Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Academic Writing, Part Two

On Monday I posted a link to an article from the New Yorker that explored some of the conventions of academic writing, and calls into questions some of our practices. Yet, it also does an excellent job of contextualizing the nature of academic writing and scholarship. It has a wee bit of sympathy for our plight.

The author's article was written in response to a perhaps less friendly critique of today's professors, Professors, We Need You, published in the New York Times.

While the title seems to attempt to reach across what the author conceptualizes as a fairly stark divide between the public and the professoriate (a divide of our own own making, he asserts), it is actually a bit less than friendly. The author harshly judges the nature of our research, and faults us for not being sufficiently engaged with the public. As a social worker professor, I have many colleagues who are doing work within community agencies, and who are deeply involved in public life. I have many colleagues who are working each and every day, for example,  against the criminalization of immigration and its most powerful and deleterious consequences. Perhaps they are not always "advertising" their work- maybe it is time we start to be more open about such efforts. I don't really know, as sometimes keeping out of the media's gaze allows us to be more effective.

Yet, the author raises some important points about the nature of our writing; it clearly can be obtuse, unclear, and can use highly specific jargon. True, our publish/or perish system demands writing for scholarly journals many of which are increasingly obsessed with the deification of quantitative, reductionsistic research. Yes, we need strong quantitative, longitude studies to access the impact of various practices, but there are many, many ways of knowing which are becoming increasingly marginalized. The methods of science are essential, as are those of the humanities.

Yet, is this not a two way street?  Has the American public done enough to value our higher educational system, voting for tax cut after tax cut?

The issues are complex. Read this article, along with Monday's link if you missed it, and please do let us know your thoughts.

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