Friday, October 22, 2010

Historians as a “Special Interest” Group

(This exercise in irony is dedicated to the memory of the late "mercenary professor," Dr. Milton Friedman.)

I am a Special Interest. I am not like some the bad Special Interests you may hear about on the news, Big Oil, Pharmaceuticals and Wall Street though. I am a good Special Interest. How could I be anything else; I teach history. My sole motivations in life are the pursuit of knowledge and passing that knowledge over to your children. You can trust us historians to never be motivated by greed or ego and always have the public interest at heart. For this reason you will see history departments, across the country, dedicating themselves to teaching. Show me the history department that will allow a course to be taught by anything less than a fully qualified professor. We would never throw wet behind the ears graduate students to teach classes in order to free up professors to do research and gain more prestigious posts. Universities always deliver on the high quality teachers you think you are paying for and would never cut corners to make a quick buck. I can recall many conversations with my advisor telling me that the most important thing I need to worry about as a graduate student was teaching and that it was alright if I delayed finishing my dissertation by a year or two in order to invest more time in my students.

As a historian, I have worked hard lobbying school administrators and politicians on behalf of your children to make sure they receive a good history education regardless of whether they wanted one or not. Since we in the history profession are so wise and know what is best for people, even better than they do themselves, we have insisted on mandatory classes in history starting in grade school. History teachers would never treat their job as a means of slacking off and collecting a paycheck. And because it is so obvious from talking to any high school graduate how effective these mandatory history classes we have been teaching them all these years have been in giving over a solid understanding of the field, we can only insist that the practice continue in college. This is to make up for any deficiencies in their history education which may have come about do to you not giving us enough money and not creating more mandatory courses. You should certainly vote for those patriotic politicians who promise you to increase funding for history education, smaller class sizes and more of them so that your children become proper Americans and grow up to be like you; people who hate learning themselves, but are eager to hoist it on others just like you did to them.

Considering that I am so smart and spend my time reading history books unlike you members of the unwashed television watching masses (whom I have the utmost respect for and whose interests I serve), it is only right that I have access to a high quality lending library. Since I do not wish to pay for one out of the meager paycheck I have you give me for teaching history classes that I make your children take, I think I will have you pay for it instead. Have you not been listening to the politicians we historians have hoisted upon you when they tell you that our children need books in order to compete in the global economy and if we only built more libraries they will flock to them? I enjoy the quiet library full of books and librarians on call to help. One would think that the library was built just for me.

If you let us, we historians have an exciting future planned for your children. It is only proper that not only should every child in this country have to take history classes starting in kindergarten, but that every history class needs to be staffed by a teacher with a Ph. D. in the topic. I say this not to hoist a money making scam on the public, but out of the sincere wish that every child receive the sort of high quality history teacher they deserve. We will be very pragmatic about things. If a school is unable to find enough history teachers with doctorates they will be allowed to exempt themselves from the program by paying a small fine of several thousand dollars per child to the newly created American Board of History Educators, who will provide you with a history consultant to advise the unqualified teachers you will have to hire. This history consultant will be guaranteed base history administrative salary, to be paid for by your school, of at least a half a million dollars. Can you put a price on your child's education?

We historians serve the public out of the purest altruism. We do not have our fingers in your wallet. Every politician who speaks on our behalf telling you to give us more money does it because they recognize how indispensible we are to the nation and not because we threaten to get them voted out of office if they do not give us more of your money. It is so obvious that anyone who would question our integrity can only be an agent of some Big Business Special Interest, who wish to rob your children of the education they deserve and which only we can give them. So this November please vote for the politician who promises to give us the most funding out of dollars created magically ex nihilo as only governments can do. Your children deserve an education and I deserve a paycheck.


Clarissa said...

OK, I don't get it. My autism makes understanding jokes somewhat problematic. I get that this is supposed to be humorous, but I'm failing to get the point. Are you saying that people should vote for the Republicans because they will cut funding for public education? And that will be a good thing because teaching history is not a good thing?

It's tough being autistic at times. :-)

Izgad said...

I want the public to continue to support history education as it keeps me employed. As a history teacher I want to be the last special interest racquet to stop fleecing the public. If there are going to be special interests I want them to be the ones that benefit me. This puts me in a trap in terms of who to vote for. Since all government aid by definition is a special interest racket I should support the party that gives less aid. But the Republicans are still beholden to special interests and not so much to my particular special interests. So if I am going to compromise on ideology, I might as well do it in a way that gives me the maximum benefit.

I look forward to a time when there is no mandatory education, history or otherwise, and I will be left to rely only on my ability to convince private individuals that I know something of value that they should pay me to teach.

Jeanne said...

Everyone who has talked about teaching and In the Basement of the Ivory Tower has touched on the "mandatory" aspect at some point. If nothing else, it makes the classes less cohesive in terms of starting point--some students are way ahead in terms of background and skills, while others practically have to be taught from the ground up.

Izgad said...

Part of my problem is that I do not know how to engage students who do not already have a background. Ironically enough I am fine with working with children, even if they, for good reasons, do not have a background in history. For some reason children seem to engage well with me. With adults I have to make the first move and the only way I know how to do that is by jumping right in and thinking out loud so students can pick up how my mind works. This tends to confuse students who do not have backgrounds in history.