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Post-Operative Snarky Shorts

May 20, 2013, 4:31 pm

The rest is up to you

I’ve had this tile for almost three decades, but it captures my current state. You can purchase it, and others, here.

You are used to faculty melting away at the end of the semester, not to be seen again until the first days of fall term. But bloggers? We are just getting going in May! So where has Tenured Radical been? And why doth ze not post?

Suffice to say that I am considering a name change to Tenured Bionic Radical, after having undergone full knee replacement surgery.  Since I am back at the keyboard, things are obviously improving, but until more energy accrues, and the physical therapy regime is organized, fans of the Radical may have to be content with snarky shorts.

So let’s go!

Where’s the IRB on this one? If you were experimenting on captive schoolchildren as part of a university research project, you would have to undergo a complete review, right? Well, try doing it as a private testing company with a major state contract, and it’s just fine. Javier Hernandez of The New York Times reports that public school students in New York state are slated to take double tests, beginning this spring, so that a private testing company with a multi-million dollar contract can prepare for implementation of the Common Core standards in 2015. (Personal note: one of my informants in the New Haven public school system told me that double testing was implemented in Connecticut last fall, and yet no hue or cry was raised.)

Let’s hear from Christine Quinn, the top candidate for mayor of New York City, pending Anthony Weiner’s expected announcement later this week (side question: who do you want to succeed Mike Bloomberg? A femme-domme lesbian or a pervy, sexting Congressman? I’ll take Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.) Quinn announced: ““There is simply no reason why we’re having children be guinea pigs….For God’s sake, we pay these testing companies enough that they should do their own focus groups.” I’m glad she feels this way, but does Quinn really not know that children have been exploited as testing company guinea pigs for decades? Really?

I say, let’s just stop the tests. All of them. Think of the money and time we will save, and what students might learn. Speaking of core curricula…..

Harr! It’s Pirate Day! No! Culture Warrior Donald Kagan is retiring! Peter Monaghan of the CHE reports that this distinguished Yale professor of classics and history is vacating the chair at the ripe age of 81.  Kagan was part of what I would call the greatest generation, if the phrase hadn’t been stolen already by the people selling World War II as an ongoing parade of television trinkets. These MENZ to which I refer were the writers, humanists, scientists and other scholars — most of them first-generation Americans and first generation college students, and many of them Jews previously shunned by the Ivy League — who came out of New York City’s public colleges during the Cold War to dominate intellectual life in the United States. Like Kagan, many of these scholars embraced ideas about the supremacy of so-called Western culture, an academic religion of sorts that would take a severe kicking by the 1970s as folks who weren’t white, straight, and male started laying a claim on civilization. Despite protests to the contrary, they probably won. Along came Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and a host of other folk who turned the idea of Western Civilization into a national political religion, giving us rollback, Iran-Contra, high stakes testing, Desert Storm, the War on Terror, Guantanamo, and Arizona House Bill 2281 — among other things. Meanwhile, the game-changing values of New Left scholarship seem to be slipping through our fingers like sands in the hourglass of time.

Was Donald Kagan — a remarkable teacher and scholar — responsible for all of this? Hell no. But he has stuck to his guns throughout culture wars and shooting wars: go here for the full story of a long, contentious and yet to be completed career on the academic right.

Speaking of conservatives…. In a grouchy, drug-addled haze I grabbed a book off my to-read pile that had in its subtitle “and the Rise of the New Right.” I thought — don’t we have enough literature on post-war conservatism to debunk, now and forever, that there was anything as simple as the New Right, or that it wasn’t plugging along throughout the twentieth century without any need to rise at all? Isn’t it funny how many thousands of academic books and articles insist on a field  category that they are systematically debunking?  If you have recently used this phrase in your book or article there is no need to defend yourself, but if you are about to send something out for review,  consider yourself warned. Which takes us to a related, final category of snark…..

The Department of Hackneyed Academic Phrases.  In an attempt to balance the machine that is supposed to bring my cyborg knee to full function over the next weeks, I realized that, in the absence of the collected essays of Donna Haraway, an unread history journal would do the trick. I pulled a volume off the shelf at random and wedged it under the electronic beast. Later, when my PT was done, I read it. Imagine.

This is how my testy self became aware of the Words and Phrases No One Should Ever Use Again. Editors of major history journals should eliminate them instantly if they hope that their product will survive the Internet Revolution.

  • “paint a portrait”
  • “a growing literature;”
  • “discourse” — unless you are actually are writing about discourse theory you should never fucking use this word ever, even in conversation;
  • “I argue/suggest/propose;”
  • The polite, deferential rebukes to senior scholars whose interest the author is coyly trying to attract, as if in a Jane Austen novel: “many have argued,” “largely overlooked,” “studied in isolation;” “too often ignored;”
  • “The historiography/literature in the field demonstrates convincingly that….and yet;”
  • “construct” — worst when used in the passive voice, or in combination with the word “discourse;”
  • “Thus;”
  • “This essay;”
  • “Thus, this essay/article/book seeks to correct a major lacuna in the field.”

How many great articles have introductions littered with verbal tripe that isn’t worthy of the often excellent research below the jump? How many bright new ideas are being masticated by the young and barfed up in old-fashioned prose that the prim gatekeepers of tenure can approve?
Too many.

Editors, do your writers — particularly the young ones — a favor by helping them rid their prose of the prim, seminar room deference that is making their work stodgy and unreadable. Better yet, stop requiring them to lead readers by the hand through boring literature reviews as if we too were all either graduate students or doddery old farts. Readers, please amuse me — and each other — by adding your own writing snark to the comments section.

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