Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Education and Value

 

My video “Education and Value,” addressed to fellow adjunct instructors:

 

I’m a “career” non-tenure-track university instructor and have spent a decade teaching classes in my field (Norse mythology etc.), they are often some of the biggest classes on campus. I teach for short-term contracts at various schools (UCLA 2011-14, Berkeley 2015-17, Colorado 2017-20). People like me do the vast majority of college teaching, and there’s no sign this will change. So why don’t we think outside the box more?

University faculty at all levels suffer from a victim mentality; go to any faculty meeting and take a shot when an Associate Professor isn’t whining about the perks the science faculty get or the burden of having to teach some small class; you’ll leave sober and tired. But for as much as left-wing faculty often glory in disrupting paradigms and getting people to question “the system,” they question their own system surprisingly little. Traditional universities are highly, even fanatically, stratified societies, more akin to the medieval Church than anything else. At least in humanities fields, very few sit on top, teaching very little, and reap the tuition-dollar rewards of the massive amounts of teaching done by their adjuncts and grad students. But if experts want to reach people with our knowledge, and make a difference in our communities and the wider community of humankind, why do we have to work within this system?

Three and a half years ago, teaching at Berkeley and spending three-quarters(!) of my meager salary on rent, I asked myself this question, and another more specific one: “Vikings and Norse mythology are the most popular thing in the world right now. Why am I rationing my ramen noodles?” So was born my effort to cut out the middleman and reach the interested public directly. While my subject truly is one of the most popular things in the world right now, no one in my field is talking to the public about it because of both the strong ossified resistance to being a “popularizer” in most academic fields (Carl Sagan was considered a pariah by much of the scientific community in his lifetime) and the (true enough) sense that such work gets in the way of producing the studiedly illegible articles that actually get you promoted in academia (but not if you’re already in the adjunct caste, which few people can ever escape once they’re in it). Because the experts are staying away from the very place where the public is looking for answers, the Internet, the public is getting answers from gurus with agendas instead. In the field of Norse mythology, which is still very popular with white supremacists, those gurus are often sinister Hitler-admirers who only further deepen the suspicion many experts have of talking about Norse mythology to the public (“Ugh, only Nazis do that.”–Yes, if we don’t.).

Three and a half years later, my online video channel about my subject is my main source of income, through donations, no less, paying more of my bills than the university does. And at the end of this spring semester, I will be leaving my teaching position at the university to focus exclusively on this kind of direct education that bypasses the need for people to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to a byzantine administrative structure for access to my lectures.

I don’t pretend that Norse mythology is all that “important” per se, but if I can come pretty close to making a living from talking about this online, I think other experts in fields of all kinds can do the same. If adjuncts writ large can realize that university jobs are the path to bondage rather than freedom and that the public is intelligent and wants to learn what we have to teach (but doesn’t want to get as indebted as we got in order to learn it), I think that we can slowly remake the way people think about education, certainly about non-vocational education. And I think we can return, slowly, to a society where educators and their students respect each other.

Learning is about a lot more than paying tuition and getting a transcript. I may not succeed in my particular mission, but I’m happy to take care of the learning and leave the billing and transcripts to the universities, and I’m trying to convince other well-qualified and under-employed experts to do the same.

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  1. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    JacksonCrawford: But for as much as left-wing faculty often glory in disrupting paradigms and getting people to question “the system,” they question their own system surprisingly little. Traditional universities are highly, even fanatically, stratified societies, more akin to the medieval Church than anything else. At least in humanities fields, a very few sit on top, teaching very little, and reap the tuition-dollar rewards of the massive amounts of teaching done by their adjuncts and grad students.

    You are 100% correct based on my experience. The academy is the most rigid, hierarchical, exclusionarysystem we have going. And almost every favorite canard of the left is clearly for thee and not for me when it comes to the faculty.

    JacksonCrawford: Three and a half years later, my online video channel about my subject is my main source of income–through donations, no less–paying more of my bills than the university does. And at the end of this spring semester, I will be leaving my teaching position at the university to focus exclusively on this kind of direct education that bypasses the need for people to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to a byzantine administrative structure for access to my lectures.

    Good for you! 

    JacksonCrawford: If adjuncts writ large can realize that university jobs are the path to bondage rather than freedom, and that the public is intelligent and wants to learn what we have to teach (but doesn’t want to get as indebted as we got in order to learn it), I think that we can slowly remake the way people think about education, certainly about non-vocational education. And I think we can return, slowly, to a society where educators and their students respect each other.

    And to a place where the public respects educators as well. I am listening to one of the great courses through Audible on human language and am enjoying it thoroughly. Just because it is interesting. I wish you the best of luck in your new endeavor.

    • #1
    • February 23, 2020, at 10:29 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Snirtler Member

    So I haven’t read your post, but I’ve seen your vid on the -eth ending! It was great …

    Skimmed your post. All the best as you fully commit to teaching Norse mythology outside the university. May your work be proof against the slur that those who can’t do, teach. May you enjoy a better class of ramen noodles and never have to ration them again.

    • #2
    • February 23, 2020, at 12:08 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  3. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    JacksonCrawford: But for as much as left-wing faculty often glory in disrupting paradigms and getting people to question “the system,” they question their own system surprisingly little. Traditional universities are highly, even fanatically, stratified societies, more akin to the medieval Church than anything else. At least in humanities fields, a very few sit on top, teaching very little, and reap the tuition-dollar rewards of the massive amounts of teaching done by their adjuncts and grad students.

    ####

    There is also the undisputed reality that the entire system of higher education involves massive amounts of monies transferred from parents, student loan companies, and students themselves, along with government grants and scholarships, to schools that perpetuate a system that amazingly is not concerned about students.

    If you are running a hot dog cart, and your hot dogs taste like crap, your cart will end up in a land fill very quickly.

    But since young people need that piece of paper in order to secure a job, the universities and colleges continue to ignore the very consumer base they depend on. They can do this since the students have only a few alternatives.

    The fact that on line colleges and universities have been challenging this system has its good points and its bad points. But I for one enjoy how these online places at least are “sticking it to the man.” (Or in this case, “sticking it” to the Presidents, provosts and deans of all these esteemed places of higher learning.)

    • #3
    • February 23, 2020, at 1:11 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Hey, kid! Glad to see you here. Welcome. Been following your work for awhile.

    • #4
    • February 23, 2020, at 2:01 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    For those interested, this guy has books:

    • #5
    • February 23, 2020, at 2:17 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    In theory, this goes to his Amazon page:

    https://www.amazon.com/Jackson-Crawford/e/B00SJJONWK/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

    • #6
    • February 23, 2020, at 2:18 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. Skyler Coolidge

    That was refreshing!

    • #7
    • February 23, 2020, at 6:01 PM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Skyler Coolidge

    Now if I can only save my daughter a ton of money by taking YouTube classes instead of getting drunk at college.

    edit: My daughter is 13 and is not getting drunk anywhere, I’m just projecting my college experience on her future.

    • #8
    • February 23, 2020, at 6:02 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. RightAngles Member

    One of my college French profs came into class one day and told us he was up for tenure, and pathetically asked us to advocate for him, as he wasn’t sure he’d get it. I already knew he wouldn’t, because one of my German profs (French was my major, German my minor) had ridiculed him to me more than once, and she was right, he was a pedantic wannabe. So anyway, he didn’t get tenure, and years later when I was working at Air France, we were told that a middle school French class was visiting that day to hear us all working in French and to ask questions. At the appointed time, in they trooped through the front door, and their teacher was my old college prof . I hid in the back so he wouldn’t see me witness his humiliation and his step down in the world. University politics are vicious, as Henry Kissinger once said.

    • #9
    • February 23, 2020, at 6:35 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Pony Convertible Member

    I worked as an adjunct professor for a few years. It wasn’t hard to figure out that path wasn’t worth my time. To the benefit of both me, my family, and my community, I moved into the capitalist job market.

    We need to bring back freedom of choice in education. Government run schools are failing us at all levels. It is not only adjunct professors who are losing out, it is the students, and the employers. Well really everyone except those in power.

    Good luck my friend.

    • #10
    • February 24, 2020, at 5:01 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  11. Saint Augustine Member

    I saw that video. It was great. I had no idea you were a Ricochetus.

    • #11
    • February 24, 2020, at 5:38 AM PST
    • 2 likes