Category Archives: Juegos

On grades

Here is a bell curve.  I could use it. I could also have: 20% W and F, 20% D, 20% C, 20% B, and 20% A. This would up my grades, and be nicer than a bell curve since more people would have A than F.

Not that it will help you at all, but here’s my wacky system. I teach writing, and points and percentages never made sense to me for writing assignments, so I grade on a 4.0 scale. I think this is also what I was trained to do as a baby teacher. The special beauty of the 4.0 scale is that 50% of a 4.0 is a 2.0 which is a C, not an F. So grade inflation is built into the grade calculation. Throw in 5% participation, a 5% reflective easy peasy final, and 15% homework (graded on a 5.0 scale–yo, kids, doing the reading every day IS your extra credit–which means, yes, I teach college and check homework, and the homework is always to do the reading, annotate it, and bring it to class, but if I didn’t do it, I’d be lucky if three students did the reading), and I feel like I have room to assign scary college-level grades on the actual papers because they can make Ds on all the papers and still walk out with a C, if they do everything else. There are some situations in which a student can automatically fail the course: plagiarizing a whole paper (not the accidental, I don’t know how to use quotation marks crap, but a whole paper), plagiarizing two more more times, and not doing all the papers. They don’t have to pass all the papers, but they have to do all of them. I get a whole lot of Cs and a sprinkling As, Bs, and Ds. I’m not counting the WFs or Ws. No one can ever make me pass a student who doesn’t attend or turn in the work. Period. Or at least not yet.

This means that almost every student who writes all of the papers, attends and reads regularly, and doesn’t plagiarize will pass. After learning to emphasize drop dates and putting my definition of plagiarism and penalties on every assignment, I’ve pulled my average pass rate up from 50% or less to about 66%, which is, of course, pretty damned sad. I teach primarily first-year comp, so we’ve got a high tolerance for failure, and I’m not (as far as I know) under pressure to increase my pass rate, though it does break my heart to see students taking out loans for Fs.

I really dread to think what will happen if Obama’s proposals to link an institution’s eligibility for financial aid to its pass rate / graduation rate. Of course, the intention would be to make universities offer students more tutoring and support to help them succeed, but that’s expensive, so the reality is likely to affect who is admitted and, even more likely, to put pressure on us to pass almost everyone by lowering standards. I’m usually a fan of Obama, but not on this one. It’s like No Child Left Behind for higher ed.

I think I’d be tempted to dumb down my job in a way that not only makes it easy for the students but also makes it easy for me. If they don’t have to work for grades, why should you have to work so hard to make sure that they pass? When my father taught high school math, the lowest a student could get on a test was 40. Students could earn up to 60 points to add to that 40, so they only had to earn 20 points to get a D and 30 to get a C, but it was still kind of hard to get an A. Maybe something simple like that would work?



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I have written an essay for my MOOC that is half the maximum length and that took no thought or deep reading. This is because I am not taking the MOOC terribly seriously, yet I want to experience it. I am working for a C. Therefore I should not be posting the piece, but I am because I have decided I like the sentences, despite the jejune content and the lack of explanation and argument. My new writing partner is a fan of the sentence, so it is also for her possible interest that I am posting this speed-written text. It is just over 400 words and I wrote it in less than one hour.

How did Kant define Enlightenment? Use Kant’s definition to discuss whether either Rousseau or Marx is an Enlightenment figure.  In other words, choose one of the following comparisons to write about: Kant compared to Rousseau, OR Kant compared to Marx.

Kant defines Enlightenment as follows:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!

He goes on to say that freedom is required for enlightenment, and to suggest that enlightenment expands freedom; he is thus discussing society and government. “Freedom” does not mean disorder, but rational progress, growing from civil discussion and debate. He states:

A high degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people’s intellectual freedom, yet it also sets up insuperable barriers to it. Conversely, a lesser degree of civil freedom gives intellectual freedom enough room to expand to its fullest extent.

That, if I understand correctly, is to say that constraints on civil freedom have the paradoxical effect of requiring greater intellectual rigor. The relationship between knowledge and political authority as analyzed by Kant is something I would like to study further.

Before this course I thought of Rousseau as an Enlightenment figure because of his work on the idea of social contract and influence on the French Revolution; our readings, however, underscore his connections to Romanticism where he is important. It is as though he could take Enlightenment as a given, and look ahead to a reaction that will value imagination over reason. Nature, not reason, is Rousseau’s ideal teacher.

I am intrigued by the idea of Marx as an Enlightenment figure and were I to develop the present essay fully I would take this option. Since he working after the Enlightenment and criticized some of its limitations, one might want to classify him otherwise but he is working with the concepts of reason and freedom, and also science and progress, in dialogue with and following the Enlightenment. He and Kant could, in this way, be considered to be working on the same face of modernity, as it were. REVISE this phrase and insert two to three paragraphs on Marx. 

I am interested in the relationship of modernity and coloniality (cf. Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity, Durham: Duke UP, 2011) and in alternatives to Western modernity that do not depend wholly on the idea of the “postmodern.” Marx seems a modern thinker to me in part because of his commitment to centralized authority. The paradox I see in a thinker like him–and some other moderns–is that their interest in freedom is accompanied by an interest in order that has not in fact resulted in freedom for all.


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“The Glenn Beck of the Eighteenth Century”

Rousseau in the Discourse on Arts and Sciences:

Considering the dreadful disorders which printing has already caused in Europe and judging the future by the progress which evil makes day by day, we can readily predict that sovereigns will not delay in taking as many pains to ban this terrible art from their states as they took to introduce it there.

Sultan Achmet, yielding to the importuning of some alleged men of taste, consented to establish a printing press in Constantinople. But the press had barely started before they were forced to destroy it and throw the equipment down a well. They say that Caliph Omar, when consulted about what had to be done with the library of Alexandria, answered as follows: “If the books of this library contain matters opposed to the Koran, they are bad and must be burned. If they contain only the doctrine of the Koran, burn them anyway, for they are superfluous.”

Our learned men have cited this reasoning as the height of absurdity. However, suppose Gregory the Great was there instead of Omar and the Gospel instead of the Koran. The library would still have been burned, and that might well have been the finest moment in the life of this illustrious pontiff.

I realize Rousseau is a lightweight, but these antics are amusing…



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J. C. Chasteen on Sommer

The most memorable sentence in his (also favorable review) is about Latin America, of which he asks: “Where else, after all, has interracial sex been a more important source of national identities?”

This 1992 review is in HAHR. As you can see, even while working a festival and spending the entire morning taking tourists around the swamp, I did not forget to do academic work.


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Englishwoman vs. Spaniard on public transportation, Madrid 1871, and more evidence of my avant-garde nature

Pérez Galdós has the inglesa speak Spanish like this:

-¡Oooh!… usted… mi quejarme al coachman… usted reventar me for it.

We have read a novella describing a trip on Madrid’s first ever public tram, which started running in 1871 and was horse drawn. The route began in the barrio of Salamanca, went down Serrano to the Cibeles statue, and continued down on Alcalá. Then it turned into the Puerta del Sol and onto the Calle Mayor, and ends up in Pozas where the Corte Inglés now stands.

Now someone is keeping a blog on Madrid railways, and this is a map of my home barrio in elementary school, Madrid 28013. If I had walked up to Pozas, which was entirely possible, I could have gone to school by that very tram route.

I once had a Cuban meteorologist and cartographer take my class for a general education requirement. He was terrified of literature classes, willing to read the books but too petrified to write a traditional paper — or so he insisted. I had him work on weather imagery, mapping, and the representation of space.

He was as grateful as anyone I have ever seen, and kept shaking my hand with both of his. He believed I was letting him slide, but really I was not. He made a historical reconstruction of the routes Luisito in Miau takes through Madrid, with maps and other illustrations.

Now more than ever one can see I was right, since urban studies and urban cultural studies have become fields — and since it has been decided that literature is a part of a revised version of cultural studies.


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Voyage en Chine

My friend is going to China and staying in this Shanghai hotel when he lands. It has a sauna and a sun deck but for a place at that level I think the China Mansion looks more beautiful.

I, however, would go to the Qinling Mountains, Pingyao, Zhangjiajie, and Kashgar. I have become extremely interested in this country.


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World’s largest cities and languages, 2012

How many have you been to?

1. Tokyo, Japan – 32,450,000
2. Seóul, South Korea – 20,550,000
3. Mexico City, Mexico – 20,450,000
4. New York City, USA – 19,750,000
5. Mumbai, India – 19,200,000
6. Jakarta, Indonesia – 18,900,000
7. Sáo Paulo, Brazil – 18,850,000
8. Delhi, India – 18,680,000
9. Õsaka/Kobe, Japan – 17,350,000
10. Shanghai, China – 16,650,000

11. Manila, Philippines – 16,300,000
12. Los Angeles, USA – 15,250,000
13. Calcutta, India – 15,100,000
14. Moscow, Russian Fed. – 15,000,000
15. Cairo, Egypt – 14,450,000
16. Lagos, Nigeria – 13,488,000
17. Buenos Aires, Argentina – 13,170,000
18. London, United Kingdom – 12,875,000
19. Beijing, China – 12,500,000
20. Karachi, Pakistan – 11,800,000

21. Dhaka, Bangladesh – 10,979,000
22. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 10,556,000
23. Tianjin, China – 10,239,000
24. Paris, France – 9,638,000
25. Istanbul, Turkey – 9,413,000
26. Lima, Peru – 7,443,000
27. Tehran, Iran – 7,380,000
28. Bangkok, Thailand – 7,221,000
29. Chicago, USA – 6,945,000
30. Bogotá, Colombia – 6,834,000

Also note that according to Ethnologue Spanish is now the second most spoken language in the world and is thus ahead of English. How many of the top ten languages have you studied?

1. Chinese
2. Spanish
3. English
4. Arabic
5. Hindi
6. Bengali
7. Portuguese
8. Russian
9. Japanese
10. German

Look at the rest of the list and see what you think of it. Of the other languages I know or can read French is number 16, Italian 19, Catalan 75, Swedish 88, Danish 118, Norwegian 132, Galician 160. I would like to know more languages well, and read more books also.


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Thursday topics

♦Lisa Cohen’s book. Apparently Esther Murphy’s father scorned the children because they would not be able to repeat his trajectory, having been born at a different time. The family climate was a “miasma of depression and fear of withdrawn favor.” (29)

♦ That entire issue of RQ where Hart’s article on Vallejo as optical illusion (a text I now have open) appeared, contains other articles which will add fuel to the fire of demystification to which I am at present subjecting his person.
In Hart’s piece we are reminded it was Xavier Abril who proposed the syphilis theory of Vallejo’s death, to which Georgette responded with the malarial one (and that I find the most logical). Others have suggested tuberculosis, too, but I do not see how. Hart also suggests that the reason for so much confusion about the birth date is that Vallejo was hiding from Peruvian authorities; this explains why his passport says f.n. 6 VI 1893 and Georgette believes it (he told her it was true). Another major optical illusion are his texts themselves, upon whose edition Georgette had such an influence that we are seeing them through “una neblina Georgettiana.” Hart also suggests that if Vallejo projected himself as mysterious it was because he actually saw himself as a mystery or a ghost. I want to read the other articles.

What is the Romantic (and I guess the realist) novel about? Writing that I was able to remember how I was going to answer that question years ago: ORIGINS. I was going to use Marthe Robert’s book, now old, Roman d’origines / Origines du roman. And notice how in her other work, she also tolerates fractured subjectivity and even thinks it is good. Maybe this will help me contest the Doris Sommer thesis or add to it. The thing is that we all behave as though the first interesting thing said on this matter that we know of — Sommer’s — were the last. Is it?

♦Weekend activities of the other members of the art studio: going offshore to finish drilling; deer hunting with modern rifles; deer hunting with “primitive” (19th century) rifles; skeet shooting; church. Yes, I am in a foreign culture.

Teaching materials on slavery from the Zinn Project. People here say they had nothing to do with slavery and therefore do not have to think about it.


♦I understand them since do not want to think about academic work, or focus on it directly, because I am afraid I will not be able to control, direct, or sort the faucet of thoughts if I just let it go on. Reeducated ideas must stay out, but they come with writing, and are disabling, so I cannot teach easily, which is a bad thing — and to forestall that, I compromise by writing in secret notebooks. I am about to try to coordinate all the notes and write like a grownup so I am terrified. What if Reeducation comes back? On the other hand, what if I do? Life will be much easier then. Clearly one of the Cameron lessons I need involves “the recovery of a sense of safety.”

♦Scheduling life in Maringouin: more of this is required here than anywhere else I have lived. Where the atmosphere is happier and there is more to do, it is easy to just get up and work. I expect to be able to take breaks to do interesting things whenever I want to but here everything must be heavily planned or what there is, you miss. On the other hand work has to be cancelled on the few days of good weather because there are so few and if you do not take them, you must wait until the following year. I am still not used to this but it is true and it must be taken into account. I will now schedule heavily, especially during vacation, and never deviate, even though I am so naturally organized that that kind of rigidity seems excessive.


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An irreverent post on Saint César

What rakish things have authors you study done?

I have been looking at new tv programs about Vallejo and Arguedas. These are some very famous Peruvians and I would like to discuss some of their less famous, or less worshipped activities. For instance, what do you think Vallejo’s issue was with all those girlfriends? He kept falling in love, but the relationships filled him with anxiety and he attempted suicide over one of them (Zoila Rosa Cuadra). He may have suffered but at the same time he was quite audacious.

He recovered from the suicide attempt, moved to Lima and dated a colleague’s underage sister in law (Otilia, of Trilce). When she got pregnant, he refused to get married. She went off to the chacra and he never saw the child; there may have been an abortion. People wonder at his feelings of guilt and obsession with orfandad but child abandonment could explain some of this.

There are also the reports Vallejo’s activities in Santiago de Chuco before the act of arson he was imprisoned for allegedly instigating. Armed, he strutted about saying ahora sí que me las van a tener que pagar like a soap opera star. After the incident he hid out, hoping to avoid arrest.

Stephen Hart takes this as an indication of guilt; I do not necessarily, but it was extreme and unusual to carry a pistol. Later in Europe, where he lived on potatoes and I have heard, cats, Vallejo and Larrea apparently bonded over drugs and alcohol as well as poetry.

In the more respectable profile Vallejo was a poor mestizo with a difficult life. He was a hungry witness to greater hunger and had intestinal trouble intermingled with emotional pain, and he was sad over the separation from his mother and the death of God. But there is also evidence to construct him as:

◊ hard drinking
◊ gun toting!
◊ drug abusing
◊ parole violating
◊ child abandoning
◊ possibly guilty of his crime!
◊ heavily neurotic
◊ mentally ill.

He got to Paris in 1923 thanks to Julio Gálvez Orrego (later captured at Madrid and shot by nationalist forces). Soon he met Henriette, whom he threw over for Georgette; they spent her inheritance on a months-long voyage. Why did he leave Henriette for Georgette? people wonder. Because he had a preference for teenagers. This is supposed to be a picture of Henriette at the right, Vallejo of course, and Carlos More.


Don’t you think it is more fun to look at him in this way? The Larrea construction of Vallejo has had even more influence than people realize. Indeed, the whole story has been written by men of a certain stripe and era and it so smacks of it. My not being able to handle Vallejo in all periods has really been an inability to handle Vallejo scholars.

What rakish things have authors you study done?


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Last Year

Momo came up with a year-in-review concept: look back at the first post of each month. On this blog it is easier to find the last, so that is what I have done. The record shows that at the end of each of the first five months I was happy with what I had accomplished (even in the irritated February 29 post and the worried one at the end of May, I was right in the swing of work).

At the end of the next three I was anxious about managing the month to come, and at the end of October I was in the midst of things, happy to be getting them done. By the end of November I was harried, and at the end of December I was committing to freedom.

What is the meaning of it? The meaning of it is the difference between life teaching service and skills courses out of field, and life teaching in field.

January: Giving brilliant classes.
February: Tired of people sending messages by attachment instead of in body of mail — especially when the attachment has slow loading graphics and one does not have enough information yet to know if one is interested.
March: Reading very interesting book for research purposes.
April: “Joder, Pete, saludos y viva la revolución, carajo.” Obsessed with the border; had taught Yuri Herrera’s new novel and also met Flaco Jiménez, and presented his show with the Texas Tornados.
May: In Córdoba, Ver., Mexico; thought I had broken this computer and was discovering the existence of a solution: the Plaza de la Tecnología in Mexico City, on the eje Lázaro Cárdenas.
June: In Mexico City; packing to leave for Houston in the morning and wishing I could stay. I was so Mexicanized by that point and so much myself.
July: Concerned about getting things ready for the August onslaught of renters.
August: Concerned about getting things ready for the September onslaught of renters.
September: A classic Z post, on the fear of starting work.
October: Hallowe’en, carving pumpkins and feeling united with happy Hallowe’ens of the past.
November: Another classic Z post, on what one needs to be able to work in peace.
December: My theme song for the year, apparently: woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.


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