Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Need your help. Resignation advice: Got it?

So, gentle readers....I need your advice. What do you do in lower higher education to resign from an extra-contractual position when you have come to the conclusion that you are getting hosed?

I mean none of the promises that were made to you by your President have come true even when you have worked your butt off and showed all manner of success. Actually, it isn't just a matter of promises not being kept its the realization that you are out there in horrible circumstances with no support and the job you have to fulfill can't really be done because all your hands and feet are tied and failure is looming large. You are left alone under the power of the one person you stated from the beginning you could NOT work under. "You don't have to. You will answer to me". NOT!

Situation normal. All fucked up. Students hurt. Taxpayers getting screwed. No R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I need out.

So, friends...how and when do you resign? Do you finish out the Spring semester and tell them then. Do you tell them now and offer to finish up? Do you do it short and sweet and how much of your hand do you show?

Give me all you got. I need it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Unteaching: its what we do

Its always nice to be reading along and find a reference to anthropology which not only seems to understand us but to promote the best of us.

So, here I was sipping the morning coffee with my laptop open to the Sunday papers (look Ma, no ink-stained fingers) and I ran across one of those same-ole/same ole articles. You can read it at the Saturday (okay, I was working my way up to the Sunday one-sheesh) New York Times here, in an article entitled "Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?". Condensed version: business schools are "rediscovering" the value of a liberal arts education for creative and critical thinking skills. I am not sure what is new about this. I worked for a year in the admissions office at Northwestern--waaaaay back then and we tittered at all the clueless students who would come to interview and express an interest in undergraduate business degrees (no, next please). Northwestern didn't have an undergraduate business degree (I assume they still don't). The Kellogg Graduate School of Management wanted students with good grounded liberals arts degrees for their MBA program. I always advise my students that IF they want to do the corporate path, they should get the best, cheapest, all-A liberal arts degree they can (something they like well enough to kick-butt at) and then borrow to the hilt for the best MBA they can get. (Funny to think of little ole me giving advice about how to succeed in the world of corporate capitalism--but I aim to please.)

Anyway, keep reading along and deep into page 3, you will find this lovely quote:

Instead of presenting existing problems to analyze or solve, design-thinking classes send students to do something akin to anthropological field work to find the problems. Then they field-test solutions, refining as they go.

Leaving aside my confusion with the difference between analyzing an existing problem and discovering a new problem--isn't a new problem still an existing problem and doesn't someone, somewhere "know" about it or it wouldn't be a "problem"--its nice to see we still have relevance as a frame of reference. We still retain that undercover, investigative, hanging out in the "real" world feel.

It makes me all wibbly inside. Its what we do--that part of us that can't be measured but easily translates to a classroom--not to be measured--can't be measured but it is transformative. Its Old School.

I always tease my students. Anthropology asks all those questions you asked in grade school and were told to shut up for asking. And then they tried to stuff all that crap into you that really seemed to beggar the question: why don't I have sex with my mother if dogs do? Does Santa Claus do a fly-over on Africa because they were all bad? Does God not like poor people? Do humans taste like chicken? Do human societies piss down their own legs? Do my genitals look like everyone else's? Does everyone else have a bigger penis? Did the Twilight Bark really work; I mean when the dogs were all barking at each other did they really say "quick, hide the puppies because Cruella deVille is after then to turn them all into coats". Is "evil" always angular? What is the meaning of skinny bitch? Does she just need a sandwich? Are we Americans really better than everyone else? Can we save the whole world or just some bits? If we kill all the bad people and only the good ones are left standing do we win? What is going on behind that curtain? If I think bad thoughts about someone else can shit happen? Why does shit happen?

And so you spend time unteaching. I think I spend most of my time unteaching--I suppose that gets labeled as "critical thinking" or the "reexamination of our own cultural biases". In many respects, a good cultural anthropology class just provides the safe environment to ask those questions and rethink how to find the answers. But first, students need to find their way back to those questions and like Walmart, we have to roll back those preconceived notions.

Its nice that when the New York Times is searching for condensed explanations, we still stand for that process: throw off your shackled thinking and go find the answer--in reality not your notions of it.

Now, its on to the actual Sunday paper with its articles about dumping unsold clothing or giving it away (does Africa really need H&M pleather miniskirts?) and exporting the DSM IV (God bless those crazy-ass psych people).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Things White People Love: Avatar

No, I haven't seen it. I probably won't. I always hate it when Hollywood drives the bus--especially for two hours and forty minutes. Besides being an Avatar virgin means I don't become overly invested in my own opinions of it and I am interested in the opinions of my students this coming semester.

I noticed a very interesting Russian doll discussion about it at Savage Minds. I guess by Russian doll I mean it became more and more about "us" anthropologists and our analyses and seemed to become smaller and smaller somehow.

And then at New Year's my neighbours were enthusiastically discussing our loss of noble innocence in the modern era and I felt curmudgeonly superior with my internal snorting, ass that I am. So I am no less small, it seems.

Goodness, so much analysis: "dances with smurfs in space", Pocahontas redux, etc, etc.

Still, I remember walking by a movie theater on my first trip to Tanzania in 1985. It was really the only one I can recall seeing. On the main street in Dar, close to the American library of USIS (as it was at that time). Walking by it one day I heard huge waves of laughter spilling out the door. Using the power of my whiteness, I walked up and peered in. There was one of those low-budget Asian karate movies on the screen--no translations, no sub-titles. Those few Tanzanian (mostly) men who could afford the shillings that day were sitting there laughing hilariously at the shirtless Asian men kicking each other on the screen.

Maybe we anthropologists should be more concerned with the meaning Tanzanians attach to the movie. Third world not second life? Shakespeare in the bush, anyone? Or Sundiata a la Disney, yet again? Sad to be reminded that the myths of history are written (and analyzed ad nauseaum) by the conquerors.

But, hey, it isn't easy being blue.