Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sucking Up Is Sucking More

Just a handy note for the kids out there in cyberland: trying to suck up is probably not a good idea.  If done poorly, it hurts.  If not done at all, there is no risk.  And doing it right usually does not pay off much.

Today, I had a student offer me a happy Jewish New Year after class ended.  Well, as those who read the Spew here probably have guessed, my identification with the people of the book (no, not that one--the other one) is not so good.  Regardless, it came off more as: hey, you and I are both part of the same club, wink, wink.  Well, even if I identified strongly with that club, I think I would still mind the injection of kinship in a non-kin situation.  If we were shopping for bagels, it would make sense--hey, these Montreal bagels suck, right?  If I was looking for a good moyel (is that how it is spelled?), I could use some advice from a co-religionist.  But since I teach at a secular school, I guess I don't really want religion brought in, unless it is for the subject, which it often is (why religion might cause more ethnic conflict than language, for instance). 

Anyhow, that was my annoyance du jour.  And I think it is less about religion and more about suck up strategies that, well, suck.


Kev D. said...

Completely hilarious.

Mrs. Spew said...

It's called Mohel or Moyle, dear. That one at least you should know. :)

Steve Greene said...

Mazel Tov?

Jacob T. Levy said...

I find this a very strange thing to have been annoyed about at all. People wish each other happy holidays of one sort or another all the time, both within and across all the relevant barriers-- and students like to have a friendly moment or exchange with a professor for reasons besides sucking up.

I then find it a very strange thing indeed to call your student out *in public* about. No, you haven't used a name, but this is a student in your class.

Question: how do you react if a student wishes you happy [American] Thanksgiving? I'm sure that's happened. If it doesn't annoy you, then this is a story about your own issues with your relationship to Judaism, not a story about your annoyance that students suck up by expressing banal courtesies on the basis of some perceived shared trait.

Be forewarned: someday a student will smile and say "how are you, Professor Saideman?" That will not indicate an attempt to grade-grub by establishing a deep personal and existential connection on the basis of how you really are. It will be courteous and friendly, and nothing more, and you needn't chastise the student for it.

Steve Saideman said...

Jacob, your analogies here leave much to be desired, but you raise a few good issues.

I think there is a distinction between Happy Turkey Day and L'shana tova (apples and chairs, not apples and oranges): I have identified myself as an American, but I have not identified myself as Jewish. So, he had to guess what I am and then raise the salience of that supposedly shared identity.

It might be partly about my "issues with my relationship to Judaism" but I think it was more about the inappropriateness of assuming kinship, privileged kinship, that did not exist. The funny thing is that I am teaching my IR of ethnic conflict class as well (the incident in question was in my intro to IR class) where I spent a whole class talking about how people identify themselves. I guess my identity as a non-observer with a Jewish name may have been activated by someone who presumed an us-ness which just made him more of an "other" to me.

Second bad analogy--how are you? This may or may not be invasive or inappropriate, as tone* matters. I definitely felt that the tone was off, but, perhaps my "issues" colored my perceptions.

But you are right, I probably should not have called out the student. I should read the Drezner and Carpenter piece on IR 2.0 before I blog further to figure this stuff out. On the other hand, this student previously made a bad joke in my 600 person class, so drawing attention seems to be desired rather than avoided in this case.

Of course, the major issue here is that professors will vary in what they perceive to be ordinary friendliness and too much sucking up. I doubt that you would disagree with my claim that too much sucking up is off-putting.

* A bit funny here to be talking about tone since I always argue with my wife--she insists I have a tone when I don't think so.