August 18, 2003

"A Brad DeLong Moment"

This week's recipient of the Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) forgets to thank God, the academy and her family, but makes up for these oversights with what she calls a "Brad DeLong moment."

"Whenever I hear Elaine Showalter speak on the role of the humanities Ph.D.," writes Matilde in the comments to "Weeky IA Award," "I have a very Brad DeLong moment - 'what'? I'm never sure what I find more ridiculously appalling:

1. The notion that the study of literature and history diminishes the need to have dignity in employment and food in the belly of one's children.
2. The implication that long solitary hours devoted to study and writing in a tiny specialty, alternated with crippling criticism and political shenanigans from a committee of elders that has complete power over your career prospects and future income, combined with a long period of delayed consumption, are effective tools to promote a high inner quality of life.
3. The insinuation that persons without a Ph.D. in the humanities lack the training to obtain a satisfyingly complex inner life.

A wonderful comment, and one which raises a question of obvious topical interest and of potentially global significance: has the phrase "Brad DeLong moment" been trademarked?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at August 18, 2003 12:49 PM

Hmmm....if I patent "having a Brad DeLong moment", can I sue Brad DeLong for using my patented phrase?

I've got to speak with my lawyers at Fox News and find out....;).

Posted by: Matilde at August 18, 2003 05:12 PM

Better hurry up and register the phrase before Brad DeLong finds out.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at August 18, 2003 05:34 PM

I'm really of two minds about this. On one hand, the notion that the current pedagogy for any humanities Ph.D helps one achieve a deeper, richer, more humane intellect is flatly stupid, and Showalter or anyone who says it deserves to be laughed off the stage. Most of the current intellectual fashions and theoretical guideposts in humanities graduate education actively crap on the idea of the humane intellect or of the notion of the meaningful cultivation of self.

On the other hand, that's what I think undergraduate liberal arts education *ought* to be about: the production of a better class of democratic citizen. And if undergraduate education can be about that (it's mostly not, but it could be) why not extend that effort through more study? Well, perhaps because there is a law of diminishing returns--if you're training people to think critically about the world, and handing them a toolkit to assemble transportable forms of knowledge, perhaps at some point, further study is keeping the birds in the nest too long. Still, it's clear that there is room for what one might call an "extension approach" to graduate study, something that takes the premises of a liberal arts education and refreshes, redirects and deepens them. Such a thing does not exist in the halls of our best universities. The closest you can find to it is in community colleges and in the "adult education" programs offered by some universities.

Those are the real models if that's what we want, not doctoral humanities programs. There, if one's spirit is refreshed or intellect deepened, it's by accident or auto-didactic effort, not by pedagogical design. I'd rather encounter serendipidity while being gainfully employed somewhere else rather than being a miserable serf in some academic satanic mill grinding out doctoral candidates.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at August 19, 2003 10:11 AM

"I'd rather encounter serendipidity while being gainfully employed somewhere else rather than being a miserable serf in some academic satanic mill grinding out doctoral candidates."

Well said, Timothy Burke.

Posted by: TH Benton at August 19, 2003 10:36 AM