My job has been a mixed bag of late. People tend to be satisfied fighting a war of attrition over very little ground - perhaps this is a function of corporate organization in general rather than how things are done at Pendulous Publishers - and I hate that part of the job. We inherit bad ideas and are expected to follow through on them with the same persistence and seriousness we (presumably) apply to the good ideas that occasionally trickle down from management. But people take it amiss when I talk about the badness of some of our basic ideas, because they 'just aren't our fight' or something to that effect.
These people are right at some level but they sadden me nonetheless. A minor rant follows.
[Brief interlude: The people I work with vary from incompetent to very, very smart and effective. Almost without exception, they are hard-working people, or try to be. Some of them even believe in our work, though most don't seem interested in what lies beyond the edges of their desks (I'm not in the creative division that actually gets to put together content; we're the typesetters and we care about setting type, though I've been able to work on a couple of interesting miniature projects which have had the effect, largely, of reminding me what my job is not). People can't be blamed for not thinking about things they've never had a reason to think about. But they can be blamed for getting wrong what they do for a living, so the question is whether 'making effective educational materials' is what we do for a living. I would like to think so but I'm told otherwise. In any case: I don't mean to piss on my coworkers here. The problems at Pe.Pub. are bigger than we can reasonably be expected to solve.]
For instance: we make an online question-bank product that is phenomenally ugly. Its administrative interface is slipshod, the student-facing portion looks like something out of the mid-to-late-90's commercial Web, there's no integration of media technology newer than the JPEG image. A tremendous development effort has gone into this product when a much smaller effort using smaller, more streamlined, more modern tools would surely have produced - indeed, would surely produce today - a more effective teaching and learning tool, and one that didn't look like a GeoCities leftover. (Not worth talking today about whether our stuff is good for teaching. You can guess my opinion, but let's stick to the ugliness problem this Monday morning.) I complained about this once to the boss who ultimately signs the cheques - who's a nice lady, actually, quite smart and sensible, but doomed to be a middle manager forever, I should think - and she pointed out that ______ is only one of our products, and that you can't criticize the whole company because we make one bad thing. And she was right, of course - I was painting with too broad a brush because I was pissed off at having to do something stupid for pay - but she was also missing the point. We make an ugly, ineffective thing. Why not jettison it? Why not simply make something new in its place? Who's benefitting from this shit?
We make it that way because the other textbook companies make their online stuff that way, I was told. This is what teachers demand. (Don't get me started on the underlying assumption that fake democracy is the ideal way to develop educational materials. And definitely don't get me started on whether teachers are able to communicate what they really want when it comes to technology.)
All of which is to say, by the time orders come down to Production, we're stuck with the ham-fisted notions cooked up by Editorial and Marketing. Marketing!! They actually grant some decision-making authority to sales reps because they're 'closest to customers'. What boils me is that it does no good to know anything beyond what you're told, beyond the company's policies, because it can only frustrate you. Learning about our decision-making process won't illuminate the crafty logic of Pendulous Publishers, it'll just expose the weird blind spots and institutional assumptions that drive our business. (It's not just us: all the big textbook publishers put out piles and piles of irrelevant 'revisions', mere swill, and most edutainment is as bad today as it was when The Oregon Trail came out. These aren't controversial statements; I don't know why people act surprised to hear them.)
I never thought I'd say this, but there's a limit to how much you should have dipped into educational research and classroom teaching if you're going to work in educational publishing in a non-creative capacity. If you're writing the books and designing the interfaces, you'd goddamn well better know something about how students use your products. But if you're just shuffling the files around or writing the programs, don't think too hard about their contents. Because you have no personal stake in the correctness and effectiveness of the company's products, you won't think of them as reflections of you. So you might not know how to lie about their flaws, the way you lie to yourself about your own.
It is also possible to be too impolitic to work your way up to a position where you might exert the authority you think you're entitled to on account of your extravagant education. Let's not talk about that particular sticky existential wicket.
I'm not just a misanthrope. I desperately want us to be good at our job and do work that we can all be proud of. But I think sometimes that the structure of our work environment makes that impossible - because we don't determine the nature of our work, and those who do don't seem to know what they're about. Then again you can't blame 60-year-old executives for not being familiar with the Internet, not thinking critically about the classroom experiences of their childhoods, not knowing one of their employees from another. They're not paid to do those things.