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Setting them to sea

Academics have a strange way of alienating people around them. While held in some esteem and with an almost mythic status in the community, they tend to be one thing to the public and quite another to each other.

The object, of course, is to filter out the riff-raff of humanity and of thought. It works, and it works well. Human knowledge keeps marching forward, skidding off the track here and there (phrenology, orientology, eugenics, and light therapy) but mostly it allows itself to “come out in the wash.”

Academics, as an endeavor, is fun, too. The arcane and impossible, the theoretic and the real. It’s all very challenging and wonderful. After all, what other kind of undertaking demands you read and read and read, and write, and read–and so much cool stuff?

But academics are fussy people. Territorial, mean-spirited, jealous, and bitchy. They form an exclusive club, after all, and they are not going let just anyone in.

I am teaching again after several years. The Bush Recession, the Bush Credit Crisis, and the Bush Government Give-Away has slowed work in my trade–I’m a union ironworker–to just a drip off the end of a dewy spudwrench. So, having an advanced degree in American History, I headed back to the classroom.

It’s a great place to be. The students, when they come to class, are sponges. It is amazing to watch them begin to understand the mechanisms of change for the first time, despite all the grade and high school (and often) college history they have taken.

Plus, it’s community college. The students are soms and daughters of workers and immigrants. Rich kids only get there because they got kicked out of someplace else.

But the air of academe infests the place. Words between colleagues are subjects or correction, scrutiny, and criticism. The joy they once felt of inquiry is gone, and they let it go. It’s sad and I feel bad for them.

Not that there aren’t those who still feel the enthusiasm of the trade. They make the effort worthwhile. A student can feel the enthusiasm of a teacher who gets jacked up over their material and their subject.

After just three or four months of being back in higher ed, however, I’ve grown tired of the run-of-the-mill academic. The tired, persnickity territorialism, the constant competition, the petty politics.

I thought, for a moment yesterday, that we ought to gather up these tiresome types and put them on what my pal Iron Dan calls, “The Boat.” It’s a boat loaded with the irritating, fussy, and bitchy that gets set adrift at sea. Dan, of course, wants to sink “The Boat” over the Marianas Trench, but I’m a little queasy about that–I’m just not the genocidal type.

Then I thought about it again and gave up the “Boat” idea. I have only ever seen the sea twice in my life. I like the sea and am a lover of sea stories. All those academics would just ruin it.

I just hope I can walk out of school in May onto a bridgedeck or some high steel.

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