I was desperate to find a way *not* to blog about some very real drama that is hitting one of my Peer-Driven Learning classes. It’s amazing how one bad, poorly-prepared, attention-starved apple can spoil the whole bunch. And now the class has decided to break out into working groups, with the Bad Apple’s group suffering from a horrible case of regression. Unlike the other groups, where learning and discussion is taking place at a fast and furious pace, this group’s other members have regressed back into sullen, defensive silence, the kind that I’m met with in most ordinary classes when asked to participate or do anything at all.
Programming Note: I’ll be taking a break from writing weekly Bad Female Academic posts, mostly because I don’t have anything left to add. That’s probably because I’m teaching again and am trying something completely new, trying to create a course based on peer-driven learning. So instead of Monday posts on gender in academia, you’ll be treated to posts on my ongoing adventure in allowing my students to decide for themselves what we’re going to learn and produce in our class.
I’m stuck. I don’t have writer’s block, but I am suffering from some pretty uninspiring writing. I volunteered to do a guest post on a pop-culture subject that I am (or at least I was) pretty excited about. And then, I sat down to write the thing. The words came, but once I got about three-quarters through, I stopped, re-read it, and hated it. It wasn’t bad; it was coherent, followed the rules of standard written English, and communicated what I had intended it to say. But it was so…boring.
Tomorrow is my first day of crowdsourcing my course, or, perhaps more accurately, working with my students to create a peer-driven course. We had our first class(es) on Monday, where I introduced the concept and we went through the syllabus, such as it was. I assigned two posts from Cathy Davidson’s HASTAC blog, as well as the Paulo Freire essay on the banking concept of education included in their reader, in an attempt to inspire and challenge them, to help them see things a little differently.
I’m currently working on an essay about how Nalo Hopkinson uses the (postcolonial, black, queer) body in her short story collection, Skin Folk. The female bodies in particular in her works, both short stories and novels, are very physical; they are pregnant, nursing, menstruating, eating, going though menopause, coming, and they come in all shapes and sizes, lovingly described. This element of her work has always resonated with me. In my research for my current paper, I came across the book Rites of Passage in Postcolonial Women’s Writing from Rodopi. One of the essays deals with the difference between “female” and femininity:
If femininity represents the socially acceptable, aesthetic side of ‘woman-ness’, then femaleness exposes its socially unacceptable, abject underside, the undesirable leftovers of existence. Thus, while abjection deals in the undeniably physical – the messiness of the body’s materiality – so aesthetics traditionally shuns the corporeal in favour of the polished, pretty veneer of femininity. (267)
The essay uses Kristeva and goes through the ways women’s (particularly girls on the cusp of or going through puberty) are policed. Good girls are sugar, spice, and all things nice (but, not allowed to be seen eating those sweet things). We smell good, we look good, we are clean and fresh.
I’ve never had a problem with being “female” so to speak. As a tomboy or growing up as “one of the boys,” I never felt ashamed of the messiness of being female; it was just something that happened, like the messiness of being a male. Growing up with the boys and their locker room talk just meant, to me, that bodies and bodily functions weren’t anything to hide.
Of course, I quickly learned how wrong I was and what the double standard was for me and my female body versus males and their bodies. But being feminine just didn’t fit with my personality or my body. I loved to eat, which I could do when I swam almost 30 hours a week. One might be tempted to discuss eating as a substitute for…something I was missing growing up, but for me eating was a simple pleasure that I would not give up simply because it was “un-lady-like” to stuff my face with the boys after a long practice.
Things got especially difficult once I hit puberty and it became clear that I was, despite my best efforts, not one of the boys. I didn’t and don’t possess a boyish, athletic body. My femaleness became obvious, in fact, it became hard to ignore. It is one thing to be pretty and feminine (think Betty Draper on Mad Men), it is another when your sexuality is on display (think Joan Holloway on Mad Men). I’m a Joan. As the show observes, it is difficult for “Joan” to be taken seriously, and I learned that many, many times over.
well said, it’s a completely pernicious system in which everyone higher up the pecking order is incentivised to exploit those below. at the end of your piece i was wondering though – why DO you do it? possibly you will say, because you love it. I’m wondering when the tipping point comes : when love of one’s job becomes the privilege of those who can afford it?
These are two questions that I have addressed in the past (why I came back to teaching and who will be our future professors). I wrote the former post almost exactly a year ago, when I was about to start teaching again, full-time, after a year of under/unemployment. Many reasons I outlined there haven’t changed; I still need the money and there are very few employment opportunities where I am currently living. Why not move? My husband and I decided, very early in our relationship, that if we were going to decide to be together “forever” that we were going to be together. So I am still place-bound and limited, therefore, in my employment opportunities.
But, and Worst Professor Ever is going to be mad at me for saying this, capandgown is right insofar as that I love what it is that I do. I am invigorated and excited to have the opportunity to completely reimagine and reformulate my classes. I have written elsewhere that it is liberating to “only” be an instructor, and I wonder if I would have had the courage or conviction to do what I am doing this semester if I was on the tenure-track. This job still has something to offer me (other than money), and me to it.
I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. And, that might be the problem. I’ve spoken before about my failure of imagination when it comes to how I see and understand my classes. I have the same problem when it comes to my career trajectory. For so long I could only see myself in front of the class, in higher education, eventually moving up the administrative ladder. Of course, that vision has shifted somewhat, but not much. Maybe it’s in part because of where I am living, with limited economic opportunities. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been particularly entrepreneurial. Or, and I think Cathy Davidson would agree, the vision I’ve had for my life has never really been seriously disrupted enough for me to take a step back and really rethink things.
When I say that my job still has something to offer me, I mean that it allows me to go outside of my comfort zone, even if it’s only in the relatively safe confines of the classroom, a place where I feel most at home. Maybe these small steps I am taking to change the way I look at the educational experience will help me build up the courage and the vision to look at my own career trajectory differently. Four short months ago, I was lamenting my inability to radically change the way I teach. Now, I’m making it happen.
Eight months from now, maybe I’ll see more things just a little bit differently as well. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I love and what challenges me. I’m pretty lucky that way.
I finally finished Cathy Davidson’s new book Now You See It. It comes out today (August 18th). I am so glad that I decided to adopt this book for my Freshman Writing class on “The Future.” I am excited and invigorated by the hopeful and optimistic tone that the book takes. This is a book that everyone should read.
To believe that the new totally and positively puts an end to the old is a mistaken idea that gets us nowhere, neither out of old habits nor finding new ones better suited to the demands of that which has changed. John Seely Brown calls the apocalyptic view of change endism. Endism overstates what is gone…When I talk to my students about the way we select the worlds we see in our everyday life, they often ask how they can possibly possibly change the way they see. It’s easy, I always answer. I’ll assign you the task of seeing differently. And you will. That’s what learning is.
I needed to read that tonight, staring down the reality of trying to teach my course differently, in order to get the students to see things differently. I’ll be writing a more detailed review later, but I wanted a chance to be emotional, a little hyperbolic, and effusive in my praise for this book.
Buy this book. It will change your life because it does exactly what Davidson does with her students. She assigns you the task of seeing things differently in this book. It is a book that demands to be re-read, reflected on, and discussed. I hope you buy it, share it, talk about it, and have the courage to allow it to change you.
And remember, if you’re on Twitter talking about it, use the tag #NowUCit.
I reviewed the book Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus last year (see here for the final review and a list of the other reviews; it was a six-part series). I recently received the updated paperback version that has some additional material, including a new afterward. Much of my criticisms of the original book still stand, but it hard for me not to recommend a book that says the following:
What do we think should happen in college? We want people to use their minds as they never have before, thinking about the realities and issues that strain their mental powers. They should be urged to be imaginative and inquiring, to take risks without having to worry about their transcripts or alienating their teachers. To quote a friend, colleges should be making their undergraduates more interesting people. Higher education is an ongoing conversation, created for students poised at adulthood, which can and will continue throughout their lives. (6-7)
These are some of the things I aspire to do in my classes, and so I think that while their hearts are in the right place, I still have some issues with the authors’ arguments. For one thing, everything that is wrong with higher education is a microcosm (or, if you’d like me to get all literary on you, a synecdoche) of what is wrong with society as a whole at the moment: greed, exponential growth, exploited underclass, bubbles about to burst, blind faith, etc. Our students (and their parents) come in not wanting an education but a job and the security that comes with it. So we provide it. The government keeps providing loans, so we take them, both students and institutions. There is a disconnect between those in administration, those who are professors, and those who are off the tenure-track. Perhaps disconnect is the wrong word: massive craters of empty space is a more apt metaphor.
But I want to get back to a question I asked the first time around: How Much is a Professor Worth? Comparing salaries of professors is really difficult to do; depending on where you live, what you study, and the nature of the institution, salaries will vary wildly. So to celebrate the professor living in rural Oregon and their (comparatively) paltry salaries is a bit unfair to those professors who have to try and make a living in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, or any other high-priced center. But it also doesn’t take into consideration the economic realities of professors today.
The authors rightly call for the end of adjunct exploitation, as well as the end of student loans as we know them. But, unfortunately, an entire generation of PhDs (and, one would think, the next generation coming through the ranks) have been punished economically by this system. Not only are we facing our loans (and the accrued interest), but we are also facing years of private debt accumulated over the years of low-paying adjunct work. To tell a new professor, you aren’t worth it, is a further insult, not to mention ignoring the very real fact that the (apparently) inflated salary is not enough to meet the student loan demands, career demands, and life demands.
We are not coming from schools where tuition could once be easily financed through summer jobs, nor from generous graduate programs that allowed you to live and work on your PhD. And most of us aren’t coming from economic circumstances where we have been supported financially by family. We come drowning in debt. And, as inflated as the salaries seem to the outside world, I’d like to introduce them to how much red ink is also peeking from behind.
I write this piece from experience. We are (thankfully, gratefully) a two-income household, both in higher education. My husband has a tenure-track position, while I am an instructor. Our combined salaries are really great-looking on paper. And yet, monthly, we wonder how we are going to make our student loan payments, our credit card payments, pay for our kids’ preschool, and have anything left over for savings. If something were to happen to one of us, like so many other families, we’d have nothing to fall back on, no cushion to catch us.
You might be tempted to throw an accusation at us that we lived beyond our means, and that this is all our own fault, but we believed in the myth of meritocracy and that all would be well once the Boomers retired. Student loans are the gateway drug to credit card debt as grad students: we take on these debt because we have been told over and over that it is “worth it” and will be rewarded with the job of our dreams at the end of it.
The authors call on all of us to see ourselves as public servants. And that’s fine, but more and more of the best and the brightest are leaving higher education because they can’t afford not to. Until the whole system is changed, this is a reality that just isn’t going to go away; it’s only going to get worse.
My blog recently hit 50,000 pageviews:
My advice for reaching these milestones is just simply to take chances, to put yourself out there. Follow those people who you admire, engage them in conversation, tweet and retweet your work and theirs. Bring it their attention. Post your work in the comments of relevant blogs or articles. Look for both traditional and non-traditional opportunities, from going to conference in your field to submitting more traditional op-eds to stuff that really out there (I’m applying to SXSW this year!).
To use an absolutely sexist and negative term, be willing to whore yourself. How is that for a loaded expression when it comes to self-promotion?
Above all, be patient and be persistent. Be relevant and be accessible. Be open and have thick skin. Don’t give up. Find a supportive network of people who will push you and encourage you and be honest with you. But above all, don’t let that voice inside of you win.
It’s my birthday today (August 14th). In the spirit of honestly, I’m 34. My world in nowhere near where I thought it would be, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I took a lot of chances, none of them I regret. I put myself out there and I don’t regret it at all. I want to thank all of your for helping me be the best Bad Female Academic I can be.
No, a better one. Because shameless self-promotion isn’t about just you; it’s about being better because of the people you’ve reached.
If one walked by an all-day meeting in progress and just spotted Klawe, it might appear to be a class in watercolor painting. Only a closer room scan would reveal that Klawe is the lone paintbrush-in-hand participant. Besides any meeting notes, surrounding her are some brushes, paint tubes, a small mixing tray, and a watercolor block.
“I’m a better participant when I’m painting,” she contends. “I’m listening to everything but it keeps me quieter. Usually in a meeting I want to say something about everything. If I’m painting, it brings me down to a much more normal level.” Those who have been in both types of meetings with her have agreed.
Postscript: There are some legitimate arguments against laptops in the classroom (see here), but I think, especially as I read Cathy Davidson’s new book, that the trick is to actively engage students using their laptops.