Hell’s Classroom – Chronicle.com

Hell’s Classroom – Chronicle.com.

William Pannapacker (writing as “Thomas H. Benton”), a professor at Hope College, in Holland, Michigan, compares Gordon Ramsay’s boot-camp-style TV cooking show, “Hell’s Kitchen”, to a university classroom.  The author describes this “fearsome reality-TV judge” as “a warrior in the battle against snowflake culture” — the notion that everyone is special, unique, beautiful, and must therefore be encouraged, not criticized, no matter how they perform.

The most interesting part of this article to me is the enumeration of the limitations of the classroom teacher:

For teachers in higher education, Hell’s Kitchen is a fantasy about having the authority and personal strength to bring out the best in our students. It is, of course, not something that we can live in reality. (“Turn in a pathetic essay like that again and I’ll throw you out of here, you brainless sheep. Now piss off!”)

We cannot hold our students captive in a panopticon of 24/7 video surveillance, exposing their moments of weakness for criticism. We cannot kick them out of our classes for failing to live up to our highest expectations. We cannot punish students by making them gut squid or reward them with a trip to Le Cirque. We cannot promise them fame and fortune. We can’t even promise them a job. Moreover, our task is not to identify the “best” performer, but to improve the performance of everyone in the class.

The artificial conditions of Hell’s Kitchen provide Ramsay with a portfolio of motivational tools unavailable to most teachers.  But his program does offer a much-needed shot of confidence in the ability of teachers to transform snowflakes into serious students by believing in the value of our disciplines and worrying less about what our students think of us.

Of course, Ramsey’s F-word bluster is an attempt to disarm students’ demotivational unearned pride as well as to engage their competitive spirit.(Humiliation also makes great TV.)  But I think it’s more important that Ramsay cares deeply, not about his students, but about their performance — cares enough to vomit into a trash can after sampling one student dish.  While the drill-seargant-style abuse he dishes out has its role, it’s his obvious genuine concern for excellence that melts the “snowflakes”.

It’s not so much “believing in the value of our disciplines” as “believing in the value of doing well in our disciplines” that we need to own and demonstrate.


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