• College Ready Writing

    A blog about education, higher ed, teaching, and trying to re-imagine how we provide education.


Thinking about “Passion”

Some follow-up thoughts on a much-maligned concept. 

January 29, 2015

It came up a number of times in the comments of my last post around the dangers of talking about “passion” when it comes to teaching, particularly in regards to how this term has been used to set up an exploitative labor system (see this and this and this). I, of course, completely agree; as someone who was in a position that was highly exploitative for a number of years, I quickly came to realize the limits of “passion” and being able to “do what I love,” which is teach.

What’s interesting though, is I never actually used the word “passion” in my post. What hooks said was “excitement,” and while I used the word love, I was thinking of it in a Frierian sense in terms of teaching as an act of love. So while “doing what you love” and “following your passion”, as well as “if you love it, the money shouldn’t matter” and “passion means working all the time on it,” are potentially dangerous pieces of advice (and at the very least short-sighted), I think we need to reframe it to keep it in the conversation, particularly around teaching and learning.

Even if you don’t see teaching as an act of love, at least we need to understand it as an activity that needs to be based in respect and hope. We all know (or have had) the professor who does not respect the students, or hold any hope for them being successful in the discipline or (in the most extreme cases) life. Certainly the most motivated students learn, but how meaningful and lasting will that learning be, and what other lessons are all the students receiving as a result of this attitude?

Speaking of motivation, how do we motivate students to want to learn? How do we motivate ourselves to write another grant application, put together another essay, etc, etc, etc? I mean, besides tenure and promotion and the job market? Usually, we do it because we are exploring a question or issue that gets us excited. How do we get our students excited? How do we harness that? The issue of motivation is a complex one in education, and I am not trying to reduce it to one word or concept, but as educators we can’t simply ignore the role that strong feelings in our students play in the role of learning. To reiterate the quote from hooks: “our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interests in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.”

And what does this mean in the realm of faculty development, where the learners (I won't call them students) and facilitators (I won't call them teachers) are in much different positions, both in terms of the power dynamic and motivation. How does these conversations impact the way we do workshops, consult, in fact design entire professional development programs for faculty? For a very simple example, we know that when faculty feel forced to attend, they don't tend to change their behaviors. Feelings matter. But of course, those feelings are much different, and differently expressed, in this dynamic than in the traditional classroom (if we can even call it that anymore). 

So, yes, let’s remain critical of the rhetoric of passion, but let’s also make sure that we don’t completely forget about affect. 


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