a good student

Michael Yates mikey+ at SPAMpitt.edu
Mon Mar 19 19:15:29 MST 2001


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little missive titled, "Farewell to
Academe."  The responses were many, and they came from all over the
world. Most were sympathetic, some were critical, and a few were nasty.
I think I responded to everyone who wrote.  Thanks to all who did.

In my note I made some critical comments about my students. So I think
it is only fair that I report on a great classroom experience I had
today.  In my seminar on Marx's Capital, I began last week to assign
pages for specific students to read and then lead the discussion based
upon what they had read.  Today a student led a discusion on the chapter
titled, "Cooperation."  In this chapter, Marx explains that capitalism
requires that capitalists hire a certain mass of workers before they can
extract themselves from the labor process and focus their attention on
superintending the labor process so that they can, in turn, expand and
systematize the extraction of surplus value.   Once a large number of
workers are brought together under a single roof, the very fact that
they work together raises the relative surplus value.  Marx give a
number of examples of this, then points out that while the cooperation
of laborers and the attendant rise in productivity are remarkable human
achievements, in capitalism, this cooperation is imposed by the
capitalist and is therefore experienced by the workers in an alienating
way.  Marx hints that cooperation can be achieved without the
capitalist, and he provides some examples.

My student came to class in a coat and tie!  He brought two friends to
hear him.  He is a business major, and as a group, business majors here
are distinguished by thier general lack of enthusiasm for things
intellectual and their dislike of and poor performance in economic
classes.  This particular student is an exception.  He was initially
antagonistic to Marx, but he has been impressed by Marx's remarkable
brilliance and insight into the nature of capitalism. He gave an
excellent presentation, complete with a good outline of the chapter,
clear and concise explanations, and very concrete and interesting
examples (though he did refer to a couple of movies I had not seen but
the students had.  Made me feel a little old! And I was a little envious
too.). We had a good discussion afterwards, including discussion of the
Rochdale cooperative movement, the so-called tragedy of the commons, the
possibility of socialism in one country, the propagandistic attacks on
indigenous peoples accused of trashing their environments, etc.

I felt very good after this class.  I congratulated my student for a job
well done. I should have hugged him. At the same time, I regretted that
this does not happen more often, that I and all too many teachers have
to deal with too many classes, too many students, and all the other
problems besetting academe. But, today for a moment or two, I felt like
shouting like James Cagney White Heat, "Look at me now, ma, [I'm on] top
of the world."

Michael Yates






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