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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On professional decline (Update)

This Atlantic essay from Arthur C. Brooks, until this week the president of the AEI, is fascinating. I am the age (51) that Brooks was when he overheard the conversation that launched him on this project four years ago.

I was especially interested in the mid-essay discussion of fluid v. crystallized intelligence and its connection to scholarship as opposed to teaching for academics (Brooks spent about seven years as a professor of public policy). Creative and scholarly highs (which rely on fluid intelligence) top-out about 20 years into our careers, because fluid intelligence diminishes in our 30s and 40s. Teaching effectiveness relies on the knowledge gained in the past and our ability to share that knowledge and can last much longer into a career and a life (Brooks uses the example of J.S. Bach, who moved from composing to teaching late in life). This lends a new angle on the discussion over how schools should treat faculty who are effective teachers but not productive scholars--it may be a product of age and time in the academy that, Brooks suggests, schools could use to their advantage.

Brooks offers one point that, given my age and career choice, I take as a source of optimism from the piece: "No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life."

Update: One academic-specific thought that occurred to me after I hit "publish": One must care about teaching, enjoy teaching, and want to be a good teacher early in a career, during that creative heyday. Because I imagine the transition is easier when teaching is something a prof enjoys and can be proud of--the loss of "prestige" will be felt less.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 19, 2019 at 11:35 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

Bach wrote the Musical Offering and the Art of the Fugue in the last decade of his life. It is hard to call these works a professional decline. Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms, Haydn, Schoenberg, and many others wrote great works late in their lives. Elliot Carter wrote some of his best works after he was 90.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jun 19, 2019 2:05:33 PM

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