Monday, November 30, 2009

What doesn't Count

I just had a conversation with a student (from my writing class) about what classes to take next term. The student's a first year, who declared as a major right off, and so has a major advisor. Let's just say that major is as far off from English as it's possible to be here at NWU.

The problem is, after taking the intro course in the major, s/he's not sure s/he wants to study that field. And when s/he went to the major advisor to talk about what to enroll in next term and get the enrollment computer thingy, the advisor wasn't as much help as he might have been. Basically, according to this student, the advisor pretty much said, "this is what you need to take next term for this major," and when the student told him s/he was thinking of changing majors, the advisor basically repeated the same thing.

Okay, I know the advisor's another faculty member and busy. I recognize that. And I'm guessing the advisor wasn't quite that abrupt. But the student ended up in my office for a reason, and it's not because I'm warm and fuzzy.

But still, here's a student who's a first year student, and what s/he needs is a little help exploring and figuring out what sort of major s/he wants to pursue. Most of our students seem to change majors a couple times, so it's not like this is a once in a lifetime issue. It's going to happen, and more than once. And to be honest, it's healthy for students to change majors and explore.

For early on in a student's career, basic advising involves talking about exploration, general education, and opening up opportunities. I ask a few questions about what the student's taking, what s/he enjoys, what sorts of things s/he wants to learn about. I listen and take some notes. We look at class offerings and schedules.

So we had a nice conversation and figured out what looks like a reasonable schedule; there's one more advanced class the student seems well-prepared for and several introductory classes that will serve for exploration and general education. The student seemed pleased by the possibilities and interested in the courses, and also has a couple classes to look forward to in the fall.

As pieces of the job go, this one's sort of important. But you know it doesn't get marked on my "good job" list by anyone, nor does the other advisor lose anything by not caring what the student's doing. The thing is, it's not that hard to do a good job with little advising things like this, and it makes a difference to a student who needs some help. It's one of those things that's important enough to do well, but not counted, like so many other things.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Disappointed, but not Surprised

My senior seminar students are peer editing tomorrow, so they were supposed to post their drafts to the campus system by 5pm on Saturday. That would give them Sunday to read each other's papers and be prepared to give feedback.

I'm disappointed to see that only 2/3rds have uploaded a draft. I haven't looked at the drafts yet, so there's room for even more disappointment, I suppose.

On the other hand, I'm really glad that 2/3rds at least have something draftish to post. That's a few papers that are likely to be reasonably well-written, right? (Hey, indulge my fantasy! It's all I have!)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Really the News?

The network evening news opened tonight with a story about a golfer's car accident (no fatalities, a few thousand dollars of damage) and the couple who went to the state dinner without an invitation.

Seriously, folks, those are the lead stories? We have our priorities totally out of whack, don't we? Does anyone really care about the golfer's car or whatever? Or is this yet more evidence that I'm totally out of step with the broader culture?

The St. Petersburg train accident came in third.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meeting of Musical Minds

There used to be an old TV show where the host (Steve Allen?) would have guests on pretending to be famous people sitting around discussing whatever.

I want to invite Tom Lehrer and Arlo Guthrie to a den with a piano, acoustic guitar, and a tape recorder.

Better yet, if I could invite them in their early 1070s incarnations.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For Sale

I check my inbox each day for blog comments; they cheer me when they're there. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

But every so often, I'll get a spam comment from a company selling "research papers." I got a couple of those today, so I clicked over, hoping there was a way to do something about it. There may be, but I didn't really look long enough to figure it out because I started seeing basic grammar and punctuation errors in the ad copy. The grammar feels off in the way it does when someone who's pretty good at English as a second language sometimes writes. The basics are there, but just a bit off.

Sadly, students who are most likely to buy a paper from that site are least likely to notice the errors, I bet, or to proofread the paper they buy.

I looked at their pricing, and it seems a little out of reach for a lot of my students, so I wonder who's buying these. (Yes, my students mostly have ipods and such, but those are one-time purchases. If you're doing the research paper purchasing thing, I bet you aren't doing it just once a semester.)

The pricing gets more expensive as the time gets shorter, so for a 24 hour turn around, it's just under $25/page, but for a one week turn around, it's about $15 a page. A 5 page paper, with a week's turn around is about $75.

I'm not in denial that some of my students will plagiarize or buy papers, but I can't see them affording these prices often. (I think most of my students' plagiarism is the quick grab off the web, cut and paste without fixing the font even, with a smaller helping of "hey, my roommate has a paper on that topic from last semester!" thrown in to keep things interesting.)

Who's writing these papers? Seriously, if you think of a page taking half an hour or less with no research, then I can imagine lots of folks being willing to do it. That's $30 an hour at the worst, and if you have the university of Google, then even the "research" isn't going to be that difficult (not like you'd actually have to take out the books; you just list them). But if there were actual research involved, then even $25 a page is a poor way to make much money. Once you have to get up from your computer and actually go to a library, there's no point. So I'm guessing the papers are written somewhere with a lower wage structure than the US. That would fit with the non-SWE feel of the site. There's got to be profit in it and customers, or they wouldn't stay in business, right?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Teaching a New Text, Part the First

I started teaching a new text yesterday; it went pretty well. But it got me thinking about how I approach teaching new texts. I'm sure most lit folks teach new texts periodically. And by "new" I don't only mean "written within recent history," but also "not yet part of the teaching canon."

At the end of my grad school teaching, I had the opportunity to teach a seminar for English majors, so I chose to teach something on early modern women or something. One of the texts I tried to teach was Elizabeth Cary's Tragedy of Miriam. Let's just say, I did a miserable job of it.

First, I hadn't been taught at all to read early modern texts by women. I hadn't had any classroom experience with closet dramas, even. And as a very inexperienced teacher, I didn't have a lot of strategies for dealing with such texts; I mostly had the example of what I'd been taught, with a lot of dissertation research on the side.

(I'm sort of ashamed to say that I've never had the guts to go back and try to teach Miriam again.)

When I check my sitemeter thing, I regularly see someone hit my blog searching how to teach [some text], so I know other people struggle with how to teach new to them texts, too.

I'd like to start thinking about how we're taught to teach, and what that means when we teach new texts, and also articulate some strategies for teaching new texts. I hope you folks will tell me about your experiences and talk about the strategies you use, too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another One Clicks the Mouse

I finally broke down and joined facebook. I searched for one of my aunts, and used her friends to ask some other people to be friends; then I did the same with a couple friends.

I was feeling far from family and college friends out here, so I did it.

About the first news I got was that my cousin is recovering. From what, I wondered, so I dropped my Cous' a line, and learned that Cous' is recovering from a heart attack. A HEART ATTACK. My cousin. My cousin who's a few months older than I am and way nicer. So I'm sort of freaked out. This is one of those cousins who's just a really good person, kind, thoughtful, caring, smart, funny, fun. A heart attack. I'm glad Cous' is already recovering, or I'd be worried sick.

I wonder if my Mom knows or would remember to tell me if she found out.

On the happier side, now I've gotten friend thingies from some of my college pals, and it's so good to see their pictures and just see how they're doing. I've been scrolling back a bit to catch up.

When did we all go so gray?

It's sort of weird to put together this friends list thing from different parts of my life. There are the family folks. I have enough cousins to make plenty of friends. There are college folks. Some of the college folks know some family folks. And grad school folks. Then there are gaming folks; it's funny to add them because I tend to think of them as their avatar names.

I haven't friended any work folks yet. Nor have I looked for students. I'm thinking I'll keep my facebook pretty basic, and any students who want to friend me, fine. They'll look at my page for half a minute and be bored.

I'm guessing people who just start a facebook thing mostly go through this, but I'm at the stage where you stare at the screen and hope someone will appear to chat.

I feel totally clumsy about figuring out facebook. I'm grateful that I haven't drowned in Surefall or fallen off Kelethin to my death. But it has that same feel of total newness in a weird way.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Am

... a total pushover.

I accepted a nomination to chair this committee. The alternatives seemed, well, one person would have done a good job but is already chairing a major thingy or two. Another would have, but is junior and shouldn't be exposed. The other two, well, I wouldn't really want either chairing a committee to take out the garbage.

... in deep trouble.

Tomorrow, I'm teaching a text I've never taught before, or even actually finished reading. I'm almost finished, but that doesn't mean I feel adequate about teaching it. I had a good reason for choosing it, but now that it's hear, I'm not feeling any too good about things.

Sometimes, my blog gets hits from people doing searches for "how to teach [some text]." I can guarantee, I'd get no hits at all if I did a search on this text. It's not that it's a bad text, either.

... irritated at a colleague and none too happy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ten Ways To Drive Students Crazy

Sometimes students make us crazy. It's true.

But often enough, instructors and professors drive students nuts as well. Here are some few of the ways. Feel free to add your own!

1. Have a sexual or dating relationship with a student. This may seem okay to the one student, if s/he doesn't feel that s/he's forced, but it's still creepy. To other students, it's obvious that the one student is going to be favored in ways that will disadvantage them. Extra points for flaunting your relationship in front of the whole campus.

2. Grade erratically. Don't tell students what you expect on an assignment or how to do better. If you can use the stair method in front of your students, all the better. Don't tell students what a grade of 16 means, what scale it's on, or how much the assignment counts for in the course.

3. Consistent lateness. The prof who always comes in ten minutes late is bad enough; when that same prof holds the class ten minutes late to "make up" for his/her lateness, that's close to criminal. Or at least really, really rude. And, of course, be absolutely firm that you don't accept student work even a minute late for any reason whatsoever.

4. Miss office hours or blow students off. This is most effective when you've been busy with your favorite student for an hour, while other students are lined up sitting on the floor hoping for some help. And then you just don't have time to talk to those students. Double points if you can decline to talk to the students with a sexist or racist comment thrown in.

5. Don't hand out a syllabus or assignments. Just give information verbally at some point. Or not. And change your mind about things several times for maximum unclarity.

6. Wait forever to grade papers. Procrastinate until the end of the semester, and then just assign grades randomly. If you can blog about procrastinating, all the better.

7. Don't respond to emails or phone calls, even if you're sitting in the office while they're on the phone. Double credit if you're avoiding an advisee who needs a form signed before the deadline and s/he's been trying to reach you for three weeks or more.

8. Complain endlessly about how hard you work and how underpaid you are. Complain especially loudly while standing in the store where your student works as a checkout or stock clerk for minimum wage. Extra credit if you hire a student worker to clean your house or babysit your kids but don't pay even minimum wage because you're so devastatingly underpaid.

9. Teach from your own text, which you "update" every year by changing the pagination and one or two illustrations. Otherwise, make no changes in your lectures, because really, it's not like the laws of physics have changed in the past billion years or two.

10. Make rude comments. Comment on your students' tattoos, especially if you can talk about their "tramp stamps." Note that some students are just stupid or whatever. Tell female students that they shouldn't worry about grad school or grades or whatever because they're just going to get married anyway and it's a waste of resources to teach them anything.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


A student who was in one of my classes before came by to talk about a Herbert poem just now; she needs to write on it for another class, and wanted some help.

Herbert totally blows me away. In a way, I'm surprised by how deeply I love some of his most religious poems though I'm not Christian. I admire how difficult folks such as Herbert and Donne found Christianity; for them, it wasn't about easy answers, but about grappling with the complexity and difficulty, and working through it.

And Herbert, well, Herbert works through it so incredibly playfully and seriously.

I have the Medieval and Renaissance Text and Studies facsimile of Herbert's The Temple, but being a drama person mostly, I rarely think to pull it out and read, so today I pulled it out and showed the student. And now I want to reread Herbert. (That may partly be avoidance thinking about grading, however.)

Monday, November 16, 2009


I just spent some time helping a student find some early modern texts. S/he'd "looked" but hadn't found many on the list s/he'd put together from another resource of texts that might be useful. And so I helped.

There are tricks to finding early modern texts. You have to be willing to play fast and loose with spelling, and switching "v" and "u" typographically (along with "i" and "J" and "w" and "vv"; the name "doubleyou" makes a lot more sense when I think about "u" and "v" being different back then.)

But the most important trick is that you have to be willing to try this and that in different ways; you have to be willing to bang your head about the search engine (and praise be for search engines, because it's softer than banging my head against a card catalog!) for a while.

I know my students have to learn to be persistent about research. But these are the same students who probably parse their dps in WoW or tell me the exact ERA for their favorite pitcher or tell me exactly which shade of nail polish J.Lo wears. The information they care about, they'll put in the time to find or figure out.

The good thing is that I get to feel a little useful.

Those Stepping Stone Assignments

I think a lot of us who teach writing in various forms have developed stepping stone assignments along the path for bigger essays. For example, we might require a research question(s), bibliography, annotated bibliography, response to an essay, abstract, draft(s), and so on.

In theory, these are a great idea. They do help students avoid procrastination at least somewhat.

But when they all pile on my desk, even if I just need to take a quick look and put a checkmark, they really add up.


Friday, November 13, 2009


I taught the first day of Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun today, which means I reread it just before teaching to prep. I've liked the play pretty well since the first time I read it, and I've found it wonderful to teach, but it was even better this time. I was pondering my response, since I was almost in tears in my office (you should see me when I merely pick up a copy of Cyrano). I think the thing that's changed for me is that my father has died, and I've seen my mother's loss, and I've thought long and hard about what it means to get and/or spend money left through someone else's death. (My Great Aunt also died and our family friend Hillis.)

There's a scene in the play when a white man (Karl Lindner) from the neighborhood "welcoming committee" comes to the Younger apartment to convince them to sell the house they've just gotten a mortgage on rather than moving into the all white neighborhood. When Lindner comes to the door, the husband and wife, Walter Lee and Ruth, are dancing to some music, and Walter Lee's sister, Beneatha, answers the door. She turns to mouth to the couple dancing that there's a white man at the door, and they turn off the music and recompose themselves before Walter Lee introduces himself as the man of the house.

I think there's something absolutely brilliant in that little moment. There's an African American family, just relaxing and being a family happy for having bought a house, and then a white man comes, and the family immediately stages itself anew for this white audience, this white interloper. They suddenly play at being "respectable for a white audience" and drop the sense of homeness.and relaxation.

And Lindner is coming to tell them that it's not a racial prejudice issue, but the whites in the new neighborhood really don't want a Black family moving in. His insistence that it's not a "racial prejudice" issue brings out the racial prejudice point, of course.

And then we step back. Here we are in the audience, probably, in 1959, and maybe even today on Broadway, a mostly white audience, watching an African American cast stage itself for us in a play by an African American woman (and originally directed by an African American director, I think). We're watching the staging of blackness, the performance of blackness, and it redoubles the experience because the play stages blackness for a mostly white audience, and that blackness is about respectability and what it means to be Black in a white dominated society.

I love metadrama, where a play talks about itself as drama, or talks about all our experience as being dramatic. But this moment goes beyond that pleasure and really asks the audience to think about the staging of blackness and what it means to play blackness in a white theater tradition. We get to see what seems on one level to be a "real" African American home, but it's a staged African American home; we can't get the real in the theater, but we're reminded again of how much staging is often involved in our relations, especially between members of dominant and non-dominant groups. We're asked to identify with Lindner for this passage, and to think about our own racism, too.

And yet, of course, on another level, it's not really about me at all, right? If I imagine an audience made primarily of people of color, then I can't put my white dominant self at the center.

I love when a moment in art can totally make me feel and think at the same time, when it moves me to sadness and anger and hope and thoughtfulness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Late Adopter

In the senior seminar, the students are (I hope) hard at work on their papers. At any rate, they have a stepping-stone assignment due tomorrow, so yesterday we were talking about paper writing strategies.

One of the strategies I picked up during grad school, when I began word processing on a computer that could actually open two files at the same time (Go Amiga!) was to have a second file open while I was writing, and every time I'd use a reference in the essay or chapter, I'd tab to the second file and add it in to the work cited list in the proper alphabetical order. That meant that I wasn't trying to figure out the works cited at 7:50 am to turn in at 8am.

So, I was telling my students about this and suggesting they could also use something such as Endnote, and one of my students raised his hand and asked why I don't use the function in Word that handles works cited.

I'd never even noticed that, but it seems to be new with the new Word program! And it's cool! We played with it for a few minutes in class (I can project my computer screen in the classroom) so that everyone knew the basics of where to find it and how to get started. Other than that one student, none of them seemed to know about this function.

They were laughing at me because I was so excited. Indeed, there was no hiding my excitement. (They all should have been equally excited.) I'm just a nerd. Except I'm a late adopter nerd, which is really unimpressive.

How did I miss this? Laziness is part of it; I just use what I've used as long as I can get away with it. I still do control keys mostly, because I type a LOT faster if I don't have to move my hand to the side to use a mouse. But I also looked, and my old Word program on my laptop has nothing like this, and I do a lot of word processing at home. (My computer at home is from 2002, so it's got whatever program was available then.) Is it worth trying to upgrade a 7 year old laptop? Could it even run the newer program? (A new laptop is not in the budget.)

Naive at the Theater?

Some of my students recently went to a play we'd read for class and then wrote a response to it. Some of them are acting majors; others have never been to the theater before, so there's an interesting range of responses.

A couple of the responses talked about how helpful it was to go to the play after they'd read it, because they got so much more out of it. And that response got me to thinking.

Pretty much all plays are written for an original naive audience, that is, and audience that hasn't read the play. It's unlikely that folks in Shakespeare's audience had read a play before seeing it. And today, the first audience for a play probably hasn't read it.

So there's a sort of very special occasion when the audience hasn't read the play. Yes, the audience likely knew the story of Henry V well before they saw it; and the opening of Romeo and Juliet pretty much gives the plot away anyway, but seeing it would still offer surprises. But it's still a very special occasion; no one knows the jokes ahead of time or is waiting for their favorite line. No one is dreading the Macduff household slaughter or waiting for Hermione's statue to come to life.

I've never been part of an audience at a play opening like that; I can't even imagine the excitement.

I have been to plays I hadn't read and didn't know. I remember going to Cyrano, the first play I saw (as part of a junior high school, take the kids to the big city for a matinee program), expecting that Cyrano would "get the girl" (because that's how TV always worked), and then... well, I won't tell you what happens.

When you haven't read the play, you get certain pleasures in the surprises, in the turns, in the language and staging, and I don't know that you can get quite those pleasures if you've read the play before.

On the other hand, if you've read the play, you get the pleasures of anticipation, of thinking about how the production reinterprets the play for you, how embodying the characters changes everything from your imagination.

I have a vague sense that the difference is bigger for students who haven't seen many plays before than for those who've had more experience seeing plays. What do you folks think?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marginal Comments

First Paper: Interesting idea; will your readers agree? Develop this point to greater depth. Cite your sources, please. Do you have evidence?

Second Paper: Cite your sources, please. Gram: dangling modifier; come ask and I'll explain. Number your pages, please. Develop this example further? Good point!

Third Paper: Is this your thesis? Evidence? Good example. Cite your sources.

Fourth Paper: Interesting, develop? Number your pages, please. Indent new paragraphs.

Fifth Paper: Thesis? Gram: run on sentence; use a semi-colon or a connecting word. Cite your sources. Can you develop this point further?

Sixth Paper: Develop example to bring out your point. Gram: fragment; use a comma to avoid the fragment. Number pages. Gram: dangling modifier; come ask and I'll explain.

Seventh Paper: Confusing sentence. Number pages. Cite sources. Gram: run on sentence; use a semi-colon or connecting word.

Eighth Paper: Thesis! Cite sources. Gram: fragment; use a comma. Number pages.

Ninth Paper: Gram: run on. Number pages. Evidence? Gram: dangling modifier. Really? Indent Para.

Tenth Paper: Example? Gram: fragment. Can you develop this example to make the point stronger?

Eleventh Paper: Cite sources. Evidence? Dev. point. # pages. Dangling modifier.

Twelfth Paper: Gram: frag. Cite. Dev. Example? Indent.

Thirteenth Paper: Cite. Ev? Run on. # pages.

Fourteenth Paper: Cite! Frag. Dev? Ex?

Fifteenth Paper: Thesis? Frag! # pgs. Really? Cite! Indent!

And, now I'm half-way done with the stack.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Lit

(Does it help if I acknowledge that this isn't early modern?)

(Maybe if I redid the speech thing to say, "Meine begriffsstutzig Kindern!"?)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Stick Figure Game!

I have a feeling his arms wouldn't fit within the Da Vinci circle figure thing. He's got what climbers call a positive ape index (or something like that).

Nonetheless, this is the lit of the day! Enjoy!

Missing Notes

As part of my ancilliary duties for being stupid enough to offer to be secretary to a rotating committee I got put on because someone else refused to do his/her job, I get to be chair of another committee. I seriously would not have offered to be secretary of the other committee if I'd known, because it's a change, but oh well.

This is the "Oh Hell the Future is Upon Us, Crap!" committee, which is responsible for worrying about the future of the department. The Oh committee, as I'll call it as part of my rebellion against the ever-increasing acronyms around here, is actually supposed to do some important stuff, stuff like making decisions (or recommendations to the chair and dean) about tenure-line hiring.

I waited to get this committee going this fall until we'd had our meeting with the new Assistant Headmaster about where things are going; we had that meeting, and now we need to get started deciding where we want to go, strategically and tactically.

So, I made up the agenda this morning; if you've done committee work, you know that the first thing on the agenda of most committees is approving the notes of the last meeting of the committee. At NWU, we keep our notes on an alphabet drive, so I went to the alphabet drive, and found the committee folder (I love the idea of a computer folder, by the way).

The last thing put in the folder was an agenda from spring 2008. Yes, spring 2008.

There are no other minutes or agendas (ae?) for the whole of that academic year. None. Nada. That means there's no record of the decision to do our last round of searches, no record of a decision not to search this fall, nothing. Did the committee meet last year? Got me.

This lack of committee records is pretty common around here. It's like people think that they were at the meeting and that's all that matters. But every so often, it really helps to be able to look back and see what was done, what issues came up, even in the most sparse and undetailed way.

I don't think this is about hiding things, but about being lazy and careless, but it irritates me nonetheless. The longer I'm around, and the more I need to lead committees, the more irritating it is. (I'm sure I've been guilty of not getting notes posted, too.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Professor Fail

I'm reading along, and I get to this:

X: What hast been -- of what profession?

Y: A bone setter.

X: A bone setter!

Y: A bawd, my lord. One that sets bones together.

I'm not getting it. I get the idea that a bawd puts bodies together, and that bodies have bones, and Y has been carrying around his dead fiance's skull and all.

Is there more to the joke?

(The OED shows "boner" in the sense of an erection first in 1962. Bone-ache as a sign of STD is recorded in the 14th century, but that seems to be about whole-body bone aching, rather than sexual.)

Recommendations Rant

I'm writing recommendations today.

Back when I started, I could pretty much do a set of recommendations in an hour or two. I'd start by writing a letter, and then I'd fine tune the letter for each of the schools by changing the address and the name of the program as I'd print out copies. Even so, to get the first page on letterhead and the others not (if more than one page, which most aren't) means I have to print each document twice, making sure to change which tray the paper comes out of on the printer, then go to the printer in the department office, collate and make sure the right pages were together, then type an envelop (because feeding an envelop from another room doesn't seem to work well), and go back to my office to do the next one.

Now, half the programs want a standard letter and half want me to fill in something special via the web. I CAN cut and paste, but the specificity of the questions means that the basic letter I've written won't necessarily cut and paste well. Yes, the paragraph about how long and in what capacity I've known the student basically does, but the others, not so much.

Each grad school has it's own web thing (if they have it), and the web thing sends me an automatic email about how to get in.

And every automatic email gets read by our system as spam, so I have to check our spam box to make sure I don't have vital emails dumped in there. (I still get a variety of male-oriented medication and enhancement ads in the regular in-box, though, and also a really enticing financing offer from Nigeria.)

One of my students has complicated things a bit by not deciding what sort of grad program s/he wants to go into yet. Imagine, for example, a biology undergrad who can't decide if s/he wants to go into a PhD program in crop-plant genetics, or one in large mammal wildlife management, or maybe med school. How much do I tweak the letter for each? Do I talk about my experience teaching this student's microbiology lab? Do I talk about their project in deer population control through culling? It's like that.

Part of me enjoys this student's limitless enthusiasm, but part of me worries that s/he doesn't really have a sense of the commitment it takes to do graduate work and keep plugging on at a dissertation through all the funding hassles and hoop-jumping. But then, I sure didn't know how much commitment and just plain stubborness it would take for me to get through, and here I am.

It does feel awkward to be doing two separate recommendation forms to different programs in the same department at the same grad school, though.

I guess I should get started and quit complaining.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dangeral Studies

Like many colleges and universities, we have some fields of studies that aren't actual departments, but field offices. Unlike departments here, field offices don't necessarily have a separate budget, staff support, an office (yeah, the irony), representation in governance, etc.

There's an idea over in the administrative fort that we should combine all the field offices into a single department.

Historically, our field offices got started whenever someone would recognize that there's an interdisciplinary field and we're not doing it but we should, but we don't want to put any money in, and besides, faculty from all different areas across campus can teach in the field studies, because "we" don't actually recognize this as a real academic area worthy of funding and tenure lines.

Typical field studies offices have names such as: Black Studies, Women's Studies, Asian Studies, and so forth. You get the idea. They represent marginalized groups that suddenly got recognized by white administrations in response to some state or federal funding opportunity or mandate.

So, now the fort wants to combine them all into one department. It would, so to speak, give the fields a "chair at the table" for governance and funding decisions, and that would be good. On the other hand, it makes little sense to combine these disparate fields into one department. That difficulty is easy to see when you try to think of a name for the department.

Here are some we've come up with: Department of the Othered; Department of Not-White Men.

My favorite plays with Michael Berube's Dangeral Studies; imagine, a department of Dangeral Studies! The white male Marxists would clamour to get in! Heck, maybe someone from chemistry who likes explosives could teach a team teach a special course in activism!

Think of the reaction over in criminality studies! And over in business!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Poem for Grading

Nor the wit nor the wile
But the size of the pile
Most engenders despair.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


My campus is having a "15th century" dinner in "the spirit of Elizabethan times," including potatoes and coffee.

Claude Levi-Strauss

One of my students told me today that Levi-Strauss had died.

I feel so far out of all loops; a student told me because we were talking about theories of desire. I hadn't heard about it in the department or anything.

Ranting about Profs

I occasionally check a discussion board from an on-line community I used to be part of, mostly to see the old names and what folks are up to. Most of these folks are younger than I, and right now there's quite a rant up from one member about a horrid college prof s/he has. Of course, a couple people then responded by adding their own horror stories.

Some of these stories sound really bad; others sound like a prof said something a bit uninformed, and the student knows better, and now thinks the prof is an idiot. I know I've done that. (What the heck was the 30 years war really about? How did it start?) (And, to be honest, don't a fair number of 18 year olds think older women are idiots anyway, just for existing and not doing their laundry?)

But when I think back, I can think of maybe two or three profs I had who were sort of bad, but no horror stories. I had a prof for Fortran who basically read off overheads for every lecture; our text was a photocopy set of all the overhead slides. Not great, but I did manage to learn some Fortran. Then I had a genetics class for which the profs (one of whom is very famous) basically lectured from their textbook, complete with slides taken from their textbook, in a large, darkened lecture hall at 1pm. It wasn't that they were awful or uninteresting, but everything combined to make it hard to stay awake. (You know these folks are all doing the same thing in powerpoint now, right?)

I had a couple others who were boring, or worse, got off topic and went on for a bit about other stuff. (I avoided enrolling in a class where the prof was reputed to spend 45 minutes trying to take roll.)

But true horror stories? Nothing I can think of that would qualify. But maybe time has whitewashed my memory?

I feel sorry for the folks on that board if their profs really are that bad. And I know one poor prof can stand out even though most are pretty good.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Three Students

I met with a student about his/her research paper. The assignment asks students to come up with a real world question, for which they don't already have an answer (that's key), do research to answer the question, and then write a paper.

The student started off telling me that s/he had an idea about X and planned to look around and find support for his/her idea.

I tried again to explain that if s/he already thought s/he knew the answer, then it wasn't really a research question, and that the way humans are wired, if we start out looking for the answer we think we know, we'll inevitably find that we're right. That's why science is set up, at least theoretically, to remind people to look for ways to disprove the answer they think they have.

I think the student really "got" some high school practice of deciding what s/he thought about something and mining for support. What I'm saying just isn't getting through. It's gotten through to some of the students, I think, because they're asking real questions and being at least a little suprised at the answers they're finding.


I got a call from someone who wants to audit my Shakespeare course next term. I said the person was welcome as long as there are enough seats and spaces in the room. I thought that pretty much ended the conversation, but no, the person rambled on about how much they love Shakespeare and on and on, for a good fifteen minutes. Now I'm wishing I hadn't said yes. (But, I've had some auditors who were great, and it's all part of my nefarious plan to take over the world for Shakespeare and biking.)


A couple of years ago, a student in my first year special program class completed the assignment to go to two student organization meetings by going to a residence hall meeting; the student became his/her hall representative to the student government, and has continued in student goverment. S/he's passionate about classwork, student government work, and being involved in making things work as well as they can.

We had coffee yesterday, and a nice chat; students such as this one are the reason teaching is worth the low salary and hassle.

I like to think I had some small part in this success story. And when s/he's the governor, I'm going to point and brag.

In the Deodorant Aisle

Dear Parental-Seeming Person,

I recognize that it's really hard to keep control of your four or five year old in the store. I can't tell you how to do it; my inability to figure out such things contributed to my decision not to have kids. Alas, it didn't do so for you.

But seriously, maybe you could just pick up your kid and prevent him from opening at least one deodorant stick of each type, pulling off the plastic guard thing, touching the deodorant and putting the stick right up to his snot-encrusted nose for a good sniff.

Maybe it's time to recognize that telling him repeatedly not to do that isn't working and actually take some action, now, while you're bigger than he is and could actually pick him up?

Best, B

PS. I'm really hoping you two weren't in the veggie aisle.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Choosing Shakespeare

I'm teaching our Shakepeare survey this coming term, and I'm supposed to have selected texts already. That would be easy were I using a big old anthology, but I've switched over to individual editions a while back for a variety of reasons.

I'm pretty sure of two texts already: R&J (because the theater dept is putting it on) and All's Well (because I've never taught it before, and I have a goal to teach all of the plays before I retire).

So, which texts should I teach? (I sometimes teach a grouping of sonnets, and sometimes Lucrece, so don't limit yourselves to plays.)

I usually figure on about 8 texts over the term. I like to teach texts that have some crossover in terms of themes or issues. So, for example, I like to teach Othello and The Winter's Tale to speak to issues of marital jealousy and familial violence.

Go wild! Tell me your fantasy Shakespeare survey, and why!

*** Edited to Add ***

I usually try to balance two histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances. Or I sub in Lucrece for a tragedy.

I really like the generational theme. I'm wondering if A&C would make a nice counter to R&J (grown up vs teen love/tragedy); I love to teach MfM, but would like to get in a nice, easy, and relaxing comedy, so I'm thinking AYLI. For histories, I typically pair 1H4 and H5, but with a generational theme, I think R2 and 1H4 would be a good pairing.

Here's the layout then, roughly (because R&J has to fit when it's playing on campus):

Some sonnets
All's Well

We have generational issues and "coming of age" themes through a number of the plays. We can look at AYLI, All's Well, R&J, 1H4, and WT in terms of finding oneself, identity, disguise, playing.

A&C, Cymbeline, and WT are linked through jealousies as well.

Cymbeline works as a nice way to rethink English history (it's lovely to pair with KJ, though).

Are there specific editions of any of these that stand out as superb and not too expensive? (I really like Orgel's WT, for example, but I haven't looked at the Arden 3s for most of these.)