Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Chiefiest of all Chief Correspondents - Weepy Wayne from Waterloo - Waxes On Why We're So Woeful!

Regarding the question of academic unhappiness. Without question, there are worse jobs out there. I know. I had one of them. I was at the bottom end of the construction trade for 10 years before working my up from a community college, to a state university, to a private college for my graduate degree. My grad experience was comprised of long hours, genuine poverty, sketchy urban housing, malnutrition, and a lack of genuine human contact. Having said that, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I sacrificed a great deal for something I considered worthwhile, and it showed me what I was made of.

After graduating at the top of my class, I arrived at the gates of academe, and was shunted into a janitor's closet as an adjunct. There I stayed, watching dedicated professors twice my age being drained of their vitality by an exploitative system that sold promises to tuition payers and larded administrative sinecures with pensioned hacks. In the classroom, I encountered students who were lazy, arrogant, and aggressively apathetic. They yawn at Dostoevsky, wince when confronted with a five page essay, and glare at me when I implore them to step it up for the challenges of that "Real World' they are so impatient to embrace.

Along the way I discovered how to make students succeed in spite of themselves. My reviews are often five-star. The best students who do care learn in spite their surroundings and make this all worthwhile. I am welcomed back to teach part-time every semester; however, despite my success teaching the "Big Kid" lecture classes in literature, I find that more and more I am offered "remedial" courses (i.e., Commas for Comas). These students I encounter are crassly materialistic and blithely delusional about the world beyond their dorm. As a result, my contact with buttercups who are openly hostile toward reading, thinking, and the possibilities of a university education has multiplied exponentially. Preparing them for the threshold of College Writing I is nothing short of draining. I find myself discussing TV shows I don't watch, and celebrities I couldn't identify on a dare. If I reach for Rimbaud, I will lose them. Instead, we deconstruct Britney Spears as I try to wedge in the Fisher King Myth.

In short, I left a brutal job, clawed my way up the hill, and found myself surrounded by the very people I wanted to escape when I was 20. There are many aspects of this job I enjoy, but I do understand when some of my colleagues feel cheated. We were never waved off by our English professors. Grad school happily took our money. And the current system is geared to exploit a glut of English majors. In a number of ways, I'm lucky to have this job. Hell, I could be installing insulation in a sub-zero crawlspace. But I'm not blind to the larger picture.