The true meaning of a Ph.D.

In the Feb. 16 issue of The Sporting News, Shaquille O’Neal explains what a getting a doctorate means to him:

SN: I understand we’ll soon have to call you Dr. Shaq.

O’Neal: That’s right.

SN: When will that be?

O’Neal: Probably 2010, maybe 2011.  Human relations.  My thing is, I want to go out and help big corporations, do consulting, find out who the mole is and help them fix it.  Do funny speeches, get paid for it.  A la Tony Robbins.  You know, having the doctorate behind it means you’re an expert.  I can go now as Shaq, but they’ll look at me like, “What the (expletive) do you know?”  So, put that doctor behind it, “expert,” and it’ll make sense.

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Teaching Carnival 3.1

Once, long ago (before Twitter!), a man named George had a simple idea: since so many faculty members blog, why not start a carnival “devoted to gathering select blog entries related to teaching issues in higher education”?  And so he did.  And it was good.  The carnival continued through 22 installments before taking a brief hiatus, but it’s back.  Although people have mostly learned to tolerate the flexible rhetoric of blogs since that first carnival in 2005, it may be useful to remind ourselves of some ground rules.

Many thanks to George for his hard work in re-organizing this excellent tradition.

Without further ado, presented for your delectation is Teaching Carnival 3.1:

Some Things Never Change: Course and assignment design, lesson planning, and communicating with students and deans

Some topics are classics for a reason: Alice Pawley explains “how to write clear e-mails to your professor.” (Related: Sybil Vane’s pet peeve: students who open e-mails with “hey.”)

The inimitable Scott Eric Kaufman explains “how to teach film responsibly in a composition class,” using a scene from The Dark Knight.  (Possibly related: Michael Faris uses Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” to teach narrative in composition.)

Boone points out that most professors could be more paperless than we are.  (This post prompted me to learn how to use my department copier’s magic “scan + e-mail” setting, which is great.)

Chuck Tryon builds a writing assignment around “virginity auctions.”

Nels shares a series of prompts on writing from experience.

At edwired, Mills Kelly reflects on perpetrating a hoax.

Exams fill Chris Vilmar–and not just his students–with regret.

Feministing posed the question, “what’s the worst college advice you’ve been given?”  The comment thread is amazing. (Related: Dr. Crazy’s post on being called an asshole by a student, and “honey” by an adjunct.)

Julie Meloni documents why, when done well, first-year experience (FYE) courses take so much effort and how they pay off.   (While on her blog, don’t miss her plug-in that auto-generates citations for her various entries.)

Jim Brown talks about an assignment that asks students to use Google Maps to document their lives.

Silvia Straka offers a detailed explanation of using YouTube to increase engagement in a social work course.

Collin Brooke’s graduate course will spend the last ten weeks of the semester reviewing the past 10 years of composition research.  The result will be “a database of more than 400 essays over the past decade.”

Even after teaching a course for the “umpteenth” time, David Mazella continues to learn “about incorporating critical theory into literary studies; about the value of groups and groupwork in the undergraduate classroom; about the usefulness of annotated bibliographies for teaching research; about the need for library, electronic database, and ultimately information literacy instruction to improve their research; and about the usefulness of courseblogs.”

Dean Dad has noticed that faculty believe that “administrators in general are worthless, but my dean is obviously necessary.

Denis Rancourt started giving all his students As.  Stanley Fish pontificates, and P.Z. Meyers reflects.

A White Bear reads Kitchen Nightmares as a pedagogical drama. (Also don’t miss the even-more-recent post on students’ mad quest to “relate” to texts.)

The University in A Socially-Networked Age

Alex Reid, who will close the carnival for the semester in May, believes we need to hack the university ourselves before outsiders, possibly adversarial or indifferent, do it for us.  (Related: See Pixar’s Randy Nelson on what they’re looking for in new hires.)

Lisa Spiro’s first post recapping the digital humanities in 2008 should be read by everyone in the humanities, whether you think of yourself as “digital” or not.  (Related: The HASTAC forum with Brett Bobley, who runs the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities.)

Jo Guldi explains what an online academic journal *could* look like.  Hint: It’s not just PDFs of essay-length things!  Meanwhile, Luis von Ahn concludes that academic writing, in its present form, is “basically spam.”

Dan Gillmor argues that, properly understood, journalism education is central to the liberal arts today.

Leslie Inman Jensen points out that at universities “web education is out of date and fragmented.”

Remember: When your students ask if they should go on for doctoral work in the humanities, TELL THEM NO. (Or, at least, as Dr. Crazy says, not if they can possibly avoid it, which is probably fairer.)

Then again, A Concerned Professor explains that “Your college experience is likely to set back your education, your career, and your creative potential“!  (Related: Blackout poet extraordinaire Austin Kleon has been collecting a whole slew of articles under the rubric “you don’t have to go to college.”)

And then there was Twitter

When the teaching carnival started, Twitter wasn’t around; now it’s an unmissable resource for sharing links, quick takes, gossip, and all the other forms of discourse that can extend your network of colleagues around the world.  Naturally, people are starting to teach with it.  (On Twitter, I’m jbj.)

“Microblogging the MLA” began as a resource for an MLA panel on Twitter, but has expanded into much more.

David Silver teaches his students about thin/thick tweets, and about “aeiou” (already existing information optimally uploaded) tweets, and then asks them to “wow us.” He’s confident they can do this because, he claims, they’re already familiar with the tools.  (I have some doubts about this, which suggests that institutional differences still matter.)

Tom Barrett  has created an excellent, constantly-updated slideshow on Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom.  Last Thursday, he was at 6.  Tonight, he’s up to 18.

Dave Parry’s post from last year on Twitter in Academia holds up well, but it should be supplemented with his explanation of “Who I Follow on Twitter.”

This Digital Campus podcast also covers the relevant territory.

(Still not convinced? Try Elliott Kosmicki’s post–not just for academics–on how to use Twitter productively.  Then again, maybe not.)

This carnival post has been brought to you by the Little Professor’s academic advertisements–as seen on TV!

Thanks for reading!  Next up: Kathleen Fitzpatrick on February 23.  If you want to nominate entries for inclusion–and you do, you really do–find out how to do so here.

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30boxes daily digest feature

Around Christmas, 30boxes announced a new feature for their slick online calendar: a daily digest of your schedule, arriving in your e-mail inbox around midnight.  Especially after the demise of Sandy, this is a useful feature to add.

Right now, though, it doesn’t work the way I expect.  It’s easy to control:

screen cap of 30boxes settings page

What I expect to happen is that I will only get e-mail when I have put events into my calendar myself.

What actually happens, though, is that I get e-mail when there’s an event on a webcalendar that I’ve subscribed to–typically, the calendar of events at CCSU.

That’s frustrating, because the two kinds of events aren’t the same.  The difference between them is clear enough in the regular 30boxes interface, which only shows events I’ve added–until I mouse over a given day, and then it reveals everything else.  My calendar should only e-mail me about events I really can’t miss, not to tell me that a bunch of different clubs have their meetings.

(Apparently I’ve been using 30boxes for almost 3 years–since 2/6/2006.  That’s a long time online.)

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Textbooks & the Cost of Higher Ed

This morning at an on-campus retreat for FYE faculty, a presenter mentioned that, soon, universities will have to print textbooks, ISBNs, and prices in online catalogs for registration and such.  I thought, “nah, couldn’t possibly be true”–that’s ridiculous.  And yet, here’s the Higher Education Opportunity Act, signed into law last summer:

(d) Provision of ISBN College Textbook Information in Course Schedules- To the maximum extent practicable, each institution of higher education receiving Federal financial assistance shall–

  1. disclose, on the institution’s Internet course schedule and in a manner of the institution’s choosing, the International Standard Book Number and retail price information of required and recommended college textbooks and supplemental materials for each course listed in the institution’s course schedule used for preregistration and registration purposes, except that–
    • if the International Standard Book Number is not available for such college textbook or supplemental material, then the institution shall include in the Internet course schedule the author, title, publisher, and copyright date for such college textbook or supplemental material; and
    • if the institution determines that the disclosure of the information described in this subsection is not practicable for a college textbook or supplemental material, then the institution shall so indicate by placing the designation `To Be Determined’ in lieu of the information required under this subsection; and
  2. if applicable, include on the institution’s written course schedule a notice that textbook information is available on the institution’s Internet course schedule, and the Internet address for such schedule.


It’s already the case that textbook orders are required to be submitted preposterously early.  (As I understand it, this is to facilitate the buyback market, which has complex effects on textbook prices.)  If we have to provide all of that online, that deadline will get a lot firmer and a lot earlier.

Which is to say that, in effect, this is a regulation that will hamper creative teaching–or, rather, it will encourage professors to teach the same courses, from the same textbooks, over and over again.  It also will create public pressure for conformity in textbook ordering: “Why are *you* using the Broadview Anthology of British Literature, when everyone else is using the Norton?”  “Why do you require the Penguin edition of Dickens, when the Dover edition is so much cheaper?”

Textbook pricing is a complicated problem, and this is a fairly blunt instrument.  I’m in favor of information and transparency–I usually make my book orders as public as possible, and provide information to the local alternative bookstore and so forth–but this doesn’t sound like it was thought through carefully.

We might also pause a moment and mourn the idea that a student might take a course for a reason other than the professor offered the least expensive version of it.

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New poetry links

. . . are up at Blog of a Bookslut.  Highlights include a bunch of contemporary Italian poetry, Kenyan poet-bloggers, and Robert Frost Christmas cards.

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Dickens, fairy tales, and contemporary parenting

Over at Bookninja, George Murray points to this depressing, though slightly inflammatory article about parents who won’t read their children traditional fairy tales because they’re insufficiently PC and positive:

Favourites such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Rapunzel are being dropped by some families who fear children are being emotionally damaged.

A third of parents refused to read Little Red Riding Hood because she walks through woods alone and finds her grandmother eaten by a wolf.

One in 10 said Snow White should be re-named because “the dwarf reference is not PC”.

The mind reels.

As is so frequently the case with modern absurdities, Charles Dickens was on the case 150-odd years ago (I’ve posted this before, but will re-post as events demand):

In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that Fairy tales should be respected. Our English red tape is too magnificently red ever to be employed in the tying up of such trifles, but every one who has considered the subject knows full well that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun. The theatre, having done its worst to destroy these admirable fictions–having in a most exemplary manner destroyed itself, its artists, and its audiences, in that perversion of its duty–it becomes doubly important that the little books themselves, nurseries of fancy as they are, should be preserved. To preserve them in their usefulness, they must be as much preserved in their simplicity, and purity, and innocent extravagance, as if they were actual fact. Whosoever alters them to suit his own opinions, whatever they are, is guilty, to our thinking, of an act of presumption, and appropriates to himself what does not belong to him.

. . .

Now, it makes not the least difference to our objection whether we agree or disagree with our worthy friend, Mr. Cruikshank, in the opinions he interpolates upon an old fairy story. Whether good or bad in themselves, they are, in that relation, like the famous definition of a weed; a thing growing up in a wrong place. He has no greater moral justification in altering the harmless little books than we should have in altering his best etchings. If such a precedent were followed we must soon become disgusted with the old stories into which modern personages so obtruded themselves, and the stories themselves must soon be lost. With seven Blue Beards in the field, each coming at a gallop from his own platform mounted on a foaming hobby a generation or two hence would not know which was which, and the great original Blue Beard would be confounded with the counterfeits. Imagine a Total abstinence edition of Robinson Crusoe, with the rum left out. Imagine a Peace edition, with the [97/98] gunpowder left out, and the rum left in. Imagine a Vegetarian edition, with the goat’s flesh left out. Imagine a Kentucky edition, to introduce a flogging of that ‘tarnal old nigger Friday, twice a week. Imagine an Aborigines Protection Society edition, to deny cannibalism and make Robinson embrace the amiable savages whenever they landed. Robinson Crusoe would be “edited” out of his island in a hundred years, and the island would be swallowed up in the editorial ocean.

Nobody likes it when a kid has nightmares–but it happens.  Just two nights ago, our 5-yr-old dreamed of a talking female statue who kept telling him, “BELIEVE IN GOD OR YOU WILL DIE.”  Believe me, he’d not read anything with that sort of imagery anytime recently . . . it was just a nightmare.  Dickens is right: The imaginative space of fairy tales, and of art in general, is worth defending against the suffocating desire of parents to protect their children from untoward thoughts.

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2008 in Media


As I look through iTunes, these are the top five albums that I bought this year, irrespective of release date:

I also bought most of The National’s back catalog, and picked up a huge amount of uncollected KRS-ONE tracks.  Oh, and the soundtrack to Juno was fun, and led me to Jeffrey Lewis’s It’s the Ones Who’ve Cracked That the Light Shines Through.  The Counting Crows album was, I thought, better than its reception, but I am pretty old.  The DBT’s newest album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, is also terrific. (And they’re playing in CT in 3 weeks!)

My favorites from this year include Dear Science, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, and The ’59 Sound, but, really, the album of the year in our house was Stay Positive, a CD we wore out playing in the car.  “Ask Her For Some Adderall” will always be the song of 2008 for us.  (And, as I’ve written elsewhere, there’s nothing quite like hearing your 5-yr-old belt it out at maximum volume, nor developing a tradition of pulling up to kindergarten in the morning just as the final section of “Constructive Summer” kicks in: “I went to your schools / and did my detention / but the walls were so gray / I couldn’t pay attention.”  A. liked the line about “Saint Joe Strummer” so much she bought me the 4-hour documentary about him, The Future Is Unwritten, for Christmas.)

 Kid’s Music

Beyond The Hold Steady, the 5-yr-old also enjoyed the Barenaked Ladies’ kid-friendly release,  Snacktime, as well as Justin Roberts’s Pop Fly, and Kimya Dawson’s Alphabutt.  Favorite tracks: “Ask Her for Some Adderall”; DBT’s “Bob“; Beefy’s “I’m No Superman“; Ozzy Ozbourne, “Iron Man“; and Dawson, “Alphabutt.”


Movies are expensive when you factor in baby sitting.  I suspect the best movie we saw at a theater was Tell No One, and we probably had the best time at Iron Man.  (I’ll give you that The Dark Knight is a better movie, but it seems inarguable that Iron Man is more fun.)

It looks like the best movies we rented were United 93 and No Country for Old Men.

 Kid’s Movies

Like everyone else, we thought Wall-E and Kung-Fu Panda were the best children’s movies, with Bolt right below that.  I suspect that if the 5-yr-old were typing this, he’d rate Star Wars: The Clone Wars pretty highly.  I fell asleep during the Horton movie, and refused to see the Madagascar one, since I’d fallen asleep during the original.

Non-Professional Reading

The best book I read this year that I was neither teaching nor writing about was Ciaran Carson’s translation of The Tain, followed by Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

The best book I read to the 5-yr-old this year was Simon Armitage’s Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, followed by H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. 20K Leagues under the Sea wasn’t as successful, because we had a bad translation.

The worst things I read him: The novelizations of the Star Wars & Indiana Jones universes are just astonishingly bad–and they’re badly copyedited, to boot. Here’s hoping that the H. G. Wells helps the boy improve his taste, or I might have to start reading him Neuromancer or something, and he might be a little young.

Tomorrow I’ll round up the things I read more or less professionally.

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Book review: The Big Necessity, by Rose George

My review of Rose George’s The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters appeared a couple of weeks ago in the New Haven Advocate & the Fairfield Weekly.  I will say that shit never gets old–it’s always interesting:

We are schizophrenic about shit. On the one hand, we laugh at it in grossout films and in elementary school. We revel in strange details, such as Martin Luther reportedly eating a spoonful of his own excrement each day for medicinal purposes. On the other hand, we tend to think of the bathroom as an intensely private space, so much so that many of us will flatly refuse to do anything that makes a noise while another person’s within earshot. Both perspectives imagine excretion as shameful or abnormal even though, as children’s book author Taro Gomi taught us long ago, everyone poops.

As ever, read the whole thing!

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And sometimes the mistakes make it all worth it

Grades are due at 8am tomorrow, a deadline I will largely make.  Also, winter session courses start tomorrow, which will be a little dicey . . . but I’m pretty sure I can get us through the opening of Bleak House.

But I’m poking my head up from a self-created grading hell to celebrate my favorite two typos of the late paper rush:

  • One author apparently writes about “climb mate change,” which I think is what happens when you decide to get some new hiking buddies, or when your sex life dries up.
  • In one of my favorite persistent typos ever, a student wrote an entire final paper on a woman named “Charlotte Brönte.” I love this because, on the one hand, the student’s detail-orientated enough to know that the umlaut is important, but, on the other hand, not quite enough to notice the right location!

Not typo-related, but still worth reading: Jonathan Goodwin’s got a specific scholarly desire, and Scott McLemee has noticed something about the way academics discuss journalism.

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Two different perspectives on social networks and the self

Writing in his Chronicle-sponsored blog today, Mark Bauerlein notes that psychologists have identified rising rates of narcissism among teenagers over the past several decades.  There are multiple causes for this, the research suggests, but Bauerlein focuses on one in particular:

What a temptation the MySpace page and blog diary pose. To think that you can record the events of the day and week and have someone read and respond, to believe that what happens to you on the way to school might be meaningful to others, to realize that your life is, indeed, something special and different and unique and worth sharing . . . well, the new tools are the answer.

It’s natural for 17-year-olds to be and think this way, but maturity means outgrowing it, not indulging it. Let’s face it, 90-plus percent of the things that happen to you during the week are of little or no significance to anyone else. They don’t merit a blog post. Realizing that sad fact is part of growing up. It’s not a pleasant process, to be sure, and the new tools, Twitter and the rest, enable the young to delay it long past its proper moment.

Let me start by saying that I’m usually pretty sympathetic to Bauerlein, and to arguments critical of boosting self-esteem.  But this isn’t his best moment: On the one hand, he’s quick to say that most things that happen during the week aren’t significant, yet on the other hand he’s just acknowledged that people do nevertheless comment on one another’s blogs.  Even their sad little LiveJournal and MySpace pages.  So there is at least some meaning.  (And you could equally say, of course, that most social conversation in the real world is pointless chatter–which it is–but that doesn’t make it deplorable.)

More generally, I think that this is a moment for education, not for condemnation.  I’ve argued before that I don’t think students are as familiar with technology as grown-ups tend to think, and this is probably a good example.  It may be the case that students turn to such tools as Twitter for endless self-validation or for mere self-expression–but I don’t think that’s the best use of such technologies.  Merlin Mann gets at the crucial issue:

And, you know. Just since it bears repeating: If you think you know people from reading Twitter, you probably don’t get Twitter. Or people.

One of the things social media let us do is reflect in more sophisticated ways on self-presentation and on the differences, perhaps, between the self we present to the public and the self to whom all the meaningless events of a day happen.  In other words, there’s no reason at all why Twitter, like everything else in a liberal education, can’t help us learn to get over our small shivering selves.

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