Wednesday, November 29, 2006

dribs and drabs

Lately I've been completely avoiding my "scholarly" work life. I can never figure out what to call my "not teaching" work life. I hate the bizarre distinctions--as if teaching is not scholarly or academic or research-oriented.... Basically, I've just been avoiding revising my prospectus. Every time my "writing time" comes 'round, it makes me feel sick to my stomach, so I've been (understandably) putting it off. Today I *finally* finished revising the chapter two section!!! Since the intro and chapter two were the worst, I feel relieved. I now only have two more chapters and the conclusion to work through, but there are only about a total of sixteen comments from my director total, so I see a light. Yes, a light. But then again, I still have to go back and put some "finishing touches" on the introduction when. Today I finished chapter two with thirteen minutes left on my pester, so I decided to blog--something else I've been avoiding, since this is my "academic" life blog.

I need to keep reminding myself that when I finally am able to get myself to sit down, open my prospectus and focus on the revisions, it is not that bad--kind of exciting even--but overcoming the nausea to get to that point is always a difficult factor.

Part of my ongoing struggle in terms of this revision has been to articulate (more clearly) the reason that I see the University as a starting point in scrutinizing one's own critical position. Here is something I wrote a couple of weeks back that became in exercise in articulating that part of my argument:

I have been looking forward to getting this month's issue of College English and checking out William Thelin's latest article, "Student Investment in Political Topics." I figured the article would be closely related to my dissertation, but at the moment it resonates most strongly because the past couple of weeks of ENG105 have been devoted to my students choosing topics for their final paper, which will be a piece of cultural commentary/criticism. And I've been struggling with remaining a bit laissez-faire, while also guiding them toward actual cultural critique(s).

Thelin writes, "Our students have a better chance at financial comfort by developing an awareness of the cultural contradictions of capitalism and engaging in the concomitant political action than by competing against one another within the current system" (143). I agree with him and find myself making a similar argument when addressing the importance of looking at the corporate University as an object of study. I believe the "contradictions of capitalism" are alive and well in the University and that this localized context provides for an opportunity for students to look closely at issues of globalization and capitalism in a way/place that hits close to home. Thelin, however, sees a localized context as problematic (in agreeing with Donald Lazere), arguing that "having students focus exclusively on local issues does those students a disservice, as it denies them the opportunity to 'understand the political and economic forces to which they are captive'" (143). In terms of my own projcct's argument, I do not see the local context of the Universityas the "exclusive" focus of the classroom, and even so, I don't see it as doing a disservice because in my mind it does just what Lazere and Thelin fear a localized context and local issues fail to do: provide them with the opportunity to understand the political and economic forces that affect them daily (their education and their future). The University as corporate is the most immediate political economic force to which they are most certainly--in many ways--held "captive." And often "held captive" in ways that that don't even realize. After all, the food court is just where they get food, right? The fact that the are eating Sbarro's and Buger King for four years has no long term of extended effects, right? And those classes they take with a professor whose salary is in part funded by Pfizer? Those classes won't affect them beyond the scope of the University, right? Or the sweatshirts they buy their friends and families as gifts from the campus bookstore...? Part of Thelin's argument is based on the quote from Wayne Booth that opens his piece: "The most valuable political act any teacher can perform is not to impose particular political views but to teach students to see the words that society tries to inject into them unseen." And the University is certainly a part of that appartus that injects words and images into its students in an "unseen" manner. Teaching them to "read" the University seems to me as important as Thelin's project of teaching them to read Parade's list of the world's worst dictators. I'm not arguing that studying the purchasing habits and profit margin of the campus bookstore will necessarily be more enlightening to the students' understanding of global issues than Thelin's example, simply that it is as reasonable a context (if not more relevant to the students' daily lives) than any other we choose as the focus of critical pedagogy writing classroom.

12 comments:

shari said...

i am prospecting today too (that is my new verb. it's kind of emerson's, but i think it works.)

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