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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Arrímate a los buenos / Them that's got

Arrímate a los buenos, y serás uno de ellos.

Get next to the "good" people, and you will be one of them. There is a cynical and an idealistic reading of this traditional Spanish proverb. Generally, there is a whole class of proverbs like 'no con quien naces, sino con quien paces" that emphasize that an individual will be judged by the company he or she keeps. It's kind of a double-edged blade: you can overcome humble origins by associating yourself with a better class of people. On the other hand, the proverb warns that someone seen is good company is not necessarily what she seems.

Scholars will often be judged by their surroundings, where they work, where they got their degree, who their dissertation advisor was. An article in a prestigious journal looks good because it got accepted into that journal and is rubbing shoulders with a better class of article. Don't waste a great article on a lesser journal. Don't write books for the Twayne series.

There is an unfairness here, that of "accumulated advantage" or the "Matthew Effect" summarized by Billie Holiday: "Them that's got shall get, / them that's not shall lose / so the bible says / and it still is news." An already publishing scholar will get more research grants to continue, whereas someone who hasn't already "got" won't "get." On the other hand, there's an upward mobility principle inherentin "arrímate a los buenos." Once you get into a few good journals, you are part of "los buenos."


I went to Mediocre State School for undergraduate, then to Stanford for Grad School. The Stanford Spanish Department was not very good when I was there, but it didn't matter, because it had an impressive name and I was good: I had managed to get myself very good training at Mediocre State School and then worked independently, teaching myself what I had to learn. I was in Comp Lit to I didn't have to take courses in Spanish that I didn't want to. I was hurt by the lack of great courses there, but I also learned that I was responsible for my own education.


My Department now has very good pedagogy for Graduate Students. The only problem is that the students are sometimes more passive. If we taught them worse, they would have to work more independently.

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