How to Make an Academic Career

A psychoanalytically inclined friend of mine once told me that you can tell the important dreams not because you know what they mean, but because you can’t get them out of your head. As an anthropologist I’ve noticed something similar about ethnographic fieldwork: You live through moments that immediately seem important to you, but it is only after chewing them over that you realize why. I had one such moment recently that taught me, deep down, that I firmly believe in the power of fear and humiliation as teaching methods. This insight came to me late last month in the course of having my ass kicked repeatedly by Kael’thas Sunstrider, son of Anasterian, prince of Quel’Thalas, and servant of Kil’jaeden the Deceiver.

Fear and Humiliation as Legitimate Teaching Methods.By Alex Golub

This is one of those ‘academic exercises’ that pop up now and again, perfectly designed to bring out the cynic in my professorial soul. In the end, it’s a circular argument: in a game designed to encourage people to see themselves as violent competitors, people tend to respond to humiliation and fear. As if a game called World of Warcraft would encourage loving cooperation.

The best way to gain publicity and become an academic star is to say things that sound ‘shocking’ to the very staid U.S. intellectual community. I say ‘sound’ becuase in most cases, like Camille Paglia’s wild and wacky ways, nothing said is really particularly unusual outside the ivory covered Puritanical walls. Maybe I am wrong and Golub is simply trying out a rough thesis, poking a stick in the ant pile to see what might happen.

The ‘fear and humiliation’ that he finds pedagogically effective in W.O.W. is nothing new in a competitive, arguably falsely meritocratic education system. Even the nicest teachers are forced to use the ‘fear and humiliation’ of grading; tenure is no bed of roses. Education may not be war, but it’s methods are hardly benign. As he suggests, it’s one important way we all learned how the world worked.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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