"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Note from the Principal's Office at AERA: Make Your Service "Academic"

Our language has a common phrase to measure irrelevancy, and when a situation gets really irrelevant, we may hear that "it's academic."   The phrase is derived, perhaps, from the cloistering of knowledge and expertise within a discipline so much so that it has no bearing on worldly events or no potential for human understanding outside the guild that created it.  

Much of the scholarship produced within the disciplines, and particularly in subjects wishing to be disciplines, e. g., education, meets the criteria for irrelevancy, that is, it is "academic."  And much of it never gets beyond its own inner circle who don't read much of it, anyway, except to make decisions on who gets to stay in the guild once the probationary term of service is over.  

 And so earlier this week when AERA members received a weird email from AERA urging all of us toward "academic service," it came as a real surprise.  According to AERA President, Bill Tierney, who should know better, "Service never seems to count for promotion, tenure, or prestige."  


Even though service does, indeed, lag behind scholarship and teaching when weighing the tonnage of tenure dossiers, it remains one of three criteria ostensibly used when making tenure decisions.  

So what would Bill Tierney have us do?  Obviously, he would like for those engaged in public service, whether pricking the corporate gas bags who wish to control public education, or circulating petitions to replace corporatist, Arne Duncan, or doing any of the other public intellectual work that so desperately needs our informed hands and minds, to do our work with the same kind of deliberatation, caution, and timidity that characterizes the best of "academic" work. 
A common criticism of academics is that our decision making is not “nimble”: We are too deliberative when we need speedy resolution. I am certainly in favor of more focused decision making, but the reflective culture of academe has an important contribution to make in a world where political and civic discourse has become corrosive, and tweeting and TV shouting matches dominate. As academics we have the opportunity—the responsibility—to temper the divisive, thoughtless, destructive exchanges of the public arena. Our experience with academic service is not just a source of personal inspiration. It is a model for public service.
So yes, let us, indeed, "temper our divisive, thoughtless, and destructive exchanges" when such practices do nothing to promote humane schools, democratic education practices, social justice actions, and corporate-free education zones.  Otherwise, all is fair game, Bill.  Whether you know it not, these corporate socialists who are taking over the universities where you and the AERA elite feel so safely ensconced don't play by Robert's Rules, and you cannot exercise power by simply being polite, deliberative, or "academic.  

I remember someone saying "power concedes nothing without a demand."  Oh yes, that was Frederick Douglass.

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