Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 23, 2011: Giving Thanks 3

[This week I’ll be highlighting American things for which I’m thankful. Feel free to suggest your own topics in the comments, or send your own guest posts to me by email []. This, inspired by the first such comment, is the third in the series.]
I wrote a Tribute Post back in August on some of the many inspiring teachers with whom I was fortunate enough to work during my time in the Charlottesville public schools; it was a sequel of sorts to an earlier Tribute to six exemplary individual teachers, with four of whom I likewise worked in public schools (in Charlottesville, as a grad student at Temple University, and as an adjunct faculty member at UMass Boston). I’ve also written multiple posts, including a couple of Tributes, on the great work being done at their respective public schools by my Mom (a teacher, counselor, and social worker in a Head Start-like preschool and elementary school program) and my Dad (an English professor at the University of Virginia). All of which is to say, long-time readers of this blog know full well how much I owe to, and love, public education in its many vital and inspiring forms.
In a comment on this weekend’s Thanks-Fishing post, though, my colleague (and guest-blogger) Irene Martyniuk made the case for a somewhat more specific example of public education—state colleges and universities, like the one (Fitchburg State University, née College) at which we both teach. She was, as usual, plenty articulate and convincing in her own right, and if she hadn’t already done her duty as a guest-blogger I’d just enlist her to write this third Thanks-Giving post instead. And even though I’ll resist doing that, I will note that the first reason for which I would likewise give thanks for public universities is precisely, as Irene also noted there, the incredible quality of their faculties; I paid Tribute at the start of the semester to some of the many impressive new FSU colleagues with whom I’ve had the chance to work over these six and a half years, and I would argue to my last breath that that group, amazing as it is, is simply representative of many equally amazing public university faculties across the country (including certainly those at Virginia, Temple, and UMass Boston with which I’m familiar). The recent and ongoing political attacks on public university faculty members, as exemplified by those directed this past spring at Professor William Cronin, have thus struck me as particularly ironic and, to use a technical AmericanStudies term, ass-backwards.
But having taught for virtually all of my professional life at public universities (outside of my year as an adjunct at Boston University, which was great for other reasons about which more in a future post), I am even more thankful for the students I’ve worked with there, and for one particular quality that they consistently possess: an awareness of the value of the education they’re getting. As Irene noted in her comment, public universities are of course significantly less expensive than privates (especially for in-state students), yet the irony is that, at least in my experience, public university students are far more likely to be paying a portion (if not the whole) of their tuition, and so to be profoundly aware both of what their education costs and of why it’s worth it. When I think back to my time as a Harvard undergraduate, especially when compared to my Fitchburg State students, I’m ashamed of how little I knew of or thought about what it cost; I did work 10-12 hours a week as a work-study student, which was more than the average Harvard undergrad to be sure, but again, compared to the 30-40 hour weeks that the majority of Fitchburg undergrads work, I had it very, very easy indeed. While that work schedule and many other factors can make it difficult for FSU students to find the time and space to (for example) do all of the reading for a course, I try always to remember that they’re bringing something a lot more important to every class than an ideal textual starting point—they’re bringing themselves, very genuinely and impressively.
Thanks for the Thanks-Giving idea, Irene! More tomorrow, which is set; but you’ve still got time to propose a topic or write a guest post for Friday,
PS. Links above, so I’ll repeat yet again this week’s request: any American things you’re thankful for? Ideas, and even guest posts, very very welcome!

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