I’m grading final exams from my Media English course — where, unlike what the title might suggest, we didn’t just use media to boost English. Instead, we looked at issues ranging from copyright, User Created Content (or User Generated Content) online, censorship in media, the power of one medium to supplant another, the politics of (ostensibly) non-political films, and so on.
Personally, I thought it was a great class, but the real proof is in the pudding. And though the students drafted the majority of the final exam — with excellent, excellent questions — the final question was mine.
There’s a big smile on my face as I read the answers to that question: “What is the most important thing you learned this semester in our class on Media?”
So far, a few students have argued the most important thing is that they learned how powerful media is in today’s world, that it is a language that needs to be learned and understood. But one student really got me in that chunk of the brain that drives me to teach. She wrote (I paraphrase slightly), “I learned that I have some power in every situation. I can criticize something, or think about it, and that is power. Even not saying something can sometimes be a kind of power. Power is not just something that politicians or famous people have. I have power. It shocked me, and it’s amazing.”
This was something I hammered away at a few times, of course. I used the (dangerous) example of the class itself. “In this classroom, who has power?” The students, like any sane person would say, argued I did. Then I said, “Well, if one of you stood up and walked out, can I stop you? And if you all stood up together and said, ‘This is too much homework!’ could I argue with you?” They agreed, they had some power, but I had power over their grades. And then I smiled and said, “And you have power over my teacher rankings! But anyway, besides grades, what power do I have? If you really want to resist me, you can sacrifice your grades. And I can’t give everyone F, right? If you work together…”
Ha, I don’t expect a riot on campus next semester, of course. I also noted the fact that if they banded together ridiculously, I really could give them all Fs.
Another student told me about the experience of asking some other foreign teacher of hers to please not talk so much during final exams. (He did so during the midterm and she was worried he’d talk all through the finals as well.) The teacher apparently acted all miffed about it, she said, when talked to him, and she asked me what to do because she pretty much felt smashed-down by his response, which was relatively angry.
I told her I didn’t know the guy and whether he was mature or competent, but to give him a little time, and then try to make sure he understood she respected him, but just needed quiet during exams. (Not an unreasonable request.) Well, last night at a dinner with some students, she told me that during the final exam, uncharacteristically, the teacher was silent throughout the exam. “Then I realized what you said… I always have some power, in every relationship, if I can find it. If I am brave.”
Not quite Foucauldian analysis of intersubjectivity of power — thank goodness, I think the jargon alone would kill my students! — but it certainly is a step up from never having thought about it before, innit?
Pardon me, I’m just a little pleased at finding that perhaps I’m doing something right in the classroom.
(And now, for next semester, to work on creating an environment where everyone feels just that little bit more supported, so they are all more willing to speak up and contribute… it’s tough because I’m just a bit intimidating. What did one student say? “You seem like scary guy, like bastard…” [my word of the night last night] “… but you’re very generous and kind inside, secretly.”) I think that’s what was said.
Shall I let me inner kindness show a bit, then? We’ll see how it works for me next semester…
One more tiny note: I’ve found it is possible to get a little tough jargon into the class, if it becomes a focal thing. If you hammer away at it. For this semester, we had three such words:
- mediated/hypermediated experience
- hyperdetermined image
These were pretty much enough for a whole semester, as we kept returning back to these concepts every few weeks to see how they applied to whatever we were looking at or listening to.