I talked in a recent post about adapting our writing for not just different audiences, but different modes and mediums of communicating our research and thinking. What this means, however, is that we as academics need to start re-evaluating how and what we use as sources. In other words, what is acceptable to use as sources and how do we integrate them into our work?
There has been a lot of discussion, as we gear up for conference season and meeting our summer research/writing goals, about how to be more efficient or productive. Digiwonk asks if it is, indeed, ok to reuse and recycle your work in higher education. In response, Jo Van Every writes that recycling is, in fact, a wonderful thing, especially if you keep your audience in mind (hmmm…that sounds suspiciously like advice I’ve given my undergrads…). Digiwonk continues with her great advice by showing how much you can accomplish with just 30 minutes of (really focused) time.
Websites and blogs become incubators and collective spaces for working through problems and ideas. As I work through my Dany Laferrière project, I record my progress and process on my (other) blog. I’m not sure what it will turn into, but I know that it allows me to record my thoughts, observations, and stray ideas as they happen, but it also serves as a way to share not just my research, but the process behind the production of my final project. Maybe it stems from my dissertation research, dealing not only with archival research, but the creative process and collaborative forces participating therein that I am aware of how mysterious the process of creating a piece of work appears to be. But I am also aware of how enriched the process becomes the more people who are involved.
Why not have a blog that reflects our process, our progress, and our questions as it relates to our academic work? Why must we keep thinking in terms of the seminary/presentation/paper/monograph? Check out Sample Reality’s post examining the same ideas: It’s about sharing.
It’s no secret that I love to teach. This blog is a testament to how much I love teaching. This is a complex statement to make as a female academic; because of my mother-hen tendencies, I could/can be seen as being too maternal, and thus a less serious “academic” in the broad sense. A good female academic keeps her professional distance and teaches because she has to.
Good female academics, especially those off the tenure-track who also happen to be trailing spouses, don’t strive for research excellence; we should be grateful that we have a job with benefits. But good female academics, on or off the tenure track, need to be careful about how successful they are in their research when they teach at primarily undergraduate teaching colleges, like the one I teach at or the one that Dr. Crazy teaches at as well. She herself recently won…something (it’s not entirely clear) that celebrated her research excellence and was (initially) ignored. You can read about it here and here.
Now, I’m not saying that this is the culture in my department, but there is something disturbing about this attitude towards research excellence:
But that doesn’t change the culture of my department. The culture of my department is one in which mediocrity is celebrated, because it’s not threatening, and excellence is downplayed, because it might make people “feel bad.” The culture of my department is such that when you do something great, people act like you did a violence to them, like you’re a “braggart” or that you’re somehow “less than” they are. The prevailing attitude is something along the lines of, “I’m a great teacher because I’m shitty at research. I don’t publish because I’m committed to my students. I don’t have a reputation in my field because I’m so committed to our university.”
There is an assumed conflict between being a good researcher and being a good teacher. Now, Dr. Crazy doesn’t mention this, but one can imagine that it becomes doubly threatening when the young female academic is outpacing her senior male colleagues. Good female academics know their place.
I am not a good female academic. I value my research as much as my teaching, and I’m pretty good at both. I’ll probably never win a national research or teaching award, but I have been recognized as providing good work in my field(s). I am unapologetic in my quest for recognition and the money that goes with it. Politically, this is probably a terrible move, but I think (hope) that it will help my career in the long run.
Because, as I will examine in my next Bad Female Academic post, I am also ambitious.
In one of my classes, the students are required to write a pursuasive essay. In our class, I decided to have the students read and write about “the future.” As I have written here previously, we read the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, read various essays on the (possible) future, and viewed multi-media pieces on the same subject. As our textbook tells us, “Everything is an Argument” which leaves plenty of room to play and analyze the rhetoric used to make arguments about the future.
The final essay was the culmination of all of our work on rhetoric, research, and imagining the future. I was quite impressed with the results I received from my students. They were mostly thoughful, well researched, if a bit on the depressing side (not very many happy pictures of our future). Certainly there were some that were unfocused, others that were poorly researched; over-all, however, I was quite happy with my students` work. But there was one essay that gave me pause.
One student chose to write about how we are currently witnessing the End of Days as desccibed in the Bible. The student went on to very logically and meticulously show all of the ways our world currently resembles what is “fortold” in the Bible. Rhetorically, it was very pursuasive. The Bible says this, our world looks like this, therefore we are at The End of Days. On the basis of the research the student had done and the rhetorical strategies the student employed, this was a strong B or even A paper (give or take some grammatical issues). But, what to do, how to evaluate, the “reliability” of the Bible as a source?
Adding to the complexity of the issue, the student in fact had done much the same thing in an assignment I had devised, asking them to compare our world to the world imagined/fortold in Fahrenheit 451. By the end of the essay, the students had come to various conclusions about how similar our world is to Bradbury`s imaginary world and what that could mean, what lessons we should be taking from that comparison. How is Bradbury`s fictional world (as a source) any different from the Bible`s vision of the future?
Please don`t think that I am so naive that I don`t know the answer to that question already. But, I teach in a place where the Bible is still an important document that many of my students (and their families and communities) revere. And I know that others react with a quick dismissal of any student who would quote the Bible or any religious text as a sign that the student has shown no critical thinking or even, perhaps, doesn’t deserves to be in university. And this is where the conflict, for me, comes to head. The difference, of course, is in how we know the students treat the two works: the Bible as fact and Fahrenheit 451 as fiction. If the student didn`t actually believe the Bible but instead treated it as a work of fiction, would the final product thus be more worthy? And how am I to know, one way or the other, what the student believes? It certainly, for me, isn`t my place to judge a student`s faith or beliefs. But I know there are people who would expect me to fail or at least grade the student more harshly based on the fact that, for them, the Bible is a reliable source.
I am particularly troubled because I know that this is generally a good student; they do the work, they make a real effort, and has shown great improvement. And the work the student did was good; knowing that the Bible is a contentious document, the student really did go out of their way to outline as many similarities as possible. Not to mention that every other source the student used was a “legitimate” source as we discussed in class. But I also know that this student`s essay is going to be read by my colleagues (anonymously) for our general education/student learning outcomes requirement. And while this student will never know the things that I know will be said about her/his paper, it stings me nonetheless. And I also know that my colleagues will wonder what grade this student received on the paper. They`ll never know, but I know they`d be troubled to learn that it is probably a much better grade than they hoped.
So I`m going to ask for this advice. What can I or should I do in these situations?
My institution awarded me a research grant for the summer. My project is to look at and write about Dany Laferrière’s practice of rewriting, revising, and adapting his work. It’s a subject that has long fascinated me, starting ten years ago when I, on little more than a whim, decided to add his debut novel, provocatively titled How to Make Love to a Negro (recently re-released with the title finally fully translated to How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired).
While teaching Basic/Developmental writers can be really rewarding, my Basic Writing class this semester has been particularly trying. More than half the class disappeared. The half that showed up today to hand in their final papers have been missing themselves for much of the semester. I had four students who consistently attended, took the work seriously, and will do well.
Conference season is upon us academics. I’ll be going back to Sherbrooke in a few weeks to present a piece of my dissertation, investigating how a translator and editor worked together to produce a collection of translated poems. I just presented last weekend on Dany Laferrière’s practice of rewriting his novels, specifically looking at the transformation of La chair du maitre into Vers le Sud. This summer, I’m working an essay on how Nalo Hopkinson uses the female body in her speculative fiction.
I figure, I may never be “the” expert on a field, but I can have multiple important contributions to a number of disparate studies.
This, ultimately, is what I aspire to. I might never be an expert in any one area (although I’ll wager there are few other academics who have devoted as much time and mental energy on Dany Laferriere as I have), I want to and can have multiple contributions in a lot of different areas. It might not ultimately benefit my career, but I’m doing what I love. For that, I am grateful, even if I do look a bit like the academic equivalent of a flake.
I have a particularly bright student in my developmental writing course this semester. While I know why he is in my class (ACT scores not high enough), I’m not entirely sure how that happened. It would seem that he fell through the cracks. He is everything that you dream about in a student, especially when you are teaching developmental writing: he attends class, he takes the work seriously, does his homework, and participates in class discussions. But I know that he resents the hell out of my class, especially when I have to come down hard on the other students who don’t show up, don’t do the work, and don’t take it seriously. One day I made sure that he knew that I knew that the speech was not meant for him. He shrugged, said he understood, but it got his back up when I started to preach. I hate church, he said, and I don’t want to hear a sermon at school.
I don’t know if I’m writing on topics that people aren’t interested in, if my current state of end-of-semester doldrums are impacting my writing, or if I’m just not as dedicated as I was to tweeting my posts, but my numbers are way down. This, along with everything else, has got me down. I have at least six posts that I have been meaning to or wanting to write for the past month, but they aren’t coming together for me.