There’s nothing quite as disappointing as seeing those who should get it — who by all rights should be your allies, your friends, your family — making silly and ultimately harmful observations.
Especially when those observations add to a miasma of half-truths, stereotypes and unfortunate political leanings that are slowly and steadily choking education in this country.
“Gilded Cage,” courtesy of KayVee.INC through Creative Commons.
Of all the dismal news and opinion I’ve read in the last couple of weeks, the most disheartening was this blog entry about a former academic who quit to form a business. The company will produce an online app that pre-structures essays for students so they can “focus on content.”
Starting the company, author Lindy Ledhowski wrote, was preferable to being caught in the “gilded cage” of a tenure-track and eventually tenured position.
In such a position, she “would face no risks, but … be safe.” Now there’s a contrast whose supposed oppositions and subtleties I likely never will grasp.
Ledhowski found it far more attractive to “make jobs for other people” than be in “a job.” The professoriate, she apparently believes, is an area in which “stasis” would be inevitable, at least for her.
Personal ephiphanies are fine. When those are gussied up in the language of education’s most ardent enemies, it’s a little more problematic.
As expected, the selection of a new president of the University of Iowa is sparking plenty of thoughful analysis, hand-wringing and bloviating about the choice of a former corporate chieftain with relatively little academic experience as the institution’s new leader.
Are we who decry this choice being fair? Or is ours a knee-jerk reaction to a decision that could bring necessary and helpful changes to one of our leading universities?
Kuusisto’s characterization of Iowa regents is none too kind, which raises the question I asked myself both before and after my own short post Friday criticizing the selection.
Taking a step back and approaching issues with as much objectivity as possible are two hallmarks of both science and journalism, my own area of teaching and research. So is interpretation. I’ve thought about my own Friday post a bit this weekend, as it was a clearly pessimistic and skeptical take on Bruce Herreld’s selection.
The question of fairness to Herreld and Iowa’s leadership is too complex to answer in a single blog post. For most observers, it’s not one that can be answered with anything close to public agreement until we’ve had the benefit of looking back on Herreld’s presidency after a suitable period of time.
But skepticism, which is just a little farther to the negative side of a continuum from hopeful to despairing, is a proper response for academics, journalists and others to this selection.
This seems an apt followup to my last post, and it’s an easy one to write because there’s not much to say. That’s mainly because this is one of those wind-’em-up topics that is likely to launch hundreds of thousands of words into the blogosphere over the next few days.
I suppose we can look at the bright side for holiday travel (yeah, right), which is that our governor won’t be advocating for a wall to be built between Iowa and Wisconsin.
While reading the back-to-school posts of fellow blogging academics Chuck Ryback and Rachel Ida Buff this week, I realized I was hesitant about my own writing because I hadn’t yet figured out which question I was trying to answer. Then, an attitude common to each of their blogs — a readily apparent, fierce dedication to serving students — pointed the way like Scott Walker directing billionaire donors to the pork barrel.
Just who is it I’m working for?
Same as the old boss. (YouTube video)
Ask any dedicated teacher and you’ll know the answer for the rest of us. The idea that it’s all about the students becomes such a mantra that it can appear as no more than lip service, but the most committed among UW System faculty make clear, over and over, that our calling is to help students become well-rounded, capable citizens who think critically.
I like that UW-Green Bay’s Chuck Rybak, an associate professor of English, writes in a way that appears to channel anger and outrage into passionate, strong, clear argument. Maybe he’s not at all an angry guy and I’m just reading my own resentment into some of his work. He’s clearly, however, a hell of a writer and among those I respect for telling a story that needs to be told, over and over, until the people of Wisconsin are convinced that we need to do something about our so-called leaders.
I believe the rest of us in the UW system also need to work harder to find ways to make similar messages heard. Although we should be as civil as is useful and warranted, this isn’t necessarily about playing nice. Unfortunately, so many of the people who should be reading this kind of blog are probably the last people who do, and they probably aren’t going to until most of the rest of the state is practically up in arms. The best way to make that happen is to remind others of the incredible damage we’re allowing various miscreants to do.
Public education, and public higher education, is not only a great achievement, it is one of the most amazing human achievements in all of our history. If there’s anyone out there in Wisconsin who cares, and happens to read this, know that supporting this system, this public good, is easy. Let’s try to remember the infinite rewards within our reach for what seems like such minimal effort. If that’s not practical, then I don’t know what is. It’s more than practical. It really is miraculous. — Chuck Rybak on Sad Iron
Normally I just share these posts on Facebook, but I’m convinced that part of what we need to do as leaders in education is network with, encourage, and work together with others who are speaking out. Even something as simple as giving a post like this a second home on another blog may bring a few more readers and maybe even help change a mind or two.
Dr. Rybak gave me permission to reblog his latest post, which I then found I couldn’t do because his “reblog” button isn’t active. But you can read it by clicking on the illustration below. And it’s not a bad thing to share it further.