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Friday, April 2, 2021


 People keep citing this Forbes story that academics are more likely to have academic parents than random people from the general population, or that academics are more likely to come from wealthier than average families.  It is supposed to be bad that there are families in academia for more than one generation? Also, if you are trying to make money, academia is not the best of the genteel professions, so maybe you feel you can do it if you have more of a cushion, with wealthier parents. Probably if we were poorer my daughter would not feel the possibility of trying to be a classical musician.  

A lot of things are "family businesses." I'm sure Wynton (or Branford) Marsalis had a head start with Ellis Marsalis as his father, vs. another person with non-musician parents.  Joshua Redman's father was a also a jazz sax player, etc... Not to mention Mozart or Bach, Beethoven, etc... We just can't expect accomplishments to occur in a vacuum. Musicians emerge from a musical culture, not just from schooling. 


Leslie B. said...

There are all sorts of family businesses, also, not just learned ones. One of my more admirable students is from a construction family. He can build anything, it seems, and can always make money doing it, and went to college part time for years, for education.

They are freaked on this article because they are freaked about "inclusiveness." Now that everything is so impoverished, the only way to get enough lore to get into field is to have family in it. But one of my college friends is a *famous* academic and had parents without college and I'm not sure how much high school. It was CA public schools and inexpensive UCB education that gave them what is now called "access." But we've cut that kind of access off, so we wring our hands saying some people have insider knowledge from family.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Isn't this also an area where genetic variance matters? It's probably not just that Ellis taught music to Wynton and Branford. They no doubt had an "ear" for it too.

Also, scholarship is a craft tradition. Some people can build anything. Some people can play anything. Some people can write anything. It's part of their heritage.

Of course, it's not so simple in whole populations. Many people don't learn what their parents know. (Some don't even learn their parents' mother tongue.) But, like Jonathan, I'm not surprised to find a correlation here.

Jonathan said...

We're becoming more inclusive now, but not in economic terms. My dept. was all white male in the senior ranks when I came (except for a women who wasn't treated well by them). Now we have 8 nationalities / ethnicities represented.

It seems harder now to enter the profession because of lack of jobs, especially in the tenure track. It doesn't seem like something I would advise a younger person to enter now, because excellent academic jobs like mine are going to be increasingly scarce.

Leslie B. said...

Oh, right, more inclusive in terms of hiring. Although not really: most people are never hired. The few who are hired do look "diverse" but they come from the university of excellence, which is highly exclusionary.

It's much harder now than in the past to get the kind of education K-12 that you need to get into and do well at a good college if you don't have money, even though once you have the PhD your gender and ethnicity *might* matter less.

Except at my place of course, we're at about 1950 on these matters, it's a big thing, today university vowed to change in the newspaper and the 3 persons of color it has or had are laughing at the hypocrisy on Facebook.