While I treadmill I like to read the internet on my little netbook. It makes the time pass quickly and expands the usefulness of exercise in my mind.
Yesterday I lined up several articles to read while I was exercising. But I was drawn in to an unattributed article on The Economist web site: “The Disposable Academic: why doing a phd is a waste of time.”
I myself have had a hate/love relationship with college all my life.
When I was considering college, my father arranged for me to have a lunch with Robert Anderson who later became president of the college my father graduated from. He gave me sage advice about college from the inside. He told me it was like any institution and was best approached on its own screwd up terms.
I thought of this conversation often as I later attended several colleges.
Throughout my life I haven’t had a lot of advice. My father tended to keep his distance both emotionally and intellectually. But I can remember the people who have advised me.
At the first college I attended (Flint U of M) I quickly became dissatisfied with my English major classes. Admittedly the advisors put me in the advanced classes including an interesting experimental seminar which met weekly for discussions and assigned reading. I got something out of my logic and French classes there, but for the most part my head was moving away from college.
I remember a final conversation with a counselor there in which I told him I was going to eventually study harpsichord and that I needed some time away from school.
I eventually did study harpsichord years later. People who know me now are not very aware of my skills in this area. Recently a local college teacher told me there was no way that the college would loan my church its harpsichord for a performance. She was surprised that I would even consider it possible.
Actually it’s not that preposterous for a college to loan a harpsichord out especially to someone who plays it competently (that would be me). This is assuming that the college is interested in spreading and supporting the arts locally.
This is an example of how institutions blithely ignore the realities of content while emphasizing one’s ability to get credentials that in themselves often do not indicate any level of understanding. I sometimes say that my degrees do mean something because I got a good education.
I threw myself into school when I returned to Ohio Wesleyan where I studied composition and piano for a couple of years. From that point on in my life I was motivated by a passion for music which I still have.
There were a couple of good teachers there that helped me. Eventually I wound up studying at Wayne State University. Here I studied organ and church music. Undoubtedly I received an excellent and well rounded education at WSU. Not only in my music course but in the other non-major courses. They were excellent and affect the way I think to this day (Nutrition, Physical Anthropology, Poly Sci).
My organ/harpsichord teacher and mentor was Ray Ferguson. Ray had a Masters degree from Oberlin. He also was an active performer in Detroit and was the DSO organist. He was an excellent harpsichordist and while I knew him continued his education with excellent people all over the world.
He told me that all I needed was a Masters degree. I’m not sure if he thought I was doctorate material but what he said was that I wouldn’t need one. So far he has been correct. The article I linked at the beginning of this post paints a bleak picture of the need for doctorates at the university level. It reminded me of Ray’s comments.
I am interested in learning but have never set my sights on a full time teaching position. I have some skepticism about the purpose of the university institution as an arena of learning (This stems directly but not exclusively from my conversation with Nicholson mentioned above). Many professors I have known are obviously not curious people. They are trying to make the system work for them as individuals. But they are not primarily interested in helping others learn.
Any college student paying attention can reel off a list of people like this.
I did some adjunct teaching at GVSU. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed sharing my passion with students and learning about theirs. The man who hired me was temporary chair of the music department. When the new chair came in, I don’t think he saw me as an asset. Rather I was an old guy with a masters degree who wasn’t interested in shit adjunct assignments. After I refused a couple of classes, he quit offering me work.
This was probably because he was trying to get the professors to teach more and was trimming the adjuncts down to people who would jump when he said to. I remember him telling me (he was my age or a bit younger) that he and his colleagues had done their share of adjunct teaching. He implied it was a way of paying dues. He also said church music was a tough way to make a living. In that he was right, I guess. I have been underpaid for most of my career in this area, but have managed to pay bills combining two lousy incomes (Eileen’s and mine).
But church music has been a place where I have been able to live out my passion.
Craig Cramer, my teacher at Notre Dame (where I did my masters) had a doctorate from Eastman. The ideal behind a doctorate is that it is original research that contributes something to the conversation of ideas in a field.
This turns out to be a rarity. Craig consistently ridiculed his thesis. It was about an obscure French composer, Alexandre Pierre François Boëly. I never heard Craig play any of this guy’s work. In fact I never heard him speak well of him.
It was obvious that he wasn’t that interested in the research, that it was a way for him to get his doctorate. I don’t fault him for that at all. I do think that he has a good mind and is a good player and learned quite a bit from him.
Well this post is longer than I wanted it to be. I was going to close with the links to the other articles I found yesterday but will save those for another time.
At this time of my life I can look at my own abilities and education and feel satisfied that I continue to learn and extend my formal education by composing, studying, reading, practicing and performing. This is how my passion continues.