Empty Academics Insult My Intelligence

This week, college football fans were shocked to learn that UNC-Chapel Hill’s football players had access to sham courses so that they could remain academically eligible to  wear tight pants and throw themselves on top of unwilling victims.

Who says that athletes have nothing in common with the pleasant law-abiding citizens of fraternity row?

This was supposed to be the publicly recognized scene of the crime.  (Photo credit: yeungb)

This was supposed to be the publicly recognized scene of the crime. (Photo credit: yeungb)

This was done to help the athletes and not the school, right?  It’s not like alumni donations rise and fall with the football team’s win percentage, right?

I’m looking forward to the players’ lawsuits on this one.  They have no right to complain but I’m sure they will anyway even though they were the prime beneficiary of the university’s generosity.  What might a lawsuit look like?

“Your Honor,

I choosed Chapel Hill because they had done promised me good edjamacation. I trusted them. All they gave me is empty grades. I can’t get my edjamacation time back. I gots to learn to do a job. They stoled that from me because I play football.

Please give me ten million dollars for my brain damage.”

Unfortunately, the concussions and/or lack of education will prevent any UNC football players from trying this gambit. Too bad…

The Vagina Monologues Insult My Intelligence

You may remember recent reports that a second grade teacher had to prevent a parent from distributing vagina cookies to the class. I can’t deliver the story any better than the original, so here are a couple of excerpts:

Autumn Lily Speaker comes into the classroom with a pan full of treats. […]  “I decided you can use these to teach the kids about the woman’s vagina today”. Baffled and completely caught off guard I slowly peel the aluminum foil off the pan to behold a plethora of sugar cookie and frosting vaginas. Not just any old vagina, but ALL KINDS OF VAGINAS.

[…]

[P]erplexed I give the parent the most professional look I can muster and quietly reply “I’m sorry Autumn, but I can’t give these to my students. This just isn’t appropriate.” […] Autumn bursts with the fury of a thousand angry Andrea Dworkin’s and starts yelling in front of the class about how ‘I should be proud of my vagina’ and ‘I am settling for a women’s role in life’. Utterly bemused and frozen from shock all I can do is stand and stare at the woman as the word ‘vagina’ is yelled in front of my second grade class about 987,000 times.

It gets worse from there.  In a subsequent email, the parent implies that the children should learn how to pleasure the vagina and expresses hope that the teacher will be beaten by an abusive husband.

VM

This is what the Vagina Monologues ISN’T. Actresses proclaim the value of their vaginas; the genitals themselves don’t speak. Presumably. (Photo credit: Mattias Johansson)

News of the altercation eventually landed on Huffington Post and I’m surprised that HuffPost would feature a story that opens the floodgates for criticizing feminists.  I spent many years on college campuses and this incident reminds me of V Day.  “V Day,” or Vagina Day, is the campus feminists’ replacement for the standard February 14 holiday.  The feminists distribute vagina lollipops instead of vagina cookies and they urge “pride in your vagina” and the pleasuring thereof.  (In other words, the mother sounds like she just came from campus.)  V Day’s centerpiece is the performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” a piece that includes some value but also some pedophilia; however, proceeds are often donated to women’s support charities, which must be said in its defense.  Also to be said in its defense: Roseanne Barr performed the piece in her underwear a few years back, so there’s obviously some sweet stuff for the men too… in addition to the lollipops.  (Cool down.  This is a humor blog, remember?)

Long story short: this is what a lot of college students are being taught and the cupcake incident illustrates the unintended consequences of this well-intended V Day programming.  Just because it works in theory doesn’t mean it will work outside the university with young children, or with older children, or with adults, or with dead people.  (I take that back.  Maybe it would work with dead people because they lack brain function.)  It’s not the real world’s fault that the intellectual idealist’s ideas fall flat when removed from the academic cloister. Them students don’t remember the lesson right when they leave skool and then the kiddies hafta suffer.  The adults too.

The feminism that helps protect women on campus seems to have led at least this one mother to wish domestic violence on another woman.  The Women’s Studies professors would be so proud.

Grade Inflation Insults My Intelligence

I created this for a writing prompt I co-inspired. It’s based on the comics at Tabula Candida.

(Text version: Those who sleepwalk through their studies often find themselves on undeserved pedestals.  Eventually, they fall down the stairs in a bloody heap.  On the bright side, zombies will refuse to eat their emaciated brains.

History repeats itself every semester.  I’m not making this up, you know.)

The Common Core Insults My Intelligence

Originally posted on Facebook, this made it to the Yahoo homepage after making its way to Glenn Beck's website.  (Photo credit:  https://www.facebook.com/PatriotPost/photos/a.82108390913.80726.51560645913/10152143072400914/?type=1&stream_ref=10 )

Originally posted on Facebook, this made it to the Yahoo homepage after appearing on Glenn Beck’s website. (Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/PatriotPost/photos/a.82108390913.80726.51560645913/10152143072400914/?type=1&stream_ref=10 )

 

Dear Frustrated Parent,

We, the educational minds behind the Common Core, regret your inability to understand your child’s math homework.  Although your educational credentials impressed us, we don’t understand why you can’t comprehend one basic concept:  counting on your fingers.

It’s so simple that even a child can do it.

You start by taking the first digit that’s being subtracted, the one in the 100’s slot, and jump 100 on the number line for each 100 being subtracted.  Then you do the same for the 10’s slot and finally for the 1’s slot.  As you can see, the number line represents nothing more than a sophisticated version of the tried-and-true natural bodily mathematical apparatus (a.k.a. digits) that you conservatives claim to love so much.

It’s not scary.  It’s traditional.

Just wait until your child reaches Trigonometry and you’ll discover how much easier these methods make things.  Calculating sines and cosines to three decimal places will excite our teenagers more than it ever has!

Moreover, we are saddened that you chose to mock our interest in developing the children’s writing skills.  If more of you engineers were literate and/or competent in your field, you would understand the value of recognizing errors and being able to communicate them so that they might be rectified.  Your letter demonstrates that you have not progressed beyond a rudimentary comprehension of the English language.  Thank goodness your child has us to help him achieve.

We thank you for your self-incriminating gesture.

Sincerely,

The Department of Education

 

Blogger’s notes:

I do not have a math or science degree and I was able to figure out the homework assignment… which doesn’t exactly shed a more positive light on it.

For the less mathematically inclined among you, one would not use subtraction to calculate sines and cosines.  Judging from the common core authors’ ignorance of what will be needed in higher math courses, I assume they would not have known this either.

Perhaps I’ll agree with Glenn Beck again in another 100 years or so.  I imagine it will be something along the lines of “Gee, this dirt isn’t very comfortable.”

Educational Fun Insults My Intelligence

I’m not one to say that kids should suffer in school, but there’s a limit to how much pleasure they should be given outside of recess.

Case in point: I saw a homework assignment that was developed and presumably promoted by an educational company or nonprofit, not by a teacher who might be incompetent.  (Calm down.  I’m not calling teachers incompetent.  It’s just that some bad seeds get through the cracks and stick around forever.)

Because the assignment was surely copyrighted, I didn’t make a copy to show you.  However, I did find a nifty website that allowed me to create a comparable activity.  And so without further ado, here it is.  Let me know how much you think the kids are learning from this because, after all, fun is always educational.

Can you find all 12 words and figure out the overall theme?  I’m making it harder by not telling you the words in advance.  That way, the surprise will make this entire exercise even more enjoyable, just as it should be.  I’ll cut the sarcasm now, I promise.


S P A C T X E G P N U D H T G
H I R N Q X C J X I Z I H N E
C F N D N R P Z H T T E D M N
I P W O L E Y K I L R D O T O
E O C X I P F W E E S H Y P C
R X Z R A T H R S H G T B S I
D X K O L C A I A K H A C L D
R S M F S D E V O N O E O U E
I T N U I N V C R O K D H W I
H U A Y S R E B M A H C S A G
T Y A T N M H X E H T W K A Z
O K A H H O L O C A U S T J J
M D N H C Z P O L T S E D Q N
T O P R M A V O T T E H G Q G
X H K R M B D O W C B O K N A

			

The University Industry Insults My Intelligence

I was lucky.  One year after I finished my undergraduate degree in Subject With Declining Enrollments, Professor X had his career chopped off.  He didn’t even make it to a tenure review hearing; several years separated his departure and what he hoped might have been.  When I visited campus shortly after his firing, Dr. Y recalled with horror that he hadn’t published a word during his several years at the university.

Fair enough.  If your contract requires you to publish, you need to publish or face the consequences.  Pesky little legal issue, I know…

She also told me that Professor X was “scaring away students.”  Being a naive early-20-something, I couldn’t comprehend what she meant.  Dr. X was the friendliest member of the department, a fact that even Dr. Y recognized.  On the other hand, lots of students considered Dr. Y to be profoundly disturbing to their psychological health.  (I liked Dr. Y, but my regular readers already know how weird I am.)  How was he scaring away students while she wasn’t?

I should note that Dr. X’s job description also contained one unusual detail.  He provided pedagogical training to the new graduate students who staffed the introductory and mid-level courses.  He mentored them, observed their teaching, and designed the curriculum.  The homework load didn’t block my social life while the textbook, though being of a halloweenish orange color, could hardly count as ferocious unless the teacher decided to throw a copy at your head.  Damn hardbacks.

So how could this friendly little fellow scare away students?

I eventually went to graduate school and had the pleasure of partaking in an initial teacher preparation seminar; in that course, I learned that Dr. X’s instructional methods had become outdated.  Big time.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn from them.  I consider myself fortunate to have gone through the undergraduate system while he was in charge, before the department was overhauled to teach Rocksforjocks instead.

I hope this picture of "Rocks for Jocks" won't offend the distinguished geologists among you.  (Photo credit: somewheregladlybeyond at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecb/136287275/)

I hope this picture of “Rocks for Jocks” won’t offend the distinguished geologists among you. (Photo credit: somewheregladlybeyond at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecb/136287275/)

Are the new methods worse?  Not necessarily.

However…

Let the words of Dr. Y echo through your head: “He was scaring away the students.”  The new methods entertain the students much more (which, in itself, is not a bad thing) and that encourages students to take more courses in the subject.  That also helps the professors keep their jobs.  Few methods exist for firing a tenured professor, but eliminating a department is one of them.  So of course it didn’t seem to matter so much to Dr. Y that Dr. X’s syllabi didn’t meet departmental or university expectations for maintaining up-to-date instructional practices.  Suffice it to say that his classes probably inspired much gratitude from local espresso merchants but it’s the academic merchants who are trying to sell their wares.

So, out with the old!

The new methods, despite some legitimate educational advantages and antidepressant side effects, have also helped permit the major to become significantly more fluffy.  People graduating with that major today do not possess sufficient skills to tell a prospective employer that they can be of use in the workforce.  However, an easy A will attract students to any course and that’s why families sacrifice so much to pay for college.  That, and beer pong.

And then you’ll discover a few nefarious aspects.  (Yeah… I started with the kid-friendly version.)  In a major publication of the American Association for Rocksforjocks Education, a prominent teaching specialist encouraged college Rocksforjocks faculty to make convenient use of placement exams.  “Convenient” means letting students skip over as many of the boring introductory courses as possible so that they can get to the interesting stuff, making them more likely to select Rocksforjocks as a major which in turn maintains desirable levels of Rocksforjocks funding as well as (once again) the faculty’s jobs.

And make no mistake about it: students don’t complain about this arrangement.  If you inflate their grades in the advanced courses, they’ll never know how unprepared they were.  At least while they’re still at the university plunking down all those tuition dollars…

Similarly, the faculty would judge teaching methods based on students’ enjoyment and appreciation of them, not on whether learning actually transpires.  Some of the new methods created astoundingly positive effects but they were chosen for the wrong reasons.

But let’s fast forward a little, shall we?

Now that I have finished my education and have been unemployed for a while, I can only growl at what education in my former field has become.  Although my skills are up to snuff, employers surely look at my resume and assume the opposite.  The new grads can’t cut it, so why would I be able to?

And then I apply for teaching jobs at the high school level.  I’m competent to teach more than that one subject but I’m constantly asked about the one I majored in.  Even if a school isn’t seeking a teacher for that subject.  Today, a job applicant is believed to only be capable of doing what he majored in… even if the resume indicates otherwise.  But in my old field, applicants are now assumed to be incapable of performing within the major, for obvious reasons.

Needless to say, I am never going back to teaching Rocksforjocks.  Some people get desperate when they’re unemployed and they take any available position.  I’m desperate to not inflict the same fate I’ve experienced on any future students.  A few would surely benefit from the legitimate information that Rocksforjocks provides but it’s not worth the collateral damage.

Let’s leave the jock’s rocks at the docks.  They’re a crock.

I also know from observation that Rocksforjocks teachers in high school and college spend considerable effort recruiting students into their courses.  To anyone preparing for college entrance, I’d suggest never enrolling in a course that the faculty is actively advertising.  Professors have their own agendas and the associated needs do not always coincide with what will benefit you most as a student.  You don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes pressures that school administrations place on your teachers.  You should not assume that they are your benevolent advisers, although you will find some who will behave honestly and honorably towards you.

Just like banks and credit card companies, colleges are businesses and you are their customer.  If they make you feel happy with their product, they have achieved their goal.  Just be sure to maintain that idiotic grin as you’re being ripped off.

Self-Esteem Insults My Intelligence

Self Esteem Shop in Royal Oak, MI http://www.s...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the complaints about today’s educational practices.  Them kiddies are constantly told how wonderful they are and everyone gets a trophy and they feel all warm and fuzzy inside until the flu arrives.  That practice may improve results in the classroom but I’m lazy and I don’t want to belabor the point.

Instead, I’d like to tell a tale of how a subset of these kids all live happily ever after.  These are the honors students and I belonged to this group, as did many of my friends.  I consider myself lucky to have been horrible at sports because no coach in his right mind would have given me a self-esteem trophy unless it had been made of dog poo.  I really was that bad, but my ineptitude bred positive results.  Honors students don’t survive (and arguably thrive, at least psychologically) through extended unemployment unless they’ve had a few bumps along the way before that.  Failure keeps me sane.

Otherwise, we honors students were constantly told how we were the smartest, the most talented, the most wonderful person in the class, in the room, in the world.   This caused many of us (fortunately again, not me) to assume a superiority complex as our identities.  Woe to the college teacher who has to burst that bubble.

Been there, done that, never going back.

Unfortunately, some honors students are idiots and they only grow stupider with age.  And thus begins today’s tale…

Once upon a time in a college not far away there was an honors student with overly inflated self-esteem.  At meals, he regaled his peers with how he was the smartest in his class.  His term papers never turned out well in college, but that was never his fault.  He blamed his high school… even though he always waited until the last minute to start researching.  And then he’d confidently inform all of us how the professor told him he’d done well for a [insert one: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, fifth-year senior, sixth-year senior, billy goat, etc.] when the horrors had ended.  And we’d hear story after story of these words that Mr. Self-Esteem couldn’t recognize as not-quite-praise.

And he didn’t graduate on time because, as I understand it, he wasn’t finishing his work as he was supposed to.  Nevertheless, he dutifully edified us on how he was outperforming all those freshmen and sophomores in his courses.  Impressive!  I’m sure his wife couldn’t contain her pride.

You read that correctly.  He married early in life and the couple had a pair of sons.  His wife had been the college sweetheart who always defended him when others would point out Mr. Honors Student’s poor time management skills.  I’m sure you don’t need to know the physical details on how those sons came into existence.

Or maybe you do, because the happy couple is fighting again and I’d be shocked if they don’t get a divorce this time.  I suspect he and his wife will immolate each other in the process, perhaps making the court decide that the sons would be better off in foster care.

I know enough about divorce to realize that soon-to-be exes often discount the amount of fault they hold for the relationship’s collapse.  But adults who were educated in the art of honors self-esteem face different problems.  My friend thinks he’s being insightful when he explains the situation but he reveals his incapacity for seeing that things were crumbling years ago.  He praises himself again but, as in college, he tears himself down in the process.

But…

This time he can’t escape or ignore the criticism coming from so many quarters because it so intimately affects his future life.  I visited him recently and he seemed to be litigating the case against his wife.  (Truth be told, the wife is another can of worms and she may have bigger problems than he has, again because of inflated self-esteem.  Maybe I’ll write about that another day.)  He also seemed to be litigating against me and occasionally against others he thought might testify against him in the event of a divorce.

Subtle…

This is rage.  This is realizing, perhaps all of a sudden, that people don’t hold him in as high esteem as he was trained to hold himself, realizing that so many people think he’s not quite there psychologically, remaining unable to let go of his self-esteem training and perceive things more clearly.

Then, add a dose of paranoia.  I had (and have) no intention of testifying against him in any future divorce proceeding because I’m not convinced the wife is any better.

Oh, and I think he may now believe I’m his sons’ biological father.

Newborn on scale

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose I’ll never know what inspired him to question his paternity so late, but I have a hard time believing he’d bring up the issue if he hadn’t already been tested.

In case you were wondering, I am not the father.  But thank you for asking and for your vote of confidence.  (His wife is rather lovely, so it’s a show of confidence that you think I could be the culprit.)

And now it’s time for the moral to the story.  If you feed a child a steady dose of empty self-esteem, the world becomes a binary of praise and the rare catastrophe.  In the end, criticism becomes more than criticism; it is the stripping of an identity someone has had for their entire life.  And just as a kitten presumably screeches if you try to skin it with a pocket knife (presumably, I said…), these no-longer-so-young people take these negative words as an affront to their entire being.  And then they claw and bite and pee on you until you put away the knife.  And so you learn to remain silent and gracefully permit the status quo.

There may be more than one way to skin a cat but there aren’t many ways to skin an honors student who can’t let go of the past.  As for me, I’m just annoyed because potential employers see my educational credentials and often assume I’ll be like my friend.  They tell you in school that hard work allows you to become anything you want but they fail to mention that you’re tattooing your own scarlet letter as you build yourself up.  You are judged by the company you keep and hard work doesn’t win you great company.

And so…

The next time your children want to do their homework, tell them to play outside or try a video game.  And make sure they lose sometimes.  Badly.  Being unemployed is also a great way to catch up on some fun, but it’s not such a positive experience for the wallet.

Recruiting Minors Insults My Intelligence

It’s a normal, average, uneventful eighth-grade day in Catholic school.  I find myself surrounded by classmates, desks, books, the Holy Ghost, and all the paraphernalia typically associated with such an environment.   In our parish, eighth grade was the year us little kiddies experienced the sacrament of Conformation.  (Oops!  That’s supposed to be Confirmation.) Confirmation focuses on conformity, which is why I got the name messed up.  One pledges to God that one will remain affiliated with the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” for the rest of one’s days, confirming one’s baptismal vows and conforming to the church’s prescriptions.  It’s a big deal and the school treated it that way.

Fortunately, those of us attending the school didn’t have to exert any effort towards this end because confirmation classes took place in our regular religion course.  So… no outside time commitment except for attending the ceremony.  We didn’t have a priest or nun teaching the course, or anyone competent for that matter.  I think they had intentionally given our teacher this assignment so she couldn’t screw us up on the “important” subjects.

You have to love that logic in a Catholic school.

But this teacher did have one thing going for her.  Her manner and physical appearance resembled this lovely specimen:

Dana Carvey as The Church Lady

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To steer clear of copyright infringement, I shall refer to my teacher as Lady Church.

Lady Church was a pious little thing and I suppose that’s why the school didn’t fire her.  Every day in class, students would take turns reading one paragraph aloud from the textbook.  When a chapter ended, we took a test.  As you can see, not much teaching took place.

Usually.

One day, it was time for Lady Church to prepare us for our Confirmation interviews.  Before receiving the sacrament, we all had to pass an interview showing that we understood its significance and wanted to proceed.  After all, the sacrament was optional, to the extent that Catholic school students can permissibly abstain from religious proceedings at the center of a grade-bearing course.  Even the dabblers in Satan worship who I wrote about here didn’t refuse.  God bless the path of least resistance.

But I digress.   Lady Church had to prepare us for those interviews and the textbook did not include any relevant information.  Would she stand before us and stutter and stammer and pontificate incoherently?  Surprisingly, no.  Lady Church was one of the interviewers and she spoke to us directly in class that day, triumphantly providing us with the interview questions and correct answers.   Just memorize it and spit it back.

“Just memorize it and spit it back” pretty well sums up daily life in Catholic religion classes, at least in my experience.  But that’s not why I write today.  I was 13 or 14 at the time.  My decision-making capacities were, by law, insufficient for me to pursue relations with my sexy homeroom teacher.  I was not considered mature enough to drink alcohol responsibly and not old enough to make sufficiently informed political judgments to allow me to vote.  And if I had committed murder, my mental immaturity would have meant that I couldn’t be imprisoned beyond my 18th birthday.  However, 14-year-olds receive the “freedom” to “choose” whether they want to affiliate themselves with a religious institution (but not with a spouse) for life.  Or until they realize the lunacy of keeping a promise to a deity they don’t worship.  Or until they realize that few organizations besides their church let children make lifetime vows… and then hold them to their word.

Well isn’t that convenient?  Who could inspire such shenanigans?  Could it be Satan?

Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.  But… December 23rd has arrived and once again I’m preparing to observe what remains a secular holiday for me.  Lady Church is my holy ghost.

College Fundraising Insults My Intelligence

In one of my first posts, I slammed a college fundraiser for the buffoonish tactics she used when asking me for money.  To refresh your memory, I went to graduate school at a university that costs undergraduates upwards of $45,000 per year… or is it $55,000 by now?  The institution possesses an enormous financial reserve while thousands of suckers graduate with enormous debt every year.

But hooray!  Financial aid comes to the rescue!

Unbeknownst to many students (and their checkbook-wielding parents), colleges have borrowed a marketing tactic from retailers.  Raise prices through the roof, let those high prices make people believe that those prices mean higher quality, and offer discounts to make people think they’re getting a deal… all while soaking the poor saps who pay full price.

And then come the fundraisers who want to pull your heartstrings out with a pitchfork.  Those poor students!  So many of them are on financial aid and they need your help to make it through.  Let our tuition marketing scheme fool you into thinking your donation will make a difference in their lives.  And listen to the stories of some especially needy students who could never have afforded our artificially inflated prices without the markdowns we had budgeted for anyway.

So give us money, dammit.  The psychologically manipulated student body will remain forever grateful.

(Sadly, that last line is probably true.)

I’ll close with a second reminder.  I did my bachelor’s at a large public university and my graduate work at the prestigious University of Money.  While I can’t complain about my experiences at the U. of M., I don’t see how the undergraduate education offered there exceeded what I got at my other, more lowly alma mater.

Ingratitude Insults My Intelligence

A Thanksgiving survivor

Some turkeys build their own cages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanksgiving is here and it’s time to talk about turkeys.  By turkeys, I mean professors.

Before I do, I’d like to share a tale of gratitude.

Once upon a time in a kingdom far far away there lived a person who could be described as me.  However, I had come from the kingdom commonly known as Here.  In the far away kingdom, college students normally went to Home every weekend, which never proved difficult because few attended school too far from Home.   Having remembered all the fun I’d had on weekends away from (lowercase) home at the University of Here, I couldn’t possibly imagine what could be so enjoyable.  At some level, I still can’t, at least for people that age, but I can appreciate what was going on.

And then I went to graduate school and some of my turkeys, er, I mean professors, had been born and raised in the kingdom of Home.  In spite of that, they migrated Here for graduate school and never went back.  I know of one turkey who reportedly yearned to fly the coop and go back Home (though he never did), while another seemed genuinely depressed to have been working obsessively as her parents sickened and passed from life not too far from Here.  A few others had originated from far flung pastures in lands commonly known as Here, although the cultures in their part of “Here” were a lot different.  I suspect that few of those turkeys would have chosen the Graduate University of Here’s location if they’d had any choice.  (Most turkeys, unlike regular people, can expect to remain trapped in their coop until they die.  Spiritual death doesn’t count.)

And these were the fat and happy turkeys, in theory at least.  Many turkeys end up on food stamps even if they manage to gobble up a college teaching position.  (Here’s a second article.)  Whether they’re fat or malnourished, they spend an exorbitant amount of time on their work separated from friends and family.  And then the women, well, many of them can forget about having children if they’re interested in protecting their often precarious professional existence; at schools in rural Here, these are almost the only women who the tom turkeys get to choose from… so it’s a losing situation for everyone who wants kids and it’s especially unfair to the women.

Of course, those are the lucky couples.  If two prospective turkeys are married before applying for jobs, they can expect to spend years apart until they realize that the desired miracle (the ability to live in the same city and have both partners remain in the profession) will not happen.  I’ve also seen divorces filed because the turkey in the relationship was married to the job and not to the non-turkey spouse.  I doubt it’s all too uncommon.

Needless to say, a lot of these turkeys may not be roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving.  While some can’t afford it and others will find the cannibalism too distasteful, many will be working through the holiday.  As usual.  These turkeys work hours a day at home after business hours and don’t stop when vacation comes.  You’re not done working until you’ve finished reading the whole library and publishing your opinions on each shelf and volume and, by the way, you’re on duty 24/7/365.  It’s like being the president but without the fame, chauffeured car, fancy house, power, money, sense of importance, sense of accomplishment, and horny admirers.  Unless you’re working on a cure for cancer or something useful like that…

El Rastro. Flea market. Gijón. Asturias. Spain...

A sad turkey (Photo credit: Tomás Fano)

But then there’s the payoff.  In some fields (like mine), the turkey’s long hours accomplish little more than producing books and articles to be read only by a few specialists and then buried in a tomb, er, I mean library, hopefully to be discovered by a student writing a research paper for class.  The occasional book or article might be taught as a required course reading.  Perhaps.  But then, some researchers are lucky if their publications still resemble their ideas once they’ve passed through their editors.  Conformity is key, which is why so many people want to become turkeys.  If you value maintaining some creative freedom, join the military instead.

I’m not joking.

There’s another thing I almost forgot.  As you can surely imagine, many turkeys would take great joy in spending their entire waking hours with solitary reading and writing.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not how their lives work.  You see, Farmer Bob (the guy in the sky who invented the turkey coops) had a revelation: we’ll take these cloistered souls and put them in charge of teaching the young adults.  Outstanding!  These professionals can stand or sit in front of the classroom or hide in the corner and rubber stamp a pile of educational credentials.  Their teaching performance won’t influence whether they get to keep their jobs in many cases, so it doesn’t matter what kind of people become “educators.”

One day, I’ll write a post explaining why I put “educators” in scare quotes.  I understand that it’s unfair to the turkeys who really teach and who properly train their graduate students to teach.  I was lucky to find myself under the wing of turkeys like that.

These turkeys are our intellectual leaders and they are living their dream, and they remain convinced of that no matter how miserable they become.    As you can probably tell, I didn’t stick around after completing the Ph.D. and, every Thanksgiving since then, I’ve been incredibly thankful for that decision.  The turkeys can’t understand it but then again domesticated turkeys aren’t that bright.

Of course, finding a different job hasn’t worked out yet.  I nevertheless have food, a roof over my head, opportunities to improve my resume, and the chance to avoid Siberia or other impossible living environments.  My writing has improved now that I’m not burdened with bottomless research requirements and my eyes no longer glaze over at the thought of reading for pleasure.  And, perhaps not so surprisingly, unemployment is less stressful than graduate school, which isn’t to say I’m not eager for work or money.  I’m ready to move forward but I can’t complain about where I’m at; there’s hope for the future and that’s already more than what so many turkeys have (even though they have jobs).

And so this Thanksgiving I think of the people I know who are divorcing, or are sick or dying, or are trapped in a Siberian turkey coop, or are unemployed with children to feed, and so on.  My life is comparatively easy and that’s something to be thankful for.

Smoked turkey

It was time to put a fork in it. (Photo credit: J. Yung)

And although Thanksgiving isn’t here yet, I’d like to mention Christmas for a moment; if the malls can get away with it, so can I.  I have two wishes for Christmas that are less realistic than asking Santa for world peace.  First, I wish certain relatives could understand that being a professor is no way to live your life (again, unless you’re working on a cure for cancer or something useful like that) and that, no, I don’t want to reconsider my decision to leave academe in light of being unemployed for so long.  Being a professor isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle.  Starving to death on the street would be more life-affirming. Besides which, there are ways to contribute to a household besides earning a paycheck.  For starters, ask any stay-at-home parent or caretaker of elderly relatives.  Second, I wish employers understood that refugees from academe had legitimate reasons to leave and that there is no lure of a (ha!) high-paying academic sinecure when we “inevitably” get “bored” with a prospective job.

In closing, I would like to wish my U.S. readers a happy Thanksgiving.  To my non-U.S. readers, I would suggest that turkey is very tasty slathered with gravy and accompanied by a side of pie.  Since this isn’t a porn blog, I mean the birds, not the professors.  Most professors are a little too bitter or stale, at least in my experience.

Gibberish Insults My Intelligence

It’s time for today’s geography quiz.  No cheating!

(More information appears below.)

Welcome to Vermont

(Photo credit: jimmywayne)

And now it’s time for today’s gibberish.  It comes to you from Vermont International Academy in Shanghai.  If I may quote from their mission statement:

Drawing from Western, Eastern, and Vermont values, Vermont International Academy is a replicable model of world-class American college preparatory education set in Shanghai, China. Shanghai, developed over 1,000 years ago as an important seaport in the Yangtze Delta region in Eastern China, provides an ideal site for international education.

So the correct answer to the poll was “C” for “somewhere else.”  Vermont is not part of the East or the West.  Feel free to enter your definitions of “Vermont values” in the comments section.  Warning: I expect your definitions to be free of anything that could be construed as Eastern or Western values because Vermont is something else.

Self-Proclaimed Intellectuals Insult My Intelligence

I took German in college and one of the first readings in the intermediate course was called “A Table is a Table.”  In the story, an old man becomes bored with his surroundings and renames everything in his house.  Some amount of logic drives this; the names for everything are random conventions and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be called something else.

Deutsch: Rose mit Rauhreif / Eiskristallen

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this isn’t a story about a rose by any other name.  By the end of the tale, the old man has become unable to communicate with anyone because no one shares his vocabulary.  The title serves as a warning: a table is a table.  Although the name “table” is random, the standardization works best.

I’m not opposing change per se, but I do see this pattern in the academic humanities of the past decade or more.  For instance, an “intellectual” is defined as someone who holds a particular set of political and social beliefs, regardless of whether the methods of acquiring those beliefs would legitimately be described as “intellectual.”  One sees this in politics as well; it’s convenient for some activists to conflate homophobia and religious views on sexuality as a way of winning sympathy.  The activists redefined “identity” as being the person and the sexual behavior, meaning that opposition to the sexual behavior is opposition to a person’s identity.  By that logic, the activist claims that the religious person’s call to “hate the sin but love the sinner” is disingenuous.  This causes conflict where none should exist.  (To be fair, there are quite a few religious folks who forget the love part of that statement.  That must be why Pope Francis’ comments are on the topic were so controversial.)

This points to a greater problem: the larger inability of the two sides to dialogue.  No shared vocabulary means no common ground.

A globe (Globus)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that brings me to high school English classes in the U.S.  Specifically, world literature classes.  At many schools, “world literature” emphasizes works by Americans and Brits, plus a couple of continental Europeans (usually ancient Greeks) and usually topped off by Chinua Achebe and perhaps Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

Is part of the world missing here?

Of course it is, unless I add Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  But then again, Hesse was German/Swiss and only wrote about an Asian topic; that means I can’t count him as the token Asian.

So the world is now defined as white people and people who criticize white people.  (Remember, Hispanics are technically Caucasian.)   Does anyone else see a problem here?

The people who recognize the problem often prescribe a curriculum that replicates their opposition’s shortcomings.  The newly added texts add to the criticism of white people by others while eliminating “dead white males.”  If a text doesn’t follow the political ideals behind this curriculum, it is unacceptable because it reinforces current power structures.  Or something like that.

In the end, both sides have redefined “world” and have no common ground.  Unfortunately, they also can’t talk with the rest of the world  because no one seems to want to teach authentic foreign cultural traditions.  That’s too “subversive” for both sides.

To my non-U.S. readers: If you want to know why so few native-born Americans know anything about you, it’s because 49% define “world” as “Western world” while another 49% only define you as intellectual when you’re criticizing the Western world.  You are no longer a table.

This was my two percent’s worth.