If you wanna be a good archeologist…

“If you want to be a good archeologist, you gotta get out of the library…”

from Indiana Jones – Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  One of my favorite flicks.  Harrison Ford and his character, Indiana Jones, have both grown older.  For those of us who remember the dashing adventurer of the ’90’s, his antics as an elderly hero add a touch of nostalgic humor to the story. 

Indy: “This used to be easier.”

Motivated by the need to rescue his old friend Oxley, he knowingly follows the young Mud Williams into a trap in the jungle.  They build a casual relationship…

Indy: “So, what do you do for a living?”

Mud: “Fix motorcycles.”

Indy: (Scoffing) “You gonna do that the rest of your life.”

Mud: “Ya, you gotta problem with that?”

Indy: (Taken aback) “No, not if that’s what you love.  Don’t let anybody tell you different.”

We tend to tell people what they want to hear, to avoid making waves.  When Indy finds out that Mud is his son, his attitude changes.  He tells Mud, “You’re going to finish school.”   When the risk becomes personal, we retreat back to what we’ve been taught.  The message is: “If you want to be a success, you have to play by House rules, you have to get an education”.   There are two issues here…

Traditional liberal arts education doesn’t take us far enough down the line.  We get off the train before we get to where we need to be, thinking critically about our own situations, learning by experience, solving problems for our community, producing something of value.  Instead we end up spending all our time (precious and limited) working for someone else, away from our families, supporting the corporate bottom line, and living up to others’ expectations, all in the name of financial security.

The second issue is that when someone else signs our paycheck, we have to adopt their perspective, their worldview, and often their goals.   What is important to our employer must be important to us if we are to keep our job.  And while we technically don’t have to believe everything our employer believes, to the extent that it involves our employment, we have to act, talk, and write as if we agree.   For higher ed faculty this means supporting the now ubiquitous institutional goal of “career-readiness”.    The reality of preparing students to join the workforce actually means getting them through the program start to finish, producing “program completers”, maximizing revenue.  Happy, satisfied students will stay; unhappy students will walk, and take their wallets or their debtor notes with them. Keeping students happy means finding easy ways for them to stay.   Getting students through the program can be easy, as few people question what goes on in the classroom; water flowing downhill takes the path of least resistance. 

In the meantime the rhetoric of higher education assures everyone that we are teaching critical thinking and fostering innovation, despite the fact that these particular skills are rare at the university or any other level.   But, if no one knows what critical thinking looks like, who’s to say we’re not teaching it?!   We can say whatever we like; truth is relative.q

“If you want to be a good archeologist, you gotta get out of the library…”

So, what does Indiana Jones mean when he tells the archeology student to get out of the library?  How can he cheer Mud’s career as a motorcycle mechanic and in the next moment insist that he finish school?  How can higher ed faculty support the institution’s goal of getting students through the program on the one hand and teach independence, self-sufficiency, and critical thinking (specifically, critique of the education system) on the other?

It’s learning through life experience.  It involves playing the House so that you can choose not to play the House.  It involves realizing that there’s lots of valuable information to be found in the library, and priceless experience in the field.  It means that if the train stops before you get to where you’re going, get off and walk.  It means that if you want to be a good teacher, you have to get out of the classroom.  It just might be that simple.



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