In my recent googling around, I encountered a post by Professor Marjorie Faulstich Orellana of UCLA in which she suggested that there is a “‘Love’ Revolution” underway in education. She in turn pointed to a New York Times article about the centrality of “love” in medicine and education. As reaction against the punitive and judgment-drenched testing, measuring, accountability tide, this one aims to restore this positive affect in “helping professions.”
And while most of us—especially in higher education—do not think of ourselves as involved in a “helping profession,” it is undeniable that we bring ourselves to our encounters. We professors, like K-12 teachers, are not simply technocratic dispensers of information. We are not simply judges of our human charges. We have to be there, fully engaged, with our bodies and minds and hearts.
At best, some encounter occurs. Some connection is made.
This both helps the “learning” and makes the entire experience worthwhile.
Research in cognitive science, for example by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio, shows that emotion is required even for the more cognitive and moral aspects of learning.
I am unaware of much research about the affective burden—or reward—on faculty in higher education, though misdeeds about the abusive power relations ending in sexual harassment do fill the news.
For one of my classes I am reading Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Managed Heart again, where she writes of the “emotional labor” that people in service industries must undertake. Her study focused on flight attendants and bill collectors, people serving as the face of their industry or those who had to defend themselves against angry customers.
But the “emotional labor” and the emotional payoff of higher education is rarely discussed. Is this, in Eviatar Zerubavel’s terms, an “elephant in the room”—something never stated but always known? Why is it never mentioned?
In one of my classes this semester, one of my students brought in the six terms in ancient Greek for “love”.
College faculty have many motives. In the United States there are about 1.5 million faculty in higher education (2013 figures). Obviously they differ in significant ways.
But what is it that keeps people in graduate school for five to ten, or more, years, only to earn substantially lower salaries than their peers with professional degrees? What keeps people working as adjunct faculty despite salaries near minimum wage? It is not only the economic “sunk costs” that keep them hoping to get a better job.
No, they do it for the passion.
So one of the mysterious, frustrating things about teaching in college is that we rarely admit that we do it out of love.
Please requite that love, students!