Thursday, December 20, 2007

You Are(n't) What You Do

My father is a Kentucky coal miner with an 8th grade education. During the 80's, the coal mining industry experienced some troubles, and my father was laid off (with some temporary work here and there) for 6 years. During this time, he tried to get jobs outside of coal mining, but nobody would hire him, telling him that they didn't want to hire a coal miner, since they believed that coal miners would go back to the coal mines at the first opportunity. My dad objected that he wanted to get out of the coal mining industry and do something else, but nobody would believe him. He was a coal miner, and nobody would let him be anything else. At the end of the six years, he got a good coal mining job, but in that 7th year, he lost his left hand and half his forearm in a mining accident. He's still a coal miner.

Twenty years later, I have a Ph.D. in the humanities, a M.A. in English, and a B.A. in Recombinant Gene Technology. I have taught at the middle school, high school, community college, and university levels. I want to get out of academia because 1) I am in disagreement with the educational philosophy prevalent in our schools, particularly that of the universities, and 2) I am a libertarian humanities scholar, so what university department is really going to hire me (when 90% of humanities departments are postmodern leftists)? I recently interviewed for a non-academic position with an organization whose world view I agree with (if I get the job I will share with you who it is). The interview was going very well, right up until the head of the foundation expressed some concern that I would not be happy working there, as I seemed to be an academic.

My father encouraged me to get an education because it would give me more opportunities in life. He didn't have many opportunities because of his education. Once he became a coal miner, that's all he was allowed to do. So now here I am, with the highest level of education, and I too am not being allowed to become anything other than what I am at the present time. I'm having a hard time finding anyone willing to hire me because of my education. And it's all because people expect you to continue to be what you are.

I told the gentleman that I would be more than happy to continue to be a scholar on my own time, but that I specifically didn't want to be an academic -- that that was what I was trying to get out of and away from. He looked like he may have become convinced, and I hope I am right.

Still, my job search has been quite annoying. I can't find anyone who seems to know what it is I do. Everyone thinks that the only thing I can or should do is academic work. Part of this is because Americans all too often identify others with their occupations. WHen we meet someone, what is the first thing we ask them? "What do you do?" In college we ask the similar question, "What is your major?" But isn't what we do only part of who we are? I'm also a husband and a father, a son and a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a grandson. I'm an orchid lover and a bird watcher. I'm a traveler. I am a poet and a storyteller and a philosopher and a scholar as well. What else can I be? I would love to find out.
Post a Comment