Quit Requiring Foreign Language Courses

If that was my view I’d have to find another place to sleep tonight. That’s the recommendation of a Washington State legislator. And not just any legislator, a progressive Democrat. The short version:

A representative in Olympia says prospective college students should have the option to skip Spanish or Chinese and take two years of computer science instead.

Rep. Chris Reykdal, a Democrat from Tumwater, says while he appreciates and respects the time students put into studying foreign languages, the money the state spends could be put to better use.

“My God, we are spending 100 million [dollars] of taxpayer money every year in our high school system to teach world languages where more than half our folks a few years later will never use it again,” Reykdal said.

More here. Imagine how short the school day would be if our criteria for what to teach was whether students use the course content a few years later. How would algebra hold up under a cost-benefit analysis? The arts? Social studies? It’s a sign of an educational apocalypse when a progressive Democrat is thinking so narrowly.

Foreign language teachers better take this as a clarion call for explaining to the legislature and the public the many reasons, both obvious and more subtle, why their courses are especially meaningful.

Heaven help us.

Thank You Pete Carroll

Two minutes to go the length of field and win back-to-back Sup Bowls. I ask no one and everyone, “Can we really do it again? Can we take it the length of the field?!” “Yes,” I’m assured by some Hawk faithful. And then, sure enough, our offense starts clicking. The more pressure, the more better. Key third down completion. Circus catch for the ages. 2nd and goal on the 1 with enough time and timeouts to run it three times if necessary. Hell yes we can do it again. Just have Wilson keep it or feed the Beast. Either way back-to-back baby!

Wait! No, no, no! Shotgun formation? Are you kidding me?! What on earth are they thinking. “Get back under center!!!” Interception. Ballgame.

People start saying not very nice things about Seattle’s Offense Coordinator, Darrell Bevell, but as my brother-in-law convincingly pointed out to me, the head coach has to take charge in that situation. Pardon the blasphemy, but we also don’t know yet if #3 called an audible.

What to do now. Obviously we need Washington State’s congressional delegation to investigate and determine without a shadow of doubt who made the worst call in football history. Not just professional football history, but street, Pop Warner, high school, college, CFL.

If it was a Wilson audible we’ll keep paying him the same salary for another three years (saving the team about $75m). If it was Carroll, we’ll have to act swiftly to assure his safety. Meaning Witness Protection. If it was Bevell, we should still act swiftly to assure Carroll’s safety, since he should have taken charge of that call. Meaning again, Witness Protection. New name, identity, and location.

In actuality, Seahawk fans owe Pete Carroll a huge thank you because there’s no decision any of us can possibly make in 2015 that will be anywhere close to that bad. That is freeing! Here’s how things will most likely go down in my Post 2nd and 1 household. “I’m really, really sorry honey, even by my standards, I did something really stupid.” Then the sorrowful explanation. Then the Good Wife, “It’s okay, really, it’s not like you decided to throw on the goal line with Marshawn fucking Lynch in the backfield.”

Fear is Contagious

Recently, inside the MVCoho, halfway between Victoria, British Columbia and Port Angeles, Washington, I had an epiphany. The more peaceful those around us are, the more manageable our fears.

One day, I remember, the GalPal got exasperated with me for not being more sensitive to some fear of hers. “You don’t have any fears!” she lamented. If only. Among my fears I’m afraid of turbulence while flying, rough seas while boating (detect a pattern?), and what Tom Brady might do to the Hawks if the Superbowl footballs aren’t inflated properly.

Halfway between Canada and the United States, the MVCoho started rocking and rolling in a heavy metal manner. So much so people couldn’t walk. Outwardly, I was masking my inner dread. The inner dialogue. “This is stupid. I’m probably one of the stronger swimmers on the boat. Yeah, but that won’t matter. Hypothermia will set in so fast, I’ll be toast just like everyone else.” Closing my eyes didn’t stop the rocking.

I decided to study other people’s faces to assess just how bad the situation was, and lo and behold, I couldn’t find a single person who even looked distracted by the experience. I let their calm wash over me. Everyone’s nonchalance convinced me we I was going to be alright. I considered giving each person a hug once we anchored, but I’m too introverted (fear of strangers?).

The Pew Research Center has published an interesting study about the relationship between social media use and stress. They conclude, “Awareness of stressful events in others’ lives is a significant contributor to people’s own stress.” The opposite of my boat experience. If you look around and everyone is panicking, your anxiety will increase.

It’s not a direct correlation, but the more people use social media, the more aware they are of stress events in others’ lives, and the greater their own stress tends to be. This is especially true for women.

My recent experience on the high seas and the Pew study make me think maybe we should be more intentional about surrounding ourselves with people who are less afraid of what frightens us most easily.

Administrivia

• When I began blogging, I hoped some readers would be moved to comment on occasion. And that overtime, a community of readers would bubble up. I dare say enough time has passed for me to say, not even close. Increasingly, some readers reply via the social media of their choosing. For example, Eldest Daughter wrote an epic reply to my last post on my Facebook page. It was a passionate, insightful, educational response. In my experience, most readers will not comment and those that do will choose different forums. Meaning, the small sum of comments do not equal more than the individual parts.

• Update 1. Education Story of the Year—Jon Kitna Returns to Lincoln High School. Three years ago, when he was hired, Kitna talked about making Lincoln High a state power in five years and a national power in ten. Then a large high school from the land of Friday night lights called. And he said if they’d pay his assistants real money he’d make the move. They said sure, no problem, while retaining their current assistants. Then Kitna said God was calling him to make the move. I’m confused about how the Texas high school is going to pay 10+ assistants’ salaries, not just stipends; and about how Kitna is rationalizing his decision. Kitna’s son, who threw 55 TD passes this year as a junior, is making the move with him. I pity the quarterback in waiting.

• Update 2. Why I Don’t Own a Cell Phone. God called me to buy I bought an iPhone 6+ a few months ago. I dig it, but have to find some other point(s) of distinction to fill the void. Maybe I’ll be the last tat-free guy.

• Shifting gears from the blog to random points of administrivia. Running. In 2014, I kept my 17 year “1,000 miles plus a year” streak alive. Barely. I was injured for three months and so it came down to the wire. Made it by 1%, 1,010 miles.

• Tennis. I love watching the Australian Open. Always so sunny. Male and female tennis players today are so powerful and athletic.The men are serving over 130mph. The greats from the 70’s and 80’s—Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, Borg, etc.—would be lucky to make it to the quarters.

• College bball. If someone gives me a coaching job next year and I win 25 games a year, like Duke University’s Coach K, I’ll also win 1,000 games. . . when I turn 93.

• American professional football. The bandwagon has officially left the station. . . the Good Wife will be rockin’ a Seattle Seahawks t-shirt at the local Catholic middle school this week.

• I support Marshawn Lynch’s right to grab his crotch, ignore the press, and run over the New England Pats next Sunday night.

• Song of the night. . . Troubled Man by John Mellencamp.

• Workout of the weekend. The Sunday pre-dusk 10 mile bike ride with the Good Wife. Didn’t do much for my physical fitness, but did wonders for our relational fitness. #probablymoreimportant

• Movies. Selma, yes. Force Majeure, yes. The Interview, hell no. American Sniper, no thank you.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Peace,

Ron

Where (a lot of) Feminists Go Wrong

Where I knowingly commit the unforgivable act of “mansplaining“.

Where do many feminists, like Eldest Daughter (ED), who I love dearly even when she repeatedly makes fun of me, go wrong? They think women’s equality rests on assertive demonstrations of personal attributes most often associated with males. This is understandable because traditional notions of femininity are extremely limiting, the problem though is the masculine characteristics Millennial feminists want to appropriate—such as physical and sexual aggression and promiscuity, profane/vulgar behavior, and insatiability more generally—aren’t socially redeeming. Of course they’re free to emulate the worst of male behavior, but we’re worse off for it.

My daughters and their friends celebrated the 2011 film Bridesmaids as groundbreaking and watched it until they could cite the dialogue. In essence they were saying, “Because Animal House has nothing on us, men have nothing on us.” Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars of out 4, and opined that Bridesmaids “seems to be a more or less deliberate attempt to cross the Chick Flick with the Raunch Comedy. It definitely proves that women are the equal of men in vulgarity, sexual frankness, lust, vulnerability, overdrinking and insecurity. . . .”

Before ED fires off an exasperated, impassioned reply to this post, let me tell you what she’s thinking right now. This is a rare skill of mine, knowing what the members of my family are going to say before they say it. It may be a uniquely male skill some describe as “arrogance”, but I like to think of it as foresight. ED would say, “Debauchery aside father, the fact that you’re writing about Bridesmaids and Animal House together means we’re breaking down the historic, sexist notion that women aren’t as funny as men! So what if vulgarity helps create long overdue opportunities for women in the comedy world! The end justifies the means!” And of course she’d attach a funny gif for good measure because that’s how she rolls.

Wikipedia lists gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity as traditionally feminine traits.

Given these traditional feminine traits, better that young men be more feminine, than young women more masculine. Ideally, overtime, these more socially redeeming traits would come to be seen as gender neutral. Better that all of us be more gentle, empathetic, and sensitive.

This “We can be hella masculine” approach to gender equity is painfully evident on television shows like Comedy Central’s Broad City (BC). When it comes to sleeping around, swearing, and doing drugs, the two female stars are up to any male duo’s challenge. Again, ED would say, “No surprise, but you’re missing the point again father! There’s one more show on television starring two female comedians than there was three years ago!” Always with the exclamation marks.

ED’s frustration has now reached a breaking point, so she’s stopped reading, meaning I can write even more freely about one of her favorite television shows. I admit, despite BC’s vacuous foundation, it is among the most funny shows on television—subjectively based upon how many times I laugh aloud during an episode. Also worth noting, my critique of it as a cultural artifact that allegedly symbolizes New Feminism extends well beyond my negative view of its “we’re every bit as masculine as you” dead-end.

In actuality, because I said she wasn’t, ED is still reading. Here’s what she’s thinking now. “How did I end up with the most Puritan of fathers in the whole U S of A?!” But dearest ED, my critique isn’t based on morality. Abbie’s and Ilana’s embrace of mindless masculinity almost always translates into victimless crimes. So what if they get high or have random sex. The problem with the show is its nihilism, meaning it never raises interesting questions or addresses big ideas about how we should live. Put differently, it leaves no mark on my intellect or soul. ED, “Isn’t it enough just to be laugh out loud funny?! That’s no small feat!” Yes it is if all they’re motivated by is what they can charge advertisers for commercial breaks.

Wikipedia on BC:

The Wall Street Journal referred to the show as “Sneak Attack Feminism.” Critic Megan Angelo quotes Abbi Jacobson, main star of Comedy Central’s Broad City; “If you watch one of our episodes, there’s not a big message, but if you watch all of them, I think, they’re empowering to women.”

By which Jacobson means, “Good news my young feminist sistas, now you can act a male fool too.”

As this insightful analysis from Lili Loofbourow (LL) suggests (thanks ED), television is improving because of women’s increasingly influential contributions. LL convincingly argues that more and more female writers and producers are infusing shows with distinctive, intelligent sensibilities, thus demonstrating the limits of “we’re as masculine” programming.

One example of improved programming is the incredibly creative and hilarious comedy Portlandia which contrasts nicely with BC. Portlandia’s setting and cast are every bit as urban, diverse, and edgy as BC’s, but a typical two or three-minute skit on Portlandia pokes more fun at our modern selves and raises more interesting questions about the limits of materialism, the superficiality of popular trends, and the idiosyncrasies of modern life than several twenty-two minute episodes of BC.

Wrapping up, want to laugh, watch BC; want to think and laugh, watch Portlandia. Either way raise children—female, male, something in between—to be equally gentle, empathetic, and sensitive.

Postscript—Broad City interviews Sleater-Kinney.

Teaching As We Always Have, Even Though the “Always On” Generation Isn’t Listening

The false promise of ed tech, part two. Teaching As We Always Have, Even Though the “Always On” Generation Isn’t Listening.

It’s day two of my university’s four-day-long orientation for entering students. Two steps at a time I hurriedly climb the bleachers of our large auditorium to an empty seat in the very back. Six hundred students have gathered for their first academic experience, a faculty panel discussion of a common reading, Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2014). First, however, the Associate Provost gives a talk on academic behaviors important for college success; advising students to “Bring energy for learning; be interested and engaged . . . be open to constructive criticism.”

A long ways from the closest students, a moderator stands at a podium. The students in the back and I look up at a large audio-visual projection of two formally dressed professors sitting at a table across from the moderator. The conversation begins. Question one, “How did your respective disciplines—Psychology and English Literature—help you better understand the novel?” The professors intelligently deconstruct the text. The second question begins similarly, “Again, looking through your disciplinary lenses. . . .” More thoughtfully expressed insights follow. Despite the professors’ expert analysis, something is amiss. Within ten minutes, the students in front of me start to stir, smart phones materialize out of thin air, a few laptops open, two students exchange backrubs. As ten minutes turn to forty, nearly everyone tunes out.

Seymour Sarason offered an apt metaphor for education reform in The Predictable Failure of Education Reform (1993). It is, he explained, like an ocean storm. During an ocean storm, the surface is markedly changed as the result of 100 mile per knot winds, darkening skies, mountainous waves, and incessant lightening strikes. Yet as one descends to the ocean floor, the water chemistry, darkness, and animal life remain completely unchanged. Too often, the modern university classroom, or in this case auditorium, is the ocean floor. Despite the fact that most “always on” young adults text continuously throughout the day, whether they’re in their cars or our classrooms, classroom teaching remains largely unchanged—professors mostly talk and students pretend to listen.

There should be a corollary to the admonition, “Bring energy for learning; be interested and engaged,” such as “Faculty will resist talking at you. Instead they will capitalize on your energy for learning by developing personalized learning environments characterized by meaningful interaction.” The teaching disconnect so powerfully illustrated by the common reading panel discussion provides faculty the opportunity to model the other highlighted academic behavior, “Be open to criticism.”

Deborah Meier argues in The Power of Their Ideas, “Teaching is mostly listening and learning is mostly telling” (1995, p. xi). Likewise, Decker Walker contends inFundamentals of Curriculum, “The educative effect is greater when students do something than when something is done to them” (1990, p. 479). University faculty rarely apply these aphorisms because they think of themselves first and foremost as mathematicians, philosophers, and psychologists who also happen to teach. Consequently, scant time is spent thinking about whether conventional teaching methods are working. Even less time is spent crafting alternative ones; as a result, a talking at students status quo prevails.

This lack of introspection means faculty rarely engage in thoughtful conversation about their teaching strengths, styles, and struggles. That’s why the common reading panel discussion was implemented nearly identically the previous two years. No one on the First Year Program Committee has dared to state the obvious—if the goal is to engage students, it’s not working.

There are several reasons why the common reading panel discussion is not engaging students, but to understand the most salient causes, it’s important to know that Fowler’s novel is a riveting and sometimes emotional story that prompts lots of thinking about human-animal relations. One reason the students tuned out the two distant faculty members sitting on the stage is that they both read their rehearsed responses to questions they had received a few months earlier. Their conscientious preparation and obvious insight was not enough to compensate for the impersonal space coupled with a complete lack of eye contact.

Most importantly though, the wording of the questions, and the highlighting of their academic disciplines, meant they spent almost all of their time deconstructing the text as English and Psychology scholars when the story begged a human response. The professors’ intelligence was evident, but not their humanity. That’s why so many students turned to social media. Parker Palmer, inThe Courage to Teach, illuminates why the reading panel went poorly by detailing a typology of teachers’ questions:

• The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question—what subjects shall we teach?

• When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question—what methods and techniques are required to teach well?

• Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question—for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?

• But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question—who is the teacher? How does the quality of my selfhood form—or deform—the way I related to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? (1998, p. 4)

Conventional wisdom seems to be that educational technology is the key to engaging the “always on” generation. In contrast, I believe the best way forward is to pay more attention to the self that teaches. Based upon the wording of the questions, the First Year Committee thought of the faculty panelists exclusively as scholars. Students would have responded much more positively if the panelists had first talked more spontaneously and authentically about how the story affected them as human beings—vulnerability being a key factor in learning.

This seeming reticence to explore the self that teaches takes me back to a few years ago when I participated in a faculty seminar with colleagues from across our liberal arts campus. During the seminar I enjoyed getting to know Kai, a young English professor, whom I learned was a talented and accomplished poet. At the time, we were both teaching first year writing. Before the start of one of our meetings, I told Kai about a successful class activity that was based upon an essay I had published a few years earlier. Dumbfounded, he said, “You share your writing with your students?!” “Yes,” I replied, “usually a few times each semester.” The thought had never entered his mind. The more Kai and I embrace Parker’s idea of the self that teaches and reveal something of our humanity, the better our odds of truly connecting with our “always on” students.

Embracing the self that teaches in order to reveal one’s humanity is admittedly abstract advice. How might that concept inform a new and improved first academic experience for any university’s entering students? The answer lies in the second half of my university’s common reading experience—small, writing seminar–based discussion groups of sixteen students. My group was relieved when I noted, “That could’ve gone better.” Then I began our discussion by reminding them that people have markedly different feelings about animals. Next, I explained the evolution of my thinking about animals and how that impacted the way I read the novel. The students were interested in how fearful I was of dogs as a child and were amused by my foolhardy attempts to outrun a few. Then, I confessed that as a middle-aged adult I didn’t understand how a few of my close friends thought of their dogs almost as children until my family pressed me to get one of our own. “Now, after nine fun-filled years with our amazing labradoodle,” I said, “I completely understood their special bond.”

I used my story as a springboard for talking about the importance of being open-minded in college to different ways of thinking and being. I also asked them about their relationship with animals and whether they liked the book or not. Forgetting their phones, they engaged one another. We should eliminate the large group faculty panel discussion altogether, in favor of the smaller, more personal discussion groups. And if we can get the faculty small group leaders to reveal something of their humanity, we may engage the “always on” generation in ways that revitalize the university classroom.

References

Fowler, K. J. (2014). We are all completely beside ourselves: A Novel. New York: Plume.

Meier, D. (1995). The power of their ideas. Boston: Beacon Press.

Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Sarason, S. B. (1993). The predictable failure of educational reform: Can we change course before it’s too late? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Walker, D. (1990). Fundamentals of curriculum. New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich.

How We Should Respond to the New Terrorism

5:30p Wednesday night. That’s enough planning of the new class for school principals that begins in February. My night to make dinner. The Good Wife will be home in an hour. I can make an amazing salad in 30 minutes easy peasy.

How to burn the spare thirty? Obs, college basketball, but the games aren’t that compelling and you can only watch the Property Brothers so much. Surfing, surfing, how ’bout some pre-dinner self flagellation. Fox News.

And then it happens. . . today’s brilliant idea hits me with just 4+ hours to spare. There are two steps the U.S. and the West more generally should take in response to the new terrorism.

1st—Spend one night carefully watching Sean Hannity and other Fox “News” show segments that directly address recent events in Paris.

2nd—Do the exact opposite of what they advocate.

Railing about how the Obama administration and the US always coddles Muslims, the angry men on Sean Hannity’s panel were equal parts fearful and hateful. They demonstrated no knowledge of young French Muslims’ life experiences nor did they have any interest in the larger context of radicalism.

Consequently, they didn’t spend any time discussing prevention. Given the chance, they’d probably banish me to a Caribbean Island max security prison for even suggesting historical context matters. Because that’s probably a form of coddling. Now, as I write, Bill O’Reilly is lionizing the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam who said Muslim immigrants who do not appreciate the way of life in Western civilisations can ‘f*** off’.

Instead of watching Fox News, we should listen to the French secondary school teachers in the suburbs of Paris. For a decade plus they have been trying to tell the French public that the alienated youth they teach are especially susceptible to radicalism. Despite being born in France, they don’t feel French. Many of their frustrations are born of institutional racism and religious persecution. The French government is so committed to secularism that it’s unwilling to accommodate hardly any of their religious practices.

Alienation is no justification for the horrific violence of last week. Worth repeating. Alienation is no justification for the horrific violence of last week, but a Rotterdam Mayor/Fox News mix of fear and hate will only make matters worse. To mitigate the problem governments have to think and act counterintuitively. Instead of succumbing to paralyzing fear and hate and the revenge it breeds, we have to be way smarter than anyone on Fox News about the underlying causes of radicalism. The more we think of this as a century long battle for the hearts and minds of young Muslims worldwide, than a ten or twenty year contest of military might, the better.

We need courage to reject the simple, fearful, hateful diatribes of the Rotterdam Mayor and Fox News. “An eye for an eye,” Ghandi said, “makes the whole world blind.”