Monday, February 10, 2014

The Language of the Market is the Language of the Classroom

“That’s the language of the market, not the classroom.”

The above quote was from an audience member of a panel discussion on teaching comparative religious ethics at last November's Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion.  This particular rejoinder was directed at a panelist who wondered aloud how exactly one was supposed to quantify student progress in the area of “becoming a more constructive citizen.”  In my notes I wrote “write something about this between comps.”  So here goes:

The language of the market is the language of the classroom. Can we not look at the goals and objectives stated in our syllabi as anticipated profit?  Can we not cast rules, regulations, positive and negative reinforcement as market interactions and governing interventions?  What is the drastic difference between writing assignments and labor/production?  What is the difference between reading assignments and consumption?  Is there really a disconnect between earning a certain grade in a course and acquiring some form of capital in the social, cultural, economic, academic sphere?  Why the resistance to evaluating the product of our own labor in measurable terms?

Perhaps if we avoid talking about our own labor in measurable terms, we can convince others that the work in which we are engaged is, indeed, immeasurable, unquantifiable…perhaps…sacred(completely set apart due to a perceived intrinsic goodness)?  

Perhaps by positing that our own work is something wholly different from and – indeed – opposed to the measurable, quantifiable, and profane we are engaged in the process of cordoning off our own sections of the social sphere and making our workplace safe from critique…and certainly free from exploitation, desire for profit, and all the other mean things associated with labor and the market.  This is, after all, the classroom!

Just some thoughts.

Thanks for reading.