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Friday, December 12, 2014

Posting on--of all things--Friday

I didn't get a chance to post last night as I had to dash off the minute my last class ended to meet a colleague for dinner and conversation. Until very recently, I would have said that I'd seen her face around campus but I wouldn't have had a name to attach to the face. However, when I sent out my call for potential panelists for the "paper jam" I wanted to put together for ASLE, she responded with a lovely e-mail saying that, although she didn't feel she could contribute to the panel, she would love to engage in any pre-panel discussions. I wrote back to say there probably wouldn't be any (at the time I thought there wouldn't be because I'd have panelists from all over; as it turns out, there won't be any because the panel never came together). I did, however, offer to meet with her just to bounce ideas around, and that was what we did last night.

And it was a lovely evening. She is in interior design, and "green" design is becoming an enormous part of the field (which is gratifying to hear, I must say). She also has a degree in environmental science, so she was stunned to find out that people in the humanities are also engaged in issues connected to sustainability. Among other topics of our discussion was the fact that she's begun thinking about how to create a "Sustainability Council" for this campus. Her idea is, if we gather together all the various entities and individuals on campus who are concerned with environmental issues--and further, if we give that entity a clear and obvious presence on campus (through an addition to the campus web page, for instance, and through campus-wide initiatives of all sorts)--people who are not yet clued in to issues of sustainability might begin to see that it is, in fact, important. We might even find ways to reach out to the surrounding community, which would be tremendous. I hope she does it. I'd certainly get on board if she does.

I don't remember much about yesterday's classes, I have to say. I don't suppose that's altogether a bad thing. Pretty much I'm at the stage when I've wound them up and now I just let them run with whatever they've got. I was running from pillar to post yesterday, so I missed an e-mail from Miss Street Attitude: she sent two yesterday, one asking whether we were "just" going over papers and the other asking if missing class would count as an absence, since she'd rather work on her paper at home. I wrote back, "Class was held, and you weren't there, so yes, it's an absence." I can out 'tude her 'tude, any day.

I did have a long conversation with a young man in the second session: he's missed class seven times--and that should fail him right there. I told him that, at very least, I would have to take a full letter grade off whatever he earns--and I'm not sure he's turned in enough that he'd end up with a C after that deduction. His first paper was one of the A papers, too. Across both classes, I have at least three, possibly five, students who are capable of achieving an A--and at this point, only one of them is definitely going to make it (unless something utterly disastrous happens--but even then, I'd give her an incomplete rather than give her a crap grade: she should be in the honors program, truly). At least two are set up not just to get worse grades than they should but to fail. As they would say, WTF?

I have thought a lot about how to restructure the progress from first version of first paper through to the end, however. I realize I need to carefully lead them from the kind of paper they're used to from high school to what college requires. One student yesterday said that in high school, he was taught that his papers should be mostly quotation and that if he put too much of his own thinking in there, he'd get points off. As he was saying that, I was doing full-body wince gestures, so he concluded by saying, "...and I guess, from your reactions, that that's the opposite of what you want." I'm sorry the moment came so late in the semester, but he did give me the perfect opening to talk about what critical thinking is--and to bring them back to the quotation that I used for their first papers, about education, and what critical thinking really is. I think it makes a hell of a lot more sense to them now than it did at the start of the semester--but they had to go through the hard work of the semester to fully comprehend the significance of that quotation. It's so great, I'm compelled to quote it again here. (I think I may have duplicated it in a post from the start of the semester, but it's worth repeating.)

“Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty. . . . A teacher of any subject, who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence. . . . They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.” (W. G. Sumner. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals, New York: Ginn and Co., 1940. 632-633. From The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking. July 23, 2014. Web.)

In re-reading it for the students, I put emphasis on "unlimited verification and revision." They're afraid they can't write five-page papers (I know, it shocks the shit out of me, too, that five pages feels impossibly long to them)--or that they'll end up repeating themselves, or writing fluffy filler. I keep telling them they must A) have ideas, B) explain those ideas--in detail, showing each individual component of the idea, C) demonstrate the logical connections among those ideas, and D) support those ideas. How could you not get to five pages, at a minimum? (Even as an undergrad, I'd have had a harder time keeping my papers under the maximum length than meeting the minimum.)

Ah well.

Looking at the quotation again, I'm reminded how impressed I was with how one student responded to it--and he's the young man who said he'd dropped 101 several times before but was sure he'd stay through the semester with me, and who then disappeared. I was very moved to get an e-mail from him stating that he'd just been released from in-patient treatment and that he wanted to see me--in part to get the paperwork for the W, I hope, but also, I suspect, to get some reassurance about his ability to make it next time around. He wanted to take the class from me, but I had to tell him that, unfortunately, I won't be teaching it again until next fall. Assuming he actually does make it to my office hours sometime next week (and I hope he does), I can talk to him about how to get back on track, pros and cons of various choices--the kind of thing I do in Advisement. But mostly, I hope his situation has stabilized and that he can keep it stable and make the most of all the potential I see in him.

Indeed, I hope that of all the students I have this semester who are filled with potential that remains merely potential. I guess they all need a few of those very painful lessons to grow them up a bit, but I hope they don't need to swan-dive into the pavement too many times.

Again, ah well.

It's almost 8 p.m. and I'm in the office. I certainly didn't anticipate being here this late, but I came in because I was absolutely hell-bent on getting my promotion application as close to finished as humanly possible. And it is. I need (I think) five more documents and six signatures, and I'm pretty sure that will do it. Of course, there's always the chance that P&B will spot something and kick it back to me after they review all the applications in the end of January (and I'll be systemically annoyed if I have to do anything more than a minor tweak that doesn't change pagination or require that I get signatures again). But from my perspective, I have everything in there that I can possibly include, as clearly as I can possibly express it, and in as neat and precise a presentation as can be done.

I had intended to get here hours before I actually managed to arrive; life maintenance stuff got in my way. And I had intended to finish up with enough left-over brain juice that I could maybe read and respond to some of the work I need to have ready for Monday's class. Nah. Ain't gonna happen. It's stick a fork in me time. 

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