Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Random bullets of thankfulness

Historiann, Dr. Crazy, Belle, and What Now are being thankful for/expressing gratitude at this appropriate season, and so will I, knocking on wood lest I anger the spirits:
  • For my family, the ones who are here and the ones who left us this year. And for the fact that no one is traveling amidst storms this year, except via the magic of Skype.
  • For a job I love that allows me the autonomy and authority to speak my mind and the ability to do what I think is right.
  • For really enjoyable students despite my anticipated grumblings over some of their papers still to come.
  • Still grateful that MLA has been moved to January.
A couple of truly random bullets:
  • You may be an academic if your Christmas tree ornaments are held on every year with bent paperclips instead of the little wire ornament hangers because you've always got paperclips and who has time to go to the store for those little hangers?
  •  You might be an academic if the big red circle on your calendar is for the date grades are due rather than Christmas (Hanukah is early this year, so that isn't in the running this time.) 
And now I give you Bing singing Irving Berlin for Thanksgiving: 
http://youtu.be/jyiJSpReL2Q

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A rhetorical question: should teachers stay or should they go?

I can't stop thinking about something that Historiann said in her comments section in the post on "Death of an Adjunct":
Tenured Radical raises a point that the Anderson article touches on but doesn’t address directly: the question of age. I’m already feeling (mid-40s) like my hold on the students has an expiration date. I think it’s hard to relate and appear relevant to students past a certain age, no matter how able-bodied, vigorous, or determined one is. (At least, not 4 classes a semester, every semester.)
 On one hand, I see how this could be, and it's clear that, to put it kindly, the subject of "DoaA" should not have been teaching.  On the other hand, I keep thinking about all the teachers I had who were older than mid-40s but still were vibrant and relevant in the classroom.  Yes, I had a couple who should have retired a few years before I had them, but mostly the older teachers were impressive. They just knew so much more, not that they displayed that unless we asked questions.

The time to quit would probably be when you're no longer curious, passionate, and really engaged in the classroom and in the profession.  On a personal level, I still feel all this, and students still respond to it as best I can tell (class discussions, good enrollments, good evals, etc.).

Colleagues (not necessarily those at Northern Clime) who are retiring or have retired have done so because, as they explained, "I don't want to do this any more. It's just time." But as Historiann's comment raises the issue, how would you know "should I stay or should I go"? What are the signs?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bullets of a few truths, maybe not so universally acknowledged


  • During Sebastian Thrun's recent "aw, we were just kidding about MOOCs" statements (see Jonathan Rees and Historiann), someone, somewhere, called them "correspondence courses." Sinclair Lewis is rolling in laughter from beyond the grave.  
  • The fact that MOOCs ended up catering to, basically, the Honors Students of the Internet rather than people struggling with jobs and difficult lives caught the MOOC cheerleaders totally by surprise.  Who could have predicted that people with great internet access, lots of success in previous academic settings, and time on their hands would gain the most from those courses? Apart from every blogger, ever, and everyone who doesn't teach at Princeton or Stanford, apparently no one. 
  • Speaking of "difficult lives," four things from the news this week:
  • "You've had a chance to look at papers graded both ways, with typing and with handwriting, so which do you want for this one? Show of hands?" A lot for typing, because as one put it, laughing, "you have terrible handwriting." I said, "but I thought it was fabulous," and we all laughed.  I'm going to miss this group of students. 
  • I just want to be done with this book manuscript. I just want to be done. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Off-topic: Does childhood reading shape your sense of what's good?

When I was a child, I read voraciously, as most of us probably did.  What I didn't have was any kind of framework for putting these books into context, and except for Laura Ingalls Wilder, I didn't really pay much attention to the authors' names, much less know who they were.  I knew the names of Kipling and Stevenson because of "Just-So Stories" and their poems, respectively, but the names didn't signify anything except entertainment.

Some of them were more important in the aggregate than as individual texts. There was a long series of juvenile biographies that I made a beeline for every time I went to the library. The ones on Elizabeth Blackwell and George Washington Carver made a special impression, but I ate them all up.

Two of my favorites were a couple of books of fairy tales, one with "The Little Mermaid" and  "The Tinder-Box" and "The Little Match Girl" and "The Snow-Queen"; I think I knew about Hans Christian Andersen at that point.  But I didn't pay any attention to the author of the other book, because I didn't know his name, though his stories"The Happy Prince" and "The Nightingale and the Rose" were ones I read over and over.  Who'd ever heard of Oscar Wilde, anyway? Not me.

And my very favorite books of all for a while,  which I picked out of a bargain bin somewhere because of their covers, had stories of Jason and the Golden Fleece, Cadmus and the dragon's teeth, and  Proserpina,  and Medusa.  One was Tanglewood Tales and the other was A Wonder Book. It was years later  before I figured out that Nathaniel Hawthorne had written them and a while longer before I figured out that he was also the person who wrote The Scarlet Letter. When I read them, though, he was as anonymous to me as those series biographers. I was only interested in the stories and not the style, especially the stories of Cadmus and of Proserpina, for some reason. I know that for a long time those in children's literature thought that the Hawthorne books were too preachy stylistically for children, but I didn't find them so.  

So here is my question: I read a lot of other things, too, as did we all, and a lot of stuff I don't remember.  Was there something in those stories, some literary quality that I didn't have any sense of perceiving at the time, that was making them memorable? Was it style?

What made a book memorable to you, and did it have an effect on how you developed as a reader?

Saturday, November 09, 2013

On the internets, mean is the new green

Historiann weighs in on the mean-spirited review of Disregarding Henry in The Chronicle and quite reasonably wonders why the reviewer bashes the author of a memoir about her experiences as the mother of a special needs child for telling the story of her experiences as the mother of a special needs child.  The substance of the review, which says little about the book in question, is that the author hasn't suffered enough and in the proper ways.

From what I can see, this review is an anomaly. The Chronicle actually has better standards and is less willing to publish mean-spirited stuff than they used to be.  I'm surprised, though,  they let this one get to press unless (cynically) they thought of it as conversation-inspiring click-bait, as some of Historiann's commenters suggest. 

Old-school journalism used to say "If it bleeds, it leads," and advertising says "sex sells" (though Don Draper begs to differ).

On the internets, although we do love our cuteness overloads and cat videos and 5 amazing tricks to lose weight/get money/be productive/be more eco-conscious, we have a new measurement of success. Mean is the new green. If you doubt it, check out any comments section except those of our esteemed preceptress Historiann and the academic blogosphere. (Or don't, because you can't unsee the meanness in the comments.) We can't get enough of schadenfreude or of Daffy Duck syndrome: "It is not sufficient that I succeed. You must also fail."

The biggest surprise is that in this case, meanness moved above the fold to become the article itself. I'm guessing, or maybe hoping, that it was a lapse that won't be repeated soon.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What matters/what doesn't

I see a lot of people, including bloggers, posting about what they are thankful for this month.  It's a nice trend, especially since the web seems to encourage posting about things that annoy or frustrate you (and I am no exception to that).

My version of that this month is thinking a little more about what matters and what doesn't, in life as much as in academe, and how things that used to matter often just don't, now, and vice versa.

Things that used to matter a lot or provoke a reaction but don't now:

  • Whether women keep their own names or take their spouse's name after they get married. This seemed like a huge issue back in the day, with me getting into arguments that women should keep their own names.  Maybe it still is, but especially with the legalization of gay marriage (yay!), it seems wrong to declare that women must or ought to do X or Z about their names.  You ought to be able to declare your identity in any way that the law allows without getting a lot of lectures about it.  
  • Whether the acquaintance or family member you're talking to actually listens to what you're saying. It used to frustrate me tremendously when a family member or acquaintance would ask a question about my work, let me get 10 words into an explanation, and then break off to tell an anecdote of their own or exclaim over the cute tricks of a dog or baby.  Now it doesn't. Once you realize that the person doesn't actually care about your answer, it's much easier and less tiring to keep what passes for conversation going by asking them questions about themselves. 
  • Issues of citation and typography, m- dash versus n-dash, fonts, spacing, MLA versus Chicago style, and all that. I used to care about whether MLA was better than Chicago. Not any more. Tell me the style sheet and I 'll do what you want. I don't have to care about it to do it right. 
  • Whether a student is telling the truth when he says he couldn't do the assignment because his roommate's grandmother's dog died or whatever.  I'm not the Dean of Students, and I'm not going to track down excuses, the way I've seen, at the Chronicle, instructors talk about demanding obituary notices before excusing an absence.  The syllabus is designed to allow some flexibility and some absences, partly for their convenience and partly for mine, so that I don't have to be the Truth Police. 
Things that still matter a lot:
  • Plagiarism. Where that's concerned, I still am the Truth Police, and they get reported.
  • Insisting on respect. Respect doesn't mean being docile at all costs, but it's possible to disagree without getting into rudeness or snide behavior. If you don't agree, you sure don't want to be in my classroom, meeting, or conference session. 
  • Fairness. I've heard that preadolescents go through a phase of deciding whether things are fair and being outraged about unfairness; later, adults learn that life is unfair and they have to get on with it.  I don't think that any of us ever get beyond the fairness issue, even if we understand that life can be unfair, and we need to do what we can to alleviate unfairness when we can. This sounds trite (because it is), but it's still true. Even in a class setting, you can make something more transparent, distribute some benefit more equitably, or even the playing field by creating assignments that cater to different student strengths. 
What issues have you given up as "doesn't matter" and what ones are still important to you?