Heartbreaking

I admit it, I was not in the mood to be the enigmatic instructor in the front of the room today. So instead, I asked students, via email, to bring in at least one song from the final projects they are working on about women, media, and narratives of self. One of my students brought in this Lauryn Hill classic:

Like many in the room, she did not know the history of this song and its direct comment on some of Hill’s less than positive relationships with other artists who tried to silence her creativity and sell out the sound. Instead, what she heard was the story of men who abuse women, profit from their intelligence, and keep them under control so that they don’t lose access to the power, intelligence, and creativity they bring to the table. She also talked about ambivalence in the song, i.e. that on the one hand it is an anthem for women who have the power to walk away from people who are enigmatic but shallow and the awareness that comes from realizing a person is more invested in their image and being worshiped than in real relationships, but on the other hand there is great cost to walking away from people who are idolized by the rest of your peer group. It was insightful presentation.

Unfortunately, it was also headed to a dark place. Try as I might, I could not preempt that in order to keep us on track and the student from having to face her peers post-melt down. Suddenly, she was comparing the engimatic figure in the song (he who shall remain nameless at least here) and several of her male professors in her other major, a discipline that is notoriously peopled with enigmatic men who are aloof and seemingly untouchable. She compared the shallowness of her relationships to said instructors to the availability, nurturing, and mentorship she had received in other departments and how the “cult of personality” in her discipline was surprisingly missing in others which made her think about how male egos intertwine with misogyny in order to create whole systems of power based on worship and abuse and the pathologizing of anyone who questions them. While the rest of her narrative was mixed with personal issues I cannot repeat here, suffice it to say that this crisis and insight were a result of the student trying to get her needs met from these largely than life men and being summarily smacked down because she wasn’t cute enough, thin enough, dumb enough to fall for their crap, etc. and also the more it happened the more she engaged in approach-avoidance (where you try to talk to someone and when they blow you off you avoid them until you can pull up the courage to do it again, ultimately reinforcing the idea that there is something wrong with you and your ability to be liked or loved instead of with the situation or the interpersonal dynamics that each of you has some responsibility in). For those who don’t know, approach-avoidance is one of the best tools of the abusive professor, because if they can get you on that cycle, then they can point to your neediness and erratic behavior as proof you are a giant nut bar and they are innocent.

Listening to her story in class and then later in my office, complete with email proof of some of her interactions, I began to wonder exactly how it is we continue to support these cults of personality in academe. Though some departments are certainly more guilty than others, and some genders perhaps more so than others, I think we can point to at least one person in every discipline who acts like this and in most cases their unbelievable narcissism is rewarded. In thinking about it, for the first time in a long time, from the student’s perspective instead of the colleague one, I began to wonder how many broken young women there are roaming college campuses because they don’t get called on or mentored by Mr. Fabulous, and then when they go to ask why … Mr. Fabulous makes them feel like the tiniest fleck of poo stuck in his brand new shoes, you know the fleck that stinks forever but can’t be washed out … Some girls go away and cry. Some girls try harder to please, helping build the very cult that dishonors them. And some girls, the really brave or really clueless ones, dare to ask why they are being treated this way or make it known that they see through this behavior, and those girls pay. They pay dearly. We’ve all seen it happen. Social ostracism doesn’t stop in high school; it isn’t part of 8 year old developmental brains. We do this. We let this happen.

I found myself asking the same questions I always silently ask said colleagues in these situations:

  1. Have you ever asked yourself why you are in education?
  2. If you think of students as the fodder to grade your papers, due your research, or even write those books you get raises on, what in the system prevents you from realizing you are a parasite and doing something about it?
  3. How do you think learning works if you engage in your own version of approach-avoidance in which the chosen few are showered with a ridiculous portion of attention and the rest are relegated to the hinterlands of two word emails and bored stares?
  4. If the only thing driving you teach is your ego, then have you considered local theater instead? perhaps a poetry slam at your favorite coffee shop? (people with real talent do this too, but we all know about the pompous pontificators who show up and have a forum, just think, that could be you!)
  5. And if deep down, you really don’t give a sh*t what students think, then why do you have a syllabus that requires them to speak in class and/or interact with you in some version of a virtual extended classroom?

One word: Therapy.

While therapy is not cheap and it doesn’t pay you, in the long run

  1. you will do far less damage to others in this world
  2. you may actually like yourself when it is over
  3. you can do much better in the world with an authentic self and an internal regulating system that doesn’t require you to feed off of others
  4. while you may never be worshiped or adored again, you also won’t need to be and the people who offer you love and friendship will actually mean it and not just being waiting for you to write a recommendation or drop dead so they can move into your office

What I told my student in class, was to listen to another Lauryn Hill song in which she realizes that looking outside herself for validation is not worth it and where she points to all the ways we are told to put our faith, our learning, and our sense of peace, in the hands of others (including educators) when to be strong we need to take it into our own hands and build our own communities of strength that are based on mutuality, mindfulness, and genuine respect for each other.

My world it moves so fast today
The past it seems so far away
And I squeeze it so tight, I can’t breathe
And every time I try to be
What someone has thought of me
So caught up, I wasn’t able to acheive
But deep in my heart the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to find my own destiny
I look at my environment
And wonder where the fire went
What happened to everything we used to be
I hear so many cry for help
Searching outside of themselves
Now I know His strength is within me
And deep in my heart the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to find my own destiny
And deep in my heart the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to find my own destiny

One of the students had brought the entire CD in to do her song, so we ended class with this song. I asked each student to think about the meaning of this song and how it related to their own lives and their own empowerment. I’m passing that on to you, even as I ask the academics among my readers to think of new ways of interacting with those colleagues who are little more than predators feeding on the innocence and trained need of young students just looking for one person to validate and encourage their intelligence.

 

Paper Returning Time

I am always astounded by students who send me 10-12 page “drafts” of their 3-5 page papers via email. They don’t ask me in class if I am willing to read drafts. Nor do they read the syllabus that says Ido not read “rough drafts” and offers a list of paper writing tools and mentors around campus; apparently, they don’t listen when I go over this in the first session or before handing out the paper assignment either.  Their emails seldom actually ask for help but rather say things like “here’s my draft” or “when can you look at this because I’d like to get it done before the deadline.” My TAs tell me they are often carbon copied on these emails, though these students have not attended their paper writing sessions or come to paper writing office hours which are where they are told to go with “near finished drafts” as well as paper ideas.

There is a tacit belief on the part of students that by sending me an email a day or two before their papers are due that I will edit their work down to its proper page length, correct their egregious composition issues, and even look up their citations for them. Many also believe that I will ensure that all material that is outside the topic in the paper will be replaced with material that is inside of it. The other part of this belief, of course, is that when I return them their new polished 3-5 pages it is like a contract saying they will get an A when they turn it in.

On many levels, these emails are the height of laziness and poor scholarship. Worse, when I ignore these emails and make a blanket statement in class reminding people I don’t read drafts and to use the various resources listed on the syllabus, and my TAs each remind them of their “paper writing” workshops and office hours, these same students send demanding emails wondering why I have not reviewed their papers and pointing out the deadline for the paper as if I don’t know it. Some, only on the rarest of occasions, have even asked for an extension based on the fact that “I gave you my paper last night to review and you didn’t get it back to me before today, so I could turn it in.” Hmmmm …. Would you like me to wipe your bottom as well?

So you could imagine how amused I was when a Soc Prof on twitter linked to a video on what paper writing time, and midterms/exams in general, look like from this side of the desk.  (warning there is language in this video that is an obvious exaggeration of the frustration some academics feel when faced with students unwilling to take responsibility for their own learning or work in the course; learning is a shared responsibility and that sharing means you do your part as much as we do ours):

When you are writing a paper, you should think about several things:

  1. this is an opportunity to show the level of your understanding and integration of the material and any attempt to shirk the task reflects negatively on your intelligence in the class
  2. writing is a critical skill that you must develop for success not only in college but outside of it, avoiding developing that skill by pushing it on to others does not help you, it hinders you
  3. there are multiple resources on most campuses to help you with writing that include (1) counseling for paper writing anxiety, (2) assessment for learning disabilities or emotional blockages that may actually constitute assignment modification for your needs, (3) writing centers that can help you with thesis development, cohesion, etc., (4) librarians and library workshops, that explain how to do research, how to cite, how to put ideas together, etc. (5) writing classes, writing intensive classes, or writing tutored or mentor classes which include an explicit commitment to teaching you how to write a college level paper and mentoring you through the process – take one of these early in your college career as an elective, and (6) TAs whose job is not to write your paper or review cobbled together scribblings but to help you narrow your ideas and compose them in a comprehensive way
  4. your peers are resources – everyone is in the learning process together in your class and therefore have access to the same material and expectations as you do, working together can provide opportunities for developing your collaboration skills, covering your blind spots, and idea generation in a diverse environment. The only thing you need to be careful of is that when it comes time to write, you do your own work.
  5. there are podcasts specifically devoted to grammar from Grammar Girl that may help you with the more pedantic aspects of writing as well
  6. Not knowing the style guide required for the class is not an excuse. Most style guides have basics online for free, the entire guides are available at the bookstore, the reference section of the library, and most writing centers. You should check which style is required at the beginning of the term and then familiarize yourself with it through out the course so you are ready when paper writing time arrives
  7. if you are less self-directed, I am told there are expensive citation programs that will not only hold all of your citations at the ready but format them in any of the major formatting styles for you
  8. your professor is there to clarify the assignment, offer feedback on self-generated paper topics or resources – they are not your personal writing tutor, paper selling factory, or anything else that allows you to push aside your intellectual commitment to learn

Education is not a magic bus you get on by paying your exorbitant fare, sleep in the back of, disrespect by doodling and chatting when awake, and then get off 4 years later with a 4.0 It is a process in which you are an equal and many times majority participant in learning. You have every right to complain about unreasonable expectations, harsh grading, and checked-out instructors, but you have no right to assume that your professor is going to pull out a breast, feed you, coddle you, wipe your bum, and lay you to rest in swaddling made out of fancy degrees.

This is Who You Handed the Reigns Over to

I really should have done this yesterday, when there was still time to help mobilize the vote. That failure is on me. While I took to twitter with a bunch of other progressives to try and rally young people to go vote and to remember that even if the choice was between a Democrat who sold out universal health care and ending the war, it was better than a Republican who circulated watermelon photos or had dinner with members of the Klan and certainly better than Tea Party folks who, among their many issues, still refer to “my America” to mean racial homogeneity and support things like ending equality in education and employment, not hiring differently-abled people or relegating them to the first floor, or simply not serving people in a restaurant, store, or other business just because they are racially or sexually different than you. The problem with our electoral system is often progressives and radicals are faced with voting for the people who have disappointed them just because they aren’t the people who want to lock them up in huge cages and put them on display on Main Street (and yes, someone in Ohio ran on such a platform a few years ago). The problem is exacerbated by a smug disregard for progressive politics that starts at the top, I watched President Obama on John Stewart too, and trickles right on down to snark said to entire Press rooms. The problem is a government system that makes being in government a lucrative career rather than a civil service, where career politicians worry more about the 30 misguided folks with incoherent signs than the 80% of voters who swept them into office. The problem is a government so bent on “bipartisanship” that they let Fox News tell them who to hire and fire and the only people compromised are the American people. So yeah, the Democrats threw away momentum like we have not seen in the last 30 years and they failed to carry the mantle of change they defined and we handed them, but this is what being disillusioned and staying home or voting for something “new” really means:

More Tea Party Signs

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for original archive click link at top of blog

While neither progressives nor voting Democrats, ie not the politicians, can be blamed for the racism in this country (subconscious, covert, overt, or otherwise), we do have to ask ourselves what our decisions around voting helped sweep in to the halls of power both this election and the last one. By which I mean, when our “representatives” started to act like they were not going to uphold the mandate to provide affordable health care, end the war, support the poorest among us, etc. were we as vocal, strategic, and present as the Tea Party? Did we hold our own rallies, put them up on you tube, demand an audience with our Congresspeople, etc.? Or did we just send Stephen Colbert? And when it came time to vote yesterday, when voters across this nation ran to the polls in a racialized frenzy did we offer rides to the polls to our friends, neighbors, or even the guy on the street? Did we even vote? And I use “we” here, even though I did vote, even though I did participate in meetings with local politicians, and I did try and ensure my students knew where to register and the consequences of switching their registration if they are from out of state, because ultimately as a group we spend a lot of intellectual power critiquing the world around us and far less coming up with viable alternatives. The system is broken and the politicians on the Left are still just politicians, but if we want something different than it is time to build that and make it happen. Until then, we are all implicated in who won the elections last night and what all of us will ultimately lose because of it.

Comment Policy Update

charles Schulz

I hate to get all academic on you all, especially after 4+ years of being pretty open about comments here. It seems that both the influx of overzealous fans on some threads and the linking of this blog by several courses this term, has led to an influx of comment makers who do not read the posts before launching into commentary. I’ve always had to say to one or two people every season, “Please read the whole post before you comment” but I have never had to delete a whole stack of comments because they are both offensive (violating ToS because of name calling or engaging in oppression) but also complete OT. My favorites have been the ones that claim posts about multiple racial groups are “attacking white people” because they never bother to read a) the title of the post or b) the content beyond something quoted to them elsewhere or the first three lines (I’m not sure which it is, probably both) and those saying posts are invalid because “you did not mention [white character here]” in black history month posts. So here is the major change in the comment policy so we are clear:

In order for your comment to be approved on this blog you need to have (1) read the entire post and (2) write a comment that reflects that you have read it even if you are only referring to a single issue or portion.

These guidelines are added to the existing expectation that comments avoid the use of epithets, name calling, swarming, and oppression, as well as be expressed with no or limited use of superlatives and “profanity”. As always, the unspoken but oft held guideline here and in the offshoot conversations that occur on twitter is that while this is not an academic blog any discussion we engage in is meant to move our understanding forward and to encourage thought on the subject and the broadening of perspectives, as well as challenge ideologies or concepts either in the post or the world. If you want to attack or deride people or positions or shout out “I am a fan and nothing my fan universe does can ever be wrong!” you are in the wrong place, but it does not mean that there are not places where you can do that openly and freely. Making an argument means more than saying “I have watched 2 full episodes of this [or] I slept in Superman footie pjs therefore I am right and you are wrong.” Long term fandom means you bring something important to the table not that you are infallible or the thing you like untouchable. For those of you who are new or returning students assigned to read here, becoming a scholar means engaging ideas and discussion not just announcing an opinion based on your experience or preferences.

Most of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, “Umm hasn’t that always been the way we discuss things here” and the answer is yes. So trust me when I tell you there is a reason I have to write this.

And as a side note, if you are an instructor or TA using this blog for your class and you have not already discussed with your students the meaning of learning communities, netiquette, and engaged discussion, you should. As we know, social media inundates most students’ lives in one way or another and in many of those mediums anything goes. If you do not outline the kind of intellectual work you want them to do when they are using popular media then they will use the default of social media interaction that has led to so much bullying, denigration of others, and utter lack of engagement beyond one’s 5 second quip. As we integrate media into our classrooms we have to be savvy about meaning making and critical thinking otherwise our students walk away with very little new information. Their lack of engagement also means that many of the producers of that media you want them to learn from and with are left to wipe up the mess they leave behind. I enjoy being linked to for academic purposes every term, but I think everyone would get more out of it if students were using the medium as text and not as an extension of Facebook.

It Saves Trees

Public glass waste collection point in a neigh...

Image via Wikipedia

A funny thing happened on the way to going green …

Many faculty and staff have gone completely paperless in their day to day activities on campus. It is part of the INCREDIBLY SLOW process of greening the campus that began with a few students refusing to use plastic utensils in the dining hall and a few professors, like yours truly, schlepping paper home and bottles home to recycle half a million years ago. Now that basic changes can been seen all over campus, a lot more people feel really excited about the greening efforts. My social activism courses all participate in one way or another in the process by thinking up ways to link campus dining with local farmers (and ensure fair wages for day laborers), working on congestion studies to determine if campus buses, walkways, and bike lanes can be expanded or made safer options than the gas guzzle commute, and even in volunteering to take the recycling out to our over taxed and underfunded recycle center when it tends to overflow in the dorms. It all sounds great doesn’t it? And in many ways it is.

However, a recent class discussion reframed the efforts in ways very few on campus had considered. Pov U is a commuter school, many of its students are first generation college kids who drive through two or more towns to come to class. They drive beat up pick up trucks and jeeps that help them get their farm work done or are simply sturdy enough to get them from place to place in their unimproved stretch of the N. American landscape. They resent the ease with which the media discusses hybrid cars as if the price falling to the moderate range means anything to families who have kept the same car for two or three generations by switching out the parts and ignoring the rust in the floor boards. They cannot bike and bussing it would take half the day one way, a train, if we had one that connected to some of their small towns, would cost a small fortune as would the grey hound that does reach some of them. Many of them cannot carpool either because they have kids who have to be dropped off at school on the way in or husbands, boyfriends, or partners who have to be dropped off at work or the day laborer center on their way in. Many of them have to pick groceries up on the way back as well, and transferring from bus to bus with groceries and kids over 3 towns is something that only feels novel to people who CHOOSE to do it, not those who have to.

This is the part of the story we should all recognize. The limitations in transportation that green discourse does not consider or simply demands be dealt with by the poorest among us “if they really care about the planet”! But it is also the part of the conversation that many involved in decolonized discussions of transportation and mobility have been working to change. From plans involving green, fast, and accessible transit to expanding safety features and late night routes to the push to decrease the cost of green cars, plans have gone into places to make green transportation a reality across the class divides even as local politics may continue to fail people in rural areas or from working class and subsistence areas.

But what about on campus? Most of my colleagues no longer pass out syllabi on the first day. Many have gone electronic with their packets, their textbooks, and even their exams and handouts. In fact, many items are turned in electronically as well. The mantra is “it saves on paper [trees]“. The reality is that it also saves on budget for cash strapped departments with limited access to free copying as well. I for one have been at the forefront of putting my materials online. All of my courses have Black Board, a listserv, and an e-reserve. Having finally been allowed to use a smart classroom once in a while, I have also taken to putting the syllabus up on the screen and going over key points rather than bringing in hard copies. I can literally highlight the key points in any color of my choosing on word as I speak, and ask them to do quick expectations oriented assignments while referring to a large print version of the syllabus in front of them. I’ve teched out y’all and happily patted myself on the back for greening my classes.

Until … one of my students had a melt down. She pointed out that she has no computer and probably never will. She has three kids she has to pick up in one of those beat up trucks I was talking about and even with her own transportation it takes over a 1.5 hours to get to and from campus not counting if they stop to do errands. Her husband needs the car for his second shift, so her time on campus is also limited. For her, the adage “there are always computers on campus” has little meaning. There is no library in her town and the nearest one has only one computer that is too old to access the latest version of Black Board or download pdf files. For her, “it saves on paper” translates to “you learn nothing”. She is not alone. Many students on our campus have limited access to computers outside of campus and some do not have the money it takes to print the articles and syllabus to take with them when they leave. As we become more and more “green” these students struggle with the standardized expectation that they have access and funds and the stigma of admitting they do not. In fact, if some of the self-reporting that occurred after my initial student spoke is any indication, the stigma of being working class or susbsistance level on campus has increased considerably as a result of the “it saves trees” plan.:

  • They come to class confused because the syllabus changed in the middle of the night on line but they are still working off the one they printed on the first day.
  • They have less time than other students to consider the essay questions or the exam questions because they can only access them on campus inbetween trips to daycare, job, etc.
  • They appear to not have done the reading because they either did not have enough time in their on campus window to absorb the material online and they couldn’t afford to print it, or they printed it and some of the pages were missing because someone else in the lab accidentally took them, the printer broke, or the pdf was wrong and by the time it was fixed they were already gone

In other words, they appear to be checked out, confused, or inconsistent students when in fact they are doing their best to keep on top of a system that is supposed to be saving the planet for a better life for everyone on it, including them. When they get called out for not doing their homework, most are already too embarrassed to say the problem is finances. They look at the students in the front with laptops open, raising their hands, and wonder if college is even for them.

And I find myself wondering why any of us thought that cost saving paperless options meant those costs just disappeared. If we don’t print the handout for students, then each student bears the burden of printing, ie paying that cost. And yes, I just assumed those who didn’t want to pay that cost read the material online but that requires a computer and reliable internet both of which are hard to come by in many of the communities our students come from and we know it. Saying we have labs all over campus ignores the demand we have created for those labs, the work and care giving schedules of many of our students, and even the basic things that we all know go wrong with overused printers and copy machines. More than that, how exactly does “it save trees” if we know full well someone else is printing the material when we are not?

And so I find myself rethinking campus greening in a lot of ways. From the push to ban cars on campus and to reclaim campus provided parking lots, which is suppose to discourage driving but will result in exorbitant parking fees and possible fines for most of our long range commuters, to the farmers to table programs that students report has decreased meal plans for on campus diners but increased the price of individual meals for most commuters. Where is the class analysis in our efforts to go green? And why are class discussions so often poo-pooed as so many straw men and naysayers?

My cousin, who called me in a rage about her grocery bag tearing open on the bus and yuppie teen bus riders who ride for fun,laughing at her in front of her two young boys the other day, all because the Mayor of her town has decided that plastic bags are the biggest sin on earth and thinks everyone can afford those $12 designer bags he apparently shops with, said something that is now ringing in my ears “It takes green [$] to go green.” Isn’t there something wrong with that? What do you all think? And do you have any class-sensitive or class-inclusive community level greening tips that you want to share?