Phi Beta Cons

Good Students Make Good Teachers

Peter Wood goes through some of the objections to Naomi Riley’s case against tenure as developed in her new book and finds himself increasingly drawn to her position. My objections to her case against tenure arise from a different source.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I did listen to a panel presentation in which Riley discussed how tenure prevents bad teachers from being fired and good teachers from ascending. As I see it, however, this whole idea of good and bad teachers, which is rightly applicable to lower education, is inappropriate for higher education, where in today’s context it suggests that professors have to entertain their students. College students are supposed to be mature enough to get into their coursework regardless of how fascinating the teacher is. I’m not talking about total goof-offs who sleep through their own lectures and as good as hate their students, of course, but of professors who know and care for their subject and simply want to impart that to students without a lot of bells and whistles.

Today’s students have grown up passive, entitled, expecting others to do things for them. They are told by popular culture that they are smarter than their parents, their teachers, and God. The real problem is that they don’t show enough desire to learn, which is why Paul Gottfried, for example, says he is retiring. Gottfried has also said that when he was an undergraduate, it was an honor to be in the class of a professor who knew his subject. In those days, it wasn’t a matter of the professor having to prove himself, but the student — a much healthier state of affairs.  


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