I am an English Teacher

and I Need No Stinking Badge from Arne Duncan, Rahm Emanuel, University of Phoenix, MIT or Bill and Melinda Gates!

It’s finally hitting the mainstream – The New Faculty Majority Is – off-the-tenure-track see these (my bibliography on this topic is 40 pages):

From Graduate School to Welfare
or “The Closing of American Academia
or “Decline of the Tenure Track Raises Concern
or “Lazy Faculty?
or Adjunct Project

Preamble:

The Adjunct Project exists for the growing number of graduate degree holders who are unemployed and underemployed. Many of these highly educated and passionate people are being forced to take jobs dramatically below their achievement and earning potential. Budget cuts and hiring constraints have pushed colleges to adopt a new university faculty model that many would argue exploitatively devalues the classroom professor. As a result, the use of contingent faculty, or adjunct professors, now dominates the college teaching profession. Adjunct professors are temporary employees who earn a very meager salary. This website was designed collaboratively by the new majority of motivated, intelligent, and driven academics who are struggling to use their experience and knowledge in a meaningful way that benefits both themselves and society.

Or any number of other ways to discuss this shame of perma-temp, precarious-centered, part-time, slave-wage faculty teaching in our country’s several thousand colleges, tech schools, universities (Yep, it’s the same and worse in Mexico or Italy, after having many conversations with folk around the world August 2012 at the tenth COCAL Conference in Mexico City – Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor.)

And then here and
The Abysmal State of Adjunct Pay and Actions to Create Change
Caste System in Higher Education
Report – Who is Professor “Staff”?

So, all of this copy on the plights and work conditions of contingents, and all those digital dervishes proclaiming the righteousness of my brethren – college faculty, part-time and/or contingent — and all the condemnations of administrators and privatizers like Washington Post’s Kaplan University and the entire on-line teaching stiff arm toward complete poverty and non-existence, where does it take us?

I’m an English instructor – a broad term for teaching reading classes, sentence skills workshops, composition and research writing course, introduction to literature, poetry, fiction, drama, film, or business and technical writing sections, or introduction to news reporting, or intro to the novel, or even adult education classes, and even preparing for the job interview as a fluid power specialist.

That’s what I teach, and while teaching I’ve cobbled together a life and a living as a professional journalist, a freelance magazine writer, a book reviewer, a special projects environmental blogger, a radio personality, a climate change and sustainability wonk, an activist, a radical, a member of x, y, z communities.

I’ve taught in prisons, on Army and Air Force installations, in rural communities, at community college campuses, on an Indian reservation, in a twin plant in Juarez, at an alternative high school, at a prestigious private non-profit Jesuit school, at several state universities, and for non-profits and in youth programs, from gifted and talented to at-risk gang-associated populations of higher school kids, to LGBTQ programs for outdoor education.

You think maybe I’d get a key to some college or university after having done this since 1983, from El Paso to Guatemala, from Spokane to Tombstone.

Nope. It’s all about that path, those steps as a part-timer, freeway flyer, who never, ever let the vanguards or gatekeepers or mollified or the fearsome or fearful define me as a man, human, world traveler, writer, artist and radical. Precarious worker!

Each day was magnificent teaching parents and children from El Salvador life skills and basic survival English in El Paso. Or the times I had night classes teaching the foundation to all life, all college learning — First-year Composition … With 15 year old high school kids teaming up with ex-Meth-head bikers, ladies from Vietnam, Ukraine, Mexico, ex-convicts, victims of poverty, old and young, successful construction workers with flagging bones, traditional students wanting to get out of English and move into sophomore, junior even graduate classes. All in the same classroom, all together, in person, not-on-line, all collected with our foibles and strengths and biases and resentments and varying degrees of competencies.

What a motley crew, what engaging times, what struggle, what content, what learning and sharing, what life lessons and nitty-gritty of a failed K12 system like an IED every single day in their faces; what debates about the value of patriotism or the mythology of capitalism. What incredible moments students gave me, facilitating me, this adjunct faculty, to tackle major campus-wide and city-wide projects like the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon (end of the Vietnam Conflict) or the Year of Sustainability, or Earth Day 40th Anniversary.

Speaker after project after special conference after outside-the-classroom activity, I was always on the outside changing the inside; always way left of the middle road of faculty thinking and framing; way beyond the reach of the downtrodden bourgeois; way past the fear moments that would someday catch up to me. Revolutionary may sound glib or self-important or even over-the-top hyperbole. It is what it is.

Let’s frame some things here first — before I tackle a rather interesting professional journal article about the death of the community college, death of the English Department, and, well, the death of me, I guess, ipso facto!

The Journal – Teaching English in the Two-Year College (TETYC)
Author – Keith Kroll
Title – “The End of the Community College English Professions”
Digital pdf

Let’s make this absolutely clear: I have been on a pathway toward earning that label – professor, maestro, sensei, teacher.

Paideia

It’s tied to what Cornel West told a group of teachers just like me.

Princeton professor, author and activist Cornel West urged the 300 people who gathered for his Nov. 16 talk at Green River Community College to go beyond getting credentialed and pursue a “deep education.”

It would not be easy, he warned his audience, about half of them students: “In the process of being educated you have to learn how to die in order to live.”

Drawing on Plato and Malcom X, West said the death process is part of real education—paideia—a concept developed by Socrates that means deep, critical thinking.

It is the antithesis of contemporary culture: “The problem in American society is we are a culture of death-denying, death-dodging… a joyless culture where pleasure-seeking replaces what it means to be human.”

Fresh from a trip to Occupy Seattle earlier in the day, West praised the movement, which he said represents “a deep democratic awakening where people are finding the courage to find their voice.”

Greed has corroded society, he said.

“Market moralities and mentalities—fueled by economic imperatives to make a profit at nearly any cost—yield unprecedented levels of loneliness, isolation and sadness. Our public life lies in shambles, shot through with icy cynicism and paralyzing pessimism. To put it bluntly, beneath the record-breaking stock markets on Wall Street and bipartisan budget-balancing deals in the White House, lurk ominous clouds of despair across this nation.”

Yeah, I wrote the above, gigging free in Seattle for the street (homeless) newspaper, Real Change News, while freeway flying from Beacon Hill (Seattle) to Auburn, WA, to teach basic writing and composition at Green River Community College.

You can get a sense of some of the shenanigans going on at GRCC that are emblematic and symbolic around this issue of Part-Time Academic Labor: “(American Federation of Teachers) AFT Washington Affiliate Tries to Block Release of Public Documents Relating to Union Leader’s Embezzlement of Funds.”

So, before diving into this issue of a Brave New World of Work that sociologist Ulrich Beck writes about, let’s get some of the curriculum vitae done!

Today’s date: January 1, 2013.
Age: 55
DOB: Feb. 6, 1957
Born: San Pedro, California
Places Lived: Maryland, British Columbia, Paris/France, Munich, Edinburgh, Tucson/Arizona, Bisbee & Tombstone, Spokane/WA, Seattle, Vancouver, Merida/Yucatan, more
Education: Dive Master, 1978; AA Fine Arts, Photography; BA English-Journalism; MA English-Rhetoric; MURP – masters in planning
Languages: English, Spanish
Forgotten Languages: French, Portuguese, German
Work: see above, to include daily newspaper beat reporter, manager of southwest furniture company, part-owner of art and framing company, landscape freelancer

I’m going to tackle in the next DV installment issue tethered to what a brave new world of work means, specifically around what Keith Kroll posits in his TETYC piece, “The End of the Community College English Profession.” Of course, you will soon learn that the death of the community college (and higher education) was harkened decades ago. The proclamations Kroll makes challenging us to see a very new and different world of English Departments, Humanities programs, et al., say, in 15 or 20 years, centers around several factors:

• the speeding up of technology’s bombarding of the blood-brain barrier and the limitless tools of the digital devils who find the silicon syringe and holograms of future tap-dancing deliverers of pabulum and vocational corporate user manuals;
• the reactionary forces of the center-right corporate-thinking deciders at the top of the academic ladder who are the reason for the fall of the faculty – read Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters;
• the inability of faculty and left-leaning forces to reframe the narrative around why community of place and acting locally and thinking globally ARE the only ways to stave off economic, ecological, energy, equity-education collapse;
• allowing digital technology and artificial communities in digital space define the future and define our value as human thinkers and actors;
• why collectivism and communitarian action have always been counter to the PT Barnum hucksterism of a colonizing-genocidal culture that defines USA and North American in general;
• the force of neoliberalism as a way to build a world on economies of scale at the McDonald’s and Walmart level while pushing further and further back the power and reality of personal, individual, and group agency through what and how we have evolved into over several million years – social, hands on, confronting and conflicting and comforting species

In some sense my critique and analysis and opining on Kroll’s thesis and prognostications will cut to the very essence of some of our collective faults as harbingers of culture and society. Here’s his lynchpin to his piece.

I am arguing that their three main recommendations for saving the academic function of the community college — strengthening the faculty culture, overcoming student disarticulation with academic disciplines, and strengthening academic rigor — have not only not happened, but the “academic crisis” they described has worsened in the past twenty years as a result of the neoliberal economic and political policy that now informs higher education. Neoliberalism imagines community college curricula as business-driven and focused on job (re)training; defines those who attend community colleges as economic entities: “customers,” “workers,” and a “workforce”; and marks the end of a full-time faculty profession.

The devastating effects of neoliberal economic and political policy on community colleges are evident in a number of ways:

(1) the increasing influence of the business community on curricula;

(2) the perception of those enrolled in community colleges as economic entities: “customers,” “workers,” a “workforce,” rather than as students and citizens;

(3) the severe budget crisis, both in a lack of funding and in severe funding cuts, facing community college campuses and systems throughout the country since the beginning of the economic recession in 2007;

(4) the “privatization” of the community college as exemplified in the growth of community college fee-based “academies” where students enroll in “get them in, get them out” career training, and that move community colleges away from public institutions and closer to the private, for-profits that now feature prominently in higher education;

(5) the increasing use of part-time faculty;

(6) the de-skilling of faculty, including English faculty.

To think the community college is on its way out singularly in the vacuum of K12 and university education is naïve, and I won’t attribute that naiveté to Kroll. Maybe this entire empowered self-reflection and trumpeting of the New Faculty Majority’s point of view is an exercise in exorcism, but the realities of higher education gutted and hollowed out are the realities of a society that has inevitably been intellectually and ethically decamping way before the emergence of the great community college system created in America and growth of land grant schools after the end of World War Two.1

So, alas, January 1, 2013 is a good day to be a pilgrim – as the wanderer, walk-about master as one member of the new majority in America, the precariat class. It is a good day to die-off the rusty thinking of a world dominated by the builders of empire, the empire’s sycophants, the merchants of death, the merchandisers of the cluttered and earth-eating dreams of consumer capitalism.

Part two of this introductory piece will be– “What the Majority Is to the Minority: One Percent Dreaming and the Dread of a Cormac McCarthy Novel on Wage Slaves and the Coming of the Four Horsemen of the Economic Apocalypse”!

Sure! Whew. And to dovetail to my January 1, 2013, piece, I will digress on a term Kim Petersen and I email debated over – “concision.” I let words fly too quickly on my union of musicians piece and used the term, “concisement.” What a blunder on my part. However, “concision” is a valuable term that Noam Chomsky illustrates as the reason why articles like mine and better ones here at DV are never the point of mainstream journalism.

Or why when I ran my show on a community radio station – Tipping Points: Voices from the Edge – my shows were 57 minutes each, as one-on-one’s with such thinkers as Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Wolf, Winona LaDuke, Bill McKibben, Tim Flannery, and David Suzuki.

AND so many mainstreamers (mainliners) found it was so unusual to have that much time spent with one person talking about his or her ideas – think James Howard Kunslter telling me about his urban planning theories around his book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century or even Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human pushing the edge of anthropology’s “meat made us big brained lots theory.”

So, Nightline would never have on a Chomsky or Galeano or Naomi Klein because they lack “concision.” Again, DV is everything antithetical to “concision” – getting something said on TV between commercials, in one or two minute bursts. Nothing in American thought could go outside that two minutes, so what that two minutes means is an America devoid of not just critical thinking, but deep consideration of narratives and histories outside their realm of consumption of media/The Press.

So, I will end now with this final idea of concision and how that might tie into Keith Kroll’s piece on the death of the community college as we know it.

That final punctuation is this connection to my journeyman’s work – journalism. As I state above, the foundation to ALL modern humanity is communication, albeit, writing, composition, English if you will, or, for all those other countries embarking on communication in all those languages, rhetoric and narrative.

There is a great series in Chronicle of Higher Education on, “Academe and the Decline of News Media.”

I will succumb to the Ivy Leaguer and give DV readers a little look at what I find as a true analysis of why many of my students (yes, community college) are smart but fail to follow (or get to) the bottom of things. Concision for sure! So, how in hell can the average person understand that precarious work IS NOT the goal of a society or globe working to make human rights and the rights of nature the operating manuals for our survival? How can anyone influenced by the dumb downing and concision in journalism, high school curriculum, the general workplace, even in community and family conversations see that NO, the market should not be the driver of how precarious college educated and non-college degreed folk get paid and treated? There are forces greater and more powerful than the market, yet, can anyone really articulate what those are and how they get rounded up and framed in the media, in Obama’s head, in Tea Partiers’ gullets, in the fabric of K12 and higher education, in the workplace?

We’ll discuss Kroll’s piece next time, but for now, note that there is magic thinking here, that when print media go, then the university will be a new anchor for community and citizen journalism. As I alluded to in my January 1, 2013 piece, about the parasitic nature of aggregators like Huffington Post, we who write are now called the producerists – and so, why not the same for adjunct faculty, or all faculty? Teachers for hire, but go to that corner, power up the Mac, and shut up and do your duty on line, efficiently, at home, and, forget bennies and forget a living wage, fine educated fellow and madam! Why not teach for free!?@#$

Jill Lepore, Professor of American history, Harvard University:

I talk to my students about the news every chance I get. They’re so smart; they’re so curious. I’m fascinated by how they get their news. What shocks me is that so many of them so rarely follow a story to its bottom. They can talk about anything, brilliantly, for five minutes. Guantánamo, those damned Yankees, health-care reform, Afghanistan. But they can’t talk about very much for a half-hour, unless it’s to bluster.

I realize that scanning the headlines, as a way of “reading” the newspaper, has a long history. I know I do it all the time. But, for lots of undergraduates, the headlines, the snippets of text they can read on their iPhones, are the news. They read headlines, and they read opinion; I don’t think they read reported stories. I have also got a pet theory, purely impressionistic and altogether cantankerous: Students who are dedicated opinion bloggers (rather than, say, students who write for the school newspaper or who write edited blogs that contain original reporting, and who work with editors) don’t take criticism well. They like to put their views out into the world, offhand, unedited, and unquestioned. They don’t like to be queried; they don’t like to get their papers back marked up; they don’t like to be asked to investigate further, or to revise. They want to stand on top of something, and say what they think about it, instead of digging down to its bottom, to find out what’s true. That, I worry, is what the death of the newspaper has cost them.

A lot of people seem to think or hope that when print newspapers and magazines are gone, the university will be long-form journalism’s new home. I guess the idea here has three parts: First, universities could support some of these dying publications out of their endowments; second, more academics could work like reporters, covering the deeper angles on news stories, as they relate to their own areas of expertise; and third, out-of-work reporters could find jobs teaching in universities, which would allow them to keep writing, if not for newspapers and magazines, at least writing, somehow, for the public. Each of those propositions strikes me as fanciful.

First, some universities, somewhere, might have flush endowments just now, but I don’t know of them and, more important, moving market-driven journalism into the academy is a dodgy proposition; it raises all sorts of issues relating to the freedom of the press and academic freedom, too. Second, the standards by which scholars achieve promotion are designed, quite frankly, to punish scholars who work or write like journalists; unless that changes, scholars who attempt it will be asked to pay a cost most are unwilling to bear. For junior faculty, that cost normally includes not getting tenure. Third, reporters holding teaching posts sounds good, but a professorship isn’t a day job, and, at least insofar as I’ve observed, it means that reporters who become teachers stop writing; it also leaves unanswered the question of what, in the age of new media, old-media reporters will be teaching, and who their students would be. The university, I fear, is not journalism’s Valhalla.

  1. Read: James L. Ratcliff “Seven Streams in the Historical Development of the Modern American Community College” A Handbook Of The Community College In America. Ed. George A. Baker III & Stephen Brint and Jerome Karabel, The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985. (New York: Oxford University Press,1989), 19. []

Paul K. Haeder lived one-year in Seattle working for "the" SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the largest private sector union in the USA (in their pro-Obama PR materials), to organize adjuncts in Bezos-Boeing-Gates land, after having worked as a communications, language, composition, writing instructor of the freeway flyer variety in El Paso for the University of Texas, the El Paso Community College, language institutes, Park College, the US Army, La Tuna Federal Correctional Institute, Packard Electric in Juarez, New Mexico State University, and several cities in Mexico. In Washington State, he taught at Gonzaga University, Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College. He's job hunting -- at that golden age of 56 (and counting down) ... just what the progressive-left-of-center non-profits in the Vancouver-Portland “area” want (NOT). He can be reached at: paul@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.