On this Labor Day, my thoughts turn to my labor. I've been a teacher and now I'm an administrator at the college level. When I first started in my field, I assumed that I had chosen a field that was similar to gerontology. I thought that people would always need to go to school. I didn't foresee all the technology that might make the delivery of that education make me, the human in front of the classroom, obsolete.
I'm roughly halfway through my career life, so maybe I can hold on and keep reinventing myself. That was my thought a year ago, before the economic meltdown of the Fall of 2008. Now, I wonder how many people will continue to pay astronomical amounts for an education. If you're wondering why education costs so much, see this article in The New York Times. This article seems to say that people will continue to pay for community colleges and state universities, which are more affordable than private schools. Right now, I'm at a private school, so that's only some amount of comfort.
Of course, the affordability question doesn't address the appropriation of our work. With online classes proliferating, how long before administrators decide that teachers are expendable. The faculty at the University of Illinois just managed to defeat an attempt to take their syllabi and course materials to create a new batch of online management classes taught by adjuncts (for those of you outside of academia, read cheap labor without benefits).
In her post, the blogger Historiann reminds us that the attempt to steal our work may not always be so obvious: "Oh, and one more thing: think twice before you post your syllabi and PowerPoint slides on-line, friends, even (or especially?) if it’s just through a software program or server at your own university and/or visible only to your students. Just because they don’t pay us well doesn’t mean our work doesn’t have value. It’s a jungle out there."
So, on this Labor Day, which celebrates the American Labor Movement and all the gains made for a more humane workplace, it's worth thinking about how much we may be backsliding. It's also worth thinking about what a jobless recovery means for the future (the editorial page of The Washington Post has several articles on that topic today, as does the front page of The New York Times--I'm not going to link to them because they depressed me too much). Will the day come when we'd be grateful for bosses who abuse us because at least we're getting paid?
Ah, Karl Marx, where are you when we need you?