Monthly Archives: January 2008

Precisely

From Short-Circuit Signs:

[I]t is hard not to notice how often standardized tests come up as examples of good, or at least acceptable, assessment – ironic because faculty are exhorted to take this stuff seriously on the grounds that doing otherwise will mean federally mandated testing. Sounds like a Foucauldian nightmare/farce, right? It gets worse when the discussion turns to standardization of curriculum to make the testing possible.

What often seems lost in this discussion is a recognition that college and university faculty aren’t professional teachers. We’re professional scientists, writers, artists, etc. etc. who teach. This remains true even at institutions like mine where undergraduate education is the primary purpose. We’re supposed to contribute to the development of knowledge, not just recite received works. Standardization runs counter to that larger process of knowledge production, stifles it even.

Read the whole thing.

Axé.

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Filed under Banes, Resources, What Is A Scholar?

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Barbara Ehrenreich

I have more or less finished Barbara Ehrenreich’s Fear of Falling and as I say, despite being somewhat dated – it came out in the late 1980s – this book really is worth reading, as it explains a great deal.

My early education was fraught with lessons about race and ethnicity. One needed fashions which would signal whiteness, not Mediterranean roots or immigrant status. They wore heels, we wore flats; they wore stockings or knee socks, we wore bobby socks; they had long hair, we had bobs; they wore eye makeup, we wore rouge and lipstick; they hinted at sensuality, we did not. That racial and ethnic identities were bound up with gender is quite clear here: it did not appear that men were in as much danger of falling out of whiteness as women.

It was very important not to be Southern. Southerners ate greens and grits, knew Jesus personally, said ‘pin’ for ‘pen,’ and did many other things we did not and could not if we were to be considered good, rather than bad white people. One grave offense of bad white people was membership in the working classes and having lower middle class tastes. So as to retain “upper middle class” status one must never, ever demonstrate any taste for working class items. At Chinese restaurants one must order only festive dishes, such as Peking Duck, and never everyday dishes, such as lo mein.

Thus did racial and regional markers shade into markers of class, the most important and most fraught of these categories. I remember long lectures on class identity. Members of white collar families were better people than members of blue and pink collar families, and this was not a matter of money but of tastes and mores. Families whose mothers did not work were superior to families whose mothers did. Doctors, lawyers, and professors were superior to businessmen and engineers, who were “in trade” and therefore truly vulgar.

Genteel people were “intellectual.” They drank milk and wine, not Coca-Cola and beer, and they had attended the symphony. Middle class or yet tighter economic circumstances might feel like poverty to such people, who were upper middle class by virtue of their souls’ contents if not their monetary situation. A genteel person must be sure to emulate the values of old, and never new money. And whether one had money or not it was important to operate as though one had it, not as though one needed to make it.

I did not understand why these lessons seemed so important to those imparting them, but the Ehrenreich book sheds some light on these matters. I also think one of the reasons so much effort was expended upon imparting this class identity was that it was expected to propel and enable us to marry up. We should learn ballroom dancing, horseback riding, tennis, sailing, so that if we were ever invited to do these things we could jump right in the saddle and fit in seamlessly with the rich.

Ehrenreich’s book seems to me – the lazy, recreational reader – to be better in the first than in the second half. This is partly because I am reading it to find out what went into my own education on class. It is also that the latter half is about what is to Ehrenreich, at the time of writing, “now,” and her interpretation of things from the eighties onward seems a little thin to me. But I find what she has to say about things through the seventies quite illuminating. I want to look again at that part of the book before saying I have finished this reading.

Axé.

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Work Ethics

§ I am not one of those people who “loves” teaching or who became a professor so as to teach. As I always say, had it been my desire to teach, I could have stayed at home or chosen a place I wanted to live. Yet I experience a flash of longing when the zydeco men on the radio talk about their other project: teaching GED classes. I want to join them! I want a job with meaning, that is involved with a community and does some good!

§
It was always emphasized to me that jobs were not for fulfillment, but to support oneself. I should be grateful not to be stuck at home with children, and satisfied with just having a drink now and then “for kicks.” But I would so like to do something meaningful with what I have left of life, something in which I do more than reverberate ventriloquism.

§ I became a professor because I wanted an intellectual life, but it did not give me one and I am not the only one who has found this. I have been called “arrogant,” “immature,” and “unrealistic” for wanting work that meant something, or that I enjoyed, or could be proud of, or believe in. I am strongly affected by these characterizations, yet I disagree with them. And this disagreement is of course a sign of middle class privilege, since working stiffs do not expect to enjoy their jobs.

§
What can I do about these things today? 1. Maintain integrity whether anyone else does or not. 2. Keep working like a real professional, not a faux one, whether anyone else does or not. 3. Be autonomous, take autonomy, whether this is authorized or not. Because I do not believe work is something you should just put up with and suffer through, and I know my attitude is not just a childish fantasy.

Axé.

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In Which I Need ‘Input’

I have a conference in San Diego just after the semester ends. Especially since the university will not pay for the trip, I want to combine it with a vacation in California – I am not sure how long a vacation. Now I am trying to decide how to plan just the conference part of the trip. I need to keep expenses down, but I do not want to make false economies.

1. Should I fly or drive?
Flying: saves time, wear and tear, and money which would be spent on the road.
Driving: means I can take camping equipment, bring things back from Arizona and New Mexico, have adventures, not have a set moment in which I have to come back, not have to come back the exact way I came, and while at the conference, save on taxis and rental cars.

In and of itself flying is cheaper, but even at the conference it could cause one to run into some expenses: cabs in San Diego are $2.50 a mile, and it is 5 miles each way from the conference hotel to the conference … for instance. Also, the longer I stay away, the more sense it makes to have my own car with me.

2. Should I stay in the conference hotel or in the apartment I found on Craigslist? Both cost the same. Which is best, if one does not have a car and there are no buses?

The least expensive conference hotel. 5 miles from the conference, or $12.50 each way by cab. Advantages: colleagues will be there to share rides, and you can walk to the beach. Disadvantage: eating in restaurants will add up.

A studio apartment from Craigslist, nice. 2 miles from the conference, or $5 each way. Advantages: has kitchen, is much nicer than a hotel room. Disadvantages: not on the beach, so how would one get there, and will one really have time to shop and cook?

3. Should I fly and rent a car?
On the face of it, this is the most extravagant of the options, but I wonder if that is actually true. It eliminates over 4,000 miles of driving, and the costs associated with this. It also eliminates the cost of cabs at the conference, which will be about as high per day as the cost of a rental car. It makes cheaper eating options more accessible. And if, for instance, I should decide I want to go to San Francisco on a commuter flight and live by public transportation up there, I can simply give the car back and do that.

I have not considered costs of parking, it is true, and flight + hotel + rental car seems so much to commit to at this point. I need to make lodging reservations soon, and flight reservations in the medium term if I am going to have them. My desire is to drive, as it means I do not have to commit to so many corporate reservations now, and it feels cheapest / easiest – although in reality I fear it is the most expensive and also the hardest. What do you think?

Axé.

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Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus

To be discussed. See also this clip (“In a small town like this you have a choice between Hell and Jesus, and grief is better than nothing”) and this one.

Meanwhile it is Carnaval time and Mardi Gras Day is almost upon us. It is very early this year and I am not paying attention, although floats have been parked on the streets these twenty days, barricades are everywhere and parades have started. I will start paying attention later. Last year I did not pay attention at all, to my detriment, but the year before I did, and it was wonderful.

Axé.

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Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David could really cook. I am not an accomplished cook, but sometimes I think I channel her. Here is something you can do with pork chops, thick ones without bones.

Rub them with salt and pepper, strew them with fresh chopped herbs, and douse with a small amount olive oil and fresh lime or orange juice. Marinate them like this for several hours, and then bake or grill them. Serve with a green salad, using as dressing the warm drippings from the pan. If you want to serve a starch, try very creamy mashed potatoes into which you have also stirred some of the drippings.

If you have leftovers, slice them thinly the next day and arrange on lettuce. Cover with steamed, shelled soybeans and lightly steamed, very young green beans. Dress with vinaigrette.

Axé.

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On Authenticity

A friend informs me that I am in utter rebellion against superficiality. It is interesting that she puts it that way; I would have only said I did not like superficiality. But it appears I am in utter rebellion against it.

Reeducation said I was unfeeling but, I now discern, only meant I was not suffering. Reeducation taught suffering as a virtue and the repression of feeling as “maturity.” It said I was an “intellectual snob” but in reality it, not I, was the snob. And I have been conflicted since. Reeducation wanted us to renounce thought in favor of feeling, as one could not have both and heart was better than head, but my latest understanding is it actually wanted us to renounce both in favor of suffering and resignation.

That meant one had to renounce oneself – renounce authenticity – and I am still trying to claim genuineness back. I have always been sincere “to a fault” but it has also always seemed to me that the solution is to become yet more, not less genuine, even if less naïve. Dealing with what is not genuine and having to pretend it is, is one of the hardest things in life for me.

I told Reeducation that given all I had at my disposal it was easy to make each day good, but Reeducation said that was “denial.” There was a family past for which I must atone. But I was right. After trying on Reeducation it is hard to remember that I was right in the first place. But I was, and I am insisting upon it.

And it is the weekend, so we will sing. This is Vicente Amigo in a passionate song.

Axé.

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Little Chenier

Out of patriotism and in the spirit of my resolution to see more movies, I have been to Little Chenier. I found it melodramatic and stereotype driven, and the accents are very poorly done. Then again, it is apparently very hard to represent southern Louisiana without resorting to exoticist trope. I did like the beautiful funeral scene and the character T-Boy Trahan. And if you see the film, you will see one of the places I have been fishing.

Axé.

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In Class

One winter I was a visiting professor in the Midwest, where the snow falls. Before leaving here I had fleece-lined boots sent from Canada to my new home. It was January and the sky both here and there had the bleak purity of early winter.

Everyone saw my boots arrive because they were mailed to the department office. General opinion was that they were more than what one needed, but very good. Now it is so cold here that I am wearing those boots indoors.

1. Michael Tisserand quotes Lance Hill:

The RSD is, without question, the worst school district in America.

2. The class I would like to attend is this, or one like it:

Rethinking the University: Labor, Knowledge, Value

3. The emeritus professor writes:

In my class in Estética de la lengua castellana at the facultad we were told of the peril of using such galicismos as ¿Qué edad tiene usted? (which I believe the professor made up on purpose). Before long, he continued witheringly, we were going to be asking instead: ¿Qué viejo es usted? He wore the same starched shirt with French cuffs and cuff links to each class.

4. Women’s Space blogs on Gaza.

5. And the student film group I now “advise” is educational. This week’s film was Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Richard Armstrong writes:

Ace in the Hole was symptomatic of a taste for brutal modernity manifest in Wilder’s work since before even Double Indemnity (1944). Embodied in Tatum is the ruthless ambition of a society heading for international hegemony as it broke the back of what it had gladly dubbed the ‘American Century.’
blondoblondoblondo

Axé.

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Est-ce possible?

We have been in school for one week. All of my students are above average, all of my classes are interesting, Hell has not broken loose, and we may even be able to hire. For some reason there is time to prepare classes and to write and to have a life. I am pinching myself. What happened? Usually I expect this situation – it would be normal, after all – and I get the opposite. I finally gave up last semester, but now I have the normality I had longed for. I hope it is not a mirage.

Axé.

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