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.
Self care is a concept, a lucrative subset of a 4 trillion dollar wellness industry, and a red-hot social fad that doesn’t do anything to address the underlying issues of why so many people are burned out at work and seriously anxious about an ever-growing list of things.
Because of the money now associated with self care, the purveyors of it have a vested interest in NOT helping resolve the underlying issue of frantic busyness that defines so many people’s daily lives. Granted, some of that frantic busyness is explained by people trying to eke out a living with too few jobs that pay a livable wage, but a lot of it is the result of social contagion. I run on the treadmill of life because you do.
We will mute the clarion call for self care when people will themselves to get sufficient sleep, eat healthy food, and be physically active.
My university is a classic case study in the ridiculousness of self care. All of a sudden, despite my colleagues’ tendencies to overwork, the leadership is talking about the importance of self care. We are like seriously overweight people who think we’ve found the miracle diet, but in this case, we’ll be fine if we just make time for a warm bubble bath at the end of our frantic days. And don’t forget the candle.
I predict all of the self care talk will have no medium or long-term effect on how faculty live their lives. But on the plus side, more bubble bath and candles will be sold.
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.”
Brian Rosenberg, who just finished a long stretch as president of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, observes:
“If one were to invent a crisis uniquely and diabolically designed to undermine the foundations of traditional colleges and universities, it might look very much like the current global pandemic.”
Frank Bruni quotes Rosenberg in his essay “The End of College as We Knew It?” A thoughtful lament on the decline of the humanities.
Rosenberg notes higher education was already on the defensive seeing that it is. . .
“maligned by conservative politicians for its supposed elitism and resented by students and their families for its hefty price tag.”
In my case, Bruni is preaching to the choir when making a case for the humanities. Despite agreeing wholeheartedly with him about the timeless importance of the humanities, his last argument seems specious.
“We need doctors, all right, but not all doctors are the same, as Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, the vice chair of the Library of America’s board of directors, reminded me. If he were choosing between two physicians, he said, he would go with one who has read Chekhov, ‘because he’s a fuller human being and he’s going to treat me like a fuller human being.'”
Not everyone who reads classic literature becomes a fuller human being. It’s even more foolhardy to assume someone is going to behave markedly better as a result of having read Chekhov. The ink on the paper is not magic, more important are the institutions’ values and the overall ethos of the place where one engages with classic literature.
But let’s ask every medical student to read Chekhov just in case I’m wrong. Again.
1. At virtual Family Chapel, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ find community during pandemic. Eldest is featured, making me even more famous.
2. Why Trump Was Deaf To All The Warnings He Received. Incuriosity and paranoia.
“Ten percent of college-bound seniors who had planned to enroll at a four-year college before the COVID-19 outbreak have already made alternative plans. Fourteen percent of college students said they were unlikely to return to their current college or university in the fall, or it was “too soon to tell.” Exactly three weeks later, in mid-April, that figure had gone up to 26 percent. Gap years may be gaining in popularity. While hard to track, there are estimates that 3 percent of freshmen take a gap year. Since the pandemic, internet searches for gap years have skyrocketed. College students do not like the online education they have been receiving. To finish their degrees, 85 percent want to go back to campus, but 15 percent want to finish online.”
4. The Grumpy Economist on University finances, particularly endowments. Sign of the seriousness of things, belt tightening ahead even for the uber wealthy.
“University endowment practices are quite a puzzle. . . . Why are they invested in obscure, illiquid, hard to value, assets, with at least two layers of high fees (university management + asset managers) rather than, say, have one part-time employee and put the whole business into Vanguard total market for about 10 basis points? Why do they leverage with short-term municipal debt which must be rolled over at the most inconvenient times? Why do university presidents seem to glory in great endowment returns in good times, but these occasional liquidity crunches are seen simply as acts of nature, not preventable with a nice pile of liquid assets? Why do donors put up with this — why do donors give money that will be managed in obscure high fee investments, rather than demand low-fee transparent investment, or even set up separate trusts, transparently managed, to benefit their alma maters?”
A flurry of great questions. The short answer to the first question I suspect is because investment managers’ think they’re smart enough to pick stock winners when history suggests otherwise.
An addendum suggests I’ve nailed it:
“Where are the trustees? Well, I speculated to one correspondent, there is a natural selection bias. How do you get to be a university trustee? 1) Make a ton of money as a (lucky) active asset manager, especially on trades and investments that come from college contacts; 2) Collect a lot of fees; 3) Persuade yourself how smart you are and how easy the alpha game is 4) Desire to socialize with the people who run universities. This is hardly likely to produce contrarians, fans of scientifically validated, quantitative, low-fee investment strategies.”
5. The Real Story Behind That Viral Photo of President Johnson During the Vietnam War. In praise of thoroughness and media literacy.
“. . . President Johnson wasn’t crying over thousands of dead American soldiers in the photo. Johnson is actually listening to an audio tape that was created by Captain Charles “Chuck” Robb, his son-in-law. That detail would allow the casual viewer to assume that LBJ was distressed to hear the recording, but it seems that so many of the documentary filmmakers who use this image haven’t bothered to look at the other photos taken during that same time in the White House.”
You don’t care that higher education is hemorrhaging jobs. You don’t care that you may end up living in a van down by the river. You’re determined to get a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology or Sociology. But you’re in need of a dissertation topic.
I’m here to help.
Wikipedia describes Nextdoor this way:
“Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. Based in San Francisco, California, the company was founded in 2008 and launched in the United States in October 2011, and is currently available in 11 countries. Users of Nextdoor submit their real names and addresses to the website. Posts made to the website are available only to other Nextdoor members living in the same neighborhood.”
I’ve been a member for a few years and have concluded it’s a solid source for analyzing human nature and theorizing about it. For example, a recent post in my Nextdoor feed began thusly:
“To the fool driving the grey Lexus mini SUV today, tailgating me down Boston Harbor Rd. Can’t you see clearly that the roads are TREACHEROUS and icy today!?? Melting snow, causing severe ice, on roads that clearly have not been treated. You may have all wheel drive and feel safe. . . ”
The author, whose intro reads “I’ve been working in the Creative arts, music, video and ministry related field the past 18 years”, and lists “Westwood Baptist Director” as one of his titles, goes on to say he hopes the tailgater totals his car.
Leading to quite the kerfuffle. Keyboard warriors rushing into battle, angrily slinging words like arrows in The Game of Thrones.
A doctoral candidate in the social sciences could use textual analysis on Nextdoor messages to theorize about our modern state of affairs.
One would most likely draw an overarching conclusion from such an analysis. People do not know how to get along with one another. Interpersonal conflict is the new normal. People who enjoy harmonious relationships with others are outliers.
Invective, defined as “insulting, abusive, or highly critical language,” is the defining feature of Nextdoor communications. So much so, the only reason I’m still a member is I have a fear of missing out on the next “your horse is loose in our yard” or “your pig just ran into our barn” message that my urban self finds endlessly entertaining.
I’m not going to write the title for you, but here’s some words and phrases to help you get started.
- An Examination of A Social Networking Site For Neighborhoods
- Interpersonal Conflict As The New Normal
That’s a wrap. The semester is over. Grades are (mostly) in. Back at it January 7th for one month-long course. Then my academic year will be a wrap since I’m a half-timer. Don’t hate me because you ain’t me.
It felt kinda weird returning to work in early September after such a long sabbatical. Pre-sabbatical, I handed off my administrative duties, so I was teaching full-time for the first time in a long time. And while I was gone, even more colleagues who I enjoyed had moved on. By “kinda weird” I guess I mean somewhat disconnected.
After all these years, I sometimes feel as if I should’ve assumed more administrative responsibilities somewhere along the line. I mean what kind of sad sack is back exactly where he started 22 years earlier?
And yet, as I read final papers, and email messages, and hand written notes of appreciation, I feel like finally, I might be getting this teaching thing down. Of course, putting that in writing means my “J-term” course will probably be a disaster, you know, pride coming before the fall and all.
Every educator is different, but for me at least, the “secret” to teaching well is the same as living well, the more selfless, the better. Maybe it was having no administrative responsibilities that enabled me to see and hear my students more clearly this fall. More specifically, maybe it was not being in a hurry, maybe it was taking the time to listen to them and to read their words even more closely. And then to respond to those words.
The more authentic and present I am in the classroom, the more my students appreciate my teaching. They also appreciate the thought put into our more accessible, shorter, more thought provoking than average reading list.
My students’ end-of-semester gestures of appreciation make me think I’m still doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. Consider one student among many, a physically imposing, politically conservative, first year footballer whose domineering dad tolerated no negative emotions.
“When I found out I had to be in a mandatory writing seminar as part of the ‘First Year Experience Program’ (FYEP) titled ‘The Art of Living’, I dreaded it. I despised writing, especially that of a personal nature. All of the essays and discussions I would have to participate in would be about my life, inner thoughts, and feelings. I figured it was just another stroke of bad luck. My goal for the semester was just to survive, and hopefully improve on my personal writing ability after a few failed attempts. However, I found out very quickly that this was just the class I needed. It turns out that my destiny was not to have an unfortunate event take advantage of me, but was to have an unbelievable stroke of luck being placed in the Art of Living writing seminar.”
“This unexpected change of heart provided me with energy and enthusiasm. Writing my fourth essay became something I enjoyed, not something I dreaded. I wrote about my stance on modern love and the concept of soulmates, which was the strongest stance in any essay I had written. I wrote about my own experiences with love, and how in my eyes the person I want to marry will be able to fill my heart with love. I wrote about how that love would allow me to experience the six varieties described in Krznaric’s writing: eros, pragma, ludus, agape, philuatia, and philia. . . . I had ended up doing the exact opposite of what I had initially thought I would: I wrote about my definition of love, my love life, and I loved doing it. By writing from the heart and being vulnerable with my audience, I was able to capture their attention and provide details that I otherwise might have excluded. My paper connected better with my readers, and it was relatable. Over the course of this semester I had not only grown as a writer, but I opened my mind and grew as a person.”
Watching this young man blossom into a superb, sensitive discussant was a joy:
“One of the most influential changes to my (writing) process was in-class discussions. They allowed me to deepen my understanding of the prompts while listening to others’ thoughts and feelings. I could formulate my own stances in response. It allowed me to consider outside opinions and beliefs and flush out my ideas. They made my essays even more thorough because I gained not only different pieces of textual evidence but I learned about different experiences my peers could connect to the readings. Being able to have personal, open conversations in class also made the texts more applicable to daily life. The discussions helped shape not only my essays, but the way I looked at the world as a whole. I could consider expanding my varieties of love as Kznaric wrote, or I could consider the lifestyle of Stoicism written in William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life. These discussions opened my heart and mind to the different ideas we discussed in class, and allowed me to incorporate those into my essays. This class broadened my life views and expanded my horizons.”
Because I’m half-time and I get paid over 12 months, and I max my retirement contributions, and I add family dental insurance and a Health Saving Account in for good measure, my take home pay for November was $34.37. But I feel rich beyond measure.
“Moody’s projects that the pace of closings will soon reach 15 per year.”
Sobering. How will my employer, Pacific Lutheran University fare? If it was a stock, I would not buy it because of the larger context, but I am cautiously optimistic about our future because our brand new president is as smart an entrepreneur as I’ve known. He’s quickly learned about the never ending peculiarities of academic culture and faculty-based governance. But the Warriors may not have much success this year even with Steve Kerr as coach.
“People say time heals all wounds, but I don’t believe that. Sure, as the years have gone by, I’ve learned how to manage my sadness in losing you. But the pain never really goes away. I think about you every day, miss you every day.”
4. How to Travel Like a Local. Thorough.
“Are the wealthy addicted to money, competition, or just feeling important? Yes.”
6. Song of the week. So effortless.
- Many are super stressed by their parents’ financial sacrifices.
- Some parents from developing countries “don’t believe” in mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, so they discount its importance. They believe their young adult children can “will themselves” to feel better.
- College is not as easy a time and place to make friends as is commonly thought. Loneliness is real.
Setting customary anxiety about academic performance aside, imagine worrying incessantly about your family’s finances and not having many friends to confide in. And then, not being able to talk to your parents about anything of substance.