Wednesday, June 20, 2018

On Calibrating the Reality Tuner


The first idea to nail down is that human beings do not perceive "reality", a word which has all the substance of the neighborhood band of unicorns living under the crawlspace of my apartment. For our purposes, the idea that there is a uniform and stable reality is useful only as a yardstick we can use to measure the validity of our cognitive filters. Put another way, people are limited by the perceptual apparatuses they've evolved over the millennia, our sight, hearing, etc., and all of these are mitigated by our mental filters. Inevitably, I share this idea with my students at some point, that we don't really see with our eyes, or hear with our ears. Our brains do all of that, because the brain's function is to take all of that analog information and decode into something useful. Some information gets through, but most of it gets filtered out. The TV tuner chip in my television picks up the signals from the broadcast towers and filters out all the other signals swirling through the air. Brains do a lot of filtering, so it matters how one's tuner is configured, and the best tuners re-calibrate continually so that they are getting a better and better sense about "reality", and I'd argue that the calibration process has to involve the tuner's predictive power. 

President Trump provides us with a strong signal we can use to calibrate our tuners.  On the left-hand of the political spectrum, I've been seeing a steady rise in the use of Nazi imagery in social media, something that to this point I'd dismissed as purely rhetorical (and ill-conceived. The left has always been terrible with its rhetoric), until this week in response to the parent/child separation issue that has somehow just now become an important issue for the left (despite the fact that border jumping has been going on for years and years), a dear friend of mine whom I know to be an honest man started posting a steady stream of Nazi imagery to his social media.  This caused me to take it seriously, because my friend is honest, but his tuner is all out of whack. With this Nazi tuner activated, detention centers become concentration camps. Donald Trump becomes Adolph Hitler, and ICE border agents become jack-booted storm troopers. This movie is horrifying, and I'm glad it's not the movie I'm watching.

An old professor of mine once offered me coffee when I was in his office soliciting advice about my dissertation, and he had some organic half and half, and as I was pouring a little in my coffee he lectured me about how I should only buy the organic stuff because the cows were treated humanely. And sure, cows ought to be treated humanely, but if they aren't, I don't really care. I can pretend to care, but in truth, I can't give a damn about cows. I told him so. I've got a baby daughter at home, and I'm trying to earn a Ph.D., and cows are the last thing that can occupy my mental space. Leftists are always moralizing about things and telling other people they ought to give a damn about things over which they have no control. It's a bad way to live, a sure recipe for depression and angst.  I know. Believe me. I know. I used to be a leftist. I used to care about things about which I had no control. Not any more. Life becomes a lot more tolerable once I learned to let dairy farmers worry about the cows. 

All of the sudden, and I do mean all of the sudden, because two weeks ago kids and parents weren't being separated at all, and all the sudden, they are . . . and I'm supposed to care about this even though I have no control over it. These are people, sure, not cows, but the principle is the same. I have no control over it, yet I'm supposed to rend my garments in agony about the poor immigrants. No thanks. I've got two daughters now, and a tenure profile to put together, and bills to pay, and further, when I go outside, my tomato plants are coming along nicely but only if I regularly water them, and my daughter needed to get some new inoculations so I can register her for school, and she got them for a reasonable fee at the local health department which had all of them on hand, and my retirement account, which had been depleted when I suffered divorce, is rebuilding at a tremendous clip because the economy is doing so well under President Trump's put America first policies.

I'm neither liberal nor conservative, neither republican nor democrat, so I can say with some impartiality that republicans and democrats have been kicking the immigration can down the road for at least 30 years, and here's a President who is doing something about it, something different, and I know that this particular filter is working because it is in the news in a new way. The shit is hitting the fan. The shit needed to hit the fan. Shit hitting the fan is good, sometimes. The issue isn't kids being separated from parents, and it never was. The issue is a system of contradictory and sloppily constructed laws about how people become American. It is a congressional issue, and can only be fixed by congress, democrat and republican alike, who could fix it in a split second, and the President has called on them to do so, and has said that he will sign into law these fixes. Working within our system of checks and balances does not a Nazi make. Clinton, Bush, Obama, did nothing but kick the can down the road, and Donald Trump has stopped kicking it.

I read an article about how illegal immigrants are driving unlicensed and uninsured, so when they get into wrecks, your insurance company eats it, which means you eat, which means Americans eat it. I had a close and brilliant friend who had to be shipped back to her home country when her working visa ran out. I want lower insurance payments and I do not want to share the road with unlicensed drivers, nor do I want my daughters, when they become drivers, to bear such a risk. I want brilliant people who want to be productive Americans to find the red-tape easier to cut through. Right now, the backlog of immigrants and asylum seekers is so huge that it will take years to process them all. Congress can fix all of this. Republicans and democrats can fix it.

The president-as-Nazi filter doesn't fix anything, and doesn't lead to useful insights, and it doesn't make accurate predictions. President Trump has made it possible to remove nuclear weapons from North Korea, another can that was kicked down the road for decades. A pattern emerges, that this guy doesn't much care for can-kicking. What sort of self-respecting Nazi removes nukes? What president since Eisenhower has removed nukes? Applying the Nazi filter, I'd expect these immigrants to march straight to the gas chambers that are being secretly built, and if you find that idea even a little plausible, your filter is broken, and you need a new one. So, try this one: President Trump is the most liberal president I've seen in my lifetime. The President is attacking persistent problems in such a way that the political pressure to fix them has become unbearable.

That's a pretty good filter. No filter is perfect, but this one is far more predictive. Every president I've  seen in my lifetime spouts the politically correct jargon like someone had a gun to his head. President Trump just speaks, sans gun. It's remarkable, and if he continues to push, he is going to fix a great many problems, because he's an awful can-kicker.  So, using this filter, here's my prediction: At the latest, in 2024 when the president leaves office, immigration will be improved, and no gas chambers will exist.

And, by the way, if the left continues its poor rhetorical choice to employ Nazi imagery, it will almost certainly guarantee a second Trump term. That's because most people just want a good economy and decent insurance rates and a fair price for their half and half, and this unhinged rhetoric diverges from their perception of reality so much that no one can't take seriously the leftist who uses it. To my honest and well-meaning friend, I'd say again, calibrate your tuner, because the one you're using is working the for opposite of your stated intention.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: McGuire, Saundra Yancy. Teach Yourself How to Learn: Strategies You Can Use to Ace a Course at Any Level.


McGuire’s Teach Yourself How to Learn serves an extension of her well-received Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation, which was published in 2015. While the latter’s target audience is teachers, the former aims at students, taking much of the same material and repackaging it in an easygoing and accessible style well-suited to college freshmen who are making the transition from high school to college. McGuire emphasizes strategies that students can use to improve their academic performance, employing theory, especially ideas about metacognition and Bloom's taxonomy, only insofar as it can help freshmen understand why these strategies work.
The dominant theme of the book is that of changing mindsets, that students must change the way they think about school.  If most students approach their studies like Aesop's Hare, McGuire argues they ought to emulate the tortoise; slow and steady wins the race. She opens the book with the statistic that 72% of high school students estimate their intelligence and academic skills are higher than those of their peers, a perception which, of course, doesn't reflect reality, but, she argues, it shows that high school is less-than-challenging for many students. She insists that most high school students don’t have to try very hard to earn As and Bs; they can succeed by cramming for their exams and regurgitating facts on their multiple choice tests. She calls this mindset "study mode". For students adept at cramming in their approach to academic study, college can be a rude awakening when their As and Bs turn into Fs and Ds. In college, Students often find that professors are more concerned with students' ability to apply the material, which McGuire calls "learning mode". This distinction between studying and learning is key to the entirety of the book. While students come out of high school able to cram, very little in their high school experience has prepared them to learn. 
In study mode, students cram so that they can earn a good grade on a test, and once that test has been taken, engagement with that material is over. The shift in mindset students must make to improve their college performance begins with one question: Could you teach this material to someone? The answer to this question reveals McGuire's overarching recommendation to students, the strategy that she claims will shift the mindset from studying to learning: Students ought to approach course materials like a teacher. With this strategy established, McGuire then goes into specifics about how teachers prepare to teach their courses, which includes note-taking, active reading, and paraphrasing. And in a particularly deft turn, she cites anecdotes from students who shifted to the learning mindset, making the case that this slow and steady approach to course materials is more efficient than the often chaotic bursts of cramming that are done the night before the test. Don't focus on the grade, she advises. Focus on teaching the material to someone, and good grades will follow.
One of the book's weaknesses lies in its oversimplifications and over-reliance on dichotomies. Though the target audience is students and a certain amount of simplification is certainly warranted to approach that audience, at more than one point I expected her to at least give a nod to the complexity of these ideas. For instance, in addition to the mindset change from studying to learning, McGuire discusses a mindset change with regard to how students envision intelligence, moving from a "fixed intelligence mindset" to a "growth mindset". She claims that, from their earliest educational experiences in primary school, students believe that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable, which she claims is an erroneous belief that leads to fatalism. In other words, students learn early on that they either smart or they aren't. She pleads with students to expel that all-or-nothing mentality and embrace the idea that intelligence can be expanded, but currently the data about that is far from clear.  Intelligence researchers are engaged in ongoing dialogues about how much of human intelligence is inherited and how much is influenced by environment.
Certainly, while I agree with her that students would do well to embrace the idea that they can grow, McGuire would have done well to clarify and define what she means by intelligence, or perhaps instead discuss growth in ability, knowledge, or skill. Her declaration that "all students are capable of excelling," reveals that she places a great deal of weight on environment, yet, while I read, I thought to myself, I could study calculus using all of her strategies, prepare like a teacher, but the chances of my being an effective math teacher or of earning an A in a calculus course are somewhere between slim and none. There's a reason I am an English professor instead of a computer engineer. My highest intelligence is linguistic in nature. Put simply, intelligence is much more complicated than McGuire demonstrates.
Nevertheless, McGuire's question . . . can you teach the material? . . strikes me as a powerful tool for helping students recognize that the cramming approach to their courses limits their ability to excel. As a professor of English who specializes in composition and who teaches composition courses with regularity, a large portion of the content of my composition courses focuses on writing as a practice and a process. To write well takes time, planning, and the writing of multiple drafts. Certainly I would love to see more of my students employing the slow and steady approach to their essays instead of writing them the night before the day of the deadline.
Long have I argued that freshman composition is a unique site at the university because almost all students take those courses, and for me they are spaces in which life and literacy intersect. In my courses, I often use journal writing to expand the scope of my composition courses into realms of personal growth for students, and I am always looking for journal prompts that speak to students' needs and concerns. McGuire's advice that students ought to go to their professor's office hours, read the syllabus, buy their textbooks, and understand that criticism is intended not as an insult, but as a prompt toward improvement, can to professors seem like common sense, but McGuire is clear that freshmen coming from high school are often unaware of these basics. If I want students to be good college students, I have to teach them what good college students do, and I could use journal writing to teach these ideas. Certainly, I'd recommend this book to any student looking to improve his or her performance, and I'd recommend it to my colleagues looking to reconnect with the needs and concerns of their students. This is for me where McGuire's book really shines. It served as a reminder that we are all people playing the roles of teachers and students, struggling to manage our time, to get plenty of sleep, to eat right, and to just generally manage ourselves more effectively, and that compassion and understanding ought to form the foundation of our interactions.

Friday, March 23, 2018

On The Grandmother's Last-Minute Redemption

In Mystery and Manners, a collection of Flannery O'Connor's essays, O'Connor discusses what I think about as the dumb versus the smart reading of what is her most anthologized story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." In this story, we have the Grandmother, who can never seem to shut her mouth, and like so many Southern grandmothers, she has no second-thoughts about placing herself on a pedestal from which to judge the world. It's a typical sentiment among the older and wizened, that the current generation is carrying the world to Hell in a hand basket, that times used to be simpler, safer. The dumb reading ends there; O'Connor wants the reader to judge the Grandmother as a hypocrite, as someone who picks on the mote in her brother's eye while ignoring the beam in her own, and as such, when the Misfit, the story's villain, shoots her chest full of slugs, she deserved this violent end. She would have been a good woman, says the Misfit, if someone had been there to shoot her every minute of her life.  Done and done.

O'Connor insisted in her essay that this reading missed or glossed over a crucial piece of evidence, that seconds before the Misfit recoiled like he'd been snake bit, the Grandmother placed a hand on his shoulder and said, why, you're one of mine. You're one of my babies. In that moment, O'Connor says, the Grandmother earned her redemption, her salvation. This is what I'll call the smart reading, the reading that aligns the story with O'Connor's Christian moral vision.

American readers, I argue, don't know quite what to do with O'Connor's characters in this Christian moral context. I've said to students, there's something about O'Connor's work that sets it apart from the Christian literature that one is likely to find on the shelves at Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble, that forces the reader to take O'Connor's Christianity seriously, and that starts with how O'Connor's characters are all, more or less, compromised. I'm reminded of a typical trope in lesser works of Christian literature, such as the film God's Not Dead. This film takes all of the Christian-lit stock characters, the atheist professor,  the pure-at-heart Christian youth who challenges him, and presents a tidy package about the faith of the child versus the cynical professor who had all the Jesus educated out of him, but who, in his heart, longs for this Jesus to return, he being so broken by the loss of faith and his reliance on stone-cold facts and reason. You know this story. It's a a popular parable in contemporary Christian circles. O'Connor would find this film embarrassing.

The Grandmother is a Christian, or at least fancies herself one, but she has never earned the mantle. It's one thing to be good when it is easy to do so, when nothing forces a choice, when one has never confronted the devil living inside her. It's quite another to be good when one is presented with choices about pathways. Jesus said in the Gospels that the Christian path was undeniably the more difficult, that to live as a Christian was difficult, and that one had to freely choose to take this thorny trail. The Grandmother, to this point in her life, never made that choice.

Jesus, when he wrestled with the devil in the desert and managed to resist temptation, was offered what he could have already had, which is why the temptation is so powerful, something that hadn't really clicked with me until recently. To be tempted is to be presented with a choice that is already right in front of us. The Devil offers Jesus the world, the role of the tyrant. He could have it all, and of course, Jesus already knew this. He is God. But it seems God has to make this choice, too, to take the harder path. God, the being of pure love, has this one choice. He could reorder the world to eliminate pain and sin and suffering, but surely in doing so He deprives humankind of not its free will (an argument too often made by otherwise well-meaning Christians) but of the hard path that will harden them and strengthen them and make them worthy of the divine. Christ's task is to deny himself what he most wants . . . everyone to be happy and free from suffering, because he knows that suffering, and indeed the acceptance of that burden, is the only pathway to salvation. Christ's task then, having rejected the Devil's offer, is to take the sins of the world onto his shoulders and be crucified with them. Following Jesus' example, Christians must do likewise. They must put aside their desire for life to be easy, and instead pick up the sins of the world, and against all odds, find a way to carry them. That's a central task of the Christian. Jesus said, first, love God, and second, love everyone else. And everyone else is looking for the easy path, the shortcut. They'll lie, cheat, and steal, because that's easier. The world is full of death, destruction, torture, murder . . . suffering. The Christian must look at this ugliness, accept it, pick it up, and carry it.

In the Grandmother's final moment, she sees this. Her family has been murdered, and she's pleading for her life, and I argue she realizes at that moment that her life is not the thing of most value.  It is her soul, and the soul of the Misfit, that are at stake, and so, against all odds, against the very face of evil, she accepts that the Misfit is one of her own, one of her babies, and she picks him up; she finds the hard path, and in that moment, she finds Jesus. The Misfit, who has embraced the easy path of murder and violence, realizes, too, that he has unwittingly served as the Grandmother's crossroads, as the agent of Jesus Christ, and from that he recoils, again, as if a snake had bit him.

Salvation must be earned, and it is earned by taking the harder path, the path that forces one to look the Devil square in the eye and say, no. I will not follow you.  I will carry this burden of sin and death and despair. I will love my neighbor, and I will love my enemy. Jesus was clear about this: loving one's family and friends is easy, but loving one's enemies is hard. That is the only way one can learn how to love, and that is as close as one can get to God's love, the perfect love. This rather difficult lesson is seldom presented in contemporary Christian literature, which, quite in opposition to Christ's teachings, sells the message that Christianity is easy, that its better to be the innocent lamb than the rapacious lion.  (Sells is the word, because that is precisely where the materialist thrust of contemporary life has eroded American Christianity into something Jesus would scarcely recognize.) All of us are that predator, looking for that easy path. All of us are Misfits, and only by choosing to carry the same burden Jesus carried can we ever hope to earn wholeness.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Dad, Nominally

The last time I saw my daughters, at Christmas, I did what I always do, get them into the bathtub or the shower to wash the stink off of them, because they always come to me smelling awful, like a musty old house.  I put my youngest, my seven-year-old, into the bath, and noticed that she had dirt, streaks of black dirt, stuck in the creases of her arm pits.  She hadn't washed under there in what looked like weeks, judging by the dirt buildup.  I scrubbed her, got her clean, and asked about her bathing habits at home.  As I suspected, her mother doesn't check and make sure she gets clean, and so I was witnessing negligence, and I took pictures.  Not that it will do any good.  Their mother, thoroughly negligent, still gets to keep them, because she hasn't yet gone on a meth bender and ended up in jail.  I keep my fingers crossed. 

I tried for months and months to "co-parent" with my babymama, but she would have none of it.  I'd reach out, try to communicate with her, but I'd get nothing back.  Months ago, I was on the phone with my oldest daughter, and I asked her if she'd had a bath for school the next day, and she said no.  And I told her, go take a quick shower and get clean, and then call me back.  She said okay, and we hung up.  Next thing I know my mother calls me and tells me that I'd really upset my babymama by asking my daughter to take a shower.  It was a major blow-up, apparently.  And that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me.  I learned, right then and there, that I have no say in the upbringing of my daughters.  None at all.  I can't even tell my daughter to go take a bath.  Somehow, that was controversial.  I have no input in how my daughters are being raised, and if my youngest's dirty stinking arm pits are any indication, they need my input.  They can't seem to get clean in a sea of negligence. 

I have no input, no say, in how my daughters are being raised.  None.  I get them just rarely, when they are out of school, and the few days I have them, I'm not raising them, but entertaining them.  I do have them bathe every day, and I make sure they are clean. 

Such is no uncommon, and I know this.  I wanted to say, to all Dad's out there who aren't raising their children, who have given them up to the incompetent and negligent women, I know how you feel, and it is compounded, I know, by the realization that though everyone tells you it is going to be okay, it is not going to be okay.  Your children are being damaged by your absence, and by the negligence of the woman in their lives.   And your central task is to stop caring what happens to your own children. 

Impossible.  Right.  Completely impossible.  Welcome to living the impossible life.  Welcome to fatherhood post-marriage.  Your children will keep the psychologists in business when they are old enough to experience depression.  And, I'm so sorry.  Nothing you can do.  It is out of your hands.  You are a dad, but only nominally, like me. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Pattern Recognition

Two years has passed since I found out my now ex-partner, Jennifer Christine Wester (nee Dickey) was cheating on me with not one man, but two.  Her physical therapist, Joe Elmer of Tupelo Mississippi, and her student, Chuck Baughman, the most mentally challenged human being I've ever known.  I name names because all three of these people can die for all I care, and certainly, their reputations deserve to take a hit.  Two years later, I can say that I've grown, and I've grieved, and I've become glad that such a faithless woman is no longer weighing down my life.  I moved.  Got an improved job.  Started over.

Despite her being an essentially ugly person, a non-person, a person with no aspirations nor an original thought in her head, I do, from time to time, miss her . . . well, not her as in, her, the non-person, but the wife, the partner.  At this point, I can't even remember what she looks like.  Her face is smeared and nebulous.  I can't see her clearly anymore.

It took two years to get to this point, and I'm not fully recovered just yet.  They say it takes three years to begin to feel okay with things, and I'm hopeful that by this time next year, I can write about this with much more wisdom than I'm displaying today.  Nevertheless, I don't miss her, as in her, but the idea of her, but it took me two years to get here, and I had an insight I wanted to share about divorce, or it could be the death of a loved one.  It's about what happens when someone we know, we are used to, departs from our company forever.

The brain is a sophisticated pattern recognition engine.  People see patterns in split seconds, and in fact they see patterns where none exist, which demonstrates how central pattern recognition is to our thinking.

In our split and divorce, I could predict with high accuracy what she was doing, what she was going to do, and that scared me, that I knew her that well, but I didn't know her as such.  I knew her pattern, as it was hard wired into my brain after 18 years of marriage.  Then, all of the sudden, she's gone, physically gone, but her pattern lives on, and the brain can't make sense of it.  The brain panics.  Where is the familiar pattern?  I thought about her all the time.  I cried all the time.  I'd yell out, quite to myself, where are you, baby?  My brain ached for her.  My dreams were about her, recurring, every single time the same dream: That I pleaded with her to stay, but she wouldn't listen.  She'd made up her mind.

This went on for at least a year and a half.  I was miserable.  Then, somewhere at the 18 month mark, the dreams changed.  I no longer was with her; she was just someone I knew.  And today, I don't dream about her at all, except maybe once in a blue moon.  And what has happened, or my theory at least, is that my brain has finally rewired and deleted her pattern.  I no longer wonder what she's doing, or think about her at all.  The only thing left is a sick feeling when thoughts about the past inevitably arise, and it is a terrible feeling, but it passes.  It's a hard pill to swallow that I spent 18 years with a woman, only to have all of that time corrupted so that not one memory that has her in it is good.  I'd erase all of it if I could.  I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I haven't written about this on the blog, not explicity like this, but maybe I ought to do more of it, because maybe it could help someone.  If you know that you're not going crazy, that you're brain is having fits to rewire and delete a pattern, and that it takes time, that could help, and it certainly would have helped me.  People say, when you're struggling, to move on, but you can't move on until your brain rewires.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On Lindsay Shepherd and Academic Freedom

If you haven't listened to the Lindsay Shepherd recordings, I highly recommend you do that.  If this hasn't come onto your radar, Ms. Shepherd, teaching a component of a writing course as a graduate TA, showed a segment from a Canadian public television show in which Jordan Peterson and a panel of others discussed the use of pronouns.  Shepherd was talking to her students about pronouns, and she naturally brought in the issue about them.  You see, Candadian law requires people to use another person's "preferred" pronouns.  This is in relation to trangenderism and the idea that people can choose what gender they are, and how you refer to them.  Under this law, even though I am a masculine male, I could demand that you refer to me as she and her, and you'd be compelled to do it.  Peterson objects to the law compelling him to use certain words, and he's skyrocketed to fame because of that position, that the law has no business telling people what they must say.  And I agree with him on that point, fundamentally, that law should never compel speech, and really, that's a separate issue than the one of politeness, that I ask you to refer to me as she, you'd be polite to do as I ask, but having the force of law behind my pronoun choice, that's another matter.  You can watch the entire program here.

All that aside, Shepherd showed a clip from a rather benign video that shows a civilized dialogue between adults about a contemporary issue, and something about that video caused a student to complain, not to her, but to her superiors, and she was hauled in before an inquisition of three superiors, two professors, and one human resources department of diversity officer.  You must listen to the recordings to fully appreciate what I'm writing about here, and in fact, what has prompted me to write about it.

If you listen, you'll hear Shepherd, who is only 22 years old, offer a wonderful defense of academic freedom, that no ideas are off the table, that there's nothing that can't be discussed and debated in the spirit of open and free inquiry.  That college students must have their fundamental presumptions called into question.  That they are adults, and college is the place where they learn to think, to process ideas and come to stronger, better ideas, and that can only happen when information flows freely.

In response, these professors argue the opposite.  They argue that some ideas are inherently dangerous and ought to be censored, that 18-year-old adults ought to be protected from some ideas on a purely arbitrary basis, and that by showing the clip, and this really takes the cake, by merely showing the clip (of adults, having civil discourse) Shepherd was guilty of "trans-phobia".  She presented the clips neutrally, in the spirit of generating debate and classroom discussion, and revealed none of her political leanings, preferring to allow the students to articulate their own thoughts, which is exactly the right thing to do, and exactly what I would have done.  Put another way, Shepherd did nothing wrong, but in fact, did everything right.  She operated with professionalism, and she participated in the venerable tradition of the academy, the spirit of argumentation and truth-seeking.

I actually wrote an email to the university's president about this matter, something I never do, because I don't care much about what happens outside of my walls, but this one struck close to home, the issue of academic freedom, about being an honest purveyor of truth, which I think is the professor's duty, beyond all others, to be a purveyor of truth.  And these professors in the recordings were lying.  Just flat-out lying.  They weren't purveying truth, but dissembling obfuscation and outright lies.  No professor should operate that way.  It is the highest offense, and though they have tenure and can't be fired easily, I called on the president of the college to find a way to censure them.  For their lies.  Professor's must not, cannot, lie.  Truth.  That's the only thing.

I got a form letter in response.

Nevertheless, and I've never written about this publicly until now, I spent six years laboring in what was essentially the kindergarten of higher education, an institution in which students were treated as customers.  The outstanding instructor award was called the "customer service award", and I shit you not.  And I learned, early on, to keep all readings, all viewings, to the most benign possible issues, because if a student complained, that was it.  I did something wrong.  Avoiding student complaints was paramount.  Exposing those students to ideas, to get them to write, to stoke their minds, to get them to actually put some though behind their writing, was off-limits, completely.  One student complaint and I was sitting in the deans office explaining myself.  It was just that bad, to the point that I was left wondering, what can I have these students read?  Do I need to bring in children's books?  Are Biscuit books controversial?  Are these students adults, or are they kindergartners?

This is reflected in the Shepherd recordings, in which a professor states, unequivocally, that freshmen must be shielded from some ideas, that they aren't ready for some ideas.  It's outrageous if you're doing your job to educate these adults, but that's where we are.  That's exactly where we are.

Well, doubtful that they gave Shepherd this training, and I certainly haven't received this training, but I'm calling for training.  If certain ideas and issues are off-limits for freshmen, I need to know exactly what those issues are.  I'm not trained for this.  My education is is rhetoric and composition, and my impulse is to teach students how to engage with ideas and create arguments and to participate in discourse.  My job, ultimately, is to teach students how to write well, and if you write well, you can think well, and these two are inextricable.  If I'm supposed to shield my students, I need training about this new freshmen kindergarten I'm running, because my training in rhetoric and composition has ill-prepared me to shield students from ideas.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Nobody With a Good Car Needs to be Justified

Or, On Rereading O'Connor's Wise Blood after 20 years.

Something is happening to me.  Thoughts are swirling, and if I were a woman and knew that the metaphor was somewhere close to apt, I might say I was pregnant with something, something growing and kicking in my guts.  Ideas new to me, stretching out, spreading out and grabbing onto any crag or cranny that might serve as a handle, like a vine growing up and around its trellis.

I have to make sense of Hazel Motes' vision.  What was Flannery saying through him?

In no particular order:


  1. Automobiles.  They weave around, all clunkers, all "rat-colored".  Once Haze's is destroyed, he walks back to town, grabs a sack of quicklime and a bucket, and promptly puts his eyes out.  Not before he'd used to automobile as his pulpit, as a murder weapon, as a home.  The damned things sometimes won't move an inch, for slightest reason, such as when the tiny hose on the PCV valve in my Toyota burst.  Car wouldn't go.  Yet, sometimes they will go and go, like nothing can wear them down.  They hang onto life sometimes with tenacity, Haze hanging onto it, himself beaten up but undeterred, wearing out, but holding together.  Until it's over, and if I've learned one thing in this life, myself beaten up, yet holding somehow together, when it's over, it's over.  Ain't no going back.  
  2. Death.  Everywhere.  The living and the dead commingling, everyone carrying around something dead within.  My sweet Jesus, I can barely stand to enter into this world, yet I'm reasonably sure I'm living in it in this reality.  But I can't stand to see it through O'Connor's eyes, with its varnish all stripped away.  This is haunting me.  
  3. Death.  Everywhere.  No one has friends.  Everyone is out to get something off of someone, and that's the extent of their interest.  Except Haze, who is so encased in his own dogmatic vision so as to render his needs for another person just an act to further test that vision, his trysts with Leora Watts, his decision to seduce Sabbath, and then lose all interest.  He isn't driven by the typical desires.  Thing is, I'm not sure what's driving him.  Driving.  Driving.  Enoch . . . has been in Taulkinham for two months or so, and not one friend, not one person offered to shake his hand, until a man in a Gorilla suit shook his hand, and promptly told him to go to hell.  
  4. All of the children are blasphemers, and their blasphemies are hilarious.  "Jesus on the cross," the boy said, "Christ nailed." . . . "King Jesus!" Enoch whispered.  
I can't go on tonight.  I'm nauseated.  Read this in a day, and my constitution has its limits.