Monthly Archives: September 2012

On fear of starting work

…if it has become a space of oppression, one naturally does not wish to enter it. I fear lower division courses and this fear paralyzes me for them and thus for everything. That is why I keep saying, you have to take authority. WAIT, I SEE: the issue is the lack of authority in course and program design, and the lack of authority for all built into our program, I see! I was taught you had to just let go of those courses, take orders and walk on through, but I do not like being so disabled.

At one of my jobs research was the space of freedom, but at another, research belonged to them and teaching was the space of freedom. At yet another, service was the only space in which you could make decisions of your own, since teaching decisions were made by others, obstacles were cast in one’s path to prevent any day from being normal in any aspect, and the library was closed for renovations (this was before the real Internet, too).

You have to keep remembering you have authority, which is difficult to do in an institutional context one of my colleagues says is “uniquely authoritarian, in a region which is already particularly authoritarian.” Nonetheless you have to keep remembering you have authority.

This alone makes the space of work interesting, bright and free, as opposed to allowing it to feel like such a heavy yoke.

I do think, though, that the right academic advice post would not be one that trotted out, once again, the old tired advice about writing for fifteen minutes, and warned, once again, that you really do have to do it. Instead it would talk about how to name workplace oppression, and give suggestions for navigating through it.

These suggestions would be smart ones, and not include condescension like “find a sympathetic administrator” (are you kidding me?) or “if you cannot identify a sympathetic administrator, you are clearly not trying to improve your situation.”

Many an abusive person hides behind useful instructions and alleged aid and abettance; this, I suppose, is another reason why I rail against academic advice.

Axé.

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On how I could make my life easier

I have just discovered by chance that someone in my main department is using a graded reader I used to use at the sophomore level as the textbook in a senior level survey course. I do see why — it has abridged and modernized versions of the classics. I was using it in the lower level reading course because the plots are fun and the students find out who the Cid, the Celestina, Don Quixote and Don Juan are. But it is utterly unmodern and antipedagogical, one feels, to use abridged and non authentic materials even in language courses. And of course, when I give the same course for which this reader is being used now I use an anthology designed for that level or else actual books in good editions, Clásicos Castalia for example.

This means I struggle and have uneven teaching evaluations, and spend time I should spend on other things bringing students up to speed. It also means I get undergraduates into graduate school or at least hear them enthuse like this: “I visited Los Angeles! I saw the bookstore at UCLA! Their senior level courses use the books our senior level courses do! It means I am able to learn the same things they learn at UCLA! That is, I may be on a par with UCLA students! I can hardly believe it, I am so proud of myself!”

But, the way to do things is to take it all much easier. I could put my lower level courses on multiple choice and autograde, and teach my senior level courses with antiquated second year readers. If I did not speak English, I could evade almost all service, and even speaking English I could do service in the way successful people do, namely, accept assignments but then not do then. This is to do an excellent job, because you will have effectively blocked progress, blocking of progress is what is actually desired.

Then, I would have very high ratings on both service and teaching, and I would put very little time into either. I would have a lot of time left for research and if I sent everything to places that were peer reviewed but not very competitive, I would be a star here because there would be so much. If I sent things to first tier journals I would be respectable elsewhere and I could get a job since I would have great teaching evaluations and warm recommendations from all for being unproblematic.

I am clearly too responsible, sincere to a fault as someone once pointed out (as a child I was not believed and so I go through contortions still to prove and prove again that I really do mean what I say, that I have no second agendas and am not trying to trick anyone). But the professors I had were not irresponsible like this and I still resemble them, and I could not stomach operating in the effective way I have just described; over that I prefer to continue to suffer, or so it would seem.

Axé.

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One more insight about the assumptions in standard academic advice

1. It assumes your primary goals in life are suburban, and are house-driven rather than field-driven or research-driven.

2. It either assumes you are so interested in your work that you will put up with anything, anything at all, in order to do it, OR that you are in fact not interested in it and only want to find a way to get through it.

3. And, as I keep saying, it assumes you do not know how to do research or get writing done.

Clarissa figured out what one problem is: people who go from plush, kind liberal arts colleges to PhD programs that do not include the M.A. and who have good fellowships and a lot of time on their hands in graduate school, do not in fact learn how to work. So item #3 applies to them, especially if they get jobs at research institutions without having ever had to do research and writing while working. It does not apply to me because standard academic advice is always about how to get research and writing done, which I learned in school. What I do not know are unmentionable things like how to deal with stealth attempts to close down your subunit by sabotaging the individuals in it one by one, or how to teach foreign languages to hordes of lower division students when there is no SLA person coordinating these classes, no technology and no common goals or practices.

Part of why I do not know that last is that I am not from a national literature department that teaches foreign languages. More importantly, I have always been advised to ignore this problem until it goes away: I am not to get myself labeled as someone who knows these things, because then I will be stuck in them. I believe the opposite: the problem does not go away, I have it every fall, and not knowing these things keeps me stuck in them.

So: standard academic advice speaks to a certain kind of person which is not me, because #1 and #3 do not apply to me. #2 does not apply, either, since my interest level is high but does not extend to martyrdom. And there is a #4 almost nobody will give advice on, which is how to recognize and handle abusive work atmospheres — the kind that fall short of being illegal and that masquerade as collegial, familial, and so on.

(By the way: every time a school or a department tells me they are a “family,” I run in the opposite direction; it means they have grandmothers to take care of, dominating parents, sibling rivalry, and all the other things that make families not about love and support but zones of Darwinian survival.)

ANYWAY: my advice is that all things have to be done in small pieces and you have to do a little bit of everything every day. It is sort of like menu planning. But research and writing are the vitamins, they really are, and not the dessert, and if you are in a job where research counts against you for tenure and promotion because it is uncollegial, you should still do it. In a worst case scenario you could have one vita for your school, and another for everyone else.

You also have to take power and people are trained to defer and to take direction. This, I suppose, is the other reason I react so strongly to the repetition of basic academic advice: what, direction again? more basic instruction? more stonewalling on the advanced questions I really have at this point?

Axé.

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On “procrastination”

I have studied my procrastination habits and seen three things:

a) as we know, if one does not take “down time” deliberately, one ends up taking it anyway by fiddling around, such that resting up takes longer.

b) I do not procrastinate research, but I do end up doing procrastination activities on days when I decide I have so many other duties that I cannot allow myself the luxury of research.

c) I procrastinate horribly on almost all activities related to basic foreign language teaching, and it is there where all the motivational tricks and ways to get writing done the professors recommend, really apply.

So: recreation and research take NO time; I might as well do them because if not I will waste the time I wanted to put into them, and not put it where I thought I should (basic language teaching, house painting, sewing, all the things I do not like).

Therefore: what I really need is not a writing plan but a plan for managing basic language teaching.

Coda: the reason I dislike that last is that learning languages is my favorite form of recreation, and I am not interested sullying a private affair by sharing it for money or for all who register.

Axé.

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Uncharacteristic

I went to our university’s football game. Furthermore, I liked it. It was very relaxing, actually, and I might have become a fan. I find this hard to believe.

It reminded me most of live theatre. But it also resembles Mardi Gras. It brings the community together with elements of fear, pity, and catharsis.

It makes you ready to study the next day in the bright college fall, go to the movies or a concert Sunday evening, feel refreshed and ready for class Monday, and laugh on the sidewalks next to your bicycle.

I am most definitely not a football person and I am shocked to be recommending it, but I am recommending it.

Axé.

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Why do people hate unions?

If you are not from the US you may not realize that people in the US hate unions nowadays, but now they do. Hate unions.

You know, those organizations that brought you child labor laws, the 8 hours day, the minimum wage, the weekend, and more? They hate them.

They see union members as time servers who want to base everything on seniority and feel entitled to bully younger people.

That is why you, if are a union or even a guild member, should yourself behave in a democratic and not an autocratic fashion.

Why, besides false consciousness and ideological manipulation, do you think people hate unions?

Axé.

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Otro recordatorio

I have a committee-type role that ends in summer and that I am fairly sure I will be asked to renew. Remind me to say no despite how interesting the committee is and how educational. There are other interesting and educational activities.

I also want to be reminded not to plan the language courses I have in the fall such that there is too much grading.  I have just realized that the reason my colleague handles it and I do not is that due to my split appointment I have more total work.

Axé.

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