Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Reflective Rant about Saving the World

On this day after two productive lunch meetings, I think about why I both teach and am a librarian.

It is not for the glory, Heaven knows, or the money. While I make enough to live comfortably on as a librarian, I am not rolling in the dough. And when I teach on top of that, I get paid, by my rough math, about 3-4 dollars per hour when you factor in preparation, grading, and class time.

No, I teach because I believe that knowledge and learning can save the world one day at a time. I teach, because knowing how to use a comma may be what gets my students their next job or promotion. I teach because learning how to learn means that my student today can teach themselves in the future. I teach because I open up worlds that my students didn't know existed.

I teach Developmental Writing, and how to do research. These alone will not give us the next cure for cancer or great piece of art. But my students know how to cite research and how to find it. They can write their thoughts clearly and coherently so that others will take their ideas seriously. I teach them to ask for help. I teach them what they don't know. Every morning I announce to the world, "I am going to save the world with library science and proper commas." I love my job, for all the hard work and long hours and extra time I put into it. And I believe I'm saving the world.

You are too.

--Librarian Dancing with Citations


  1. Love this. Thank you.

  2. "I teach, because knowing how to use a comma may be what gets my students their next job or promotion. "

    Ah, the cold, cruel irony of the unfortunately timed comma error.

    - Anon y mouse

    1. Spelling errors can be similarly harmful. Ever notice how without the "c," the word "faculty" becomes "faulty"? A cover letter that opens with, "I wish to apply for the open FAULTY position" may not get an interview...

    2. It's been a while since I was on the market, but, if memory serves, some positions (and/or the descriptions thereof), do seem pretty faulty. The campus visit to a department whose chair held an M.A. and had published an article or two at most, where I would be expected to produce a book for tenure while teaching a 4/4 load, comes to mind. . . .

      All the same, it doesn't do to come out and say such things in the cover letter.

    3. Not really seeing the comma error in the quoted sentence, only that the comma does not drastically alter the likely intended meaning and as such seems optional.

      Now, this would torque my brow:

      "I teach because, knowing how to use a comma may be what gets my students their next job or promotion."

    4. OPH, one never, ever needs a comma before "because" because that word always introduces a dependent clause (when used typically, not specifically to break a rule). The only exception I can think of is when one has a series of "because" statements.

      Notice how the author expertly does it correctly in the rest of the paragraph. Thus, the "cold, cruel irony" I mentioned before. (I assume we've all been there, but ignorance of the rule does not make it not a rule. I welcome other grammar snobs to chime in.)

    5. Your prescriptivist "rule" regarding whether a comma is never needed (or by extension, should never, ever appear) before "because" is just wrong.“because”/
      (at which point I am tired of pasting links)

      I rescind my earlier assertion that the comma does not appreciably alter the meaning of the sentence in question. Let's scan it, sans comma:

      "I teach because knowing how to use a comma may be what gets my students their next job or promotion."

      Now it's less clear whose knowing is relevant, the students' or the teacher's. With the comma as originally written, the notion that the teacher's knowing correct comma usage will directly affect his or her students' job prospects is downplayed.

    6. Librarian Dancing with CitationsSeptember 6, 2016 at 3:04 PM

      Bleck. Yes, the comma error is SO common I have fallen to it. Alas, Babylon.

  3. I, too, love this, because it's very close to what gets me through the days (and the semesters, and the years): while I wish my job were different in many ways (better pay, more variety, a less-crushing workload so that variety would feel invigorating rather than exhausting, some chance to move from doing the same thing over and over to applying some of the insight gained to the larger picture), I do, at least, think I'm giving both my students and the communities in which they will play an increasingly-responsible part something useful.

    If they come out of my class with a little better sense of how knowledge is made (and how it is contingent on many things, which vary by discipline, and how they can be part of the process of making and transmitting and applying it), and how to responsibly represent each others' ideas, and tie them to their own (citation), and how to speak to (and, in the process, consider the perspectives of) various audiences, then I think we're all better off. And if they can manage not to annoy their readers by placing commas and apostrophes in all the wrong places, and leaving them out of the right ones, then that, too, would make the world a slightly more pleasant, more functional, place (and increase the students' job prospects), and that, too, would be a good thing.

    At the very least, while I'm sure I could do more to make the world a better place (if I only had the energy, and the discernment to figure out where to direct my energies), I don't think I'm making things worse. That's something.

  4. This post expresses a very noble sentiment, and gets no argument from me. Still, as an avid world-saver myself ever since the 1960s, I've noticed that a problem with world-saving is that the world doesn't much want to be saved. I put my all into my teaching, and I do get some victories, every now and then. It'd be a lot easier if SO many of my students weren't resisting with all their might.

    1. It is not necessary to hope in order to act, nor to succeed in order to persevere. (William of Orange, I think)

    2. I was thinking of another one to the effect of "all that is needed for evil to prevail is that good people do nothing." [citation needed]

    3. Damn if you ain't got that right, Frod. We face a serious headwind, don't we?

  5. "They can write their thoughts clearly and coherently so that others will take their ideas seriously."

    This, a thousand times. The student who complains her way through that required composition course is the student who does not understand that her most brilliant thought is only as good as its presentation.

  6. Thank you, LDWC. The world may not want to be saved and may deal harshly with those who try to save it, but it needs them anyway.


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