Was the paper you just turned in really shitty? Did you just fail that exam? I bet it wasn’t, and I bet you didn’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it — or to say it myself.
This kind of language, which I can only think to call academic self deprecation, can be heard all the time. It seems like a default setting, a small talk staple. I can’t help but wonder how my response would change if my mom or professor asked me how prepared I felt for an upcoming exam rather than a classmate — it would probably be more flattering.
I think we use this language for each other, our fellow peers. It emphasizes our common situation, that of the student: bearing our academic cross, burning the midnight oil! We know the effort that classes require. When we academically self deprecate, it is taken with a healthy grain of salt by our peers. Then why do we put down the fruit of our labor? If I actually failed the exams that I had claimed to, I would be really bummed out!! But there is another factor — in saying I failed, I am speaking to my own insecurity, the uncomfortable possibility that I may not be capable of success.
Really, I don’t know what to make of this trend of academic shame. There are probably some very valid psychological explanations. But I think a large part of the reason that it’s so popular is that it’s contagious. No one wants to be the weeny to follow an insecure remark: “Maybe you feel that way… but I feel great!!!”
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t voice insecurities that naturally arise under a considerable course load. As we’re all students together, it’s only right to commiserate on a late night in the library. But what would happen if our default response wasn’t to put ourselves and our work down? I can’t help but hear my mom in my ear, telling me to believe in The Secret and envision that A+ at the top of the page. I have a feeling only good things could come from a little positivity. Maybe we would find ourselves rising to our own high standards. Or if nothing else, maybe we’d start having different conversations about our classes and school work.
And really, self deprecation is as unfashionable and uncomfortable in academia as in other parts of life. How about some academic self love?
The paper you just turned in really reflected the time you spent on it! You just did pretty well on that exam!