My Fellow Classmates, Your Teacher is Oppressing You

Welcome to the classroom. Please, before we get started it is important to understand that this is a scene of subjection, and anything I say should be toted as truth since I am the authority figure of this room and you are the repressed, the dull, the unintelligent, the insignificant, the ignorant. It is not only important that you understand yourself as such, but it is important that you understand myself as such. I am the expert. You are the fool. This classroom is mine. Follow me.  

It’s almost as if the Professor makes this the creed of the classroom the moment the student walks through the door. With constant evocation to their pedigree, their credentials, and, in the instance of the public university student, the constant reminder that the university that the student attends is not an elite university and therefore, nothing special, the Professor takes dictatorial control of the classroom. This control is taken obscurely. The students are told to sit down and play an obsolete role in their education by taking frivolous notes of the long and required lectures. The students are “guided” in the direction of which they are to think about “major themes” in a philosopher, artist, poet, or author’s work. The students are given verbal approbation when they ask, “good questions,” as opposed to making, “good statements.” The students are told to be critical of the work, but critical in the sense that their Professor is meaning critical of the work, but never too critical of the Professor’s assessment of the work.

What would even cause a student to become skeptical of their Professor? The Professor is the expert and their Ph.D is there to prove it. Anything they say about Nietzsche, Kant, Fanon, Poe, Du Bois, Racism, Feminism, Literature, etc. should be understood as unquestionably scholarly, precise, and accurate. The student that rises up against this, civilly or uncivilly, will receive the scorn of not merely the Professor, but more certainly their classmates. Their classmates will consider them pompous, arrogant, and overtly incredulous; and unless they can articulate their sentiments beyond that of their Professor they will remain in that marginalized position until the closing of the class. It is only important to go beyond the Professor because the classroom is a hierarchy. Any student that maneuvers themselves out of the position of obsolete note taker and beyond the position of “good questioner” becomes a threat to that hierarchy until obsolescence is restored by the authoritarian educator.

It’s a dreary picture. But it is the effect of the banking method of education being used in University institutions and education institutions across America. The banking method of education is an idea founded by Paulo Friere where students are thought to be depositories for the Professor’s deposits of knowledge. The student takes no real active part in their education. They only accept what is told whimsically. Recently, this oppressive classroom came to my mind in two major instances. The first articulates the scorn of students who submit to the Professor’s thought; the second articulates the authority of the Professor in making disciples out of their students regardless of if their thought is actually a general consensus in their field of study.

The first event occurred when one of my beloved black Professors were discussing at my predominately white institution why he believed black people should always identify themselves as African people. Expounding upon his theory, he articulated in a paraphrased format that, “‘Black’ people come from Africa and should understand themselves as African instead of black because we shouldn’t be skin people.” Comparing black persons to Korean philosophers, artist, and poets, he said, “They don’t call themselves ‘yellow’ philosophers, artist, and poets because they do not want to be skin people and we shouldn’t either.” This sounds good, and coming from the mouth of an African scholar who I admittedly admire, I was almost reluctant to speak. But seeing how the white students reacted to this statement as fact, as truth, as a smile of approval ran across their cheeks as his statement quickly followed up with a critique of the BlackLivesMatter movement, I needed to speak. I adhere to Bryan Wagner’s philosophy of blackness in which blackness is seen as,  “. . . a modern condition that cannot be conceptualized apart from the epochal changes in travel, trade, communication, consumption, industry, technology, taxation, labor, warfare, finance, insurance, government, bureaucracy, science, religion, and philosophy that were together made possible by the European systems of colonial slavery.” I believe I am black because of that epochal change. It wasn’t until I name-dropped Frantz Fanon, Sadiya Hartmann, and Frank Wilderson, and the Professor acknowledged that he had heard of these scholars that the classroom begin to lose its suffocating aura. Before these two occurrences, everyone stared arrogantly at me like I was a divergent cur of some flourishing pack of civil poodles. It indicated that the classroom hierarchy was set in unmalleable stone and there was a contract released that we had all signed unknowingly, yet willingly, that allowed the Professor to be the first, the last, and the only proprietor of knowledge.

Secondly, discussions and debates I’ve had recently over Nietzsche’s Philosophy and Sexism all go back to a singular Professor at my University who has clearly defended Nietzsche against his sexist philosophical rhetoric. The vehemence in this Professor’s disciple’s claims that he is NOT a sexist is a vehemence that is totally indebted to the Professor. Anytime you discuss with these disciples anything wrong in this pronouncement like the fact that Nietzsche refers to women as weak, incapable of friendship, born with the need to bear children, or various other degrading Nietzchean generalizations of women they simply implore, “You just have to talk to (insert Professor here) they’ll explain it better than me.” These moments can seem like the fault of the student, but it is most certainly a reflection of the oppressive educational method. For a teacher can oppress and suppress the student without meaning to; for power is formed, articulated, and expressed in more ways than through forceful subjection. That the Professor may have the student’s best interest at heart does not mean that the student is not objectified in the classroom. It only means that the Professor needs to be made consistently aware that the student is knowledgeable and then, allow that knowledge to be liberally expressed.

What I want my fellow students to understand is that any Professor, or any classroom that does not permit and advocate open discussion, open criticism, and open questioning is oppressing you. Any classroom that does not allow you to be an active subject engaged in the production of your learning is oppressing you. Academia is a field of discussion and your Professor has been given the authority by other institutions via their Ph.D. to engage in that discussion, but not to be the end-all-by-all voice in it. The purpose of an education is about finding your voice, and the best way to articulate that voice within any discussion, academic or non-academic, not to listen uncritically to the voice of your Professor, or to disciple yourself out to the theories of your Professor. Do not be stifled my fellow students. It is time we challenge this power structure in the classroom, and in doing so challenge ourselves to achieve a greater understanding of our class material and ourselves. It is only when this is done will our education, in a more radical sense of the word, be free.

Note: The following is only in regards to the Humanities.


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