Friday, September 22, 2006

This will teach me to make noise

I've finished teaching for the day, finished seeing students in office hours, and am now waiting for a meeting that's going to be long and complicated.

Back at the beginning of the semester, I blogged about the mentor I had for our special programs special day, who told my brand new students that they shouldn't take classes like history but only classes that would help them get a job. In addition to blogging about the situation, alas, I also made noises in the break room and elsewhere about it. And I made noises in front of the chair. The chair's already plenty frustrated by the way the program's handled, and he made noises about my noises to the Dean, yes, the Dean who seems to sincerely believe in education and stuff.

I was headed to a meeting earlier in the week, which just so happened to be in the administrative building, the building where deans and the like hang out, and naturally, I ran into the Dean. He reminded me of the incident, and talked about talking to my chair about it, and then asked me to write him a note explaining what had happened. The idea is that we need specifics to take to the program folks to say, the program's not doing what we want it to do, and we need to change it, and I'm exhibit #17A or something. Lucky me.

I've spent the past hour drafting the letter. Okay, I have stakes in this. No, I'm not going to lose my job, even if the Dean wanted to hang me out to dry (I don't think he does), because yay tenure. BUT, it's important to me that we change the program, yet the program now is at least partly the special pet of someone higher up, it seems. And I don't have a good sense of things with that someone higher up (because I don't hang with that crowd, the all straight white male crowd). AND, I don't really know where I stand with the Dean. Our interactions have been uneven.

So I'm drafting and revising because it's important to write the letter well, and because I want to impress on the Dean that yes, I actually do have a brain and am a thoughtful, valuable faculty member, even though I don't wear tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows and stuff.


In other news, today my body class was talking about Iris Young and Toril Moi, about the idea of the "lived body" as opposed to the abstract, idealized biologic body. One of the students came up with a great, real example: during her high school biology class, her fetal pig had been a hermaphrodite! It hadn't looked like the pictures in the book they were supposed to look like! The pictures were abstractions, while the real body was a sort of lived body, even if only fetally. It rocked!

Then, to add to my excitement, one of the biology majors said that she'd never thought about these issues, but that they made sense of her experience.

It's like education in action!

(And I have to thank TBTAM for suggesting Eugenides' Middlesex as a text for the class, since that's the center we're reading theory and stuff around! Thanks again, TBTAM! The students are enjoying the novel while being challenged by it!)


  1. Relax. Storm in a teacup.

    Sensible advice would go something like this:

    Dear young impressionable students. Your education is going to cost you an arm and a leg, but is going to be worth it. The more you apply yourselves, the more you'll get out of it. A university education can change your life, enriching every moment of it, opening your mind, and helping you keep it open and receptive until the day you pop your clogs.

    Because there is more to life than money, and the junk money buys on ebay.

    However. If you are only in this for the examination certificate as a ticket to career advancement and greater earnings potential, please avoid all the personally enriching subjects such as the one I teach. Go for the boring ones that will get you a head start on the corporate ladder. You clearly don't want your life to be enriched in any way but the financial, and I'm not here merely as your financial advisor. In that case, feel free to dash past the rest of us and hit the corporate hamster wheel at a trot. Just don't come moaning to me via FriendsReunited in 30 years when you are much richer than I am, and yet unhappy, feeling that you've existed a lifetime, but never lived, and why didn't I try to stop you making such a cack of your life. Here I am, trying to do just that.

    University is your best chance to add a depth and a complexity to your lives that may never come again. Years from now, you'll hate yourselves if you sell your soul for an MBA, a BMW, and a lucrative, but really boring job.


    There will still be enough people who ignore such a play and go on to become wealthy accountants, wealthy lawyers, and wealthy non-specific corporate people to keep the economy pootling along. And they may well be happy and fulfilled, with cosmetically improved partners and hideous, spoilt children.

    But you might just drag a few of the fence-sitters over from the dark side, and massively enrich their lives. There are few finer achievements in education.

    Stop worrying about the hierarchy and just be the damned good teacher, and human being you are.

    None of us should ever settle for being the person others want us to be. It is an enriching education that, more than anything else, gives us the option to be something else.

  2. LOL storm in a teacup. The thing is, we spend time doing the things this program asks us to do. Now, my two hours for that special session is just two hours. But almost all our first year students take a special programs class, and we have about 2000 first year students. That's 4000 hours of student time potentially wasted.

    I think their time, and mine, needs to be used wisely. We have limited resources in all sorts of ways, and I want them to be used well.

    I was also really venting about my stress involved with writing a semi-formal memo thing on a Friday afternoon when I was tired.

  3. you sound like a great teacher who really wants what is best for the students.

    I hope your letter has the desired results or at the very least it starts the ripple effect.

  4. I'm sure that yours can't be the only complaint about this. Any program or person that tells students not to take X kinds of classes at a university needs to be yanked back and hard. Of course, only the ones who think about their education that way in the first place will listen and you probably don't want them anyway.

  5. I think MOST of our students think about their education as primarily preparing them for a career. That's who our students are. We have a significant percentage of first generation college students, for example. And given the ways that job security looks for most people around here, being prepared for a career IS important.

    So, I actually DO want these students; I just want to get them to open up their ideas about education a bit, and embrace it as more than career prep.

    Realistically, the legislature views college as primarily career prep, too. It's not just our undergrads, alas.

  6. So glad you are enjoying Middlesex as much as I did.

    There is an Interesting article in yesteday's NY times ibout intersex individuals.