Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Teaching for Lust

Youtube phenom “Hotforwords” raises the ante on the “teaching for love” canard. In the process, she schools us on how teaching really can realize the administration’s dream in the form of the ultimate “quality” process.

The 27-year-old Russian philologist is a former Ph.D. aspirant and high-school literature teacher with nearly 30 million views of her videos explaining various linguistic puzzles, such as — in the featured clip — how “dope” can mean both stupid and excellent.

One might ask the same about the term “quality,” which for administrators means, well, this.

Seriously, there’s no disputing her metrics. It’s teaching as “vaudeville,” as The New York Times’s Virginia Heffernan points out, but her curriculum is customer-defined and market-oriented. She is a self-funding responsibility center. She gets great student evaluations. Her teaching methods are susceptible to straightforward assessment instruments. There isn’t a “quality” complaint to make about her.

Oh yeah, and it’s totally exploitative, which makes a nice fit with all the outsourcing and permatemping.

Marina’s teaching for love (of fame) is not entirely divorced from the phenomenon that Michelle Masse analyzes as the feminization of the humanities — the reduction of whole fields of faculty work to second-class status by way of the gender economy: part of the cheapening and degradation of the work is the tacit recognition of it as women’s work, as a service, compensated by something other than wages. In connection with her forthcoming SUNY collection Ten Million Served with Katie Hogan, she observes how the call to “service” is one of the most compelling vectors of exploitation in academic life.

Masse points out that “secretary” and “nurse” used to name well-remunerated, well-respected positions for men. Kinda like “professor of language.” Now that it’s women’s work, it’s best done as a kind of lightly-paid volunteerism — for love, or, as in Marina’s, case, something closely allied to it.

[Via Chronicle]

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