I often return to the quote, “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry,” by William Butler Yeats, which I first became aware of through his Irish countryman and fellow poet and Nobel Prize recipient, Seamus Heaney.
I don’t take this utterance to mean that what we set down in prose is inferior to poetry, I don’t think that is the way Yeats meant it, but I use the saying as a litmus test for point of view essays, those by others and myself. Is the essay the process and product of something valuable the writer has attempted to work out that can be of value also to other readers? To that I would add the important question, “Was this piece simply written to goad others or to provoke in the lowest way outcries from those who either vehemently agree or disagree with the opinion expressed?”
I have written this as a preamble to also calm myself down so that I can as fairly as possible deal with the subject of should faculty have the summers off. Even stating the premise this way is imprecise and inflammatory, headline-generating, because it will mean, for example, to the population at large more or less a rubbing in of the reality that those in the teaching profession can stay at home in shorts and t-shirt and schedule their days the way they want to when most of the working population has to get up and wear something they would not wear at home and drive to work.
When it comes to the subject of teaching professionals not necessarily teaching in the summer some of the public, especially when it comes to talking about public school teachers, K-12, will say something along the lines of, “For all the #&%@ they put up with during the school year, they deserve some time off.” Sometimes this quote is accompanied also by “teachers don’t make all that much money.”
If we were to pose the question whether college professors should be able to schedule their time freely during the summers–notice how I am trying to not say “have the summers off”–likely a less generous response would come from the public at large, even one’s spouse, or other family members. And these responses can come also if the majority of the faculty we are talking about do not work at brand-name research universities and have comparatively light teaching loads.
In my own case, when I was an undergraduate and also graduate student, in separate M.A. and Ph.D. programs, the behavior modeled for me by professors was that summers faculty don’t come in and/or faculty don’t teach. Only one or two would teach in the summer, and that was considered odd behavior.
So naturally, when I was almost done with my Ph.D., having gone to school full-time and picked up six classes to teach between one university and two colleges, still newly married, I told my wife, in front of my mother-in-law, “When I’m a professor I am going to take the summers off.” I really don’t remember saying this, but was reminded of having made this statement the other day, some twenty years later, by my wife. For the record, I am teaching two classes in summer school and have taught every summer since uttering those words in my youth.
Even saying “For the record, I am teaching two classes in summer school” is both a defensive and offensive posture. Why do I sometimes feel I should get a pat on the back for teaching during the summer? And why do I sometimes feel that people are resentful of faculty who are not “working” during the summer. This is where emotions come out, but not sensationalistic ones that would have been easier to write if I had not paused before sitting down to compose this (and to compose myself).
It does not matter if you spend some hours reading, blogging, doing other work related to the profession–no one who is not in academe is going to want to bestow upon you the Victoria Cross for not being at what they perceive to be “at work” in the summer.
But it is my purpose here neither to defend nor laud those who are teaching in the summer or have located themselves on a remote beach in an extended state of a buzz that has nothing to do with Emily Dickinson’s fly, either remotely or by tenable association.
I am simply recording what must at times come to the surface for many of us, like a child now grown up, emerging for air in the swimming pool on a sun-drenched afternoon, “the quarrel with ourselves,” that little nudge of what are we doing in the summer, like a flotation device.