Monday, February 8, 2010

The Big Lie About the Life of the Mind

The following was published "Thomas Benton" (the pen name of William Pannapacker--see image at left, an associate professor of English at Hope College, in Holland, Michigan) in The Chronicle of Higher Education on February 8, 2010:

"A year ago, I wrote a column called "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go,"advising students that grad school is a bad idea unless they have no need to earn a living for themselves or anyone else, they are rich or connected (or partnered with someone who is), or they are earning a credential for a job they already hold.

"In a March 2009 follow-up essay, I removed the category of people who are fortunately partnered because, as many readers wrote in to tell me, graduate school and the "two-body problem" often breaks up many seemingly stable relationships. You can't assume any partnership will withstand the strains of entry into the academic life.

"Those columns won renewed attention last month from multiple Web sites, and have since attracted a lot of mail and online commentary. The responses tended to split into two categories: One said that I was overemphasizing the pragmatic aspects of graduate school at the expense of the 'life of the mind' for its own sake. The other set of responses, and by far the more numerous, were from graduate students and adjuncts asking why no one had told them that their job prospects were so poor and wondering what they should do now.

"I detected more than a little sanctimony and denial in most of the comments from the first group and a great deal of pain and disillusionment in the latter. The former seem used to being applauded by authorities; the latter seem to expect to be slapped down for raising questions. That's why they write to me, I believe. They want confirmation that something is wrong with higher education, that they have been lied to, systematically.

"Some people have mistaken my position that graduate school in the humanities is fine for the rich and connected for the view that that's how it should be, as if I am some kind of smug elitist. It often happens that readers—looking only at an excerpt from a column—mistake practical advice about coping with a harsh reality for an affirmation of that reality, instead of a criticism of it."

To read the rest of the essay, click here.

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