Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rescuing the University; or, Welcome To My World Yet Again

Rescuing the University: read all of it. This is the reality I face every day at work.

The writer references the importance of publishing or perishing. I admit that writing was never a strong point of mine and that's part of the reason I never went beyond my masters back in the day. But did any of my advisors ever stop to wonder why I wasn't interested in writing? Could it have been that most of the writing around me was over the intellectual equivalent of poppycock? That the paper used for most of the topics I was seeing would better have been used towards composting my veggie beds?

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The Fall Garden

Ordinarily I would be fretting about the small window of good temperatures for tomato-setting, but this year I don't have any fall tomato plants, so my life is less complicated. Just peas, broccoli and cauliflower --plus the Thai pepper and the odd volunteer basil (took a long time this year for any to come up). I weeded the old bed Saturday before last but have been unable to get to the new bed owing to schedule and inopportune rains. I have given up on trying to control the Malabar spinach vines, they just keep coming back and will continue to do so until a killer frost hits in conjunction with an extended cold snap. It's not that they taste bad, but they're not really good (IMO) unless they're in some sort of combination like a casserole or stew. At least they're thriving --I suspect I'm going to have to do major amending of the soil before spring, everything else is in a sort of "go-slow" pattern. Last soil test indicated serious deficiencies across the board in N, P and K. I foresee much manure spreading in January, along with rock phosphate and epsom salts.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tell It On The Mountain, Mr. Welsh!

Patrick Welsh -- To Explain the Achievement Gap, Examine the Parenting Gap - washingtonpost.com: "A kid who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- shot back: 'It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study.' "

Amen and amen. It breaks my heart, sitting here and mentally reviewing the faces of each and every one of my students, that out of over sixty this semester, I have three black males. And if I were to take them aside today and ask them, I guarantee I would hear that each them had a strong male in the house who made them study.

I had the privilege long ago of teaching a young man who went to Duke University on a basketball scholarship, and who could've gone pro his junior or even sophomore year. He did not, he waited until graduation, because I knew his father would kick his backside if he didn't finish college. And this young man made A's and B's throughout high school without special tutoring or extra credit --because his dad was on his case the whole time (as was his mom).

Mr. Welsh shows yet another reason I abandoned public education for academia:

Perhaps nothing shows how out of touch administrators are with the depth of poor students' problems more than the way they chose to start this school year. The Alexandria School Board had added two more paid work days to the calendar, a move that cost more than $1 million in teachers' salaries. So the administration decided to put on a three-day conference they dubbed "Equity and Excellence." We were promised "world-class speakers." If only that had been true. As part of the festivities, Sherman formed a choir of teachers and administrators that gave us renditions of "Imagine" and "This Land Is Your Land." Sherman closed the conference by telling us that if we didn't believe that "each and every" child in Alexandria could learn, he would give us a ticket to Fairfax County.

Now, six weeks into the academic year, some 30 fights -- two gang-related -- have taken place at T.C. Williams. I wish those three days had been spent bringing students to school to lay out clear rules and consequences, and for sessions on conflict resolution and anger management.

Administrators aren't paid to actually solve problems, only to address them. If schools didn't have problems, administrators and educational consultants would not have jobs. But some of the problems they face are beyond their immediate control, and they should start by facing up to that knowledge and tackling those aspects that they can control head-on.

So tell it on the mountain, Mr. Welsh! I'll be hollering back from the next ridge.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Uh, No?

973. Getting Out of Grading « Tomorrow's Professor Blog: wherein we read of one instructor's attempt to ditch grading by letting the students grade each other.

I didn't even need a bachelors degree to know how inane this idea was. When I was in high school, I did a project for a physics class. The teacher let the students assign the grades. I got a "C" because most of the other kids hated me for wrecking the curve on every exam. As our most recent Economics Nobeleans would argue, there are limits to the rational-choice approach in that rationality has finite limits. Or, there are alternatives to "normal" rationality that completely screw up the model. Or, perhaps, it's what I call "hyper-rationality" or "meta-rationality" that goes beyond the classroom parameters. Simply put, absent a control mechanism the students will all agree to give each other maximum grades. Even a Prisoner's Dilemma control could be subverted (cash!).

But mainly, I just want to tell her Gird yourself up, for Chrissakes! You're a professor, own up to it! Sheesh!

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Words of Wisdom for Roman Polanski, Bill Clinton, Mark Foley and many other menfolk

Courtesy of Tightly Wound: A Future Note to my Son: [WARNING: use of the word "penis"]

In light of all the current hoo-ha regarding a certain has-been film director, and the perplexing apologias for his behavior, I’m writing this down now, so that when the time comes for this particular heart-to-heart I will have the text ready.  Feel free to pity The Boy in advance for having to listen to this particular diatribe from his somewhat blunt and outspoken mother.  Text is below the cut, to shield delicate eyes from repeated use of the “p-word.”

Son, as someone who has your best interests at heart, I thought that I would take a moment to remind all of you of one helpful fact:

You are in charge of your penis.  Only you.  No one has the ability to “make you” do stupid things with it.  It’s all on you.  Because last time I checked, you were a Homo Sapien and had higher brain functions that translate into being able to CONTROL YOURSELF.  In other words, the penis  is not interchangeable with the medulla oblongata, no matter how much you may want to believe this is so.

So if, for example, you decide to ply an underage girl with drugs and booze and then do unspeakable things to her, you do not get to flee the country, blame it on her mother, her physique, or your “needs as a man.”  Your penis is not an independent actor.  It does not wander the earth like Kane looking for enlightenment.  It is attached to you, and while you may have trouble learning to control its tendency to become engorged at inopportune times, you are still in charge of where it goes and what it does.

Remember this.  And if that doesn’t work, and you find that your penis is still giving you trouble, then I leave you with those age-old words of wisdom:  think about baseball.  Or geriatric nudists playing beach volleyball.  Whatever works.

As I said
previously, once you hit the age of 13 or so, a certain Someone demands the prerogative of assuming control of the bus anytime the fancy strikes (so to speak). This passes for most men after 40, but for some (Clinton, Foley, Polanski, JFK, FDR, Harding among others) it remains a lingering bug.

November Will Mark the 20th Anniversary of the End of the Cold War

The Unknown War - Reason Magazine: "On August 23, 1989, officials from the newly reformed and soon-to-be-renamed Communist Party of Hungary ceased policing the country’s militarized border with Austria. Some 13,000 East Germans, many of whom had been vacationing at nearby Lake Balaton, fled across the frontier to the free world." Okay, that was back in August. November was when the Berlin Wall came down. I remember it well, I watched it on CNN. One hell of a moment and today people could care less.

I may have to do something about that...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And this man had tenure?!

E.J. Dionne Jr. - Obama Right to Weigh Afghanistan Options:

At a White House dinner with a group of historians at the beginning of the summer, Robert Dallek, a shrewd student of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, offered a chilling comment to President Obama.

"In my judgment," he recalls saying, "war kills off great reform movements." The American record is pretty clear: World War I brought the Progressive Era to a close. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was waging World War II, he was candid in saying that "Dr. New Deal" had given way to "Dr. Win the War." Korea ended Harry Truman's Fair Deal, and Vietnam brought Lyndon Johnson's Great Society to an abrupt halt. [italics mine]

Say what???

I may not have tenure, and I may not have taught at Columbia or UCLA, but I do have my own rebuttals to Prof. Dallek's assertions.

  • World War I: Prohibition (a long-time middle-class reform wish of the Progressives) becomes law when Americans equate alcohol consumption with anti-Americanism (and Hoover pushes the diversion of grain into export via the Lever Act). Women's suffrage becomes law after President Wilson gives his public support because women supported the war effort in large numbers. And we haven't even broached the precedents set by Wilsonian government expansion (National War Labor Board, Food Administration, nationalization of the railroads).

  • World War II: civil rights makes progress during the war for African Americans, as increasing numbers are allowed to serve in combat details. Moreover, the war convinces many white soldiers from the North that support for segregation in the South is incongruous with the critique of Hitler's "master race" thesis, thus laying a critical plank of support for the modern civil rights movement. The war of "Rose the Riveter" had the long-term effect of enabling the next wave of feminism a la Betty Friedan.

  • Korea: integration of the armed forces completed by Truman.

  • Vietnam: let's leave aside the critiques of the Great Society for now. The war, in giving life-blood to the New Left, advanced the cause of suffrage for 18-year-olds via the 26th Amendment.

[I reserve the right to make additions and linkages later; I have to lecture now...]

Friday, October 2, 2009