Are children good for your academic career?

The self-evident answer to “Rex Sayer”‘s question, posed in today’s CoHE first person essay, is surely, No.  Taking care of children can be exhausting and expensive, is an excellent vector for disease (especially right now!), and, more positively, can be so fascinating that it diverts attention from one’s students or research.  And while *some* students respond positively to anecdotes about children, others won’t.

My slightly more complex response is: Why should they be?  Surely it’s ok that parts of our lives don’t line up neatly with our academic careers?   Merging one’s personal life and professional life in this way seems . . . peculiar.  (Said the person who’s married to someone in his department, and whose 4-yr-old has met something like 90% of his students at various points over the years.  But, and perhaps for that reason, the thought of justifying the boy through reference to my career had literally never occurred to me.)

And then there’s this:

And isn’t that why we teach? Isn’t every act of walking into a classroom or a library, fundamentally, an affirmation of our belief that things could be a little better?

Ah, romanticism.  There is, it has always seemed to me, a vanity to this notion, insofar as it envisions the professor’s role as inspirational.  By contrast, one could also teach from a desire to have a somewhat stable job doing things that you like, from a belief that things could well get worse, or, perhaps more defensibly, a belief that some things (texts, values, habits of mind, . . .)  are, after all, worth preserving or discovering.

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