Friday, February 27, 2015
with or without a profession
The system works because so many people have internalized the larger structure of power and exploitation. The institution creates a set of bad working conditions, and individuals implement those conditions by doing the work of maintaining the workforce. The institution says that teachers are peripheral, temporary, inconsequential, exploitable, replaceable, interchangeable, and the etc. Some individuals rise above these messages to bring care and thought into their work maintaining the workforce in their particular areas or departments. Some individuals on the other hand--either through overt interest in exerting power or seemingly less culpable thoughtlessness--create and perpetuate working conditions that are not sustainable for contingent workers. And by their contingency, the workers may not last long under such conditions unless they internalize their own inadequacy and believe they don’t deserve to be treated any better, not like valued workers or people at all. Certainly, any idea of professional respect becomes irrelevant because if these contingent workers were seen as professionals, the system and the individuals who perpetuate it would have to treat them entirely differently. And when one or more contingent, non-professional, expendable teachers starts to ask for more or to be treated better, the system and the individuals who perpetuate it crack down. Individuals are afraid to have their own power and control threatened. Or individuals who don’ t have power but are in better positions than the contingent, exploitable teachers are afraid to lose ground, or are too busy worrying about their own state of affairs in the world to be of support for the expendables. But they don’t realize their ignorance and thoughtlessness have consequences. One cannot choose when to be or not to be responsible to the welfare of others. If one is in a position to advocate for others, to support workers as deserving of respect, to promote their being treated as professionals, than she has a responsibility to do that. Instead, there is a lot of denial and choosing not to be responsible when that seems more convenient than taking any kind of stand. More disheartening is when an individual who believes that she has a personal philosophy or politics of advocacy for those mistreated in society, that she or he is on the side of those with little voice to advocate for themselves, insists on remaining ignorant about the situations of those immediately around her. It becomes easy to convince oneself that the part-time, expendable teachers are lucky to be given the opportunity to do the teaching, to participate in the things that go along with the teaching. One can even believe she is doing great favors for the contingent by being a kind of person who is better than one who would exploit others. But often this situation can easily and quickly come to resemble the example of the ignorant white women in the south, sending money and gifts to people in Africa while exploiting and abusing the African Americans immediately around them (I just watched the movie The Help, and although there are so many complicated things to say about this film (even while the movie often oversimplifies instead of complicates), it does a good job of showing stupidity and ignorance… though, unfortunately, the kind of ignorance that is less obnoxious is just as dangerous). One has to choose to be more responsible to one’s politics and to the concerns of others instead of deciding not to pay attention.
I have recently been working in two jobs in which I am treated with respect and as a professional teacher and thinker. I am also involved with the union which advocates that workers be treated with respect and fairness, and stands up for those who are being exploited. But the union can only make progress a little at a time when the challenge of mistreatment is so systemic and pervasive. The union works on behalf of the workers and toward the long future of better conditions. In the meantime, individuals continue, and sometimes ramp up, their anti-worker practices. Because I have begun to experience better working conditions, supported by the union and perpetuated by individuals who are more thoughtful and genuinely care about the conditions of the workers around them, I have come to see my larger situation is a different light. I enjoy being treated as a professional, which in fact I am, and this makes being invisible, and even mistreated, in the other job, more difficult to deal with on a regular basis. The problem is that the two jobs with better working conditions don’t pay enough and don’t have enough consistent work for me to stop doing the job that is beating me down. The institution, the system, still wins. This is a common problem among so many workers in our new world order. In fact, I know that I have it so much better than many people who really are limited by choices (few or none of them) and circumstances. In this job of poor working conditions, in which so many people beside me are being mistreated and disrespected, I can’t do enough to help them all, and this makes me feel even more defeated. In reality, if I didn’t have that job, I would survive by doing something else. But I also feel like the injustices should be addressed (again, at this moment, I hear the individuals who have the power within themselves to do better exclaiming, “injustices?” “You are lucky to have this job at all, you should be grateful and not cause trouble!” or some fake version of what an administrator told me straight to my face, “But you have to believe that we do respect and value our lecturers” and then immediately turned down the grievance about an unquestionable part of the bargaining agreement). I have been in a position, though without any actual power, to advocate for others. And I have come to question if it has yet done any good. More disrespect is being handed down. I have to choose to fight or jump ship. Weary of the fight with Fox News, even Jon Stewart is stepping to the side. By sweeping individuals who could and should do better into its wake, the system of exploitation is winning. That is, except in places where the individuals have decided to do better than the system expects of them.
To find out more about this mini-essay project see the Introduction:The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015