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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Texas GOP says, "Screw your hypotheses!"

So, maybe you've heard about the the Texas Republican Party's 2012 platform? The first link to it that I saw went to a Comedy Central blog, so I was really hoping it was a joke that got reported as news -- maybe HuffPo and Wonkette had just fallen down on fact-checking duties today? But, no, it's real. As in linked-to-from-the-Texas-GOP-Convention-homepage real.

There's a lot here to make you sick, but here's the part that got it brought to my attention:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Really? REALLY?! It's like the Texas GOP read my last post, and decided to respond in the way most likely to make my head explode.

Except for the writings of the founders that are not, in fact, in line with our very specific interpretation of Judeo-Christian principles, because those writings are obviously part of a vast, left-wing conspiracy to undermine our parental authority. And fuck parents who aren't Judeo-Christian, because they are obviously a threat to our fixed beliefs.

See, except that that would involve the Texas GOP *actually* engaging with the thought sof others, which they have officially stated that they have no interest in doing. Or allowing their children to do. I just-- you know what, I'm just going to quote myself in response to this, because it's all I have to say.

I have tried to teach...[my students] to be better thinkers and writers, better discussants and readers. Now and again, I have explicitly included a little bit of being a better person, but I admit freely that I included it, implicitly and a lot, all of the time.
Coming into contact with the thoughts of others -- especially concerning the things we consider important -- and being able to deal with those thoughts in an attentive, thoughtful, critically engaged manner is the best way I know of making our own thoughts stronger, and by extension, making our actions make more sense.

You know what happens when you try to fight that? You get a political platform that seeks to codify bigotry and intolerance, that holds up ignorance as a virtue, all out of a fear of having your "fixed beliefs" held up to the light of actual engagement with the world.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A world of hypotheses

[E]ncountering divergent opinions strengthens, rather than weakens, our political ideas. In the research methods courses that I teach, I stress to students that personal experience is a terrific way to form hypotheses, and a lousy way to adjudicate whether our hypotheses are true. So at MHP, we generate ideas from our gut, but we build arguments with research, evidence, and anticipation of counter-arguments.
--Melissa Harris-Perry, from the MHP Show Footnote, 6/10/12

Someone asked me once why I thought humanistic inquiry was so worthwhile, and why I'd devoted myself to furthering it through teaching and scholarship. "Why not," this guy asked, "just teach people the content they need to get a job and do something constructive?" I wasn't able to answer the question very well then -- it was relatively early in my graduate career, and I was only just beginning to articulate why I thought being a professor of religious studies might be worth more than just my personal enjoyment of the subject matter. I made some quick reply about having different criteria for "worth" and "constructiveness," but mostly just to get the conversation over with and move on -- this guy was an asshole for other reasons, and I didn't really want to stand at the bar, justifying my existence for the rest of the night. Little did I know that the next 14 years of my life would involve large amounts of time spent standing everywhere from the bar to the bus stop, justifying my existence as an academic, and especially as a scholar and teacher in the humanities. I didn't realize, all those years ago, how many more times I'd have that conversation, how much more time I'd spend thinking about it, and how long it would take me to figure out an answer that seemed adequate.

I still haven't figured out an answer that seems adequate. But, I do have more of an answer now than I did then.

Since 2008, I have spent most of my time teaching first-year students. I have tried to teach them to be better thinkers and writers, better discussants and readers. Now and again, I have explicitly included a little bit of being a better person, but I admit freely that I included it, implicitly and a lot, all of the time. I liked the quote above when I heard it a couple of weeks ago -- I was grading, and it reminded me of countless conversations I've had with students about how to write a better paper, or read a text more responsibly, or be a more productive member of a section discussion. I thought that I would post it here, and say something about careful critical analysis and the difficulty of crafting a thesis statement. But, when I sat down to write that post, it seemed to be missing something. I felt  like there was something else I wanted to say -- some other reason why MHP's statement had stuck with me so strongly -- so I sidelined that post, to give it a bit more thought. As I've sat with the quote for the last couple of weeks, I've realized that I like it so much because it also addresses what, for me, was always the larger picture. MHP was talking about political opinions, and how she and her production team decide what issues are important to discuss on her show. But, with very little tweaking, that quote could just as easily be about what I thought was worthwhile about humanistic inquiry, and especially about teaching in the humanities. Coming into contact with the thoughts of others -- especially concerning the things we consider important -- and being able to deal with those thoughts in an attentive, thoughtful, critically engaged manner is the best way I know of making our own thoughts stronger, and by extension, making our actions make more sense.

We live in a world full of hypotheses, so learning to form, re-form, encounter, and evaluate them is not an elective; it is a basic human skill, relevant personally and professionally, religiously, politically, legally and socially, ethically, emotionally, intellectually and emotionally -- pervasively. It is a basic human skill, but it does not come to most of us naturally or involuntarily. It's difficult. It requires effort. We develop it best when we develop it intentionally, through practice -- whether that practice comes within an academic setting, or somewhere else in the world. It helps to have models to emulate, and interlocutors with whom one can respectfully disagree. And, given all of the areas of our lives in which this type of engagement is crucial, it seems ridiculous to think that developing it in only one arena would be sufficient to the task of sending us out into a world full of hypotheses of so many different kinds.

So those hypotheses -- those thoughts, opinions, beliefs... I think they're really important. And I think they're important to be good at dealing with. As a teacher in the humanities, I think that it was my duty, my pleasure, and my contribution to a teensy corner of the world to help students be better at thinking about important things; to help them encounter some of what others have thought about these important things in more carefully considered ways; and, thereby, to help them strengthen their own hypotheses, not just about the course materials, but about themselves, other people, and the world. Big words, I know. Big claims. But these few years of teaching have offered me plenty of research, engagement with counter-arguments, and evidence to support the hypothesis that what I was doing was worthwhile, in that it had meaning, value, and a positive impact on that teensy corner of the world.

As many of you know, starting this month, I am no longer devoting myself to furthering humanistic inquiry through teaching and scholarship in the humanities. It might seem strange, then, that I'd bother to articulate why I thought it was so important. But, if you've been to this blog before, you know that one of the things I do here is try to work through hypotheses about important things -- especially gender, ethics, and culture. Sometimes I do that by presenting someone else's hypothesis and pointing out what I think is lacking or compelling about it. Sometimes I do that by offering a hypothesis of my own. I won't always be up to such serious business (though my belief that popular culture can be an important place for engaging with big ideas may blur the line a bit) -- there are all sorts of hypotheses to explore, and only some of them are about Very Important Things. But, don't be surprised if you continue to see, side by side, reviews of dubiously valuable entertainment and critical discussions of everything from blog posts to books to film and television shows. You've been warned.

La prof. est mort; vive la prof.!

For those who ask if I've considered adjuncting

Looking at all courses part-time faculty respondents reported on, the median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, is $2,700. There does appear to be a wage premium based on credentials among part-time faculty members: those who hold a bachelor’s degree earned a median pay per course of $2,250, those with a master’s degree earned $2,400, those with professional or other terminal degrees earned between $2,800 and $2,937, and those with a doctorate earned $3,200 (table 19). 
This wage premium, however, reflects differences only within an employment category that is significantly underpaid, not just in comparison with tenured and tenure-track colleagues but also in comparison with similarly credentialed workers across the United States in all professions. If we were to annualize the median per-course salaries of part-time faculty respondents and compare them with the median earnings of all full-time workers, it becomes clear just how underpaid this group of professionals is. We first annualized pay based on an annual load of eight classes that might be configured in more than one way (i.e., four courses in each of two terms during the traditional academic year, or three courses in fall and spring and two courses in the summer [table 20]). The gap between what a part-time faculty member earns and the median earnings of full-time, year-round workers of equivalent educational attainment is staggering and becomes more dramatic as the level of credential rises. 
Some would assert that while eight courses per academic year might be considered a full load for full-time tenure-track faculty members, such a teaching load without any research or service requirements does not truly represent the work of a full-time faculty member. Others would assert that, regardless of outside work, an annual course load of eight courses does not reflect fulltime employment. Even if we annualize salaries using an extreme model of a teaching load of five courses in each of three terms during a year, however, we find that the annualized earnings of a part-time faculty member are still dramatically below that of professionals with similar credentials (table 20). 
For most Americans, higher educational attainment regularly and predictably leads to higher earnings. The wage premium for an advanced degree for part-time faculty members who responded to this survey, however, is minimal and comparatively lower than the median earnings of other professionals with the same level of education.
--From "A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members: A Summary of Findings on Part-Time Faculty Respondents to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce Survey of Contingent Faculty Members and Instructors" by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pack of animals on school bus terrorizes passenger

Yeah, I'm talking about the kids in Rochester, NY, who ganged up on and ridiculed the bus monitor until she cried. And, yeah -- I did, in fact, mean to call those children animals.

I've seen a lot of focus on the fact that these kids are being disrespectful to someone older -- a grandmother, it's pointed out. That fact does make this seem extra-disgusting. But the main problem is not, in my opinion, that Ms. Klein is a grandmother. The main problem is that she's human, and these kids are being abusive. It would be abusive no matter what age the abused. I love it that Matt Lauer is so angry about this. To be honest, I don't think it was necessarily a good thing for someone on YouTube to put the kids' names on blast, but I'm glad someone did. But the collective anger of the viewing public won't fix this, and I have a hard time believing that anyone cruel enough to participate in this has the decency to be properly humiliated by his or her participation being made public. They did, after all, have one of their peers record it, presumably to show off. Lauer wanted to know if they'd apologized. My guess would be that, if they're sorry for anything, they're sorry they got caught and reprimanded. 

School officials promise that their parents have promised to "punish" them. But what sort of "punishment" do people presume is appropriate for this? Yes, I'd like to know that they got grounded, because it hurts me to think that these little shits won't face any consequences for being little shits. But grounding them won't make them better people. Wouldn't it be better for school officials to to promise that the parents have actually taken responsibility for re-socializing the animals they've raised into decent human beings?

And, yes -- I know that that they're young and immature, and that kids do all sorts of things when they're away from parental supervision. But does a well-socialized child actually go full-on Lord of the Flies with no more provocation than a ride on the school bus? They are young. They are immature. They are also cruel, and people don't really just grow out of that. They just grow more strategic about displaying it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rock of Ages: nothin' but a good time

Went to see Rock of Ages on Friday night. I really enjoyed it, but I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I had really low expectations. I hadn't actually planned on seeing it at all, but a friend suggested that it might be terrible in a really excellent way, so see it I did. If you're not the sort of person who thinks thatmovies can be terrible in an excellent way, you should probably skip this one. I can't say that it's actualy a "good" film -- it is (intentionally) over the top and (also intentionally, I think) contrived, and even the contrived plot is pretty weak. Somehow, this doesn't stop it from being highly entertaining. Perhaps it's because, as my friend M. recently reminded me (speaking of an opera we'd seen), the narrative structure is always weak for these sorts of things, because it's not really the point. 

So what, then, was the point of Rock of Ages? Well, it's a film based on a Jukebox Musical. My understanding of jukebox musicals is that they're a thinly veiled excuse to have a bunch of actors sing songs people already know and love. For Rock of Ages, those songs are 80s rock songs, with a heavy emphasis on anthems and power ballads. I vividly remember listening to a lot of this music, which is how I knew that some of the songs had not come out in 1987. The set list spans from 1980-1990 (further back and a year later for the staged version), and has spawned a truly epic playlist on my iPod:

[Song (Artist) - Album, Year]

Paradise City (Guns n Roses) - Appetite for Destruction, 1987
Sister Christian (Night Ranger) - Midnight Madness, 1982
Just Like Paradise (David Lee Roth) - Skyscraper, 1988
Nothin' But a Good Time (Poison) - Open Up and Say...Ahh!, 1988
Juke Box Hero (Foreigner) - 4, 1981
I Love Rock n Roll (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) - I Love Rock n Roll, 1981
Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Pat Benetar) - Crimes of Passion, 1980
Waiting For a Girl Like You (Foreigner) - 4, 1981
More Than Words (Extreme) - Extreme II: Pornograffitti, 1990
Heaven (Warrant) - Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, 1989
wanted Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi) - Slippery When Wet, 1986
I Want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner) - Agent Provocateur, 1984
I Wanna Rock (Twisted Sister) - Stay Hungry, 1984
Pour Some Sugar On Me (Def Leppard) - Hysteria, 1987
Harden My Heart (Quarterflash) - QuarterFlash, 1981
Shadows of the Night (Pat Benetar) - Get Nervous, 1982
Here I Go Again (Whitesnake) - Saints & Sinners, 1982
I Can't Fight This Feeling (REO Speedwagon) - Wheels Are Turning, 1984
Every Rose Has its Thorn (Poison) - Open Up and Say...Ahh!, 1988
Rock You Like  Hurricane (Scorpion) - Love at First Sting, 1984
We Built This City (Starship) - Knee Deep in the Hoopla, 1985
We're Not Gonna Take It (Twisted Sister) -  Stay Hungry, 1984
Don't Stop Believin' (Journey) - Escape, 1981

And there are a few songs that are in the stage version, but not in the film:

Too Much Time On My Hands (Styx) - Paradise Theater, 1981
To Be With You (Mr. Big) - Lean Into It, 1991
Cum on Feel the Noize (Slade) - Sladest, 1973
The Final Countdown (Europe) - The Final Countdown, 1986
High Enough (Damn Yankees) - Damn Yankees, 1990
I HAte Myself for Loving You (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) - Up Your Alley, 1988
Oh Sherrie (Steve Perry) - Street Talk, 1984
The Search is Over (Survivor) - Vital Signs, 1984

Rock of Ages (the film) is successful, in that I really had to fight the urge to sing along. So, while there's really not much of a story to get caught up in (almost everything in the film is a foregone conclusion), there are plenty of catchy hooks, crescendos, and guitar solos to get carried away by, as long as you're willing to surrender to the ridiculousness of it all. 

The one thing that really threw me? Tom Cruise's strangely contortion of his pelvis and torso. There are moments where whatever is happening with Stacee Jaxx is the exact opposite of sexy, and intentionally so. But I'm pretty sure there were moments when he was supposed to be strutting with confidence, and maybe even sexiness, but he really just looked like something was wrong with his spine.

OK, so there were two things that threw me. One was Tom Cruise's....whatever was going on there. The other was Julianne Hough. Was she really the best singer they could find for that part? And, if she's famous as a dancer, why was she so unimpressive during her big "dance" scene? So confusing.

Aside of the weird posture, Tom Cruise was creepy and messed-up as Stacee Jaxx, which I think was acting. Julianne Hough did not particularly impress me. Malin Ackerman continues to have a good sense of humor (see: 27 Dresses), Kathrine Zeta Jones gets the job done as Tipper Gore the rock hating activist, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are amusing as rock n roll lifers, and Paul Giamatti is a fantastically slimy manager. Diego Boneta was pretty good (singing) as rock-hopeful Drew. Also? He's way hotter in press appearances than he was in the movie.
Sorry...what was I talking about?

Kind of cute, I guess.

Overall, the whole thing was ridiculous, but highly enjoyable. Or, as Poison once said...