At a Crossroads
Posted: 06 March 2012 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi,
I’ve been lurking for awhile, on a mailing list, thought I had joined but when I tried to post something realized I hadn’t. I think I’d joined something, but wasn’t signed up for the forums perhaps. Anyway, I’m an ESL teacher living in Korea, but plan to return to Canada in the summer or sometime after depending on certain things such as when my wife’s permanent residency comes through, acceptance to university and such. Which brings me to my next point.

Furthering my education / Where to go next -
I’ve been teaching English for nine years here, the last three in Universities, and it’s time to move on. I want to go home. I’ll need to work and find some kind of career when I go back home as I’ll need money for things like food and a place to live. Pesky reality huh? This presents some dilemmas and problems for me. What to study? I’m kind of torn. I had previously applied to do a Masters of Adult Education through a distance program from St. FX in Antigonish, Nova Scotia which is on the East coast of Canada for those who might not know, and not too far from my hometown. I taught an English camp with a previous grad and he really talked up the program, said it was self directed, and you could basically study pretty much any subject as long as you could tie it in with Adult Education which is really broad. I figured I could perhaps do something with my secular bent in mind. I got accepted, and I went back to Canada during my summer vacation time at my university to attend a three week foundation program. And much like my friend had told me, people were really encouraged to go ‘almost’ any direction. Some were focusing on stuff in health, mentoring, african education, autism, and many others. I felt that everyone was encouraged to follow their passions, except me. Some of the profs. actually were more supportive than others. One professor who I had a meeting with wasn’t. Actually it wasn’t even a scheduled meeting. I was helping her carry something to her office and we started chatting. I was supposed to meet with her the next day.
Anyway, a little background to this meeting and the time before it; since I wanted to study something that might be somehow related to atheism, secularism, humanism, with interests in science and perhaps even the need to help educate regarding pseudoscience or even perhaps the challenges a person emigrating from a very fundamentalist religious society such as the middle east might have to deal with when moving to a more secular society. Actually there were many possible interests I had. Because of this, during our group discussions I made it a point to identify as an atheist, since I was hoping to study something that I would be more passionate with than simply focusing on the ESL teaching I’d been doing. I was truly interested in learning from other students and seeing how parallels in their own research might give me ideas. For instance, the professor who I met with was coming from a feminist background. I thought that since feminists had to fight for their voice to be heard in society and that there were much critical research in adult education coming from a feminist perspective.

I thought she would be one of the most open to my ideas. I was wrong. During our chat, which lasted an hour, she berated me and accused me of ‘every time you open you mouth it’s atheism’ and ‘what are you going to be, a professional atheist?’, ‘It’s interesting, but it’s not adult education’ and so on. It ended with me in tears and confused. Needles to say I didn’t meet with her the next day. In fact I was depressed and upset for the next three days. It just seemed like it was ok to do academic work in regards to any group, feminists, queer theories of education, theories about the need for racial consciousness in education, social movement theory etc, but apparently, not atheism. She went on to say how there wasn’t any research to build on and similar things. Now I think it’s fair for her to state the truth about the current state of the field of adult education if it does in fact not have a lot of research. My thought was at one point in time, Adult Education wasn’t itself a distinct field, and there had to be a first person to branch off into feminist adult ed., queer theory, black theory and all the different branches. It seems ridiculous and defensive to me to say you can’t study this because it hasn’t been studied. Anyway, as I said, I think she has every right to argue her points, but the way she did it was unprofessional, hostile, and personal, and is probably one of the factors in why I dropped out only a few months after beginning.

Now as I said, some other profs were more open to my ideas. The prof who was assigned as my advisor was not as hostile as the professor I told you about before, but she still seemed pretty resistant to be following what I saw as an area that I could legitimately study. However, anytime I tried to make any mild criticisms of anything religious I was warned I was out of line. I’m sure lots on this forum can relate to not being ‘allowed’ to challenge religion. There is still a big taboo. I was surprised however that I came up this much conflict from within academia. Anyway, my advisor was letting me have maybe three or four sources on my reading list from what I’ll call ‘secular literature’ but cautioned about having too much as it would take me ‘off topic’. From what I read I disagreed. I thought there was a legitimate area of study, and that I could find ways to link it to adult education, especially within the philosophy of adult education, and that I would be able to state a logically defensible argument as to why this stuff ‘should’ matter to the field. I probably could have stood my ground and insisted on it, but I didn’t want to spend years fighting with my advisor just for the right to explore and research, and I also didn’t want to not be true to myself. Because of this, not wanting to study what my heart wasn’t interested in, and partly because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do distance learning, at least not in the direction I felt I was being steered, I decided to drop out and listen to the little voice inside me that was telling me something was wrong. So even though I’d already spent a couple of thousand I decided to drop out before I spent more on something that just didn’t feel right.

In an ideal world the only thing I’d be basing my decision on would be what am I interested in. Reality has different things to consider. I’ll be moving to Canada with my wife who is Korean. I’ve heard many stories that it can be hard for people who immigrate to find work. So I decided that perhaps a good idea would be to do a Bachelor of Education since I can finish it in one year and be back in the work force. But again, it’s not something I’m really passionate about. My wife says if I decide to do a masters and ph.d instead maybe she will stay in Korea while I study. I don’t know if that would end up being a good thing for our marriage. Neither would struggling financially while I am a student for a long time if she can’t get work. I’m 39 and she’s 37 so I kind of feel like times running out. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is. Maybe working as a high school teacher could be ok. Perhaps I could study more secular things part time.

I’m curious about the Master’s degrees that are listed on this site in conjunction with I think it was Buffalo University. I did a double major in English and Philosophy. I think the degree was about Science and Public Understanding. I am really interested in stuff like that, I’m constantly reading stuff about science, and it’s effect, conflict with religion. But I wonder if having not done a science based BA degree if I even meet the pre reqs. I could do a masters that is more about philosophy, and religious studies, or perhaps philosophy of science and skepticism or something. Another important thing is that I want to study what I am passionate about, but I also want to know that I can have a career after I’m done, perhaps as a professor.

Has anybody here done the Masters degree through CFI and can comment on the prospects after that?

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Posted: 06 March 2012 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I found your post interesting. I just had this discussion with my son about following his passion. He is quite a bit younger and trying to wrap up 4 years of college. I am hoping to see more contributions on this thread and welcome to the group.

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Posted: 06 March 2012 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Trevor, as I’m sure you know, a big part of being successful as a scientist is knowing how to ask interesting questions. There is the long and growing tradition of secularity in governments around the world. There is the psychology of how religion works. There is the study of neurology and how it applies to religion. There are a lot of philosophical background around religions or the lack thereof. There is behavioral economics, the study of how social and neurological biases affect peoples’ economic decision making, which definitely can apply to religion and atheism. There is the social study of how religions, atheism, and any number of other memes come about and evolve over time.

Yes, there is a whole lot of stuff out there relating to atheism, and IMHO you have simply had some bad luck in which advisors you’ve been able to work with. But, why do you want a degree at all? You don’t need one to study all you want - typically degrees are more geared around job prospects rather than research that falls outside traditional bounds. In a way, I am in a similar boat that you are in. I want to study a specific form of microtonality in music, and it’s simply an uncommon subject that doesn’t have a whole of research done on it yet (there IS indeed some!), and most universities simply don’t want to take the risk of supporting a student’s studies in a field that isn’t established in their department already. So, I work on my stuff on my own, and in the process I don’t have to pay outrageous tuition and I retain full control over all of my documents, not having to submit so much of my efforts to a thesis project. It’s going to stay that way unless I can find some place that will support me studying exactly what I want. Which kind of means that I have to prove my case before even being accepted. Which kind of defeats the point of needing university support anyway.

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Posted: 06 March 2012 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Trombone - very informative, makes me think. I think there is some real value here for Trevor. And for me.

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Posted: 06 March 2012 08:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks Savage and Trombone. You have a lot of good suggestions Trombone. In regards to your question of why bother with a degree I do agree that getting a degree can be expensive and maybe a bit hard to find the right fit of a place to study. I also agree that we can self educate ourselves for free. I guess the dilemma here is that sometimes having that degree might help
to open up more avenues of work. I need to work, make money and whatnot, I’d rather be able to have that work be interesting and something I’m passionate about. It’s true I might be able to find that without a degree, and certainly nothing is stopping me from researching anything on my own time, even writing about it, getting involved in secular groups, but I’d like to find a way to make it a career rather than a hobby. I have been thinking of maybe trying to write a book about some of the stuff I’m interested in, having a PH.D behind my name might give me more credibility and an easier route to actually getting published since it’s required. I’m sure some organizations like CFI sometimes hire paid workers as well. Having more education in a related field might help there too. I guess I want that balance of stimulation and job security.

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Posted: 06 March 2012 09:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Welcome Trevor.  Glad to have you here.  I think you may enjoy it here.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 06 March 2012 10:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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TrevorC - 06 March 2012 08:40 PM

It’s true I might be able to find that without a degree, and certainly nothing is stopping me from researching anything on my own time, even writing about it, getting involved in secular groups, but I’d like to find a way to make it a career rather than a hobby. I have been thinking of maybe trying to write a book about some of the stuff I’m interested in, having a PH.D behind my name might give me more credibility and an easier route to actually getting published since it’s required. I’m sure some organizations like CFI sometimes hire paid workers as well. Having more education in a related field might help there too. I guess I want that balance of stimulation and job security.

Degrees aren’t required for establishing careers. But they do help, especially if you want to work for a university somewhere.

As for writing a book, having a degree will help sales very little. It’ll either be something that people will want to read, or it won’t. Plus, nowadays more than ever it’s possible to make a decent amount of money through self-publishing, as long as you plan ahead so you have the resources to create the first printing yourself. I don’t mean buying all of the machinery for binding and all that, unless you want to do that, but saving enough money to have someone print it and bind it for you. There are a lot of companies out there that will do this, leaving the sales and distribution up to you. Of course, the advantage of finding a professional publisher is the distribution power.

This is something that I have been thinking of a lot lately, BTW.

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Posted: 12 March 2012 09:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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At this moment I’m waiting to see if I get accepted into the B.ed program. If I do I’ll likely do it since it’s only a year and I can then find a half decent job. I’ve already started a distance masters once and dropped out because of what I outlined above. I think maybe it would be better for my wife if I can have a plan and hopefully a career when we go back home. Then I think if I get that far I can re asses what next, study other things I’m interested in part time, maybe get involved with a local secular group wherever I’m living. There reason I named the post Crossroads is that there are many choices and possible paths. It can be a confusing time, but I also have the feeling from past experiences that very interesting things can happen regardless of what road I take. Anyway, thanks everyone for contributions, suggestions and welcomes.

Any thoughts on if I do get accepted into a B.ed program what challenges I might face. I figure that being a high school teacher would be a tricky place. I wouldn’t want to be a ‘secret’ atheist, but wouldn’t necessarily want to be a loudmouth overbearing teacher who makes religious children feel intimidated. I wouldn’t want to avoid it. These days my approach is not to go out of my way to broadcast my being an atheist, but not to hide it either, and not to make lies about anything if asked. If someone asks me what I believe I politely tell them. I just wonder if it could be a situation that would jeopardize a job or not. Any public school teachers on here want to chime in? Would being a public school teacher in Canada and a somewhat vocal atheist outside of the school be a minefield? I know in a perfect world it shouldn’t since we are supposed to have freedom of religion, including the freedom to be non religious. I know that schools are supposed to be secular. I remember in grade two or three my school stopped starting the mornings with the Lord’s Prayer. I never was religious so it was a weird feeling. I wasn’t really a conscious atheist back then either, it just was a world I wasn’t part of as my family didn’t go to church or talk about religion growing up. Anyway, I wonder what the ethical implications of being a teacher are when you are an atheist. How much should a teacher reveal?

When I was going to do my masters degree that I dropped out of I was interested at the time of studying the phenomenon of atheists self censoring. I kind of got the idea by thinking about similarities of the atheist movement to various other movements that preceded. I thought how atheists, like GLBT have a choice whether to identify as an atheist or to remain in the atheist closet so to speak. As I’ve said I’ve never really kept it as a guarded secret, but when in the three week foundation program for the masters I dropped out, I tried a little experiment of being very vocal about it since it’s the area I was interested in studying. In other everyday life I am not exactly secretive, but still a bit conservative(although when the topic comes out I find that I do jump into the conversation, and don’t shy from a debate) in how I carry myself. I wondered how much of that is a sort of habit and maybe even verging on programming that might be a natural reaction to living in a society that is still very religious. One interesting thing that happened out of that, besides the uncomfortable confrontations from some faculty, was that a few students that never really talked about this stuff in the discussion sessions came up to me at the end and told me that they had similar feelings but were scared to voice them. It made me think that it’s not so much only about challenging religious people and what they think, but also about being visible so that others that might think they are alone in their lack of beliefs can find a community. I’m not gay so I don’t want to overstep my bounds and try to speak for a community I don’t belong to, but I think that as our society becomes more open, and GLBT folks get more vocal and visible that it must be creating a better environment to live in. I think atheists and secularists can benefit from a lot of the same strategies. That’s why I am encouraged to see so many books out these days from people like Dennet, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, as well as the many who are perhaps less in the spotlight but equally important. I also am encouraged by things like the atheist bus campaign which I sent money to even though I’d never ever even been in the UK. And I think it’s great that it’s expanded to other cities. I was told by a professor in the masters program I dropped that they were skeptical of whether or not atheism is a social movement. I think it is. What say you all?

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