Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Every so often, just when you start to question your path, something comes along that makes you realize that you've made the right decisions...

Over the past month or so, I've had a few moments of weakness, in which I questioned my decision to leave academe. I've wondered if, having lived in the rarified atmosphere of the university for so long, I am capable of surviving in the "real world," or if I am destined, like a crack addict, to return to the only environment that truly feels like home. I've wondered if I have the survival instincts needed for a life outside of the classroom.

What makes this harder is the fact that I have a nasty little addiction to teaching. I was a very good teacher and I really loved my students. I got a kick out of exposing them to new things and watching them get excited as intellectual doors opened a little wider and things seemed a little more possible.

Worst of all, it seems like everyone in New York is taking a class or working on a degree, and seeing my fellow subway riders reading textbooks and cramming for exams is a little tough. It also doesn't help that I'm surrounded by universities. All this combines to make me feel like a recovering coke addict who just got transferred to a job in Medellin, Columbia. When people find out that I'm a former teacher, they ask me if I'm looking for jobs at colleges. I respond "Hell, no, bitches! Colleges be lookin' for ME!"

Actually, I don't say that at all, but I'm working on my ghetto smack-talk skills.

I was recently starting to weaken, to make the sorts of little deals that hearken back to the days when I was quitting smoking. I told myself that, maybe I'd just teach a little class in one of the community colleges, or get a sub job or something. You know, a little something to tide me over (imagine me wiping my nose on my sleeve at this point). Just in the nick of time, my old pal Bob sent me an e-mail to remind me why I left in the first place. Apparently, a teacher in my old department is about to make a presentation titled "Telling Stories about Genocide: Ethnicity, Memory and Polyphony in Rwanda." In her own words, this presentation features:

Some unfinished thoughts about using poststructuralist theory to address issues concerning storytelling and memory in the aftermath of great tragedy and violence, plus some pictures of memorial sites.

Ooooh! Vacation pictures!

For those of you who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Poststructuralism, it is, basically, an academic parlor-trick in which the individual theorist uses double talk and clever rhetoric to deny the existence of any sort of absolute reality or truth. It tends to be a springboard for overgeneralized statements about "The Patriarchy," "Colonialism," and "Western Imperialism."

The French are big fans of Poststructuralism.

Personally, I think Poststructuralism is a great way to annoy friends and make yourself look smart, but it grates against my humanist leanings. When I see it applied to any real human tragedy, I start to get creeped out. This, after all, is the tool that we use when we want to talk about how 9/11 wasn't really an immoral act, and how the Holocaust was a matter of perspective, not a verifiable historical fact.

Added to this is the fact that I personally know the person making this presentation. I sat in her class for a semester and watched her wage personal attacks against several of her students, specifically targeting the males. Later, as an instructor, I had to put up with her regular assertions of moral and intellectual superiority and, again, got to watch her treat her colleagues like dirt. I have no doubt that the department will embrace her clever interpretation of this tragedy, and her presentation will become yet another feather in her cap as she continues her grim, endless accumulation of academic power.

At the end of the day, this is, basically, a university professor climbing the academic ladder over a pile of corpses. I tend to think that using tragedy to play out a narrative about the variable nature of meaning borders on the blasphemous. To see a teacher that I personally know do it reminds me of why, exactly, I am glad to be out of academia.

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  • I am sure your students don't feel the same. Even the ones who never had you will miss something good in their educational experience.

    Too many good eggs get weeded out because the bad eggs are more determined to stick around. Shame.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 14, 2007 at 2:12 PM  

  • Pool-
    I guess my worry is that academia is really encouraging the bad eggs. There is a general disdain for critical thinkers and a definite honoring of those who play mind games.

    I'm really glad to be out of there.

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 14, 2007 at 10:47 PM  

  • Crank I so love reading your blog but today more than ever... you reminded me of my dad a bit today and that is a great thing.
    My dad was a born teacher and poured everything into his teaching and I loved him for it.
    I dont blame you that you mis it

    By Blogger Nosjunkie, At November 15, 2007 at 6:12 AM  

  • The unfortunate thing is that there will be corpse climbers in any and every industry. You'll have to decide which is worse. Not Teaching or Putting Up with Bags of Shite.

    By Anonymous Franki, At November 15, 2007 at 8:27 AM  

  • Nosjunkie-
    Thanks for comparing me to your father--from the sounds of things, it's a high compliment!

    I guess the problem for me is that I take teaching a little too seriously. If you're a shitbag lawyer, you're probably helping other degenerates take money from still other degenerates.

    I'm a little less cynical about teaching. A teacher has a duty to educate, in the least selfish way possible. When I see people using students, victims, and the educational system to feed their bloated egos, I really have a hard time taking it!

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 15, 2007 at 9:34 AM  

  • God. Are you in my head? I've been having pangs myself, thinking 'maybe I should leave my job and go back to teaching'. Unlike you, I keep my hand in, tutoring kids one-to-one for exams, and it's cool. I remember all the good stuff about working in a school. An then I have dinner with a friend and ex-colleague and within tem minutes, I remember exactly why I left as the bitter taste returns to my mouth.

    I guess teaching pole dancing is my halfway house - I get to teach, but it's not in an institution steeped in bullshit.


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At November 15, 2007 at 10:41 AM  

  • Puss, it's good to have you here. I appreciate the commiseration and the advice. Perhaps I need to tutor someone or teach a small class. The alternative is becoming the obnoxious old guy who stops random people to tell them unwanted information!

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 15, 2007 at 1:17 PM  

  • Sometimes taking a break is needed to let you figure out just what you do want. I think you'll figure it out.

    By Blogger Claudia, At November 15, 2007 at 2:23 PM  

  • Don't know exactly why you left teaching, though I recall some of the hypocrisy of the academic world from my own former life.

    But it does sound like you're a natural teacher. Are you sure you really want to leave it for good?

    By Blogger Mystic Wing, At November 15, 2007 at 5:06 PM  

  • Your description of the former colleague climbing the academic ladder at the expense of those around her could have been written about several people at my large corporation. I lack that ambition as my lowly office status indicates. However, most days, I can remember that their journey is the empty one. You ARE a teacher -- just not formally in this part of your journey.

    By Blogger JamieSmitten, At November 15, 2007 at 10:23 PM  

  • Claudia-
    I think so, too. And I'm making good use of the time away.

    Mystic Wing-
    I'm not going to leave it for good. I think that, one way or another, I'm teaching all the time. But I'm not going back to a formal classroom until I can do it on my own terms, and that might be a while.

    I think you hit a few things solidly here. I am a teacher, even if not formally, and that aspect of my personality isn't going anywhere.

    As far as the other, it seems like there's something empty about self-aggrandizement. I see it a lot these days and am generally filled with a sense of sadness.

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 16, 2007 at 9:19 AM  

  • Academia is too full of those who are too full of themselves, who overintellectualize human events in the interest of cleverness and also to protect themselves from having to FEEL anything.

    It gets old.

    How did we become a society that ranks people according to the number of syllables they are able to produce to express simple ideas?

    You will be a tremendous loss to those whose college experience will be increasingly limited to teachers who masturbate with words instead of interacting with their students to find a shared humanity in worldly events.

    But think of the Purple Cow. You are lucky to be you, and not them, and to bring your own special brand of truth to your next endeavor.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At November 17, 2007 at 2:57 PM  

  • Hearts-
    I am so glad that you're out there. You expressed my feelings simply, eloquently, and beautifully. Thank you so much!

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 18, 2007 at 11:29 AM  

  • Even though it took me a few reads to get my head around the postcultural thingy (sorry about that, it's me, not you) I LOVED this post!

    I keep thinking, I hope parents tell their kids that some teachers are just blowhards. Honestly it never occurred to me that often and I wish i'd been less gullible. That teacher, that woman, sounds like a nightmare. I feel for her students, especially the males.

    By Blogger Echomouse, At November 18, 2007 at 9:12 PM  

  • Echomouse-
    You're perfectly right--it used to really bother me that many teachers didn't seem invested in teaching their students to think critically. Of course, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.

    Thanks for dropping in and commenting!

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 19, 2007 at 8:11 PM  

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