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The Classroom as IR Theory

19 Feb

I’ve been asked to think about who my students are for my pedagogy of teaching literature. Which of these crude IR theory/economic/comparative politics analogies about general education classrooms (at the college level) seems more apt:

  1. The neoclassical model: Students are all rational actors (but not perfectly rational) that maximize their utility, which is expressed via grades. They respond to incentives (such as quizzes) which will improve their grades, but won’t read as closely (or sometimes at all) if there is nothing at stake. Grades–and not the information or experiences imparted in the classroom–are the measure of utility.
  2. The Malamud-Goti experience: Students are the citizens of a post-authoritarian regime: in this case secondary (and likely public) education. They have been socialized to accept the teacher as the arbiter of What is Right and wait to be filled with knowledge. Given more freedom, they will default to rote learning–living an educational life of “oppression,” they will choose a “banking” approach to learning.
  3. The realist theory: The default condition of the classroom is anarchy. Students are self-interested and respond to grades rather than an ideology of educational enrichment. (You can substitute other IR theories here at will).

This isn’t only about college classrooms–it’s also about making tortured and entertaining connections between totally disparate disciplines. Comments welcome (including ones about classroom experience in general or high school pedagogy.)

Addendum: I freely admit these are cynical takes on the classroom experience, but that is part of the difficulty of a general education class; students with no real interest (at least not as part of their major) are asked to take classes that are unconnected to their discipline.  Of course, a college or university offers these classes as part of a “complete education” (however they conceive that) and many of the skills that make one a successful student in one area of study overlap with another.  But at bottom you’re teaching future engineers and MBAs how to read Robert Frost poem.