I am a failed academic and for good reason, I think



Why is it that I, by job description an academic for twenty-eight years, failed to, then and now resist now writing the kind of academic articles that would have allowed me to advance in my career?

The reason given me and everyone, I think, who serves as member of a university faculty, for the necessity of publishing academic articles, academic because they are published in academic journals, is that by doing so one is helping to advance the discipline with which he or she is affiliated, adds to the research base to push understanding to higher levels of clarity, meaningfulness, and usefulness in solving the problems the discipline exists to consider.  True academic journals, the ones in which academic articles that count toward advancement in career, employ peer review; fellow academics in one’s discipline evaluate submitted work and determine whether or not it is good enough for publication.

One cannot advance in rank in an academic position unless his or her peers approve of the work and, without that approval one cannot continue on in his or her position, two few publications in true academic journals cause for dismissal.

Some, myself included, somehow managed to keep from being fired despite poor publication records, in my case, articles with my name on them appeared seven times in approved journals seven times in my probationary year, and extra year I somehow convinced administrators to give me so that I could make up for what I had not done in the normally allotted time period for showing adequate progress for tenure and promotion.

I kept my job and was given tenure and promotion and then wrote very few academic articles in the 21 years subsequent to my being promoted from assistant professor to the rank of associate professor, a rank below full professor, the rank of highest order of academic standing.

I must admit that during those 21 years I felt lowly but not for the goodness or the quality of the work I did and what I achieved for myself or others during those years.  I won’t go into detail as to what the work was or why anyone should have considered it important work but I will say that I was more involved in projects that I felt to be necessary and essential, more important and more needed than what I could have achieved doing the kind of research that the successful people in my discipline, education, typically involved themselves.

I could have written papers.  My colleagues and my supervisors told me that I was, at least, an okay thinker, and a truly good writer, that what I wrote was pretty good but that what I wrote about wasn’t what a successful person in the field was supposed to write about.  In essence, I was more interested in establishing criteria that could be used to define good education, education that effectively promoted the growth and development of human intelligence.  The research I was reading, research my colleagues were conducting, with great frequency, showed that the methodologies they were testing in there research were effective and the reason why so many methodologies of very different types, types that were often antithetical to one another, could all be effective was because the meaning of effective was different in the one and the other.

I would read “the literature” and most all of the time, find little in it that I could use to change instructional practice for the better because so little was said in the “studies” about the nature of what was being achieved, most of the data being reported in the form of numbers that told me nothing about what it was that was actually going on in the minds of students who were being taught using the methods the papers were reporting and, usually, trying to justify.  Who cares of 90 percent of a group of students scored in the 90th percentile on a test administered as the outcome measure for a study?  Who should care unless the outcome measure was justified in terms of what it measured being an important gain for students (called subjects in the articles) in terms of understandings and growth of intellectual abilities?

Since my peers, those who would have reviewed my articles– had I written them—would be looking to see if I had a proper understanding of “the field,” the research that had been done prior to my writing my papers, since I found little of value in that earlier research, since I was apt to spend most of my time involved in projects that provided me opportunity to work with those who would be subjects, students and teachers, what I knew of the field came from my interactions with those who were being treated through instructional interventions, their efficacy proven by the kind of studies I was so reluctant to read or to take seriously when I did read them.

For all of those years in education, I encountered few treatments that worked well enough for them to in anyway change the manner in which students were being educated, this, in part, because it was typical for any given treatment to last very long as the research sanctioned one.  New interventions were being implemented every few years if not every few weeks and, despite that they were certified effective through the research, subsequent research would inevitably show that they were either not effective or less effective than the newest treatment taking their place.

I came to see the academic, research based approach to education a farce, a farce that stood in the place of a meaningful discourse that could make better an educational system that, considering the constant need for new methodologies to replace the old tried and untrue methodologies, was very much in need of something that was actually good methodology.

I spent my time thinking about what students, to grow up smart, to get ever smarter by way of good education, needed and what they would show themselves to be able to do if they had actually grown from the educational experience.  I talked a lot to teachers and I talked a lot to students, students in the K-12 schools and in those who I taught at the university and I read a lot about thinking, the kind of thinking people seemed to be doing if one talked to them and heard what others were saying about them, what others were writing about themselves and others, how people were behaving in the world and what their behavior might mean in terms of the kind of thinking they were or were not doing.

And I reached conclusions, some with short life span, others achieving permanency, that helped me to build an understanding of what schools might be able to, should be able, could provide students to help them grow their smarts, to behave smartly in response to the contingencies of life on this planet and, more particularly, as citizens of a society that should be democratic and that is only partially that but most definitely capitalistic.

I wrote a lot about what I was discovering but did not publish because my methods of discovery were not properly scientific in nature.  I was never systematic in my approach, my methods more those of novelists and biographers than empirical researcher.  There may have been places to publish my writing, and I tried on occasion to publish—succeeded once in a while—but never tried hard enough to move forward in rank, up through the field.  Instead, I did with my work what I thought would make the work worthwhile.  I tried to build whole programs rather than spend my time with interventions, whole programs that would make use of what I had discovered about learning—the rightness of my findings often confirmed in forms of literature of the non-academic variety—in ways that were substantial and authentic, schools and classrooms rather than lessons that would, because of the principles upon which they were created, offer lessons that would promote substantial growth in thinking ability and meaningful understanding of how intelligent beings go about understanding the universe in which they live and making decisions concerning their lives in that universe that are properly informed and sensible.

I started schools and programs that were based upon the principles of learning I had come to understand as being efficacious, that encouraged individuality (a most important aspect of existence as a human being), individual thinking grounded in good knowledge and sound reasoning, and, yes, high levels of respect for the capacities of humans as beings capable of making good sense of the things they encounter in life and good sense decisions based on that good sense of things.  I worked to create teacher education projects in which the principles were discussed, scrutinized and critiqued by those who were or who would teach so that, at some point along the way, their teaching would be principled, their instructional judgments guided not by edicts and teachers’ manuals, but by thoughtful evaluation of the instructional situation—the teacher-student relationship, the relationship of both to the world, the kind of thinking in which they were engaged and understanding of how to encourage growth in self and in others, student to teacher, teacher to student.

I tried and I went about doing things as I did because I really did care to make better something I knew to be not nearly good enough and I could not do this very well if I would allow myself to be trapped in by a framework and an ethos that was born of others willingness to get with the program rather than evaluate the program and adjust or abandon the program if goals based in meaningful principles of understanding were not being met.  I was not a rebel to be a rebel.  I was not a poor academic because I wanted to be a poor academic.  I wanted to get something done that could only be done if I had a proper platform and proper credentials to get where I needed to be to get at what I wanted and needed to get at.  Academia was the place where the platform was to be found but the only way to make things meaningful, the only way for me to be at all productive was to flout the rules on principle, do what I had to do to keep from getting thrown out while, at the same time, keep from getting thrown out.


I have published for years now using this platform and without any expectation that I will be rewarded for the effort.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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