In my blog on “Pandemonium” I spoke about how the twin forces of the Common Core and digital publishing are rippling through schools, libraries, and publishing houses. But a series of recent conversations suggest that the epicenter of shock, and change, is even wider than I’d supposed: just as K-12 teachers are being asked to train their students in the languages and mindsets of academic professions, Ph.D. programs are facing the fact that they are dishonest with their students — there are no jobs at the end of the rainbow. There is a glorious opportunity here — so long as we are willing to change everything. Dr. Thomas Bender was my doctoral advisor years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch. He sent me a link to an article of his in the Chronicle of Higher Education (link here, but it is only a stub as you need a subscription to get the whole article http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-Been-Lost-in-History/130706/) Dr. Bender argues that the reality for many of even the best Ph.D. students in history is that they will not find jobs as history professors — so what can a university do? I’d been having similar discussions with Dr. Leonard Cassuto, a friend and neighbor who writes about similar issues in his own Chronicle column.
I’d been thinking about the grad school problem when Loree Griffin Burns skyped in to my class on nonfiction for K-12. She told us about her career path: she had her Ph.D. in Biology and was getting set to seek out a postdoc when she learned she was pregnant with twins. Casting about for what to do with herself, she realized that while she loved the work of being a scientist, she had always also wanted to communicate outside the small circle of her academic peers. Thus writing books for younger readers was not a setback, it was exploring a path she had long had in the back of her mind. What if, I thought, every Ph.D. student was required to take a Communications course while they were working on their dissertations. In this course they would gain exposure and experience in a variety of channels for reaching the public: writing books for the adult general reader, writing for K-12, teaching K-12, designing curriculum for K-12, working in museums, creating documentaries, designing edutainment games, sites and activities, etc.
The graduate students would have a better sense of where they could bring their skills and knowledge, while the general public — and the transforming K-12 world — would be infused with an ever-renewing cadre of people who have precisely the training we as a society have decided needs to be shared and expanded. We have grad students with great training but limited job prospects, and a society at large with a rapidly growing need for people with that kind of disciplinary training — all we need is eharmony for grad students — a dating service matching skills and needs. I suggest we call that a course in Communication.