A Gerundocracy

I need Anna Rappe’s or DK Byrnes’s help on this one. It’s kinda embarrassing that Anna is Swedish, lives in Sweden, and for sure knows more about English language grammar than me. And no, she didn’t learn any of it in the 10th grade World History course I taught her at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia back in the days of Mengistu.

More from today’s Twitterverse.

A.J. Bauer, “Biden, Blinken, Yellen — what is this, a gerundocracy?” Followed by Alison L. Gillespie, “This is geekiest grammar joke I have ever seen on Twitter and everyone thinks it’s about ageism.”

She’s right about me at least, I did have to read it twice before I realized it wasn’t ageist.

A gerontocracy is a state, society, or group governed by old people. A gerund is a verb that morphs into a noun when you add “ing”.

But all of Bauer’s examples end in “en”. If they ended in “ing” I’d muster a chuckle. Consequently, I’m left wondering what exactly is the joke.

Postscript: This just in! The Good Wife drops some knowledge. . . “I think it’s not the spelling that makes it a gerund in his case. It’s the sound when you say it- like ‘She was yellin’ loud enough for the neighbors to hear!'” 

Why Do We Social Media?

One of our next-door neighbors doesn’t talk to the GalPal and me. I understand her not talking to me, but the GalPal, come on, she is as friendly as they come.

The couple who sold to us told us that would be the case, which helps not taking it personally. But man, it’s odd. Especially when Ms. NextDoor posts on-line about ordinary, face-to-face stuff. For example, this weekend she broadcasted to the whole neighborhood, plus surrounding ones I think, that her college aged sons were temporarily moving home, as well as other extended family, so she wanted everyone to know more cars will be coming and going. The kind of thing you’d say when bumping into a neighbor on a walk.

But so far, 4.5 years in, I’ve never seen her take a walk. But what do I know, maybe she has a treadmill in her crib and is running 10 miles a day. But I digress.

Alas, I prob have a log in my own eye. I just left a comment on a Facebook Group page called “Saving Guilford College”, the small Quaker liberal arts college in Greensboro, NC where I taught previously. I wrote the following in response to a post from a woman about her deceased husband, my former colleague. She wrote that when he was near death in the hospital he said, “Guilford College killed me.” That got my hackles up. So obviously a delicate sitch. You can decide for yourself how well I balanced respect for her and her family with my frustration at his lack of personal responsibility.

“I was a down-the-hall colleague of Bill’s from 93-98 (Education Studies). He was always super nice and clearly good at what he did. I’m very sorry he didn’t get to enjoy a post-work life with you and the rest of your family. However, respectfully, I don’t understand his contention that Guilford killed him. College professors have lots of autonomy over exactly how hard they work and for how long.”

Was that a wise investment of time? Did I make the world a better place by getting that off my chest? No and no, and yet, I couldn’t help myself. My excuse is I’m supposed to be reading students’ papers today which always gives rise to world class procrastinating. And yes, I’ve already vacuumed. 

Now I’m afraid to open FaceBook to see the probable backlash. What’s keeping me from quitting Facebook? 

Wednesday Required Reading and Viewing

1. Colleges Have Shed a Tenth of Their Employees Since the Pandemic Began. The Great Contraction gathers steam. Yesterday, my uni announced the formation of a Joint Faculty Committee which will decide which programs and faculty to cut. When we did this four years ago, I knew we didn’t cut deeply enough. I regret being right.

2. Italian Police Use Lamborghini To Transport Donor Kidney 300 Miles In Two Hours. Should help with recruiting.

3. Have rogue orcas really been attacking boats in the Atlantic? This story has it all including a “rogue pod” and marauding “teenagers”. 

4. Jason Reynolds: Honesty, Joy, and Anti-Racism. Great book, highly recommended.

5. The Secret to Deep Cleaning. Come on over if you’d like to practice.

How Far Do You Want To Go?

There’s a growing consensus that the only people who should be allowed to inveigh on, or teach about contemporary issues, are those with relevant, direct lived experience with them. This sentiment makes sense given powerful people’s propensity to marginalize people different than them. However, extend the idea, and a lot of questions arise.

Should Catholic priests be allowed to do marriage counseling? Should men be allowed to teach Women’s Studies courses? Should white academics be allowed to teach African American history?

Extend it a touch further as many progressives are and a logical question is whether old, wealthy, heterosexual, white dudes should be allowed to inveigh or teach about anything after centuries of dominating nearly every discussion of consequence.

In which case, I should probably cycle more and write less.

Can I Get A Do-Over?

This morning, on the way home from the pool, I dropped my ballot in the box at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on the corner of Henderson and North Street.

I voted for Biden-Harris.

Then, over breakfast, I read these tweets. 

I don’t want my 403b to crash or all that I’ve built to be destroyed. And I don’t want to lose my health care or pay more taxes. Nor do I want to be complicit in destroying our economy. 

What are my options here? How do I retrieve my envelope from the box? The only thing I can think of is dynamite.

Personal Life

I hear someone super smart on a podcast. I read about an unsuspecting athlete inspiring lots of other people to vote. I watch Savannah Guthrie give Fox News hosts a tutorial on how to interview the President. I read an absolutely beautiful essay about the arrival of fall in Twisp, WA.

And I want to know more about these people. So I google them and in a few seconds I’m skimming their wikipedia pages (or in the case of the essay writer, their personal website).

And when I skim someone’s wikipedia page, I always start with “Personal Life”. Is that because I’m a nosy bastard or because it’s human nature? What, dig this, they live in Ojai, CA; they’ve been married a few times; they have three children; and they raise llamas.

I wonder whether this phenomenon, which I think is human nature, partially explains higher education’s irrelevance in most people’s day-to-day lives. Higher education is always looking itself in the mirror and saying “This is the year I’ll become a public intellectual. This is the year I’ll make my work accessible. This is the year I’ll engage with the Deplorables.”

But why don’t the changes ever take? I propose it’s because academics, intellectuals, scholars, pick your preferred term, never ever talk about their Personal Lives. The unspoken agreement is that it detracts from the seriousness of your scholarship. The thinking being that one’s ideas, if they’re persuasive and original enough, should be sufficient to garner attention.

And how’s that working out?

Maybe higher education needs to look in the mirror and say “This is the year I become human. This year I’ll reveal something, hell anything, about my life off campus. This is the year I’ll crack the curtains on my Personal Life.”

The Inaugural ‘Gal Pal’ Award

She tries. But it makes no matter, the Gal Pal routinely botches sports lingo. In her honor I am creating a new award whose prestige I’m sure will only grow over time.

The ‘Gal Pal’ will be awarded annually to the person who makes the biggest mess of basic sports terminology. I will present the award myself to the recipient who will be put up in one of downtown Olympia’s nicest tents. All expenses paid.

The first recipient is Roger Whitney whose podcast I enjoy. Recently Rog was talking about the importance of trying new things in retirement. He went on say he wasn’t a very good golfer but he and his wife had started playing regularly. And while still not very good, “I’ve improved by about 10 points.”

No, no, no! I didn’t even have to get the Award Committee together before declaring RW the inaugural winner. He is on his way to Olympia as you read this.

For those scoring at home (baseball lingo), what Rog meant to say was something along the lines of, “I’ve shaved 10 strokes off my average score.”

For the love of Golf, always “fewer strokes” never “more points.” Go and sin no more.

How Long Will We Slight The Social-Emotional Costs Of On-Line Learning?

Thursday, First Year Writing, The Morken Building 131, the first in-person class of the academic year. Students take turns summarizing their first papers about whether one needs, as a Stoic philosopher we read argues, a coherent philosophy of life and a “grand goal of living” to avoid squandering one’s life. They’re smart, so they push back at the suggestion one can neatly plan their life. They talk about some things being outside of our control, like viruses.

If not a coherent philosophy of life, what about guiding principles I wonder. And if so, which ones? They’re not quite ready for subtly, nuance, ambiguity, complexity. That’s why college is four years long. For now at least, I keep those thoughts to myself and just listen.

One student says her mother died in February. Not expecting that, I loose track of what follows, wondering how she died and what would it be like to lose your mom at 17 or 18. She says doing well in school doesn’t matter as much as it did previously.

The students, many who say they struggle with anxiety, have never enjoyed going to class more. Not because of the doofus facilitating things, because they’re famished for friendship. Flat out famished. They linger afterwards, partly to disinfect the tables, but mostly to extend our shared sense of normalcy as long as possible.

The student whose mother died walks up to the front to talk to me. Through my mask I thank her for having the courage to share that news and gently inquire about her mother’s passing. She tells me her mother chose “Death With Dignity” after a lifetime of being severely disabled. And she wanted me to know the paper was really challenging to write, but my sense was, not in a bad way, in an important way. I think it caused her to grieve her mother in a way she hadn’t. She ended up writing her mother a letter and using parts of it to begin her paper.

For those few moments, as her classmates slowly filed out of the room in small groups, she and I shared a human connection that superseded our teacher-student identities. I saw her and heard her in a way that’s utterly impossible on-line.

I am all in on the scientific consensus regarding masks, social distancing, maximizing time outdoors, and washing hands. I am comfortable enough returning to the classroom because my university has done an excellent job preparing for as safe as possible a return to in-person classes. I will not help politicize this public health crisis.

What follows is a non-partisan question, my reference point is the social-emotional health of young people.

If we don’t begin implementing “blended” or “hybrid” teaching methods soon, with at least some in-person instruction, what are the social and emotional costs to friendless students who are not being seen or heard in any kind of meaningful way?