Thursday, May 03, 2007

TAs Fired for ???

As I see it, these two TAs were fired for doing precisely what they were trained to do: think critically and challenge existing hierarchical structures of power.

But, I leave it to you to read the story and come up with your own answer. If you're a graduate student, faculty member, WPA (writing program administrator), or planning to be any one of the above, you should definitely check this out: Inquiry or Indoctrination? And for some really good reading, check out the comments that follow the article. Ooh, especially the one about how colleges should stop using so many "graduate student field hands." Yes, that's the answer... because soooo many universities can afford to just let go of all their graduate student teachers. And sooo many tenured and tenure-track faculty are just dying to teach entry-level composition and writing courses!


Literacy-chic said...

In my experience, grad students aren't exactly dying to teach comp either, and the way they usually make themselves feel better about having to do it is by turning it into a soapbox to promote their own interests & agendas. Problem is, they do not yet have the clout (and the tenure) to get away with it!

Which doesn't by means imply that they should have been fired. What this indicates to me is that the graduate department felt that they were losing control of the graduate students--and professors don't like to feel like they're losing control. I've experienced this in our own warm & fuzzy department! But in our department, procedures would be followed--first, the students would be called in & reprimanded (if necessary), though I believe their perspective would have been considered. There might even be an effort to address what might be done to correct the shortcomings in the course syllabus. Clearly, the faculty felt threatened.

But that's not to say the grad students were completely in the right, either. Too often, promoting inquiry is confused with leading students to adopt our own opinions. Part of the goal of academia is to explore multiple perspective, which may include allowing students to inquire into their own beliefs & political views--from a sympathetic perspective--rather than forcing them to examine beliefs that they find antagonistic (for whatever reason). The learning process shuts down when students don't think they're being listened to, or when they feel intentionally antagonized. And that can have a lasting effect. So what really should come out of this is a consideration of what we're really trying to teach. Too often I think comp (because it seems to lack a real subject) is a vehicle for teaching ideas rather than methods. And this produces bad papers about politics.

Literacy-chic said...

It does occur to me, too, that the TAs were there as part of their education, which does include learning to analyze others' methods of doing things. If a new junior faculty member were caught trying to subvert the current curriculum, whether in the name of "thinking critically and challenging existing hierarchical structures of power" or not, they would not likely be around very much longer. Challenging hierarchy is fine for publication--when you're low on the totem pole, however, you are expected (by all the enlightened academics in power) to stay neatly in the place that is designated for you. But I'm an old cynical, jaded grad student! ;)

wwwmama said...

This whole topic is pretty interesting. It seems to me that any instructor (faculty or grad student) should be able to raise concerns about whether the material in the syllabus they are teaching meets the expectations or core assumptions behind the original course design. If a teacher doesn't agree with or understand the course material, the course will fail on an important level.
I wish I could understand all the various threads of this issue better. I teach comp and repeatedly come back to questions of politics, free speech, justice, power, etc., and I'm honestly still not sure how I feel about it all. But any good teacher will continue to examine such questions, preferably openly and with their students, rather than coming to some quick judgment or decision. It seems like in this case, the university is trying to shut down the problem and debate by firing the TAs, and that doesn't help anyone.

AcadeMama said...

Literacy-chic, I think that while *some* grad students use the comp course to promote their own agendas," I don't know that I'd say most do this. And there are a few (myself included) who actually like teaching comp and entry-level lit..It's refreshing sometimes, and you see a lot of progress in those students and their work throughout the semester, which is a great benefit to me as an instructor.

And, I think you're right about out dept. and the way it would likely handle a similar scenario. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that our dept. is the norm. The fact that these students were fired rather than a)getting a reprimand, b)changing their funding assignment, or c)maybe having their funding suspended for a year is what I find so unbelievable. There were at least this many options, if not more, and there's no evidence of any other consideration. These TA's were obviously good teachers, as their evaluations and one teaching award indicates. Isn't the college shooting itself in the foot to fire them?