I was very pleased to see all of the interest in the To Student, or not to student post! The discussion, much of which was sparked by an initial distinction between a student-who-learns and a student-who-students (a la Sartre's garçon de café) seemed to concentrate on the "inauthenticity" of the latter. I thought it might be helpful, then, to revisit Sartre's café waiter from Being and Nothingness and see how close he is (or isn't) to the studenting student.
(That's the lovely Jean-Paul Sartre in the photo above. If one could transform the noun "French intellectual" into a gerund, that is what Sartre seems to be doing in that Parisian cafe, in black and white, with his pipe and MontBlanc pen, looking pensive and slightly perturbed... which reminds me of an insight by John R. that didn't make it onto the last discussion board. John reminded me that we should also consider a parallel category for the teachering-teacher, who is more concerned with learning the tricks of authority and perfecting the teacherly-image than in facilitating learning.)
To review, we will recall that Sartre's café waiter is described in a section on "Bad Faith." Sartre argues that human existence has two modes-- facticity and transcendence-- and we are ever negotiating a kind of "metastable" oscillation between the two. One is in bad faith when one tries to exclusively occupy a single pole of that pairing; either one "flees his or her freedom" and acts as if s/he was an object, or one "denies his or her facticity" and pretends to be unencumbered by the givenness of his or her situation. The café waiter, as Sartre decsribes him, is guilty of the first. He believes that he can "be a waiter" in the way that an inkwell is an inkwell. Sartre describes the waiter "waitering" in the following:
"His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the persons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer... He returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tightrope-walker by putting it in a perpatually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand... He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We need not watch long before we can explain it: he is playing at being a waiter in a café." (Being and Nothingness, 101-102)
When I teach this section to my students, I always ask them to imagine the affects and movements of a TGIF or Applebee's waiter, which I think is the closest American equivalent to the French café waiter. The point is, of course, that the waiter is in bad faith because he is "fleeing his freedom." He is trying to realize the being-in-itself (en soi) of "the café waiter." But he can never simply be a waiter in that way because he always has the freedom to transcend that situation (even if he denies it). As Sartre points out, there is nothing stopping him from waking up one morning and deciding not to go to work, or not to perform his job so eagerly and solicitously, save his denial that such actions are real possibilities.
Sartre's point is to emphasize the instability of this facticity-transcendence relation. We are what we are in the mode of not being it. Everytime we attempt to reduce ourselves to our facticity, we immediately realize that those facts can be transcended. Correspondingly, every time we pretend that we are unencumbered by our facticity, we find ourselves confronted with the limits of our freedom.
Back to the "student": I don't think studenting is (exactly) an instance of Sartre's bad faith. That is, I don't think that the student-who-students is simply "faking it" or "playing at being a student." I think studenting is a whole other activity than learning. That is not to say that one can't also "play at" studenting, but that wasn't the point of making the distinction between the student-who-students and the student-who-learns, as I understand it. Studenting isn't necessarily in bad faith in the same way that the waiter-waitering is, because the student-who-students isn't merely attempting to achieve the en soi of a student, but is trying to achieve a host of ends for which studenting is a means. Hence, studenting invovles a kind of pour soi.
On some level, I think we want to believe that studenting is "inauthentic" because we want to believe that our students should only be learning. But isn't that just objectifying, in a way, our students by expecting them to be "learners" in the way that an inkwell is an inkwell?