The ills of academia

Last week, I met fellow IEDP classmate Alice over chai lattes to initially talk about minimalism, a way of thought that both she and I have been exploring for some time. As the contents of our mugs slowly disappeared, the conversation naturally veered into many avenues. One such avenue was the traps we tend to fall into in academia, whether one is a student or a professor. Here are some of those traps:

  • We have to criticize everything. Now, while this is more of a postmodernist trend (which, you can argue, started in academia in the first place), there does seem to be a habit in academia to be critical of ideas, actions, theories… the list goes on. It seems to be with the goal of finding the truth, or the best practice, but there will always be someone out there will be find fault with your work. As we began our year in IEDP, we learned this early on as we went through the history of development, and it led to a lot of students questioning why they were entering this field in the first place if there was so much bad stuff going on. Opinions have happily improved since then, but whenever we read something for class (IEDP or otherwise), there remains an initial reaction of, “Hm, this could be problematic because…” While I don’t think this is a dangerous trap entirely (it’s good to question and be knowledgable), it can get frustrating at times due to the mainly negative perception surrounding it.
  • We can’t pick a side. Because we’re so critical, and no practice seems to be “the best,” there are times when we cannot decide what to support. Here’s where convictions and your loyalty to them come in, because if you feel strongly about a practice or belief then you’re more likely to pursue that path. However, if you’re more amenable to changing your point of view, or perhaps you’re sensitive to criticism, then your beliefs or practices will change often. Especially for a field like development, fraught with sensitive and ethical issues when it comes to working with populations, how you decide methodology and implementation is crucial. “I think it’s better to just pick a side and go with it!”Alice said exasperatedly to me.
  • We’re stuck in ideas and theories. One of the biggest divides we see in a society is between academics and practitioners. It’s something we discuss often in class and observe in our readings, where an idea, while seemingly good in theory, completely falls apart in practice. We’re also incredibly slow in coming up with those ideas; a good paper or book could take a year at least to be worked on, when a program is needed yesterday. And when that program is studied, it gets criticized for ineffectiveness in one way or another, but it has already clocked in years of impact before any changes from those criticisms are made. The cycle continues. Finding a bridge for this divide is crucial, but as of right now, there aren’t many if any available.
  • We love jargon and complicated language. Okay, this might not be just academia, but you have to admit, our writing is sometimes not so simple to digest. And I don’t think it boils down to the complicated vocabulary. Someone needs to tell me why that is, but there’s a huge difference between an academic paper and a newspaper article. I think this also relates to the trap mentioned above; a researcher may not necessarily share her work with the organization or population for whom she worked, for whatever reason. Hey, I’m all for beautiful language, but sometimes the syntax gets out of control:
    • Our analysis focuses upon the dialectical and indeterminate qualities of the processes and relationships through which different actors–including but not limited to educational researchers–engage, transmit, and transform educational phenomena between spatial and temporal contexts.”
    • All I can think:


Sigh. By the time Alice and I said our goodbyes, we weren’t much closer to figuring out how to avoid those traps. These phenomena, however, have been in my thoughts a lot since starting IEDP. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes rewarding. But it always feels good to vent every now and then with someone who gets it too.

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