The author of the review says, "Of the 3,015 papers delivered at the 2007 meeting of the American Sociological Association, the authors say, few 'needed to be written.'" That statement is true and false. True: the papers at such association meetings are most often boring wastes of time (for both the author/reader's and the listeners). False: such papers are required if the author hopes to attain tenure or other perks that go along with "membership" in academia. So authors read, and other authors listen; then, in other years, they change places and do the same kabuki dance while occupying different positions. In many ways, the problem is simple: academia and its conferences are a unified, self-perpetuating organism that has hardly any relevance to the real world but is essential to academia's survival. I know this to be true: I am part of the problem. But, what the hell! My participation in the problem helps pay the bills. And, after all, aren't we all participants in our own payment strategies, most of which might not be terribly relevant to the really significant problems of the so-called real world.
No, I think you're part of the solution R.T. After all, you actually teach.
However, Frank, I remember feeling the pressure as a graduate student when my advisor insisted that I must write and present a paper at a conference if I ever hoped to obtain the degree. Now, having succumbed to the pressure, and having become a bit player in the theater of the absurd we call conferences, I am now a small cog in the academic wheel. Yes, I am mostly turning and grinding away in small circles, but I am always mindful that I am surrounded by much bigger wheels who are intent upon leaving larger ruts in the road (through more papers, more conferences, and more wasted time). And, yes, I persist in the classroom, but my professional life remains complicated every semester by doubts, especially when I think too much in terms of the literature-hating students who are preparing for professions rather than preparing for life. Honestly, I think I was born a century or two too late; I could not have measured up to the scholarly requirements for then, but I think I would have enjoyed teaching more in a time when higher education had really significant meaning.
Speaking as a former or lapsed academic, having given numerous papers at conferences, one thing I noticed during conferences at that time was the growing rise of participants who labeled themselves "Independent Scholar," i.e. not affiliated with a tenure-track university, but who gave some of the most interesting papers at any conference. Something to be said for (partial) outsider status, in terms of clear and exciting thought and writing. And that's where I position myself these days, if I must, as an independent scholar. (I've probably read more theology than most priests, too.)I realize that the autodidact route doesn't help solve the current problems of colleges and universities and what they offer, but on the other hand the very best courses I ever had in college or grad school were those that gave me the skills to continue my own education after the coursework was done. They taught me how to keep learning, as a lifelong practice.
You can be damn sure, Art, (no pun intended) that you've read more theology than most priests. I probably have myself. Of course, as a Catholic, I really don't expect priests to be theologians. I attend Mass for the Consecration.
I should add, Art, that those "skills to continue my own education after the coursework was done" is what education is all about. That doesn't make you an autodidact, since I'm sure you encountered teachers who were important to you. Pure autodidacts -- I've know a few -- only know what they read.
All very good points, Frank. You're right. I do have a short list of teachers, some of whom I would actually call genuine mentors, who are responsible for guiding me towards lifelong learning. I've been lucky in that I've had several mentors among my teachers, from high school through grad school.And I strongly agree, teaching a student how to keep learning is what education is really all about.