Wednesday Required Reading

The ‘Mighty Mo’ begins her second century as a swimming champion. Thanks DB.

10 New Dating Slang Words To Know In 2021. Ladies, I’m tired of all the breadcrumbing.

Researchers shrink camera to the size of a salt grain. More University of Washington academic prowess.

Why there hasn’t been a mass exodus of teachers.

The latest imitation calls an academic journal’s integrity into question. LOL.

Tell Someone They’re Amazing

In preparation for tomorrow’s writing seminars, I’m rereading old final papers to select a few to share with my current students who are writing their fifth and final ones of the semester. In short, the final paper is a self-assessment of the progress they’ve made throughout the semester.

One former student wrote:

“This course has had a profound impact on the way I think about writing and life. I have become a stronger conversational writer with more confidence in my abilities, and I have been encouraged to continue writing outside of an academic setting. Now I really enjoy informal writing: I am planning on writing an op-ed in the Mooring Mast (the school newspaper) and am even applying to work at the Writing Center at Professor Ron’s suggestion. Without his support, I would not have had the confidence to make that decision.”

Thanks to their elementary, middle, and high school teachers; and parents I presume; about a third of my first year students have really high ceilings as writers. And over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at helping them realize their writing potential. I do it by telling them they’re amazing. While they’ve earned good grades throughout their lives, they’ve received very little or no meaningful and specific praise. The good grades don’t add up to much over time and many of them lack confidence.

I make a boatload of electronic comments on every paper. Some are suggested revisions, but many others are smiley faces, comments like “really excellent paragraph” and “nice insight”. At first their insights are sentence-long, now they come in waves of paragraphs. I always end with a long comment where I highlight their clearest strengths and next steps and often conclude by telling them how much I enjoy reading them. Upon returning papers, I follow up in class with praise for their last writing effort and positive examples of their improving work.

Those are some of my ways of telling them not that they’re “A” students, but that they’re amazing young adults. Pete Carroll, of the 3-8 Seahawks LOL, refers to it as “relentless optimism”.

Like my students, we lack confidence that there’s anything amazing about us. We could change that if we started telling family and friends what we most appreciate about them.

The Good Wife is grieving the loss of her mom and dad. Last night, in an attempt to cheer her up a wee bit, I told her she had been an amazing daughter to them for the last five years. She replied, “I have?”

I couldn’t believe that she was too close to it and too hard on herself not to see how amazing she had been. Flying to see them in Central California repeatedly, moving them to Washington State, and then putting her life on hold for the last year as their needs grew exponentially. Lovingly and completely selflessly caring for them to the end almost by herself.

It wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t sure she had done enough. Because no one had told her she was amazing.

Empire of Pain

Good grief it took me a long time to finish this book. Had to renew it at the local library three times. My students are to blame for that. Yesterday, finally, I eschewed football and dusted off the last 90 pages. 

Truly excellent. Radden Keefe pulls off an amazing feat. He takes complicated topics including pharmacology, corporate maleficence, the law, and philanthropy among others and makes all of them imminently understandable for someone of my intellect. Deserves a Pulitzer.

As a writer, he reminds me of a savvy, veteran quarterback who “takes what the defense gives him”. When it comes to word choice, he always checks down, always choosing the simpler word and phrase in the interest of clarity. I found myself rereading some sentences twice not to better understand them, but to marvel at the cogent prose. 

In terms of the content, I find the “Sackler family-Mexican drug cartel” analogy convincing. Spoiler alert that you already know if you read the news, the Sacklers largely get away with their crimes against humanity. Well worth the read anyways. Just don’t dawdle like me. 

Next in the queue.

I Run With Ahmaud

From Slate:

“Even without overt discussion of race over 10 days of testimony, the overwhelming whiteness (and maleness) of the defendants has been on full display. Consider the defense’s main argument: that the defendants acted in self-defense. It hinges on the jury’s understanding of a series of perceived threats, threats that surfaced only after the defendants attempted to arrest Arbery for trespassing. “I knew that he was on me, I knew that I was losing this. I knew that he was overpowering me,” Travis McMichael said. ‘If he would’ve got the shotgun from me, then it was a life-or-death situation. And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.’

On the surface, his comments seem race-neutral. But his testimony highlights a commonly used defense of perpetrators of violence against unarmed Black people: fear. Never mind that McMichael and his father ran Arbery down with their truck. Never mind they were the only ones armed. Never mind that Arbery was outnumbered three to one. Never mind that he had been running for miles before the altercation. Never mind that the defendants went looking for a confrontation. Never mind all that. It was McMichael who found himself in a life-or-death situation that required him to make a swift, irrevocable action—despite his testifying that he had been trained in deescalation tactics.”

Emphasis mine. I’ve watched a fair amount of the trial. If I was a juror, I wouldn’t need to deliberate. I can’t begin to wrap my head around the possibility that McMichael is acquitted.   

Monday Required Reading

Best selling vehicles in America by state.

How to reduce car collisions.

The share of under 35-year-olds going without sex more than doubled from 2008 to 2021, from around 8% to around 21%.

Preventing teacher burnout.

Who controls native education?

Why Economic Diversity Matters

Some once derided the place I teach at, Pacific Lutheran University, or “PLU”, as “People Like Us”. I’m happy to report PLU is doing a much better job recruiting diverse students who look a lot more like their Pierce County peers. Which makes teaching about writing and multiculturalism a whole lot more fun because the students regularly enlighten one another with their very different life experiences.

Case in point. The other day we were discussing the concept of “social infrastructure” or the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact. Specifically, public libraries. The question was where would we be without them. To which Lizveth said, “I have four siblings and we have one computer and no printer. Whenever I had to print something in high school, I headed straight to the library.”

Lizveth, the first in her family to attend college, is one of my top students. Her future is bright. The beauty of her story was how she told it. Wonderfully matter-of-factly. The subtext, “There’s way more to me than my family’s economic struggles.”

It’s hard to understate the importance of Lizveth’s abbreviated story. Especially for middle and upper middle class students who have few frames of reference for thinking about their relative privilege.

In 23 words she taught everyone more about economic privilege than I have all semester. If they were truly listening.