1. I was always warned in graduate school that if I got an academic job I would not get to teach foreign languages because the T.A.’s would do it, and also that I should not construct myself as someone who likes it, anyway, because to get a tenure track job you had to construct yourself in a more masculine way, as someone who liked literature and theory, not in a feminine way, as someone who liked to teach foreign languages. This was fine by me since had I wanted a career teaching foreign languages I would have used my junior college teaching credential and gotten a nice job in a nice place, and that would have been that.
2. The big shock for me in actual tenure track jobs was that in fact one was expected to be primarily interested in teaching foreign languages. I guess I am different, I took Latin and Arabic and three new Romance languages in college and graduate school but I had come into college with the languages I was going to use for Comparative Literature so I always saw foreign language acquisition as something one did in a sidebar. For some topics you had to acquire a new language, which was a lot of work (especially if it used characters or a syllabary rather than an alphabet) but just becoming proficient in the language was not the ultimate goal.
3. Just the other day I was feeling badly again about the fact that my interest in life is not foreign language education. In most jobs I have had one is shamed for being interested in literature and theory, fields for the “arrogant.” I have had trouble because of teaching literature as art and as something that is embedded in society, as opposed to something we use primarily to help us “feel.” I am sure I am right but it has been proven to me it is not always very safe to hold these views, and this knowledge is a large part of the difficulty I suffer daily.
4. I wondered Friday whether the issue were that I were not nationalistic enough, or not a Hispanist. I am not nationalistic like the people who are trying hard to promote a language and the cultural values allegedly associated with it. But it seems I am actually a militant Hispanist, and militant literary and cultural studies person. Most people I know who teach at that level, have very strong feelings about FL methodology and stake everything on it, but the shock troop mentality comes out in me at the junior level and the beginning of graduate school.
5. A militant like me says no, the introduction to the study of literature should not teach the biographies of authors and the allegedly secret meanings of poems. No, the introduction to the study of culture should not showcase the sacred glories of an alleged civilization. These courses should offer analytical tools. So should the introduction to theory, one of the first courses in graduate school. It should not simply give synopses of a few “theories” that students will then “apply” to works studied in other courses. Very few people seem to understand these things or be willing to fight for them but here I am a militant.
6. The other point to be made is about bibliography. At my university we have not bought books for about fifteen years and we do not have access to very many journals. They have fired the bibliographic instruction librarian, too. People are taught not to look at the MLA or other very comprehensive bibliographies because we do not have most of what is in them. There is interlibrary loan, of course, but it is a supplement to and not a substitute for regular holdings, and it does not solve all problems.
7. The reason our students are not to look at the MLA bibliography is that in our situation it is not the fastest way to get citations one can actually use now. “You do want to know what exists,” I say, “even if you cannot have it in full text right now.” This appears to be a revelation but it is true. In fact it makes the difference between being a scholar and not being, and where I come from every professor would have said this.
8. So I am a militant Hispanist. What amazes me about many language militants is that they are willing to throw the entire discipline out the window once the language is acquired, or a certain level of proficiency is attained. They are like the photographic negative of my other colleague the writer, who does not believe any content whatsoever can be taught until the students have near-native proficiency in “the language” (as if it existed in isolation).