Friends, I’ve never truly appreciated the wisdom of Ernest Hemingway until this week, after having moved into my own clean, well-lighted office at the Huntington Library. My office at Baa Ram U. serves mostly as a place to meet students and colleagues, and to shovel out my email in-box–I don’t write there. Ever. I did most of the writing and revisions on my first book while reclining on the couch in my office, and wondered if I’d be able to work sitting up at a desk like a fully-functional adult.
But from day 1 here, I’ve been writing! My book! And contemplating revisions on an article, too! I’ve learned that I’ve overlooked too long this marvelous technology one calls a “desk.” My desk at home is too frequently covered in stuff I’ve been meaning to file or put away, and the cat likes to nap on the desk chair when she’s not sitting on the desk looking out the window at the squirrels and bunnies frolicking under the horse chestnut tree, so I use it as a combination unfile-cabinet and cat bed/lookout perch. I know: what a waste of a nice old desk. Continue reading
Well, friends, the day I’ve been looking forward to for more than six months has finally arrived: the wagon is packed and ready to roll on out to San Marino, California, where I am the Dana and David Dornsife Fellow at the Huntington Library for 2014-15. But first, la famille Historiann is taking a little adventure holiday rafting trip in the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. But unlike Evel Knievel, we’re traveling in the river, not over the canyon. Continue reading
Friendly greeting! Comments on the local weather, and humorous story about my weekend plans. Here we go:
- Denver second grade teacher Austen Kassinger says that struggle is inherent to learning, and that parents need to push their children to achieve by owning that struggle. After spending an entire evening working through five long-division problems in fourth grade, her mother told her to figure it out: “No, she did not think the assignment was unfair. No, she would not write a note to Mrs. Hall. And no, I absolutely could not stay home from school. Thus went her long-standing policy for schoolwork: If my sisters or I didn’t understand something, it was our job, not hers, to talk to the teacher. . . .I wonder what would have happened if my mother had taken the approach of the comedian Louis C.K., whose tweets about his children’s homework recently went viral: ‘Yet again I must tell my kid ‘don’t answer it. It’s a bad question.’ ’ ‘Who is writi[n]g these? And why?” “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!’ My mother could have said some version of those things in response to my meltdown, but she didn’t. She chose not to blame the question, or the teacher, or the test. And because of her steady insistence that if I took ownership of my learning, I could master any subject, I recovered from long division and went on to take AP calculus, multivariable calculus and linear algebra — in high school.”
- This is the chief complaint I hear from K-12 teachers: lack of parental support for their work, or even resentment that parents undermine the standards they have set for their students. Yes, the same parents who make sure their children get to soccer and football practices and games on time, and force their entire families to eat crappy food and live in the backs of their minivans and SUVs to do so. I just don’t understand the priorities of my fellow Americans. At all.
- Dartmouth digital humanist Mary Flanagan writes about the power and the overwhelming distraction of laptops and other personal digital devices in class. She has encouraged the use of digital technologies in her classes to good effect, “[b]ut most days, there will come a time where faculty or guest speakers actually speak, or dialogue happens or provocative points are raised. It is then that students with technology-control issues immediately check out and check into Facebook or online games or shoe shopping. Unless they are directly involved in a hands-on activity for which they will be accountable in public by the end of class, it is much easier to give in to the presence of technology and lose the experience of direct engagement.”
- Do you ban the use of tablets, laptops, and/or phones in your classes? I have a blanket statement on my syllabus about not using digital devices to distracting ends in class, but I haven’t banned them outright. A few of my students every semester buy e-books and use their Kindles or tablets in class to access them as well as PDFs of assigned articles and primary sources. This year, several students have used their phones for this purpose as well. As for laptops, it’s only a few students at my university who use them in class, and my experience is that it’s both some of the high performers and some of the low performers who use laptops in class. That is, they work well for very organized and dedicated students, and they serve as vehicles for distraction for others. I have been of the opinion that it’s up to students to pay attention, or not–remembering full well all of the means by which I used to distract myself in college classes nearly 30 years ago. Also, if students are distracted by someone else’s laptop or tablet, it’s up to them to find a seat in which they can learn. But now I’m starting to think that digital distraction may play a role in the poor performance of my two most recent classes, and that I may need to start banning laptops.
What am I missing?
David Leonhardt asks “Is College Worth It?,” and finds that the pay gap between college grads and people without college is at an all-time high. Fortunately, he sings one of my favorite songs here too:
[The] public discussion today — for which we in the news media deserve some responsibility — often focuses on the undeniable fact that a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success. But of course it doesn’t. Nothing guarantees success, especially after 15 years of disappointing economic growth and rising inequality.
When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.
The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.
Longtime readers will recall my frustration with the “high cost of higher education” media conversation, mostly because I think it’s dominated by people who are choosing to pay for private, selective educations for their children, not by people who patronize our fine state colleges and universities, which have in fact kept the price of their educations artificially low by shifting a majority of their faculty from tenured or tenure-track positions to adjunct casual labor. Also, where’s the accountability for school performance by students in these conversations? Are students with 3.0 averages or higher suffering from unemployment at the same rate as students who didn’t work as hard in college? We don’t know, because no one ever holds alumni responsible for any part of their achievement (or lack thereof).
This article comes just a week after I submitted my final grades for the two classes I taught in the spring semester, an upper-level course aimed at History and other Liberal Arts majors, and a lower-level survey course. Continue reading
Something about that “nothin’ to do/nowhere to go-o” line keeps ringing in my head. And it’s true! Continue reading
If you tried to comment on any but the most recent post (on Maternal Solicitude) yesterday from about 3 p.m. MDT until 7:30 this morning, you probably discovered that comments were closed on all older posts. I discovered a nasty spam infestation yesterday afternoon, and decided that the best way to deal with it was to quarantine my older posts, delete all new spam as fast as I could, and hope that my spam canner would figure things out.
That appears to have worked, so now my comments are back on everywhere. My apologies for any frustration or delays in seeing your comments posted.
This is a brief coda to the previous post, in which several commenters noted that they support selective special causes on their campuses. I have in fact done this too–for example there’s a “school is cool” program coordinated through Baa Ram U. I’ve supported in the past, which provides local needy schoolchildren with new backpacks loaded with the necessary supplies. I’ve also donated to several memorial funds and fellowships coordinated through other universities, but have been frustrated by the ongoing begging that goes on for years and years, meaning that the University of Whatever Foundation ends up spending at least the amount of my donation on paper and postage.
For example: In 2003, I made a one-time donation to the University of Colorado for a scholarship in honor of the late Jackson Turner Main, an emeritus professor there, and the University of Colorado Foundation still sends me invitations and solicitations. Eleven years later! It leads me to ask: who did I kill to deserve this?