The zoo!

Yesterday we went to the Bronx Zoo for the first time.  A good time was had by all–as you can see here, we got a pretty up-close visit from a polar bear, plus close encounters with red pandas, baboons, giraffes, and a sea lion.  A few observations:

1. While it’s great that the Eco Restroom near the Bronx River parking lot uses so much less water, the fact that you can smell the restroom throughout the lot probably isn’t a very good advertisment for green building practices.  No one wants to live that way.

2. The Zoo is also particularly heavy-handed in its environmentalist moralizing.  Here’s a small example. I’m sympathetic to the message, but geez!

3. The 6-yr-old’s day was absolutely made by the presenter on the Wild Asia Monorail, a college-age woman who saw his Hulk t-shirt and reported, not only was The Hulk her favorite superhero, but she even named her cat “Banner.”

4.  If you can’t wait until September for the new Mac OS upgrade, you can see all the snow leopards you want at the zoo.  You can even buy a plush one in the gift shop.

Posted in connecticut, family | Comments Off on The zoo!

The first science project

The 6-yr-old, answering a question from his principal

Last week, the 6-yr-old’s school–the Holmes School for Science & Technology–had its first science fair. (I know, right?  What were they waiting for?)  Anyway, the boy was *super* excited about it, as you can see in this photoset on Flickr,  and he did a project on whether a solution of sugar, epsom salts, or alum will grow the best crystals as they evaporate at room temperature.  (Alum!)

We were a bit surprised at the fair to discover that the judges were evaluating grades K-3 together, using a rubric that included such items as a “lab report” and “three documented sources.”  Now, we both know enough about the scientific method to know that good experiments take into account existing knowledge, but . . . documented sources?  For kindergarteners?   That sounds age-appropriate.

Instead of doing that, we opted for a project that the boy could do, and for a poster that he could design and make himself.  He likes his participant ribbon just fine, and he and the *one* other kindergartener who participated both felt super-proud of themselves, as well they should have.   (They also worked each other into a panic early on, because the instructions had said that judges would interview you about your poster before making a decision.  That didn’t happen, but it took them a couple of minutes to catch on.  The adults you see him talking to in the photoset are my dept. chair, whose younger daughter attends the same school, and the principal.)

He’s already announced that next year he wants to do a project on Darwin.

Posted in connecticut, education, family, public schools | 4 Comments

Land of the Lost: in which I suffer for the sake of knowledge

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.”

Posted in elsewhere, family, movies, self-promotion, silliness, things that should stop | Comments Off on Land of the Lost: in which I suffer for the sake of knowledge

Juxtaposed without comment: Retirement & the 2-career academic couple

It’s been a hard month, but I think the worm will turn, schedule-wise over the next week or two, and so I can become a bit more human.  In the interval, a couple of interesting links:

  • When people complain about state employees’ unions, a frequent target is alleged gold-plated pensions.  But that’s not what many professors have.  Most of the CSU-AAUP faculty, for example, are in the so-called Alternate Retirement Program, which is a 403(b) fixed-contribution plan. You contribute up to 5% of your income; the state pays 8%–and you vest immediately.  There are still pension plans available, but you have to wait a long time to vest.  Given the vagaries of academic work, the ARP seems like it makes sense when you enroll.  (I’m in ARP: I didn’t want to be locked into a pension plan before I knew whether A would be able to get a job in the area.)  As The Connecticut Alternate Retirement Program Crisis Toolkit website suggests, however, people who’re in this program are . . . well, let’s just say it’s not pretty.  And to be clear: The shift away from defined-benefit to defined-contribution was a comparatively losing deal even before the stock market was wiped out last year.
  • Relatedly, Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research is sponsoring a (free!) conference in two weeks, entitled Dual-Career Academic Couples: Strategies and Opportunities.  (A YouTube overview is available, too.)  There’s even a Ning site about it.  Although there aren’t a lot of members yet, it seems as though it could be promising.  Since A. just earned tenure and promotion, our interests in this topic are evolving, but it’s still a source of opportunity (flexible schedules!) and stress (man . . . we’re *both* in the %(*!-ing ARP!).

Update: Retirement is going to be a major issue, in a variety of different contexts, in higher education over the next decade or so.  See this development at Eastern Michigan.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Playlist for a 6-yr-old

This is the year-in-review playlist for the boy, who turned 6 this week.  (See this post at GeekDad for background.)

1. “Constructive Summer,” The Hold Steady
2. “3 Dimes Down,” Drive-By Truckers
3. “Livin’ in the Future,” Bruce Springsteen
4. “The Spike,” Junkman’s Choir
5. “Meet Me By the River’s Edge,” The Gaslight Anthem
6. “Radio Nowhere,” Bruce Springsteen
7. “A Well-Respected Man,” The Kinks
8. “Wide Blue Yonder,” Junkman’s Choir
9. “Ask Her for Some Adderall,” The Hold Steady
10. “Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is in Another Castle,” The Mountain Goats w/ Kaki King
11. “Tire Swing,” Kimya Dawson
12. “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” Drive-By Truckers
13. “Back to School Again,” Ken Sheldon
14. “All I Want Is You,” Barry Louis Polisar
15. “7 8 9,” Barenaked Ladies
16. “Happy Home (Keep On Writing),” Kimya Dawson
17. “Pop Fly,” Justin Roberts
18. “Outfit,” Drive-By Truckers
19. “Sleigh Ride,” R2-D2 & C-3PO

Like THS say, “the sing-a-long songs’ll be our scriptures.”

Posted in family | 1 Comment

On not noticing

Thinking about the infinite distractions of contemporary affluent life, Laura Miller glosses Winifred Gallagher’s Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, thus:

Your very self, “stored in your memory,” is the product of what you pay attention to, since you can’t remember what you never noticed to begin with.  [Via Andrew Sullivan.]

Much depends here on what “remember” and “notice” mean, I guess, but this doesn’t sound right.  There’s a certain sense in which it’s clearly true: some kinds of intellectual content, for example, you probably need to become aware of before you can remember them.  (This is why, in class or in a paper, it helps to make something a problem.)

But the experience of sustained intimacy, whether based on families, love relationships, or friendships, suggests a host of exceptions: The experience of not being aware of something until it’s gone is proverbial.  There’s also a different kind of memory: The lived memory of habit and attitude, built up reflexively, and sometimes non-consciously (avoiding unconscious here to forestall a distracting argument about Freud, who’s probably relevant here).  When you first live with another person, and they ask “how come you always X?”–the reason is a kind of memory.  Sometimes it’s explicit–“In my house, we *always* puree the cat for dinner, never breakfast.”  But lots of times it just reflects the built-up years of making largely unreflective inferences about people, based on hints and guesses.

We can also borrow Wordsworth: “the best portion of a good man’s life” are his “little, nameless, unremembered acts / Of kindness and of love.”

In the main, I agree with Miller (and Gallagher, as presented by her): attention matters.  After all, Wordsworth recoils from the busy city streets into communion with nature.  But I’m not as sanguine about collapsing selfhood into “things we’ve consciously noticed.”

Posted in productivity | Comments Off on On not noticing

Here’s a funny thing (actually, 2)

Two announcements:

I’m mostly pleased to say that, as of this afternoon, I’m the president-elect (effective virtually immediately) of the CCSU AAUP chapter.  On our campus, that’s a union position, representing full-time *and* part-time faculty, librarians, and coaches.  I say “mostly pleased” because, while I care a great deal about the university, its faculty, and the role of higher education, these are obviously pretty miserable times.  The union will be voting soon on a wage/benefits concession package, and there’s no reason to think that funding for higher education will improve over the course of my term.  Frankly, I’m shocked there was another candidate!

The other reason I’m “mostly” pleased is that I’m on sabbatical for the fall, but obviously this will keep me on campus some . . . . Sigh.  That said, I’ve got debts no honest man can pay, so let the corruption and graft begin, am I right?

There may be some implications for the blog and twitter account, but they’ll probably be minor.  (Probably fewer jokes about corruption, huh?  Although I can tell you where the bodies will be buried: In the pond 2 blocks from my house. It’s convenient–I walk by it on the way home from campus.)

Anyway, to commemorate the election, here’s an obligatory Billy Bragg video, plus two by The Hold Steady: “Stay Positive” and “Constructive Summer.”

I’m less ambivalent about the other announcement, which is that I’ll be writing in a more official capacity for the amazing blog, GeekDad. (As will CCSU student Alex Jarvis!) I’ve written a couple of one-off posts for them in the past, and am excited to be able to do so more regularly.

So, I guess that’s it.  Union chapter president.  GeekDad writer.  If you think about it, it’s deeply, deeply funny that Merlin Mann mentioned me in a post about priorities. But, that’s why he’s brilliant.

Posted in blogging, CCSU, self-promotion, things I love | 2 Comments

For my CT readers: Merlin Mann is @ CCSU next week!

On Tuesday, April 28, Merlin Mann (of, You Look Nice Today: A Journal of Emotional Hygiene, 5ives, 30 Seconds With That Phone Guy, Kung Fu Grippe, and too many awesome things to mention) will be at CCSU.  Mann will give, not one, not two, but THREE public events.  All are free and open to the public, and are located in Alumni Hall in the Student Center.

  • At 5.30pm: Inbox Zero.  How to stop answering e-mail and get on with the work you love–or, at any rate, were hired to do.
  • At 10am: Broken Meetings, and How You’ll Fix Them.  Everyone complains about meetings, but no one does anything about them.  How to change that in a few easy steps.
  • At 3pm: Future-Proof Your Passion: The Job You Never Knew You Wanted.  Merlin Mann explains how he went from “maybe I should repair cash registers” to “comedy podcasts” and “creativity guy.”

Mann is an engaging, funny speaker–as seen at places such as Google, Pixar, Apple, Yahoo!, &c., and at places like sxsw and Macworld.  For my two cents, his steampunk penis pump parody video is among the funniest 4 minutes on the internet, and You Look Nice Today, his joint venture with  Adam Lisagor and Scott Simpson, hits my comedy sweet spot like nothing since the heyday of Suck.

If you’re in Connecticut on Tuesday, I hope you can stop by for one of these three events!

Posted in CCSU, connecticut, things I love | 1 Comment

Maybe the “Online Comments Are Basically Worthless” People Have a Point

The New Britain Herald has a story up about a high-achieving local student who is mulling over several Ivy League acceptances.  It’s a perfectly heartwarming story . . . until the commenters start in.

The first poster is innocuous enough, but then someone writes in with the dreaded unintentionally ironic grammar/spelling correction:

” I think she was excepted at Johns Hopkins as I don’t think there is a John Hopkins! “

On the one hand, “Santa” is perfectly correct: There’s a typo in the story, which should refer to Johns Hopkins University.  On the other hand, Santa has left herself open on the excepted/accepted flank:

” John Hopkins University is in Baltimore Md. and is one of the best schools for medicine in the USA. Yes, it does exist!! And she was accepted, not excepted which means to be excluded. “

“Bob” is so eager to rush in to pedantically correct the accepted/excepted point that he misses the larger point: “John Hopkins University” does *not* exist, although The Johns Hopkins University, familiarly called Johns Hopkins, certainly does.

All of this subliteracy, mind you, is attached to an article celebrating a local student’s academic achievements!!

(Yes, I’m a little cranky tonight, mostly for reasons I can’t talk about directly.  But, hey–it’s just 8 days until Merlin Mann comes to campus.  And, after that, just 2 more weeks of class.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Graff & curricular mixed messages in English depts

Mark Bauerlein posted over the weekend about Gerald Graff’s presidential address (some scrolling required) to the MLA.  The argument will be familiar to anyone who’s read Graff’s Clueless in Academe: The default attitude of many professors is a kind of pedagogical libertarianism, whereby we all agree not to look too closely at what goes on in one another’s classrooms.  In part this arises from our differing specializations (esp. if you’re not at a research school, you might well be the only person in your field in your department), and in part it arises from the real difficulties of evaluating teaching.  Here’s Bauerlein summarizing Graff:

 Graff focuses on the end point, that is, how it comes off to students. They get “curricular mixed messages,” he says, “clashing stories . . . from the faculty.” In the episode above, the student received from Graff and the other teacher contrary assignments, and he was confused. One teacher seemed to “undercut” the other, forcing the student into what may have seemed senseless adjustments from morning to afternoon (“relativists at 10 o’clock and universalists after lunch”).

I tend to agree with Graff and Bauerlein that this is a real problem–not because there should be One True Approach to literary/cultural studies, but because conflicts between approaches are too often buried or unacknowledged.

We can probably turn the screw a notch tighter here:  Part of the difficulty is that we often claim to be teaching the same skill, when in fact the methods involved are worlds apart.

For example: It absolutely kills me anytime I hear or read people say things like, “well, no matter what, we all value close reading.”  That’s either untrue, or what is meant by “close reading” is something so general that it can only mean something like “being prepared for class.”  Most of the time this isn’t that big a deal–if you’re sufficiently upfront about how you’re using a term in your assignments, then students will catch on pretty quickly.  (I will say that this is one of the reasons I call one of my regular assignments an “explication paper,” rather than a “response paper.”)  Sometimes, though, it’s more frustrating: I believe at least some graduate students have had their prospectuses held up partly because of differing assumptions about what “close reading” would mean, or about what it means to apply a theoretical model to a literary text.

This isn’t a point about theory/non-theory approaches.    (Remember, although I play a sane person on my blog, I’m secretly a card-carrying [well, button-sporting] Lacanian . . . ! )  I’d say, instead, that it’s simply worth remembering that the fact that “everyone knows” a term or skill doesn’t mean that everyone knows the same thing about it, or deploys it in the same way.  Ask any 5 psychoanalysts about the death drive, say, or about the interpretation of dreams, if you want an example from another field.

In lieu of an ending, a couple of disconnected points:

  • This infra-disciplinary variousness makes assessment . . . let’s say a challenge.  Say, for example, a department wants to assess how its graduates “read closely.”  Good luck with that!
  • This is probably an argument for prolix assignments/prompts.  I don’t think there’s any reason to think that a rising junior or senior, asked for a close reading of a literary text, will know what that means, because it means too many different things.
Posted in academe, English major, higher education, teaching | 2 Comments