Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Good Girl in the Happy Fog

Dean Dad over at Confessions of a Community College Dean has talked recently about the Happy Fog, the self-delusional certainty that the regular rules don't apply to you. Dean Dad wants to talk about Happy Fog in relationship to workplace management issues but he notes:

Is there a more textbook case of happy fog than the hordes of eager young grad students rushing into doctoral programs, each convinced that s/he will buck the adjunct trend? If not for their exploitable hopes and dreams, colleges would have to hire more full-time faculty, and would be even more expensive than they already are!

So sad and so true. My independent study student this semester can't wait to go to grad school and pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion. I immediately asked him, "do you expect to support yourself with this?" Since I can't dissuade him I can only advise him to marry well. I came out of the Happy Fog surrounding academia two years ago thanks to the bracing posts and comments of Invisible Adjunct.

I've written about the impact of Invisible Adjunct before. Go and read the entire blog and comments (its inactive but remains as an archive, a valuable public service) before entering grad school. Thomas Hart Benton in the famous "So you want to go to grad school article" also identifies the magical thinking that creates the happy fog:
The Modern Language Association's own data -- very conservative and upbeat in my opinion -- indicate that only about one in five newly-admitted graduate students in English will eventually become tenure-track professors.

"Are you the one in five?" Really? Well, that's what the other four think too. Take my advice (I secretly care about you as a person): Don't go.

If you speak this way, four out of five students will think you're a crank and find a more flattering adviser: "Of course, my little genius, you can be anything you want to be."

But even after I had stopped drinking the Kool-aid and could see precisely what my true position was an adjunct in the academy, I couldn't quite give it up. Teaching is seductive; you get to stand before a class and make pronouncements, shape history, see bright young faces nodding at your words. But then Dean Dad once again came to the rescue and helped me clarify my position: I was stuck being the good girl. Dean Dad explains,
It's a kind of modesty, worn as a badge of honor. (The contradiction in proudly displaying one's modesty is rarely addressed.) Leave such vulgar pursuits to lesser folk -- I'm too busy nobly and selflessly pursuing truth (and tenure, and status, and travel money . . .

I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the more interesting and insightful academic bloggers are female. The tension between self-effacement and self-promotion that pervades academic culture is structurally similar to the tension in the definition of the 'good girl' - be sexy but not sexual, get attention without looking like you're trying to get attention, etc. Women academics have seen the contradictions twice, so they seem (generally) better able to articulate them. "I could never do that" is a classic good-girl sentiment. Seek approbation through self-effacement --yeah, that should work . . .

As the classic tenure-track faculty line evaporates into budgetary purgatory, I think many academics would be well-advised to retire their modesty. The existing rules have set up an entire generation to fail. It's time to write some new rules.

Yes, indeed. Adjuncting has worked for me. It allowed me to gain classroom and course development experience, it has allowed me to keep my hand in the field while having children. But the process has turned against me now. It sucks up my time and energy and pays me less than minumun wage when divided by all the unpaid hours of class prep, grading, meeting with students etc. Teaching the same courses over and over wears me out and has started to sap my creative energies. When the request to order next semester's textbooks came in, I was filled with dread. I knew it was time. I finally took the plunge and declined my sections for next semester.

Its time to start the next phase.

3 comments:

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Kim said...

I think you've made the right decision. You've thought about this for a long time. I look forward to hearing about the next chapter in your career. (pun intended :-)