Teaching, Tenure, and Academic Freedom

In The New York Times a couple of days ago, Stanley Fish offered an article with the title "Vocationalism, Academic Freedom and Tenure."  He is responding to a book, The Faculty Lounges: and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For  by Naomi Schaefer Riley.  He writes:

What Riley shows is that vocation-oriented teaching, teaching beholden to corporations and politically inflected teaching do not square with the picture of academic labor assumed by the institutions of tenure and academic freedom.

I agree with Fish in part when, in response to Riley's point, he writes:

I say, and have been saying for years, that colleges and universities should stop moving in those directions — toward relevance, bottom-line contributions and social justice — and go back to a future in which academic inquiry is its own justification.

But I do think he views things to narrowly.  Academic inquiry is not simply its own justification, but is a necessary basis for higher-level teaching, which itself is not the "thing" his article (and, I assume, Riley's book) imagine it to be, but is itself a dynamic requiring academic freedom every bit as much as research does.

Writing for Yourself

The other day, when I should have been doing something else, I Googled myself.  One of the pages I found was on Writing Skills for a site called Paper Due.  At first, I was flattered, thinking someone was actually using something I had written to aid others in developing their prose style.

Then I was, well, "horrified" would be too strong a word.  "Bemused," perhaps too weak.  Anyway, I realized that the site is selling papers on the topic of "writing skills."  Potential writing teachers can buy them, using them to satisfy their own teachers that they know a little about what they might, one day, be doing.

Except, of course, they won't.

But Why Do We Bash Teachers?

Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, in an otherwise excellent op-ed in today's New York Times, ignore one important question: Why do we, as Americans, so loathe our teachers?

Eggers and Calegari are right: we can turn around our schools, and can do so by renewing our faith in teachers, in providing them better and better training and real support in the schools, and by paying them adequately.

That we don't, that we blame our teachers for the 'failures' of our educational system, is tantamount, Eggers and Calegari say, to blaming the soldiers for the loss of a war:

No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
   And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Yes.  Exactly.  So, let's stop blaming the teachers, give them pay and support, and improve our schools!

Except it's not so simple.


"Good-Bye, Teacher... "

At the start of "Good-bye, Teacher... " Fred Keller quotes one version of that old doggerel:

Good-bye scholars, good-bye school;
Good-bye teacher, darned old fool!

I learned it as:

Good-bye pencils, good-bye books;
Good-bye teachers' dirty looks.

It doesn't matter; the point's the same.  We were glad to get rid of teachers, for the summer, at least.

The Library is America's last truly socialized institution and you're about to lose it

(Written by an American expat living in the European Union)

Did you know that the library is America's last truly socialized institution and that everyday you come a bit closer to losing it! As a male who is a business librarian, (that is to say someone who holds graduate degrees in library science and an MBA degree in marketing), I understand very well that fee for service in America's library systems are creating a class of information have-nots. For some of you this means that your children aren't going to be able to read as well. It also means that as voters in a democracy, you will no longer be as well informed without full library services. As the series, the American dream vs the European dream which I was able to generously publish with the support of the Daily Kos community, we have seen that we cannot depend on the plutocrat owned radio and television media. Sometimes we have to go to print sources, even international print sources of the variety and scope that you can't possibly afford as an individual to subscribe to them all. Additionally libraries make online databases available to their patrons that allow you with the touch of a button to read international media sources from around the globe. You're in the process of losing this all and a lot more.

Breast Cancer, Zen and Me

Crossposted on DailyKos and Tikkun Daily, by Evelette.

This is the second part of
my story about surviving Breast Cancer.

   There is a slightly surreal quality of thinking that happens when one walks the halls of cancer. One is asked to consider options that are basically outside normal consideration, and come  down to making choices that are simply variations on levels of suffering...

  The bottom line is DEATH and you get to work up from there.

Weekly HealthSeries: Music, Memory & the 'Illusory Self"

Crossposted at Tikkun and DKos.

by Boatsie

Abstract: Current research in the cognitive sciences and neurology abounds in astounding theories on the locus of long-term memory; the ability of the brain to repurpose sections to recreate neural pathways totally destroyed by strokes, head injuries, or severe mental disabilities; and the intricate interplay of powerful emotions and complex neural coding in 'reliving' past traumas.
Drawing upon findings on the use of mirror boxes to treat phantom limb pain, on the role of our senses in unconsciously triggering highly emotive memories capable of transporting our consciousness beyond time/place constrictions, and the always miraculous studies of neurologist Oliver Sachs, herein is a different take on treatment for conditions such as chronic pain, strokes, and mental and affective disabilities.(Note: play music at bottom as you read)

Health Series: The Lost Decades

Cross-posted at Tikkun Daily and DKos

I'll bet you think I'm going to write about the decades between when we first tried to pass health care reform and now.

Reflecting on the title, you're probably thinking back through history to Johnson, or Truman, or FDR, or Teddy Roosevelt. There are a lot of wasted years between then and now, I'll grant that. There have been many words said about health care, many promises made (to Carter, to Nixon...), many broken as easily as the brittle bones of an osteoporosis patient, and with just as much pain to the American people, who have lost more and more each decade to the monster that has occupied our health care system.

You may be thinking, too, of something like Japan's "Lost Decade" and thinking there's some sort of corollary there between title and subject.

Health Care Series: a NN panel you don't want to miss!

Posted on behalf of ClammyC. Welcome Back!

In all seriousness, I am extremely excited to even be in the same room as the most excellent people noted below, for a panel entitled Organizing as a Healing Process: A Fresh Perspective on PTSD, which is not only an incredibly important issue that touches people in all walks of life, but also includes DailyKos and netroots superstars such as Ilona Meagher, Mike Shriver (also known as dadanation), VetVoice’s Richard Smith (RockRichard), ePluribus Media’sDenise Ford and most importantly, Lauren Reichelt (TheFatLadySings), without whom, this panel would never have happened.

Peacemaking Adventures Abroad

There are two very different sorts of Americans who venture abroad, as more than tourists or journalists, to so-called trouble spots. There are military people and “gold-mining” adventurers. And there are diplomats and teachers. In Vietnam, for instance, the US sent waves upon waves of troops and contractors to wage war for more than a decade in a military adventure that ended badly. A comparative trickle of Americans has gone to Vietnam since the war, often on their own initiative, to try to help undo the damage.  

Feds Ask, "Did you Have Butt Sex 100 Times"?

 I run jail-based drug treatment programs for a rural Hispanic County. One day in 1998, John, a staff member, came charging into my office waving a GPRA  manual in my face.

At that time, GPRA was the new set of assessment tools required by the feds to measure the impact of all programs. The GPRA tool we used measured improvement in substance-abuse related behaviors.

"I was doing an assessment on a big guy named Jesus!" John shouted. "He had a crucifix tattooed on his bicep. He was in for aggravated battery. I was supposed to ask him, 'Have you had unprotected anal intercourse more than one hundred times this month?'"

"Are you trying to get me killed?!"

If you want to know why the feds demanded that John ask inmates about their sexual habits, and why the OMB's failure to report the results is endangering health care reform today, read on.


Exploding the Monolith: The Value of Teaching Appalachian Literature in Inner-City Environments

The following is a paper I will be presenting at the Appalachian Studies Association Annual Conference at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio on Friday, March 27.

There are, of course, similarities between the Appalachian college student and the Brooklyn one, but you won’t find them if you go looking for racial or ethnic parallels, religious ones, or even economic similarities. There may be a few superficial racial relationships, but these will prove about as significant as lumping together the Basque and the Belgian. Some of the Christian denominations may share names, but the individual churches struggle with problems distinct to their environments. And poverty in the city and in the country mean completely different things. The similarities, instead, lie in traditions of trouble and struggle, of loss, of the internal battle between desires to give up and push on, of fatalism that somehow still pushes one to fight against fate, of a ‘borderer’ toughness that Appalachia has retained and new immigrants must develop—at least until they assimilate or establish a strong enough enclave to maintain themselves by themselves—and, sadly enough, of failure. Oh, and one more: All of the groups have found themselves on the receiving end of stereotyping, insult, and discrimination.

Open Thread -- Are Teachers Losing Their Marbles?

In a story published on Friday, April 25 by REUTERS, writer Julie Steenhuysen informs us of a study by Ohio State University research scientists that recently appeared in the journal Science:


The findings cast doubt on the widely used practice among elementary and middle schools in the United States and elsewhere of using friendly, concrete examples to teach abstract math concepts.

The study found that students who learned math concepts using abstract symbols first fared better than those who learned the concepts using real-world examples,1 and that the abstract-first students were better able to apply the concepts to a variety of situations.

Researcher Jennifer Kaminski stated that this doesn't mean real-world examples or story problems should just go away, however. According to Kaminski, story problems provide a a method for testing whether a student has mastered the abstract concept.

This is an Open Thread.



  1. Real-world examples described in the article included using marbles for discussing probability or "story problems" ('a train leaves Chicago at 3:00...') to teach other abstract concepts.