An Accidental Professor

CrucetI love reading stories of professors raised in working-class families.  I thus need to read Jennine Capo Crucet’s recent book My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education.  The Atlantic is running a piece based on the book.  Here is a taste:

I am a first-generation college student, and the idea of becoming a professor—one of those people who seemed to emanate brilliance and poise, the people who made knowledge!—felt like too big of a leap for me, as someone who comes from a working-class family of electricians. Add to this the fact that the majority of my professors were white, and that most of them were male, and that most of the books they taught and deemed important enough to be covered in survey courses were written by straight white men, and you can see how a Cuban girl from Miami could come to think academia wasn’t the place for her.

When it came to having the privilege of choosing a career path, I did what people who’ve internalized systemic oppression sometimes do: I aimed for something different that felt more appropriate, more attainable. I decided I’d make a good high-school English teacher. I’d still get to talk about books and teach people to love and value the act of writing. And I’d have summers to work on all the novels and short stories I wanted to write.

Then something happened that very subtly set me on a different path. What happened was that I stayed up too late one night in my dorm, and I went in on pizza with some girls on my floor, and we got to talking about what we hoped to do with our lives. Of the four other women in the room, three of them had at least one parent who was a lawyer. I was searching my brain for what they would consider the right answer, which I somehow intuited was not high-school English teacher. When they asked me, I blurted out what I thought was an appropriately upgraded version of my dream: “I want to be an English professor.” And the minute I said it, I knew it could be true.

I genuinely did not think I was smart enough to be a professor. Even today, when I think of a professor, the image that comes to my mind is of a specific white man, James Adams, a scholar of Victorian literature who wore a for-real tweed jacket—with the elbow patches and everything—and who was so freaky smart and accomplished that I remember tracing my fingers over the written comments he’d add at the end of my papers, hoping his brilliance would somehow transfer to me that way. But I knew when the sentence came out of my mouth that I wanted to be someone who made knowledge, who got to live in books and in theories about books, who got to spend her life writing while teaching future generations of writers how to pick apart the books they loved and discover how they were built.

Read the entire piece here.

4 thoughts on “An Accidental Professor

  1. Tony,

    Eloquently stated truth! I wonder how much the parents of Ms. Crucet’s students are paying in tuition for the “privilege” of their kids hearing her sophomoric sermonizing? It’s really tragic that the academy caters to people like this.

    James

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  2. Tony: Some of your points here may certainly be worth considering. But your searing sarcasm and general critical spirit does not invite dialogue. Instead, many who read your posts might be more inclined to “punch you in the face” (to quote a recent sermon I heard in a certain church) than engage you in a civil dialogue about these issues. This kind of tone is not helpful and not conducive to the kinds of discussions I would like to have at this blog. Perhaps you disagree. If so, then please take your comments elsewhere. Thanks.

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  3. Tony,

    Do you have any idea how accurate it really is to say that higher education in America was oriented to white straight males, to the exclusion of people who did not meet that criteria? It’s not an imaginary criticism. It’s based in real history.

    I’m wondering how you know what teaching really is. Where did you get your degree from? How many courses have you taught?

    And more importantly, are you a white straight male complaining that the female person of color is doing it wrong because she’s not sanctioning, validating, or pardoning y/our demographic?

    Because that would look a lot like you were accidentally affirming the pervasive bias she has identified, like, in your mind, if it doesn’t make straight white people feel comfortable it’s not really educational.

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  4. Ms. Crucet may be an excellent writer, and she may have an inspiring personal story, but what comes across most clearly in reading the linked piece is that she is an avid curator and promoter of identity-based grievance, to the detriment of any student who is seeking knowledge and open discourse, as opposed to now- ubiquitous-in-academia ideological ranting.

    “I teach as if I have nothing to lose, which helps me tell my students the truth — about why the faces in the room are mostly a certain color, or about how we are all part of an oppressive structure perpetuating all sorts of bigotry just by sitting in that room.”

    That sounds like a fun class. I wonder if John ever told his class that they were all, students and teacher alike, perpetuating bigotry by sitting and reading Federalist 10.

    So: too many white-faced students in those seats. And repeat this deep and revealed truthiness: the mere act of being in the classroom perpetuates bigotry most foul. Now class, breathe deeply of the intoxicating combination of collective guilt and victimization. I love the smell of Critical [fill in the blank] Studies in the morning. It smells like: tenure.

    Whatever this is, it isn’t teaching. Maybe it’s personal catharsis, maybe it’s an oral oppression manifesto to a captive audience, maybe it’s a rousing preamble to a future Elizabeth Warren stump speech. Sadly, it is what increasingly passes for instruction in far too many of our institutions of higher learning, which may explain why more and more people are increasingly unwilling to pay for this kind of nonsense.

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