After a summer of research (four articles submitted, two book proposals ready to go), I’ve turned my attention back to preparing to teach. And this year, I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is; I’m making my 200-level Writing II class entirely peer-driven, student-driven, and crowdsourced (and by crowd, I mean the class). I’ve taken my inspiration from the great Cathy Davidson and we will spend the first four week of the course shaping the final thirteen.
(See what I did there? That’s the second post in a row where I’ve come up with a clever title with two possible meanings, both in the traditional academic sense and in the socio-economic sense. Anyone? Anyone? Alright, I’ll get on with it.)
I was all set to write a post about how we remain obsessed with the Ivies and those top, elite colleges, to our own detriment. And I’m not just talking about how families will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get little Jimmy and Suzy into Yale or Duke, but how we, in academia and the media, keep pushing these colleges as the standard, for better or for worse. Three items:
- In Forbes, Why Trying To Learn Clear Writing in College is Like Trying to Learn Sobriety in a Bar. College, of course, is limited to Brown, elite MBA programs, UCLA, and…that’s it.
- In the Chronicle, Academic English is Not a Club I Want to Join (sorry if the link doesn’t work or is behind a paywall). A little more variety, but still, big, public, elite, R1 institutions.
- In Slate, the response to William Pannaker’s essay, a laundry list of self-important success stories from Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, and the Ohio State.
So, class has been on everyone’s brain lately. Not the kind of class that is about to start in less then three weeks (I really need to get on that), but the kind of class that involves money, social mobility, and how to properly “fit” into higher education. I want to start with a little bit of a roundup of recent posts that are either explicitly or implicitly about class issues. If I’m missing any, please let us all know in the comment.
- I ask, in response to Pannapacker’s original Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go post, Who Will be Our Future Professors? I explicitly address the issues of diversity in higher education given Pannapacker’s advice.
- Mary Churchill and Mike Brown debate How Our Educational Values Reveal Attitudes About Class and Social Class and Critical Education. So much of what Mary has written has helped refined my own understanding of race, class, and gender attitudes in higher education, as well as sharpening my resolve to stop being silent about it.
- Over at Speculative Diction, Melonie Fullick writes about how important it is that graduate students (and aspiring faculty) know their value, pointing out how much money and sweat equity a student puts into building a career in academia, and how challenging that is for students coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
- After Pannapacker hit the big-time in Slate, some hand-wringing about how successful and aware working-class PhDs are and how wrong Pannapacker is. And then, how those critics of Pannapacker don’t take the issue of gender into consideration.
- Worst Professor Ever shares her view on class issues in higher education, and then my own Bad Female Academic take on the whole thing (written before the whole Pannapacker in Slate thing blew up)
- Over at ProfHacker, they’re asking about “fit” within academia.
- James B. Jones shared this book with me, Reflections from the Wrong Side of the Tracks. Yet to read it, but I’m really interested.
- Kathryn Allan, over at her blog, also comments on class issues, which don’t seem to be all that dissimilar in Canada: Refusing Polite Conversation.
- Finally, the essay that, for me, started it all. A professor at Dartmouth asks, At What Cost? Her story resonated with me because she’s successful, but drowning in debt. Is this my future?
Who in the heck are these people who are forcing and enforcing a very clear and distinct set of class values on us? Seriously? Who are they?
Because it’s not the majority of people that I’ve met on my path to where I am right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve never attended an “elite” institution, either as a student or a professor. Maybe it’s because I self-selected the people I hang around with, naturally drawn to those with similar backgrounds to my own (my husband, for example, who is also an academic, is from the same socio-economic background as I am). Or maybe, like so much of what we believe about higher education, it’s all just a massive ruse that we’ve been blindly perpetuating.
I still remember being put in my place when I was an MA student by one of my professors. I was commenting on a novel we were reading, saying that it was written for “them” and not for ordinary people (or something like that). She took great offense to that, outlining all of the ways she was not one of them, in terms of her background. It was the first time I really took a step back and looked at the people in front of me and around me. Now, we did have a professor who was a stereotypical professor, in terms of both his class and attitude, but it was only one. And, I don’t remember one of my peers in the program who came from anything higher than lower-middle-class.
It was the same for my PhD. There was, again, one professor who was clearly “one of those professors” (he came from a very wealthy and influential family, apparently, and my colleague of mine was horrified when I revealed, no, sorry, never heard of them), but the rest of the professors were largely from working-class and immigrant families, as were my colleagues in the program. I’ve taught at four different universities in two countries and three states, and I have to say that the majority of my colleagues come form backgrounds similar to my own.
So why then does this obsession with class markers persist? Did we all get into higher education so we could be snobs? Really? And why do we keep requiring that aspiring academics perform tasks that we know they can’t afford? Go to conferences, work for peanuts, receive little institutional support both before and after the tenure-track job. Take on more and more debt, shop at the right stores, live in the right neighborhood, go to the right shows, the right conferences, etc.
We’re suffering in semi-silence. I can’t believe that, despite all of these voices speaking out, we can’t change higher education, if not structurally, then at least culturally. I refuse to meet certain cultural markers. I’m not good at “passing” (as Dr. Crazy writes about) and, judging by the comments and traffic my blog post has received, I’m not the only one who is either incapable, unwilling, or just plain burnt out about the whole thing.
I am serious, though. Where is this pressure coming from? Because, from where I’m sitting, there are more of “us” than there are of “them.”