Thursday, June 5, 2014

What No 'MOOC' Could Ever Do: A UCSB Professor Counsels Her Students in Person About the Elliot Rodger Murders

When people hear I’m from UCSB now they pause and look at me as though they can almost see the emotional wounds left by Elliott Rodger, and I feel guilty about that since it’s not anything like the literal wounds that took the lives of our students. We are suffering, but they are gone. 
In the wake of the tragedy, returning to classes was awful. On my way to teach, driving to campus, I suddenly and inexplicably burst into tears, sobbing as I thought the words, “I don’t know what to say to my students.” I held open forums in my classes after having a minute of silence for the murdered. The majority of the students in my two classes either knew some of the fallen students or they were friends of friends. Many were even there. 
When the conversation quieted down in my first class, I let them go but said I would sit in the room for the duration of class time. About half waited to talk to me in private. A student who presents as a tough guy immediately came up to me. He said that he was in a bar a few doors down from IV deli and had to hide under his table. Several hid in their apartments or nearby shops, but they heard the shots. Some vehemently said they did not want to talk about it, but they did not leave class. In that moment, it was so clear that they were just kids and just wanted to sit beside their professor.
I would like to thank those of you who have donated to We Are Respectable Negroes' (WARN) annual fundraiser. I have set a goal for the month. We are slowly marching towards fulfilling it. Given the economy and your other obligations, all donations are appreciated and welcome. Plus, the faster we reach the goal, the sooner I can pull back in the begging bowl.

Here on WARN, I strive to put us ahead of the curve by providing news analysis and commentary about the relationship(s) between race, politics, and popular culture that you will not find elsewhere.

We have discussed the Elliot Rodger case extensively here on WARN.

I have shared those essays over at Alternet (with kind mentions by the excellent and smart Joan Walsh at Salon) and the Daily Kos as well. The Elliot Rodger murder spree is a tragedy. I was one of the first people to detail and explain how it should be understood as the nexus of a crisis in white masculinity, gun culture, and racial identity. The idea is now in the ether. Belatedly, it is finally getting traction.

The work I offer up here on WARN has been borrowed from and echoed many times (often without attribution) by the pundit classes, other websites, the "mainstream news media", etc.


Herman Cain? Check. Mitt Romney's racist dog whistle campaign in 2012? Check. Elliot Rodger and aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome? Check.

I would like to share three recent essays/stories about Elliot Rodger, Whiteness, and masculinity that I recently discovered which may be of interest.

These works exist within the framework I have developed here on WARN.

Ultimately, good ideas and truth-telling are often just a matter of calling out and detailing what is already in the social ether. Moreover, triangulation and the chorus are one way that we know that our claims about empirical reality are in fact true and accurate. There is no unattributed borrowing or "shark biting" in the above three examples. No. Those authors/commentators are smart and on point in their analysis of Elliot Rodger.

Most notably, Professor Lalaie Ameeriar has written an essay at the site Social Text Journal that is the wholesale truth, a set of experiences relative to the context provided by Elliot Rodger's madness which are playing out within her classroom at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Some of her students were witnesses to Elliot Rodger's murder spree. The broad subject of their classes together? Asian-American Studies.

This is an eerie and challenging synergy of events.

In "Investing in Whiteness: the UCSB tragedy and Asian America", Lalaie Ameeriar suggests:
I do believe that this shooting and his statements about his motivation teach us important things about the operationalization of things like the model minority myth or American masculinity and pathology. I offer a cultural critique to see what sense can be made of this tragedy and what sad sense this tragedy makes of critical theory and its continued relevance. 
For scholars and students of Asian American Studies, the case of Rodger makes three things clear. 
As I told my class, first, minorities can still be invested in whiteness. Socially, there are unearned benefits and advantages to those invested in whiteness, which often but does not always mean exclusively white people. This possessive investment in whiteness crosses racial lines. Other racial and ethnic groups can also invest in whiteness by supporting practices that uphold racial hierarchies. 
In this case, as we learned from the manifesto, Rodger was deeply invested in whiteness and sought to distance himself from men of color. He was a young Hapa man who felt not quite white enough. Not quite, not white. His violent tirade was an exhibition of masculinity that he felt he could not live up to, a white masculine ideal predicated on the conquest of an elusive blond sorority girl... 
Second, Rodger’s own self-hatred demonstrates that his possessive investment in whiteness fueled his desire to transcend “second place” and to aspire to the top of the racial order as a white man by denying his own Asianness... 
She also clearly identifies how race, gender, and issues of culture and identity must be confronted if we are to understand the social and political context (and drives) behind Elliot Rodger's horrific deeds:
Finally, the media attention has focused on whether this tragedy was about mental illness, gun violence, patriarchy, misogyny, or racism. It is about all those things together, simultaneously. Racial categories are intersectional. Analyses of power must take into account other axes of difference (e.g., gender, sexuality, class, citizenship).
As is occurring across American society, in academe, labor is being outsourced and a living wage is being undermined by an attack on secure employment, and a long in process destruction of the very assumption that college teachers should be paid a fair and living wage.

Consequently, tenure is being destroyed. Non-tenured faculty are being undermined and replaced by contingent labor--exploitable academics--who will be paid a pittance in order to create insecurity throughout the system.

The sum result? Dissent and truth-telling are minimized while the bureaucrats'/administrators' salaries are increased.

In concert with the "McDonaldization" of higher education, universities and colleges are being transformed into trade school degree mills in which the customer, i.e. the undergraduate student is always right and should be pleased at any the detriment of their learning.

The final checkmate end of game move is the replacement of the traditional seminar and college classroom with "MOOCS": these are online teaching forums (i.e. modernized correspondence courses, which are not effective for student learning, do not create a sense of community among students, and are one more means for the neoliberal predatory university and college system to steal the intellectual work of its teachers for purposes of syndication and resale at a later date without compensation to its authors and original owners.

Lalaie Ameeriar's engagement with her students cannot be simulated or replaced by "MOOCS" or some other profit maximizing technological fetish gimmick. The purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach students to be critical thinkers, act as responsible citizens, and to be able to apply what they learn in the interest of the Common Good and the Good Society while living according to a set of humanistic life principles. The transformation of American higher education into a S.T.E.M. trade school degree mill undermines and is conflict with that obligation.

There are all sorts of fancy buzzwords which are floated about in 21st century higher education. While sexy phrases such as "critical pedagogy" and "engaged scholarship" are obligatory for interviews and job applications, such language often masks the simple and basic principles exemplified by Lalaie Ameeriar in her willingness to engage and mentor her students at UCSB in the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger saga.

Teaching and scholarship are political work. MOOCs are no substitute for the in person, on site, personal communication and engagement that Lalaie Ameeriar's students benefited from in the shadow of the Elliot Rodger massacre.

A proper liberal arts education is about teaching the whole person; Lalaie Ameeriar exemplified that foundational principle with excellence and courage. Unfortunately, the future and present direction of higher education in the United States will make such encounters less likely, and when they do occur, may place the instructor in peril for daring to operate outside of the "subject matter" by engaging "sensitive subject matter" that is not explicitly covered by the "syllabus".


joe manning said...

MOOCs, the MacDonalization of education, high stakes testing, charters are an attack on our basic right to live in an educated society. There will be many more Elliot Rodgers types in the New Ideocracy.

chauncey devega said...

There are many Elliot Rodger types waiting to explode. I am surprised it has not occurred more frequently.

joe manning said...

Classic liberalism defends the right to live in an educated society. Conservatism favors ideocracy, the right of each person to be stupid and out of control.

Courtney H. said...

Here's another good article about that monster (I won't use his name) dealing with race and misogyny: