Today my article in Slate is geared toward students (I love students! I need to gear more articles toward them. Because I love and miss them so!), and it’s about class participation, and it has so many Nietzsche jokes, and so many Gilmore Girls references, because that is how I operate these days. Here’s a taste.
Let’s say you’re so shy you simply freak out speaking in front of other students. Great news: There are ways to participate in class without actually talking in class. I know it’s tough, but screw up that courage and sidle up to the prof with a very quick substantive question, either before or after class. Preface it, if you can, with “I might not talk in class much because I’m shy, but I wondered…” Most profs are nice people (many have even overcome considerable shyness to teach!), and the wide-eyed earnestness of a timid but studious young person can melt our overworked little hearts.
…and then later:
So, ye veritable Ayn Rand of the seminar room: Shut it sometimes. I do not mean to say we don’t value your enthusiasm. We do. But we are not Socrates, and you are not Glaucon. The classroom is not and should not be an uninterrupted dialogue; your awkward little desky-chair is not your personal brilliance dais. So please, do both yourself and your classmates a favor and use your powers for good. For example, channel your energy into interacting with your peers and helping less-vocal students speak up. Do this by keeping it zipped even if the class has been silent for three entire minutes and your professor is humming the Larry David stare-down leitmotif. Allow the uncomfortable silence to build; let your classmates know you are not going to bail them out, even if you’re quite certain that actually, you can. This will demonstrate real leadership and engagement, rather than self-aggrandizing performance at the expense of group welfare. And that can take you a long way—I’m talking past the better grade you’ll surely be getting.
To me this is just a mild-mannered, slightly snarky take on an issue that every professor in the humanities has to deal with at one point or another (usually quite often!). Let’s see how my coterie of academic haters manages to work itself up into a frothy-mouthed tizzy over it. Bring it, fuckers — I’ll defer to the asshole brigade on peer review when push comes to shove, but when it comes to teaching, I knew what the fuck I was doing.