Category Archives: Working

Domingo

⇒ The best political action we can take right now is to work against voter suppression. (Z)

⇒ The roundups of indocumentados are a beginning, and we should pay attention. (Z)

⇒ The use of indocumentados is a form of slavery. Capitalism requires slavery, and slaves must be foreign. (Z)

⇒Racist imperatives fuel the militarization of the border. (Nicky)

⇒Poetry is only a havoc that restores. It dissipates the false pretenses of an ordered world. (Bataille 1943)

Today in culture:

Let’s look at a timeless Vermeer. And another. And more.
An interesting translation magazine: Palabras errantes.
Cinema tropical.
Huizache.

Fifteen Afro-Latin films everyone should see.
I am not your negro is playing now and must be seen.
On Netflix, we must see 13th.
We will see Ixcanul on Netflix as well, and Herzog’s Into the inferno.

Sidney Blumenthal has a smart history of the Trump family in the London Review of Books.
Jonathan Mayhew has good advice on how to learn foreign languages.
Rosie Gray discusses Bannon and the white supremacy movement in The Atlantic.
Nikil Saval writes about Gareth Dale writing about Karl Polanyi, and I would have liked to converse with this man; he is important.

Activism:

I have heard there is a number you can text to your phone, that will program in the numbers of your senators and representatives. You can do this, too.

Work:

I was going to make an announcement about, and a commitment to archiving bibliography in Zotero and/or JabRef, and not an Amazon wishlist or even Evernote. Instead, I simply started.

Axé.

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What is Critical Thinking?

This piece by Rob Jenkins was in the CHE and I am reproducing it. The words from here on are not mine.

Axé.

The longer I teach (I’m now in my 32nd year) the more I’m convinced that the best thing we can do for our students is help them learn to think for themselves.

That involves explaining what critical thinking actually means — a step I fear we often skip — as well as equipping them with the requisite skills. That’s why I recommend talking to students on the first day of class about critical thinking. What is it? Why is it important? How can they learn to do it?

What follows is an example of my opening-day remarks. For graduate students and Ph.D.s new to teaching, if this talk resonates with you, feel free to adapt it for your own classrooms.

These days, the term “critical thinking” has been overused to the point where it has almost ceased to mean anything in particular. It has become more of a popular educational catchphrase, so that even the people who use it often don’t know exactly what they mean by it.

Get any group of teachers in a room — kindergarten through college — and throw out the question, “What can we do to help our students learn better?” Within minutes, someone is bound to say, “I know, let’s teach critical thinking!” Then another person in the group will say, “Oh, that’s good. Write that down.” And so they dutifully put it on the list, and everyone nods sagely, including the people who eventually read the list, and no one ever takes any concrete steps and nothing ever changes. This process is known as “educational administration.”

None of that means, however, that critical thinking is not a real thing. It is — and it’s vital for you to understand what critical thinking is and how to do it. The extent of your success in college — not to mention life — ultimately depends on it.

Critical thinking, as the term suggests, has two components. The first is thinking — actually thinking about stuff, applying your brain to the issues at hand, disciplining yourself (and it does require discipline) to grapple with difficult concepts for as long as necessary in order to comprehend and internalize them.

This is important because we live in a society that increasingly makes it easy for people to get through the day without having to think very much. We have microwaveable food, entertainment at our fingertips, and GPS to get us where we need to go. I’m not saying those things are bad. Ideally, such time-saving devices free up our brains for other, more important pursuits. But the practical effect is that we’ve become accustomed to setting our brains on autopilot.

Actual thinking requires deep and protracted exposure to the subject matter — through close reading, for example, or observation. It entails collecting, examining, and evaluating evidence, and then questioning assumptions, making connections, formulating hypotheses, and testing them. It culminates in clear, concise, detailed, and well-reasoned arguments that go beyond theory to practical application.

All of this, as I mentioned, involves discipline. And what better place to develop that discipline than in college courses, especially the ones you don’t want to take because they’re “not in your major”? After all, we can increase our brainpower, just as we can increase our physical strength, and in much the same way — by pushing against resistance. The greater the resistance, and the more we persist in pushing against it, the greater the intellectual benefit. That’s why it’s in your best interests to apply yourself to the courses you dislike the most and find most difficult: Those courses actually constitute “cross-training for the brain.

The second component of critical thinking is the critical part. In common parlance, “critical” has come to mean simply negative — as in, “I don’t like to be around him, he’s always so critical.” But of course that’s not what it means in an academic context.

Think of movie critics. They cannot simply trash every film they see. Instead, their job is to combine their knowledge of films and filmmaking with their extensive experience (having no doubt seen hundreds, even thousands of films) and provide readers with the most objective analysis possible of a given movie’s merits. In the end, what we’re left with is just one critic’s opinion, true. But it’s an opinion based on substantial evidence.

To be “critical,” then, means to be objective, or as objective as humanly possible. No one is capable of being completely objective — we’re all human, with myriad thoughts, emotions, and subconscious biases we’re not even aware of. Recognizing that fact is a vital first step. Understanding that we’re not objective, by nature, and striving mightily to be objective, anyway, is about as good as most of us can do.

To be critical also means to be analytical, to be able to look at a problem or question and break it down into its component parts — the way a chemist analyzes a compound. What makes a film good, or bad, or mediocre? Is it the acting? The directing? The script? The cinematography? All of them combined?

Finally — and perhaps most important — to be critical means to be dispassionate, to be able to separate your emotions from the situation at hand. That’s not to say emotions are bad. Perhaps there are some decisions that, as human beings, we should make based primarily on emotions (although I would recommend giving your head a vote, at least). And we should certainly take emotional factors into account in all our decision-making, as in the case of compassion, for instance.

But in professional life, and to some extent in our lives in general, we simply can’t make most decisions based primarily on emotion. We can’t trust our emotions because they aren’t necessarily grounded in reality. They are inconsistent, changing with our moods, with the seasons, with the time of day, with that last song we just heard on the radio — or the last presidential election. Emotions are, by definition, not based on reason and, therefore, form a poor, shaky foundation for decision-making.

Like thinking, learning to recognize and set aside our emotions requires a great deal of discipline. As humans, we’re emotional creatures. Being dispassionate doesn’t come naturally to us; we have to train ourselves to do it. And again, what better place than in a college classroom, where you’re exposed to all kinds of ideas and information, including some you don’t like?

– See more at Chronicle Vitae.

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I must renew my passport

I will not post until it is done. I must also paint some of the outside of the house. These are the kinds of things I keep putting off and I really must not.

Axé.

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I appear to stand alone

It appears that only I think everyone should be on a tenure line. I understand the need for “flexible” faculty given shifting enrollments but I say that if you need someone clearly enough that you rehire them for longer than three years, you need them and should offer them a tenure track position. Pieces and comment threads like this, that talk about the need to treat contingent faculty well, do not go nearly far enough and it is as false that more tenure lines are unrealistic as it is that “we cannot afford” single-payer or national health insurance. Of course we can. Also, it is not more “conservative” but more “progressive” to say that if you are qualified to work, then you are qualified to be on the tenure track. That is not “meritocratic,” it is the opposite.

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Slowly and with lots of sleep

I am now able to do some work I had thought impossible because I got lots of sleep and I am working slowly–or, at the speed I need to work.

The reason I have always wanted to leave academia is that we are supposed to work very quickly, do a poor job (anything else is “perfectionism”), get up before we are rested, schedule everything in a rigid way, never meditate and not “waste” a minute.

If I had never been lectured at about the need to use timers and alarm clocks, I would never have hated academia. If I had received that lecture while still a student, I would have quit.

The reason I hate the lecture so much is that it is so belittling. People imagine one has never had to be efficient before.

Axé. 

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Notes on language and power

This is important for my languishing article. It is hard to manage because it is about language, but wants to be about neoliberalism and educational policy. If I keep remembering it is about language, I may be able to finish it.

Axé.

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Synopsis of Postman, “The end of education”

The “school problem” has two dimensions, as he sees it. One is the engineering aspect: the means by which young people acquire an education. The other is the metaphysical aspect: the underlying purpose or mission — the “end” — of education. Postman believes that the debate over the future of America’s schools focuses too much on engineering concerns — curricula, teaching methods, standardized testing, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. As the title suggests, he feels that “without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better.” For education to be meaningful, Postman contends, young people, their parents, and their teachers must have a common narrative. Narratives are essential because they provide a sense of personal identity, a sense of community life, a basis for moral conduct, and explanations of that which cannot be known. The idea of public education requires not only shared narratives, but also the absence of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. “What makes public schools public,” writes Postman, “is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods.” As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public. But in order to do that they depend on the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.

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