Call Me ‘Ron’ Addendum

I like and respect my students, but we cannot be friends. I need to enforce rules, hold them to deadlines, and give them grades. If your friend Steve gave you a D you’d be angry, but if Prof. Lake gave you a D then he’s just doing his job.

The title is needed also to keep a degree of formality in our relationship. This is as much for me as for them. I need to do what is best for them, which is not necessarily what they would want. Thinking of them as peers would leads to a temptation not to challenge them, to be the ‘cool’ teacher instead of the good one.

I also suspect it helps in other ways to maintain this formality. I have only heard of a couple of cases of professors behaving inappropriately with students, but in both cases they were the kind of professors who went by first names.

Besides, I am not at all convinced that the seemingly egalitarian idea of first names is actually egalitarian. Formality makes it easier for those unfamiliar with a culture to navigate it. Being informal just hides the rules and may actually make it harder for those from disadvantaged groups to understand what is expected of them.

My students can call me Steve when they graduate.”

Comment 2. “One thing I’ll add to this excellent post: I am slightly autistic, and one of the ways that manifests in me is that I find rules of social behavior unintuitive. If you put me in a highly egalitarian spontaneous order situation, I don’t really know how to act or how to talk to people. What I need are clearly defined social rules, scripts if you will. Formal, hierarchical relationships like teacher-student or colonel-major make me comfortable because there is a clear script for me to follow.”

Comment 3. “I always ask my students to call me David, but Steven makes a good point that I hadn’t previous considered that formality is easier to navigate – especially given the international nature of the student body.

Nonetheless, I have always found that colleagues that insist on being called Professor or Doctor (or use the titles on Twitter) are almost always insufferable in person.”

Just Call Me ‘Ron’

Stop Calling Professors ‘Professor’. Nicely argued.

I’ve always asked my students to call me Ron. Partly because my first college teaching gig was at a Quaker institution which tried to be egalitarian. Mostly though because I’m wired to be informal. 

Some students are down with it from the get-go, for others it takes getting used to. They’re almost disappointed, as if they want me to be a know-it-all. It doesn’t take me long to disabuse them of that notion.

One of my first high school students in Los Angeles called me a “tough, young buck from UCLA”. That was cool, but don’t use any of my nicknames like Slip or HD (Heavy Duty), that’s a bridge too far. Oh, except one nickname is fine, Birdie*. You can use that one whenever you’d like. 

*Compliments of Lou Matz in high school. Sigh, these days on Western Washington links, I’m known as Bogey Byrnes. 

Cornel West’s Resignation Letter

Given a resurgent ‘rona, the rise in extreme weather-related deaths, the intransigence of global poverty, and the related and desperate plight of Haitians and Cubans, why am I writing about Cornel West’s resignation letter?

Because it’s relatively small and oh so familiar. And because one doesn’t have to have taught at Harvard to have a feel for self-important academics. 

West has succeeded in drawing attention to his anger at Harvard for denying him tenure, but I haven’t seen anyone call attention to the oddest of personal details he injects near the end of his letter. 

“When the announcement of the death of my Beloved Mother appeared in the regular newsletter, I received two public replies. . . .”

As a check on me taking this one sentence too much out of context, skim the whole letter, it’s not long.

Two oddities:

  1. As a result of sharing his letter with the national press, West is communicating his belief that his tenure case deserves a national audience.
  2. West kept count of how many people did and didn’t express sympathies after his mother died. For West, the professional and the personal are one in the same. 

Given his obvious ego, West had to be a challenging colleague. Maybe if he was more selfless and didn’t conflate the professional and the personal so much, he still wouldn’t have been granted tenure. Maybe black scholars are unfairly held to higher expectations at Harvard. Maybe we owe West thanks for illuminating the structural racism embedded in the most prestigious educational institution in the country. 

Or maybe he failed to get along with enough people and we shouldn’t extrapolate from his case at all.

Postscript

 

How Hot Is It?

The chocolate covered raisins in the pantry have melted together. And after this morning’s 5-miler, I looked like I used to after playing summer pickup basketball in super muggy North Carolina gyms.

Then again, it’s not West Africa hot because there isn’t the humidity.

The Salish Sea has felt like a bath the last two nights, excepts for some cold pockets.

Maybe there is something to this climate change science. Another 12-14 hours to go.

How To Avoid The Culture War Trap Around Critical Race Theory

Read Linda McClain’s and Robert Tsai’s essay of the same title.

Then visit the Educating for American Democracy website McClain and Tsai highlight and familiarize yourself with EAD’s report and roadmap:

“’Reflective patriotism’ is a model of civic education proposed by a new group called Educating for American Democracy, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and reflecting a collaboration of leading and ideologically diverse experts in civic education, history, and constitutional studies. Instead of viewing current social movements ominously as aiming to ‘destroy the Constitution,’ as anti-CRT ideologues have claimed, EAD sees evidence of such mobilization as warning signs for a political order that has fallen short of stated ideals. Recognizing that the U.S. ‘stands at a crossroads of peril and possibility,’ it calls for a ‘reflective patriotism’ that unites ‘love of country’ with ‘clear-eyed wisdom about our successes and failures in order to chart our path forward.’ It aims to educate young Americans ‘to participate in and sustain our constitutional democracy,’ and—echoing the Constitution’s preamble—to make our union ‘more perfect.’ It emphasizes that the constitutional order has become more democratic over time due to efforts by social movements—for example, the efforts of suffragists and civil rights activists to expand the right to vote.”

Thanks to EAD’s report and roadmap, my Multicultural Education students will become intimately familiar with the concept of reflective patriotism this fall. That’s the way forward.

Canceling Social Studies Education

From HuffPost:

“Republicans in the Texas House passed a bill Tuesday that effectively bans public school teachers from talking about racism, white supremacy or current news events.

‘The bill is written in kind of a clever way,’ said Democratic state Rep. James Talarico, a vocal critic of the bill. ‘You can talk about race in the classroom, but you can’t talk about privilege or white supremacy. It doesn’t outright ban talking about race, but the idea is to put in landmines so any conversation about race in the classroom would be impossible.’

The legislation also states that teachers don’t have to take professional training ― like cultural proficiency and equity training ― if it makes them feel any ‘discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress’ because of their race or gender.

‘The idea is to whitewash American history of any legacy of racism and white supremacy,’ Talarico told HuffPost. ‘The scope of this bill is very broad and is going to have a chilling effect on social studies and civics teachers across the state.'”

Let’s just get back to having kids memorize the states and their capital cities. And coloring maps. They always enjoy that.

Moment Of Truth

Whew, close call. I pulled in this morning on the bright pink gravel bike right in front of the construction crew replacing our deck. One kindly said it was more visible. I told them I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but figured I would probably be okay since hipsters have taken over gravel. Then they astutely said if I want to go full hipster, I need a fixed gear bike. Then we joked about beards and man buns so I didn’t just survive the dicey interaction, I flourished.

When I’m on Rosa, I can will myself to stop and take pictures.

An Abundance Of Risk

It’s time for us to pivot from an abundance of caution to an abundance of risk.*

Sure, we should keep being smart about social distancing and wearing masks indoors, and of course getting jabbed; otherwise though, it’s time we start affirming that living life in close relationship with others entails risk. 

To be in relationship with others is to embrace a much wider range of emotions, including positive ones like acceptance, tranquility, and love, and negative ones like anger, sadness, despair, and grief.  

Kaitlin Ruby Brinkerhoff met Ian McCann, a Canadian, on a mountain biking trip in her Utah hometown. They then maintained a challenging cross-border relationship through the pandemic. Here’s their story.  I dig their story because they embody the “abundance of risk” mindset we need to reclaim. 

Of course, one can pivot to an abundance of risk in many ways. Romantic love isn’t the only avenue, we can form friendships by planting gardens together, by moving outdoors together, by doing all kinds of community service with one another. 

Here’s the start of the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

“For everything there is a season, A time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.”

Consider, if you will, this is a time to risk.

*Admittedly, this does not apply to the frontline workers, especially our health care providers, who have been taking on lots of risk on our behalf for over a year.  

 

If You Love Your Family

I just returned from Pakistan. Well, sorta.

Wikipedia describes Moshin Hamid’s first novel, Moth Smoke as. . .

“. . . the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000, and quickly became a cult hit in Pakistan and India. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award given to the best first novel in the US. . .” 

Adding:

Moth Smoke had an innovative structure, using multiple voices, second person trial scenes, and essays on such topics as the role of air-conditioning in the lives of its main characters. Pioneering a hip, contemporary approach to English language South Asian fiction, it was considered by some critics to be ‘the most interesting novel that came out of [its] generation of subcontinent (English) writing.”

One subtext of Moth Smoke is Pakistan’s endemic corruption. Corruption in the (dis)United States is relatively subtle and nuanced. I learned this three decades ago when friends, and The Good Wife and I, hired a van and driver to take us from Nairobi, Kenya to one of its national parks. Once outside the city, as we innocently cruised down a two lane highway, our uber-friendly driver got pulled over by Kenyan police. After talking to them awhile, I asked why he was stopped. Smiling, he said, “Speeding.” Cash payments from random drivers for faux “speeding” was how police supplemented their civil servant salaries. Immediately paying the fine was the path of least resistance. Just a part of doing business, like paying a toll to cross a bridge.

In Moth Smoke, Hamid explains how entire nations can become corrupt:

“Some say my dad’s corrupt and I’m his money launderer. Well, it’s true enough. People are robbing the country blind, and if the choice is between being held up at gunpoint or holding the gun, only a madman would choose to hand over his wallet rather than fill it with someone else’s cash. . . .

What’s the alternative? You have to have money these days. The roads are falling apart, so you need a Pajero or a Land Cruiser. The phone lines are erratic, so you need a mobile. The colleges are overrun with fundos* who have no interest in getting an education, so you have to go abroad. And that’s ten lakhs a year, mind you. Thanks to electricity theft there will always be shortages, so you have to have a generator. The police are corrupt and ineffective, so you need private security guards. It goes on and on. People are pulling their pieces out of the pie, and the pie is getting smaller, so if you love your family, you’d better take your piece now, while there’s still some left. That’s what I’m doing. And if anyone isn’t doing it, it’s because they’re locked out of the kitchen.

Guilt isn’t a problem by the way. Once you’ve started, there’s no way to stop, so there’s nothing to be guilty about. As yourself this: If you’re me, what do you do now? Turn yourself in to the police, so some sadistic, bare-chested Neanderthal can beat you to a pulp while you await trial? Publish a full-page apology in the newspapers? Take the Karakoram Highway up to Tibet and become a monk, never to be heard from again? Right: you accept that you can’t change the system, shrug, create lots of little shell companies, and open dollar accounts on sunny islands, far, far away.” 

*fundamentalists