A Great Big Dose of Completely Inappropriate

I would like to report a great big fat FAIL on the part of InideHigherEd.com's so-called "career coach." If you read the story "Grad School Juggling," here, you'll note a desperate single mom wondering about how to deal with her newfound singledom and her grad schooling while dealing with a three year old child. The advice from the so-called 'career coach' Tedra Osell includes such snippets as allowing a child to run around the classroom and throw confetti while she lectures and leaving her toddler in the hallway to run up and down to burn off his energy, and calling professors who don't like you bringing your tot to class on a regular basis "assholes." No mention of fellow grad students who might be miffed at this set-up.

Um. Yeah. Seriously, read it.

It's really fantastic in a way. I mean, who ever thought you could fit *so much* bad advice into a single post? Since apparently they're vetting comments on the actual post, I'm going to give some reaction here, like you were hoping I would.

  • "If he’s the obedient type, as my son was, you can let him leave the room and run up and down the hall if he gets antsy". Um, lady? I wouldn't leave my purse unattended in the hallway, much less my three year old son (if I had one). Also, this is great - if you ignore the fact that in most universities there will be other classes going on down that hallway, as well as administrative offices and faculty offices. You don't think having an unattended three year old tear-assing up and down the hallway would be distracting, not to mention calling-of-child-protective-services worthy? This gets two fails: Parenting FAIL and Member of Academic Community FAIL.

  • "Ask the professors if you can bring your son." Needless to say, any prof teaching graduate courses worth his/her salt will say no. Unless it is an emergency and other arrangements simply cannot be made, bringing your toddler to class is disruptive and distracting, not only to the professor, but to other students who have the right to the distraction-free education that they signed up for when they entered the program.

  • "If he can entertain himself with crayons and paper or quiet toys, then let him. If you have a laptop (or if a classmate does and is willing to bring it to class), you can plug the kid into a set of earphones and let him watch a DVD during class." Unless your three year old has a better attention span than most 18 year olds I know, this is not going to work. Also, what self-respecting GRADUATE student (who generally, by definition, is poor, poor, poor) is going to let some sticky-fingered 3 year old goober all over his expensive (or, more likely, clunky, outdated and barely performing) laptop? Dream on, lady.

  • "Find out which profs aren’t assholes, but feel free to impose even on the assholes once or twice—it’s good for them. If the chair is a good sort, enlist his or her help and backing. Ditto your advisor. With them behind you, the asshole profs will have to suck it up. Hoo, doggy. Yes, this is excellent advice if you want to finish up your degree and get the recs you need to get a job. Any professor who says no to a toddler in the classroom is an asshole? Lovely. Yes, I'm certain it has nothing to do with their concern about the quality of the class, the distraction an energetic child makes, and that sort of thing. No, they're just crochety assholes who prefer their stuffy graduate classrooms to have a sense of decorum and professionalism. How dare they! We may as well call them sexist, too, since they are apparently against the plight of single mothers everywhere. Please see bullet #2. Also, a quick note: as not only a faculty member but a constant grad student, I would be VERY suspicious of the quality of any graduate program where the director allowed this sort of thing, really.

  • "If you’re teaching, same advice: obviously you don’t want your son there so much that he becomes a huge distraction, and if he can’t behave reasonably well — not perfectly, but reasonably — then don’t bring him, but I brought mine and let him run around behind me tearing up paper and throwing confetti while my students and I sat around the seminar table" - Um, no. No no no. I don't know what sort of Mickey Mouse college Osell was teaching at that allowed this, but no. If a child running around behind you tearing paper and throwing confetti is not a distraction to your students, I have a comment on your teaching: UR DOIN IT WRONG. As a student or colleague, I would also have some really great video captured on my phone that i would immediately upload to YouTube and send to the department chair, dean, and university president, with a note that asked whether this was why my tuition got hiked 6%+ this year.

  • Feel free to bring your son to ANY meetings you do have to attend. If he gets antsy, take him out of the room, just like you do at restaurants. Anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss your full-time grad student single-mama ass, and anyway, it might help keep meetings short." Way to be professional. Walking out of a meeting multiple times with your rugrat is *not* just like at a restaurant, unless the folks at the table with you are also the ones judging your worth as a future professional and writing your recommendations. And no, it won't keep meetings short - "to-do" lists do not get shorter because you bring a child with you, you'll just force everyone else to stay longer and talk about your complete inappropriateness as you go outside to lecture your child. Who is 3 and will in no way internalize or understand said lecture.

  • "you’re being a great colleague and a good teacher to all of us by not hiding away." No, no you most certainly are not, if you are following Osell's advice. You are being a completely inconsiderate colleague to the folks who are rolling their eyes at your child rambling alone and unsupervised up and down the corridor. You are being an awful teacher, allowing severe distractions to disrupt your teaching space and your student's (supposed) learning. (Likely they are learning the increased importance of prophylactics.) Following Osell's advice is a death-knell - she should be told that if she decides this is the way to fight the feminist battle for single working/schooling moms, that they would rather she stayed home and kept her awful opinions to herself.

Interestingly enough, Osell makes no note of the many graduate schools who have implemented special leave programs for grad schooling parents who hit times of hardship and need some time off to deal without getting dinged by the program (which will usually have a time limit). Many students and faculty have worked hard to get these policies implemented so that parents don't have to feel like it's either/or, kids versus schooling, and so they can have the necessary time to take a breath, make arrangements, and stay sane. Shame on Osell for promoting the idea that academia is not a profession to take seriously, for promoting neglect and unsupervised travels by toddlers, and most of all, for giving awful advice that will actually harm the academic career of whomever listens to her. Academia is a world where word-of-mouth is paramount, and if you become known as a serious troublemaker or "that kooky lady who brings her screaming kid to both the classes she takes and those she teaches," good luck ever finding a decent job.


Anonymous said…
At first, the way you described it, I thought that maybe the response was "tongue in cheek". But when I actually looked at the article I was floored. You did notice that although it was okay to take your child to class as a student... but "If you’re teaching, same advice: obviously you don’t want your son there so much that he becomes a huge distraction". So it's okay to inconvenience teachers.

I am a firm believer that there should be a common sense exam prior to allowing people to procreate.

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