Tutorialism

When I was in graduate school, I tutored low-income high school students through the Princeton Review’s non-profit branch, to prepare them for taking the SAT. While I had the satisfaction of knowing I was helping some really smart kids get into college, SAT prepping isn’t really education.  Most of it consists of teaching kids how to game the system — the SAT is a really unsophisticated test, and all it takes is a few simple tricks to boost your score 100 or even more points.

The fight-the-system anti-authoritarian in me was perfectly comfortable with that, in that context, but the teacher in me wasn’t.  What I really wanted was to be able to actually teach these kids, to help expand their horizons a little — especially as the New York City schools had failed them so badly. I would have liked to have been able to teach them actual EnglishMath, and Science skills, teach them to use their minds to take apart and reassemble the world around them.

In short, I wanted to be an actual tutor, a teacher, to teach them the way I’m now lucky enough to be able to teach my classes full of college students every semester.  I love teaching at the university and at the community college, although sometimes I feel like we get them too late at the university, that most of what we teach — at least in the social sciences — should have been part of the typical high school education.  Whether I’m teaching anthropology or women’s studies, what I’m usually teaching is how to look at the society around us with a critical eye, to see the rifts and contradictions that we’ve been taught to ignore, and the connections and relationships that we’ve also been taught to ignore. That we release our high school graduates into the wild without such skills is, quite frankly, to our enduring shame as a society. 

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