Monday, December 9, 2013

Do Adjuncts ever get to Grow Up? (An update)

About a year ago I wrote about my working journey and how things were going to change.  A full year later, let me assure you the changes are. . . astounding

ly minimal.

I am caught in the same loop the standard adjunct finds themselves in all across the nation.  Some pitiful figure like one in five of us will ever gain tenure-track positions.  Of those who do get hired, only 10% are hired at the school where they adjunct.  This means it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the likelihood of my securing full-time employment at the school where I currently teach is shockingly low.

And it makes sense.  I remember Steven Leavitt’s chapter from Freakonomics on incentives.  Currently my employer has less than zero incentive to hire me.  Why?  I am engaged in the equivalent of full-time employment from a teaching perspective. They have from me all of the teaching they would ever want at what I calculate to be about 30% (or less!) of the cost of a full-time professor.  Of course there are a variety of other attributes I could easily bring to my employment – my knowledge of state policy changes, my understanding of some of the drivers of continued student improvement and success, my experience with recruitment and retention of minority students, and obviously my sparkling personality – but those things count for rather little when asking them to pay me 70% more.

As such, I can’t help but feel like I’m either going to have to accept a lifetime of adjuncting, go to school for certification to teach high school, or find another career altogether.  In the meantime, I can’t help but feel like I’m stuck in the unenviable position of supporting a broken system without any voice or power to change it. Of course then I feel as though my continued participation in the system only empowers it to roll on.

Of course I don’t mean this to be a pity party for me. We’re not hurting financially – it’s why I can do what I do. This is not really much more than an acknowledgement of where I am and where I would like to be.  I’m a good teacher who loves what she does and gets measurable growth from her students – exactly the kind of person who should be retained. Unfortunately, my years of adjuncting and applying for full time positions to no avail have driven me to the verge of leaving the profession altogether. I guess the saddest part of all is that I’m not alone. I know plenty of amazing teachers who have left the profession for lack of compensation, support, and most of all, respect. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Day the Baby Told Me I Was Her Favorite Pillow

I yuv you mama. You’re so faaaaaaaat. Your tummy is so mushy and soft and your back is so pinchy and chubby.
Are you calling me fat?
Yes! she grinned.  I just yuv you so so much.

I mean, I don’t have much else to say. What is there to say?  It’s nice to be valued for the things you sometimes see as your biggest flaws.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Goldieblox and the three Boys

A recreation of the Titanic, post wreck, nary a pink ribbon in sight.  Drowning Titanic bodies provided by creative children who discussed physics, biology, and history while making this presentation. 

The internet has written a lot of things about Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys over the past few weeks and I won’t retread that ground, but I do have a few important things I’d like to share. I’ve teed off on Lego Friends and Goldieblox since I’ve known about them, but I won’t retread that territory. My philosophical issues with their point and purpose aside, I have a few important pieces of insight for Goldieblox that I really feel are essential side-notes to “Girls”gate.

First, I feel compelled to point out that the company highlighting girl-power has skillfully positioned themselves as the picked-upon girl in a fight against the boys.  And not just any boys. Beastie boys, to be exact.  This seems to be no coincidence.  In their final reply to the Beastie Boys, as Goldieblox announces their intention to take down the “Girls” video, their aw-shucks submissiveness is imbued with an overly-inflated sense of themselves.  “Gee, boys” they seem to say, “We were just trying to do something totally ground breaking and awesome for the girls of the world.”

My issue is that they aren’t breaking new ground.  They are retreading the old washed-out pinks and blues of our childhood, arming girls with ribbons and spools and princess stories and trying to get them to make machines to help princesses.  Goldieblox has proved their adherence to tired old territory through their public relations response to the discovery that they inappropriately (please note I did not say illegally. I’m no legal scholar and I won’t pretend to be one. I think we can agree on inappropriateness, though, and leave legality to the scholars) lifted someone else’s material.  Rather than issuing a mea culpa, Goldieblox doubled down, filing an already-prepared legal suit against the Beastie Boys to use their song under “Fair Use.” When the “Beastie Boys sue Goldieblox” story broke, I couldn’t help but envision the Beastie Boys as that mustachioed bad guy tying Goldieblox to the legal train tracks. The company prepared to take this position in the battle all along and their slick public relations responses show that they gleefully fell into the same boy versus girl narrative that undermines girl-futures in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and relegates girls to the pink aisles at the toy store (where, I might add, they can now find Goldieblox).

I’ve written about the problems of attracting women to STEM careers in my day job and I understand and agree with Goldieblox’s mission to bring more women to STEM industries. That said, I don’t think that gender-branding traditional “boy” toys with traditional “girl” colors and stories will do much to change the overall attractiveness of STEM studies.  What can and will do that, in my opinion, are two important qualities and examples Goldieblox could have exhibited in their handling of “Girls”-gate: collaboration and the ability to persevere through failure.

Rather than filing a "Fair Use" lawsuit and setting up for a battle of the sexes, Goldieblox could have illustrated the essential nature of collaborative work and invited their own customers to help create both music and lyrics to replace the “Girls” material.  As collaboration and crediting are essential pieces of STEM studies this could illustrate for their customers qualities that are important to the industry and allow early participation in a similar process of discovery. The company itself could acknowledge those involved, thus underscoring the importance of crediting in the scientific process.

Further, failure is a difficulty that often drives students out of STEM studies – with girls at a higher rate than boys. Bright young women are often perfectionists who interpret failure as a lack of ability rather than an attribute of the nature of the work itself. By issuing a mea culpa instead of filing against the Beastie Boys, Goldieblox could have astutely illustrated that some tries don’t work – and that this is not only acceptable, it’s a part of the process of innovation and, eventually, success. 

Often, as molders of young minds, we have to remember that how we do things is just as important as what we do.  If Goldieblox’s true mission is to attract growing girls to STEM careers, they would have done well to illustrate important basic essential principles to their clientele rather than step into an age-old girls-versus-boys battle they intended to win by batting their PR eyelashes.  
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