Saturday, March 28, 2009

Len from Las Cruces on His Worst Fear. (He Wins the Free Mug, and We Hope He Fills It With Something that Will Help.)

The "winner" of the RYS Mug Contest is someone who's not appeared on the page before, Len from Las Cruces. We went into this endeavour with high hopes, and the RYS readership didn't let us down. We received 147 entries, and the three current moderators split the entries up, sharing with the others their top 5. At that point, however, Len's ended up being an easy pick.

One of the things that makes RYS moderatorship so difficult (and we're not including the wild animals that live just outside the compound fence), is hearing these stories. But we hope that in some way sharing these things, these fears, these struggles, we can all recognize the problems in the profession, and one day - oh, we know it's crazy - fix them.


I can't think of many things within the profession that don't cripple me with fear. So your query is not some fresh-as-a-baby concept upon which I'm stumbling for the first time.

Instead, it's driven and pummeled me throughout my career, grad school to 10 years in.

But the thing that scares me the most, the thing that keeps me up at night in my cups rather than snoring beside Lady Len, is that I've wasted my entire life on a profession, a calling, and a career that isn't worth a drop of my energy or blood.

Is it too strong to say that I simply don't think college works?

I'm one of those humanities proffies who seem to fill RYS's pages, always confused and heartbroken over those students who can't read, write, or think. And of course the same proffies who seem to take a licking on the page whenever they pop their fair skinned domes into target range. ("Humanities? Don't you know we're swimming in ducats over here in the Biz School / Chem Department?")

I fear that my romantic notion (really "Romantic," in that sense) of being a college professor was fueled by all the same silly novels and films that get mentioned on the page. I thought I'd be doing something, making a difference, helping young minds grow rapturous and fat on the vine. But it's all bullshit, as anyone can tell you. I fear that what I thought would be my life's work is no more gallant or noble or useful than if I'd just decided to tattoo people or style hair for a living.

What good comes of it? What good comes for the 18 out of 20 students who sorrowfully spend 16 weeks with me each term? Those 18 kill my spirit, make me want to set myself (or them) on fire. And they fight me from day one to day last. They don't want to be in college, and have 999 reasons for it that I can't even begin to defeat or answer.

Those 18 come in dumb, go out dumb, too. And they've been sold a bill of goods by their parents, the culture, the media, their high school counselors, etc. The way college has devolved is into a sort of grade 13/14 mess of bullshit remediation, caretaking, and babysitting. We don't challenge them because - my god - the customer in them won't stand for it. And after 10 years of fighting this - modestly, I'm no hero - I have fallen into the groove dug for me by my colleagues.

I fear that most of the students I see are not helped one bit by my part in their college "experience." I buy into the bullshit like they do. They must go to college. Someone must teach them.

And so I fear I do nothing for 18 out of 20 students every term. They do nothing for me. It's a sweet deal. It's a wash. Money has changed hands. Sometimes degrees are printed and framed, and it was all just a financial exercise.

Oh, the other 2 in each class. Well, they're in college for the right reasons, on their own, because they want to find out where it takes them. They buy their ticket just the same, but they make use of it. They talk and engage, and in those moments when it's me and them, I'm doing what I thought I would spend my life doing.

But I fear that the ratio is not enough. If it were not for those 2, I'd be looking for consulting work, or a nice shiny revolver to eat. (Don't tell, Mrs. Len, because she's still proud her husband is a teacher.)

Is there anything worse to think? Is there anything more dispiriting than this?

I fear it's all been for nothing.