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.

Death By Lecture

I’m getting the hang of teaching on-line, but writing that is going to cost me. Bigly. Whenever I get the least bit cocky about my faux-electronic teaching skills, I almost immediately do something exceedingly stupid. My undergraduate Multicultural Education class is filled with bright eyed, smart, engaging young adults. Most of the time. On Tuesday, the proletariat staged a work stoppage. Meaning whenever I posed a question to the 22-person class, no one responded. “I’ll just wait them out,” I thought to myself. Had I not capitulated, I’d still be waiting.

It’s happened once or twice this semester. So I thought about what those class sessions had in common and formed the following hypothesis. If I start class by talking more than a few minutes, they all have the same inner dialogue, “Fine, if you like the sound of your own voice so much, just keep talking for the whole damn 90 minutes.” In medical circles, this is known as “Death By Lecture”.

It didn’t matter that my 30-minute presentation was clear, conceptual, and relevant, cross the 10-minute Rubicon on screen and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount would’ve left his crowd mute.

So I came up with an experiment. I started Thursday’s class without talking at all. At 10:01 a.m. I wrote in our Zoom chat room, “Good morning. I have a hypothesis. When I begin class by speaking for more than a 5-10 minutes, a passive pall descends upon the land.” Sheepish smiles from those with video cameras on spread like wildfire. “So today, instead of talking, I’m going to use this chat room to begin class. I will type fast. I’d like to begin by having you think about the following questions. You successfully graduated high school and earned admission to a well-respected university. To what do you credit your academic success? Why? What constitutes ‘success in school’? It has to be more than just getting good grades doesn’t it? What else should ‘school success’ encompass? Why? All right, ready? I’m going to put you into groups now.”

Then I weaved and bobbed through uber-animated small groups. After awhile, I brought everyone back together and again turned to the chat room. They were clearly digging the fact that I still hadn’t spoken. This time I typed, “Okay, that was excellent, you’ve already confirmed my hypothesis, but let’s extend the experiment. Have your Berliner article in front of you to refer to when discussing these questions. Which outside-of-school factors most impact how well students do or don’t do in school? If outside-of-school factors impact student achievement three times more than in-school factors, how much should the public expect teachers to accomplish in any given school year?” Again, they dove into animated, energized discussions.

An hour into class I ruined everything by breaking my silence. After a mini-lecture, we were nearly out of time. I hurriedly asked a few questions, but was met with another stone-faced work stoppage. Their silence wrapped up the experiment and spoke volumes. I had resuscitated their surliness. What I heard was, “Answer your own damn questions.”

I’m Not A Political Consultant

But I could be. Imagine if Trump’s campaign was a bit more inclusive and I was hired to advise on messaging and strategy.

The incessant attacks on Biden’s character are a dead-end. A lot of Republicans fret about his probable policies, but they also know deep down, he’s a decent person. And human decency counts now more than ever. Instead, focus on real threats to American life by tweeting this out:

It’s grossly unfair that college professors have lifetime job security and an all-time great President has to reapply for his job after only four years.

Then just sit back and watch the “likes” and retweets.

And here’s how you blunt the criticism that the President hasn’t clearly communicated what he hopes to accomplish in a second term. Again, tweet this:

Authoritarianism. Just try it. What have you got to lose?

The first two-thirds of that would also make an excellent bumper sticker and pin.

Weeks ago, I also would’ve insisted on placing a voting box at every truck stop and boat ramp in Florida.

And lastly, that 400-person White House party planned for tonight, I’d trim that guest list by about 396 people.

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.

Don’t Write This Way

Positive writing models are the most helpful, but sometimes negative examples of what not to do are so glaring they just can’t be ignored.

From a lefty on Twitter, “I don’t want to be alarmist, but a GOP source just told me this: “Trump’s condition is serious. He can go either way. . . . ”

Writing at its worst. What’s more alarmist than “He can go either way”?

Own your ideas. One could write, “At the risk of being alarmist, . . . “, but if you truly don’t want to be alarmist, delete it all. Silence is often a great option.

“Teaching” On-Line: A Report From The Front Lines

Midway through week 3. In three words, a roller coaster.

Last night the graduate Sociology of Education seminar was a case study of incompetence. When exiting breakout groups I disconnected everyone from everything so we had to scramble to reconnect. For good measure, I added in some pedagogical incompetence by talking too much. One other student saw my blabbing and raised it, and I didn’t know what to do as his classmates, like dominoes, tuned him out one after another.

After class, I retraced my steps and realized the errors of my ways. And so today I was an online teaching rock star, turning off the waiting room, screen sharing, moving between small groups and large with aplomb. I damn well better win the prestigious “Most Improved Zoomer” award, Boomer Division.

I just unplugged from the First Year writers. I forgot to tell them they could jet after they were done peer editing, so they all returned to “office hours”. And they just wanted to hang out, which was cool. They’re a fun subset of the bad luck Covid Class, those 18-19 year olds who missed their high school graduations and have had to start college with electronic teaching hacks like me.

One of them had hilarious background images repeatedly rotating behind him last session. Today, another student did. How long until I lose complete control?

But their daring to be different provided much need levity. They’re not just funny, but resilient, still in good spirits despite “the invisible enemy which no one could’ve seen coming”. After shooting the breeze a bit, I had to tell them it was 72 degrees outside and sunny for one of the last times in a long time. I pleaded with them to “go outside and toss a frisbee.”

Thursday, we’re meeting in-person for the first time. Glory hallelujah.

This Is How You Start A Personal Essay

“When I entered the job market, in 2017, I was mistaken for a prostitute.”

Carlyn Ferrari in ‘You Need to Leave Now Ma’am’.

“I learned to present a highly curated version of myself. I smiled. I made small talk. I exchanged pleasantries. I suppressed the urge to remind colleagues of my expertise during meetings, knowing that my tone or dissenting opinion would be perceived as angry, intimidating — or worse — insubordinate.

I listened as my first-generation students and students of color cried in my office and talked about how they felt they didn’t belong. Though it broke my heart, I treasured these visits. I had more in common with these students than my colleagues. Like me, they were brought in to “diversify” the campus. They had no support and neither did I. Every time they spoke their truth, I felt like a fraud for hiding mine.”

Do We Really Want More Self-Censorship?

Follow up to yesterday’s graphic which prompted this question from a lefty reader who is also a great daughter not just because she reads and comments on the humble blog.

“Is it bad for people to feel like they can’t say offensive things?”

For me, that begs this question, who gets to decide what’s “offensive”? A majority of your peers, but the First Amendment is explicitly designed to protect minority viewpoints.

Sure, given most people’s instincts for self preservation, publicly shaming anyone with retrograde, anti-social, even hateful opinions will probably get them to censure themselves.

But does that constitute progress? Isn’t it better to know what people honestly think because only then can we begin to deconstruct and challenge the parts that most reasonable people find offensive?

What if forcing those who communicate offensive things causes them to not just shut down, but to double-down on their ideology. Do we want those we find offensive to go “underground”, and in essence, let their retrograde ideas silently fester in their own heads? Won’t that make them more likely to eventually act upon their “offensive” ideas?

I find Louis Brandeis’s axiom convincing, “The light of day is the best disinfectant.”

 

 

I’m More Than My Politics, You’re More Than Your Politics

Political partisanship is intensifying mostly because we surround ourselves with people and tune into news sources that affirm our political philosophies. And so they harden. The technical term is “confirmation bias“. Conservative versus Liberal. Red versus Blue. Believing in American exceptionalism or not.

I’m a little weird in that liberal friends of mine marvel that I regularly engage in political discussions with conservative friends. Relationships are frayed because of political tribalism. Not just casual workplace ones, relationships with neighbors and family members.

One possible solution to this problem is to deemphasize politics by avoiding political topics, to talk about any and everything else, like Taylor Swift’s surprise new album, the weather (cloudy and 61 degrees farenheit in Olympia, WA) or the superiority of the metric system.*

But more kitten videos and fewer Trump ones is not the answer because political discussions are about power and privilege, fairness, and whether we’re going to realize our ideals, topics far too important to delegate to elected officials. Some whites who think they’re especially enlightened say, “I don’t see race, I’m colorblind.” To which most people of color say, “Must be nice, never having to think about the color of your skin, because we have to all the time.” Colorblindess is another form of white privilege.

Attempting to be apolitical is similarly flawed. Ignoring questions of power, privilege, and fairness does not make them go away. So how do we engage in policy discussions with people whose politics are so different than ours? Without losing our minds and jeopardizing our ability to live peacefully with one another?

By treating others the way we want to be treated. There are a boatload of descriptors that I’d like on my tombstone. Husband, father, friend, educator, writer among them.** I do not want to be remembered as a Liberal Democrat. “Remember Ron, yeah, he was an amazing Liberal Democrat. Really consistent on the death penalty. Always right about the social safety net. Impeccable voting record.”

And here’s the key take-away, I’m guessing that’s equally true for my Conservative Republican friends. We can go all in on specific political philosophies without our affiliations dominating our identities. We’re all humans, parents, siblings, friends, citizens, first, second, and third.

Consider a dystopian future, in say 22nd Century (dis)United States, where tombstones in cemeteries lead with deceased people’s political parties. Name, birth year, year of death, Moderate Republican. Name, birth year, year of death, Social Democrat. At times it feels like we’re headed down that path.

Social consciousness necessitates political engagement; but political engagement should not detract from multi-layered, nuanced, constantly evolving identities that begin and end with our common humanity.

*upon further thought, each of which could turn political

**I’m going to be cremated and spread liberally (not conservatively) in nature