How a College Student Can Safely Create Pain for a Professor Who Is Misusing His Bully Pulpit

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In graduate school, I had the largest private office at the University of California, Riverside — and probably in the entire system of campuses. It had eight desks and room for bookcases, plus room for three more desks. No full professor had anything like it. I had it for two years. Yet I had no position in the university during this time. This was a fluke. The room got lost in the system. I kept it lost. In matters academic, I understand how the system works. I know how to make it work for students.

Someone posted this on one of the forums.

I received an email from one of my nephews today. Here it is:

"Today in my economics class my teacher admitted to being a Keynesian economist, which now makes total sense. The past two class periods I have tried arguing with him about his policies but he just makes me the laughing stock of the class every time, which is no surprise because he has a PHD. He believes the Fed saved us from the next great depression and that Ron Paul is a nut. Every point I try to make he just rebukes and it is frustrating. I was wondering if you had any advice."

I told him the easiest thing is to regurgitate what he is told and pass the class.

What good advice should I give the young man? He is on the right track and I don’t want him to get discouraged.

Here is my analysis of the system.

  1. The professor is 100% in charge in class, if his superiors are not threatened by what he says or does.

  2. Most students in the class don’t care about the academic content.

  3. Most students just want to pass the class. They want to know what to regurgitate on the exams. They don’t want disruptions from anyone who will not be grading them.

  4. Your targets are the 20% who do care about the material.

  5. Are they worth time and trouble?

  6. If the answer is yes, adopt an offensive strategy.

The key to an offensive strategy if you are a student is to feign ignorance and beg for clarification. Do this in a way that gains the sympathy of the other students. If the professor pulls rank on you, he’s dead in the water in class. If he stonewalls, he loses face. If he says he will help you after class, go to stage two. He is playing nice guy. Your task to undermine the brighter student’s trust in what he is teaching.

Stage one involves asking questions. "Professor, I’m confused. You said….. Do I have thus right? I do? OK, here’s what I don’t understand…." You bring up the counter view as if you have figured out on your own that something does not add up. To do this, you must master the assigned material and also the counter material. Few students ever attempt this.

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Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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