In saying what is obvious, never choose cunning. Yelling works better.
– Cynthia Ozick
I’ve yelled at students before. I’ve yelled, but never in anger. In anger, I’ve left the room. In anger, I’ve asked another teacher to watch my room while I walk to the water fountain to cool down and rehydrate to avoid yelling.
I’ve been angry at my students, but I’ve not acted in anger.
It’s been close a few times.
They, the students, didn’t measure up to expectations, and their professor, after completing his final semester, let them know – publicly.
I’ve read the piece a few times now, and I can’t tell whether or not O’Neill was yelling.
I never find it pleasant or productive to guilt-trip students. But if just one of you reads these words and decides to take your education a bit more seriously, it was worth writing them.
I don’t doubt the experience was difficult and frustrating. Students now and students 40 years ago, likely register as different. Then again, I’d imagine O’Neill now and O’Neill 40 years ago are fairly different.
I want to criticize O’Neill, to write sentence after sentence taking him to task for publicly and unabashedly taking his students to task.
The thing that keeps me from doing that, though, is the same thing I wish had key O’Neill from writing.
I don’t know him.
I know only what he chose to reveal in his writing. The rest I would be inferring.
The same is true of O’Neill’s final class of students. He knew only what they shared with him, and most of that was in their writing.
I cannot make a full-throated critique of O’Neill because I haven’t taken the time to question him, to engage him, to draw out his interests and let the conversation build in the way I hope he did with his students.
I won’t be criticizing O’Neill because to do so would be to use a public forum to assert some sort of power in the communication dynamic. Anything I’d hope to accomplish would be undermined by the fact that a message I meant for an individual was posted for anyone to see. That would be unfair, it wouldn’t put us on equal footing. The medium would be impersonal, while I’d be sending a message meant to have personal meaning.
An open letter would be a passive aggressive thing to do. If my goal was trying to educate someone like O’Neill or push his thinking, an open letter or public posting of my thinking would probably be something I’d be doing out of anger.
And I know acting out of anger when trying to create change can feel cathartic in the moment, but often be damaging to the change I’m trying to create.
As a teacher, I wouldn’t want to do that to my students.
I’m sure O’Neill agrees.