Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, December 28, 2012

The War on Grad School

The last few weeks, as the semester winds down, it seems as though academics have had some time on their hands. And a vocal majority seems to be using their time on the Interweb to make an argument against attending graduate school. This is not new, it seems as though since the latest recession hit, academics have done little but bang their hand against the desk and warn students against the evils of graduate school.
Some seem to come from a well intentioned place,   "The Case Against Graduate School" 
Some just come off as crazy talk, "Should You Go To Grad School?" 
Some target a very specific, small audience,   "Voices of the defenders of grad school. And me crushing them."
And the fun doesn't stop with reporters, or bloggers. It's a topic that has been picked up by the "authority" (some of whom I respect). In fact, The Chronicle seems to be running a revolving door of editorials on why no one should ever go to grad school, want to teach, or be part of a university.
 Some of these articles/editorials make some very good points:
  • A student should not put themself into large economic debt as a way of forestalling adult responsibility
  • Grad school should also not be used as a way to fill the time until you figure out what you really want to do
  • Students should have clear, realistic expectations of what an advanced degree will get them (money, status, job) and what it will not get them
  •  Students should immediately throw out the window any Dead Poet's Society, Dangerous Minds, Harry Potter inspired thoughts they have about what being a faculty member entails
As I have read these articles and editorials, I have found myself with a fairly visceral reaction.

Do I think 22 year olds should assume that graduate school is the next step because they don't know what else to do and think continuing in school is easy? No, of course not. Just as I don't believe that high school seniors should attend college because they aren't ready for adult responsibility. School should not be used as a stop gap to avoid real life, regardless of what level you are. However, there is a dangerous undercurrent to this argument. Part of it seems to be arguing that education, simply for itself, is not important. And that to me seems symptomatic of the larger issues we're experiencing in the United States. We appear to have stopped valuing education for itself, and only view it in the cold hard light of what it will get us. Yes, especially in hard times, people should have a realistic view of what they are getting, and not getting. But that doesn't mean that if you go in eyes wide open that you can't still choose to continue your education BECAUSE YOU WANT TO.
I also can't help but wonder at some of the long term logic of these professors handing out this advice. As a whole, the academic system seems to be plotting its own demise. Should grad school be easy? Of course not. You should have to work your ass off to get in, and work even harder to stay there. But blanket statements of NO, DON'T GO only seem to shoot the academic institution in the foot. If you tell everyone to stay away from graduate school, what exactly do you think happens in ten years, or fifteen, or twenty years to universities, colleges, and community colleges? Where does the staff come from? Where does the scholarship originate?

Perhaps the main reason I have such a reaction to these writings is personal. I am 36 years old. I have a BFA in theatre, specializing in technical theatre (I was a Master Electrician). After graduating, I spent several years in Atlanta and New York City working in my field- rock and roll shows, off-Broadway theatres, even WCW. Once in New York, I landed the gig of Joseph Papp Public Theatre. But I began to be bored with politics, and saw an ad for NYC Teaching Fellows. I jumped on it. I spent the summer months in a crash course of how to teach, and in September 2001 was dumped in my very own classroom in Brooklyn. I lived through September 11th. Part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program was they paid for our Masters in Education. I spent three years teaching full time, and commuting to City University of New York: College of Staten Island. Three hours one way on public transportation. I taught there until my mom's illness necessitated a move back home to help care for her. I secured a job teaching in North Carolina, and have been here for eight years. During that time, I spent four summers attending the Bread Loaf School of English earning my Masters in English literature. For a semester, to transfer a course in, I drove two hours one way to East Carolina University once a week for this class. I graduated in 2010. 
I then spent the next two years thinking of what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to move up to teaching at the college level. So I took courses in how to teach in Moodle and Blackboard. I got a job teaching for North Carolina Virtual Public School. I got a job adjuncting for the local community college. I presented at conferences, and started to write reviews for journals. I did everything I could to make myself an attractive candidate. And the last year plunged into the job market. I figured I would give myself a year to see how far I could get with 10-11 years of teaching experience and two Masters. The answer was no where.
So I decided to go back to school and get my PhD. 

I did not decide to go because I didn't want to deal with the real world. I didn't choose financial debt for decades (I only applied to schools where I'd be fully funded). I am not unaware of the employment issues post-graduation. I know what the issues are going in. But I also know that with my very specific goal of wanting to teach at the college level, to be part of the academic coversation in my field, that there is no other way to get there.

So stop telling me I shouldn't go. Because frankly, I've jumped bigger hurdles than your condescending disapproval in my life.   

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