Friday, May 6, 2016

further grumpiness

This is surely one of the silliest, most grad-student-blaming things I've read in a while -- and I say this as someone who actually agrees that most scholarship in English isn't very interesting and that the really important, valuable work we do is teaching.

But, dude. "Research" doesn't actually mean "something that produces reproducible results, just like they do in the sciences." (There's glory for you.) Also, there might be some dissertations out there that follow the pattern “Concept X borrowed from theory Y is applied to works A, B and C that have something in common: time, author, country/group of origin, leading to this result: Z,” but this strikes me as a straw man that is about twenty years out of date, and in any case, you don't have to interview candidates with boring, formulaic dissertations. I guarantee you there's no shortage of applicants who don't. Some of them have even been adjuncts for years, and know exactly how to motivate a bunch of bored eighteen-year-olds with weak reading and writing skills.* Also, you don't have to require the candidate to do a research presentation if you aren't interested in their scholarship. (In fact, none of my campus interviews required any such thing; every single one of them required a teaching demonstration.) If you do ask candidates to give such a presentation, you're sending a clear signal that you are interested, and you have only yourself to blame if they choose to tell you about it.

Finally, if you want to see enlivening a classroom, try giving your students a bunch of cue-scripts for a scene in Shakespeare and asking them to put the scene together, early-modern-actor-rehearsal style -- which is something I wouldn't have known to do without all of the people doing research on early modern theatrical practices and uncovering facts about the objective world.

* Also, if you're at the Naval Academy and the average verbal SAT score among your entering class is 630, you've got no idea what a truly underprepared and unmotivated student population looks like. Just trust me on this one.

10 comments:

heu mihi said...

Yeah, dumb article, and why are lit profs driving yet MORE gratuitous and ill-informed nails into the Humanities' coffin?

What got to me the most is something that you picked up on: If your candidates are talking to you about their research, then presumably *you asked them to*. It would be a poor job candidate whose *research* presentation targeted a first-year gen-ed population. Be clear about your expectations, sir.

(And I agree with everything else you wrote, too.)

Fretful Porpentine said...

Yes, exactly -- and if you don't like the fresh-out-of-grad-school candidates you're getting, there are plenty of experienced instructors who would LOVE a TT job. You would have no problem filling up a whole roster of interview slots without considering any recent PhDs at all!

Katherine Shrieves said...

I agree with everything in your post & comments so far. This article seems to fundamentally misrepresent the purpose of research in the humanities. Humanities research isn't necessarily to discover new "facts" that are experimentally and objectively replicable. The best literary scholarship, like other humanities scholarship, illuminates something about the world. It interprets a focused aspect of the literary field in a way that sparks interest or encourages people to consider that field from a new perspective, often with conclusions that ripple outward to other disciplines and contexts. In fact, it seems like a self-inflicted weakness for humanities scholars to assume that the only kind of research that's valuable or valid is that which is "scientific" in its methods or conclusions.

Fretful Porpentine said...

It never ceases to amaze me how good humanities scholars are at shooting themselves in the foot. (I mean, self-critique is a fine thing and all, and I wish the rest of the world had more of it, BUT...)

Earnest English said...

I agree that the IHE piece was stupid. This is what happens when we consider the sciences the measure of all things. This disrespects the entire rational tradition because philosophy, art history, and rhetoric work in similar ways. (And I have to say that while I love some literature scholarship, I also think it can be pretty limiting when it marginalizes the close relationship someone can have with a book and the learning it can promote in favor of only interpretive argument. And then some literature professors pass that on to their students -- and if those students aren't the type to cultivate a relationship with books, all the analysis can get in the way of truly experiencing a book or developing as a reader. But none of that is what's going on here.) It's as if this person has a very narrow view of what critical thinking is (if it's only for reproducible work). We're trying to illuminate the human condition, people. We do that in the humanities by exercising our minds in new and creative, rather than accepted and reproducible, ways. Great thinkers of the rational tradition didn't just say, well Aristotle said it best so I'm not even going to begin to think about a new way of seeing texts. Even business publications talk about how they want humanities majors precisely because they are creative thinkers. Maybe they don't want creative thinkers in the military???

And doh! Do teaching demos instead of job talks. I'm in a service department at a specialized school too. Teaching is what matters. Why are they trying to act like a R1?

Fretful Porpentine said...

Yes! Science is awesome, but it's not the only thing out there. (On a tangentially related note, I am so sick of the way our Honors students who are writing theses in the humanities invariably get at least one comment -- from faculty evaluators -- to the effect of "What is the point of studying this?" whereas nobody questions why we need the hundredth cookie-cutter nursing thesis about whether student nurses or RNs practice better hand hygiene.)

Flavia said...

This guy is the self-appointed departmental truth-teller (speaking here from personal knowledge). A total crank and attention-seeker, and this isn't his first attempt to stir the shit.

The bigger question is why IHE publishes--not just here, but on other occasions--such obviously idiotic "opinion" pieces. (Not that the Chronicle is always better; maybe it's the genre?)

Fretful Porpentine said...

I wonder whether there's a sort of corollary to the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby sensible people are less inclined to write and submit opinion pieces in the first place because they are less likely to think that their opinions ought to be Universal Pronouncements.

Bardiac said...

Argh! Why did you take me there? (My own fault for clicking despite your warning, or course.)

You're absolutely right that he needs to teach at an open enrollment school for a bit to get a sense of how good his students probably are (I've never taught at a service academy, so I'm hoping, I guess, that his students are pretty good, even if they don't care much about English lit or composition).

I think all the sensible people are busy prepping students for finals and grading.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Sorry, Bardiac! I can never resist spreading the pain around!