Whack-A-Prof

My Ph.D. was conferred in 1992. Not by design, I’ve held several jobs since then. One thing I’ve noticed over and over is that supervisors enjoy knocking down the egghead. If you don’t know me you’ll have to take my word for the fact that I’m quiet, not self-promoting, and actually uncertain about many things most people seem to take for granted. Even in the classroom I never used my education to appear superior to students—education is about all of us learning together. At least ideally. I do know some people flaunt their doctorates. A friend told me of customers pulling into the gas station and insisting on being addressed as doctor. (It might help to know that in New Jersey you are not allowed to pump your own gas.) My friend wryly noted, then they don’t even fill the tank. I had my own similar experience working in a camera shop in a Boston suburb. A patron had “Ph.D.” printed on her checks after her name. Company policy was that the signature had to match the printed name exactly, including title. This particular customer, proud to have Ph.D. flashed before your eyes refused to sign it after her name. When the police had to be called, as per company policy, many of us stared sheepishly at our feet as she signed the cursed three initials and declared she would from then on take her custom elsewhere.

Some of us pursue advanced degrees because we have no talent for anything else. I’m a born teacher, and I have always found the classroom the most congenial environment in which to be. I have had several bosses, however, who seem to think that knocking the Ph.D. down shows just how clever they are. I don’t claim to be smart. I never have. I am a hard worker, I read a lot, and I try to make sense of what I read. Some of the smartest people I know have the least formal education. It’s rare that I don’t assume the janitor knows more than I do about any given topic. (Well, maybe Asherah is a place where I can claim some specialist knowledge.) Otherwise, I take your word for it.

Our culture, however, enjoys putting those in higher education in their place. I hear the conversations behind closed doors. While I don’t claim to know very much—in fact, the longer I’m alive the less I claim to know—I do know that America doesn’t value its educators. It’s not just the professorate. Teachers, those to whom we entrust the very future, have been perennial scapegoats for society’s ills. We don’t pay them well, and many of them have to take second jobs in the summer to make ends meet. I guess we showed them! Who’s the smart one now? I can’t claim to know much, but it seems to me that education is one of the pure goods in society. We can’t make progress without learning. Gifted teachers should be esteemed—not pampered, but appreciated. Of course, I can feel better about myself if I show that I know more than you do. The only cure for that, I suggest, is more education.

Photo credit: Anna Frodesiak

Photo credit: Anna Frodesiak

7 responses to “Whack-A-Prof

  1. Steve, I guess I have had a different experience in my career. Education was valued. People with advanced degrees were respected. Perhaps this issue varies by industry. Of course, there are always some who, through insecurity, need to flaunt their credentials and others who, for the same reason, feel compelled to belittle the ‘smart’ guys.

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    • Thanks, Ken. This is part of a larger hypothesis I’m playing with, I have to confess. Ironically, it is especially noticeable in publishing. I can’t lay out my sources just now, but this is “more than a feeling” (with apologies to Boston).

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  2. I totally agree and here in Israel, everyone is on a first name basis, from kindergarten up, levels the playing field in terms of communication. Respect is earned and not a given due to ones age, education, status.

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  3. So…Asherah and Lady Wisdom connection…your thoughts (or a resource or two). ?

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    • Hi, M.K. I’m not totally up to date even on Asherah, but you might check out “Wisdom” in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (van der Toorn, Becking, and van der Horst). The classic source is Helmer Ringgren, Word and Wisdom. Recently Sung Jin Park has been doing some interesting work on Asherah. I can keep an eye out; while I was writing my book on Asherah (available for download here: https://oup.academia.edu/SteveAWiggins , there were more than a few scholars who were suggesting Asherah was Wisdom, but my resources are packed away in the attic and I only have bits and pieces that I recollect at the moment.

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  4. Thanks, Steve. Much obliged.

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