The irreverence of Jim Groom is perhaps what comes to me first and foremost when I am monitoring my reading of him through the lenses of my colleagues.
(Why do I think about what my colleagues think? you ask. Well, I suppose it’s because my colleagues are my environment, and we are usually, if not always, aware of our environment and often influenced by it. At the same time, my colleagues provide the means by which I keep my fingers on the pulse of the academic environment where I live.)
I propose that Jim Groom is different (not surprising if you’ve been to his media sites), and refreshingly so. There are at least four reasons I can see, right off, that make him so: honesty, modeling, the show-and-tell nature of student tasks, and a new academic mode of expression.
Jim is extremely honest in his expression of his thoughts. Why? Maybe because his work is not “reviewed” before he can publish it, maybe because it lends itself to casual spoken discourse (it is, after all, casual spoken discourse). Furthermore, maybe because he seems not to worry about status, he is honest about what he does. The kind of honesty I’m describing is the honesty that normally exists between friends or family members who respect each other and are willing to be open and vulnerable with each other, listen to the other’s point of view even when not agreeing with it. This is not the kind of honesty that is defined by the professor-student hierarchy. This honesty allows Jim Groom to interact with students, not as underlings who must be forced into a mindset, who need ideas and skills shoved into their heads, but as respected friends or acquaintances whom one wants to help, whose understanding one wants to facilitate, whom one can maybe even persuade. I see that as a better, more honest way of interacting with students – and one that has a chance of “taking.” But it is something that is extremely hard for professors to do. We’ve been acculturated differently.
As professors we are caught in the trap of what I’ll call professorial malaise, because we – and sometimes our students as well – (co-)construct a relationship of mutual distrust and distain, of ever increasing numbers of rules and contracts and irritation. There’s a lot to be said on that topic, but I’ll leave it alone for now.
Jim Groom models for his students what he wants them to do. We hear it over and over again, but how many of us do indeed make it a practice to model what we want our students to do?
Jim Groom allows students, through all of this, to “show and tell.” And it is not as kindergarten in nature as you might think, for he is, while facilitating intellectual and skill-related growth in his students, allowing them to be honest as well. Often in the academy we are afraid of our students’ honesty, because we fear that 1) they might not agree with us, 2) they might spout ideas that are blatantly nonsense, and 3) we do not know how to gently and kindly facilitate a move from what we see as “muddled” thinking and understanding to “clearer” thinking and understanding. (And it would mess up our “objective” grading system entirely.) And this is a dilemma not to be taken lightly, as I would say a majority in the academy have these fears and concerns, but are afraid to openly express them – even to themselves.
Finally, what may be (to the Professoriate) one of the most rankling aspects of Jim’s work is his mode of expression, which shatters the time-honored status of the formal written linguistic code of the academy, where linguistic hierarchical code is clearly still entrenched: formal written planned discourse is best, informal spoken unplanned discourse is at the other (worst) end of a long spectrum of gradation of linguistic code.
As a linguist, I am fascinated by Jim’s “remixing” of language use. In one video clip he is using casual spoken everyday discourse that you would use with your closest friends. In the same breath he also makes use of the so-called sophisticated concepts of the academy. So, on the one hand, you will have words and phrases like ‘political bullshit,’ ‘cool,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘fascinating,’ ‘strangely,’ ‘you know,’ ‘ok,’ ‘the zombie is us.’ They will be juxtaposed with words and ideas like ‘triangulation,’ ‘moment of mediation,’ ‘cannibalizing ourselves,’ ‘anthropological question,’ ‘reason and rationality,’ ‘commentary not only on the notion of consumerism, but…,’ ‘the ultimate consumer fantasy,’ ‘takes a very familiar environment and makes it completely alien,’ ‘the zombie is us in a mall,’ and ‘motorized instinct.’
Finally, Jim commits the ultimate “sin” in “rational, empirical, scholarly research,” but does exactly what the people promoting skilled reflection do: he personalizes the ideas to his own life, emotions, and experiences. He is somehow wonderfully stuck in the sixties (where he probably is too young to have ever lived), for he seems to want what he teaches, to be (not just implicitly, but) explicitly relevant to the student producer’s own life experience. In his own modeling he expresses subjectivity and explains how he integrates the content with his own experience: ‘amazing,’ ‘becomes completely depressing,’ ‘when I was growing up,’ and even ‘And that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.’ (A nice intertextual/”inter-discoursal” play.)
In my studied opinion, therefore, “less formal” does not equal “less intellectually engaging.” Indeed, this style of language use could well be a new, and I would say, needed rhetorical subset of intellectual inquiry.
So, my own take is that Jim Groom is bringing intellectual inquiry out of the ivory tower into the messy reality of all of life, and while I myself would be quite reluctant to use ‘bullshit’ in my blogs, nevertheless I believe with Jim: we must make our pedagogy honest, and we must treat our students with respect, no matter how mad they make us, in order for this pedagogical experiment called mass public education to work, and for us not simply to be pawns of – the church, the state, corporate interests, or any public hysteria.