Why It’s OK to Rat On Other Students

How do you teach people to do the right thing?

by Warren Goldstein

Like many people in the academy, I have found myself uneasily stewing over the murders at Virginia Tech. My students and I have spent far too much time glancing over at our classroom door, wondering whether we would have been able to hold it shut if a gunman had wanted in; would I have had the courage of Liviu Librescu, who students said died protecting them?

I was lucky; I didn’t have to deal with Seung-Hui Cho, unlike my poor colleagues in the Virginia Tech English department, who had formed a departmental task force to discuss him. At least they tried. They resisted the Continue reading “Why It’s OK to Rat On Other Students”

Advertisements

Not Quite Bulletproof

What have you learned about life?

By Jon T. Coleman (Notre Dame)

To rise in academe and reach the high ground where review committees stop questioning your record and deans quit pondering your trajectory, where students applaud when you close out the semester with your lecture on the War of 1812 and Stephen Colbert invites you on his Report to plug your book, one must cultivate an entry-level superpower.

Save your supersonic speed, your laser-beam eyeballs, and your ability to communicate with sea life for emergencies and holiday parties. Instead concentrate on blocking projectiles. To get a job, to surmount third-year review, to receive tenure, to advance to full professorship, to merit a Wikipedia page that you didn’t write yourself, all you need to be is bulletproof. And if you want a Kevlar career, do as I say, not as I did. For while I excelled at thwarting some bullets, I had zero talent for dodging the countless shots I administered to myself.

As with most things scholastic, bulletproofing starts Continue reading “Not Quite Bulletproof”

Encourage, but Terrify

Is graduate school worth it?

by Amanda Seligman (U Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

“Professor Seligman, you scared the hell out of me!” confided “Andrew” as I gathered up my papers, course books, several sample dissertations, and my keys after the first session of my undergraduate course in history methods last January. “I still want to be a professor, but you scared the hell out of me!” he repeated, in case I missed the point the first time.

I had just completed my first-day-of-class warning exercise, which I disguise as a form of acculturation. In a room full of history majors, there are always some students who think that they want to go to graduate school and become professors. Like many of my colleagues in the humanities, I am mindful of the impossibly crowded academic job market, which leaves all too many excellent scholars underemployed as adjuncts, working in jobs unrelated to their training, and so disillusioned and embittered that they denounce higher education to all listeners.

To prevent my own students from Continue reading “Encourage, but Terrify”

Every Monograph a Movie

Are students learning the best way?

by Marshall T. Poe (University of Iowa)

Although we often forget it, reading is a profoundly unnatural act. We were not evolved to read. Eyes are for seeing, ears are for hearing, but we have nothing specifically designed for reading. That makes reading difficult in two ways. First, it’s hard to learn to read, largely because you have to rewire your brain to do it. That takes a lot of time and effort, so much so that some people never learn to read well at all. Second, even if you have learned to read well, it’s often not physically pleasurable. Natural selection gave us psychological reward systems that favor listening and watching. We generally like to listen and watch regardless of what we are listening to or looking at. In short, we were built to enjoy listening and watching more than reading. The proof of that is manifest. Over the Continue reading “Every Monograph a Movie”

Fading Glory Days

Is higher education improving or going down hill?

By Richard Wolin (CUNY)

Since the 1980s, the golden age of American higher education has been steadily fading.

In the postwar years, the GI Bill and the community-college system created opportunities for those lacking in background or resources (in many cases, both) to work their way up the educational and professional ladder. During the same period, grass-roots social movements—above all the civil-rights movement and feminism—compelled elite four-year colleges, which spend up to 10 times as much per student as public universities do, to open their doors to students whose class background or race had previously been grounds for exclusion. Continue reading “Fading Glory Days”

When Is Competition a Positive Force?

Is competition good?

By Claire Potter (The New School)

Yesterday morning I was gliding down the river in my single scull. I was ten to fifteen minutes from the dock, workout complete, leg muscles burning slightly, warming down and starting to think about the rest of the day. After I navigated the last turn, a long bend that can make you or break you in the annual 3.5 mile race our rowing club hosts in October, it would be a straight shot back to the boat house.

Then I noticed another sculler on my port side: I was about a half length ahead. Continue reading “When Is Competition a Positive Force?”

Exam Doozies and Doubts

What do academics do wrong?

by Warren Goldstein (U Hartford)

The term’s over, thank God, and I’ve finished plowing through my U.S.-sports-history exams, but I can’t forget reading: “Femininity on the other hand was something that girls created after masculinity.” What? Incredulous when I came across that, at Hour 3, with a dozen booklets to go, I needed to vent. I e-mailed an old friend who teaches a similar course. He wrote back immediately, “What the … . Why do we bother?”

His question, however flippant, brought me up short. It’s a good one, even beyond the obvious answers: We have tenure; we’re getting a little long in the tooth to start another career; we can’t live on Continue reading “Exam Doozies and Doubts”