In this guest post, Jennifer L. Holberg and Marcy Taylor, editors of Pedagogy, examine the unsustainable realities of graduate education in English studies. The most recent issue of Pedagogy is devoted to the preparation of graduate students in English studies, including much-debated subjects like professionalization, the academic labor system, and an economist’s view of the English PhD market. Contributors ask how we should prepare graduate students for life in this controversial new landscape, and also includes a response by former MLA president Michael Bérubé to the MLA Subconference manifesto.
For us, the turn into December does not mark the arrival of a season of holiday merriment; instead, it signals the full onslaught of graduate school letters of recommendations (along with all the other end-of-term fun). With each student’s request, we wonder about encouraging our dear, bright students to continue down a road that has been bleak for such a very long time. And yet, as the special cluster of articles in the newest issue of Pedagogy explores, exciting conversations are going on around graduate education in English that go beyond the question of whether the system is “broken” to advancing what to do to fix it.
Graduate education has always been one of the underlying interests of Pedagogy. Indeed, in some ways, this cluster of articles on graduate education in volume 15, issue 1 has been over twenty years in the making. When we had our first thoughts of starting a journal, we were both graduate students, helping to administer our university’s writing program—and we lamented the dearth of attention to the scholarship of teaching, particularly that concerned with graduate preparation. As we were finishing graduate school Pedagogy was born—a product of our experience in the 1990s and an emblem of our desire to see the profession transformed into one where the work of teaching was valued. Though job market in the 1990s was no picnic either, our own experience as writing program administrators—and our focus on preparing ourselves as much as teachers as we had as scholars—gave us, we feel, a measure of competitiveness. And hope for a way forward for the profession.
Guest editor Leonard Cassuto, who writes a monthly column for The Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Graduate Adviser,” echoes that hope when he argues in his introduction that:
Everything that happens in graduate school is a form of teaching. When a graduate director sets up area reading groups for incoming graduate students, that’s teaching. When an adviser goes over a student’s cover letter and cv (or resume) during a job search, that’s teaching. It’s also teaching when a journal editor recruits graduate students to report on the proceedings of a conference for publication….
That myriad of teaching opportunities is the subject of this special issue. This resolutely pedagogical focus provides a refuge from the question I began with: we don’t have to agree about whether graduate school is broken in order to talk about how to improve it pedagogically. Graduate programs, and the lives of graduate students, will improve if we teach graduate school better.
“[A] culture of graduate education that privileges teaching” (Cassuto), then, is one cultivated through one of the other hallmarks of the journal: multiple voices. Pedagogy has always been committed to seeking out voices from across the discipline—and at every professional level. And to hearing those voices in dialogue.
That is certainly the case in this issue. Thus, for example, former president of the Modern Language Association Michael Bérubé’s commentary in the issue responds not only to the special cluster on graduate education in English, including Marc Bousquet’s commentary piece, but also to “Feces on the Philosophy of History! A Manifesto of the MLA Subconference” which appeared in volume 14, issue 3, written by the organizers of the MLA Subconference. Whatever their differences, all of these writers are serious about examining labor conditions in higher education—something essential if we are to reimagine graduate education.
What would it mean if the profession examined its pedagogical practices seriously at the graduate level? This issue helps begin to answer that question. And maybe even encourages us to go ahead and write those letters of recommendation.