DOI: 10.1177/19408447231210955 ISSN: 1940-8447

A Perfect Contempt for Teaching

Scott Jarvie, Cori McKenzie, Erica Eva Colmenares
  • General Medicine

In his hopeful defense of poetry, poet Ben Lerner confesses his contempt for the artform as a kind of bulwark against the disappointment inherent in the writing and reading of poetry. Actual poems never do justice to the “transcendent impulse” that drives the poet to language, he argues, but that fact ought not provoke a rejection of Poetry. Instead, he advocates for approaching poetry with, borrowing a phrase from Marianne Moore, a “perfect contempt for it” that creates spaces of possibility for the absent perfection of a poem. In this inquiry, we consider how Lerner’s description of poetry resonates with the experience of teachers and education researchers. We have, each of us, been disappointed by our pedagogy: by lessons gone awry, teaching contexts that yoke us to neoliberal methods, encounters with students that make us feel like failures. Inspired by Lerner, we wondered how we might theoretically reframe this disappointment by channeling it into a perfect contempt for teaching. To do so, we turn to the literature on so-called negative affects (e.g., the work of Sara Ahmed) and an assortment of texts—from teaching journals and email correspondence to poetry and plays—to qualitatively explore two questions: What does it mean to perfect a contempt for teaching? and How might a perfect contempt for teaching function as an affective resource for teachers suffering the sting of disappointment? In inquiring into these we hope, following Lerner, to generate places of possibility in teaching and education research.

More from our Archive