Category Archives: Working

Steal this university!

The book seems dated now, but I did not pay enough attention when it came out in 2003, although I read the reviews. It is about how the for-profit ethos has crept into universities. I do not know whether I knew enough then to understand the book as I do now.

I learned a very great deal from the third chapter, about the inefficiency of merit raises, whose points are supported by this recent article on metrics. And I am fascinated with the poor behavior of some professors I know in the 1995 Yale strike.

The truly important insight I had while reading in this book, however, was that much of the academic advice I have received and been confused by came from professors dealing with the slow encroachment of this model. Either they were in a position to take advantage of it (e.g. had other people to grade for them and were otherwise in a position to say, don’t spend time on teaching), or were themselves struggling with it and saying things that did not make sense entirely, because they, too, were in a new world they did not fully recognize because it used (in another way) the vocabulary of the old, and were looking through a glass, darkly.

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Filed under ALFS presentation, Da Whiteman, What Is A Scholar?, Working

“Where you stand is where you sit”

Here is a book about how to be an academic administrator and it looks quite good.

It is from 2006 but glancing at it I thought it would be older, as it seems to come from an era so much kinder and gentler and humane. The university was already savage, of course, but it really seems to me that things took a hard turn for the worse with the 2008 economic crisis. Others may perceive the shift differently, or may not have perceived it yet.

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More about the anxiety

I love co-working and dislike working in isolation, but I see now that I have a longstanding (although not evident) anxiety condition for which Boicean-style advice is a trigger. I am also so naturally organized, disciplined, and motivated that the Boicean-style admonishments feel demeaning, as I know that what I need is time to contemplate, not exhortations to rush.

Both of my parents have anxiety conditions. My father manages his rather well, and my mother allowed hers to disable her almost completely. I have always imitated my father, because it was clear where my mother’s choices led. In addition, when I was small my mother and brother would entertain themselves by imposing upon me, and imposition and needling have been anxiety triggers for me ever since.

I seem so calm, people do not realize I suffer from anxiety, but the calm is only my deeper nature, combined with my longstanding policy, because of the anxiety, of not participating in histrionics.

The first time I really felt the anxiety (the feeling I am identifying as anxiety now) was as a teenager, living with a family who liked to procrastinate and then hurry. In my family we take our time and are on time, but this family would insist upon waiting and then go into a frenzy about how we were about to miss the ferry. The frenzy would make me shake. Why are we even going to town, if we must create such suffering for ourselves around it? I would ask.

I am claustrophobic. My father talks about this openly: “I need space, light, and windows, and I will not work in a cubicle.” This is why I do not like living in small towns without easy access to a variety of hiking trails and views from different heights. A lot of my energy in fact goes to tolerating the feeling of enclosure in Maringouin. And any city will have a variety of paths and heights, and that is why I like cities better. If I am to take anxiety seriously, and treat it seriously now, I should structure in time spent in less claustrophobic environments. I should stop considering this a luxury or a guilty pleasure.

Most fundamentally I do not like to be needled or imposed upon, manipulated, pushed, or told to rush. It is a separate issue that I do not really need exhortation; the key issue is that the imposition, the needling, the poking, the attempts to distract and disorient, are all ancient. I used to have this happen to me all day and have to remain calm, because my mother was ill and my brother was younger, and I was still small and could not stop them from taunting me, and my mother would advise that the more imperturbable I could be, the sooner they would stop. So I am imperturbable, but it is also a fact that I can still look imperturbable when I am in fact at a breaking point.

I don’t actually disagree with Boice at all, it is just that I always worked that way. When I was over 30, people discovered Boice and started lecturing condescendingly at me about him, and my anger at them about that is unabated. I had a project I disagreed with, and I wanted to use Boicean time to work with that. But these new converts said, do not question what you are asked to say, just say it and reap the rewards of having said it. It was I, and not they, who knew how to write.

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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.

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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.

Axé.

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