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Pedagogy 3.3 (2003) 359-376

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Graduate Education As Education:
The Pedagogical Arts of Institutional Critique

Virginia Crisco, Chris W. Gallagher, Deborah Minter, Katie Hupp Stahlnecker, and John Talbird

What do we talk about when we talk about graduate education in English? The short answer: jobs.

The long answer isn't much longer. In recent years, spurred by a stubborn job "crisis," English studies has undertaken a thorough and thoroughly laudable accounting of the ethical dilemmas inherent in how (and how early) it professionalizes—or, as John Guillory (1996) has it, preprofessionalizes—its graduate students.We have (rightly) taken ourselves to task for asking too much of graduate students in return for too little, for raising the professional bar to dizzying heights, for overproducing Ph.D.'s, and for ignoring the material conditions of the vast majority of college teachers, including teaching assistants (Bérubé 1998; Schell 1998; Graff 2000; Nelson 2000). We have coined terms like preprofessionalization, turboprofessionalization, and hyper-professionalization and have sought to protect graduate students from "faux professionalization" or "bad professionalism" (Graff 2000; Nelson 2000).

All of this self-scrutiny, however tardy, is both appropriate and to the good of graduate education. As current and recent graduate students ourselves, we value the discipline's growing attention to these issues. Yet we also find ourselves perplexed at the persistent reduction of graduate education to job training and of graduate students to "apprentices" to be professionalized, [End Page 359] rather than practicing teachers and scholars interested in studying the contexts that shape our collective work.

In the special section of the spring 2002 ADE Bulletin, devoted to "the future of English," for instance, David Laurence (2002: 14) asks, "What should the substance of doctoral education encompass?" This may sound like a pedagogical, and not strictly a vocational, question, but Laurence's response is telling: "The curriculum of doctoral education needs to educate future faculty members more directly for departments where teaching, not publication, stands at the center of what faculty members do and for faculty work as it exists in baccalaureate and two-year colleges." We find this argument compelling; we understand and appreciate the need to focus more on the work of teaching, which is traditionally devalued or even absent from doctoral education in English. We believe that acting on this need—while continuing to work for improvements in the material conditions of postsecondary teachers' work—will take us a long way toward combating graduate students' pervasive anxiety about their "future tense" (see Miller et al. 1997). But we also note that this argument is part of a larger trend in our talk about graduate education: the reduction of education to job training. It is hard to imagine such a nakedly mercenary argument gaining many adherents in the discipline if it were applied to undergraduates, but it is typical of discussions about graduate education in English.

Michael Bérubé (2002) also pushes into pedagogical territory when he proposes a change in what gets taught at the graduate level. Bérubé recommends a sharper focus on theory, especially the "history of twentieth-century theories of textuality." But why this focus? "If we want to think seriously about graduate programs as institutions of professional training," Bérubé explains, "we should be concentrating on the current status of literary theory." In other words, his proposal emerges from the widely held notion that "graduate programs should, to the greatest degree possible, train students for the actual intellectual demands and pedagogical tasks of their profession" (25).

Now, we certainly do not recommend that our discipline turn its back on graduate students' "employability," as it too often does for our undergraduates. We do not want to reimagine graduate education as an intellectual playground for an elite class of students who do not need to worry about such worldly concerns as obtaining gainful employment. However, we want to clear a space for a discussion of graduate education as education, for a conversation about graduate pedagogy that includes, but goes beyond, training in job...


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