Saturday, August 22, 2009

Student Woes

I'm not talking here about the woes of being a student, as classes for me haven't started yet this semester. No, I am instead referring to the woes of having to deal with students. Learning Curves has some funny/disastrous stories about dealing with students who either (1) don't know the rules, or (2) think the rules don't apply to them. Throw in a little (3) professors/advisers who tell the students that the rules don't apply to them, or that the prof. knows how to get around the rules, and you've got a whole lot of crazy going on.

I have spent the past two weeks trying to sort out student registrations. Due to a whole lot of SNAFUs, we have had to cancel and re-create several sections of courses. Naturally, this has throw every student into a freak-out tizzy. Which is compounded by the fact that so many of them seem to have no idea how to check their own freakin' schedule. Which, I do not get. This is supposed to be the millenial generation (with a few older students, but most of them are 35 or younger) that grew up with a computer attached to their forehead. How can they not figure this out on their own?

See, I have limited sympathy because I, too, am a student at this university. I figured it all out, all by myself. I did not call my program's manager to ask what classes I was registered for (check your schedule online!), or where the classes would be meeting (check your schedule online!), or what my financial aid is (check your schedule online! and then click the very next tab that says "financial aid"!). I feel like expecting students to be able to figure these things out is a very reasonable expectation. And yet, I have fielded uncountable calls and emails from helpless students wanting to know where to park--not just how to get a parking pass (you buy it online! I sent out this info TWICE this summer!), but WHERE to park. As in, "Which parking lot is closest to my classes?"

Oh my freakin' god. Are you seriously, SERIOUSLY, calling me to ask which parking lot to use? Did your brain up and die? Because, if it did, you are going to find grad school rather difficult.

Oh yes. GRAD SCHOOL. I work with graduate students. Somehow compounds the whole thing, doesn't it?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Plight of International Students

Thus Spake Zuska has an interesting post on back-to-school memories, her example particularly related to the difficulties that international and non-English speaking students face.
When I went to Germany as a postdoc I spoke essentially no German at all. (Guten Tag! Ein Bier, bitte? Wo ist die Toilette?) I was welcomed by all my colleagues, helped to find an apartment, shown where and how to shop for groceries, integrated into the social life of my colleagues, assisted in learning my way around the research site, and treated with kindness at every turn. People excused my pathetic German, and begged me to let them practice their English with me. Do you think the average grad student or post doc from India or China has exactly this sort of experience here in the U.S.?

What a difference it makes when you speak the dominant language, eh?

Although my own experience living and teaching abroad was not *quite* so welcoming [ah, the French!], I imagine that it was far and away easier to be an American abroad than it is to be pretty much anyone living in America who looks or talks different. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Who knew that corporeal punishment still went on? Evidently it does, and "disabled" kids (their usage) are getting the brunt of it.

From the ACLU & Human Rights Watch press release:

Corporal punishment, legal in 20 states, typically takes the form of "paddling," during which an administrator or teacher hits a child repeatedly on the buttocks with a long wooden board. ACLU and Human Rights Watch interviews found that students with disabilities also suffered many other forms of corporal punishment, including beatings, spanking, slapping, pinching, being dragged across the room, and being thrown to the floor.

I am speechless to think that this occurs anywhere in America, with any student. Just speechless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Keep your government hands off of MY Medicare!

From PortlyDyke at Shakesville:

But I am truly sick of hearing about how we don't need health-care reform from any and all of the following people and groups of people:
  1. Insurance Companies and Their Paid Representatives, including "Grass-roots" Organizations That Are Funded by Insurance Lobbyists and PR Firms
  2. Congressional members and political figures who are covered by one of the best health benefit plans in the country (or their spouses, who often remain covered even after divorce).
  3. Any of the more than 96 million people who are covered by a public health plan such as Medicare or Medicaid, or the nearly 8 million people covered by VA health care.
  4. Anyone who receives health care coverage from their employer, but who has no idea what that would cost them out of pocket if they for paid that coverage privately.
  5. Dick. Fucking. Armey. -- who is currently suing the government to try to get out of medicare without losing his Social Security -- because he wants to keep the benefits he had as a member of Congress.
Will somebody please get some End-Of-Life counseling for the G.O.P. already!?!?!?!

I think I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. Or just crying. THANK YOU for someone out there calling out the hypocrisy of all the over-insured wanting to deny insurance to everyone else. I just don't get it and my brain. just. might. EXPLODE! if I have to listen to one more of my newly republican friends [which, really. WTF. we aren't even in our 40s. we shouldn't be becoming GOP clones *quite* yet.] talk about "socialized medicine" and how it means we are becoming like Sweden and soon will pay over 50% of our income into taxes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Me as a "Mad Men" Character

Thanks to Historiann, I just spent a really productive few minutes Mad Men-izing myself. What fun. Now, if I could only find a fun polka-dot dress like this one in *real* life, I'd be all set to channel my inner 50s...academic? Hmm.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Think vs. Do

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde had an interesting post on finding grad school buddies to work with:

If you are headed for or starting graduate school, I'd encourage you to contemplate which of these--thinking or doing--you consider your strength. I certainly knew heading in to grad school that I loved scientific concepts, but struggled with benchwork. If you know which half you find easier, recognize how much you need practice with the other half, and find someone to help you with it. Perhaps you have a fellow labmate who has the skills you lack, or a friend in a neighbor lab. This person's approach to problems may seem totally foreign to you, but that's exactly why you need them.
I've head advice along these lines before; finding a writing group being a more field-appropriate idea, rather than a lab partner, but the gist behind it is the same--that doc students need both the support and the idea-germination that a good group of classmate-colleagues can provide. Now, how to find that group? Or, how to find time to find that group?

Scary People Out There

Via Historiann...

Scientist and blogger Isis posted recently on a threat she received via email that involved her small daughter. If you needed any more convincing that speaking publicly in any forum, much less a forum where you can't see your audience, is something to be wary reminds me of that quote from Harry Potter along the lines of "Don't trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain." I think the blog-equivalent might be, Don't trust an audience you can't see. Sad, isn't it?


In happier news, I am thrilled--ecstatic even--to announce that I am going to be a GRA this year! After applying back in June along with probably every other returning PhD student for what, in this budget times, are probably dwindling GRA spots, I was sure that I wouldn't be selected. But then, I got an interview. With faculty members in the program that I would most like to work with, in one of my future ideal worlds. [Yes, I have multiple future ideal worlds.] They said they'd take a week to decide...but I heard from them yesterday, and was offered the spot! Actually, one of two spots, with an awesome classmate getting the other spot. We'll be doing all sorts of cool stuff around urban education, student agency, all with that lovely social justice-activism bent that is my personal interest. It could not be a better fit, research-interests-wise. AND I will be getting both more money and more free tuition than anticipated. I'm all agog with excitement!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and Conservative School Boards

Texas strikes me as a scarier and scarier place to live; in the push to reform state social studies standards, the Texas Board of Education appointed 6 outside reviewers, 3 from the conservative side and 3 from the more moderate side of the Board. From a Wall Street Journal Article:
The reviewers appointed by conservatives include two who run conservative Christian organizations: David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a group that promotes America's Christian heritage; and Rev. Marshall, who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God's judgments on the nation's sexual immorality...The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America's founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man's fall and inherent sinfulness, or "radical depravity," which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances. The curriculum, they say, should clearly present Christianity as an overall force for good -- and a key reason for American exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.
Oh my good gracious. As a keen amateur historian, I'm well aware of the role religion has played in shaping the nation's history. But this just smacks of modern conservatism and evangelism riding roughshod over thinking critically about the history of the United States, and how to teach it. And mocking the principle of the separation of church and state by attempting to indoctrinate children into an evangelist, republican, white-privileged, Ameri-centric, and patriarchal view of society (based on their individual suggestions of which historical figures and events to include, remove, or de-emphasize).

Not to show my bias or anything.

Full reports from each of the reviewers are available here.

What makes this so terrible is that Texas is *SO* huge. Where Texas goes with standards and curricula, there go the textbook companies and testing companies, and there follows the rest of the country. So it's not just about what the crazies down in Texas are teaching their children, which is important, but it's also about how what they teach influences the books and other materials that are available to everyone else.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Academics vs. Practitioners

In a recent post on a Politico article on Who can hook you up with a White House job? Jon Schnur, CEO and co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, is listed as one who helped Arne Duncan secure the position of secretary of education. In the article, the author notes:

Philanthropist and Democratic donor Eli Broad, who funds Teach for America and Schnur’s principals program, said he considered Schnur a counterweight against the “bunch of academics” on Obama’s education transition team. Soon after the election, Broad said he told Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel that “the education secretary should not be an academic or ex-governor. ... He said, ‘I assure you. We’re going to have a practitioner.’” (emphasis mine)

Leaving aside (for this post, anyway) discussion of Arne's capabilities or whatever claims he might be able to make to his being a "practitioner," I am deeply disturbed at the assumption that academics are not practitioners. In my experience, that simply isn't true. Many researchers and university professors were at some point teachers in K-12 classrooms, and remain involved by working on curriculum development projects, conducting research in schools, leading professional development opportunities for teachers and other school staff, and in a host of other ways. In addition, in most schools of education, faculty who do research also teach--they teach future teachers. Just because they aren't working with children doesn't mean that they aren't "practicing" educators, and it doesn't mean that they turn a blind eye and deaf ear to what is going on in K-12 classrooms; they couldn't be effective at preparing teachers if they did so.

Even beyond the "are academics practitioners?" question, there's another deeply worrisome assumption: that only the viewpoints and experiences of the "true" practitioners are valid. This assumption preferences the individual teacher's experiences--and the knowledge that these experiences provide--above the knowledge that can be gleaned from deep study and years of collaboration between researchers, administrators, and teachers. Let me affirm that I do believe that teacher input and experiences are extremely valuable tools in research and in policy-making. That said, I think that a "practitioner" focus leads to a system which holds that knowledge gained by each individual as they grow as teachers is the most important component to their being able to understand education, student learning, how education system(s) work, and the role of policy in all these arenas. This focus denies the importance of research and the role of higher education in studying schools, in studying how students learn, and in looking at bigger picture issues like state policy or national standards; important work that cannot be done with by a group of teachers, no matter how experienced and knowledgeable they are. They don't have the resources--or even enough time in the day--to tackle these issues.

Yes, many teachers scoff at research and academe. Or at least see limited practical applications, and perhaps that's a good goal to shoot for: finding ways to get good research in the hands of teachers in ways that have practical applications,
but are not oversimplified, dumbed-down versions of the research.

What are some ways to cross the academic-practitioner/research-teacher divide?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

So You Think You Can...Teach?

I will admit, I'm a huge fan of So You Think You Can Dance, affectionately abbreviated as SYTYCD. In trying to read an article on teacher education while watching last night's show, an observation bubbled up: The judges on SYTYCD often speak about a dancer's potential, and cite this potential for future growth as a reason to select a certain dancer to remain on the show. The converse is also true; wonderful dancers (last week's loser, Asuka, being a case in point) are often sent home not because they were the worst dancer, but because they aren't showing that they are growing with the show.

This made me think about teachers (and I don't just mean K-12, but teachers at all levels), and whether we look at potential for growth when evaluating candidates--or, indeed, if we should do. I think anyone who has ever taught would agree that when you first start out, you're just trying to keep your head above water. (And hope you don't screw up the students too badly.) I just wonder if there's any thought given at various points along the path to teacher-dom to a candidate's potential for growth--the corollary being, I suppose, potential to become an excellent teacher versus a merely adequate one. [I refuse to use the term "qualified" on general principle.]

On the other hand, looking at potential and growth is a tricky thing. Who would be assessing these qualities? How could they be subjectively assessed? Because while a choreographer's personal preference and body type and who you worked with in the past are all valid criteria in the world of dance, I don't see that flying so well in selecting a chemistry teacher. We educators like our objective criteria. We like our rubrics. We like at least the appearance of fairness.

Perhaps it's just too big a stretch to bring potential for growth or excellence into recruiting, preparing, and hiring teachers. Perhaps I would just like to think that there is room in between our rubrics and criteria referenced assessments for a little bit of subjective softness and talk of personal growth...

Friday, June 26, 2009

A New Future of Education?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the education system--specifically the PK-12 system--and various proposals floating out there to improve student performance. Many of the proposals are about fixing the system, yes, or "reforming" the system, and throw out ideas like pay for performance, charter schools, closing low-performing schools, increased accountability, national standards.

In a recent New Yorker article, The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care. Atul Gawande makes the argument that instead of reforming the health care system, we need a whole new model for how medicine works. To wit:

And that will mean rewarding doctors and hospitals if they band together to form...accountable-care organizations, in which doctors collaborate to increase prevention and the quality of care, while discouraging overtreatment, undertreatment, and sheer profiteering.
What if what we really need, rather than fixing or reforming the system, is a whole new system of education? One where teachers and administrators, rather than working in isolation as individual teachers, individual schools, individual districts, banded together in more cooperative ways?

I'm coming from the world of education. Virtually my entire professional life has been in education. I believe in things like experience-based learning, student-centered classrooms, assessing student progress with projects and portfolios. I believe in teacher education programs and the importance of having well-educated and well-prepared teachers in the classroom.

And yet, something is obviously going wrong--continuing to go wrong--in many schools today where far too many students are dropping out or not meeting progress standards, and the students are disproportionally from low-income or high-minority schools. And while reform in various ways is one answer, perhaps thinking critically about more comprehensive, perhaps more radical, changes to education is another answer.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New, New Wave Feminism?

Perhaps inspired by the election of a new president of NOW, Echidne of the Snakes wrote an interesting post about feminism and what it means.

Feminism really turns into something very different depending on what your basic definition might be, even if you are unaware of that basic definition. If you start from the ideal of equal treatment for men and women you get one set of conclusions. If you start from the ideal of supporting women you get a different set of conclusions. Sometimes. Not always.
As several of her commenters noted, supporting women as an end-goal can lead you into some pretty strange and hard-to-defend positions. If you follow the theoretical argument, you end up defending the right of an individual women to make, well, stupid decisions. For me, the key is the the word individual. I can support women in general while acknowledging that an individual woman may not always be deserving of support in doing what she wants to do. I falling into a trap whereby I am setting myself up as the superior woman, and others as...lesser?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Annoying Bookstore Managers

Background: While I am pursuing my PhD, I work as the program assistant for an academic department (unrelated to my field of study) on campus. From this job I get an unparalleled view of the workings of higher ed (snort), and free tuition. Oh, and health insurance.

So, that said, I am seriously annoyed by people today. These guys who work in the campus bookstore just came by, ostensibly to bring around a printout of what courses for fall don't have books ordered yet. The one guy acted all "hey, old friend! how are you?" I think I've met him, um, once? and he called me by a name that was not my name, not at all. Like, Yardley. YARDLEY. Because Yardly and Yancy sound so similar?? Like my name isn't WRITTEN ON MY DOORPLATE. And, of course, it turns out that they don't have the printout for me after all, but, "we'll be back!" he chirped.

This whole exchanges annoys me on several levels:

(1) WRONG NAME, asshat. If you aren't sure, don't guess on someone's name.

(2) You forgot the printout??

(3) Email the freakin' thing, for god's sake; why were you walking a copy all the way over to me anyway?

(4) DON'T email it, because if the book order for a certain course wasn't turned in back in May, it's not going to be ready until August with the profs come back. Yes, that's late. But making all kinds of changes to how books are ordered, like moving the deadlines up into MARCH for fall semester courses, is OBVIOUSLY not making any difference to the profs who select the books. All I can do is pass on the orders, and harass the profs to get them in sooner. Which, we all know isn't going to happen. Multiple emails a week, several phone calls & a personal visit isn't going to make it happen faster. You are not going to change the culture of the faculty members who just do not get their sh*t together in time to order books in March. Let's just agree that that is NOT going to happen and save me AND YOU a bunch of wasted effort, and instead concentrate on getting a book supply system where 3 weeks is enough time to order books. Cause, hey, if Amazon can get me and 50 gazillion other customers our book order in under 3 weeks, for less money than the bookstore charges, then you should be able to handle getting book orders done in August.

I just keep telling myself that my time spent here will be incredibly valuable once I'm a professor, as I'll have first-hand knowledge of the trials that administrative staff go through. And, once I'm in a position of power, I will be able to tell the faculty to do their own freakin' travel reimbursements, because "program assistant" does not mean "your personal secretary." I'll also tell them that if they use the term secretary one more time, I'll shove a giant 2009 calendar up their arse, because it's not 1959 anymore.

Money Shenanigans

An article posted today to the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on financial misdoings at Kansas State. Evidently a VP there, Robert Krause, got involved in moving money around in creative ways within different departments he was in charge of. Not surprising, the athletics department was a large part of the problems. Is it my personal bias showing here, or is it not almost always the athletics folks doing the hanky-panky or playing fast-and-loose with the rules?

However, in this case it was not only the athletics department, but several others with whom Mr. Krause had dealings. The article concludes with a lovely quote from one of Mr. Krause's colleagues, who evidently said something along the lines of:
(I)n a small town like Manhattan, Kan., it's nearly impossible to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest because the people with the money to invest often also happen to be the ones with enough knowledge to serve on a governing board. "You can't avoid conflicts in these kinds of situations, you can only manage them."
Really? That's the explanation? We live in a small town with only a handful of capable people, and they just happen also the be the wealthy ones, so, we're stuck with at least the appearance of impropriety just to get capable people to help us run things? Not to mention the fact that it seems pretty fairly well clear that the facts in this case go a wee bit beyond the mere appearance of conflicts of interest, right smack dab into actual, honest-to-goodness, improper acts. I don't get it. Am I misunderstanding what this fellow is trying to say?

And, back to athletics. Is it as simple as, where there is money, there is wrong-doing? You don't often hear about rogue French lit professors luring hot young French stars into the department with promises of free brie. Of course, I can't imagine thousands of people paying to come and see a play-off that pits French majors against Spanish majors, either. Or whatever the equivalent to a big ol'American football game would be.

Please, enlighten me. What is it about sports that prompts us (as a country) to give so much money towards seeing other people play them? Why do we give so much assistance to college athletes, helping them get in where maybe they shouldn't, helping them stay in, and, of course, all the money and other perks? Is it that college sports are one of the last male bastions on campus, one of the last places where men, largely, rule the roost? Or do I have an over-inflated sense of what college athletes really get out of a university?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Roll up your sleeves

Welcome to Yancy land! I'm obviously a fan of cutesey rhymes. I'm also a Ph.D. student (ooooooohhhh!) which mostly just means that I sit around reading obscure journal articles and the occasional text, just for kicks. And grades. Oh, wait, and intellectual challenge as well--can't forget that one.

I have two kids, a husband, a too-big house that I alternately love and want to raze, and too little free time to do anything productive but plenty to spend countless hours reading blogs.