Monday, December 15, 2014

Just gonna say:

I'm a college professor and if I'm ever spotted carrying a bag of hammers somewhere? It means I'm going to a Habitat for Humanity event and am bringing tools.

Being the change you want to see in the world should not include inciting violence.

Man, people just get me DOWN, you know?

Friday, December 12, 2014

"How dare you"

I got an e-mail from a student in my class that has an explicit attendance policy (as in, more than x number of unexcused absences* and you lose points). It was effectively, "How dare you give me a D because I have so many absences!"

Okay, I admit it: I kind of hate attendance policies. These students are allegedly grown-ups, they should be able to decide or not whether to come to class. And frankly, almost always, it comes out in the wash: the people with crap attendance wind up failing because they don't participate and they don't get important information. (And their motivation generally is poor; I don't know if poor attendance causes poor grades, or if the two are merely correlated, and people with poor attendance don't care about their education, and so, earn poor grades). And it's a big effort for me to keep track of as many as 80 students, their comings and goings, why they're not here, etc. I'd rather just dump the policy and say, "If you skip and you fail, it's on you. We told you you could not do well if your attendance was poor." but this is a gen-ed class and it's expected that we keep track.

(Also, there are rumblings that because 0.01% of the students on financial aid scam it, we may be required to take attendance - to require attendance - in ALL our classes ALL the time, and even perhaps report DAILY who is absent. Oh, why don't we just microchip the students, or put house-arrest bracelets on them? That would be a lot easier....)

(* And I am pretty generous about what I excuse: illness, even without a doctor's note - I tell people if they are reasonably sure they're contagious, DON'T come to class. Kid's illness. "got called into work at the last minute" if I get documentation. Funerals (I don't generally ask for documentation because it makes me feel like an ogre to, but most students bring a bulletin to show me). Jury duty. National Guard duty, though it's been a while since I had a student in the National Guard. Sports stuff, if I have a note from the coach.)

I don't know, though. I don't like the "how dare you" tone (the student did not say that, but it sounded that way from how the e-mail was worded). Their grade stands because there are RULES and the students know the rules, they read them and are told them on the first day of classes. In the workplace, there are rules, and people can get fired for excessive absenteeism.

But, gah, the entitlement mentality of some students; I've seen it in spades this semester - ranging from people hinting that they'd like me to e-mail them to remind them when their exams are (Surely, surely, there is an app where you can set up an auto-reminder? Or do like me, and write it down on a big calendar than hangs on your wall, and check the calendar?) to people telling me to e-mail them "everything they missed" on the day they were absent. (Meaning: Give me copies of your notes. Okay, kiddo, you ready to do a brain scan? 'Cos that's where my "notes" are these days.)

Oh, I had some wonderful students - I always do. But it's the snowflakey ones that eat up my time and that make me roll my eyes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Tell me something good

These days, if you try to watch the news, you really have to have your Critical Thinking Hat on. There will be some story that is calculated to cause OUTRAGE and senses of HOW CAN THEY DO THAT and then when you dig a little deeper, it turns out you only have heard part of the story.

I just want to know what's happening in the world without people trying to manipulate me into feeling a particular way. Is that possible? Was that ever possible? I don't remember the news as being so sensationalistic when I was younger.

Also, it just seems like everyone is angry. Angry at some other group, angry at how things are, angry at capitalism*, angry at the Christmas (er, "holiday") season, angry angry angry.

(*My standard rejoinder: Would being in a serfdom, where you're essentially the slave of some baron, be better? Or a world where everything you eat, use, or own is something you have to make yourself, from raw materials you've obtained yourself? Myself, I kind of like capitalism.)

And it just makes me so tired. I know a large part of this is the news trying to whip stuff up but seeing my day-to-day interactions, it does seem that lots of people just have a lot of free-floating anger at stuff....

I mean, if you're angry about something you have control over, and you can change it by peaceful means that do not involve hurting other people**, by all means, go and do that.

(** I hate that I even have to make that caveat, but we live in an age of "Let's burn this b*tch down")

If you're angry about how the world in general operates....well, I don't know. Try to effect change locally? Change yourself? Try to have positive interactions with the people around you? Maybe examine your own assumptions? I'm amazed at the number of people I know who gripe about having an "old" iPhone or a "small" (36 inch) television. I don't even bother to note that when my mother was growing up, her family didn't have a tv AT ALL and they didn't have a phone (the old, wall-mounted, dial-up kind) until she was a second-year college student. And iPhones and big-screen tvs didn't exist when I was a kid, and when big-screen tvs came on the market, it was just the ultra-rich that could afford them. (And anyway, there's not much on tv these days that would be improved by being BIGGER, IMHO.)

The whole material greed thing - whether it's someone griping because their tv is a few inches too small, or whether it's someone promoting looting as a way to get their hands on the stuff other people have (and therefore, that the looter "deserves" to have) - it's chilling. It's putting things over people. Burning down someone's business because you're angry or you want something they have - I don't care if it's a tiny hardware store run by a mom and pop or a big "faceless" Best Buy franchise - how does that make the world any better? How does adding to the sum total of violence in the world act against violence? How does breaking someone's heart benefit you?

I know, some people will say I "don't understand" because I'm white and "privileged." And yes, I own that I have a certain level of privilege - of unearned, undeserved good things in my life: I grew up in a two-parent family where those parents were loving and gentle with each other and their kids. I grew up in a household that valued education and hard work. I grew up with a church family that taught me even if my peers made fun of me and thought I was a loser, there were people who loved me and valued me and I was pretty much okay. I grew up with a faith that told me to love God and to love other people, even when those other people make themselves unloveable, and that that love means you don't do harm to them. I grew up learning that if you got really angry at someone, to the point where you might say or do something you regret, the best thing to do is to walk away for a while until your feelings cool, and then go and talk to them and explain why what they did bothered you. And I learned that there were some people who just chose to be mean, but also that I didn't have to be like them.

I don't know. I know I tend to see connections between things that are not necessarily connected but I see video of middle-class shoppers pushing and shoving for "deals" on stuff they probably don't really need, and I see the looters in Ferguson (And I'm not making any assumptions about who they are; there are apparently  a lot of weird bad groups that showed up there because there was unrest - anarchists, and white supremacists, and other violent groups), and I see politicians yelling at each other on the tv. And I wonder if everyone's just gone crazy. And it makes me want to build a big blanket fort and take some books and a box of crackers and a thermos of tea in there and hide and just resign from the human race for a few days. I know that's not a useful strategy, that I have to go out among people. And I also know that people who strive to do what's right and what's good need to be out there and need to be heard.

But it just makes me so tired.

I know there's good stuff going on in the world but it seems so little and so scattered these days, and the bad stuff seems so strong.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Something small and nice

There's a lot of ugliness in the world right now. One of the things: the likelihood of the Grand Jury verdict coming down in Ferguson today, and what may come of that. While looking at a story online about that, I ran across this:

Lidia's Thanksgiving message.

(Don't read the comments. Ugly, snarky  people even being ugly and snarky there).

Lidia Bastiniach is a tv chef I've watched for a long time. I was delighted to find my cable provider recently picked up PBS' "Create" channel, as they often run her show there in the evenings. She's a "celebrity" chef, I guess, but very different from the super-celebrities (like Emeril or Guy Fieri). She's more low-key. Her show is more about "here is how you prepare this food" and less about her. Mostly, she prepares Italian or Italian-American dishes; sometimes she travels to show regional differences. (I first learned about "St. Louis-style" pizza from her show)

She strikes me as a nice person. I know I've been wrong in feeling that way about a "famous" person before, but every time I've read an interview with her, she comes off as genuine and also - as noted in this short message - grateful for the good things she has:

"As an immigrant Thanksgiving is a very special holiday for us. In our kitchen, the entire family gathers around the table, and we have an opportunity to give America thanks for the gifts in our lives here."

That's just nice. That makes me happy. As a native-born American, yes, I do feel gratitude on Thanksgiving for the gifts I have from living here - the gifts of freedom (esp. compared to being a woman in some other parts of the world), the gifts of opportunity (in two generations, my family has gone from barely-working-class to upper-middle-class), the gifts of education. And the other God-given gifts I enjoy: fairly good health, a family that loves me, friends that love me, a rewarding (mostly) career, enough abilities to provide for my needs in life, and even enough money to be generous with it and support causes I believe in after my own needs are met.

I AM going "home" for Thanksgiving next week. I look forward to it. It's a hectic time - I'm there for effectively three days and then have to turn around and come back - but I couldn't imagine skipping it.

And her last sentences of the commentary, before her trademark "Tutti a tavola a mangiare!:

"This Thanksgiving may your table be one full of love where food is the venue to gather with those who mean the most to you.  May you not only share a delicious meal but also stories, laughter and memories.  
That’s what this holiday is really about."

We need to remember that. The stuff doesn't matter; it's just stuff. It's what we can learn from our elders and the joy we can see in our youthful family members that is what really matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the shirt thing

Probably most of you have heard of "shirtstorm," where one of the ESA guys involved with the Philae landing was photographed wearing a fairly ugly shirt with "sexy" women on it.

And then the backlash some women encouraged, and then the back-backlash that (mostly male) conservative bloggers (mainly) started. And you know what?

It makes me tired. It just makes me all tired.

Was it a bad fashion choice and a seriously tacky shirt? Yes. Are engineers known for making good fashion choices? Generally not.

Am I, as a woman who is arguably on the fringes of STEM (I am in biology, which some consider too "soft" a science...) offended? No, not really. I don't feel threatened by it. I've felt more threatened by a former administrator here who used to make rude, borderline-offensive jokes. But even then, I pretty much rolled my eyes and reminded myself of that's why the person in charge of committee assignments here does her level best not to put him on committees that meet frequently, so they don't have to interact with him as much. The biggest threat he posed to me was that he was an ADMIN and controlled some purse strings and might have input on promotions decisions....so I waited until he was out of the room to roll my eyes and look at one of my colleagues and go, "What is up with that dude?"

An ugly shirt is nothing compared to ugly insinuations.

If I had a colleague in my department who regularly dressed like that, I'd probably mostly give him a wide berth rather than reporting him to HR. Now, if he regularly made statements of a demeaning and demonstrably-to-a-reasonable-person sexist nature (for example, not dropping doing the dumb "make me a sandwich!" joke or demeaning my abilities because I am female), I would probably talk to my immediate higher up (in this case, my department chair) and say that we all really need to have a meeting about 'expectations.' Or, if the response was "he gets to make those jokes and you just have to put up with it," meh, I'd brush up my C.V. and find a new job somewhere less annoying.

But the thing is, all the back-lash and back-back-lash? Don't we have more productive things to do with our time? I know I do. And I'm just on the fringes of STEM.

In conclusion: it's an ugly shirt. If I had been the guy's wife or mother or female housemate or whatever, I would have strongly counseled him to wear something a little less flashy on that day. If I were his boss, I probably would have chewed on him a little afterward for not wearing the standard button-down, or at least something less idiosyncratic. (And yes. People's bosses do have the right to chew on them for how they dress.)

But I think there are a lot of other things in the STEM fields that go farther towards discouraging the participation of women than one dumb shirt.

Monday, November 17, 2014

End of the semester

It's approaching. I've been busy, teaching an extra class is no joke.

I still have a few students I really want to give a good shaking to. They're not going to be able to compete in the job market (unless it's stocking shelves at the Lowe's) with grades and attitudes like they have. This is why I'm so bugged by "college for all" - when it ceases to be something seen as rare, and starts being seen as an extension of high school (which it should not be) lots of people don't value the education any more.

(Of course, part of the problem is that high school seems to have become an extension of junior high, and junior high of middle school, and it's turtles all the way down, but....if I were in charge of things I'd make grade schools more rigorous, end "social passes," and make the threat of expulsion a very real thing)

I do have a number of good students, but it's easy to forget them in the dealings with the Snarkmeisters (who always have some rude comment to make, either to me or to their colleagues in class) or the Problem People who seem to be like that character in Li'l Abner who always had misfortunes happening to them - their cars break down, their kids get sick, they have to go appear in court....and perhaps some of that stuff is made up (though I do ask for things like doctor's notes), but it's just frustrating having someone constantly missing important stuff in class because their life seems to be falling apart. Or there are the people who are aggressively clueless, who miss getting a copy of the handout of the data collected in lab, which I expressly point out will NOT be on the class BlackBoard page because our scanner is broken and I have no simple way to upload it....and then they come bitch at me for not making it available. Or who just plain flat don't listen to instructions in class and then are 100% lost during lab and I have to effectively re-teach the whole pre-lab for them.

But yeah. Getting kind of tired and really hoping my students next semester have fewer problems and are more mature. At least I've not had anyone crying in my office so far this semester, so I'm ahead of the typical semester.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

This election day

The choices I have make me kind of sad. That's all I have to say. There have been very few elections in my life where it wasn't a "lesser of two evils" choice rather than "this person is a good person and they will do good things" choice.

I will say if things happen as planned, I'm bracing for lots of hurt commentary. Whatever. My feeling is, we can go broke as a country in 10 years or in 15 years, take your pick. I'm in favor of 15 years, myself, but I recognize that at the rate we're going, we're still going to go broke, and then everyone better hope that they are as self-reliant as they think.

I will say that unless things change much between now and Nov. 2016, the BIG choice I will have then will make me very sad. (As I said over a year ago to my mother: "If our choice of next president is Hillary Clinton or Chris Christie....well, neither one of those is a GOOD choice.")