2 weeks in.
I feel a lot better about school than I did a week ago. My schedule is more or less set, about half my classes are in the Journalism school, and I have keys, computer access, a mailbox, a webpage, and even a locker there now. It’s a good thing I have so much practice at being a squeaky wheel.
There are a lot of things about grad school that still make me uncomfortable. Or, to be more precise, about academic culture, in which so much of what goes on seems to be purely self-referential.
I’ve gone on about this before, but it hasn’t stopped bothering me that there often seems to be a tendency among academics to be completely divorced from reality, to the point of being concerned more about the field than the subject.
I don’t want to think this comes down to a lack of faith in knowledge in the abstract. There is, and I think will always be, part of me that is inspired by any pursuit undertaken out of genuine passion, even if it’s not demonstrably useful. After all, it’s pretty hard to justify art in concrete terms, but I’d hate to live in a world without it. And you could definitely make a case for even the most esoteric study of literature or prehistory as rooted in a desire for insight into the human condition.
But I’m very discouraged by a lot of work and talk that seems to be motivated by one-upmanship, making a name for oneself, and the other petty vices of academic politics. The academy can seem like an airless world, where whatever spark of curiosity students start off with is more easily extinguished than ignited.
It makes me more certain I was right to kick and scream until I got more access to the journalism school. The field of journalism is definitely not innocent of back-stabbing, self-aggrandizement, intellectual laziness and a thousand other crimes great and small. But because of the very nature of the profession, the public, the wider world, is always at the forefront of journalists’ minds.
And people here, so far, do seem to be very concerned not only with trying to explore, understand and explain the world, but also with the impact their work has on society as a whole.
After a few hours discussing what someone said about someone else’s article about pre-modern history, it’s refreshing to go to a class with people who write, or intend to write, about Asia, and be forced to examine how media coverage of non-violent vs. violent protests feeds into social instability.
I’m hoping a balance between the two will keep me sane. And honest.