Sunday, April 14, 2019

Handwriting and Cursive Handwriting: Once more, with feeling

The New York Times reports that cursive handwriting is making a comeback, and the headline is this: "Cursive Seemed to Go the Way of Quills and Parchment. Now It’s Coming Back."

I've written (though not by hand--hah!) on this blog about handwriting and specifically cursive handwriting, most recently in response to Anne Trubek, who has a lot of strong opinions about it

But I have a few issues with, well, this issue.

First--you see what I did there in the title?

Writing by hand is not writing in cursive.

Writing by hand means making marks on a piece of paper (or with an Apple pencil on an iPad, or whatever else isn't typing). It can be printing letters rather than connecting them. It could probably mean shorthand.

Cursive is a subset of handwriting in which the letters are connected. If I could draw a Venn diagram in Blogger, it would show a little circle inside a big circle.

Second,  what's the evidence?

The evidence is that writing notes by hand, not writing notes in cursive handwriting, is what helped students learn back in those studies done earlier in the century. Cursive may be faster to write, but it's not a defining factor. It'd be nice if students learned it, but no classroom has 18 hours a day.
Figure 1. My precious.

Third, there's an ominous political tinge to all this.

Now, I happen to like cursive, and yes, I think that, like languages, music lessons, and unpaid internships, it will become a class marker to separate the haves from the have-nots, if it hasn't already. I also like fountain pens. I mean, who wouldn't like to write with those beauties in the picture?

And yes, it'd be great to have students who could read cursive so that they can read letters from ages past, or letters from their grandparents, or handwritten notes on graded papers. (If they can't read the last-named, they will have a hard time in my class, but so far, no complaints.)

But the idea that they have to be able to read cursive in order to read the Declaration of Independence or other documents from the founders--well, those documents have been in print form for quite some time now.

Figure 2. Go ahead. Tell us what it says, cursive-reader.
And the idea that "Magna Carta" was "written in cursive" is kind of like saying that a tiger is a cat. Technically, yes, but its being written in cursive isn't as much of a stumbling block as that it is written in Latin, which the NYT doesn't mention. Let's not even get into the varieties of handwriting, like 5th-century Uncial or secretary hand, which have to be learned as a separate skill.

There's a fantasy going around now in conservative circles about how if students can read cursive, we can just get back to the originary documents, including the Constitution, written in cursive, that will mystically reveal extreme right-wing principles about how God hates the poor, the rich deserve to be richer, etc. and other principles dear to the GOP heart.

I do like cursive. I am glad it is being taught. But I don't agree with the reasons now being touted for teaching it. 

Figure 3. Something about "all men are created equal" seems to be missing from the reasoning of some state legislators who promote cursive handwriting.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Time management and the confetti bomb

Gwinne and Dame Eleanor have good posts up about time management and schedules and also links to people who write about time management and schedules. ("fabulous SHU" and "GetaLifePhD" and "Raul Pacheco-Vega" are three of them.)

Such charts! Such beautiful, colorful charts! I hunger for their time charts.

But then reality sinks in. As xykademiqz described so eloquently (and I posted, too), charts are not for the likes of us INTP types. And even if the MBTI is invalid, I'm claiming that it is because it fits.

Figure 1. Leuchtteurm1917 or . . .
For now, I'm sticking with the ex post facto method: the black notebook, in which I record what I'm actually doing, with a to-do list in the right margin, rather than how I think my day might unfold. I also keep the Excel spreadsheet for writing and noting events.

It's gotten so bad (or good) that if I do anything mildly work-related--write, read, grade papers, answer emails (especially answer emails)--I grab frantically for the black notebook to write down the time.

If I work, it's in there. If I waste time, it's in there. At least I know what I was supposed to be doing, because of the to-do list.
Figure 2.. . . Moleskine? Name your poison.

This is where the confetti bomb comes in. Suppose you're sitting in your office, as one does, grading papers, as one does, and keeping to your color-coded grading block.

Then, if you're a person in the world, and especially an administrative person in the world, someone walks in and says, in effect, "Congratulations! Here's a juicy, complex problem that it will take many phone calls, meetings, and a lot of thought to solve. Oh, and it needs a solution now."

That someone heaves a confetti bomb, which then detonates all over your desk.

Now, you could say this: "Now is my SACRED WRITING TIME or SACRED GRADING TIME or MY ORANGE BLOCK! Can't you see that it is my orange block and not a confetti block? Go away immediately. My chart says you can't be here."

Or you could do what most of us do.

Get to work cleaning up the confetti bomb, and write it in your notebook so you'll know why your best-laid plans gang aft agley. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Random bullets of being incognito

I'm at a conference where I do not know a single solitary soul and where no one knows me. I'm incognito!
  • This has advantages:
    • First, I don't feel that I have to attend anything at all except my own session, so what I do go to is pure delight. 
    • Second, I'm sick with a cold (feverish, coughing, feeling horrible, not sleeping), which makes me everyone's nightmare conference-goer ("please-don't-sit-near-me, PLEASE-don't-sit-near-me"), so I am staying away from everything possible and sitting far from everyone if I do go to something. 
    • It is purely fine to give yourself permission to stay in the room, sleep, and get better, and no one notices if you're gone. Also: one splurge on room service.
    • Third, since I know no one, I don't have to hunt up people for dinner or, conversely, explain why I am staying in so as not to be Typhoid Mary. 
  • This has disadvantages: 
    • Missing sessions that I'd like to see.
    • Wanting to meet some people whose books I've read but realizing in advance the look of horror that would come over their faces if Typhoid Mary introduced herself. 
I am also extending the "incognito" thing via autoreply, since everyone back at Northern Clime took advantage of spring break to fire off complicated questions and land them on my desk instead of theirs.

I thought of going all Edmund Wilson on them or maybe "nope nope nope don't care right now leave me alone" but settled for a traditional, dignified "reply when I return."

Now I'm the one holed up in a Fortress of Solitude and firing flaming arrows of autoreply.

And I'm incognito.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

On copyediting and Arrested Development

There's an episode of Arrested Development that perfectly encapsulates my experiences with copyedited material.

Michael: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you a promotion. Welcome aboard, Mr. Manager. George Michael: Wow. I’m Mr. Manager. 
Michael: Well, manager; we just say manager. And you can hire an employee if you need one. George Michael: Do you think I need one? 
Michael: Don’t look at me, Mr. Manager. 
George Michael: Right, it’s up to me now. I’m Mr. Manager. 
Michael: Manager. We just say-- 
George Michael: I know, but you... 
Michael: Doesn’t matter who.

So which is it? Mr. Manager or just plain manager?

Dates in parentheses after a work is mentioned in the text? If I put them in, the copyeditor deletes them. If I don't put them in, I get an AU QUERY: "Please insert dates after titles."

Spell out "University Press"? If I do, it gets abbreviated to "UP." If I don't, it appears in full or sometimes as "Univ. Press."

Western, Eastern? I consult The Chicago Manual of Style and think I have it set, but if I have it capitalized, it's made lower-case and vice versa.

US or U.S.? If I use the periods, the copyeditor changes it to US--and vice versa.

Use a short form of the publisher's name? If I spell it out, it gets shortened. If I don't, it gets added back in.

Include the number of a journal that is paginated by issue? Don't get me started. 

I'm more amused by this than anything else.  I have heard of senior scholars who wax splenetic at the thought of changing a capital (think: Romanticism versus romanticism), but for me, that's not a hill to die on. I embrace a sort of learned helplessness since there's no point in fighting some of these.  Only if there's a change that creates a grammatical mistake will I shout "STET!" in the margins.

The new loosey-goosey MLA Handbook, 8th Edition, which is sort of Chicago-lite, doesn't help much.  I actually went to the session on this at MLA and asked questions that had been puzzling me, but they mostly said something along the lines of "Well, that is a pretty pickle, isn't it?" without answering the question.

Between MLA 8, Chicago 16 (and now 17), and various quirky house styles, I now take my best shot with the help of Endnote and Zotero, knowing that this is a battle that can never be won.

For I am Mr. Manager.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

White male privilege: a poem. Or a rant. Take your pick.

If I have to endure one more lecture

        Or email

        Or posted screed

        Or self-righteous comment

        Or public online attack

From another tenured white male

         Who is eager to show how woke he is

          And how committed to “the struggle”

         By making every conversation about “the struggle”

         And derailing every conversation to show how committed he is

         Even though creating funding, safeguards, and equality is the process I’m trying to further

         And, in the process, making it all about him and his wokeness,

I just might lose it.

Updated: McSweeney’s nails it again:

Friday, February 15, 2019

NYTimes tells you to answer your email. Okay, I'll get right on that.

In "No, you can't ignore email. It's rude", Adam Grant makes some good points about why you should respond, though. Here are some of his ideas and some of mine.
  • First of all, unless you're so awash with self-importance that people only exist when you want them to, you pretty much have to. It's your job. 
  • But according to Grant, "Your brain is not just sitting there waiting to be picked. You should not feel obliged to respond to strangers asking you to share their content on social media, introduce them to your more famous colleagues, spend hours advising them on something they’ve created or 'jump on a call this afternoon.'"
  • What about rude emails? Just say no to answering them. If for some reason you have to respond, be as polite and clipped as possible--and save the email exchange in case you need it later.
  • Some colleagues won't answer emails, and that's their prerogative. If I'm scheduling a meeting and they don't respond, keeping the original meeting time is mine. But what about people who ignore emails and then demand that you accommodate the request they couldn't be bothered to convey before? Just say "hell, no." 
  • What about emails sent after hours? Me: "You can shoot all the emails you want at me after 5 p.m. on Friday, if that's what your heart desires, but to me they're just silent snowflakes drifting down to settle into my inbox snowbank  until 7 a.m. on Monday." Group emails sent on a weekend seem to devolve into a snowstorm, if you catch my drift (see what I did there?), and answering just draws you into the thick of it. 
  • Grant: "Remember that a short reply is kinder and more professional than none at all."
  • Grant:  "If it’s not an emergency, no one should expect you to respond right away. Spending hours a day answering emails can stand in the way of getting things done." Me: no kidding.
  • Also, limit the number of times you apologize. Seriously. 

*You would think that the NYTimes would be in a complete shame spiral at even the thought of the word email, given that their blame-heavy "both sides" reporting on you-know-who's emails (along with Putin) handed the election to our current president, who just declared a national emergency to please his base.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

In search of lost time: the Costco plan

Figure 1. Not Walden Pond.
Over at Inside Higher Ed, Michael S. Harris has a good essay called "The Zero-Sum Game of Faculty Productivity." Harris argues that"The best way to tackle the zero-sum game and better prioritize our time is to make explicit the trade-offs that exist in faculty work."

This isn't an earth-shattering idea, and in fact it reminds me of a post I wrote a few years back, "Groundhog Day: Mid-career Academic Choices."

But it's a great reminder that time is limited, and so are our choices.  Harris gives some examples, with my commentary:

1. "For example, what if you spent more time creating an interactive activity for class than revising the look of your lecture slides?" Great idea, although revising the look of lecture slides is 99th on any list of 100 tasks.

2. "What if you created an answer sheet with clear explanations to distribute to class rather than writing brief notes in the margin on each individual student exam?" This is a lovely sentiment. What would happen is that students would ignore the answer sheet and come to your office or, more likely, email you because they don't see why theirs isn't like the best answer. It's nice to believe that they see what you see, but many will not, and they'll feel injured at the depersonalized nature of the feedback and say so on your evaluations.

 3. "What if you checked your email three times a day instead of three times an hour?" Great suggestion for anyone who does not have time-sensitive things going on. Still, three times a day should be plenty. 

Harris quotes Steve Jobs, who reduced the number of product lines so that he could focus Apple's attention on a few of them. (That's also what McDonald's did when it started out: a few products done well rather than many done not so well.)

It struck me that what Harris is talking about is the Costco plan. A very long time ago, a student of mine related to a Costco executive wrote that its philosophy was not to give consumers endless choice but to choose the best thing and stock it. That's it.

Now, obviously Costco stocks more than one kind of toothpaste, one kind of shampoo, etc., although in my house we still kid about the Soviet-style choices that are made for us: "Costco loves us. Costco knows what is best. You WILL grow to love the Costco choices. Two plus two is five."

Figure 2. Thoreau, definitely not in Costco's mission statement.

But the reality is that if you trust the choices, and as a Costco cult member I generally do, your shopping is more efficient and you save time.

Applying this to your own work, as Harris suggests, makes sense.

What are the things you need to do?
What are the things you want to do?
What priorities do you have?
What are the things getting in the way of them?

I'm not saying that you should make your mind into a retail giant, but if you're trying to pursue 15 smaller things instead of figuring out how they fit into your plan of 5 big ones, the choices alone are distracting you and taking up time.

Or, to put it another way in the words of that old anti-capitalist Henry David Thoreau:

Simplify, simplify.

[Edited to add: More Thoreau posts.]