Friday, June 16, 2006

She's A Maniac...(with apologies to Michael Sembello)

Greetings! My apologies to my poor neglected blog for my lackadaisical participation. To my credit, I was "entertaining" relatives for the last week, and it is in everyone's best interest, perhaps, that I not record my ideas from that time period. Right in the middle there, however, we did take a short trip to New France, which in and of itself requires a post, complete with pictures. Stay tuned!

Onto today's pre-article-writing thoughts (article? What article?! Are you still working on that old thing? Shut it, crazy negative hag inside my head...). In a fit of catching up with the blogosphere, I came across a post by the Community College Dean. Posts over at CCD tend to have two valences: the first, reflections on the blogger's work as an administrator and academic; the second, reflections on parenting. Thus, he rightly calls himself "Dean Dad." I tend to gravitate toward postings of the first sort (just by proclivity), but almost all of it is damn funny, and often insightful. His topic for today, for example, set the noggin' a'spin:
In talking with an old friend the other day, we got on the topic of the kinds of students who tend to get A’s. To generalize wildly (and yes, there are plenty of exceptions, and yes, every student is different, and yes, most people combine the categories to some degree, and yes, we’re all God’s children, blah blah blah), they pretty much fall into three camps.

The Three Kinds of ‘A’ Students:
1. The Dutiful
2. The Brilliant
3. The Maniacal

Okay, first? Funny. The "all God's children" bit slays me. (And there's something here about the ways that bloggers have to imbed some self-defensive rhetoric from the start, but that's a post for another day.) What I'm curious about, of course, are these three categories. Later on in his post, he frets that those who go on to occupy academe are largely those in the first category, who then go on to encourage others who fall into that first category. While I've never phrased it to myself in this way, I've certainly worried that as academics, we tend to encourage those students who best resemble ourselves. Way to make the academy homogeneous, and to disregard the vast number of our students who have no interest in becoming more like us.

By breaking out these other two categories, however, DeadDad has made me consider those who do go on, and what effects that bears on academic life. If the majority of us are the dutiful, what about the minority brilliant and maniacal? [Self-revealing confession: whether it's objectively true or not, I tend to throw my hat into the ring with the maniacs. It's absolutely parallel to my childhood desire to be a mutant. X-Men III, anyone?] Here's DD's take:
To the extent that any of this is right, it matters to the extent that we staff incredibly important institutions with people who got good grades. If those people share a common blind spot, it will get written into the fabric of those institutions, amplified over time, and elevated to an informal theology. That’s not to say we want maniacs running everything – nooooooo, we do not – but the right maniac in the right role is a revelation. A slight maniacal tendency in an otherwise dutiful soul can bring creativity to routine, solutions to problems. To the extent that we tamp down those tendencies, we wind up with the kind of people to whom it wouldn’t occur to find groupthink objectionable. They think it’s natural. It’s what they do.

So, how does this help us understand, for instance, the dynamics in a faculty or departmental meeting? Let's say that your colleagues, by temperment, are largely dutiful. By DD's logic, there will be more of them, and as a group, they will be wedded to a model of learning the system and continuing to prosper by adhering to the boundaries of said system (whether it's that of the administrative hierarchy, the academic schedule, the makeup of the major). I'd venture to guess that these are the people who keep the department running, on a day-to-day basis. But what of the maniacal, who, by DD's definition "have the lowest GPA’s, since their energy is directed only where they want it to go. These are the people who look bored most of the time, then break out with cryptic statements that are alternately brilliant and insane." What happens when the ideas of the maniacal come into contact with those of the dutiful? Let me venture a guess, without any reference to personal experience: the dutiful feel threatened, and the maniacal feel trapped.

What would an academy look like with more room for the maniacal? How could the dutiful channel the energy of the maniacal? Better yet, how do we encourage the maniacal students into academic life?

Perhaps Jennifer Beals and her body double have the answer:

UPDATE:If you're following along in the comments over at CCCD, you'll see that the vast majority of those weighing in either identify themselves as maniacs or praise the ones they know. So, is it time to adjust the theory? Is the academy actually made up of MORE maniacs than duty-bound? Or is it simply that academic bloggers tend toward the maniacal?


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