

When I came across the videos of teachers on YouTube late last week, I had the sense that others would find them disturbing, interesting, and worth thinking a bit about.

With blogosphere speed, Jeff Rice and Alex Reid picked up the topic and posted about it, each adding insights I hadn't considered. For four days or so, I've simply been in shock at how many videos there are of teachers and about teachers up on the site.

Alex Reid makes this important point in his post:

As teachers, particularly in English, we encourage our students to write, to express themselves. We often discuss how effective writing can have power in a community. Well.... here you go. We got what we asked for. Now the students turn the panopticon back on their teachers somewhat. I'm sure there have been students over the past decade in my classes who have been sitting there thinking "this guy is boring" or "he's an idiot" or "I hate this teacher!" Why not? I've had those thoughts as a student. Now they have a way to express those thoughts, besides talking to their roommates.


This is certainly the case, and with videos such as the ones in THIS PLAYLIST, students are using simple technology (often phones) to attempt to document their oppressive conditions. We may all have a bad day, we may all lose it at some point, but these students are saying with the publication of their texts "We've had enough."

In THIS PLAYLIST, all of female teachers referred to as "bitch," or in THIS VIDEO, labeled with the phrase "a high school student screams about how he wants to fuck his high school teacher [Ms. P.]," we see a coalescence of disrespect and organized humiliation aimed at female instructors in particular. This is not about documenting abuse; it's about perpetrating it.

(Jenny, in a comment on my last post, talks a bit about this.)

I recently heard a story involving a colleague of mine, an Associate Professor, who was delivering a lecture when one of her students called out "Bingo!" Distracted by this interruption, my colleague inquired into what the heck was going on, and it turned out that a number of students were playing a game in her class involving filling in little bingo cards whenever she said certain things or manifested certain mannerisms.

I've heard about the bingoish game law school students often play, an attempt to ostracize and challenge other students, but I hadn't heard of a game like this one directed at making an instructor self conscious, trivialized, and generally reduced to an object of play.

Many of the films of teachers you can find on YouTube document lousy teaching, angry teachers, and capture the feel of incarceration brought about by the warehousing environment of many schools. But the films additionally turn our attention to the ways teaching is increasingly perceived as a service industry where disrespect and disregard seem primary ways of relating to service-worker-teachers.

In response to this predominant service-industry position of our labor, many of us demean ourselves by performing modes of synthetic personalization and pedagogical emotional labor. I may be exaggerating, but I think these videos on YouTube have enormous power to put us in our (new) place.

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