Are We Having Fun Yet?

This morning I read a article by Kate Morgan called “The Death Of ‘Mandatory Fun’ In The Office.”

I don’t go to any of the dumb shit the college tries to throw at us. Every August there’s a big faculty picnic for example. Or there used to be. I don’t even know if they still have that. To their credit, none of this has ever been mandatory, not yet anyway.

On the other hand, admin is so far behind the curve that it wouldn’t shock me a bit if they started requiring attendance at such crap while the corporate trend veers away from it.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a division party every christmas. I show up for the food. Some of these people can fucking cook. Someone invariably brings lumpia and pancit. Mmm, lumpia, yes please. La Profesora and I fill up our plates and head back to her office or mine.

(Sidebar: I’m not using her name for obvious reasons, and it makes me cringe to use “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” for people who are divorced, in their 50s, and have children in their 20s. Plus she teaches Spanish, so La Profesora it is. But I digress.)

We show up late since some dingbat always insists on saying a fucking prayer first. What with The First Amendment and such, I’m not okay with that. In fact, they really shouldn’t be able to have a “christmas” party at all, but I don’t care enough about that hill to fight for it much less die on it…at least not yet. One semester she and I made the mistake of showing up on time. We walked out when the jesus train pulled into the station and came back 5 or 10 minutes later.

For the lumpia.

So much for team building. The sad fact is many of us just don’t care. It’s true; there’s no I in Team. That’s why I don’t participate, so Morgan almost lost me when she wrote this:

Events that people actually want to attend are a helpful way to facilitate team bonding, and to give those who’d prefer to remain mostly remote a good reason to re-join their colleagues. Smart companies are working to identify the types of “fun” workers actually like: the things they’ll show up for because they want to, not because their arm’s twisted.

That may be so, but I don’t want to attend anything. Here’s an idea; pay me. Otherwise, booze, food, horror movies, pinball—at least one of these things has to be present for me to even consider going to a group event. Even then it will probably be a hard pass for me. La Profesora and I once left a party because some loud, pushy fuckwit tried to make everyone play Charades. Fuck that.

Part of it is personality. Despite being in front of a classroom, some of us are introverts…hard introverts. I have neither the need nor the inclination to re-join my colleagues. There are maybe 3 people I work with whom I consider actual friends and therefore associate with off campus. One of them in fact held the party I just mentioned. There might be a couple more I’m on a “chat over coffee” basis with if we run into each other. That’s it.

Anyway, Morgan goes on to quote consultant Paul Lopushinsky:

But there’s always been something a bit insidious about those perks…That culture isn’t really about fun; it’s about getting people to stay longer…It’s a culture of harmony with a lot of disharmony just below the surface.

And that’s what it’s like where I teach. Admin wants the illusion of harmony, the veneer of cooperation, but more and more of us are growing increasingly unwilling to prop all that up. To that point, Morgan also cites Adrian Gostick:

The pandemic has…made people a lot less likely to do things they don’t want to do. I think the pandemic has made us a little angrier, a little more cynical overall, and people just aren’t putting up with things they consider annoying as much anymore.

The troubling key to that statement is the phrase “as much anymore.” Why did people ever have to put up with things they consider annoying in the first place? That’s my question. Gostick, incidentally, is an executive leadership coach who has written a good deal about employee engagement. Tell me that doesn’t make you want to take a 300-foot bungee jump with a 400-foot cord.

He also regales us with the delightfully folksy tale of one corporation using Zoom for “wine-and-whine” sessions:

It’s like four o’clock on a Friday. If you want to have a drink you could, or not, whatever. But you come and whine about the week…It’s an hour, and everybody complains and talks about their terrible clients and aggravating bosses.

Yeah that sounds like loads of fun. It’s also a hell of a lot of trust in one’s coworkers, trust that I just do not have. I can think of at least 4 people right off the top of my head who, like good little shills, sprint to admin with the lowdown on who said what.

Finally, Morgan points out a February 2022 study from Pew Research:

Close to 60% of those who’ve been working from home would prefer to continue doing so…Employees that are ordered back, says Gostick, are likely to simply quit.

I can only look at my checking account and sigh, “If only.”

So in 24 hours I will be going back into a classroom for the start of one of my summer classes. I have 2 face to face classes and 1 on Zoom. I don’t particularly want to be in a classroom. It’s a dangerous and patently stupid idea, but Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, trump-cult member, and republican flunky, feels otherwise.

Apparently our boy Trumpkin ain’t pickin’ up what the good folks at Pew are layin’ down. His Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) Policy 1.61 makes it fairly clear that in-person is the strong preference over telework.

Go team.


Well fuck it’s that time again. Daaaaaaa dadada daaaaaaa daaaaaa. God damn but I hate that tune. We have a local wind ensemble that plays at graduation. Someone who plays clarinet told me I don’t hate it as much as the wind ensemble does.

That’s fair.

I’m supposed to go to graduation every year. In 30 years, I think I’ve gone to graduation maybe, I dunno, 5 or 6 times, maybe. When I did, it was because someone talked me into it. Once it was out of respect for a dear colleague who had died of cancer. She adored her students, and they her, and graduation was something that was very important to her. So I thought, “Okay, to honor her memory, I’ll go from now on.” That lasted for a single ceremony.

Oh well, I tried.

Technically we’re supposed to go to 2 graduations a year since there’s one in December. I don’t know why we do that. I don’t personally know of any other places that do. There must be other ones somewhere. As far as I know, most places make everyone wait until spring.

Then for a while we were told we had to go to one a year. Currently how many we are required to show up for is unclear, but a few years back admin instituted another scheme to bully railroad guide faculty by requiring that we RSVP for graduation. If we don’t go, we’re supposed to take leave. I ignored that too. This term it finally caught up to me. I knew it would.

The day after graduation, I had an email from my dean:

Per [name of vice-president of academic affairs & chief academic officer]’s email concerning faculty commencement attendance if you were unable to participate please submit your absence in HRMS. If you need assistance let me know.

Normally I probably wouldn’t have read it, but I suspected something like this was coming. First let’s muscle past the lack of commas after “attendance,” “participate,” and “assistance” from a dean who’s fiefdom includes the English department. Did I mention she has a PhD? I’m not sure in what, but damn. Second, it’s worth noting that if I email said dean a question, I won’t hear shit from her for days. But miss graduation, oh she’s on it faster than you can say Robert’s your father’s brother.

I don’t know about you, but I get at least a whiff of a punitive, authoritarian tone here. Maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe I’m just looking for a fight. But I say it’s there. Now, I don’t mind taking leave to bail on the nightmarish drone of Pomp And Circumfuckingstance or the godforsaken benediction that shouldn’t even be part of a ceremony held by a state run agency or the droning nightmare of whatever self-important speaker is inflicted on a venue full of what are essentially hostages.

What I do mind is the veiled reminder that we’re being tracked. And holy shit that veil is thin, like plastic wrap thin and almost as opaque. I’m waiting for the day that all classrooms will be unlocked by a key card for both entry and exit so someone knows when you went into your classroom and when you left. I will, of course, prop my door open during class if that day ever comes. Yes, I do think admin is too stupid to figure that out at first.

If I decide not to take leave, my plan for next term is to show up, check in, then sneak out through an alternate exit under pretense of going to take a piss. If for some reason that doesn’t work, I’ll wait for the faculty line up to start, go all the way to the back, and leave once the processional starts. If I get caught, I’ll claim some kind of family emergency and take leave after all.

You might be thinking, “Well, it’s because of people like you that they feel the need to enact these kinds of measures.” I disagree. Admittedly I don’t help the problem, but when everyone from your dean up to the system chancellor acts like they can push you around, you take every little passive aggressive swipe at them that you can.

In 30 years I’ve seen 4 college presidents come and go and probably twice as many deans (two of which tried to actively get rid of me). I’m still here. I find that interesting. The fact is if you think I’m one of the main culprits here, you’re probably part of the problem. And now Pomp And God Damn Circumstance is stuck in my head. Fuck.

John Taylor Gatto

Here’s someone I’m sure I’ll be talking about frequently on this blog. His name is John Taylor Gatto. I first came across him in a 2009 documentary by Cevin Soling called The War On Kids. I was showing it as source material for an essay about education in my argumentative writing class.

I liked him so much I looked him up online and found his book, The Underground History Of American Education. It’s a must read folks. It’s alarming. As part of the book’s prologue, he includes the resignation letter he wrote as an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.

I’ve taught public school for 26 years but I just can’t do it anymore. For years I asked the local school board and superintendent to let me teach a curriculum that doesn’t hurt kids, but they had other fish to fry. So I’m going to quit, I think.

I’ve come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in.

I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t train children to wait to be told what to do; I can’t train people to drop what they are doing when a bell sounds; I can’t persuade children to feel some justice in their class placement when there isn’t any, and I can’t persuade children to believe teachers have valuable secrets they can acquire by becoming our disciples. That isn’t true.

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.

Any parent who’s ever gone to sign their child out of school early has experienced this disrespect. At least when I’d try to get my daughter early, I had to sign her out, show my driver’s license, and the person behind the counter would ask me why I was taking my kid out early. It didn’t take me long to start asking, “Why do you need to know?”

The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid.

That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its “scientific” presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. It’s a religious notion, School is its church. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.

Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood.

This is exactly why I don’t use textbooks in any of my classes. I tell my Freshman Comp classes on the first day that anyone can write. That doesn’t mean we’ll all do it on the same level. Just like some people are better artists, athletes, musicians, and so on, some people are better writers. But anybody can learn the basics of any medium, sport, or instrument and improve with practice. Writing is no different.

But no matter how hard we work and how much we practice, we won’t all become Bruce Lee or Emily Dickinson or Van Gogh or Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Vonnegut Jr. or Toni Morrison or Muhammad Ali or whoever else you want to put on this list.

School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be “re-formed.”

I’ve already talked about this at least once. The textbook industry alone has a massive vested interest in keeping schools the way they are, and in place like Florida it’s getting even sleazier. Scores of math texts were recently rejected in Florida pretty much on the basis of shit DeSantis doesn’t like. One of the ones they kept, however, is published by a company held by one of DeSantis’s Orange Cult buddies, the dingbat governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin.

And that’s just textbooks. Another sacred myth perpetuated in this case by the computer industry is that teachers need computers in the classroom. A lot of us don’t even want them in the classroom let alone need them. The only thing I use the big computer/media station for is when I show paintings for my humanities class. Funny thing is, what the students like exponentially more is when we meet at an actual museum instead of the classroom.

It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means no thing at all. But in school I label Rachel “learning disabled” and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me t o tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, “special education” fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.

In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints.

Gatto talks about this extensively in Underground History. He cites Lincoln, Farragut, Franklin, and Washington all as examples of accomplished, intelligent men who spent precious little time in anything we’d currently consider a traditional classroom setting. In The War On Kids, homeschool advocate Pat Farenga points out that Shakespeare went to school about “12 weeks out of the year.”

We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.

I mean, there is loads of stuff out there to support this, not the least of which is Rita Kramer’s book Ed School Follies: The Miseducation Of America’s Teachers. “Most teachers today,” again according to The War On Kids, “went to colleges that were not competitive, and even there did not do very well.”

How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall I’ll be looking for work.

And if anyone I work for figures out who’s writing this, I might be as well. So what does this have to do with teaching at a community college? Well, on one level, it could be argued that I’m basically teaching 13th grade. Kids who come here right out of high school don’t see it any differently. There are no dorms. There’s no campus life to speak of like you would get if you left home and lived where you’re going to school. It’s an extension of high school.

That means all the things wrong with public school as described by people like Gatto and in films like The War On Kids just continues. The big difference here is that we also get a good number of adults returning to school for numerous reasons, but that doesn’t help mature the kids up like you might think it would. In many cases, it brings the performance of the adults down. But that’s very much another discussion.


So this showed up on @burnoutprof on Instagram. It’s from the Broward Teachers Union. I assume that’s Broward County, Florida, but I could be wrong. Apparently a teacher was accused of assault and arrested. Here’s what it said:

Just today, I have been reminded once again that ANY kind of touching of a student, no matter how natural or instinctive it may be, can lead to you being charged with assault and arrested.

During a mindfulness exercise this week,

Okay hang on. Mindfulness exercise? What the hell does that even mean? Why are we worried about mindfulness in public school? Shouldn’t the main concern be learning? Now we have to talk about mindfulness? Mindfulness is one of those things that means ten different things to ten different people. Anyway, it goes on.

During a mindfulness exercise this week, one of our members guided a student to walk in the correct direction by placing a hand on his arm. Today, two police officers came to the school and arrested the teacher who is being charged with assault.

Obviously I wasn’t there, so I don’t know any specifics. If anyone wants to share more information, please do in the Comments. The point is, I don’t know what “placing a hand” means. Is this gently leading, or did the teacher yank the kid the right way because the kid was being an obnoxious asshole? I don’t know. The wording suggests this was not forceful.

I have said it before and will continue to repeat myself as often as necessary; keep your hands from ever touching a student in any way, no matter how kind or loving your actions may be. In this litigious society, no one is safe from being charged with a crime for those actions.

Wow. Like I said, I don’t know exactly what happened, and I personally don’t touch people I don’t know for exactly this reason. I also don’t really like people. A long time ago, I was in Alcoholics Anonymous for a while. For lots of reasons, it wasn’t a good fit, and I left. One thing I always hated was that, at the end of a meeting, everyone would join hands and say the Our Father.

That’s when I’d go outside. I’d stick around to chat with people afterward, but I never took part in the joining hands and praying. I didn’t believe in a higher power or god or prayer, and I don’t like to touch people I don’t know or be touched. It’s just a personal thing.

I also didn’t go around hugging people before leaving. That’s another big thing with AA folks, the hugging. I got confronted about this kind of thing numerous times, and nobody liked my answers: I’m an atheist, I don’t pray, I don’t like touching or being touched, and I’m allowed to feel that way. Mostly I was told I wasn’t turning my will “over to the care of god.”

Of course I wasn’t. I’m an atheist. But this apparently meant that I would never recover. Well I did. More specifically, I realized I had nothing to recover from because I wasn’t an alcoholic. I was just drinking too much too often. Nowadays I don’t do that, and I’m fine. I’m sure they’d disagree, but let’s get back to Broward Teachers Union.

Is it a shame that this teacher got charged with assault? Probably. Again, I don’t know any specifics. My point is, touch is an intensely personal matter, and nobody has any idea what anyone’s reaction will be to it. Is it a shame that a teacher can’t comfort an upset or frightened child with a hug? Again, probably. But something I keep trying to remind myself is that you never know what someone else’s story is.

Conversely, I’m willing to believe an assault charge was probably unwarranted. It’s likely an issue that could have been dealt with as a discussion. If anything, where currently in a culture where it’s much safer if we all just keep our hands to ourselves. It’s an act of self preservation at this point.


One semester, quite a number of years ago, someone anonymously photocopied this and put it in our faculty mailboxes:

Usually I get pretty sick of grading papers in my Freshman Comp class. I usually don’t even do it; I just throw them away and tell the students I’m still looking at them, really pondering over them and will probably have to return them in the mail next semester or something. I’ve got about a dozen bushels of them wadded up in the attic, I bring them down and use them to start fires in the fireplace with each winter, good God they are awful, I sometimes read a page or two as I unrumple them and feed them to the fire; they make my stomach cramp and my breath come fast and shallow. Piss-Ant says I am irresponsible and maybe I am, but let me tell you those papers are awful.

At first I thought a “colleague” had written it. I found out later it’s from a short story, “Cats And Students, Bubbles And Abysses,” by Rick Bass. Yet somehow this bit has nary a word of fiction to it. The cold, hard truth is Bass tidily sums up the prevailing attitude of more and more faculty.

Don’t get me wrong. There are excellent, dedicated, hard-working teachers out there. I’m not one of them, and I tend to shy away from those who are. Their starry-eyed earnestness unnerves me. Most of the teachers I actually talk to are, like me, realists. This is a paycheck. It’s easy money, not a whole lot, but easy. I do the least amount of work possible to get it.

I generally don’t know my students’ names. I don’t really read their writing that closely. I scan it, at best, looking for a thesis and some support. I basically estimate what grade they should probably get based on their attitudes and how little aggravation they cause me. Right now I have essays waiting to be graded that I collected back in the first week of February. It’s now the middle of April.

When this passage showed up in our mailboxes, there was an uproar. It was a faculty meeting agenda item. One instructor got all breathless and pearl-clutchy and said, “Well!” (I expected to hear “I never!”). “I hope this doesn’t reflect how any of us feel!” Give me a break. Loads of us feel this way. If you can’t see that, you’re an idiot. To be fair, she was.

I read an article by Kathryn Dill in The Wall Street Journal: “New Jobs For Burned-out Teachers Mean Learning The Rules Of The Corporate World.” One thing that jumped out at me was this:

In a National Education Association poll conducted in January, 55% of teachers said they would leave education sooner than planned, up from 37% who said so in August.

So basically 18% more teachers from this poll started the school year, made it to christmas break, and said “Fuck this.” Why do you suppose that is?

The substandard pay? The bellicose authoritarianism of college presidents? The rampant incompetence and raging megalomania of those who think they have even a little bit of power? The constant low-level hum of administrative harassment in the form of paperwork, punitive faculty evaluations, and dumb shit we’re required to add to an already ten-page syllabus?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll go on saying it. None of my education friends started teaching because it was some kind of calling, none, because it wasn’t. It never has been. That’s a sacred myth what some teachers like to perpetuate about themselves because it sounds all noble and self-sacrificing. For me and all the teachers I associate with, teaching was something to do until something better came along. Sadly, for many of us, nothing did.

The Textbook Racket

“On bokës for to rede I me delyte.” Ah yes, that’s good old Jeffy C again, The Legende Of Good Women. It’s a vicious little irony that, as much as I truly love books, I don’t use textbooks in my classes. I haven’t for, I suppose, about twenty years.

There’s one exception. In my mythology class, I use Joseph Campbell’s The Power Of Myth. It retails brand new for under fifteen bucks at the time of this writing. And that’s not much of an exception since it’s not a textbook issued by a textbook publisher.

If you think the computer industry runs a long grift in education (and you should), you have to stand in awe, in awe of the textbook publishers. These criminal masterminds have a racket going that makes the computer goons look like knuckle-dragging bullies pushing nerds around for their lunch money.

Freshman comp texts are particularly egregious. For one thing, they needlessly mystify the writing process. I’ve mentioned previously that the whole “two semesters of freshman comp” concept should be eliminated. Nobody needs a textbook for this. Need an example of a comparison/contrast essay? Google is your friend. Far too many textbooks are built on “making what is easy to do seem hard,” something John Taylor Gatto pointed out back in 1991.

In terms of my literature classes, most of what we read is old enough to be public domain and is available online for free. When we get to poetry, we hit up Poetry Foundation or Back when I did use a book, it was The Bedford Introduction to Literature, a daunting three-inch thick compendium of poetry, fiction, and drama, of which we’d read maybe a third. You can pick this up right now, new, starting at about $90.

Once the college bookstore tacks on their sleazy markup, this hits about $120 or so. On top of this, every year or two, Bedford/St. Martins (now owned by Macmillan which is owned by Pearson) released a “new edition.” This meant they’d change the cover, add a handful of stories, poems, a play or two that had not been included previously, drop a handful of others, and, most importantly, jack up the price.

The benefits to the publisher are countless. Students have to buy the new, more expensive edition, and the college bookstore doesn’t have to buy back the old edition which is now obsolete. Only it isn’t. Each and every time, the overall change in the anthology was negligible. The overwhelming majority of authors were still American or British, white, and male.

The old stand-bys were largely the same: Hawthorne, Poe, Faulkner, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Wordsworth, Coleridge. You get the picture. Don’t think for a second that this is an isolated case. Pick up any anthology from any publisher, and you’ll find most of the same authors and titles.

But put that checkbook away! There’s more! Scores of textbooks now come bundled with some kind of online component and/or stupid code that the student usually can’t opt out of buying. The code can’t be reused or transferred, so you can’t sell your book to someone in the same class next semester. It’s sinister but brilliant.

Partly for the benefit of my students, mainly as a personal “fuck you” to the textbook publishers, I found ways around the system. Well before the rise of the information super parking lot, I’d only use the literature that had not changed from the one edition to the next. Students could use any edition of the book and pick up old ones from students who’d had the class any number of semesters before. I’d also put a few of my own anthologies on reserve in the library.

It wasn’t long before I was able to abandon literature anthologies altogether. As I said, every poem and short story I use is available online for free. As for the plays, they’re just as easy to find online as PDFs, but a bit of trial to read onscreen.  However, I can run out right now and pick up a used copy of Hamlet for two bucks, tops. Beats the hell out of the $100 or so that students would be plunking down for relatively useless anthology.

Right now, textbook publishing is more or less locked up by The Big Five: Pearson, Scholastic, McGraw-Hill, Cengage, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. There used to be more. Harcourt Brace was its own thing. So were Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s, Macmillan, Gale, all of which have been scooped up by one of The Big Five. According to Statista, 2020 textbook publishing revenue came in at 7.85 billion. That’s down from last year’s 8.39 billion.

The fact is, revenue has been falling steadily since 11.97 billion in 2015. I would imagine they’re getting what Hunter Thompson called The Fear. But it won’t change anything. As is so often the case, it’s a numbers game with a simple solution. As faculty, we have untapped power we never use.

If we want to force textbook publishing’s hand, all we have to do is refuse to use books until prices come down. Barnes & Noble, who has a goodly chunk of the college bookstore market fairly well cornered, would shit themselves. So would any of the universities that still run and profit from bookstores of their own. All these thugs would be clamoring for the textbook publishers to fall in line. There would be great weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It won’t happen, but hey I can dream.

How Did I Get To This Point?

Think of community colleges as the MASH units of higher education. My job is academic triage, meatball education. I have two years to figure out who needs the least work, who can be patched up to make it to Tokyo, who gets a a toe tag. I get students ready to survive academic life (in my case, college-level writing) through the rest of college, and hopefully get them to complete an associate’s degree, transfer to a four-year school, and finish their undergrad degrees.

But god damn, the more time I spend in education, the more I suspect that I should have done something, anything else. And yet I stayed. For over thirty years I stayed. There are of course reasons why I shouldn’t complain, reasons why I should just keep my head down, don’t show up on anyone’s radar, teach my classes, and go home.

If I teach five classes, let’s say two that meet on Monday and Wednesday, and three on Tuesday and Thursday, and each runs for seventy-five minutes, that’s 150 minutes on Monday and Wednesday, 225 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday. Total classroom time, 375 minutes or 6.25 hours. Let’s add the ten hours a week I’m supposed to be in my office (which hardly anyone, especially me, ever adheres to). That’s 16.25 hours a week.

If I’m smart, I can get all my grading (ha!) and class preparation (haha!) done during office hours. And that, dear reader, is my full time gig. So why would I be so stupid and misguided as to examine the dentition of this equine boon? It’s a good question, one I struggle to answer.

Am I just some ungrateful, recalcitrant malcontent? Well, yes, I am. Is it some infantile response to authority? It almost certainly is. Shouldn’t I just shut up and be thankful that I in fact have a job? Well, yes, I should.

Then again, no, I shouldn’t. Sure it’s an easy job. Yes, I’m lucky to have health care and gainful employment that, as a very close longtime friend once put it, is as close to not working as working gets.

Still, there’s just too much wrong with the system not to point it out. As always, it’s the emperor’s new clothes. Everyone acts like nothing’s wrong except for one obnoxious little shit. He knows what he saw, and he’s laughing. And if I’m honest, I’ve always been that obnoxious little shit. Lately though, none of this is so funny.

There’s a bunch of us, you see, who aren’t in this for “the right reasons,” whatever the fuck the right reasons are. Many of us really aren’t teachers. We’re con artists, flim-flammers, charlatans. I hate teaching. I do it. It’s been said I’m even good at it. But it’s not “what I do.” It’s not a benevolent desire to help the community or a noble calling to better people through education.

My job has zero to do with Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets Society, Freedom Writers, Good Will Hunting, or Stand And Deliver. No, I hated it the first second I stepped into the classroom as a graduate teaching assistant in 1987. By my second semester, I’d already stopped caring and knew after the first essay who was likely to get an A and who was likely to fail. It was the B’s and C’s  hadwho to sort themselves out. In truth, that didn’t t take much longer. It’s still this way.

Teaching was never on my radar. I started out as a biology major. I wanted to be a zoologist, a marine biologist, something that would allow me to be around animals. I had a problem though. I couldn’t pass algebra to save my life. To this day I don’t understand why I needed that to go out and tag manatees or great white sharks or water snakes. But it was required for the major, so I was screwed.

I’ve always liked to read and write though. All my electives were in English, philosophy, and history. One day the head of the English department who taught Brit Lit 1 gave me back a paper I’d written on Beowulf, and said, all Carlton smoke and Long Island accent, “You really ought to be a writing person.”  So I became an English major. I graduated cum laude and went straight to grad school.

Soon enough, Masters in hand, I started teaching part time. Still hated it, but I didn’t really have to answer to anyone. I taught my classes, went home, got paid twice a semester, all without someone looking over my shoulder. Overall, teaching took the least time and put me in the path of the fewest authority figures. It made me far less likely to become suicidal or homicidal. This is even more true now given that I’m teaching from home during this pandemic.

Or at least I was. There’s been a push this year to get faculty back on campus, so over the summer I’ll be back to at least a couple of face to face classes. That means I’ll be back to my regular routine. Generally I get to my office five or ten minutes before class starts, which is more than enough time to remind myself what I’m going to talk about for an hour.

The extent of my class prep is a large red-eye from my local coffee joint. There used to be a couple cigarettes involved, but since I had a heart attack at forty-two, I’ve given that up. The point is, I could do this shit in my sleep. It’s not because I’m lazy or trying to avoid some kind of labor. It’s because after three college degrees and two decades in front of the classroom, I know what’s essential and what isn’t, and most of the crap most professors teach isn’t.

And so, here I am.


Years ago, some time in the 90s, I came into work one morning, and there was a brand new Gateway computer on my desk. Over the years the college has gone through several computer manufacturers.

For a while I had a laptop. Now I’m back to the desktop, so I’m not tempted to bring this godforsaken institution’s tech home with me. Currently the entire college is largely powered by Dell computers with Intel processors running Windows.

I communicate with faculty through Outlook email. Oh, wait, no I don’t. But if I did, it would be with Outlook. We submit our grades with Peoplesoft. I post course-related material and assignment scores on Canvas.

In our system of “shared governance” (bahahahaha!) with the president and admin, faculty were never consulted about any of this. We were told what applications the college would adopt and told when they would change. Nobody asked if we wanted any of this, but here it is. Nobody asked me if I even wanted a computer in my office, but here it is. If I had the choice now, I’d say, “Fuck no I don’t want one.”

So who benefits from all this, uh, “progress?” For a short while I thought it was the students. Bless my heart. It’s not. Enter, as just one example, Morgan Stanley. What do they have to do with technology in education? Not much except for over 38 million shares of Intel. There’s nothing inherently evil about that. I merely point out that with all those Intel processors in all those computers on all those college campuses…

Well, you do the math, and remember it the next time you hear about some corporation or computer company launching any kind of educational initiative. Somebody’s making money from it, but it sure as hell isn’t any school. Then what is all this for? Years ago I read the consultant report for my institution’s “strategic technology plan.” Here’s a representative example from the first paragraph:

[College] leadership and faculty generally appear to accept the on-going deployment of technology enhancements as both inevitable and positive, although there is a predictable level of frustration and concern.  Approximately half of the faculty have taught at least a web-enhanced course on Blackboard, which suggests a solid level of basic buy-in; however, some are quite concerned about online instruction and, to some extent, suspicious of the motives of related initiatives.

“Buy-in?” That certainly has a little Madison Avenue to it, yes? And “deployment” just unnerves me. When I pointed this out on our in-house email forum, I was informed (well, flamed really), that “deployment” is a standard term used in connection with technology. Somehow, I find this less than comforting, maybe because tech-related language has been driven if not dictated by military interests for decades.

Don’t just take my word for it. Douglas Noble pointed this out over thirty years ago in his book The Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, And Public Education:

The classroom arsenal serves, in its own right, as a laboratory, as a testing ground for research, much of it sponsored by the military, on human-computer interface design, on “knowledge acquisition,” on technological problem solving…Military-sponsored educational innovations reflect the distinctive needs of military training—in particular, the needs for efficiency, for specificity, for uniformity, and for the assurance of high levels of task performance…Efficiency of training stands above all other concerns of military training.

And Noble’s not alone. Cliff Stoll was pointing at the silicon emperor’s balls during the late 90s in High Tech Heretic and Silicon Snake Oil. So was Neil Postman in Technopoly and The End Of Education. It’s also worth noting that the aforementioned consultant was himself an administrator from another college which had an extensive online learning program and was considered a model for technology in education )critical and unbiased to be sure).

The pro-tech rallying cry is that this improves education. There is not one shred, however, of substantiating evidence to prove this. To the contrary, a report from The Reboot Foundation in Paris argues that with daily, frequent computer use in the classroom, “performance lowers dramatically.”

More tech just adds more electronic bricks to the towering wall of laptops, smart phones, and social media that increasingly solipsistic students live behind. The only thing they have in common is isolation. No network can link a learning community. At best, you get cloistered individuals vaguely connected to the same material.

What else happens? Faculty get kicked out of offices to make room for servers. Classrooms which are already in short supply become computer labs. Libraries (I’m sorry, learning resource centers) lose more and more space to computers versus actual books.

In the event of a tropical storm or hurricane, we get emails about making sure to cover up our office computers with plastic bags in the event that the roof leaks (depressingly likely). Fuck that. I didn’t ask for this accursed machine. If you want to protect it, you do it. Another item on a long list of shit I don’t get paid enough to give a fuck about. As one of the few colleagues I’m friends with likes to say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Even our so-called Advanced Technology Center is an imposing monstrosity that looks like some ungodly union of Space Mountain and A Wrinkle In Time (a few of us even call it the Central Central Intelligence building). I’ve been in it maybe half a dozen times. Looking at it creeps me out sufficiently enough to suspect that if I go in, I may not come back out.

Your faculty advisor, if you have one, and if they actually teach and still read, might tell you the truth about all this. But your dean, your counselor, or anyone in your college’s administration would prefer you never find out. So would all those good folks that head up Microsoft, Intel, Dell, or Hewlett Packard.

And, you know, Morgan Stanley.