My issue with academia

May 19, 2008 § 1 Comment

I met with my new favorite professor today for coffee to discuss my essay. I got a pretty good mark on it too, but still not the “first class” mark, so to speak. (Forgive me, the British grading system is complicated and confusing and doesn’t really relate to the American system, but if I had to say, it would be like getting a B+ or an A- instead of an A or A+.

The reason my mark was not “first class,” she said, was because it was written in a conversational style. The ideas and content of my paper were excellent, she said, but I lost points because of my informal writing style. She said this essay, in terms of content, is good enough to be publishable, but most likely would be rejected because of the writing style.

First of all… WAHOO!!! Despite the bad part, it is totally awesome that she thinks the content is good enough to be published! That makes me feel really great.

I’ve always known I’ve had a casual, informal, conversational writing style. I think it comes from my background in journalism. But it’s more than just a style I’ve adopted over the years. I write informally because I BELIEVE in it.

I am an anti-elitism, anti-snobbery person. I think it is completely pompous to write in jargon that only a few, highly educated peers can understand. I don’t see why I need to use big words to explain an intellectual concept, when regular words can do the job equally well without alienating readers.  As my dad’s bumper sticker says, “eschew obfuscation.”

I write because I want my ideas to be understood, and I want them to be understood by a general audience. I can already see this is going to be my biggest problem with academia. Scholars write for a very small, highly specialized audience. That just ain’t my style, baby.

I have always had something to say, and whether it’s my views on sex education or my critique of Diane Negra’s essay entitled “Irishness, Innocence, and American Identity Politics before and after September 11,” I want people to hear what I have to say. Not just the two or three other scholars in my field, but regular people. I want my parents to understand, and my grandparents, and my friends, and any ol’ person who might be interested in what I’m writing about.

I would rather be a public intellectual* than a scholar. I still believe in democracy, public service, and the importance of a free press. I think there is a reason we teach all children to read. I believe that ideas should be shared, and the more accessible they are, the better. I think academic writing is very closely tied to traditional, stuffy ideas about class and exclusivity. And that goes for higher ed in all countries, even our own dear USA.

*Now I’m going to get all scholarly on you and throw in a footnote. A “public intellectual,” is described by Edward Said as “as exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries to speak truth to power.” The “amateur” is important here, since an amateur is not an expert, and therefore not confined within tight scholarly circles. Also, I like the idea of “speaking truth to power,” rather than squabbling over semantics with scholars.

So basically, I don’t want to change my writing style to better suit academia. I don’t want to compromise my values and beliefs just to be accepted by the academic community.

This is just further evidence that a PhD might not be right for me.

Cause big words n’ shit? That just ain’t how I roll.

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