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September 29, 2009

I could have used this...

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I remember being so terrified in the beginning of junior high because we only had FIFTEEN! minutes to get between classes. How was I ever going to find all my rooms and get to class on time with just FIFTEEN! minutes? I needed a bloodhound....

April 27, 2009

Transforming Higher Education

I really like this editorial in the New York Times. I knew a long time before I finished my Ph.D. that I was being trained in a narrow and framented area. I've been able to parlay my degree into other areas of higher ed than teaching, but I have no delusions about my worth in the private marketplace.

One of the ideas I particularly like in this essay is a "problem-based" education. One of the top things we hear from conferences and administrators and grant underwriters is the need for more interdisciplinary study. I tried to argue in my dissertation (until my committee made me take it out because I wasn't writing about curriculum revision per se) was that American literature in all of its aspects is better understood when taught with non-American literature and global history. How can you really understand contemporary Native American literature unless you know the history from which it came? Wouldn't it be much more interesting to read works by non-American authors at the same time as reading things by the Puritans when they first landed?

The study of literature could very easily fall into a "Communications" problem-based curriculum. I'm good at spelling, grammar, and vocabulary not because I majored in English, but because I have always been a voracious reader. Multi-disciplinary studies is the best way to ensure that liberal arts has a future.

Unfortunately, my brain cannot begin to think about what it would take to transform higher ed following this type of model. A student and I were talking about K-12 education the other day, and reforming that probably means razing the entire system and starting fresh. I have a feeling that this type of higher ed reform would be about the same; Taylor's vision could lead to a streamlining of colleges and universities like no one has ever seen before, and I seriously doubt he'll have much buy in. But I'm behind it, for what it's worth. :-)

Continue reading "Transforming Higher Education" »

March 29, 2009

One reason I didn't go into teaching

From Rhymes with Orange

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January 12, 2009

Dogs in Conversations

NPR's A Way With Words' newsletter pointed to a website that compiles the myriad of ways we reference dogs in conversation: Metaphor Dogs. From the few examples I've looked at, it appears to be pretty well researched. (The link is to the actual contents; if you want the full site experience, with graphics and baying hounds, start on the main page.)

May 1, 2008

A voice for the arts

Please take a minute to read this editorial by Jordan Sonnenblick on No Child Left Behind. I haven't actually seen the studies, but I've heard from multiple sources that there is research arguing that the more math a student has in secondary school, the more likely they are to complete college. But what good is a college degree if you've missed out, in your developmental and formative years, on the other parts that make us human? There are so many of us out there who believe in arts, humanities, music, and languages that I am always baffled by the process that allows things like NCLB to happen. I know the intent is good, but there really has to be a better approach.

I'm also afraid that the epidemic of eradicating arts, music, and languages has a strong foothold even without NCLB. I work with students who, at least as of right now, started school before NCLB, and I still have daily discussions about the value of these disciplines beyond the job security the students see in fields like engineering and science and medicine. I'm not trying to talk them out of those disciplines by any means. I'm just trying to get them to understand that there is more to life than just a science disicpline and presumred job security.

April 30, 2008

We can't spell because we don't read

There is a notorious website out there where angry and naive college students can post and find information about their professors. I'll link to it, but it does not really deserve to be named expressly; I'm sure we all understand the difficulties college students face in giving professors honest, helpful, and meaningful feedback.

In response to said website, a very popular blog has sprung up for professor types to comment on their college students. Those of us in the biz, so to speak, find relief in knowing that we are not alone, horror in the prospect that there seems to be a plague that runs through colleges on a regular basis, and humor in watching someone else deliver the smackdown we so long to make ourselves.

So I was relieved, horrified, and amused to read the following entry (I've linked to the whole entry, but have only quoted the relevant part here):

I teach classes online. So I have my students reading an article about how text messaging and IMming are ruining our children's ability to spell. Here is one of my best responses to date! However the week is still young!

"i don't think that text messaging and iming is messing up our spelling and grammer at all I do it all the time and i can still spell the words out its just that when you are text messaging you are trying to do it fast its just a fast way to communicate not a replacement for spelling plaus every1 knows whut i am typing when i type b4 everyone needs spelling if no one could spell how would anyone have a job? i am not the best speller in the world but i dont think that any thing is running our spelling or young kids i think that they just have to step up the spelling with the math and reading you can read a word all day but u should be able to spell it like its nothing."

Isn't it wonderful when they prove our point while trying to argue against us? I wonder about the author of the article, though. S/he seems a little behind the times, because I was bemoaning spelling habits before texting and IMing were really out there. My position is that we've become such an aural and visual society that we're hearing things and seeing ads and commercials, and not really reading and learning the language. I'm not good at spelling and grammar because I'm an English major. My major did not teach me spelling and grammar (my foreign language studies taught me a LOT about grammar). I'm good at spelling and grammar because I read.

My two favorite examples of this are "should of" and "chip and dale". Okay, the first one is fairly obvious. When you hear someone say "should've," which is the contraction of the words "should" and "have," "should of" seems like a logical conclusion for the word(s) spoken. Incorrect, but somewhat understandable (I cringe when I see it in print when that should have been caught by and editor).

So what about "chip and dale?" Here's a screenshot of when I googled (note the new-ish verb there!) the term:

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(click for a larger image)

This was the actual phrase someone used in an essay they turned in to me when discussing the Chippendale dancers (don't ask, I don't remember the details). You know, those two little chipmunks who take off all their clothes at women's only parties? No? You don't know them? Hunh. Again, I believe this is a student who doesn't read (apparently doesn't even read magazines or advertisements), and rather than look something up in a *gasp* book (because the internet had barely even been invented way back in the 90s), the student just relied on his/her auditory capacity.

December 1, 2007

To "use" or "utilize" / That is the question

My professor in my sophomore Intro to Lit course was a great believer in cutting out wordiness and over-blown language. While I am still prone to wordiness and abuses of language, one lesson rooted itself so firmly in my brain that it has become a personal foible: I cringe in near-pain when I hear people use (!) longer words when a shorter, plainer word would do. Don't get me wrong; I love language. There are people who can use long, possibly pretentious language, and make it beautiful. But I really don't like the word "utilize" in place of "use." There are appropriate times for "utilize;" I really like this summary from Dictionary.com in it's definition of "utilize":

Usage Note: A number of critics have remarked that utilize is an unnecessary substitute for use. It is true that many occurrences of utilize could be replaced by use with no loss to anything but pretentiousness, for example, in sentences such as 'They utilized questionable methods in their analysis' or 'We hope that many commuters will continue to utilize mass transit after the bridge has reopened.' But utilize can mean 'to find a profitable or practical use for.' Thus the sentence 'The teachers were unable to use the new computers' might mean only that the teachers were unable to operate the computers, whereas 'The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers' suggests that the teachers could not find ways to employ the computers in instruction.

I have similar objections to the word "colorway," as I have mentioned before. A friend refered me to a definition from wikipedia (I don't know exactly where):

"In visual arts, colorway or colourway is the scheme of two or more colors in which a design is available.

Colorway is describing the set of colors. A tweed that is basically blue with flecks of green and purple is a different colorway than a tweed that is basically blue with flecks of gold and orange. But they are both generally the same color."

The word does show up in this discussion of color in the "Yarn" entry:

"Yarn may be used undyed, or may be colored with natural or artificial dyes. Most yarns have a single uniform hue, but there is also a wide selection of variegated yarns:


  • heathered or tweed: yarn with flecks of different colored fiber
  • ombre: variegated yarn with light and dark shades of a single hue
  • multi-colored: variegated yarn with two or more distinct hues (a "parrot colorway" might have green, yellow and red)
  • self-striping: yarn dyed with lengths of color that will automatically create stripes in a knitted or crocheted object
  • marled: yarn made from strands of different-colored yarn twisted together, sometimes in closely-related hues"

but I still don't like it, I still think it's pretentious, and I still think using existing words like "multi-colored" or even just "color" works just fine.

November 28, 2007

Campus Guardians

I recently wandered around to some of the buildings near mine over the lunch hour. We have a few gargoyles, chimeras, and other interesting folks/critters adorning some of the buildings around campus.

So this evening when I opened my browser (my home page is the U of M home page), I found it rather amusing that the gargoyles were also featured there. Here is the text:

"Eye in the sky
One of four gargoyles--or chimeras--watches over the Twin Cities campus from the roof of Folwell Hall. The eight-foot-tall creatures adorned Folwell when the building first opened in 1907, then disappeared a few years later. The U had replicas made from looking at historical photos. This month marks the end of an 18-month restoration project on the exterior of Folwell, the grande dame of campus buildings. The U's 2008 Capital Request seeks funds for interior upgrades."

The picture won't be there long, because the webpage is a "dynamic Web 2.0 (?)" webpage that cycles information so that visitors to the site won't get bored. Or something. But if you get there in the next day or two, you'll probably see the gargoyle picture they chose.

This is my picture, more or less of the same critter:

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Here is a series of these gargoyles on Folwell Hall (as always, click the pictures for larger images). I think they look more like dragons, myself. There are four of them, two on each long side of the building:

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(It's pretty bad when the light starts failing at the end of a noon-ish lunch hour....)

Then there are the faces around the building. When you look through these pictures, it should come as no surprise that this building houses the language departments, the cultural studies departments, the ancient and near eastern religions departments, etc.:

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More later...I haven't finished Folwell Hall, let alone shown my favorite campus gargoyle....

November 27, 2007

R.E.A.D.

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My boss just sent me the R.E.A.D. website link. She does therapy dog work with her girl, Sophie. This is the very program I want to get into with Remy. The acronym stands for Reading Education Assistance Dogs. Click either the link or the picture to go to the website itself.

I've always been a big reader. When I was in 4th grade, my mother and a friend's mother went to the obligatory parent night, where the teachers were providing tips and tricks for getting kids to read. My mother and my friend's mother both wanted to know how to get their kids to stop reading. I read all the time (don't seem to have as much time now, though). I always had a book in class, I always packed 8-10 books for trips because one never knows how fast one will read, or what one's mood will be; I always went to bed late because I just wanted to read one more (and one more and one more and one more) chapter, and I mostly "forgot" my after school chores because I was so engrossed in a book. My best trick, though, was when I was sent to clean my room and discovered a book buried on the floor and never got the room clean because I'd start to read.

So, given my obsession with dogs, my love of books, and my interest in education in general, this type of therapy work seems appropriate. I'm going to just ignore the one thing that will pop into everyone's mind who knows me, and pretend that it won't be an issue. After all, the wonderful thing about volunteering is that I get to choose how to devote my time. If this doesn't work, I'll find something else, but I do really want this to work.

November 21, 2007

Football v. Academics

Here's an interesting article from Inside Higher Ed regarding Rutgers and their football team. While I know nothing about the specifics of the Rutgers situation, if the article's depiction of the discrepancies between cancelling classes, leaving faculty positions unfilled, etc. versus millions of dollars of support for football is even half-way correct, I can certainly sympathize with the Rutgers 1000. It very closely mirrors many of the feelings on my own campus where we started the Fall semester with a strike over wages at the same time that construction began on our own new multi-million dollar stadium. Not to mention the fact that our own football team just ended a 1-10 season....

August 31, 2007

Alternative Textbooks

Read this article in Inside Higher Education: Jon Stewart, Oral Exams and More, read the comments, then get back to me. (I'm really only interested in the Jon Stewart part.)

Okay, now that you've done that, what do you think? Here's my opinion.

Traditional textbooks are boring. They're crammed full of facts-as-portrayed-by-the-authors/editors. Yes, generally speaking, the material is truthful--I don't think the majority of textbook authors/editors really are trying to manipulate or persuade or put forth a particular political agenda. But the "just the facts, ma'am" approach to textbooks can be problematic. I was VERY interested in my intro to Pol Sci course as an undergraduate, and not only because I thought I had to be a Pol Sci major if I wanted to go to Law School. But the textbook was boring, and I didn't read it.

So the instructor in this article about the recent American Political Science Association annual meeting chose a different textbook, one authored by a well known left-leaning popular culture icon. I think one of the commenters was right to question whether the instructor would as blithely choose a book by Rush Limbaugh, or maybe Newt Gingrich, or what about Ann Coulter.

But what almost every commenter (and there are only 4 as I write) ignores, is the truth that TEXTBOOKS ARE BORING. I particularly love what Jerry Pattengale, AVP of Scholarship and Student Success at Indiana Wesleyan University, has to say: "It’s hard not to roll one’s eyes at the thought of anything by Stewart as a college text. Though a William and Mary grad, he seems to lack any sense of authority on issues related to political science curricula." I call shenanigans on that. He cites a few examples of Stewart's "self-proclaimed lack of authority," yet fails to realize that Stewart is not claiming a lack of authority but rather critiquing the way current news sources report. Pattengale is the one who tackles the bias issue, but that doesn't forgive his truly ignorant arguments otherwise. He calls the instructor's decision making "wanton." Um, really? Did you really even read the article? I do pity the poor students at Indiana Wesleyan if this is how their AVP of Scholarship and Student Success makes arguments.

Among the critiques within the article, "one professor said he had considered such a switch, but was bothered because so many of his students have the idea that 'the government sucks' and he fears that Stewart’s book reinforces that idea." Um, no. You're wrong, don't even try. They may have a "government sucks" attitude, but it sounds like Teten is helping them to THINK about why that is, which may end up making a difference. A boring textbook is not going to get them over that attitude.

August 25, 2007

What do teachers make?

This video is good enough to pass on and share. I wish I could be as cool as Taylor. (If you have problems with the link below, here is the direct UTube link.)

March 1, 2007

Art, Dirty Words, and Censorship

Blogger Maud Newton has an excerpt from what might be a very interesting book: Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita

The excerpt Maud provides discussed Eudora's "Moodwatch" option and the author's attempts to swear while telling friends about email/technological travails. Do you suppose it would flag "WTF"? Lame attempts at humor aside, I am particularly troubled by her account of the Google SafeSearch function at the end of her entry. Apparently just searching for "lolita" raises red flags for Google. Though this could be a good thing to keep students from finding internet sources about the novel (or am I forgetting that they shouldn't be reading that "trash" in the first place? :-) )

February 2, 2007

For all intensive purposes....

I've been keeping a mental list of the various grammatical errors that crop up in written texts these days that I believe are directly attributable to the decreased emphasis on reading. The most common one I saw as a freshman comp instructor was "should of," as in, "I should of gone to the store yesterday." In an increasingly oral/visual (as opposed to written/textual) culture, "should of" is the most logical connection students make when they hear the contraction for "should have" . . . "should've." The most humorous example I have is from an essay who wrote about Chippendale dancers as "chip and dale dancers." Who knew chipmunks were so hunky and flexible?

If they never see it in print, and don't have the grammatical and linguistic syntax behind the structure, "should of" makes sense. The title of this post is the most recent grammatical gaffe I've come upon. "For all intensive purposes" appears to have replaced "for all intents and purposes."

There is more to be concerned about here than simply a culture that can't speak properly because it doesn't read. In many instances, this type of grammatical error is also due to a general lack of understanding about the meaning of the phrase that has been malaproped (is that a word? does this situation count as malapropism?). "For all intents and purposes" is a cliche that basically means "practically speaking," or "for all practical purposes." But what might "for all intensive purposes mean?"

Here is the sentence from which the phrase comes, part of a review of a new (or not-yet-released) movie: "I was definitely able to relate to Seth Rogen's character in a way or two and even though for all intensive purposes the guy was an immature tool for most of the runtime...." "Intensive purposes" makes some odd sort of sense in this context. Do we condemn the author for not knowing the actual cliche, or do we congratulate him for transforming the cliche into something new?

December 6, 2006

Addendum to my last entry

I realized I never even gave myself the chance to talk about my main concern with measuring students' education. I'm afraid all college is going to come down to is standardized tests at the end of one's college career. I know that my scores on the SAT/ACT mattered far less to my ability to be successful in college than finding a professor with whom I connected and field in which I was interested. Some standardized tests may have their place, but I can just see each discipline being forced to come up with a type of version of the subject GRE exam at the end of 4 years.

December 5, 2006

If it's broken, how can we make it worse?

I'm not really a happy camper in the world of higher education these days. The U of M is currently undergoing a Strategic Positioning process in order to become one of the top 3 research institutions in the world within the next 10 years (8 now). This is not new news, nor is the U alone in its endeavors. Many institutions are doing similar things, trying to boost their rankings in whichever ranking system they have targeted. Some may be trying to rate higher in the U.S. News and Bullsh*t..ahem, World...Report, while others have found other measurement scales upon which to rise in numbers. I can't even find the scale the U is using, but I've heard "Florida measurement system" thrown around a few times.

All of this is well and good, maybe. Student selectivity seems to be one of the criteria for many ranking scales: the more students who want to come get turned away, the higher in status the school rises, leading to more students wanting to attend. Lovely little circle, that, but it fundamentally seems to ignore some of the access and outreach missions of a land grant university.

The other large concern I have is on a national level: accountability for education. In other words, how can "we" [taxpayers, legislatures, the country] guarantee that our students are learning anything at "your" institution. Recent articles in Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education (see the extended entry for examples) indicate that this is not a momentary trend, but is something here to stay.

The problem is that education is not a tangible thing that can be measured in charts and graphs, yet Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is looking for ways for "accreditors and colleges to provide tangible proof that they are educating their students." Many institutions look at graduation rates as an indicator of student education. Given some of the examples of reading and writing skills of students who have graduated from high school, I can pretty much guarantee that a diploma does not necessarily equal education. On the flip side, lack of a diploma does not mean a person is uneducated.

"Measuring student outcomes" appears frequently in the first article below from Inside Higher Ed. To what outcomes are we refering? Pascarella and Terenzini have spent 3 decades measuring student outcomes such as student change; verbal, quantitative, and subject matter competence; cognitive skills and intellectual growth; psychosocial change; attitudes and values; moral development; educational attainment and persistence; career and economic impacts of college; and quality of life after college. But it's crucial to note that these outcomes have only been measured for students who have attended college. There are no comparable studies for those who have not attended. While we can probably reasonably assume that the levels differ between students and non-students, we don't know for sure.

And how can they really be measured? Terenzini and Pascarella's work is widely accepted as one of the best, if not the best, examination of all of the research that has been done on student outcomes. But the time and money that would be required for each institution in the U.S. to do all of those measurements would end up breaking the bank.

I'm not going to go any further, though I could probably write a dissertation of just plain ranting on this topic. An alternate title to this entry could be "How my love affair with higher education ended." It's me, not you [higher education]. Forces beyond your and my control are pushing us in a direction I fear.

Continue reading "If it's broken, how can we make it worse?" »

September 15, 2006

A bright, shiny, very lonely exception

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In this scenario, Joan is an extreme exception. Most of the parents we see today (parents of exceptional high school students) willingly and gladly make sacrifices in their lives to do things that are the kids' responsibility, not theirs. Many high school/college freshmen age students don't even make it to Andy's confusion because, unlike Joan, their parents would have said, "Absolutely. I'm sorry for letting you oversleep. Can I do anything else to make it up to you?"

This isn't a new phenomenon. It's been reported in the popular press, including Newsweek. So when will people start recognizing it as a problem?

August 17, 2006

Puppy Policies I Can Support

From Inside Higher Education: "Fido Goes to College"

"A growing number of institutions are hosting back-to-school events that encourage professors and staff members to bring in their beloved pets to help new students become more comfortable on campus. At the same time, health officials say it’s a good way to help freshman learn about health services available to them."

The article also labels a new variety of freshman ailment: Acute Canine Deprivation Syndrome. I definitely had ACDS when I was in Bemidji; I think that's the only semester I've ever had without immediate connections to a dog of some variety.

March 20, 2006

We've Got Trouble Right Here in River City

Trouble with a capital T that doesn't rhyme with I that stands for Ignorance.....

from today's Minnesota Daily: Bill would make it clear professors need to speak clear English

The requirement would not be discriminatory, in essence, because it would apply to all new faculty: "According to the bill, before a professor is hired, the head of the academic department must conduct an oral interview with the applicant. The interviewer must then document that the person used clear English with good pronunciation." Furthermore, if 10 percent of the students complain, the faculty must be reassigned to a non-teaching position.

I suppose the good news is that George W. Bush would never be able to teach at the U of M.

March 1, 2006

The Educational (Non)Funding Solution?

Non Sequitur
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February 11, 2006

Reading Log: The Rule of Four

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I was actually able to read Ian Caldwell's and Dustin Thomason's The Rule of Four for a graduate level class. My mother left it for me after Christmas, and I thought I was reading it on the sly, until I saw it as a possibility on the syllabus of my College Students Today class.

The storyline is very similar to that of The Da Vinci Code; a literary artifact contains a mystery that has been puzzling scholars for centuries until someone takes a different look at the problem and solves it. Of course, reaching the solution requires having someone else try to take credit for your discovery, being chased through tunnels, and ultimately presumed dead, but where would the narrative tension be without those details?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good at pulling narrative inconsistencies out of fun novels. I thoroughly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, and found The Rule of Four almost as compelling. But one thing nagged at me through the entire novel, and unfortunately, it is one of the major components of the plot. Paul Harris, an orphan, enters Princeton (that bothered me too, though not nearly as much as what comes next....) knowing what he would be researching for the next four years as his senior thesis: a very obscure Renaissance text, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream by Francesco Colonna. Granted, I don't work with Princeton-bound students. But obscure literary texts and college freshmen never seem to go hand in hand.

If you can either believe or suspend disbelief about ths premise, and if you enjoyed Brown's novel, The Rule of Four can be a very entertaining literary mystery. It will also make for a fairly interesting discussion about college student development for my assignment.

December 14, 2005

U of M in the News

I knew we had a good journalism school, but it's apparently better than I knew, as seen in this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article may not be available if you don't subscribe to the Chronicle, so here's the info in a nutshell:

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped inaugurate a program on Tuesday that will bring about 100 young reporters from around the world to six American journalism schools in order to study journalistic practices in the United States.

As part of their visit, participants in the Edward R. Murrow Journalism Program will travel to one of the schools, where they will take part in intensive seminars and field activities with faculty members and students.

The six journalism schools are at the Universities of Kentucky, Minnesota-Twin Cities, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Oklahoma, Southern California, and Texas at Austin." (Eugene McCormack, 12/14/05)

I haven't seen much about this in UM or local news, but I haven't had as much time to keep up with things as I'd like, either.

August 3, 2005

To Anyone Considering Grad School

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Things they never tell you as an undergrad. I'm loving this strip, by the way. My friend Dan referenced it, and I've had to go through the archives. While it seems to concentrate on engineering grad students and makes light of humanities grad students, the lives and trials are not that much different....

Be sure to also check out "Newton's Three Laws of Graduation."

July 27, 2005

Unfortunately, this is too true

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Many of the students with whom I worked in my previous job were pre-med or pre-pharmacy, or pre-some other health field. And their parents did a lot of the work for them. In fact, one of my former colleagues has a parent emailing her multiple times a day for much of the week. I'm actually convinced that this parent will be attending school and is using the child as a "cover."

June 1, 2005

taking libraries to the next level ?

I'm not quite sure how I feel about UT-Austin's new move to "relocate the book collection to appropriate campus libraries" and convert the library into a 24-hour technology center with "an array of coordinated information resources and instructional services." Apparently the books will all be available online (does that mean scanned and online, online via the publishers, online via inter-library-loan?), but I don't see any real discussion of the effort in the article above.

January 8, 2005

'Nuf said

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January 6, 2005

Why education is like medicine...

Not to be too glib about the topic--I understand that I'm not a medical doctor, and the work I do is frequently not as vital, but there are similarities.

These two strips mirror our lives in my advising office:

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Student: "I need to have this form signed so that I can register tomorrow."
Adviser: "When did you get the form?"
Student: "In August."
Adviser: "But it's November."
Student: "Yeah, [insert excuse here]."

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(fortunately we're not open 24 hours, but our students think we are....)

Student: "I'm failing my math class and need to drop it."
Adviser: "When did you know you were having difficulties?"
Student: "In the fourth week of classes."
Adviser: "Why didn't you drop the class then?"
Student: "Because my roommate's cousin's sister's boyfriend said [insert bad information/rumor]."

No, we don't literally deal with life and death situations in our office (normally), but we do frequently run into the "it's everyone's fault but mine" problem and the poor-planning problem.

December 17, 2004

Arrgghhhh!!!!

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It's just not funny any more. My colleague's dentist told him the other day, after finding out where he works, "Oh, liberal arts. There just aren't any jobs for liberal arts majors out there. I've told my kids to steer clear of liberal arts." Of course this was while he had his hands in John's mouth, so John couldn't educate the man.

There are enlightened employers out there. I know there are. I'm married to one. But until people begin to realize how truly unimportant the specifics of the bachelor's degree are, my job is going to continue to be 10 times harder than it has to be. I have to tell every other student that they do NOT have to get a BS in chemistry in order to go to pharmacy school. I had to explain to a student so she could explain to her parents that her sister's sociology degree was not a wasted degree just because she's in graduate school for statistics now. And I had to explain to a potential employer at a job fair, when I noticed they were looking for a student with a Bachelor of Science degree in a science major, that yes, our Bachelor of Arts science majors take the exact same lab science courses as the BS students. Without looking at the roster, the instructor doesn't know on the first day of class what colleges the students are from. Not only that, but students pursuing the BA biology major have to work even harder than the BS students because BA students have to put CLA requirements on top of the same major curriculum that the BS students take, which equals approximately 38 more credits with the second language requirement and the 18 upper division credits outside the major requirement.

When will it stop?!? I haven't completely formulated my thoughts around what I'm about to say, so not much detail here, but part of me is really interested in returning to the classical model of education wherein there weren't so many specialized majors and everyone learned more or less the same things. Things like communication skills, critical thinking skills, time management skills, how to work with other people skills, etc. As an undergrad, does it really matter if you are a biology major or a neuroscience major? I mean, really?

December 15, 2004

The best card ever

My University of St. Francis American Lit students gave me the most perfect Thank You card I've ever seen.

Outside:
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Inside: Thanks!

What better card for a literature teacher? (Can I be called a professor now?) Some of them know my obsession with dogs, and Snoopy is one of my most favorite characters ever.

November 18, 2004

Insanity

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Work is insane right now. I'm in a bad combination of boredom and holy-moses-stress with my job. For every one appointment I see, there are five to ten more students who also need to see me NOW! I'm really tired of telling every single child-who-is-supposed-to-be-an-adult that they don't have to major in science to go to med school, that they don't have to choose a bachelor of science over a bachelor of arts to go to pharmacy school, that knowing a second language is not only a good thing, but also a marketable skill, and that "I want to help people" is not going to get them into the nursing program.

I'm also really tired of seeing students day in and day out who have not made any effort yet to think about what classes they need for next semester. The freshman get a two semester guide during orientation, and the continuing students should already know this information. I can handle the ones who come in to confirm their selections, and ask about other opportunities, but the ones who have done nothing for themselves other than booking an appointment drive me crazy. "I need to know what to take next semester" is the phrase of the day--I just want to tell them, "Hell, if you haven't figured it out by now, you might as well drop out of school and work at fast food for the rest of your life."

But I won't. I'll smile kindly and ask them what they are thinking about and explain that they really need to continue with chemistry if they are considering medical school (even though they've already heard that 5 times by now) and that calculus-based physics really does require a knowledge of calculus and shouldn't be taken first. And then I'll dutifully help them figure out a reasonable and workable course load for the next semester, ask them if they have any more questions, then wish them well for the rest of the semester and remind them to email me if they think of something else later.

And then I'll go through the same routine with the next appointment, all the while my inner bitch is tearing her hair out in utter despair, wondering when it's all going to end.

And on top of all of that, my father is going to try to come out for the graduation ceremony. Mom and my uncle Dave will already be staying at the house with us, and I have no idea of how much time I'll need to allot to Dad that may take away from time with Mom and Dave.

Oh, and yes, I am fine, by the way. How are you?

November 10, 2004

Frost and the City

Given that we just read Robert Frost in class last week, this is an appropriate comic strip....

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One of the things I like best about Robert Frost is that many of his poems have more to them than you might suspect on a first read. "The Road Not Taken" is a particularly fun one, because the popular interpretation is "do your own thing, not what everyone else has done," or some other nod to "individualism." But a careful reading of the poem shows that the two roads really are equal, not that one is "less traveled" in reality--the poet/narrator takes the road "having perhaps the better claim / because it was grassy and wanted wear / though as for that the passing there / had worn them really about the same." Yes, the poem is about choices, but not necessarily about "the road less traveled."

November 9, 2004

The Great Divide

I used to live near the Great Divide, a beautiful place in the Rocky Mountains that is the point at which rivers determine to which coast they will flow. I like that sentence, because it gives control back to the rivers/nature/environment/"grand design", rather than relying on human constructions that attempt to make water flow uphill or time move backwards.

I feel like we're moving backwards in time right now with politics and "moral values." The great divide now seems to be focused on the division of church and state, with the religious right controlling the "ideal":

"If we want to have a hopeful and decent society, we ought to aim for the ideal. And the ideal is that marriage ought to be, and should be, a union of a man and a woman," Rove said.

Does anyone else think that marriage (whether civil or religious) really is more than the gender of the two people? Isn't the ideal marriage a union based on love, respect, mutual goals, etc.? Despite his campaign rhetoric, Bush will indeed be pushing for an amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. Bleah, I say. Get religion out of government, get government out of religion, and just let people get on with their lives.

UPDATE: Just saw this little nugget of over-whelming wisdom on Stacie's blog. "Let's just pretend that none of the bad stuff happens and teach our children that everyone is as bigoted as we are."

Continue reading "The Great Divide" »

September 15, 2004

and this was just a joke

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This attitude is real, folks. "I want to slog through 4 years of science just so I can go to med school and get really stressed and deal with people who are bleeding and I can't stand blood but I really want to help people" is something we more or less hear on a daily basis in my office.

Yesterday we had a good one: Student comes in because S. wants to drop creative writing. "I really don't like creative writing," S explains. "Then why did you register for the class?" we ask in surprise, though we really shouldn't be. "That was June; this is September." What???!!! So in 3 months the class is magically going to change from being a creative writing class?

The U has a new provost for academic affairs. Apparently he's gung-ho to overhaul the entire system. My unit's administration anticipates that central is going to centralize control and colleges/departments/units will no longer have as much autonomy. Part of what this means is that if a program can't justify its existence in central administration's big picture, that program will be axed. That simple. But what that means for advising units is extreme concentration on recruitment, enrollment management, and improving 4 year graduation rates. The problem is, though, my office in particular sees students coming in with unrealistic job expectations: the various health-care professions seem glamorous, or lucrative, or legitimately helping, but the students themselves are not prepared for the realities of the prerequisite courses and sometimes even the careers themselves. Sometimes they'll repeat math and/or chemistry 3 to 4 times because those are required courses, without a solid understanding of the fact that repeating the course even once diminishes their chances of getting in. Others get to the third or fourth year of their programs and are so miserable they don't even know why they're doing what they're doing.

Does anyone besides me see any particular challenges in these situations? ;-)

September 13, 2004

It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it

And I have to be the one? I'm teaching an American Literature course for the University of St. Francis this fall. Not quite half the students in this class were in my composition course two summers ago--it's always fun to have repeat students that I like.

But this course is proving to be a little bit more of a challenge. For some reason, it was easier to teach composition at a college level than it is for me to teach literature. I'm trying to give these students a historical context, but it seems harder for them than for traditional undergraduates to see the relevance of what we're studying.

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This is about how some of my classes seem to go. Last week we discussed Nathanial Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown." The entire story is an allegory (which I didn't even dare to bring up), and one of the characters is named Faith. Faith is Goodman Brown's wife, and she is mentioned several times through the story, mostly in ways that preclude the double meaning of the word. Now I don't fault my students for reading stories literally, but to miss the nuance behind a statement like, "My Faith held me back awhile" in reference to why he was tardy meeting his companion, the devil????

This week we're going to try doing a little more close reading--but we've got a few fairly obvious texts, and Uncle Tom's Cabin to work with, so I'm afraid I'm mostly going to get the likes of this:

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....to be continued....

August 31, 2004

Books I am currently reading

I start teaching again tomorrow night from 6:30-9:30. What happened to summer? It's true I resent the fact that I spent somewhere around 24 years in a school system that trains us to believe in summer vacations, but I'm almost over that. But again, where did the summer go? Did it happen?

Anyway, I'm teaching for the University of St. Francis again, American Literature this time. So I will be spending all of my free time preparing for class (I suppose I should know the material as well....). The primary textbook is The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Version, Sixth Edition. And the desk copy they sent me is hardback. I've also assigned Kate Chopin's The Awakening & Other Stories (though I think I assigned a different edition that I can't seem to find at the moment), and the book that got me interested in Native American literature, N. Scott Momaday's Way to Rainy Mountain.

So don't be looking for any booklist updates for the rest of the semester. I'll be lucky if I can keep up with my own syllabus.

August 18, 2004

Almost as fun as the OED

Someone on one of my listserves just suggested that the term "gook" applied to people of Asian descent was shortened from Chingachgook, Natty Bumpo's legendary sidekick in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans and others in his "Leatherstocking" series. Never having heard this (and frankly doubting its veracity), I of course turned to the Oxford English Dictionary online through the U of M Libraries (if anyone reading this is in the position to buy me prezzies, an edition of the OED would be a lovely addition to my collection.....). Chingachgook is nowhere in that definition. So, I turned to my next favorite source, Google.

All of this is merely background fodder for introducing one of my new favorite sites: Etymology Online.

But of course, my friends and I who consider reading dictionaries to be a fun activitie, have been called geeks/nerds at one point or another, so I guess this just adds to the evidence there.

(And no, I still haven't found a reference to "Chingachgook" as the origin of the term "gook.")

August 4, 2004

Popularity Contest

I'm going to do something my friend Phil hates: take a subject raised on the group email list we have and discuss it on my own page, rather than among friends. But, since it's relevant to more than just my friends on that list, I thought I'd spread the love around a little. Sarz, Phil. :-)

Paul Graham (whom I don't know from Adam, but isn't that the beauty of the internet?) wrote an interesting little essay on why nerds are unpopular. Summed up ever so poorly, the essay's argument is that nerds are unpopular because they don't take the time or have the desire to handle popularity's upkeep.

I definitely tried to be popular, in a short-lived run that ended in 5th grade. I invited the "cool" girls (plus two of my "nerd"-friends) to a slumber party/birthday party. Since I invited them, I would automatically join the ranks of the priviliged invitees to their next soirees. Yeah, whatever. Needless to say, my little scheme never worked. And that was even the 80s. I hate to think what I'd have to do now.

I wanted to be popular, but as Graham mentions, I wouldn't trade my intelligence for popularity. I secretly envied my best friend, Arwen, because she was smarter than me. But I think in late jr. high and high school, she kind of became tokenly popular, perhaps because some of the valedictorians were actually in the popular crowd as well.

I think, though, that being smart didn't turn me into a nerd. At least if I had been a nerd, I would have been noticed. No, I think intelligence (and/or common sense) made me invisible. I wasn't nerdy enough to even receive the negative attention of the popular crowd. To them, I was simply another person in the school. That was the worst part of secondary education.

July 29, 2004

The Value of a Humanities Major

My friend Stacie just posted an op-ed piece about higher education and economics from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on her blog, Shades of Mediocrity. I started a comment in response to her, but soon saw it would go above and beyond the call of duty, so decided to continue the conversation here.

What is the overall economic value of a liberal arts degree?

The advising coordinator in General College at the U of M recently sent this poster to the career services listserve on campus. According to this scale, my current salary puts me just slightly (and I do mean slightly) above "High School Graduate." Now I understand that I work at a public university, and therefore must expect a pay scale lower than what I could find in the public sector, but approximately $44,000 less than what my highest degree is?

My husband Scott's salary is more in line with his education according to this chart, but he has more than one master's degree. And he's in computer science, which should skew his earnings as much on the high end as my degree is skewed on the low end of the scale.

But ultimately, is his degree in computer science more valuable than my degree in English? Are liberal arts majors happier in careers they probably had to go out and find (I never aspired to be an academic adviser, and I'm pretty sure the liberal arts majors in financial aid never aspired to be there either) than people who graduated with a degree in finance from the Carlson School of Management or chemistry from the Institute of Technology or interior design from the College of Human Ecology?

I don't know what the answer to this is. I understand the value of taking liberal arts classes and even taking more of those classes than math/science at some points. I even like most liberal arts classes because I have an insatiable desire for knowledge and education. But when part of my job is trying to convince my students to remain in CLA (my office has the lowest number of graduating seniors because we advise science students who generally transfer to Biological Sciences, IT, or another college offering the BS without the second language requirement) and assure them that they'll be able to find good jobs doing what they're interested in, I become a little more cynical.

What can you do with an English major? The standard response around my office is generally "anything you want to do. What can't you do?" But that doesn't necessarily limit the field any.