Students Should Be Seen, Not Heard

By Chris Collins

The return to in-person classes was a sigh of relief from the whole of UCLA. It brought back a sense of normalcy but also presented a critical question: whether or not teachers felt it best for their classes to return to in-person. Since the question of staying online or going back in-person is a rather new one, the Undergraduate Council of UCLA gave teachers the ability to petition for their courses to remain online if certain extenuating circumstances persisted. For example, if a student or teacher was unable to return to the country due to visa issues or COVID complications, that would be reason enough to keep the course online. 

 In the interest of giving students a taste of democracy, a number of teachers turned to them and asked their preference: “Would you prefer to keep class online or return to in-person instruction?” Unless that preference was substantiated with a legitimate reason that falls under the exceptions outlined by the undergraduate council or the teachers or students lied, it wouldn’t make a difference. 

Despite being a worthless gesture, this question represents an interesting moment where teachers have turned to their students for a change and listened to their voice. Our return to in-person classes shows just why we, as students, don’t deserve that voice.

According to UCLA, there are no good reasons to prefer online classes to in-person, besides the exceptions outlined by the council. In fact, the council says, “instructors should bear in mind the long-term social and psychological benefits that the in-person campus community offers our students, which they have been deprived of during the epidemic.” The council isn’t looking at the COVID situation in isolation as an epidemic, but it’s also considering the impact on students. Unfortunately, students figuring out what’s best for themselves is at odds with what the education system values: grades. 

Our university makes efforts to include mental health in its COVID considerations without recognizing that grades weigh more heavily on students’ mental health than almost all else. 

Grades alone provide students with a sufficient reason to prefer online to in-person. Online tests and quizzes are much harder to regulate and no matter how little time the teacher gives, cheating is hard not to do. The heart of this whole problem lies at the heart of why students cheat: the grade is valued over the experience. 

When making a decision about our education, we don’t have the luxury of considering our experience on its own because there’s always a sword of Damocles hanging overhead. We don’t know what’s best for ourselves. Actively taking part in this system, we can never know. The challenge of knowing what’s right in the moment is one far beyond the scope of school, but it’s also an issue that’s been solved: look to those who’ve already gone through what you’re going through. In this case, defer completely and utterly to your teachers. 

When we set foot into the school system willingly and not at the gunpoint that is truancy, we’re admitting that we want this. And when we pay for it, we’re saying that we believe in what the system offers. At the heart of the education system is the belief that the educators have more knowledge than those being educated. So long as we have faith in that, what’s best for us as students should be nothing more than listening to and following the wisdom set down by those who’ve been down this path before and who felt confident enough in their knowledge of it to pursue a career in educating students to its proper end.

Admittedly, the path changes. It did with COVID and with classes returning to in-person, but that doesn’t affect the fact that these teachers are in positions where they’re meant to know what’s best. They may have never seen an epidemic first hand, but neither have we. What they do have is years worth of hard-fought knowledge and wisdom that makes them more than qualified to make decisions with our best interests at heart. And ideally, if they don’t, they shouldn’t be a part of the system.

When wanting what’s best in the long run means forgoing what’s easiest, it presents a challenge. Overcoming the innate want and preference for ease is a hard thing to do. Rather than give ourselves the option of succumbing, it makes it all the better for us to have no voice at all. If the teachers want what’s easier too, they shouldn’t be teachers. If the students want what’s easier, we’re just students, it’s part of the job description. Part of being a student should be breaking that barrier and overcoming the innate preference for ease, but that’ll never happen if we get the vote. 

So long as our voice is out of any important position, teachers can make the right decisions free of our shackling pleas for ease. They can resume in-person classes where cheating is admittedly harder and where we may have to fight harder for our education, but, at the end of the day, that’s a decision best left to the teachers.

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