Thursday, March 30, 2017

Academia's introverts

... Teacher" Category | Funny | Pinterest | Teaching, Shy'm and So true
The push now moves STEM curricula forward, shoving aside the liberal arts and all those impecunious pursuits unable to be justified by the tens of thousands parents and students accrue in debt. The government wants to cut programs that don't show results in terms of quantifiable job placements and incomes able to sustain a graduate. The corporations want to use academia as the minor leagues for workers and the batter's cage for lucrative grants in turn funding yet another war machine.

Nothing new. But my friend, who teaches in Liverpool, shared this post by a former student of his. As a relevant aside, searching for an image to grace this piece, I see that a colleague of my friend is at the same university. Joe Moran speaks up at Times Higher Education for the "shy academic" and figures he's at home in its groves. Solitary reflection for this historian infuses then the exchanges he benefits from. Inside Higher Education presents Ellie Bothwell's summation that cultural differences also contribute to the problem. African and Middle Eastern scholars may publish less and hunker down. For America, like England, however, our supervisors step up our speed, for their profits. Qualitative goals, for even reticent humanists, loom.

Keene Short's blog entry (at his Pens and Pencils site today appearing as "Soft-Spoken in Academia") articulates predicaments common to those of us less beholden to this leviathan and more concerned about the little guys and gals, ourselves included, who must bow lest we're crushed by the juggernaut. I contemplate this as the federal budget demands $1.1 trillion for "defense," tellingly,

Keene Short (aka JK) faces, as he starts grad school, the same situation I did back in the Orwellian year at UCLA. As part of the arrangement for doctoral candidates, you contributed your labor to teaching the lower-end courses that the tenured shunned. For what was then about $9k a school year. For the next six, I taught for the whole span permitted for a TA, while pursuing my "terminal degree."

Twenty-three, fresh with a Master's, I was given my first freshman (can I still say that?) composition course. These measured around twenty-five on the roster, a fact I recall with sadness as I will have forty enrolled in my upcoming online course (we must teach at least one annually as a way to boost the institutional profile with more doctorate-level instructors, as the quality lagged overall online. The bloom is off that rose.) One administrator a while back assured us faculty that there was "no evidence" to account for smaller class sizes resulting in improved educational results. I'd have liked to see those data. My tendonitis flares up whenever I carry out the myriad tasks accompanying an online deluge of paperwork, and we're required to be online practically daily. If I take time off, the amount of written assignments small (which can exceed now 250 a week as threaded discussion posts) and big as essays and exams requiring scrutiny (rather than as multiple-choice tests or quizzes textbook-prefabricated and happily used (and abused as answers proliferate online, as I warned them) exponentially soars. I digress to show how technology has heightened rather than eased workloads.

Back to my recent fellow-toiler, he observes how the soft-spoken among us in academic circles fare. JK labels it the "competitive fast-paced aggressively limited-time-offer college-industrial complex."

Portraying his introductory rhetoric course's demands, he finds students want to win arguments. Reporting on his pedagogy course's expectations, he tells how production is pushed upon the ranks of grad students earlier than ever. "Paths" and "timelines" turn students of all levels into hurried output. I teach at a business and tech-oriented institution, where the humanities are on the side, with no majors and no tenure. I'm expected to "turnaround" grades quickly. I am judged on this by both students and whomever mans the Panopticon as we all scurry about online under the pressure to meet "outcomes."

Rather than "patience" or "scruples," JK sees that this system's fueled by "the production of ideas, the teeming blue schools of links clicked on a given day, the riptides of steady marketable publications."

He concludes with sentiments I second. "But there is not a place in the current scheme of things for the soft-spoken, for people who are here to learn regardless of what degrees I may or may not get out of it. I don’t fit in. Maybe that’s a good thing." As for me, yes, I produce. Partly because my predilections, my training, and my interests direct me from within. Partly because a small percentage (reduced now to 15% along with nebulous "professional activity"; cf. the shift from 60% to 45% not of course loads but weight given teaching as opposed to the new 25% for "university and program service" on committees galore) still counts towards a "performance review." And I was born curious.

One final perspective I'll add: we all play parts. I am more aloof and shy on my own as away from the classroom. My third of a century this year in that role requires some aspect of a dynamic "sage on the stage" to thrive and survive for so long teaching. While the "guide on the side" of androgogy is touted as the latest trend, to "spin" the energy back to the students, rousing them from endemic passivity, I'd aver, coming home after one more night of thousands now in my avocation and my career, that we teachers remain the energizers of everyone else in the florescent, screen-proliferating realm we inhabit. To coax our charges out of their smartphone and PC burrows, we have to act as if coaches. This requires a role model that transforms even a shy guy or gal, on both sides of the storied podium.

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