My version of that this month is thinking a little more about what matters and what doesn't, in life as much as in academe, and how things that used to matter often just don't, now, and vice versa.
Things that used to matter a lot or provoke a reaction but don't now:
- Whether women keep their own names or take their spouse's name after they get married. This seemed like a huge issue back in the day, with me getting into arguments that women should keep their own names. Maybe it still is, but especially with the legalization of gay marriage (yay!), it seems wrong to declare that women must or ought to do X or Z about their names. You ought to be able to declare your identity in any way that the law allows without getting a lot of lectures about it.
- Whether the acquaintance or family member you're talking to actually listens to what you're saying. It used to frustrate me tremendously when a family member or acquaintance would ask a question about my work, let me get 10 words into an explanation, and then break off to tell an anecdote of their own or exclaim over the cute tricks of a dog or baby. Now it doesn't. Once you realize that the person doesn't actually care about your answer, it's much easier and less tiring to keep what passes for conversation going by asking them questions about themselves.
- Issues of citation and typography, m- dash versus n-dash, fonts, spacing, MLA versus Chicago style, and all that. I used to care about whether MLA was better than Chicago. Not any more. Tell me the style sheet and I 'll do what you want. I don't have to care about it to do it right.
- Whether a student is telling the truth when he says he couldn't do the assignment because his roommate's grandmother's dog died or whatever. I'm not the Dean of Students, and I'm not going to track down excuses, the way I've seen, at the Chronicle, instructors talk about demanding obituary notices before excusing an absence. The syllabus is designed to allow some flexibility and some absences, partly for their convenience and partly for mine, so that I don't have to be the Truth Police.
Things that still matter a lot:
- Plagiarism. Where that's concerned, I still am the Truth Police, and they get reported.
- Insisting on respect. Respect doesn't mean being docile at all costs, but it's possible to disagree without getting into rudeness or snide behavior. If you don't agree, you sure don't want to be in my classroom, meeting, or conference session.
- Fairness. I've heard that preadolescents go through a phase of deciding whether things are fair and being outraged about unfairness; later, adults learn that life is unfair and they have to get on with it. I don't think that any of us ever get beyond the fairness issue, even if we understand that life can be unfair, and we need to do what we can to alleviate unfairness when we can. This sounds trite (because it is), but it's still true. Even in a class setting, you can make something more transparent, distribute some benefit more equitably, or even the playing field by creating assignments that cater to different student strengths.
What issues have you given up as "doesn't matter" and what ones are still important to you?