Academic Habits

I don’t think that my job as a teacher is to give students “facts” for them to evaluate; more likely, my job is to teach them how historically variable frameworks of understanding both make facts come into existence and make evaluation of such facts possible. This would be easier, perhaps, if they did not come into my course with deeply sedimented frameworks of understanding and deeply habituated thought practices.

Phrases like “our Savior” have no place in an academic paper (unless they’re being quoted), but they inevitably pop up given (my) students’ habitus. Such academic errors cannot be fixed by giving students new facts. On the contrary, instructors must help students develop academic habits, through a process of counter-socialization, so to speak.

Pierre Bourdieu has gotten inordinate mileage out of a continual commentary on phrases such as “sit up straight,” and with good reason. Our task, as instructors, is perhaps not primarily cognitive but habitual; perhaps an academic semester is best understood as 14 to 16 weeks of saying “sit up straight academically.”

Reminding myself of this helps me avoid frustration when students don’t “get it” at first—no one can develop good academic habits immediately, any more than one could learn how to play piano by simply reading and understanding a book about piano playing.

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2 Responses to Academic Habits

  1. Pingback: Compare, Comparing, Comparison | Bulletin for the Study of Religion

  2. Randi Warne says:

    I get very few of the faithful in my classes, but I did have one kid this past term who sprinkled a short diagnostic essay in Evil with Biblical quotes. Weird. I gather a number of folks on this list have to deal with this issue on a regular basis. I’m more plagued with ahistoricity, overgeneralization and feel- good self esteem talk. (I expect this may familiar ground for many as well). The shock on the students’ faces when I agree that everyone has the right to an opinion, but that some opinions are wrong is quite funny, actually (talk about social taboos). However, it introduces some interesting epistemological questions, most of which they appear less than eager to explore. And yes, Bourdieu is quite helpful here. You can’t reason someone out of a habitus; life habits and contexts have to change. A related issue that crops up with my students is Science and its inviolable authority. This sounds like the flip side of much of what gets discussed on and around this list – ideological absorption without question, but with a somewhat different object in mind. (I just re-read Philip K. Dick’s “The Faith of our Fathers” in Dangerous Visions I – it’s not elegant, but it is disturbing. It’s good for the students, I say. It’s like a tonic!).

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