Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, December 03, 2004


A brief hiatus will ensue as of today--I will have my students' final papers to grade, plus their finals next week, so posts will be even spottier than usual. I trust that the internet will, however, provide compensatory pursuits and interests during this fulminatory drought...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about posting possible final exam question(s) early to see how many of your students are industrious enough to look for them in this manner?

6:13 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Well, of course, I COULD do that, but that would violate my professional values. As a teacher, my required work ethic is: If I can just make their lives a little bit worse--if I can make them HATE the subject I'm teaching just a little more--if I can crush their spirits just that little extra bit--then I can sleep at night knowing that I've done my job.

7:10 PM  
Blogger lit lover said...

Oh how true, how true! I've often said a day without humiliating a student is a day I've failed to do my job :)

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet, Mr. Dryden, you've said that you're worried about being unable to procure a teaching job. Might it be possible that similarly tyrannical behavior on the part of English college instructors throughout the country might be contributing directly to this dearth of available positions? Students do, after all, switch majors and even, when terrorized nonstop by coldhearted academic misanthropes, drop out of school. It seems in your worse interests to crush the spirits of those who, however indirectly, supply your paycheck.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

No, no, no, you're missing the point--the whole goal of the teacher is to create a hideously dysfunctional relationship--somewhat akin to those creepy couples where the guy controls every aspect of the woman's life. We crush the spirit in order to enslave the will. The goal is not to be loved, but to be feared and, in the sickest way imaginable, needed. Lovely little system, isn't it?

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely indeed, although I'm not sure that it's entirely effective. It is, they say, best to be both loved AND feared--it would seem that deliberately TRYING to be disliked is a potentially volatile strategy--what purpose does it serve, exactly? I'm sure you know professors capable of inspiring both love and awe--not an undesirable way to be viewed, is it?

2:36 AM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Well, this is turning into quite the colloquy, isn't it? (Not that that's a bad thing--quite the contrary--although since this is MY blog, I will insist on having the last word, last however long this may. I appear to have lapsed into Yoda-speak. Regardless--) The goal is not to be disliked, but, as you say, to be feared. Note that I never actually said I wanted to be hated myself--just the subject I was teaching--again, part of the whole 'crushing the spirit' thing. If we are to cite the work of the Master, good ol' Niccolo M., the goal is to make oneself feared but NOT hated, and to achieve this by transferring hatred onto subordinates. If one doesn't have a T.A., that subordinate is the material itself. We make it seem difficult and abstruse so as to make ourselves seem more powerful by having mastered it. I will concede that this process only works if you're teaching required classes--classes that are inevitably dumped on the shoulders of junior-most faculty or, in my case, instructors--that way, students can't escape--you become the only means for them to get through the nightmare and achieve graduation. Hence the need, and the fear. Hatred of oneself is perfectly fine once one has tenure, though. Granted, it's BETTER to be held in love and awe, but, as Machiavelli said and as any reader of Plutarch will confirm, the love of the masses is a fickle thing, whereas a single "D" on their first assignment will bind them to your will throughout the rest of the term. Or you can get them hooked on "A"s and then warn them that you will expect progressively better and better work in order to continue to give them--that's really fun, too. The beauty of the game is that both sides cheat, but when students get caught, they're expelled, but when teachers get caught, we're simply "exercising our perogatives." It almost makes up for the wage-slavery.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's OK. I'm sure Britney Spears can't spell it either.

The problem with your argument, as I see it, is that if you concede that the process only works when teaching required classes, well, then, it DOESN'T work--or, at least, it works only because there's no way for it NOT to. The students' need has nothing to do with you--rather, you're merely the (easily replaceable) vehicle through which they can take a class that they need to graduate--but if the attachment isn't personal--if it isn't SPECIFICALLY you, and the accompanying cruel tactics, that are both feared and needed, then no, I don't think it works. You get AWAY with it--but they need the class anyway, so I don't think you can effectively prove that there's anything especially wise about this method of teaching.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

You know, you'd think by this point I could be given some credit for my erudition and that, when I occasionally misspell a word, especially by transposing two friggin' letters, one would chalk it up to a typo, and not ignorance on the level of a mouth-breathing, abdomen-baring lip-syncher. Of course it's "prerogative"--hell, I should know, I took Latin. "Pre" as in before--precedence superceding--"rogare" as in "to question"--so, not subject to question. "Perogative" would mean "through or by questioning"--in any event: Bite me.

As for claiming individuality in my teacherly prickishness, I don't think I ever did that--and if I DID, I retract said statement. ALL teachers function on this level; I'm nothing special. Indeed, one could (as I think you do) make the argument that the very disposability of me or any other teacher is proof that the system works--it depends not on me or anyone's unique brilliance. Again, we go back to Machiavelli--and Hobbes--and Heidegger--and Althusser--the argument is always that "the system" always precedes us, and we either go with it, or, well, crash and burn. (And avoid the cheap pun of "Byrne" and "burn.") Besides, my student evaluations for this term just came in, and everyone loves me, so nyeh. See, THAT's the difference--some of us can make the system work in a manner that creates a Jonestown-like environment, some that create a gulag-like environment. I prefer Jonestown. Kool-Aid is tasty!

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My apologies. It was a cheap shot.

I am inclined, though, to think that the positive response of your students implies that you're not quite as spirit-crushing as you paint yourself.

11:10 AM  

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