O Academic Martyr Squad, your paper-grading crosses your defining characteristic–I see you the cross of grading, and raise you the cross of ACADEMIC FREEDOM.
A little backstory…
When I published “The End of the College Essay (An Essay),” I definitely expected a fracas. Here, in no particular order, is what I expected, and could handle:
1) Righteous indignation (the more senior the faculty, the more prestigious the institution–in short, the less likely one is to have graded an average Freshperson paper from the American hoi polloi in the past decade).
2) Disagreement and passionate defense of the essay, even when students don’t want to write it. And this was kiiiiinda my point. If you’re so wedded to the idea, then we need to work to fix it, pronto. The plagiarism, the rush jobs, the general consumer mentality of today’s American college students–these are real problems, and they need to be dealt with. Don’t like my scorched-earth approach? Totally OK with that–suggest something better.
3) Personal attack in response to a systemic critique. This happened in response to Thesis Hatement, so there’s no reason it wouldn’t happen here.
What I didn’t expect was for #3 to turn as ugly as it did.
What I also didn’t expect was to get CC’d emails to various higher-ups where I currently teach, demanding I be fired.
After attempting to defend myself on teh Twittarz and teh Facebooks (whilst also attempting to drive/be driven 1000 miles to my brother’s in Texas, our first step on an epic cross-country winter thaw-out–and please don’t rob our house; we have no valuables there, honestly, just some very cheap furniture and really ugly carpeting), I stopped being able to, physically, because every time I wrote something (usually, “This ISN’T ABOUT FIRST YEAR COMPOSITION GAH! It’s about SUBJECT CLASSES that do not need a major writing component to learn them kiddies somethin’ interestin’!”), it would metastasize into three nasty Tweets from a comp instructor, being all like, “HOW DARE YOU NOT TREAT WWWWRRRRRRRIIIIITTTING as a SUBJECT?” “That’s not what I–gah, never mind.”
So, I’ve largely left teh Twittarz for the time being, even though as most of you know, I loooove hanging out there, and that is where I have met some of my favorite cyber-friends in the past six months. These favorite cyber-friends include (but are NOT limited to, in case I didn’t mention you): Annemarie Perez, Liana Silva Ford, Lee Skallerup Bessette, Tricia Ryan, Katie Pryal, Sarah Kendzior (now my real-life friend!), Eric Garland (ditto!), Chuck Pearson, Suey Park (NAMEDROP! I AM TWITTER FRIENDS WITH THE GREAT SUEY PARK!), Gerry Canavan, William Pannapacker, Roopika Risam, Roger Whitson, Joe Fruscione, Noel Jackson, David Creech, MANY OTHERS (I love you!), and Adeline Koh.
It was Adeline who reached out to me to tell me how disgusted and shocked she was when a few of my trolls started openly picking on my students, who came pretty quickly to my defense (and all of whose final papers I enjoyed reading immensely–or, at any rate, as immensely as you can enjoy reading student papers). These are the same people who excoriate me for “hating [imaginary] students,” deciding a bunch of wide-eyed actual 18-year-olds were open season. And when other folks started bombarding the poor Chair of the English department (where I do not work!) with emails, Adeline told me she got fed up, and asked if I’d mind if she, Roger, and some friends wrote an open letter. The letter would explain that even though most scholars don’t actually agree with my scorch-and-burn pedagogy, they don’t find it necessary to try to burn me at the stake. I was shocked, moved, and made to feel extremely unworthy of such incredible support. And still feel the same way now.
At any rate, here is the letter.
I don’t deserve it, but I appreciate it. I don’t deserve to have all those people risking their jobs to “defend” a dork such as myself, who writes incendiary things on purpose, but I appreciate it. And it makes a good point: do I have the right to publish something controversial without getting fired? Do you? I was telling the heroic adjunct (and all-purpose) labor organizer Robin J. Sowards the other day that at no point during this kerfuffle did I believe academic freedom applied to me in the least. It doesn’t. I know that. I could still get fired. I know that. But that is absurd.
Yes, my piece got some laughs in at the expense of a few imaginary students–but since when can’t 18-year-olds take a joke? Yes, my piece was exaggerated and extreme, that strange mixture I do of satire (do I really give up on all students because of the student-as-customer mentality? I do not, and I want people to change their ways) and of sincerity (are traditional intro-body-conclusion 5-page essays the way they are currently assigned in required subject courses largely a waste of everyone’s time? Yes, yes they are). I understand if my very weird style and my very punchy voice aren’t your thing. I do.
But you best not threaten me–and you especially best not threaten my students. Because, as this letter demonstrates, even though I hardly deserve them, I’ve got friends, and when you fuck with me, you fuck with them too.