My work-life imbalance — R Voice

My work-life imbalance

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Jayashree Rajagopalan
Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 225 admin
Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels
Note: This story was first shared by Andrew WIlczac (Associate professor at Wilkes University and the host of the Untenured Tracks podcast). It was first published on November 30, 2020, on Editage Insights.

The day starts with my 6-year-old daughter coming into our room at some ungodly hour because she had a bad dream.

"It's OK, you're OK. What happened?" I sit up and pull her into a hug.

"I dreamed I was driving with Mama and fell out of the car and I tried to run and catch up but it was going too fast," she whimpers.

I get her back to bed and try to settle down myself. The battery on my ancient iPod has died and the liberal dose of sleep-aid has worn off. The chronic pain of my myriad injuries compounded by the stress of an uncertain year has decided to keep me company now too; so this is how we're starting the day. I doze through my wife getting up and ready for work and getting our daughters ready for the day, and I stumble to life, groaning, sputtering, Frankenstein's monster revived once again, ready to face the day.

In his book Revolutionary Change ([1966] 1982) Chalmers Johnson argues that while the goal of the social sciences in a liberal arts university is ostensibly to empower students, in practice our work only serves to reinforce the status quo. The ways faculty have responded to the pandemic seem to confirm this belief throughout the social sciences: increased paranoia about plagiarism and academic dishonesty, strict adherence to punitive attendance policies, and general lack of empathy or sympathy for the myriad crises students are experiencing. Not only is Professor Nero teaching class while the world burns, you damn well better show up on time or else he'll take points off your final grade.

My children are playing Animal Crossing together and eating toast with Nutella for breakfast. I shamble to the kitchen table and open my daughter's schedule for the week to see which workbook pages she'll need today. In the morning, it's language arts, then special, then math in the afternoon. Today's special is the second consecutive day of gym class. The teacher, bless his heart, is hell-bent on teaching the first-graders about frequency and intensity of exercise, muscular growth, and cardiovascular fitness. The spelling words this week include "flip", "plan", and "pull", so I can only assume that by the end of the year they'll also be spelling "cardiovascular," "frequency," and "heteroskedasticity" in the morning and calculating their BMI in the afternoon.

I am teaching four courses this semester – my normal teaching load– all voluntarily online.

My 6-year-old's school moved online at the last possible second. I had already made the decision to move online by then, so it worked in our favor.

I'm unable to hold classes synchronously because I need to be present to eavesdrop on and provide technical support for my daughter’s first-grade classes, while also being lunch lady, hall monitor, principal, guidance counselor, and custodian. I'm very fortunate to be at an institution that has allowed us as faculty to make the decision to teach online, in person, or some combination thereof. I know many faculty who are not as fortunate.

What I find most interesting about the theoretical perspectives in the sociology of revolutions is that they largely agree on the causes of massive social upheaval, though don't tell them that. Johnson ([1966] 1982) approaches revolutions from a functionalist perspective and argues that

"Daddy, can we play with blocks?" My oldest asks as the old school Duplos are dumped onto the floor, her 2-year-old sister leaping and clapping with the kind of pure, uncut joy only experienced by children and gamblers. They immediately set to work, the 6-year-old constructing a house, the 2-year-old building a tower then knocking it down, laughing, and repeating. A cruel God. It's so loud in here, I need them to be quiet just for a few minutes so I can work on this piece. An ear-piercing scream as blocks are thrown, the windows of the house rattling from the resulting sonic boom.

Anyway, Johnson argues revolutions come on when the basic institutions of society, up to and including government, no longer deliver on the promises of their purpose. When this is coupled with major environmental concerns and economic frustration and leadership unable or unwilling to rise to these challenges, the likelihood of revolutions become much greater. From the conflict perspective…

My 2-year-old has arrived, demanding crackers. She's eaten half a sleeve of Ritz this morning, buzzsawing her way through them, because toddlers eat with the grace and predictability of a freshman year Godzilla. She leads me by the hand into the kitchen.

I should grade something. I should make an effort to do the job I'm paid for. I've reluctantly turned to using the Dropbox associated with my classes on our learning management system this year, because my email has been overrun with Zoom invites and desperate ActBlue pleas from starving politicians. I'm worried that having my students submit assignments directly to my email will be more trouble than it's worth this semester. I may as well get a jump start on grading these assignments because…

But I was writing about conflict theory in revolutions, wasn't I? And the punchline is, as I'm sure anyone reading this can predict, that revolutionary uprisings are caused entirely by economic conflict. Skocpol ([1979] 2015) points to the role of historical materialism in the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. In other words, economic development drives social order and both outpace political relations. The law is always going to be the last thing to catch up to the demands of society, and when the law lags too far behind, revolutionary fervor begins to spread and demands for change can become more angry, more aggressive, and more violent.

I should grade, though.

"More crackers!" my 2-year-old declares with the same frightening tenor of a woodchipper possessed by some ancient spirit, demanding more sacrifices.

There are so many interesting questions on revolutions. Why do they happen when they do? Johnson and Skocpol offer us plenty of insight on this question. Just as interesting: what drives people to lead these revolutionary lives? We've seen would-be aristocrats like Alexander Hamilton and Georges Danton dive headfirst into revolution, Francisco de Miranda traveled the world to drum up support for an independent Spanish America, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata came achingly close to the Presidency of Mexico, and heirs of Zapata's legacy still fight for their vision of independence today. Generations of Russians fought and died fighting Imperialism, and Haiti, man, if you think Americans somehow have exclusive claims to freedom, you should read the Haitian Declaration of Independence:

"If there could exist among us a lukewarm heart, let him distance himself and tremble to take the oath which must unite us. Let us vow to ourselves, to posterity, to the entire universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than live under its domination; to fight until our last breath for the independence of our country."

The pandemic, it seems, has brought renewed attention to the legitimacy of the tried and true methods of teaching. I can admit that I have been banging this drum, which I suppose matters very little. My own story here is not very interesting: after a long period of being dissatisfied with exams, I read Radical Hope by Kevin Gannon (2020), and then returned to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (1968), and picked up a few other gems here and there as my library of revolutionary theory and autobiographies of revolutionaries continued to grow. What Freire and later Gannon argue is that the traditional model of the neoliberal university does not value learning, but rather requires students to memorize information, retain it long enough to repeat as much of it as possible back to the instructor for purposes of assessment, and then forget it immediately. There is no true learning here, at least, not in any way that actually engenders empowerment or liberation or progress. This model of education continues the tradition of beating the joy of learning out of students, a tradition I see beginning at my kitchen table as my daughter develops test anxiety during placement tests in the third week of 1st grade. This is, as Johnson understood, education for the sake of replicating all of the mythology that upholds the status quo. Is our pedagogy liberatory? Or just replicating oppressive conditions? Did I go to school for all that time to be part of the problem?

By the time my wife comes home from work, my bones are vibrating at such a high frequency that it feels like the Universe is trying to strike just the right note to cause me to shatter into a million pieces. Thanks to my wife’s return, I earn a brief reprieve from parenting, but everyone is exhausted, and the odds of the violent mood swings of toddlerhood increase every minute as we get closer to bedtime. Though seconds turn into days and hours into eons, I'm only able to tag out for a little while, then I hear fights over dinner, over TV, over those goddamn blocks again. "How many more bites?" "Can I skip a shower?" and that old chestnut, "Daddy, are you going to cry?"

I naively tweet that I'm excited about this piece and hopeful to be able to work on it during the weekend.

I was so ignorant then, I'm so much wiser now, my children diving into boxes of Halloween decorations after their latest siege on my mental health. I don't know why I'm resisting this, because I've watched the entire Friday the 13th series in the past two weeks instead of writing and have plenty of thoughts on what Tommy Jarvis could have been. My two-year-old is now brandishing one of those flimsy pumpkin carving knives - and I want to say the word choice here, “brandishing,” is intentional. She is not merely carrying or holding this dollar store weapon. Her eyes glimmer with a terrible possibility.

 There were projects due on Friday that I need to find time to grade this week, ideally when I can find quiet times during the day. I have to send out Zoom invites to my upper-level courses and upload the lectures I recorded in the dead of night for my introductory students, once I get a chance to steady myself long enough to organize my thoughts, and can record without threat of a sister fight breaking out in the background.


  • Kakoli Majumder
    Kakoli Majumder Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 204 admin

    This seems like my story from a few years ago! It's crazy to work from home with kids around and in a way, I'm glad I no longer have to do this. But on looking back, some of my fondest memories are from those years, and I sometimes smile wistfully to myself as I sit in a silent, empty house where the only sound is of me typing away to glory. 😊