Post Academic


Speaking of Translating Jargon: The Postmodernism Generator App

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on September 2, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWe’ve all used a name generator. My favorites are the Wu-Tang name generator and the Jersey Shore name generator. But what about a postmodern author name generator? Oh, yes, there’s an app for that.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Postmodernism Generator, which has been creating pitch-perfect faux cultural criticism since 2000. (Frankly, much of what comes out of the generator is easier to read than certain authors we have mentioned before …)

The portable version of the Postmodernism Generator lets you get your cultural critique fix anywhere, anytime. You can quote from it and play “trick-a-professor.” But the niftiest part of the app pulls last names out of your address book so you can read fake articles by your friends, who get their own nicknames worthy of a cultural critic. For example, if “Richard Lopez” is in your address book, the Postmodernism Generator turns him into the esteemed “H. Jurgen Lopez, Department of Deconstruction.”

That’s H. Jurgen Method Man to you! Image of Method Man by Johnny Blaze from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Academic Stereotype Fun With Urban Dictionary

I usually wind up visiting Urban Dictionary when I hear a term I don’t understand on VH1, and the definition is usually much worse than I thought. The site also provides sassy definitions for ordinary terms, and the definitions for “professor” offer abundant proof that the academy desperately needs to work on its PR campaign. The second most popular definition on the site is the following:

A person who is an expert at his or her field of study.
Professors do not have a degree in education or teaching.
Matter of fact, I don’t know why the silly bastards are allowed to teach without a degree in education.

Want to know why Professors suck at grading? Because they were never taught how to grade…They were not taught how to teach.

If you don’t like that, you don’t want to see what the visitors to Urban Dictionary have to say about “grad students.” Many of the other definitions were along the same lines, although I was partial to “Someone who talks in someone else’s sleep,” which admits that some students will fall asleep in class even if the teacher does cartwheels and sets off fireworks.

We’ve all had lousy professors and lecturers, but the disrespect handed to teachers and grad students is on a par with the attitude toward lawyers. And at least lawyers make enough money to soothe the sting. I wish they had a comments section so I could add, “They work hard, you know. In fact, I worked so much as a grad student that I found the Hamster World to be a more relaxing alternative.”

Academia and the “Creative Crisis”

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionJust how creative are scholars of the humanities, and how has that affected their job situation? Go into any literature department, and you’ll notice a big split between the students of literature and the students of creative writing. Based on my own experience (and please leave a note if yours was different), the two groups rarely interacted.

Since when was there supposed to be such a sharp split between the creative and the scholarly? Taking another step back, since when was there supposed to be such a big split between the research-oriented and the creation-oriented? And what about the sciences and the humanities?

This split may be hurting scholarly output, as well as students. A recent Newsweek series declares that the United States is in “creative crisis.” Whether or not you believe that is true, the article makes a crucial point:

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

There’s no turf war regarding creativity. Yet the perception that creativity belongs to the arts may be stunting the growth of problem-solving skills. There’s no shortage of academics, pundits, journalists and bloggers (yours truly included) who can synthesize information (such as what’s in the Newsweek article), but are we any good at solving problems and implementing solutions?

More after the jump! Swedish engraving of three creative women from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Art and Commerce: What’s the Problem With “Work of Art”?

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on July 17, 2010
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Obviously, we here at Post Academic are really into reality shows. I just watched a few episodes of the Bravo TV show “Work of Art,” in which aspiring artists who work in different media compete a la “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.” Apparently, people who are supposed to know something about art hate it.

Laurie Fendrich over at the Chronicle writes:

The show promulgates a massive deception that out-deceives all other reality programs: If we were to have a real reality show about artists, one that showed how artists really make art, it would bore the tears out of the audience. Artists are frequently quiet or dull sorts, and much of their art-making consists of sitting around, thinking, looking and puttering around in incomprehensible ways. No hissy fits, no artificial deadlines, and no visiting Euro-suaves like Simon de Pury, the auction-house exec, to give pats on the back and ask helpful questions.

And how is that different from a show like “Top Chef” or “Project Runway”? Cooking isn’t that fun to watch in and of itself, and I’m sure that clothing design involves plenty of “sitting around, thinking, looking and puttering around in incomprehensible ways.”

Okay, there are hissy fits on the show, and that’s a reality-show convention, but the benefit of “Work of Art” is that it emphasizes that art involves real work and skill. The contestants regularly throw verbal spears at each other about technique, and it is fun to watch how pieces come together in a single episode. The people who just slap something together and can’t explain it tend to be the ones who get the boot.

More after the jump!

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Taking Teaching Seriously by … Actually Training Teachers

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on July 14, 2010
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PhotobucketConsider this a response to a response: Tenured Radical wrote about the New York Times’ article on how fewer students are getting into Teach for America. Tenured Radical asks why people think Teach for America is so great in the first place:

I dislike TFA because I am a teacher, and I am quite clear that you don’t learn to teach in five weeks, much less teach students who have a range of social, economic and developmental problems; who are often hungry, in pain, angry or frightened; and who come in unruly waves of 40-50 every 45 minutes.

Whether you like TFA or not (I am undecided, for the record), Tenured Radical’s point that five weeks isn’t enough time to train a teacher is crystal clear. It isn’t.

Like most TA’s, I got thrown into the deep end of the teaching pool with my first comp assignment. I was trained in terms of teaching and composition theory, but I had no clue how to handle day-to-day tasks or how to deal with problem students. I pulled a whole lot out of thin air. Of course, I also got the vibe that teaching was a temporary thing for me, to avoid as much as possible, so why do I need to train for it?

Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Has the Starving Artist Just Died?

The idea of artists getting involved in business has become a theme as of late. The New York Times just did a story on artists who are taking classes on how to profit from their work. In a recent Rolling Stone, David Byrne–the gold-standard example of a well-fed artist who has not compromised his vision–said:

The romantic notion that musicians can’t deal with the business aspect of things, or can’t be interested in anything outside their music–that has disappeared, thank God. When I was starting out, you were supposed to be stupid! Young musicians that I’ve worked with–St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, the National–they are throwing away that whole lackadaisical attitude. … These musicians are more engaged in the world around them, and they are going to survive.

Artists are often admonished within their communities to avoid selling out, at all costs (pardon the pun). So are academics in the humanities, who get by on grad stipends and low-paid adjunct gigs until they reach the holy grail of tenure. But starving isn’t glamorous for very long, unless you have a trust fund. The only way to share your ideas with the masses is to keep yourself fed, which is why you need to keep an eye on your money.

If artists are taking business classes and David Byrne is praising the new generation for rocking a balance sheet, then isn’t it time for academics to get more serious about being paid properly? Forming unions and organizing is only the first step. Anyone going into academia must make sure they can survive on what they are paid, and they must fight hard for the jobs they still have. It could be said that older generations didn’t fight hard enough to justify what they do and hire when they had the money, but that time might be over.

Academics Breeding Academics?

I saw a recent tweet by Danah Boyd asking the following question:

Academics seem disproportionately likely to be kids of acad’s, married to acad’s. Same w/ gov, journalism. How does this affect info flow?

I wasn’t just wondering how it affects info flow. How true is it? It’s fairly obvious that plenty of people enter the same careers as their parents as far as politics is concerned.

If it is true, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. Plenty of people enter the same careers as their parents and do a good job. Other people wind up being like George W. Bush. (I couldn’t resist.)

But, before we judge whether or not it’s a bad thing that academics breed academics, I was wondering how many of you, dear readers, are the children of academics. This is just a poll to gauge the landscape. Then the next poll might be if you think it is a pro or a con. Poll after the jump!

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Is It the Big Lie of the Mind or the Big Lie of Job Security?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionPost Academic shows up in many searches for “the big lie of the life of the mind,” which refers to William Pannapacker’s legendary article “Grad School: Just Don’t Go.”

While I prefer to defend the life of the mind, I have been thinking of another “big lie” lately that relates to academia in general, and that involves job security. Should job security or tenure be an expectation of anyone who goes to graduate school?

If you go into graduate school, the best approach is to assume that you won’t get a tenure-track job. And that’s okay. You might get a career, but it might not be the one you thought you would get. You might even find a career that you like better. Adventures in Gradland had a superb series on the types of careers that former academics have discovered, and it’s required reading whether you’re just starting grad school or you just got tenure.

It may sound harsh, but the real big lie related to academia doesn’t involve the life of the mind (or lack thereof). The real lie is that, academia is the fast track to job security, and the evidence is that non-tenure track faculty make up over 73 percent of those teaching in higher ed.

Academics must fight hard to keep the jobs that they have (see debate on why it seems that academics haven’t been fighting hard enough), but it’s also smart to start thinking of other career tracks while you’re in school or even while you’re teaching. You’re not being disloyal to your university or to academia if you think of a Plan B. You’re being smart, and you’ll be better prepared for economic upheavals than most of your peers.

Tomorrow, a glimpse of what it’s like going through a layoff, and why it’s better in the Hamster World.

Image of Mary Pickford from the Library of Congress, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Treating Teachers Well, Part 2: The Slacker Professor Straw Man Problem

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo why aren’t teachers treated well? The ghosts of the Slacker Professor and the Slacker Teacher have a little something to do with it. These straw men have been used as an excuse to make cuts in public education and slice and dice good teachers for far too long. Even if charter schools succeed and education (higher ed or otherwise) is privatized, the employees are still going to be there, and they still deserve to be treated well. Yet it seems that teachers are treated like crap and excessively punished for the few slackers in their ranks.

As I’ve written about before, treating teachers badly, slashing their budgets, and busting their unions is a continuation of the weird impulse to destroy a whole system to root out a few slackers. So you don’t like the fact that there’s a bad teacher who has been relegated to the “rubber room” and is still getting paid. C’mon. Haven’t you worked with someone who did a bad job but who was relegated to the hamster-world equivalent of a “rubber room” because the company was afraid of getting sued?

The simple fact of the matter is that, once you hire someone, whether you are union or not, it is difficult to fire them, and you better have a bloody good reason to fire them. It’s the law, and unions won’t make that go away. Yet politicians and parents seem to lash out at teachers when they don’t realize the exact same thing is happening in their own workplaces.

More after the jump! Image from the Bundesarchiv on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. (more…)

Treating Teachers Well, Part 1: Why You Should Respect Teachers

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA recent post by Teresa Ghilarducci over at Brainstorm deserves your attention because it shows how teachers are treated differently from other employees:

Let’s say you’re advising a business with varying quality and you want to improve performance. Would you ridicule the workers publicly; cut their pay and benefits; say they are the sole cause of the problem, and that you want brighter younger replacements who will work overtime and weekends? No new CEO would adopt this as a strategy for success. Attacking your workforce is not an effective way to improve quality, produce a better product, and attract top talent — a bright young replacement would notice the disrespect.

So why do people think attacking teachers is a route to education reform?

Ghilarducci goes into discussing charter schools and unions, but I’ll chime in with my own Hamster World view. Whether employees are unionized or not, you still have to treat them with respect. Busting the union does not let you off the hook.

In the Hamster World, I’ve been treated rather well. I’ve been thanked when I did a good job. In some cases, I even received a bonus, or at least some nice free meals. Nothing fancy, nothing Goldman Sachs worthy, but something that made clear I was appreciated as an employee and my work contributed to the company’s success.

Most employees just want a little respect on top of their paycheck. Most teachers do not get respect, or even decent, regular performance evaluations that let them know they’re doing a good job. Ghilarducci makes it clear–if you don’t treat employees well and fairly, they will leave.
More after the jump! Image of a teacher at work from 1917, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.
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