In the basement, a book review

At Goodreads, I gave it four stars because I see great relevance with my own teaching position. Otherwise, the discussion about his life choices and family problems – though well-written – didn’t appeal to me and took a little away from the book. I was also disappointed in his overly florid prose, brimming with metaphor and allusions to literary classics. Perhaps he was working to defend employment; a sort of “Look at me! I know books! I really am a good teacher.”

I do think he is a good teacher and I intend to try a few of the techniques he described in my classes. I can do that because the whole adjunct professor – community college- education inflation thing he describes is a pretty good description of my own work as an ESL teacher at a university in Korea. The parallels might not be perfect, but they are clear.

Professor X has written an excellent expose on the problems of an artificial demand for education requiring an artificial supply of professors. There are several types of jobs out there that don’t require a university education. Although getting an education is not normally a bad thing, getting hugely in debt to find a job that doesn’t really require that training is.

X didn’t mention it, but I think this artificial need for a university degree could be compared to the artificial requirements for police jobs that limited the number of females that could apply. Eventually, feminists pointed out that most police work doesn’t require as much masculine physicality as claimed and more women were hired.

Anyway, more jobs either claim to require a degree or have so many degree holders applying that not having one is an immediate negative. President Obama and general opinion in the wider world hold that everyone should get as much education as they can.

Universities now see a lot of students who don’t have the basic skills necessary so they need to offer classes in remedial studies. The tenured profs are busy so adjuncts are hired. They are not treated so well by the university they work for. Prof X had no complaints about his superiors individually but did point out that he received no benefits nor was there a system for advancement. He often felt closer to his students, arriving almost by stealth at night, spending a few hours and going home, than he did to the ‘real’ professors who had perks like desks and such.

The students, however, had never planned on a university education and now were trying to catch up on years of neglect in order to attend real university. A quote from a student’s evaluation of X: “Before this I would of never voluntarily read a book. But now I almost have a desire to pick one up and read.”

It’s too late to choose a pseudonym for myself, so let me describe working conditions at X University in South Korea. The decision was made years ago to require six semesters of ESL for every student. A large number of native speakers were hired and described as “Visiting Professors” in English but as “Instructors” in Korean. Many of their students could use English capability in looking for work or in other ways to expand their horizons but few really needed it. The ESL department was a PR exercise to attract, I don’t know – Parents(?) to think about the university. Luckily for the students, the profe..sorry, instructors were expected to follow a bell curve by first filling in the A quota, then the B quota then the rest. It was a required class but luckily it was an easy one to get high grades in.

The book was also reviewed in Salon twice (1, 2) and I started writing about it when I was partway through.

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