Friday, June 24, 2005

Unpopularity is good, ask Weber

In Science as a Vocation, Weber made me chuckle on two different points.

1. His skepticism of popular courses (and popular teachers to be more precise).
2. His claim that mediocrity rises to the top of academia, not the cream. This is due to rules of cooperation. If you’re too good, you’re too different, and we don’t want to play with you.

Yeah, all this coming from the graduate superstar himself. Is he attempting humility? Or is he crediting his privileges for much of his success? Regardless…

On the first point, he is slamming huge popularity as a sign of not quite adequate teaching. In some cases, I agree. There are many easy ways to slack off and make the students favor you the more for it, or simply suck up to them/bribe them to give you higher scores on teaching evaluations…groveling, ick. However, aren’t there a lot of popular teachers who work really hard at teaching well and are popular perhaps because of personality traits to boot? For all the unpopular conscientious teachers out there, Weber will stroke the old ego. It’s because you’re sooo good that you’re not hugely popular.

On the second point, I laughed out loud. Partially because of the irony that he was writing this, and partially because there is some truth to it -- case in point, W.E.B. Du Bois. By mediocrity, I took him to mean a meticulous status quo thinker, not the really creative foundation-questioning thinkers. They are doomed to the margins, with cult-like followings. Hah! I laugh again. I love when I stumble over things like this I missed the first time. Oh, but did you see the ASA president-elect?

Anyway, so if you don’t rise to the top and aren’t a really popular teacher, then maybe you are just too good...or maybe not.


At 3:13 PM, Blogger laura said...

In my teaching I try very hard (with only limited success) to keep some semblance of scientific objectivity. I laugh at myself even as I write that phrase. But if we are teaching courses about social problems, and if we are doing so because we care about those issues, then wouldn't it be good both to speak out and to have those courses be popular? What is our responsibility as far as initiating or encouraging social change?

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Erin said...

these are good questions laura, and i was already thinking of writing a post about this topic, so i guess i'll try to answer what i think in a post when i get a minute.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Mike said...

is easy. wealth


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