Moving Down the Food Chain?

 Posted by on 30 April 2004 at 5:36 pm  Academia
Apr 302004

Eric O’Connor of Critical Mass has some interesting comments on her choice to move from her tenured position as a professor of English to teaching English in secondary school. After lamenting the terrible job market in academia, she writes:

There is one market, though, that is WIDE OPEN for humanities M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, and that is the independent school market. “Independent” is mostly a contemporary code word for “private,” though it can also mean “charter.” Your Ph.D.–or, if you are ABD, your M.A.–is a very attractive qualification in this market. In contrast to the public school system, it counts as a teaching qualification (thus preventing you from going back to school to get a highly redundant ed school teaching certificate). Independent schools are eager to add people with advanced degrees to their faculty–in part, this raises the profile of the school and looks good to parents and donors, but far more importantly, these schools recognize that refugees from academe can make marvelous high school teachers. They know this to be true because their faculties are already full of them.

The Village Voice piece linked above tells the story of one such refugee, who is happily earning twice what he would have made as an adjunct teaching at a private high school in New Jersey. I’ve met a number of such refugees from a number of schools this year. The schools themselves have been as different from one another as people are–but at all of them, the refugees say, entirely independent of one another, that the work they have found in the world of independent school teaching far surpasses the academic life. All say they are able to do the sort of intensive, personalized teaching they dreamed of doing as college teachers, but could not do in a higher ed setting; all say they feel more intellectually alive than they did in academe; and all say, too, that they have a much greater sense of purpose and of professional satisfaction than they did in academe. They are palpably happy, and the differences they are making in kids’ lives are real and meaningful. They also have summers off and, having jumped the assembly-line production schedule of the academic track, can follow the far more ethical and constructive course of pursuing their own research and writing projects when and as the spirit moves them. The pay ain’t bad, either.

Locating and applying for such jobs could not be easier. There are agencies whose entire mission is to match you with schools that are looking for candidates like you. The agencies are entirely free to the candidates. They are not gimmicks. They work.

Why do you hear absolutely nothing about this career option from within academe? Why do academic departments pretend this entirely dignified and deeply meaningful career path does not exist–even though it could be just what many of their otherwise unemployable Ph.D.’s, not to mention their dissatisfied faculty, are looking for? Why do they treat as beneath their notice a type of work that they ought to be embracing as a seriously significant alternative to the dead-end academic career of the adjunct? Do I really have to ask?

The comments from those who have made such career moves bears out her generally positive assessment of this path. The only downside seems to be the complete lack of respect given to the decision by other academics, even though the terrible job market isn’t exactly a secret. (Such elitism is relevant to those who do not wish to give up their research goals, as it might make publication much harder, if not largely pointless.) Along those lines, Amanda Leins notes:

I have been following your blog off and on over the last year. I finished my PhD coursework in Classics last year, and decided to say to hell with academe for all of the reasons that you have so eloquently placed before your readers. I now teach Latin, History, and Anthropology at an independent school in NY, and could not be happier with my choice. I left the lofty position of my chosen field after 9 years dedication, both as an undergrad and a grad student.

I would like to add another point of view to why these types of jobs are not heralded by the academic communities. In my field, as in others, I presume, teaching at an institution that is not either a college or community is a sign that the person who left “can’t cut it” and his or her work never was and could never be up to the rigorous standards of XXXXX University. From the discussions I had with various members of the faculty at my graduate institution, teaching middle and upper school is really a reflection of the limitations of the person who leaves; there is no personal glory to be earned if it isn’t higher ed! Leaving is perceived as admitting that one is weak/unintelligent/not dedicated/insert other adjective here.

I still struggle with my decision–even though I don’t regret a moment of it. Nevertheless, the stigma of teaching somewhere else besides a university or college is very strong. Am I happier? Yes. Am I doing what I wanted to do all along, namely teach Classical literature, culture adn archaeology? Yes. Do my peers understand? Many of them do not. To them, I am washed up, a disgrace–good riddance! Despite the fact that I received a fellowship at the graduate level that was university-wide and only open through nomination by department, my presence there in that instituion was clearly a mistake made on the part of the administration; my choice to leave proved that.

For a while now, I’ve considered teaching in secondary schools as an option. One obvious reason is the general glut in the academic job market. But I also have some particular reasons for wishing to stay in our present location. Paul has an excellent job that would be hard to adequately replicate elsewhere in the country. Colorado is one of only six states that is not either in or approaching medical malpractice crisis, plus the state offers fairly good protection for gun rights. Colorado is also one of the few climates in the United States amenable to both Paul’s and my tastes. There is also a large contingent of smart, serious, and friendly Objectivists along the Front Range. Leaving Colorado isn’t out of the question, but I’d certainly be reluctant to do it in order to teach at Podunk U. For the moment, I’m simply trying to keep as many options open as possible.

Of course, I can’t expect to find too many openings for philosophy teachers in private and perhaps charter Colorado high schools. To get my foot in the door, I’d really need to be able to teach some primary subject, e.g. math, science, history, English. Without a doubt, history would be of the greatest interest to me. Since the course of history is driven by philosophy, the particulars form a basis for philosophical inductions. My interest is not merely driven by philosophy though, as I do find the subject fascinating in its own right.

So my basic thought is that I might pursue an M.A. in history, likely after the Ph.D. in philosophy is finished. Even if I end up in academia, the extra degree might help my job prospects, particularly if I choose related areas of focus in each. Of course, all of that is rather far off. But if I’m going to keep my options open, then I need to plan for it!

Details Wanted

 Posted by on 29 April 2004 at 7:39 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 292004

Does anyone have a transcript of Nathaniel Branden’s speech “Thank You Ayn Rand, and Goodbye”? It was apparently given at Reason’s Tenth Anniversary Banquet in November of 1978. (Was it later published as an article in Reason?) The only bit of it that I could dig up was this quote:

Don’t expect anything of her as a person. Don’t expect help. Don’t expect understanding. Don’t expect sympathy. Don’t even expect sanity. Say, ‘Thank you,’ and let go.

Um, wow. That’s a pretty clear statement by itself, but I’d like to see the full context.

Warming the Heart

 Posted by on 29 April 2004 at 5:37 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 292004

Nothing warms the heart like a devastating review of the book The Good, The Bad, and The Difference by “The Ethicist” (a.k.a. Randy Cohen) in Reason Papers. (Via The Volokh Conspiracy)


 Posted by on 28 April 2004 at 11:05 am  Uncategorized
Apr 282004

I wonder whether we should infer something about the country based upon these strange translated phrases from phrasebooks. Should I bring my own syringe if I go to Indonesia? Will I begin robbing people if I go to Somalia? Would I be prescribing suppositories often in the Netherlands? How often will I be carried if I am in Nepal? Do most men in Hawaii have breasts in which they might be stabbed? Inquiring minds want to know!

Velvet Ayn

 Posted by on 26 April 2004 at 10:58 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 262004

A few years back, Robert Bidinotto gave a lecture on spirituality or somesuch at the TOC Summer Seminar. I don’t remember the details of his arguments now, nor even the title, but I do know that I wasn’t exactly awed. At the time, I derisively joked that his basic advice seemed to be that we all needed Objectivist curio cabinets in which to properly concretize our values.

After a number of years of TOC Seminars in which Objectivist schwag was doled out to various groups apparently under the influence of Bidinotto, my joke didn’t seem quite so funny anymore. We got the Ayn Rand stamp in a keychain, a TOC lapel pin, a candy dish, and so on. Although some was useful, most was just fodder for the curio cabinet, I suppose.

By way of explaining my disdain, I’m generally averse to sentimental knickknacks. They are a royal pain to dust and cats always find them insanely appealing. More importantly, they would seem like rather shallow displays of emotion for me, although I understand that others might have deeper attachments.

I recount all of that silliness because when I saw this painting tonight, I thought “Oh gee, wouldn’t that be perfect for the wall above the Objectivist curio cabinet?” The echoes of religious kitsch are quite painful actually, particularly when contrasted with its particular content. I wonder who paid $14,000 (!) for it. (Via Will Wilkinson.)

Of course, I do like many of the paintings featured on the web site of Quent Cordair Fine Art… and some of Sylvia Bokor’s work looks interesting. But the cognitive dissonance of “Beginnings” was quite harsh.

I Want! I Want! I Want!

 Posted by on 26 April 2004 at 3:41 pm  False Friends of Objectivism, Personal
Apr 262004

It is a beautiful day here today, delightfully sunny and warm. After our few days of snow late last week, I’m itching to return to the garden. Instead, I’m stuck working on my paper on zoocentric egalitarianism for my environmental philosophy class. *sigh* If only I was a whim-worshipping subjectivist instead of a rational-teleological egoist, I would be playing in the warm dirt right now. (No, that’s not a real wish!) Summer break will come soon enough… so just a few more days of savaging Peter Singer’s utilitarian arguments for animal liberation and Tom Regan’s deontological arguments for animal rights.

Unfortunately, I will have two school papers to complete over the summer. I’ve decided to take an incomplete in my Topics in Values class, as working out the details of my arguments on moral luck will take more time than I have left in the semester. Some of the arguments concern issues of moral judgment that I’ve not yet settled for myself, but will be investigating as I comb through the relevant sections of Truth and Toleration this summer. I also have a half-done paper from the fall semester on Aristotle’s action theory, particularly on his view of the relationship between reason and emotion, to complete.

Since I am busy with schoolwork, I haven’t had a chance to comment on the vigorous debates in the comments — and likely won’t for a few days. I particularly want to reply to Bill Nevin’s challenge to the closed system, as well as make some general remarks on implicit sanction, scholarly standards, and engaging philosophical opponents. So don’t think I’m remaining silent because I have nothing to say!

Update: I also hope to say a bit more on the general issue of Objectivism as a closed system, as my views solidified a fair amount after a lengthy discussion with a friend a few days ago.

A Suprise

 Posted by on 26 April 2004 at 6:57 am  Leonard Peikoff
Apr 262004

Anyone familiar with vitrol against all things non-liberal in Brian Leiter’s blog will be rather amused by the pleasant reference to Amy and Leonard Peikoff in this post. The humorous RNC and DNC convention schedules are worth reading.

A Cultural Divide

 Posted by on 25 April 2004 at 8:29 am  Uncategorized
Apr 252004

Japan is presently in the grip of a national convulsion of blame the victim, authoritarian style:

The young Japanese civilians taken hostage in Iraq returned home this week, not to the warmth of a yellow-ribbon embrace but to a disapproving nation’s cold stare.

Three of them, including a woman who helped street children on the streets of Baghdad, appeared on television two weeks ago as their knife-brandishing kidnappers threatened to slit their throats. A few days after their release, they landed here on Sunday, in the eye of a peculiarly Japanese storm.

“You got what you deserve!” read one hand-written sign at the airport where they landed. “You are Japan’s shame,” another wrote on the Web site of one of the former hostages. They had “caused trouble” for everybody. The government, not to be outdone, announced it would bill the former hostages $6,000 for air fare.

Dr. Satoru Saito, a psychiatrist who examined the three former hostages twice since their return, said the stress they were enduring now was “much heavier” than what they experienced during their captivity in Iraq. Asked to name their three most stressful moments, the former hostages told him, in ascending order: the moment when they were kidnapped on their way to Baghdad, the knife-wielding incident, and the moment they watched a television show the morning after their return here and realized Japan’s anger with them.

The whole article is well worth reading.

Frenzied Denunciations

 Posted by on 24 April 2004 at 3:21 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 242004

What follows is basically a reply to Jim Heaps-Nelson’s comment on my post on Objectivism as a closed system. Some of what I say is of sufficiently general interest that I thought it worthy of its own post.

Jim writes:

You state that you are in agreement with Peikoff’s statement that the fundamental principles of a philosophy are set down once and for all by its founder. Let’s look at a historical example to look at how erroneous this is: the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers. Are you saying that the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery is not an integral part of the Constitution? Clearly this is absurd.

Clearly, it is absurd — because it’s wholly irrelevant to the open/closed system debate. The abolition of slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment did not posthumously change the political philosophies of the individual Founding Fathers who supported the institution. It changed the Constitution and thus the from-then-on governing principles of the nation. The US Constitution might embody certain principles of philosophy, but it is not itself a philosophy.

As for Jim’s various criticisms of ARI, let me note a few points. I am not a supporter or defender of ARI. I know far too little about the organization to qualify as such, despite my agreement on the closed system issue. Certainly, I have been quite impressed and even delighted with much of what I’ve seen from ARI and ARI scholars. I’ve also realized that many of the common criticisms of ARI heard in TOC circles are simply wrong in various respects. My substantial concerns and questions about ARI policies and practices have not vanished into thin air. Rather, they are being addressed in the course of private conversations with knowledgeable ARI supporters whose judgments I respect and trust.

In fact, Jim’s criticism here seems like a prime example of the way in which TOC supporters often leap to the worst possible interpretation of ARI-connected actions:

As Chris Sciabarra has mentioned, ARI has resorted to voice-overs which cover up the voices of Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in their audiotapes. These kinds of Bolshevik-style blank outs are clearly not the hallmark of an organization devoted to the search for truth.

Jim, do you know that the reason for the voice-overs was to rewrite NB and BB out of Objectivist history? Have you asked knowledgeable ARI people about it? Did you even consider whether some other explanation might be possible, e.g. legal reasons related to copyright? Personally, I know basically nothing about this issue — and that is precisely why I am unwilling to infer dishonesty in the quick and easy way you do.

Also, I know that Peikoff’s lecture courses (bought recently) include occasional favorable references to David Kelley and George Walsh. If whitewashing is the driving force that you claim it is at ARI, why would they not have edited out those references too?

So if you have a comprehensive critique of Truth and Toleration, let’s have it. If not, by all means continue the debate and critiques but let’s lower the level of frenzied denunciations in this Blog.

“Frenzied denunciations”?!? Now that’s quite revealing. If you can muster actual arguments against my criticisms of TOC work, you are more than welcome to post them. But I categorically refuse to allow my passion for ideas be used as a weapon against me.

My critiques of TOC work have certainly been passionate. That’s not surprising, since the issue matters to me in a very deep and personal way. Moreover, I do not regard passion as inimical to objectivity. TOC has been routinely churning out abysmal crap for some time now. Many TOC supporters are unaware of that, as they long ago lost interest due to sheer boredom. Others do not possess the knowledge or skills to see the problems quickly or clearly. And others offer excuses that need to be exposed as inadequate, even absurd.

Notably, the downward spiral of my basic judgment of TOC begun in late 2002 has persisted even since the publication of my public statement of disassociation. Further thinking, reading, and discussions have resulted in an ever-increasing awareness of the subjectivism and mind-body dichotomy central to the philosophy which justifies TOC’s very existence.

As a final note, my long commentary on Truth and Toleration has been delayed by both work for school and a need to think through various issues. I’ll be able to resume work on it in June, after the semester and a vacation is over. In the meantime, I’m likely to keep posting more exploratory and preliminary commentary here on NoodleFood.

Shanghai Fisking

 Posted by on 24 April 2004 at 12:56 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 242004

Gweilo Diaries devastatingly fisks an insanely stupid post from a leftist on the glories of Shanghai. The comments on both posts are also worth reading, if only to see examples of how the failure to think in essentials results in complete blindness to what really matters. As one commenter put this point: “But you are right, who cares about the human rights situation, if the streets are clean and the servants are service-minded.”

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