I have just finished another semester of VCR repairperson school and because I am an advanced repairman, I actually spent the end of the semester grading student papers rather than writing them. This is by no means my first time grading, but this time for some reason that I have begun to reflect on the ethics of the disciplining task in which I am engaged. You see, like all classes, my VCR class this semester had a particular perspective on how one should approach VRC-repairpersonship. By no means was the class dogmatic, and in some respects this class was open to a great variety of various VCR hermeneutical approaches (a budding field). However, certain approaches are always excluded and it just so happens that these approaches seem to coincide with the kinds of approaches that many people come to the class with.
It is by no means unreasonable that a teacher should expect that the students leave the class with an enhanced perspective than what they entered with, but this is precisely where the ethical dilemma lies. What if people really “believe” in the way that they had previously been taught to repair VCR’s? It was the way that their father taught them or maybe they had taught themselves in high school after a troubled early-adolescence. They maybe read around some different manuals and thought that they had a pretty good idea what it was all about. The point is that they really believe that what they are doing is the right way and refuse to consider the methods we are learning in class. To what degree should these beliefs be respected simply because they are beliefs?
You might wonder why these people are taking the class if they already know so much. The answer to this is complicated. Maybe it is a requirement for their general small-appliances repairperson degree. Maybe it is to give them that stamp of authority that they can brandish even if they totally hated the class. Maybe they expected the class to confirm and expand upon their already knew. Who knows. I suppose that ultimately it is irrelevant. They took the class. They despised what they learned. They will now go back to what they were doing before and maybe even blog one day about how their wacky teachers and XYZ VRC school taught them all sorts of junk.
Of course, I have to give these people a bad grade. Some of them get scared straight after the mid-term and really try to figure out what is going on. Some of them fake it. Some of them simply refuse and take their licks. Discipline isn’t always effective. But aren’t people entitled to their beliefs? What exactly is the problem with this behavior? Isn’t this precisely the modern dilemma, that, as Zizek says, “we ultimately perceive as a threat to culture those who live their culture immediately, those who lack distance toward it.” Is the problem then not that my students believe a certain thing, but that they can’t critically engage their own beliefs according to the standards of contemporary VCR science? But is complete critical distance even possible? Is it really desirable? Isn’t critical distance precisely the loss of culture, the real threat to culture? Does my disciplinary gaze destroy culture? Should some beliefs be protected and others not? On what basis?
What if instead of beliefs about VCRs, I actually had to teach a religion or philosophy class? What if it was Sunday School?