The Newly Jobless, including One who took Drastic Action

With the Beatles‘ recent popularity with generations who weren’t even around the first time around, you’d think that love is all you need. However, we live in times where even that sentiment, as lovely as it is, is not enough to counter the malaise of this recession. One of the feature stories in this month’s Atlantic Monthly, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” paints a grim future for the American job market in the next few years. The New York Times, not to be beat, is doing a series about “The New Poor” (coming off an era with the new rich) with a similar article: ” Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs.” The Atlantic Monthly makes predictions about the cultural changes to come while the NY Times takes a closer look at the systems in place to deal with unemployment and how they’re ill-prepared for this crisis. With the grimness pointed out by both sources, why not laugh at the futility of paying off credit cards on Cracked.Com.

Continue reading “The Newly Jobless, including One who took Drastic Action”

It’s Not Easy

It’s with a little difficulty that I weigh in on this issue. As someone who writes, creates art, and blogs, I am a strong believer in the freedom of speech. I have expressed my concerns and my fears regarding how my blog or any other form of online expression could be used against me. On my blog, I have a widget linking to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which serves to show that I support freedom of speech on the Internet, raise awareness of the issue, and hopefully get readers to support the EFF and other free speech organizations. However, the real test of supporting free speech comes with dealing with speech that isn’t pleasant or popular.

From an educator’s perspective, the news of someone “cyberbullying” their teacher and then filing a lawsuit following a suspension initially made me uncomfortable. Katherine Evans, a former high school AP Honors student, set up a Facebook vent group where she invited users to “to express” their “feelings of hatred” for Sarah Phelps, her English teacher. Having dealt with difficult students before, I can’t say I’m in love with what she did. However, I can empathize with her frustration and I do support her right to articulate her frustrations.

Whether she truly felt poweless against a teacher’s unprofessionalism or that she was frustrated that she may not have been learning the material, Evans does have the right to voice her grievances. Is what she did that much different from what students post on Rate My Professor? That forum is largely anonymous while the Facebook discussion was not.

When I was a graduate student, I had a mentor who treated me unprofessionally towards the end of our academic relationship. After the fallout, I was extremely alienated, hurt, and angry. My feeling that he did me an injustice was so strong that I wanted to tell everyone what a horrible human being he was. I found support with other grad students who hated him. I then did things I’m not completely proud of, such as submitting his surname as a vulgar slang word on Urban Dictionary and posting hateful comments about him on Rate My Professor. I’ve also written critical blog entries about him where I identified him as Professor Joseph K, which were mild compared to the other items. I’ve never doubted that Professor K could easily be identified or that the other items could come back to me. All I can hope for is that he does support my free speech rights, however uncomfortable my various postings can be for him.

On the flipside, I have worried that some posts I’ve done on some students could “bite me on the arse.” Here, if a student happened to access my blog and didn’t like my ventings about him or her, then they might try to get disciplinary action taken against me by the school administration. While such an expression may not be appropriate, stifling one’s voice is even more innapropriate whether it is Katherine Evans or Shinichi Evans. We may not be perfect, but we have a right to voice our opinons.

All of us have lived through an era where our government has pursued means to suppress our right to free speech, such as the PATRIOT Act. Apparently, dissent and critical opinions made Bu$h and company so uneasy that they pursued almost every means to silence people, including social sanctions. The Dixie Chicks can attest to that. Then, there are the people whose speech doesn’t sit well with a lot us, such as Fred Phelps. Of course, he and his sired church don’t care for most of us and our rights to speak out. However, to silence others because we don’t like them makes us no better than Bu$h or Phelps.

As for academic institutions who silence students or teachers, SHAME ON YOU!

Butt Is It Art?

One of the funniest Beavis and Butthead episodes, a Mr. Van Driesen lesson gone wrong on a field trip to the art museum. As always, Beavis and Butthead learn the wrong lessons. Of course, you can’t really blame them as they have such sterling examples of intelligence, such as the security guard. I love the discussion at the end because Cassandra, Mr. Van Driesen’s favorite student, is unable to really articulate anything and gets caught up in alterna-chick abstraction. Where’s Daria when you need some meaningful commentary? She was on the field trip, after all.

I originally tried to embed this, but the “video” said the vid was only avalailable on MTV dot com. Why have an embed code when it won’t stream to the blog it’s posted on? MTV sucks.

The Blogging Holiday is Over

Since I’ve been blogging regularly this year, this is the first time I’ve taken any kind of break from posting. Actually, it wasn’t a break, as I had faculty development obligations at the community college districts where I teach (with one starting class last week, and the other still in meetings). Of course I attended tons of meetings and documented them, as I didn’t want nasty bites out of my pay come December.

I had fun creating a syllabus for my Freshman Composition course (which was super long). I always wish I could have one outlining the class in two or three pages (as the schedule only takes about two pages), but I needed to cover myself with various policies. There is that lovely thing called plagiarism. When I was in the fourth grade and heard that word for the first time from my teacher (who was Belgian), I thought it was pronounced like “pleasurism.” However, she gave the correct definition for the word. Perhaps in the future, when going over the syllabus, I could use the anecdote of my European teacher when mentioning how the consequences of plagiarism aren’t so pleasurable, despite how the word sounds.

One freaky thing I noticed this week was when I went to the college police department of one of the colleges to pick up a parking permit. On the sheet where they have faculty sign for receiving their permits, the person before me had a signature almost identical to mine. Interestingly, his name was Gary, and the way he wrote his G and I wrote my S were the same. Like most signatures, we both followed the first letter with unintelligible wavy lines. I’ve heard the theory that everyone in the world had a double out there (which normally means one who shares the same physical characteristics), but this is the first time I’ve encountered an autograph doppleganger.

Chris obliquely mentioned how some creationist frak in “The Sick Man of Europe”* decided to get his government to impose a blanket ban on blogs. This doesn’t really help this potential member of the European Community, especially as it caves in more and more to fundamentalism and suppression of free speech. Then there was that film that damaged their reputation during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, deserved or not.

First it was India, now this country. I wonder which nation will ban blogs next.

Changing the subject to something else, I went with my friend Scott to see Au Revior Simone at the Casbah last night. Their style is definitely comparable to the Postal Service, but with a more girly touch. With several analog synths, they managed to charm the crowd with their singing and some good old fashioned modulations (sans computers) along with some banter and interaction with the crowd. Their tourmates, Oh No! Oh My!, were definitely a band I could appreciate, though I don’t I’d get into. They hail from Austin TX, though I really don’t know anything of that city’s music scene beyond the better known Spoon. Then again, I don’t know much about the San Diego scene beyond Pinback and she who got discovered at Java Joe’s and became a superstar in the late 1990’s.

Signing out for now, stay tuned.

*when I took a European history course as an undergrad, the professor mentioned “The Sick Man of Europe” as a moniker for the state of that crumbling empire in the late 19th and early 20th century (which was then replaced with appropriately 20th century nation state). Its membership in the European Union is still pending.

Back To School: (Apple) Technology

As you embark on your college journey or are returning to school, you can’t get caught without technology in the 21st century educational environment. Of course, you can go anywhere and buy a PC with the new Vista operating system, but get a Mac. They’re more attractive, better made, and have significantly less headaches than the machines on that Microsoft operating system. Okay, I’m biased, but you get the point.

Apple brings sexy back into computing with the iMac
That’s not completely true, but largely so. Apple has made computers sexy for the 21st century with the G5’s, Macbooks, PowerBooks, and its piece de resistance, the iPod. In time for new college freshmen in need of computers or those returning to school in the fall, the slender incarnation of the iMac enables you to do your homework, research, and e-mailing in style. These new models have plenty of hard drive space (250-500 GB) for those projects and presentations you’ll do for that A. Plan for desk space as the screen and CPU combo comes in 20” and 24” sizes. Good for work and for fun, and the support for any Apple product is excellent.

MS Office For Mac (A Wonderful Oxymoron)
While Mac has its own set of office utilities, Microsoft makes smooth working versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel for its rival platform. MS Office saves your work in the same file formats as its Windows counterpart, so you can easily send your files to a PC user (who may very well be one of your professors. Not me – definite Mac user). Best of all, MS office is priced at an academic discount, available at the Apple Store or your local college bookstore.

Dot Mac is where it’s at
.Mac has upgraded to 10 GB of online memory space, which you can use the space for e-mail (and have a super cool e-mail address), back up for all those files you create as homework, or for hosting a website and/or blog.

iPod – Definite Space Saver
Do you really want to lug all your CD’s with you to college? And, aren’t they so 20th century? Save some dorm space, get an dock, and hook your iPod to your stereo. Plus, you can take your tunes wherever you go. You can also download new tunes and your favorite TV shows (and even movies and games) from iTunes. The standard model (30-80 GB) comes in black or white, but you can dress it up with protective sheaths, covers, and socks. If you need something that can take a beating, get a Nano or a wearable Shuffle (in your choice of several fashion colors). They hold fewer tunes, but enough for music on the go, and they’re good for workouts or jogs around campus. Buy a Mac and get a Nano free. Just don’t let me catch you with it during test time.

Can’t endorse the iPhone…
I’m not sure if a phone is worth the hefty price tag, even with some fabulous features. Price aside, the iPhone offers some useful applications for students: e-mail, iCalendar to manage schedules, web browser for research, and a much more sensuous version of the iPod built-in. All that’s missing is a word processing program to write papers on the go. The keyboard function does take some getting use to. Buy at your own discretion or risk, but don’t let me catch you using it during test time.

Update, 9/5/07
Apple has a new fall line of iPods, including the iPod Touch, a phoneless version of the iPhone. Thanks to Brian for the update.

It’s A Wrap!

The summer school session at the community college is over (for me, anways)! The course load was concentrated, but so are the paychecks. There were so many early mornings where the students and I were so not awake, but we made it.

Most of my students did well. I had those few students who wrote well at the freshman level and who intelligently chimed in to the class discussions. It was nice to see one student in particular get excited about the material covered in class.

However, I am concerned about a few, especially their future as college students. All one student did was go to sleep in the back of the classroom. I don’t think he ever participated in class or showed any embarrassment when I had to wake him up in an attempt to involve him in the class discussion. Interestingly enough, he was worried about his grade towards the end. I have yet to receive a term paper from another student, despite her promise to send it to me ASAP.

I have until next Thursday to turn in grades, most of which I already have done.

I learned a few lessons this summer, much of it reinforcement from previous lessons:

  1. Never get behind. Grade those papers the day I get them. In fact, I should grade them after class or when I get home from work that day. Also, be on point with the lessons and not play catch up on lesson plans.
  2. Don’t accept late work. I am not doing this to be a meanie, but it is a nightmare to backtrack, try to look at an assignment when the class and I have moved on to something else.
  3. Take care of myself. If I manage my time right, I get my work done, get some exercise, take care of what life asks of me, and get the rest I need in order to function for all of the above.
  4. Remember that it’s only a job. I should do it well (most excellently), but no job is worth taking over my life.

Next week, I go back to the language school for a couple of weeks. I am substituting for an instructor’s advanced level course and I got to meet the students this morning. They seem like a nice bunch of students, but the instructor told me it’s difficult to get them to do homework. Each group is different. They are mine next Monday.

I also got to see some familiar faces, such as Julius (Joo Seung AKA Ju Ju) and a few others. Perhaps once again, there’ll be a picture of me diagramming sentences.

Teaching Lessons Learned In Classics

How long is a few days in blog years?

I haven’t done a post since Monday morning, where I might have sown the seeds of college and university staff making iPod socks.

Then I got caught up in school and doing things at the last minute this week as I started teaching the summer course at the community college. I think it will be the last time when I write a syllabus and a gradebook and all the good things at the eleventh hour. That privilege belongs to college students.

I am all caught up. My new habit: get papers graded on time. There’s nothing students resent more than a disorganized instructor. They don’t know what to expect in class, they get their papers back late, and they don’t know where they stand. And, if the teacher is a harsh grader, then they despise him or her even more.

When I was in college, I took a Classics course with a stuffy, condescending professor who could have easily been portrayed by Bob Balaban (the music teacher in Waiting For Guffman comes to mind). He was often disorganized, and the exams and the papers often came back late. One day, he discovered no one read one of those ancient Greek poems in the syllabus through trying to conduct a discussion. He was incapable of it, but I have to commend him for deviating from his lectures. I remembered his travelogue stories more than anything he had to say about Greco-Roman history, literature, or art. Getting back to the anecdote, his prissy ass was outraged no one came prepared for class and he abruptly stormed out of classroom.

The moral of the story? Perhaps there’s a few. Show your students respect and be on task, especially if you are to demand respect from them and expect them to be on top of their assignments. Having an advanced degree does not get you respect by default. This guy was a professor with a PhD and I didn’t give a damn. He was never on task, but heaven help anyone who turned in a paper late. I still don’t respect him even though I took that class over 10 years ago.

Week 1 of the Summer Course is over. 5 to go. Stay tuned.

It Must Be Nice

Just read about this in the New York Post: Getting a $142K payraise is unreal, but the State of New York found it in their infinite wisdom to give this incredible payhike to a SUNY professor who may someday make it possible to create nanites. He goes from making $525K to $666K* per year. I wish California’s State Controller was this generous.

*the number should be rounded off to $700K, but $666K sounds Satanic as a professor’s salary and it’s fitting. I’m all for teachers getting well paid, but someone (or a group of people) in SUNY or the State of New York will get paycuts because of this.

Further Thoughts on “Bible in Schools”

This man needs real help. Will the delusions just stop?

I can’t get Ted Haggard’s shrill voice out screaming “It’s written in the Bible” out of my mind. Last year, this man was filmed for Jesus Camp preaching an anti-gay sermon repeating that slogan. Never once in this scene did he say where in the Bible this was written. Instead, he played the idiot’s refrain of “I shouted it, I’ll shout you down, so it must be true.” And, we all know what happened to him.

One issue with teaching the Bible in schools is the interpretations a teacher would put upon the Scriptures, especially a literalist one. This has been a big headache for the scientific community from the early 20th century on. With a popular school of thought that the earth is only 6000 years old and that God created the universe, stars, sun, earth, and life in 6 days, high school biology teachers find their ability to teach observable facts greatly challenged by an unwillingness to learn. For some people, ignorance is bliss, but they cut off the means for others to learn. More seriously, human rights has often been a casualty of one’s view of the Bible. The slave trade and the creation of racism went on for a long time in this country largely because of alleged Biblical justifications for them. Of course, there were a lot of secular reasons (such as money in someone’s pockets), but the blessing of the religious establishment went a long way here. After slavery was abolished, many of these people with their piety and paper Pope stood in the way of African Americans (and even others) of claiming their rights as human beings. Now, what one thinks the Bible says is a roadblock to gays and lesbians getting full recognition and the rights others take for granted. Some even point to passages here and there in the New Testament and even fewer in the Old Testament.

With the patchwork of some Bible verses, modern conservative Christians have created a theology that excludes gays and lesbians, insisting on the literal Word of God. However, this is quite convenient. How many of these folk stick to the other things the Bible say? Do any of their wives cover their heads in church? The Apostle Paul makes a case of it in his epistle of First Corinthians. Given that some of these Bible believers like fashion (or even have horrible taste in clothes), how many of them wear a fabric blends of one kind or another? These things are trivial, but what about the more important issues. Jesus pointed out to the young ruler that his wealth was an obstacle to his spirituality, but how many modern believers in this man’s place would see and apply the lesson to themselves? On his Sermon on the Mount, the peacemakers are called the sons of God. In a time where peacemakers are needed more than ever, many (but not all) of these literalists have thrown their support in the past couple of wars that have cost the lives of countless Americans, Afganis, and Iraqis.

Students would be better served with a course on ethics. While many believers find their moral compass in a thick, incomprehensible book, others learn it from family or from the various code of conducts they are exposed to. But, students would be better equipped to understand why some things are right and others wrong (and downright illegal) if they were systematically taught ethics.

Bible in Schools

I have to admit, I’m not really for the teaching of the Bible in public schools. This topic is on the cover of the April 2 edition of Time. While this may be appropriate in private schools (Christian, Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, etc), it would heavily favor one religion over others. For non-Christian students, such as atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, it can seem like a hostile environment.

Mentioned in the article is the conservative Christian push for a Biblical education in public schools. One of the more alarming trends of the 1990’s on is the public relations campaigns of fundamentalist Christians – while their message and core beliefs may not be palatable to mainstream America, they have found ways to present them in more secular, easier to swallow forms. This is like the candy coated bitter pill that may not be good for the the public body.

The Bible is a source for some of the greatest works in literature (in English). Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, William Shakespeare‘s body of work, and William Blake‘s art and writing all reference the Bible in some way. If you really want to get hit over the head with it, there’s Pilgrim’s Progress. One section of Toni Morrison‘s Beloved references the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. However, the Bible (and ideas passed down from various church traditions over the centuries) is not the only source. Other sources include Classical sources (Greek and Roman mythology, philosophy, drama [tragedy and comedy]), Gilgamesh, and works in the canon of literature. History, along with current events constantly unfolding, also provides a source and context for many works.

The Bible’s role in Western history should be acknowledged. However, courses in the Bible could easily become religious propaganda. Some teachers, despite their beliefs and opinions, teach the course with a great deal of integrity, such as Jennifer Kendrick mentioned in David van Biema’s article. However, there still is the risk of the courses becoming “weekday Sunday school.” For me, there are a great deal of things Americans should become literate in, and it’s not limited to the Bible. History is one of them, but what about the role of other sources in Western culture (as previously mentioned) or even the non-Western ideas that are now a contributing factor to its development?