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things that should stop – The Salt-Box http://www.jbj.wordherders.net "A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box."--Uncle Pumblechook Thu, 09 May 2013 17:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 In which the Met tells poor people to suck it http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2012/03/24/in-which-the-met-tells-poor-people-to-suck-it/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2012/03/24/in-which-the-met-tells-poor-people-to-suck-it/#respond Sat, 24 Mar 2012 12:35:12 +0000 classmetropolitan museum of artmuseums http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/?p=431 Continue reading ]]> Display from the Met

Lest there be any doubt about the class loyalties of the Met:

As the burden of service and taxation fell increasingly on the humiliates, they sought relief either by fleeing from the land or by finding solace in the promise of religion. But while we might feel sympathy for the plight of the average Roman in the third century A.D., it was the rich, educated, and highly cultivated honestiores who effectively preserved classical civilization and bequeathed it to the medieval and modern worlds.

No harm, no foul then, right?

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Why we need to think about PhDs & the job pseudo-market http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/13/why-we-need-to-think-about-phds-the-job-pseudo-market/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/13/why-we-need-to-think-about-phds-the-job-pseudo-market/#respond Tue, 14 Jul 2009 00:32:33 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/13/why-we-need-to-think-about-phds-the-job-pseudo-market/ Continue reading ]]> This article about Fort Hays State University’s decision to outsource gen ed courses is frustrating an harbinger of doom.  According to the reporter, “the school will accept credits from a private company that runs introductory courses in subjects such as economics and English composition — listing them on transcripts under the Fort Hays name.”  I was especially disappointed to see Carol Twigg, of the National Center for Academic Transformation, essentially endorse the model.  I’ve been to an NCAT conference, and know that they propose using a variety of different classroom structures–hybrid, face-to-face, and fully online–as ways of addressing courses with high DFW (drop/fail/withdraw) rates.  But this goes too far.

A few thoughts:

  • First, this can’t possibly be legit from an accreditation perspective.  If the courses really are indistinguishable on the transcript, then I hope that Fort Hays loses its accreditation.
  • The MLA, 4Cs, AAUP, and AFT need to condemn this.
  • That said, this will be awkward to do because the R-1 university system has for so long relied upon graduate and contingent labor to do the heavy lifting in gen ed courses.  This needs to be rethought.
  • Relatedly, perhaps stories like this will get faculty members to pay attention to the “job market” more seriously.  Who is staffing companies like StraighterLine?  If it’s ABDs and unemployable PhDs . . . well, fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
  • I would also hope that this is an opportunity for faculty to think about two related problems: self-governance, and the role of faculty at the university.  A full-throated defense of academic life as interweaving teaching, service, and research is absolutely necessary–but such a defense is only credible precisely to the extent such interweaving is both demonstrable and demonstrably useful
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Land of the Lost: in which I suffer for the sake of knowledge http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/06/06/land-of-the-lost-in-which-i-suffer-for-the-sake-of-knowledge/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/06/06/land-of-the-lost-in-which-i-suffer-for-the-sake-of-knowledge/#respond Sat, 06 Jun 2009 14:58:33 +0000 geekdadland of the lostmovies http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/06/06/land-of-the-lost-in-which-i-suffer-for-the-sake-of-knowledge/ Continue reading ]]> This weekend at GeekDad I have a “10 things parents should know” post up about Land of the Lost, which was almost no fun at all.  That said, there’s always a silver lining:

10.  Well, is there at least a GeekDad-friendly catchphrase?

Yes!  “Matt Lauer can suck it!” “Science shows no mercy.  And neither do I.”

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Learning from our public schools: What matters in evaluations http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/29/learning-from-our-public-schools-what-matters-in-evaluations/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/29/learning-from-our-public-schools-what-matters-in-evaluations/#respond Mon, 30 Mar 2009 03:14:01 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/29/learning-from-our-public-schools-what-matters-in-evaluations/ Continue reading ]]> So, this weekend we received a document with two forms: the teacher of the year nomination and a parent survey, largely about satisfaction with the school.  We’re pretty happy with the school, and very happy with the teacher, so no worries there.  (Readers with long memories will recall that I think the district . . . makes poor decisions, but we like our kid’s school.)

The parent survey is labeled “Holmes Brand Survey,” and, after a demographic question about grade-level, the first two questions are . . . wait for it . . . these:

Holmes School focuses on

  1. Leadership
  2. Higher Order Thinking Skills
  3. Science and technology
  4. Global Community

Holmes School’s (motto/slogan/tagline) is:

  1. Raising Readers!
  2. A formula for success!
  3. Launching Leaders!
  4. Scholars at Work!

(The answers, for the curious, are “Science and technology” and “A formula for success,” respectively.  And, yes, the fact that the correct answers have lower-case words is reproduced faithfully from the handout, as if it’s a tell.)

After these critical questions come more usual questions about whether the child’s being challenged, etc.

I hear the Connecticut State University system is redesigning and standardizing our student evaluations–I think we should look to the public schools!  Start all student evaluations (sorry, student opinion surveys [!]) by asking them to correctly identify the motto of the system and of their particular university.*  Because that’s what matters in education: maintaining your brand.

</sarcasm>

*Every single day it amuses me a little that my school’s slogan/motto/tagline (“Start with a dream. Finish with a future.”) is basically indistinguishable from my father’s community college’s (“From here, go anywhere.”).  I’m *very* easily amused.

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Even art critics need fact checkers; or, how ahead of his time *was* Darwin? http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/15/even-art-critics-need-fact-checkers-or-how-ahead-of-his-time-was-darwin/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/15/even-art-critics-need-fact-checkers-or-how-ahead-of-his-time-was-darwin/#respond Mon, 16 Mar 2009 03:15:46 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/15/even-art-critics-need-fact-checkers-or-how-ahead-of-his-time-was-darwin/ Continue reading ]]> In this morning’s Times, at least in the CT editions, Benjamin Genocchio reviews Endless Forms: Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts, an exciting show at the Yale Center for British Art.  By way of setting the exhibit up, however, he wanders off the path:

Darwin is to biology as Einstein is to physics, a towering genius so far in advance of his time that people thought he was out of his mind. His theory of evolution, the foundation of modern biology, was largely rejected and ignored when it was first published in 1859. And for decades scientists were skeptical about natural selection, the process that Darwin proposed to account for evolutionary changes.

Of course Darwin deserves all manner of credit, and I’ve no real objection to the comparison to Einstein.

Having said that, almost everything else in this paragraph is wrong.  Alfred Russel Wallace, for instance, would be very much surprised to hear that Darwin was so very far ahead of his time, and the vigorous debate over the Origin of Species, and its several editions, suggests that the idea was not “ignored.”

As to whether it was rejected, Michael Ruse, in the “Prologue” to the second edition of The Darwinian Revolution, notes one circumstantial, but telling, detail:

But if we want to draw our boundaries more closely and consider the main question to be the theory of evolution–When and how did people get converted to the idea of evolution?–we can narrow our study to about a twenty-five year span.  Consider: In 1851, when Cambridge University first offered exams in science, one question was as follows.  “Reviewing the whole fossil evidence, shew that it does not lead to a theory of natural development through a natural transmutation of species” (Cambridge University 1851, p. 416).  By 1873, however, a question told students to assume “the truth of the hypothesis that that the existing species of plants and animals have been derived by generation from others widely different” and to get on with discussing the causes (Cambridge University 1875, qu. 162).  If one makes the reasonable assumption that by the time something gets into undergraduate examinations it is fairly noncontroversial, it follows that in no more than a quarter of a century the scientific establishment had made a complete about-face on the question of evolution. (xi-xii)

Genocchio is right to state that the mechanism of Darwin’s theory was poorly understood until the 20thC, but it’s wrong to imply that the Victorians were just dismissive of evolutionary ideas.  Even Wikipedia gets this right:

The fact that evolution occurs became accepted by the scientific community and much of the general public in his lifetime, while his theory of natural selection came to be widely seen as the primary explanation of the process of evolution in the 1930s, and now forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory.

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Modernists think they’re so great http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/02/modernists-think-theyre-so-great/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/02/modernists-think-theyre-so-great/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2009 03:23:14 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/02/modernists-think-theyre-so-great/ Continue reading ]]> The 2nd-most irritating thing* about being a Victorianist is having to deal with our modernist colleagues who appear to believe that modernist claims about Victorian culture were simply true, and not at all artifacts of generational conflict or artistic brand-building.   I’m happy to admit that, say, James Joyce or Virginia Woolf could write a hell of a sentence, and that the kind of psychological realism they could achieve is incredibly valuable.

But that doesn’t make claims like this–found in The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel–any truer:

For Portrait announces from its first page Joyce’s radical break with the conventions of the ninteenth-century realist novel.  There is no omniscient narrator here, who directs the reader’s response.  Instead the narrative focuses on a particular consciousness, and is articulated through the kind of language such a consciousness would use.  If we compare the passage with the opening lines of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), another novel concerning a young man’s coming of age, the difference is striking.  Great Expectations begins: “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.”  The sentence immediately announces that this is not the voice of a child; the grammatical complexity of the opening clause, the use of the distinctively adult words “infant tongue” and “explicit,” tell us that the narrator is an older man looking back at his childhood, not a child telling his own story.  In contrast, Joyce’s use of simple words, baby-talk, and childish diction erases this overseeing, distancing narrative presence from the text, leaving us in intimate relation to Stephen’s consciousness alone.

Joyce was not the first writer to move from omniscient narration to a narrative style shaped by the interior life of his character . . . .  (102-03)

Is there any way of construing this paragraph that doesn’t imply, first, that Great Expectations is a realist novel, and second, that it has an omniscient narrator?  And does anyone who actually teaches this novel agree with either implication?

Of course it’s true that the opening page of Portrait seems more like a child’s perspective than Great Expectations‘s does. (Although is that a Dante allusion I see near the end of that page? My five year old’s read the Iliad and the Odyssey, both more than once, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him quote them.)

But it simply cannot be true that the point of the adult narrator’s recollection in this novel is oversight and distance, any more than it is in, say, Jane Eyre or Villette . . . or even David Copperfield.  Victorian literary culture was capable of playing complex games with self-presentation, as the dramatic monologue ought to make clear, and these and other first-person novels probably deserve to be read with some care.  In *none* of these novels does the narrator act like an omniscient one–instead, fictional autobiographies tend formally to point up the limits of one’s insight into one’s own life.

Great Expectations is a novel of adulthood, written from someone who is trying to make sense of his life, and trying desperately to convince us that things will work out for the best.  He returns to his past, neither because he is distanced from it nor to demonstrate his mastery of it, but precisely because he is not distanced at all, not a master at all.  That’s the rush of the book–and it’s a rush that most fictional auobiographies deliver in spades.

*The most irritating thing is having, every single semester, to explain, “Yes, we’re going to read the whole book.  I know it’s 1000 pages.”

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Yet another reason not to like RateMyProfessors.com http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/08/06/yet-another-reason-not-to-like-ratemyprofessorscom/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/08/06/yet-another-reason-not-to-like-ratemyprofessorscom/#respond Tue, 07 Aug 2007 02:08:36 +0000 evaluationshigher educationparentsratemyprofessors.comteachingweird http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/08/06/yet-another-reason-not-to-like-ratemyprofessorscom/ Today I found out that my parents check up on A’s and my teaching by reading RateMyProfessors.com regularly.

Awesome.

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Robert Zemeckis hates Christmas: or, Leave Dickens alone! http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/07/robert-zemeckis-hates-christmas-or-leave-dickens-alone/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/07/robert-zemeckis-hates-christmas-or-leave-dickens-alone/#respond Sat, 07 Jul 2007 17:46:08 +0000 a christmas caroladaptationsbad ideascharles dickenschristmasjim carreymoviesrobert zemeckis http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/07/robert-zemeckis-hates-christmas-or-leave-dickens-alone/ Continue reading ]]> This is probably what Hopkins meant when he wrote “no worst, there is none.”

From the BBC:

Bad:

Actor Jim Carrey is to play Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future

Worse:

a Walt Disney remake of A Christmas Carol

Worse:

The film will be directed by Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis

Worse:

Zemeckis . . . will be using a style of computer graphics known as “performance capture”.
This technology was used in his festive tale The Polar Express three years ago

Note that they don’t say “used successfully.”

Bah, humbug!

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