(Not) The Real World

No doubt about it. When a publication can celebrate the arrival of its 100th issue, it is a cause for celebration. It is also a testament to the qualities of dedication, perseverance, and discipline. This is an achievement that causes one to reflect on one’s own history. How many 100 anniversaries can we count? Not many of us will celebrate our 100th birthday. Don’t know anyone who has celebrated 100 years of marriage. No, we must look elsewhere.

Autumn is back-to-school season. Students and teachers return to the classroom in pursuit of that elusive goal, an education. My rough calculation is that I am beginning instruction of my 95th class of students (14 years of public school X 6 classes/year + 11 freshmen seminar classes at Ohio State University). Of course, this is just an approximation. Some details of my teaching history have undoubtedly disappeared from my aging memory bank, and have now “left the building” along with the last sightings of Elvis.

Can one spend an entire career outside the “real world”? Oh, I have had “real Jobs” now and then (albeit part-time or temporary) – stock boy at Alexander’s Department Store (now defunct), cashier at S. Klein (also no longer in existence), sales person at Sears (Eastland store, Columbus, Ohio, recently closed), and grader for Data Recognition Corp. (until they moved their operation out of town). Does anyone sense a pattern here? Actually, this particular trend followed me during my years as a librarian at OSU: West Campus Library (closed), Undergraduate Library (closed), Education, Human Ecology, Psychology & Social Work Library (closed), and Sullivant Library (closed). Fortunately I retired from full time employment less than two years after moving to the university’s new Thompson Library in 2009 or that impressive edifice might have been in serious jeopardy.

You could say that all these passings are a mere natural consequence of longevity. Nevertheless, some people spend 30 years or more at the same job in the same place. For whatever reason, my career has not followed that pattern. The one habit that has persisted is my return to the classroom. The 2017 fall semester marks the 11th year (7th since my “retirement”) of teaching “Headless Body in Topless Bar: Researching Tabloid Journalism.” This particular field of study has undergone significant changes in the last decade or so. Once considered sensational, “fake news”, publications like the venerable “National Enquirer” have now ascended to the heights of journalistic endeavor. They can brag about having captured the attention and admiration of the President of the United States. Indeed, the Enquirer is one of only three newspapers (if we can call the Enquirer a newspaper) to endorse Trump for the office. (This clearly demonstrates that newspaper endorsements have become utterly worthless).

Yes, tabloids have achieved a dominant position in the media. Even once-respected news outlets have adopted tabloid tactics. CNN, for example, devotes most of its airtime to analyzing and debating the meaning of Trump’s tweets. Unless there is a horrendous natural disaster somewhere, or a mass murder, little else receives attention. I have had to turn to the BBC on my radio to be assured that there are still other countries in the world and that things are happening in them.

Certainly it would be useless to turn to any cable news outlet in order to receive guidance or motivation as I teach my 95th class this autumn. Instead, perhaps, I should look for advice from a respected national figure whose memes have been forwarded my way recently. I refer to former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin who has called for all college students to pass a course on the Constitution before being permitted to receive their degree. Perhaps Ms. Palin is unaware of the fact that every high school student must pass American History (which includes a heavy dose of the Constitution) before entering college. More likely, she feels that an entire course on the document is necessary (and she doesn’t mean the one that Obama taught at the University of Chicago). Well, the good governor might be pleased to learn that in my class we do discuss constitutional issues such as freedom of speech and press vs. the right to privacy. But she probably would be upset to discover that resolution of such matters are debatable and subject to interpretation. The framers of the Constitution did not craft a document that is set in stone. The only thing that seems to be set in stone is my return to teaching. So be it. I accept the challenge.

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