Monday, January 28, 2013

on "My Fake College Syllabus" and other lies

There's been a piece going around called My Fake College Syllabus. I've seen many discussions of it, but I've tried ignoring them...under my policy of "ignore anything which just drives you crazy yet has no hope of changing or resolving" (which, overall,is a pretty good policy for anyone hoping to maintain some modicum of sanity.  However, I've decided to break that policy in this's simply being overwhelmed by events.

So go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

Done yet?

Hurry up, damnit!

Okay, sorry about rushing you, but there is something that bothers me about the original piece.  It assumes worst intentions on everyone's least those mentioned.  And that, based on my experience, just is not the case.

I've been teaching since 1998. While it is true I've met my share of idiot professors, it is also true that they are the minority.  I know far more who care deeply about instruction, about helping students learn.  They, however, are also not the majority.  The majority of them?  They are people who started out caring deeply but have had that care and dedication beaten out of them.

This beating is not, however, always at the hands of the students.  True, there are many of the little bastards who have no initiative, who feel they deserve grades regardless of how hard they work, and/or just want to be left alone and not challenged at all.  There are more who want to learn very much, who go out of their way to do a great job.  Most of them, though, seem to be like the teachers:  they cared deeply at one point and then have had that beaten out of them.

When I was a student, I was one of those who cared way too much.  The main thing that disillusioned me were two-fold.  I hated the various hoops through which I had to jump.  Why, for instance, did I have to Linguistics?  Still never used that skill.  More importantly, though, I hated dealing with the disillusioned faculty.  Why, I always wondered, were they just playing politics and going through the motions?

As a teacher, I understand why many of them are going through the motions.There are many reasons why previously dedicated teachers would do this:
  • High levels of grad school enrollment.  I got into grad school, and I foolishly thought that would lead me to at least a decent chance of finding a job.  Don't get me wrong.  I knew it would take more than simply graduating, doing my work, and getting good grades.  So not only did I work hard, I also did everything else I could think of.  I presented at conferences, I served on committees, and did everything else I could.  But it didn't help.  I failed on the job market, mostly because the odds were stacked against me.  No one told me the extent to which academic employment is a buyer's market.  With the amount of Ph.D.s graduating and the horribly low number of jobs out there, there's a very small chance of anyone finding a job.  It's a crap shoot.
  • The insanity of the job market.  The best phone interview I ever had--where I was told my course ideas were something the fellow faculty would like to take and that what I could add to the department was exactly what they were thinking of when they wrote the job description--did not yield a campus interview.  Hell, the smartest two people I've ever met have job market issues.  The first still doesn't have a job, and the second only got one interview on his first year in the job market.
  • Part time work stress.  See the first year of this blog.
  • Uncertain expectations.  You think this would be easy.  You think that you would be expected to make sure the students learn.  Nah.  Instead, buzz words like retention get used.  One of the reasons I wanted to teach college was that I thought I could hold to my standards first and foremost.  Yet whenever I get evaluated, "how much the students like me" is always the first and biggest determining factor.  I've fought this for years, but finally, I got tired and ditched things which yielded better results.  Why?  The students didn't like them.
Finally--and most importantly--the overall impression that the press, the administration, and most of the world seems to have is that the crisis in education is...whose fault?  My fault!  Who does the state legislature blame for all the woes of the state?  Those damn teachers, because all they do is abuse their job and politically indoctrinate students.  Who does the administration think should take the brunt of the crisis in higher education?  Those damn teachers, who have it too easy, what with their retirement and health care and all.  Why cut the ever-growing administration (at my institution, Arts & Sciences got divided into 5 separate colleges because our university president thought "5 is a good number"....which means 5 more deans, 5 more staffs, and so forth) when you can just cut the labor force or increase their workload?

This finally brings me back to the article.  The picture of a teacher there isn't certainly complementary in any sense.  Nor is the picture of the students or what the teacher expects from them. School certainly seems like a pointless, "academic" exercise in this article.  And who is at fault in this image?  Both the teachers and the students.

Never mind all the systemic faults of the system.

Next time, I will post something 1) not depressing and 2) not about my work.  Promise.