I dunno, I don’t think they hate me…

“Why Do They Hate Us?” is a commentary in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education by Thomas “not his real name” Benton where he laments the sorry state of “anger about professors.”  This piece gives me pause right out of the gate when he begins recapping a series of not so hypothetical unpleasant conversations he’s had over the years.  Among the “unpleasantness” he raises:

  • “What you teach is worthless—I mean, who needs more measurements of Walt Whitman’s beard when the economy and the environment are collapsing?”
  • “Why don’t you English profs just teach people how to write?”

I have to say as someone who teaches writing and not literature in an English department, I don’t think these hypothetical jabs are as inaccurate as Benton implies.

  • “I wish I had tenure and didn’t have to worry about being fired for not doing my job.”

Hardly a new argument, of course, one that misses the point of tenure, and one that seems to also forget that lots of employees– those in unions, those who work for the government– are notoriously hard to fire.  So when this comes up in polite conversation– which it does with my family once in a while– I shrug my shoulders, put up a sort of weak fight intended to educate the complainer that it is isn’t about job security but about academic freedom, and I agree that the system is problematic.  But on the inside, I also agree with Alex Reid when he wrote this about people who say things like “I wish I had tenure and didn’t have to worry about my job” sorts of comments:

“Well, maybe that’s why you don’t have tenure. To get to tenure, a person has to exhaust a tremendous amount of labor. Seven years of graduate school (on average), working as a TA or adjunct, borrowing a lot of money all for the chance to just compete for a tenure-track job. Most people wouldn’t take that risk (probably because they are sane or something). Then one has to negotiate the job market and tenure process. Really you can only get to tenure if you have a tremendous amount of intrinsic motivation for doing the work required.”

  • “My job [pharmaceutical sales] saves lives; your so-called work is a waste of other people’s time and money.”

Pharmaceutical sales?!  Anyone who would actually say that just deserves a punch in the mouth.

Benton then trots out a pretty long and old list of books proclaiming the death of the academic culture (including, for example, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, published a lifetime ago in 1987) and then goes into a pretty typical laundry list of what’s wrong with America as the cause for why “they” “hate” “us.”

I’m not going to go through all of Benton’s reasons for why he feels hated because none of them are remotely new.  Instead, I thought I’d create my own little list as to why I don’t feel like I’m hated.

I’ve clung firmly to the stance that at the end of the day, what I do here is a job. It’s a good job and it’s a job that takes a lot of experience and training, but at the end of the day, it’s a job not unlike many other jobs that take experience and professional training– doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, CEOs, small business owners, etc., not to mention a lot of jobs that might not require as much schooling but that require a level of skill and experience I don’t possess– mechanics, carpenters, welders, farmers, etc.  I mean, I am enough of an elitist to acknowledge that being a college professor isn’t work that can be done by “just anyone,” but academics too often think it’s something much MUCH more than it is.  And again and again, I think that the saddest academics are the ones who somehow thought that becoming a professor was like being crowned prince of the kingdom.

I’m pretty ignorant about most other jobs, too. I agree that it is frustrating to read again and again AND AGAIN that professors are pampered because they can’t get fired, they work six hours a week, they’re drunk before noon, etc., etc.  At the same time, I don’t really know what my allergist does either.  As far as I can tell (based on my once a year or so 20 minute visits where he listens to my breathing, asks me how my shots are going, and where we bullshit about local news and events), he doesn’t do much of anything.  A monkey could go around and see patients like this.  What’s he doing to earn all that money?

Obviously, I know I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  Heck, for all I know there’s a blogger written by an allergist complaining about how stupid people are about the work he does, and I do think my allergist knows his stuff reasonably well.  The point is this:  given that I don’t really know what a lot of professionals really do, why should I be surprised that they don’t know what i do?

I think it’s okay that students go to college for many reasons, including getting a job and/or becoming a professional. I think that when people like Benton write this– “A generation ago, we could still defend the belief that our courses in literature, art, history, philosophy—the liberal arts, broadly defined, and always self-critical—were enriching in ways that could not be deposited in a bank or measured by outcomes assessment”– they’re assuming that at one point going to college was purely an intellectual curiosity, the study of the liberal arts just for the sake of the liberal arts.  That’s silly.  Higher education in North America for the last 300 years (and before that in Europe, of course) has always had some occupational component to it.   Becoming “self-critical” and a “better” and “enriched” person was and continues to be the mission, but to suggest that was ever the only reason for higher education is just wrong.

I value my teaching and my colleagues, and I do only the scholarship I want to do. Maybe another way of putting this:  not all jobs in higher education have been created equal by any stretch of the imagination, and at EMU, a lot of the traditional and fairly wide-spread problems of work in higher education just aren’t here.  There is “solidarity” of a sort among faculty through the faculty union, and the requirements for tenure and promotion and tenure are modest enough here that we get to do things that we want to do and not that we feel like we have to do.  Though I will admit this isn’t true everywhere.

I am lucky enough to live in a college town where being a professor isn’t a weird job. I’m lucky enough to live in a county where there are literally 75,000 or more college students and a stone’s throw away from Ann “college town central” Arbor.  I have to admit it’s a lot easier to be a college professor when you’re surrounded by a lot of other college professors.

So, like I said.  I don’t feel too hated.  And I don’t feel too sorry for myself either.

And in more link catching up news

Again, in no particular order– just things I want to keep track of that I have left open in my browser for a while now:

  • “Reading in a Whole New Way,” which is a very readable/accessible piece about how technology has altered the sense of “book,” from Smithsonian.com. And this is a link to the article itself, where there is worry about the iPad.
  • Speaking of which:  “Revisualizing Composition:  Mapping the Writing Lives of First-Year College Students” is a WIDE whitepaper/study about the way that students use writing technologies to write in different aspects of their lives.  There’s a lot here, but I was struck by the idea that students write as often for “personal fulfillment” (with Facebook, texting, etc.) than for school.
  • “Nine Important Trends in the Evolution of Digital Textbooks and E-learning Content,” from something called “xplana.”  I think these trends are debatable at best, but I like things that speculate about the future of publishing, especially when they are horribly wrong.
  • I really liked this cbd post “Taking Notes,” and I wanted to keep a link– a note?– of it for future reference.  Lots of good stuff here.
  • To be honest, I don’t know if this is worth passing on, but I will anyway:  From Inside Higher Ed, “An Adjunct’s Novel,” which in some ways seems amusing but in many ways seems rather predictable to me.
  • Here’s a link to an iPhone app I might try out later, something called the Sleep Cycle alarm clock. Though the whole thing seems a bit problematic to me.  First off, I set an alarm for a particular time not because it is the “best time” for me to necessarily wake up, but because it is the time that I logistically need to wake up to go on with my day.  Second, I don’t get how this app could possibly work, and I guess what bothers me most is that the reviews suggest that it does indeed work.
  • I might get this book called The Whuffie Factor:  Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business because it does sound pretty interesting.  But to be honest, between stuff I’m reading for school and for fun right now, this is going to have to go down the list a bit. Still, for the Kindle (iPad, of course) edition, it might be worth it for the next time I’m on a plane.
  • What’s the point of an iPad?  How might it be used in the “real world?”  Here’s a link from Apple to tell us. I’ve pulled my iPad out a couple of times in my first year composition class and what I think is interesting is that my students in that class seem pretty dismissive of its usefulness.  So much for “digital natives” understanding this stuff so much better.
  • Speaking (again and again!) of the iPad:  I recently won an iShine give-away from PadGadget by being early enough on Twitter to retreat an article from the site PadGadget.  Here’s a review of the iShine, which I mostly agree with.  I prefer to have my iPad in its Apple case because it’s easier to prop it up and such, but the iShine bag is handy and easy too.
  • Finally, this is something I really ought to do with my laptop:  from Lifehacker comes “Starting from Scratch:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Reinstalling Your OS.”

iPad-themed (with Logorama) catch-up post

This has been a busy week and a half (give or take) with school and life, and I’ve starred a bunch of stuff in my Google reader to go back to and post eventually, mostly iPad related.  In no particular order, here they are:

There was another article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I can’t find the link for about how iPads are being used in universities, mostly misused as far as I can tell.  There was some school where they gave students the choice of having either a laptop or an iPad and they seem surprised at the number of people who chose the laptop.  Well, that’s a no-brainer to me.  I still get asked on a fairly regular basis what I think of my iPad, and while I like it a lot, it is not a replacement for a computer.  I could probably live without a laptop with my iPad because I have a desktop computer, but an iPad is not a substitute for a computer.  What I have mostly enjoyed my iPad for as far as school goes lately is just reading and marking up the PDFs I am teaching. iAnnotate is my killer app.

And on a completely unrelated note, here’s a link to the completely excellent short film Logorama:

Logorama from Human Music & Sound Design on Vimeo.

Apple (apparently) thinks books and apps are two different things

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article on the blog/web side Dvice, “You shouldn’t care about Apple easing up on Flash apps.” My friend (and the folks at Dvice) are mostly interested in some of the ways in which Apple is not really easing up on Flash and also some of the kind of snarky language from Apple about their guidelines, much of which I agree with– they don’t need any more fart apps, for example.  Here’s a link to an endgadget article on all this.

But the last paragraph in the Dvice post is kind of interesting to me:

Our favorite: “We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”

It can get complicated indeed.  For example, what if you wanted to create a book that was critical of a particular religion– the Catholics for child abuse, the Scientologists for being kind of goofy, whatever– and you decided that words in a row were not enough, and you wanted to create a more interactive text, something with audio and video, something that could be manipulated more by the reader.  Unless I’m missing something, that means by definition that you’re creating something that is not an iBook or a Kindle book.

I guess what I’m saying is I’m not completely against Apple’s desire to filter and censor some materials it wants to sell.  Every retailer does that, though with Apple’s monopoly of selling stuff for their devices, perhaps they should be willing to be more open-minded and inclusive.  What I am questioning though is this passage’s easy definition of a book.  Seems to me that Apple already sells a lot of apps that are really books and that are evidence enough about the fuzziness of the boundaries between “book” and “app.”

Hey, that’s my farm!

Well, “my farm” may be a bit of a stretch, but just the other day, someone via Facebook posted this New York Times article about Tantré Farm, “Field Report:  Will Work for Food.” Tantré Farm is where Annette and I (along with Steve B. and Michelle) get a “Community Supported Agriculture” share.  Basically, CSA means we buy a “share” which entitles us to a produce from the farm for about 20 weeks of the year.

Besides being a good thing in terms of the produce and the experience of going out to the farm (and remember, for me going to the grocery store is an aesthetic experience) and a good thing in terms of the community, it’s a pretty good deal.  This time of year, we get a TON of stuff– I’ve pickled  pounds and pounds of green beans, and I probably could have canned some tomatoes too. Plus there’s the experience of going out to the farm itself, which is always kind of fun and reminds me why I don’t want chickens.

Oddly, there wasn’t much kale this year.

Anyway, if you get a chance to support your local CSA, I’d encourage it.

Three brief thoughts on burning the Koran

You have perhaps heard this story, about the nut-jobs in Florida (so many of them are in Florida) who are going to have a “Koran burning” on 9/11.  See, for example, “Pastor’s Plan to Burn Korans Adds to Tensions” from the New York Times from a couple weeks back.  At least three things occur to me, each of which has something to do with my line of work (well, sort of at least):

  • If it were not for Web 2.0/social media and the 24/7 news cycle, no one would have ever heard of these crazy people.  In other words, this is a highly “immediate” rhetorical situation, as I discussed in the Diss oh so many years ago, and it is yet another example of how technology directly impacts the ways in which rhetorical situations are processed by rhetors, audiences, and messages themselves.  Technology gives much, but it also causes bat-shit crazy stuff like this.  In any event, one wonders what would happen if this whole thing had simply been ignored, if we thought more carefully about the exigence for this situation, if this would even be possible before cable news, etc.
  • I am reminded of the flag burning debates of a few years ago with all of this.  Sure, this has a distinctly different flavor in the shadow of 9/11 and “war(s) on terrorism,” the non-issue of the Burlington Coat Factory turned  mosque/community center somehow vaguely near “ground zero,” and just a sort of general ill-placed fear of “Islam,” which is at least as diverse a religion as “Christianity.”  But I am also reminded of a Miss Manners article way back when, in which the always delightful writer Judith Martin pointed out that there was no point in legislating against flag burning because the reason why someone burned flags was to make a point by being terribly rude.  Of course, this is extra-über rude, but still.
  • Finally, this once again speaks to the extreme importance of the materiality of the book, and by “the book,” I mean the old-fashioned codex book, paper pages, pagination, a cover, the whole nine yards.  I don’t mean the Kindle or the iPad, and I hasten to add here that I really do like (love might be too strong) the reading experience on my iPad a lot.  I’m reading a couple of books on it right now, and I am going to be preparing for a day of getting some articles I’m teaching on my iPad after I finish this post.  Obviously, electronic reading and writing has an incredible power (see observation #1).However, if these crazy people got together and said “hey, we’re going to burn this here Kindle with the Koran on it,” or “we’re all gonna bring our laptops and erase our copies of the Koran all at the same time,” no one would have given a shit about that.  Not even a little bit.   What’s got everyone all excited is that these things are the actual and material thing that was previously the only definition of “book,” and they really will burn and give off flames, smoke, and heat.  Never mind that there are millions of other copies of the Koran, so it’s not like these people will have any real potential to damage the religion.

On Pickling and Pizza-ing

School starts again next week (after Labor Day), and I’ve mostly been figuring out the classes I’ll be teaching this coming term, along with a few other miscellaneous new term things.  But I thought I’d pause for a moment to discuss what I think will become my food causes for the rest of the year, pickling (well, canning) and pizza making.

Continue reading “On Pickling and Pizza-ing”