At a (contentious) faculty meeting at Cal State some years ago a colleague said something so completely funny that despite (or because of?) my tendency to remember only bad jokes it has stayed with me ever since. He remarked that higher education is the only big business in which the customer always demands less.
Tell it to the poor souls who run Student Services, but for those of us on the instruction side this can seem like an ironic definition of our lives. For those students this description fits it is, of course, a form of the game of limpy, or strategic incompetence as I have recently discussed. I am not automatically outraged by this as some of my colleagues are. I understand why the students might not instantly be excited to yummy up our dead voles. In this economy they’re stuck with college. Part of my job is to show them the value of the knowledge, skills and perspectives I am offering, that there’s lemonade to be made with these lemons.
It’s not my job to meet them more than half way, however. Limpy is a zero-sum game in which every bit of work I do is work the students don’t have to do. In the classroom and elsewhere its classic performance is to turn every simple little thing into a baffling, difficult fuss where it’s less bother for me to step in and tell them exactly what to do than to wait for them to figure it out themselves. Nope. Once I’ve determined that the question I’ve asked or the task I’ve assigned is clear, their effort must take over. My understanding of the social dynamics of awkward silence is far greater than theirs, and sometimes I must exploit this. Low standards do them no good.
Today I will be poking my students with this thought: If you make simple things hard, you make hard things impossible. Expedients become habits, and with habits, as James tells us, you’d better have good ones.