Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

John Gardner

It is Thanksgiving season for another year and so I suppose I should reflect on Thanksgiving from the perspective of my life in the academy, and from its place in the current context of our society.

I have been in my profession 44 years. And I am thankful to say that if I could do it all over again, I certainly would have:

·                     chosen the same vocation

·                     chosen to practice it where I could do educational missionary work (the American South)

·                     integrated my practice of education with the larger cause of social justice

·                     focused on low status people—both the kinds of students and educators that serve them that are very often marginalized by both society and even the academy 

Thanksgiving this year comes in the larger context of a period when we have seen:

·                     Our Congress reach new levels of dysfunctionality and the American public perception of the effectiveness of its government reach all time lows

·                     The creditworthiness of our country be downgraded for this first time

·                     The rebirth of student activism at levels not seen since the early 1970’s as in the Occupy Wall Street movement

·                     The revelation of what has become the most sensational scandal involving a university athletic program, one in which there may have been intentional ignoring and cover up of sexual abuse of children by university employees

·                     Unprecedented levels of public rationalization for greed on behalf of the wealthiest Americans

·                     A national consciousness raising of the vast declines in standards of living, the size of the middle class, opportunities for upward social mobility coupled with the notion that we are a country of 99% and 1%  in terms of access to and possession of means, power, opportunity, privilege.

So what am I thankful for?

I am thankful:

·         that I get the privilege to work with such hopeful, ambitious, energetic, creative, high energy students

·         and that I get the same kind of privilege to work with higher educators who really do care about serving students and seeing them improve their lots in life

·         that my work environment is one of academic freedom, coupled with a high degree of personal autonomy

·         that my occupation is still respected by the larger public 

·         that I am in an “industry” that is in more demand than ever by the public

·         that my “industry’s” culture, while increasingly becoming corporatized, is still significantly different from that of the for-profit corporate sector and therefore more focused on human values than monetary ones

·         that my work has redeeming social value and adds value to the lives of both students and educators

·         that my work is personally gratifying

·         that my work enables me to enjoy a decent standard of living in a society where that standard is declining for the majority of my fellow citizens

I could go on. By being a practicing member of the academy I think we still have much to be thankful for, even on our worst days. And I think if we were more intentional about being aware of what we have to be thankful for as higher educators that that attitude might carry over to the students whom we are charged to serve—they deserve that. And we might feel better too.

I hope you had a satisfying Thanksgiving.

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