Reading Digest (6 – 12 January)

Spanning topics from schools, to language policy, to the job market, here’s a selection of stories, articles and posts from the previous week:

Children playing pirates

An argument could easily be made that since developing children’s creativity and broadening their intellectual horizons is a worthier cause than safeguarding corporate profit, schools should be exempt from the provisions of copyright law. However, this assumption is false, and schools – we are told – can find themselves in serious trouble for using protected materials:

When it came to choosing a suitable soundtrack they were adamant that they wanted to use R Kelly’s “I believe I can fly.” This prompted a discussion on the fact that the piece was copyrighted and we couldn’t use it for our film as it was going to be shown in a public film competition. The class dug their heels in so, never one for passing up the opportunity for writing with real purpose, we wrote a letter to the music publishers in our best handwriting asking for permission. The reply was short and to the point: “You can’t use it, and if you do we’ll sue you,” was the gist.

Век живи́, век учи́сь

While still on the topic of education, Reuters report that Syria has decided to offer Russian as a foreign language from the fifth grade onwards. This news invites reflection both on the political motives underpinning language policy, and on the ascending status of Russia in the international scene. Readers may also want to ponder on what is revealed, implied and concealed in statements such as the following:

The language was chosen because of “sympathies to Russia, from the interest to its great culture,” according to the ministry.

Fighting the long defeat

Elsewhere in the world, researchers are struggling to preserve languages that are faced with extinction, partly because of government indifference. According to an article in Physorg, a 21-year old researcher is on a quest to document Desano, an indigenous language currently spoken by approximately 150 people in the Amazon .

“A man said to me ‘Good morning, sleepy head,’ ” the linguistics major recalled of her research trip to the indigenous town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira in the Brazilian Amazon.

An academic meat-market?

Returning to the ‘first world’, there is an article in Vitae calling for the abolition of the conference interview (in the US, it is common for academic recruitment to take place in the annual disciplinary conferences). It is argued that such an interview format is expensive, intimidating and unfair:

During my recent skirmish over a particular search committee’s choice to notify interviewees five days before the MLA convention, members of said committee insisted that any serious beginning scholar would be at the convention anyway, either to give a paper or to learn about the profession. I think more can be learned about the profession from the assumption that anyone “serious” can afford a four-figure networking trip.

Shades of gray were measured (M=50, StDev=4.2)…

And while on the topic of conference interviews, it appears that some scholars are experimenting with original strategies to cope with the stresses of the job search and the publish or perish culture. According to a personal ad recently posted in Craigslist, a “fairly fit” assistant professor was keen on meeting colleagues for a job-interview themed personal encounter during this years MLA conference. Following widespread outcry and ridicule [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], he added the following apology to the ad:

It came to my attention rather belatedly that this post has gone rather viral and caused much consternation and controversy. The debate has drawn my attention to the fact that the post can be seen to perpetuate two power structures within the academy: those of gender and academic rank. The fact that this was inadvertent is irrelevant; I understand now I have done a disservice to all scholars who are victim of these structures, and all those who will be victims of it in the future. I am sorry.

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