Today was a bewildering day.
It is time for a curmudgeonly post, focusing on a complaint we've all heard before. But I have to ask:
Why the need to constantly entertain students?
This was Orientation Day. I sat dutifully at a table outside, dripping sweat in the glaring sun, with my Chair, doing a song and dance to students who walked by with sno-cones and cotton candy and free pizzas. All they wanted, really, was the melting candy on the edge of our table. Not to hear about our programs, no, not that! Heavens! Programs? Majors? What are those?
The department next to us was throwing free t-shirts into the crowd. Club music was thumping. Kids were playing whatever that game is where you put helmets on and get into a ring and try to beat each other up with giant, soft...oars...? There were more banks than academic departments there.
It's not like I'm down on fun. It's not like I'm against entertainment - hell, I just came home from a long day at the uni and settled down to watch three episodes of Queer as Folk (which I've never seen before beginning Season 1 last night). And contemplated having a drink or four, though decided against opening up a bottle of wine.
But it's as if we are ashamed of ourselves, of what we do, of what a university is fundamentally about. Which is learning. And learning can be fun, dammit. My classes, which are often filled with explosions of hilarity, are some good times. But it's fun in a different way. That's the thing. By starting off the year on this foot, we are not acknowledging the different way of Being that academia can represent.
And it also strikes me that in a way, that's not doing what we're supposed to be doing, which is broadening horizons and encouraging critical thinking 'n' shit. That would require a step away from the entertainment monoculture. And that's a step that the institutions seem almost afraid to take. There's an insecurity, a "please like me," attached to so much of this. I don't know what for. It doesn't seem to me there's any danger of students fleeing the university because it doesn't serve sno-cones.
Sure, I get that we need to "hook" them. But they're smarter than this stuff gives them credit for. I can imagine Orientations that look Fun, that draw students in, but that move away from this branded nonsense. That begin to model, amongst the fun, some of the really intriguing ways of Being that learning might open up for them.