Monday, April 28, 2014

What is it that I do, again? Okay, now ... how do I say that, exactly...?

Reading Watkins this week came at a particularly reflective time for me. I apologize for being so transparent in this post, but I would love your feedback – and sense we’re skipping the Watkins reading, I would like to focus on it. For another class that I am taking right now, I need to write a teaching statement. The teaching statement, or philosophy, as I’m sure that many of you know, has all the ambiguities of the personal statement plus the added stress of trying to articulate exactly what is you “do” in the classroom, what you want from your students, what you do to aid in their learning, ect. This is particularly challenging for me sense I’ve never actually taught a class before. But for the sake of this particular assignment I’ve been ruminating on something that is future tense. In my thinking, I continue to return to Watkins and the class problems of both teaching and higher ed and being a student in higher ed, and how to simultaneously manage the demands placed on teachers while also dealing with the demands and expectations that rise up through the students. 

I found myself lazily slipping back in to the old standbys of, “reading writing and literacy” or “English is a tool for other/any/all disciplines,”ect. I wrote these words because part of me thought that that was what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to boast of how my future class, my discipline can prepare anyone for anything! As if, some how, reading A Brave New World will prepare someone to work on an oil rig or some other job that any one of my future students will find themselves in. And part of my answer to this is “Yes!” it will prepare them, because literature and the studying the humanities makes a person human; it’s not about being cultured at the end of the day, it’s about the infinite variety of experience that literary studies provides in aiding our understanding of ourselves and of one another.

However, I know that this humanist, idealistic, bleeding heart response isn’t . . . enough . . . or isn’t all that we can say or do for our students and for our discipline. Furthermore, I don’t want to trap myself into some kind of moralist argument about how literacy makes someone a “better person” or Fisher’s "surrogate parenting". This discussion is slippery and endless while the the urgency to nail down the infinite variety of work accomplished by departments of English is imminent. “Higher ed” is becoming more and more corporate, more and more a “knowledge factory” designed for profit. “Middle management” grows to oversee and regulate this system while part time writing teachers work hard for little pay and are ultimately charged with mitigating the greater class distinctions in society. The truly terrible thing about this is if H&N are correct, then the writing teachers are the ones we need most- they may not be recruited (as Chandler pointed out) like those of STEM, but they should be.

Again, I know this is a rehashing of an old problem to which there is probably not a clear answer. I would love to hear some of your responses to these questions and problems. Some solutions may be with Marx, but when the problems of higher ed develop from a larger global culture of Capitalism, it is hard to feel like one very small, somewhat helpless, piece of the puzzle. The options for action seem to fall along the lines of Clover's "Cars are going to burn" or McClosky's "Optimism." Szmen's careful, mindful analysis of the oil industry (and thoughtful writings) may pave a more middle road not entirely unlike H&N.

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