Professor X's

name: joyce rain anderson
Query: dear joy,
i thought you might be interested in a recent article in the atlantic monthly in which "professor x" discusses how he needs to be the one who destroys the dreams of students, in this case a forty-something woman, who return to college or come to college through means other than the traditional route including high sats or excelling in numerous extra-curricular actiivities. he claims he works "at colleges of last resorts." he suggests these students don't belong in college at all.
i write in frustration, as i teach english at colleges in the northeast, but i am also one of the students who returned to college as did his case study ms l. i also faced professors like "x" as a student and as a teacher.
in seeking justice, i feel the need to widely discuss the attitudes of one like "x" and to cry out for ms l and the many others like her. i fell we need to hear her story and the stories of many who face the elitist attitudes of "x" and his ilk. as a teacher, i have been blessed to hear the many stories of struggle, of the need to have a chance. thanks for listening.
for justice,
joyce rain

(reprinted by permission)

I haven't read the article yet. I have known many professor x's, through personal experience and through the experiences of others.
A prominent native woman poet and professor recently changed departments in a midwestern university, a university known for fostering the careers of many noted international scholars and writers, because a professor x there severely undermined her to students because she is native and female. For many, native people, especially native women have no place in the university.

And the non-traditional student, especially older women with children do not fit into an elite ideal. In the Euro-Christian mode, the university is a distinctly male space. Women belong in the house. There is no female power in the elite trinity of Father-Son-Holy Ghost. That assumption is still the root of most educational institutions, and the root has not been pulled up. Even women buy into this. A female professor in my department has been blogging her distaste for children and those who have them and teach. She has been bullying another female professor who has several children. I don't believe she is the progeny of a virgin birth.

The first day of my first tenure-track university of position in Colorado a professor x greeted me by attacking my poetry as simplistic. It was important for him to make the distinction of his refinement versus my dirty wildness. He circled me to let me know he was watching me, made sure that I knew  that I had intruded into a space that didn't belong to me.

And recently I've had to deal directly with a professor x. That is a long, sad story that is still in the making. He's been a tool of great destruction. I imagine he feels that he has been a righteous warrior.

Many of these professor x's hold power no place else. They clench their hard won doctrine with bared teeth. They are born of a culture in which predominate images of the female are images of degradation. Aging women are disappeared women, and those who give birth and/or do any work involving children are paid less and given the least respect of any other position. 

Those images don't work anymore, they never did. They create an illusion of a dysfunctional power. We need fresh images of power for both men and women, for all of us. We need images that embody the heavy with the light, joy with sadness, male with female, the Sun and the Moon. These fresh images will have natural roots in ancient images: Buffalo Calf Woman, the Peacemaker, the Virgin de Guadalupe...

It is up to us whether or not these professor x's have power holds in our collective and personal imaginations. This statement may seem on the surface, simplistic. It may not appear to hold the vast complexity of perceptual injustices. However one simple image, or song can revolutionize the thinking of nations. The NASA image of the Earth as a bright and beautiful being signaled the environmental movement. I'm sure you can think of others, or even imagine them.

Get to work!


Stephanie said...

Hi Joy,

Great post! I feel moved to comment about something I saw on PBS last night. We've all heard the statistic that more women than men have been earning college degrees lately. On the program, someone from WIHE (Women In Higher Education) reported that there are more women than men graduating from college because of the number of women returning to school later in life. These are women who have struggled to make end’s meat in dead end jobs. Many are mothers. They go back to school, or enroll for the first time, to make their lives better.

Professor Xs are a real barrier. All caregivers should be respected, especially those brining up children: our future leaders. Professor Xs should be welcoming these women who are not attending “colleges of last resorts” but are seeking a new beginning.

Personally, I’ve loved it when my colleagues bring their small children to work. There is so much joy in a child—what’s not to like?

Also, congratulations on our award for “Equinox”.

Best wishes,

mj said...

I really connected to this. I am presently a non-traditional student and I have experienced this kind of thing more times than I can count.

I try to understand what the world has against mothers. A long time ago I wrote a paper for a women's studies course that discussed the possibilty that a woman's power to create and promote life is intimidating.

When people are insecure about their own relevence I think they pick on mothers because a mother never needs to question her relevence.

There is so much pretense and elitism in the academic world. It's really disappointing.

What business has anyone of appointing themselves the judge of who belongs in college and who doesn't?

Ann said...

I think this discussion is missing an issue the article smartly raises: the college keeps taking Ms. L's money, but she will have to take the course many times to attain the skills necessary to pass. She needs other course options that will enable her to be ready for the 101 course, and somewhere, somehow, someone in the college needs to tell her that. Prof. X mentions this as an issue, and I wish he'd rounded his argument more on this problem.

I have taught students with similar skill deficiencies. My university has a course to help those that need academic help before English 101, but plenty of students not ready for 101 are always in my classes--some "nontrad" students, such as women with children, sure, but also some recent high school graduates.

I believe education should be accessible to all--but we must also consider how much money and time Ms. L will spend to pass 101, with no one before Prof. X even indicating that her skill level may not be ready for the course's requirements that students be able to write coherent sentences and possess basic computer literacy.

Anonymous said...

I teach high school students in Brooklyn, NY. For the past two years, I have worked with many students eager to go off to college, but not to wrestle with philosophical questions or engage in heady dialogues with the great writing, but rather to escape their parents house, drink beer and engage in promiscuous dialogues with other lustful 'students.'

In New York State, there are certain capabilities required of a student to graduate from high school. For their Social Studies Regents, the NYS standardized test, the students answer a battery of multiple choice questions addressing various American and Global History minutiae, deconstruct various 'primary sources' in short answer questions and lastly identify the cohesive element of said sources in an essay. New York State accepts the basest of answers as correct as long as there is a hint of cognizance. With this regents diploma, they may head off to EWU (Everybody Wins University).

Professor X mentions one woman's inability to write a cohesive research paper on a historical debate of her choosing. It was not clear whether this was for her own amusement or mandated for her scramble up the career ladder. Her impetus for collegiate aspirations should have no effect on her success or failure. I am a firm believer in the Horatio Alger hard-work-to-triumph ethos. Perhaps, this is what forced Ms. L to enroll, but a trip to the bursar's office should not grant Ms. L, nor bell hooks, a degree. Rather, hard work gains the degree. The trip. The failing marks are catalysts for improved study habits. The catalyst remains inert if it does not contact the other element. I, too, had a Professor X who had studied at Oxford and was quite self-assured both behind the pulpit and on the basketball court (the latter remains to be proven, despite Prof's lecture hall insistency). I received Fs on two papers from this professor and worked diligently. The papers returned had no redeeming notes on them. I knew what was good, that's why I handed it in. My Prof X had to point out what needed reconstruction and that is why it was demolished.

Ms. L and many young students, if they truly want those two or three letters at the end of their name must do the work, not simply pay the few hundred dollars for the courses. Company's that require Brit Lit 101 of those who push paper should likewise require status reports in Petrarchan verse otherwise require realistic demands of their employees.

Joy said...

I finally read the article and I am able to see more of the whole story. I think everyone commenting and writing here has captured a part of it. I am in the middle of writing a story for my overdue memoir, and rehearsing music...or my response would be the length of professor x's article...shortly (and some of these short thoughts may be contradictory): the educational system has not taught students the joy of accomplishment, or the joy of learning, they have expected little except copy work or test scores; this may have always been so and some find it within themselves; my sister who has taught in a small, rural school for over 20 years told me about 10 years ago that her students, who used to care about what they did in the classroom, didn't care anymore. This coincided with trickle-down-to-nothing public education and cafeteria food that wasn't technically real food; we do not pay attention to our dreams, listen to stories, understand or use metaphor as predominate discourse-it's electronic language;nor do we exercise our thinking, emotional or intuitive knowing. I empathize with professor x as he is teaching how he has been taught and appears to have a conscience; I have empathy for the student for the same reasons. Both are stuck there; there are other educational systems that may work better; and this particular system needs a shift...We are all in need of a shift. It doesn't work anymore.

Joyce Rain said...

While I agree that Professor X has an argument about institutions taking money from students like Ms. L, it's more problematic that stories like his appear in national magazines like The Atlantic. They relate the same problem without lookin at the larger picture--the focus on testing or society devaluating the "uneducated"--that education only takes place in these "westernized" institutions.

Having taught in various institutions, I've encountered many like Professor X whose desire it is to teach what he considers the "cream of the crop." As such, he resorts to reductive models of teaching rather than consider how he could approach the teaching of writing differently. There are so many other ways of teaching students about writing including having them work through their own literacy acquistion by having them record how and when they use reading and writing--which surprises them--and use that as a writing prompt. A student like Ms. L could then build confidence in the skills she already possesses, then move into using writing in other ways. Sometimes, as a student once told me, it takes someone to believe in them.

And while I don't think someone should be handed a degree, I think it happens too often in the elite institutions where students of privilege are able to get away with much more than Ms. L. OF course, that brings us to another debate. I'd much rather have the Ms. L's in my classes. Be well, Joyce Rain