Monday, April 27, 2009

News flash: First person column in Chronicle reveals depressive self-absorption

I don't want to turn this blog into the Chronicle's loyal (or not so loyal) opposition, but this caught my attention today.

The Mediocre Professor. Shorter Chronicle: Professor Mediocre laments his mediocrity. Some might find this depressing, but I find it irritating. He wants suggestions? I've got suggestions.
  • Take some vitamins and show a little energy. The students respond to your energy. If all you're showing them is sighs and ennui, guess what they'll reflect back to you?
  • If you speak the way you write, try turning your efforts outward instead of inward: the point of teaching is communicating directly, not being Henry James with well-turned sentences. I'm not criticizing your writing; I'm just saying that teaching demands something different.
  • Teaching is like playing tennis, not like performing Hamlet. Students are not interested in watching you dramatically stare out the window as you ponder self-doubt and despair; leave that to the student from Wittenberg. They're adolescents, or just out of adolescence. They have enough self-doubt and despair for the both of you. It's your job to get them to hit the ball back and keep the discussion going. If they don't hit the first one, lob another. They want to talk about the literature, but you may not have served them something that they can respond to. Try a different approach.
  • If you really think the students are right and that the humanities are a dying carcass, have you thought about doing something that you would really like to do and giving your spot up to one of the eager hordes of Ph.D. jobseekers out there? I don't want to sound too much like Willy Loman, but in a way part of your job is to sell the humanities. You can't sell a product that you don't believe in.
  • All those laments about "digital twitterings" are a red herring. If you think the students are uniquely indifferent nowadays, you should look back at the laments about students from ancient times to the present.
  • Also, "digital" means a different form of expression, not a killer technology that swallows up books. This isn't a deathmatch between digital media and the humanities, however much the news media like to propose that it is. They're in love with the "digital natives" idea and celebrity culture, too, but that doesn't mean that they're right.

    In fact, that isn't a bad starting place for a discussion with your class. How about it?
  • 4 comments:

    Sisyphus said...

    This article made me both depressed _and_ mad!

    Seriously, I love teaching and I have no job next year! Can I have this guys ktxbai?

    Carl said...

    The thing is, this guy is going to seem deep to a small cadre of groupies, and that's going to keep his whole career going.

    Clairvoy said...

    My heart stopped reading his blog, and not in the way one's heart stops due to an epiphany. No, the way one's heart stops, I imaging, at the age of 102, in the middle of the night, when one knows it's ending, its over, and the light fades.

    Unfortunately for his students, instead of dieing he continues to get up in front of them.

    A most pathetic tragedy.

    undine said...

    Sisyphus, you'd think he'd be happy to hand over his job, if that's how it makes him feel. He wouldn't be the first person to leave academe because he doesn't like it, and there's no shame in not being cut out for undergraduate teaching.

    Carl, they may think he's deep, but all I can see is that he's deep in self-pity. Maybe I've watched too many Hollywood movies, but this is the place where some sage elder tells the Jimmy Stewart character to step up and show some gumption instead of settling for mediocrity.

    Clairvoy, I think that's why I mentioned the vitamins; something about this post just drained the energy right out of me.