Pedagogy of the Adjuncts

I really enjoyed both Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Teaching as a Subversive Activity and found, unexpectedly, lots of similarities. For instance, Freire advocates “problem-posing pedagogy” and ? advocates the “inquiry method.” Both seem to mean posing problems that students then discuss, and that then lead to more problems, rather than easy answers. Both also emphasize that students themselves should engage in critical inquiry, asking questions and gathering information in order to confront the reality of their own situations, rather than being “submerged” as Freire puts it in the oppressors’ (or adults’) reality. Both also share the idea that public education (ostensibly including university education) is basically intended to keep people submerged, to distract people from reality, rather than exposing them to it.

There is also an important difference between Freire and Postman, however—that Postman’s system is geared to “help young people master concepts of survival in a rapidly changing world,” while Freire’s goal is Marxist revolution. Though I am continually encouraged to think creatively and critically in many of my undergraduate and graduate classes, I think many of us connected to the university system often ignore the oppressive nature of the university itself, which Freire would likely point out, as far as it is possible to do so.

I am going to school for my doctorate (as we all are) to (hopefully) become a tenure-track professor. While I am committed to my career path for many reasons—because I want to teach others how to think critically and to enjoy literature, and because I have an incurable passion for literature myself, I am also honest about the economic dimensions of my dream. I like to travel and listen to Beethoven!

On the other hand, that middle-class reality is not happening for many teachers of English who are struggling to make a living as adjuncts. I see clearly that many teachers are themselves oppressed, and yet I, and I think many others, still cling to the hope of a tenure-track job, rather than addressing ourselves to the question of how the whole university teaching system might be reformed, even when we know it is likely to become our problem in earnest if we become adjuncts. I know this post is a bit rambly, but it (hopefully) sets forth my big question: How can we not only implement Freire in our classrooms, but also address the reality that the university itself is an oppressive system (hopefully while remaining a part of it)?

4 thoughts on “Pedagogy of the Adjuncts

  1. Iris Cushing

    With regard to the question you pose, Elissa, in the last paragraph here–“How can we not only implement Freire in our classrooms, but also address the reality that the university itself is an oppressive system (hopefully while remaining a part of it)?”–I’d like to bring in some of what Friere says in Ch. 4 about who owns labor and who sells labor. In note number 18 at the bottom of p. 143, he quotes Bishop Franic Split: ” If the workers do not become in some way the owners of their laobr, all structural reforms will be ineffective.” He goes on to talk about the purchase or sale of one’s labor as forms of slavery. I’m not the most well-versed in Marxist theory–which I think this is a clear example of–but I do think it has a direct bearing on the role of adjuncts in the contemporary University system writ large. As adjuncts, are we the owners or the sellers of our labor?
    My immediate instinct is to consider adjunct work (which I as well as many of our colleagues at the GC participate in) a way of selling our labor. But I’m not 100% sure, and I’m wary of claiming that the work I do is a form of slavery. The usual rhetorical process I use in thinking about adjuncting as selling labor is comparing how much adjuncts get paid to how much those widely considered “laborers” get paid. I’m making a somewhat-sweeping claim here, but I think it’s true that in many cases, the pay rates for adjuncts are not significantly higher than what one would make, say, as a server in a restaurant. Freire’s critiques have got me thinking about other (especially pedagogical) ways in which adjuncting constitutes a sale of labor. I would love to talk about these ways in class!

    1. Elissa Myers Post author

      To follow up on our discussion in class last week about the conditions of adjunct labor, here is a link to an article I found today on the Chronicle of Higher Education about the Adjunct Project: I had seen things floating around about this, but didn’t know what it was until I found this article. It is good to know people are starting to think about academic labor as a systemic issue. Enjoy!

  2. Chelsea Wall

    I’m jumping on the bandwagon a little late here, but I was just assigned to read excerpts from Rob Nixon’s ecocritical-postcolonial text Slow Violence for another course, and I think it’s helpful to use some of his ideas to contextualize the university system as an oppressive place.

  3. Chelsea Wall

    Obviously I meant to elaborate on that, but I appear to be technologically impaired and don’t know how to edit a post once it’s been released into the world. Anyway, as I was saying, Rob Nixon creates a working definition of violence as anything that limits choice, and I think that the way that the university exploits adjunct labor can effectively be described as choice-limiting. Furthermore, Nixon focuses on the temporalities of violence, stating that our tendency to think of violence as a singular, spectacular event prevents us from understanding the insidious effects of violence that remain after said event. I think this tendency prevents us from being able to see the university system as a violent place. Simply put, the way that our institution is built on what seem at times to be archaic concepts and the fact that it takes such a ridiculously long time to fight for and implement change all characterize it as a place of slow violence, with lingering effects. In addition, another characteristic of slow violence is its tendency to reach its fingers through different generations. Like you are saying, Elissa, at some point the problem is going to become our problem in earnest, therefore we should be more concerned with it, but I think Nixon would postulate that at some level our tenured predecessors were incapable of being concerned with it for the simple fact that it’s difficult to conceptualize violence that isn’t being enacted directly upon us, but rather on the next generation or the generation after that. Just some postcolonial belated food for thought.

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