“He came from a working-class background – his dad drives a truck for Coca-Cola, and he himself has had jobs like warehouseman and forklift driver. Because of all that, he possessed a psychological profile that made thriving in academia difficult: namely, he is self-possessed, confident and utterly lacking in the other-directed brown-nose-itutde that is the mark of the modern professional managerial class. When he realized that most critical theory wasn’t to his taste, he avoided it – except when he had to parrot it back to his professors to pass his field exams. He also didn’t frantically seek lines on his curriculum vitae, grinding the same research into half a dozen all-but-identical conference papers. He didn’t suck up. Instead, all he did was write a brilliant dissertation with a timely and politically relevant theme, in elegant, readable prose. All the while he feasted upon books about every subject under the sun. An insatiable auto-didact; his love of knowledge burns more brightly than that of just about anyone I’ve ever met, and outshines every professor I know. A natural-born teacher, he simultaneously and joyfully practiced the arts of citizenship just about every day of the week…. In a better world, academia would beat a path to this gentleman’s door. Instead, he knows tenured employment is almost unimaginable. So he’s applied to about a hundred jobs this summer, desperate to keep up with his mortgage – every kind of job, including one as an on-campus building manager. He finally ended up with a year-long contract at a private school teaching science to eighth graders. Though he has no particular interest in and no experience with science, he’s glad to be working at all.”
—Rick Perlstein, “On the Death of Democratic Higher Education”
Thanks for pointing the way to this great piece, Matt.
As a (long-)tenured guy, I am well aware of my good fortune and well aware that the kind of work I’ve done will be less and less available to others in the future. It is painful to think about, esp. as I look at former students trying to make their way in the world.
By the way, there are at least two or three excellent collections of first-person accounts by academics from working-class backgrounds. I find much in such accounts that hits home (being one of those people myself).
Re: “there are at least two or three excellent collections of first-person accounts by academics from working-class backgrounds.” Authors and titles?
These are the two I remember most clearly:
This Fine Place So Far from Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class, edited by C.L. Dews.
Reflections from the Wrong Side of the Tracks: Class, Identity, and the Working Class Experience in Academe, edited by C. Vincent Samarco, Stephen L. Muzzatti.
I didn’t realize they’d be so easy to find again: I just typed working class academia into Google Books.
“Instead, all he did was write a brilliant dissertation with a timely and politically relevant theme, in elegant, readable prose. All the while he feasted upon books about every subject under the sun”