Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the words of Eric Cartman:

"Screw you guys, I'm goin' home."

No, not YOU guys, not you reading this. But lots of other people: the administration for requiring us to have syllabi for next semester in before we are even sure of what we are teaching; students who earn Ds and petition to have that grade raised to a B on no grounds whatsoever, wasting not only MY time but the time of several office workers; people who text and drive (had another near-miss accident with someone looking down at their hands the other day); people who act like they are the ONLY person who matters when they are in line at the post office or the bank or the grocery store and that no one else's time is worth anything.

And more: politicians. Pundits. The people who craft news stories designed to make people cry, when the bare facts of the matter will make you cry. Reality television producers. The people who run A and E, TLC, Discovery, and other networks that used to have interesting and different programming, which are all now clones of each other (The other night, I flipped to Discovery Fit and Health and they were running - well, I forget what, but I said, "This has nothing to do with either Fitness or Health.").

I'm setting out today for a couple weeks making the tour of visiting family and a few remaining friends I have up north. I'm glad to be going. Partly because it means anything I can do work-related is limited. (Grade challenge? I'll deal with it when I get back.) Partly because I won't have to open the refrigerator every evening and go, "What the hell am I going to fix for dinner?" (My mom is a good cook, and she already cooks low-sodium, for my dad). Partly because I won't have to drive anywhere; partly because if it's raining and I'm out of milk I won't have to go to the grocery all by myself and park in BFE and trudge up to the store ALL ALONE in the rain, and watch the smug-marrieds getting dropped off in the fire-lane so THEY can run in while their honey parks and so they don't get wet.....Part of it is having my parents right there to reassure me a little of my worth as a person (No, I'm not one of those tiresome low-self-esteem types who needs constant reassurance, but you know? I get tired and worn out and start questioning myself, and it's good to be around people who care a lot and who know me better than anyone else does and who value me even though they know me better than anyone else does).

So really, it's less of a "screw you guys" and more of an "I'm goin' HOME."

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Hungry all the time"

Okay, I'm going to change gears. I realize this is a very personal and very selfish whine, but if a person can't whine on their blog, where can they?

I've alluded to being diagnosed with (probably familial; my dad has it, his dad had it, my grandma on the other side had it) hypertension. I take a beta blocker for it, and monitor my blood pressure, but my doctor also recommended I cut back on salt. She said "Aim for no more than 1000 mg a day." ("Normal" people get close to 2500).

Do you know how hard that is? It's hard. It's really hard. Especially if you don't have someone to cook for you, or don't have time to cook much. I can't use ANY convenience foods. It's very hard to find even canned beans that are low enough in sodium to be part of my diet. (Yes, you can cook them from scratch, but that takes lots of advance planning to do - and I'm not so good at advance-planning stuff like that, when I'm so busy otherwise). I can't just go grab a pizza if I'm busy, I can't get deli sandwiches.

I try to eat lots of vegetables (which I mostly hate and I am so sick of frozen green beans right now I could scream) because allegedly they can help lower blood pressure.

I've eaten little meat because frankly the meat in my town sucks. The small local grocery store sells tough steaks - they go the "as little fat as possible" route so it's like eating liver. And the wal-mart - well, I didn't trust their meat before, now I see on the packages it says something like "Enhanced with a proprietary solution" which is essentially a brine. Which means salt. Which means some meat cuts have nearly 500 mg of sodium per serving. Which means I cannot eat them. And of course the wal-mart doesn't give a crap. People who limit sodium are such a limited part of their customer base that they don't bother to carry any limited sodium options - for canned goods, I generally have to drive an hour's round-trip, or mail order them from somewhere. Fish is also out because I live a thousand miles from the ocean, and I HATE catfish and I HATE tilapia.

And I just kind of walk around hungry all the time. (Bread is also mostly out; a lot of commercial bread is high in sodium. And most crackers are out). It's not so much a physical hunger - all the damn vegetables and all their damn fiber sees to that (and also means I'm in the bathroom a couple more times a day than I used to be). It's an EMOTIONAL hunger.

And I don't care what all the stupid psychobabble people want to claim. Food IS  a form of comfort, a form of sensual pleasure. I cannot make it be merely a fuel to keep me going - if that were the case, I'd call up the local prison system and have them send me a few cases of Nutriloaf and just exist on that. But I can't DO that.

I HAVE lost some weight but not as much as you might think - cookies are one of the few things that are lower in sodium, low enough for me to be able to eat a few now and then without feeling like I'm going to destroy my arteries.

But I just want something GOOD. I want some kind of main dish food that I don't have to worry about the sodium in. I wish I could still eat pizza, I wish I could still eat macaroni and cheese. I wish I could walk into a restaurant and order just whatever without considering first the sodium content, or having to ask for their "nutritional information" and pick, not based on what I want, but based on what will do the least damage to me.

I had been eating rice cakes until a relative oh-so-helpfully told me, "I read somewhere that those are kind of high in arsenic." Okay, FINE. EVERYTHING is going to kill me. So I can have arsenic poisoning, or my kidneys and brain shutting down from high blood pressure, or starvation. 

And it sucks. It just sucks. I hate having to be that killjoy that has to ask first "Where are you thinking of going?" when a group of people after church are thinking of going out to eat and they invite me along. I hate having to be that person who takes only a few tiny spoons of things at a potluck, and mainly eats the thing I brought, or stuff like salad that I figure is fairly safe. I hate having to avoid snacks at meetings, even if I'm hungry and really want something.

And you know? This is where stuff like nearly being in a car wreck makes me so nutso - that I've been going through all this crap of being hungry all the time, eating stuff I hate, not eating stuff I love, to try to prevent having a stroke, and that I may wind up having done that for NOTHING because random fate might just kill me instead.

I just want something filling. Something I can cram in my mouth and feel like it's FOOD - not like the slimy little frozen green beans, or the grassy salads, or the mushy sweet potatoes I've been trying to live on. But more than that, I just want to be able to eat without having to worry about every damn bite.

You know what?

I don't generally agree with The Onion on much, but this story (language, but I suppose I need not say that, seeing as it's the Onion) kind of sums it up.

Everything's broken. I don't think there's anything that will fix it. Not new laws, not armed guards, not suspending Freedom of Speech of the second amendment. There will be people who want to do harm to others and they will find away, no matter how much the law-abiding people are punished.

We can lock everyone who displays slightly abnormal behavior in a "home." We can take away the guns of the (law abiding) citizens who have them. We can put cameras every damn where and require strip searches to enter a public building. And someone will still find a way to hurt people.

I'm also kind of done with social media, with all the people preaching gun control/mental health awareness/more money to schools for stuff like metal detectors and other proto-prisonlike things/people saying "why are guns a right when marriage isn't a right for everyone" (SO not the time, friend, SO not the time)/etc., etc. 

So I'm saying, "Screw you guys, I'm goin' home."

Yeah, tomorrow I leave for Christmas break to see my family. Damn but I'm glad to be going.

I also came in this morning to about seven grade-grubbing e-mails from my non majors class. THIS is why faculty hate teaching the gen ed classes. People who don't bother to hand in all the work and then are MORTALLY OFFENDED that they earned a C. People demanding I recalculate their grade, which I am going to do right now.

But you know what? Like the Onion said. F it. F it all to hell. It doesn't MATTER. It doesn't MATTER that someone got a C and not a B.

(And okay: I did recalculate the grades. In two or three cases yes, I did make a mistake and the grade was higher. I fixed that and let the person know if they asked. But in the cases of the MOST MORTALLY OFFENDED people, their grade did not change. Look. You passed the class. Based on your attendance and participation, maybe you should not have. So please stop calling me.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sick, sad world

Wow. I suppose in a strange way, the fact that what happened in Connecticut on Friday was literally unthinkable to so many people is a good thing....that we have not yet become inured to this kind of thing.

I will say the politicization of the event - which seems to happen with everything these days - makes me kind of sick. It was one person who decided, for whatever reason, to do an awful thing.

Life isn't safe. There are no guarantees in life. We can do our best to protect the people we love but in the end, horrible stuff can happen. Someone I care about got a diagnosis of cancer this week. While it's still early stages, this is someone who tried to do everything "right." Bad stuff happens.

There's some talk now of posting armed guards at schools. That thought makes me really uncomfortable.

I'm glad I was a kid when I was. We had fire drills and tornado drills, and I admit I had the somewhat-obsessive little-kid fear of both fires and tornadoes. I'm a little young for the duck-and-cover Cold War drills (I guess by the time I made the scene it had been decided that if a bomb was dropped, no amount of ducking and covering would save us). So I was saved that fear. And I am too old to have gone through school after the school shootings - so I have never been through that kind of a drill. Again, knowing the kind of little kid I was, I would have gone around afraid much of the time after that, expecting it to happen eventually.

I don't know. I don't have any answers. If I did, I'd run for Congress or something. (In a strange way, it's almost a relief to be able to admit that I don't have any answers to this - that I don't have to contemplate how I'd fix things. It's not my responsibility).

I don't know what causes someone to take it into their head to kill innocent people. It seems like we're seeing more and more of this; I don't know if it's reported more widely (surely in the 1800s, there were occasionally cases of people who went nuts and did bad stuff?) or if more people are able to depersonalize others in that way, see them as targets.

As I said, I don't know. Sometimes other people irritate me; I hate having to stand in line at the post office with someone who has an unruly child. But I'd never even think of SAYING something rude to that parent, let alone harming them or their child. If I inadvertently say something that hurts someone's feelings, I feel bad for hours - sometimes days - afterward. So I really don't get the psychology (If it's that) behind wanting to "take out" a bunch of other people.

Someone commented that "There's a certain percentage of the population that believes the world is going to end on the 21st; watch out for crazies doing crazy things." I hope with all my heart that they are wrong about that. (No, the world is NOT going to end on the 21st; from all the "serious" stuff I've read about the Maya calender, it essentially means that that's the point where they, to oversimplify things, ran out of paper to write the calender on).

I don't know. I admit, selfishly, all I care about at this point is getting safely back up to my parents' house to see them for Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

So, I don't know

The war on Christmas thing. I tend to see it mostly as something ginned up to give people something to talk about, or else a series of very isolated incidents where someone with a burr up their tailpipe deciding to be Ebeneezer Grinch.

I don't know what it's like elsewhere in the country, but here Christmas is very much in evidence. Granted, we're one of the grommets on the Bible Belt (not QUITE the buckle, but close). But you see lots of public displays of things, the occasional nativity scene, people wish one another Merry Christmas.

Several of my students wished me a Merry Christmas after the exam today. Then again, they've seen me wearing a cross pendant, so they're probably aware I'm Christian and would take no offense to the sentiment (and in fact, wished them one as well).

I don't know. I admit I think sometimes both sides are a little wrong on this. With insisting on "Merry Christmas," for example: I tend to think that shopkeepers and what not should be allowed to say what they wish in the form of a greeting. If someone chooses to wish me a Merry Christmas, great. But if they want to play it a little safer (though in this part of the country, as I said, I think there's even a higher percentage of at-least-nominal Christians than elsewhere) and say "Happy Holidays," I'm not going to snarl at them or tell them to tell me Merry Christmas instead. Heck, if someone assumes I'm Jewish and wishes me a Happy Chanukah, I'll smile and nod and say, "Same to you." Because they're all well-wishes, offered freely and out of the freedom of the giver.

I would object to being told, for example, by my administration: "You are only to wish Happy Holidays to others on campus. No mention of Christmas is to be made." Because that's zero tolerance ridiculousness. I have similar issues with trying to whitewash things, to rename Christmas as "winter holiday" or change the names of things that have long been associated with Christmas. And okay: if the majority in a town want to rename the Christmas tree the Holiday tree, fine, okay. I will still think of it as a Christmas tree. But a few people telling the majority that they must change, because those few are hurt and offended over it not being "more inclusive," ugh. Just, ugh. We need to grow up a little about some of the "I am offended because...." stuff. Not everyone is going to be included in everything. That's just how it is. If you have different traditions, by all means celebrate them. But don't try to make people change their traditions. 

If I know someone isn't Christian, I'll wish them a happy whatever-they-celebrate, or wish them a Happy New Year. I'm smart enough and tactful enough to consider someone's background. If I really don't know, and I suspect they're someone who might object to a Merry Christmas, I'll say Happy Holidays to them. (Though then again: I used to have a co-worker who was Hindi, and one day when I slipped and wished her a Merry Christmas, she just smiled and said that while she celebrated Diwali, she was happy with my good wishes for her.)

In some cases, people are way too sensitive. I do remember once someone taking me to task for wishing them a Merry Christmas. "I celebrate Winter Solstice," she sniffed. "It's more inclusive."

Really? If someone wished me a Happy Solstice I'd probably look at them in puzzlement for a few minutes. I don't celebrate it; I don't know very many who do. Though I get the idea: it doesn't really have a religious link (though I think some of the people who consider themselves Pagan celebrate it) and it does refer to the amount of sunlight starting to get longer again. But I wouldn't say it was "more inclusive." And I don't like being sniffed at when I offer good wishes to someone.

I didn't really have contact with that person the next year. I suppose if I had seen her again I would have remembered to wish her a happy Solstice but I have to admit the memory of that take-down she visited on me would make it stick in my throat a bit.

Is it no longer possible for people to smile, say "thank you" and move on without feeling the need to CORRECT everyone? As I said earlier, if someone wished me a happy Chanukah I'd smile and nod and take it to mean they wished me well, and were doing so in their own way.

But likewise, I think insisting that individuals conform - in anyway - is problematic. (Again, not so very many years ago: I went to school with a number of kids who were Jewish. Around the winter holidays we'd talk in class about our family traditions, and they'd talk about what they did for Chanukah. And I don't think there was anything that got weird or uncomfortable about it. Of course, the fact that I belonged to the majority religion could be coloring my perception, you might argue....but I don't remember anyone coming into the public-school classroom and insisting we shut down discussion of THOSE holidays this minute.....

I guess part of what it is is that it seems to me people have developed more of a tendency to take offense in recent years. If I taught at, say, Brandeis, I wouldn't insist that they made allowances for Christian holidays for me; I wouldn't expect to be able to get a cheeseburger at the cafeteria. I'd just deal with it, and if something about it became too unbearable, I'd go elsewhere.

(I will quickly note that none of the practices mentioned violates anyone's human rights. There's a difference there.)

I do think a lot of what's presented as the War on Christmas is probably the actions of a few power-mad bureaucratic types or people who have some kind of sourpuss vendetta against stuff - the person who reports a couple of Christian kids for exchanging Christmas cards with a nativity scene on it in the halls in school, the person who fights to disallow a business from displaying a "Christ is Born!" banner. I don't think there's anything organized out there; it seems more it really is some sourpusses.

And again, it's the offense thing. I'm not sure what specifically it is about Christmas that offends the few people who take offense to it. I don't know if it's that they get hurt because they're excluded (then, I would argue, we should also ban Valentine's Day, so people who are unattached or who just broke up don't feel bad). I don't know if it's some kind of a control thing. I don't know if it's some kind of I Know Better Than You Do thing, or if it's some kind of weird neo-Puritanism.

(My understanding about the Puritans is that part of their ban on Christmas was related to the fact that they saw it as a "Papist" holiday, in other words, because Catholics were for it, they had to be agin' it.)

I really don't know. Because I so don't get hating Christmas, though occasionally you run into people who profess to do so.

And I don't really have a problem with people choosing not to celebrate, or even "hating" it. What I have a problem with is their trying to suck the enjoyment out of it for everyone else - I know people who go on long eye-rolling tirades about the "waste" of it all. Or talk superiorly about how they 'don't give gifts any more' in their family (Well, hoo-rah and a tiger for you! I personally LIKE getting gifts myself, and I like GIVING 'em, and if that makes me less "evolved" than you, then so be it.). Again: do as you will, but don't tell me you're better than I am because you do differently. And for the sake of the day and he whose birth we commemorate (even if you don't believe in him), don't try to ruin people's innocent enjoyment of the good things about it.

And by the same terms: if you choose to celebrate Solstice instead, and I know it, I will wish you a happy Solstice. Or a Happy New Year. Or a good Yule. Or whatever. I won't insist that you accept my wishes of Christmas for you as long as you allow me to wish them to others I know who believe similarly to me.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Apparently because it's now legal to smoke pot in Colorado, a couple CU students decided it would be funny to bring pot-laced brownies to class.

Okay. If they wanted to do them for a party or something, and let people know, "hey, these are pot brownies," that would be OK. I wouldn't be at that party, or if offered a "special" brownie, I'd turn it down.

But the idea of dosing people without their knowledge or consent is terrible. For one thing: you never know how people will react to something like this. Pot contains proteins and like anything else, there is the rare but real possibility someone could have a massive allergy attack to it. I mean, we now require people to do things like label cookies if they contain nuts.

But even beyond that - impairing people, without their knowledge? That's really stupid. What if one of the students who ate a brownie was pregnant or breast-feeding? What if one of them had a job where they had to regularly get drug-tested? What if someone got behind the wheel of a car, not fully realizing they were impaired?

Even beyond that, the idea - and this is a staple of many sophomoric movies and sitcom episodes - of "let's get the person in a position of authority (the professor) high, it will be funny to take away their dignity in that way"- is an idea I find appalling.

Just because it's funny when you see it on Comedy Central doesn't mean it's a good idea in real life. I would dare say that anything you see on Comedy Central is probably an example of a bad idea in real life.

It shows a huge lack of respect of their fellow students and the professor for the students to do this. To cause people to have bad reactions, to possibly put lives in jeopardy (it doesn't look like any were, but that could be a possibility) for a laugh? Stupid, stupid, stupid. It shows a real lack of judgment and I agree that the students should face severe sanctions - they should, at a minimum, be charge with assault of everyone who consumed the brownies, and probably should be booted from the school as well.

If I worked in the department where these clowns were majoring? My first reaction would be, "Don't come to me for a recommendation for a job or graduate school."

Friday, December 07, 2012

aw crap

I had the meeting this afternoon to discuss the Snowflake student I am to have this spring.

Without going into too much identifying detail, it's grim. It's very, very grim. I will probably wind up playing unpaid/unqualified counselor for someone who likes to buttonhole people during their office hours and complain. I will likely get all kinds of nutso TMI, and if I tell the person to step off, I will be branded a Bad Person in their mind.

And I was essentially told to, how was it put? "This student has one semester left. Don't screw it up so they make the rest of our lives miserable." I guess they've already decided my happiness is to be sacrificed next semester, and the best they can hope for is that the student's bitterness and anger won't spill over into their lives too much.

Once again, I ask: why can't, or why won't, college campuses man up a little and tell students who drive their fellow students and professors to distraction, "GTFO."

I suppose this is an unintended consequence of "college for all."

Stupid dreams

I hope it's just semesters-end stress and not that I'm developing some reaction to the (many, now) medications I'm taking (meds for hypertension, new prescription meds for an ongoing allergy issue). But I'm having weird dreams.

Just weird. Not "sex" weird, which is apparently the drug companies' meaning when they say "vivid" dreams. Just weird. Lots of crap crammed in them and I'm tired when I wake.

Two recent memorable ones:

- For some reason, the Democratic party had cloned Abraham Lincoln and was trying to get him to run on their ticket. And one of their big platform planks was that they wanted to strictly regulate the diet of every American. I believe there were posters that said something like Lincoln Wants You To Stop Eating Sugar! And I remember seeing it, snorting, and saying "Lincoln CHAFEE, maybe. But not the 'real' Lincoln."

- Last night I had a dream that Condi Rice had moved to my town and that I was going to be introduced to her. I was excited about this - how cool is it to meet someone like that - until the person who was going to introduce us told me, "I took the liberty of telling her you play the piano and she wants to hear you play" and I started to freak out, because (in real life)she is an accomplished pianist (I believe she first majored in piano performance, when she was in college, before changing majors) and I am not that accomplished - plus I also get terrible stage fright.

I woke up just as she was walking across the lawn, her right hand extended - so I never "met" her, but also neither did I have to try to play the piano for her.

I know some people complain they never remember their dreams but frankly there are times I would happily trade remembering mine for just being able to sleep peacefully. (It's been very humid here in recent days; that could be what is affecting my sleep. I tolerate humidity badly - that is actually part of the reason for me being on the rx antihistamine)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The only thing I have to say...

...on the whole Jovan Belcher sad story:

"The only person's behavior over which you have control is your own."

If Belcher were really bent on harming his girlfriend and himself, and he didn't have a gun, he'd find a way. I know someone who was suicidal and as a result gave away his guns. He wound up hanging himself.

You can't bubble-wrap the world to make it safe for everyone. A "safe" world would be one in which none of us would want to (or perhaps even be able) to live.

Yes, it's sad and it's awful (I mainly feel for their families - and for the child who now has no parents). But I don't think stricter gun laws would have prevented this. I don't think a neo-Prohibition (some are blaming it on heavy drinking) would have prevented this. I don't think some governmental agency being able to pluck people deemed to be a "potential danger to themselves" and forcibly medicate or incarcerate them in hospitals would be a solution. (I really do not want a governmental agency deciding who is a "danger" and who is "safe" to be on the "outside").

One thing I've learned in my 20+ years of adulthood: Sad shit happens in life. Sometimes you can't do anything to prevent it.

If that sounds kind of helpless, it's not meant to be. It's an acknowledgement that, as I said, we can't - we shouldn't - bubble wrap the world. Sometimes bad stuff is going to happen and there's nothing much we can do about it. Sad stuff happens, but there's also lots of happy stuff out there, and I think in some ways we appreciate the happy stuff more, knowing that we all will experience sadness.

I don't know that the suicide of the man I mentioned above could have been prevented or not. I do know he had friends and family around him. Granted, no one stayed with him 24/7 - but he would not have wanted that; to effectively tell him, "We think you are a mental invalid and we need to watch over you to protect you." He probably still would have found a way. (And yes: he was getting counseling. And he was taking medication. And he was found with a Bible open on the table near him. So he had been fighting it, hard, for a long time).

I will say I have also known cases of someone who was (apparently) thinking of killing themselves, but who was stopped, because of something someone said to them, or because they went and talked to a religious leader, or because something happened to shake them up and make them go get help. But again - it's hard to know sometimes when the thing you say will really help, and when it will do little. (And it's wrong for families and friends of a suicide to beat themselves up for not being able to prevent it. I've known one or two people who committed suicide in my life and you cannot always stop it, no matter what you say or do.)

Bad stuff happens. Maybe some of that bad stuff can be prevented, but not all of it can.

Ultimately, the only thing we can do is our best: be kind to the ones you love. Embrace them. Help them when they express a need for help. Give them tough love when that seems necessary. But ultimately remember that the only person whose behavior you control is your own.

That sentence - "The only person whose behavior you control is your own" - is one of the hardest lessons I learned as an adult, but it's also been one of the most valuable, and the most saving of my own sanity. I'm a people-pleaser and also sometimes prone to beat myself up if I feel like I didn't do "enough" to help in a situation. (Thank God, I've never been in a position where I felt "maybe I could have prevented that suicide" - the couple people I know who have done it were distant from me at the time). And I'm also prone to get frustrated at simple everyday boneheaded behavior, like the student who loses their license for driving drunk and then can't get to campus, and that fact has a domino effect on other things. But it does help me to take a breath and remind myself that I didn't cause it, I can't prevent it, and the best thing I can do is roll with the consequences and try to keep innocent bystanders from being too adversely affected.

So yeah, people are going to do horrible sad things. Sometimes we can stop them. Sometimes we can't. One of the unfortunate things about having such a connected and plugged-in culture is that we know about all the bad stuff that happens. (150 years ago, some farmer shooting his wife, then himself, out of desperation over something? Only the immediate family and immediate community would likely know. Now, we have the potential to know everything that happens everywhere, and I think that can get a little suffocating.)

Friday, November 30, 2012


I think God has enough of a sense of humor not to be offended that I find this funny:

Also makes me think of the good old Bill Cosby routine:


Attendance and grades, a link

I teach a stats class for our majors. I tend to have a skewed grade distribution in there - a clump of people in the B to A range, with a long tail going off to the left....there are always a few people who do spectacularly poorly in the class.

And it's really not that it's such a HARD class, I think. I try to teach it in a way to make it clear. I work lots of examples. I give weekly homework where I require the students to calculate the tests they are currently learning and I give copious feedback on the homework (and I also work through the problems on the board after I hand the homework back, so people can see where they messed up, if they did.)

I don't want to boast, but I've had people who came in at the beginning of the semester either apprehensive about math, or telling me, "My last math class was 10 years ago" (we get a lot of non-traditional students), and they wind up earning As. The advice I give to people who express concern about how they will do is simple: Attend class, pay attention to the examples I work. Do all the homework and if you have any questions or if there is anything you do not understand, come in and talk to me ASAP and I will see if I can explain it in a way that will make sense to you.

However, as I said, I have a few people who do spectacularly poorly. I have three or four this semester. Mostly they are people who miss class a lot. One of them even missed an exam with no excusable reason.

I don't always know the reasons people miss class. In some cases, it's lack-of-caring about school - I've seen that, I've seen people (especially in the intro non-majors class I teach) who don't understand the relevance of a class, who see the fact that we expect them to get something resembling a well-rounded education as an archaic rule passed down by "the man" to keep students down. (To be honest? I'd rather NOT teach non majors. There are a few in the class who really care and work hard and are interesting to teach...but then there's an equal number of real attitude-problem people that make my work more difficult. I try really hard to make the class "relevant" and all that crap - but sometimes you don't SEE the immediate relevance of something you learn, you don't realize it until later on).

Or people have more pressing matters (or so they think) in their lives at the moment. (I remember my dad, when he had a grad student who had been doing very well, more or less suddenly have his grades start to tank, speculate: "I wonder what her name is?" (meaning, he presumed the student in question had a new honey).

Or, a hurdle we deal with here because we have so many "first generation" students: we get people who don't have family support, or in some cases have outright family hostility. For example: being told to babysit nieces and nephews on a test day because the kids' mom wants to go out shopping, and it's the student's "turn" to do the babysitting. Or in some cases, I've had students who had demanding and rather - what's the word? Codependent? parents who pulled passive-aggressive crap on them that showed me (or at least I think) that the parent really doesn't want the kid to grow up and become independent. And I have sympathy for that....but there's only so far you can accommodate.

In some cases there are chronic health problems. If I know about these, I can work around them. Sometimes we get Disability Concerns letters, if the student goes through them. One semester, for example, I had a student with severe chronic asthma and was warned that he might be absent a number of days on fairly short notice if his asthma was acting up. (He actually had better attendance, and was more engaged, than most of the "non disabled" students in the class). Or I've had students who get migraines and I can sympathize with that, as I used to (rarely) get them myself, and I know how you really cannot function while suffering from one. But people don't always tell me. I get that I'm probably not really bound by any privacy laws not to disclose to other people....but I'd hope students who had had me for a few classes would realize I'm the type of person who would NEVER share details of someone's medical stuff with another person. (Single exception would be someone saying they were thinking of hurting themselves or someone else; in that case if I couldn't drag them into Counseling Services myself, I'd definitely call a bunch of people to let them know).

But in some cases, it's just poor planning, poor time management. I don't have much sympathy there. Oh, I get, that some people, like Mr. Skimpole, just have "no sense of time" and believe they should be shown incredible considerations because of that. But you know what? You can, barring certain specific cognitive disabilities, DEVELOP a sense of time. You can set alarms on your fancy shiny cell phone. You can leave the house fifteen minutes earlier. Or you accept the consequences - I'm not going to make accommodations for someone who missed class because something "really cool" was on TV, or because they wanted to have a long breakfast, or some damn thing.

The other thing - with a lot of the big problems, health issues, family problems, crises at work - well, it sounds a little heartless to say because many of those problems are beyond the student's control, but - if you're missing two or more weeks of class? It probably makes more sense to drop out of school, get your life back together, and return later. And I get that that's not always workable, and some of the stupider aspects of how some financial aid works is that it's preferable to fail and retake a class than to drop out - but it really is hard to catch up after missing that much class, especially if there is something going on (like a major audit at work, or dealing with divorcing parents) that is going to distract one's attention. (I know it was a BAD semester for me - and I was teaching, and I had all my materials pretty much lined up and ready to go - the semester my dad was going through diagnosis of what eventually turned out to be early stage prostate cancer (which, thank God, he beat) - I was sad and distracted a lot and I know it badly affected my teaching. And that wasn't even as dire as many of the things students have tried to soldier on with).

But I really hope my chronically-absent stats students don't come back to me demanding some late-semester accommodation "because." They haven't kept me in the loop, I don't know if there are extenuating circumstances or if they just are poorly organized or don't care, and that makes it hard for me to be able to turn around and show a lot of sympathy. Especially at what is generally the busiest time of the semester for me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What is this, I don't even....

There's a case where a man was sent to jail for a month because he mocked a 10 year old girl with cerebral palsy.

Okay, let's put aside for now the question of whether something like that rises to being an offense to be jailed for (arguably, it could fall under free speech, but then again it could fall under harassment and intimidation). And apparently the case is muddied by the fact that he alleges she called his son names, and apparently there's bad blood between the family. Let's put all of that aside and look at the man's actions.

Mimicking how a kid with CP walks - how they have to walk, because of their disability?

My only response to what this guy did is to use language I don't often use: That's a douchebag move. That's just....it seems so cowardly to me. It's low. It's not being a grown-up, but then we have no shortage of chronological grown-ups in this country who behave like spoiled children.

I don't care if she called his son names. There are some things that should be "off the table" when it comes to retaliation, and an ADULT making fun of a CHILD'S disability is one of them. (He has a disability himself, apparently: he's not smart enough or doesn't have enough common sense not to act like a jerk, at least in this situation).

I hope the girl involved realizes that this incident tells us far more about the character (or lack thereof) of the man than it does about her.

(Disclaimer: I was friends with a kid with CP when I was in junior high. Actually, I wound up sitting at the "disabled kids'" table at lunchtime - partly because the popular kids made it hard for us to sit anywhere else, even if we had wanted to split up, but partly because enough of the popular kids were (to use that term again) douchebags.)

I suppose this is also a lesson on parents getting too involved in their kids' disputes. You know what? I was called names ALL THE TIME as kids. In some cases my mom had to look them up in a slang dictionary because she didn't know what the "new" meanings of some of them were. And I remember her great consternation when some of my fellow classmates called me a "slut" (I was 10 and hadn't even held hands with a boy) and she went back to the dictionary to see if there was some other meaning than the one she knew. (There wasn't, and her conclusion was that the stupid girls heard the word from older kids, just knew it was an insult without knowing what it meant, and hurled it at someone who happened to be innocent of its charges). Kids can suck. Lots of little kids can be amazingly mean to others. We don't need adults - who should know better - sinking to that level.

What I've said before applies: If I had a kid, and there was any way on God's green earth I could manage it, I'd homeschool. To protect them from the stupid cruelty of other kids. And I guess, from some idiotic adults.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Did I hear this right?

I was just walking through the room when the news was on but I thought I heard a comment made to the effect that, "They could split up dealing with the fiscal cliff and deal with spending cuts later."

Okay. So if that's correct, they're going to raise taxes now, and cut spending later?

Does anyone else hear Wimpy (from "Popeye") saying "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"?

(Actually, I think the fact that some of those shows - like Popeye - were replaced by more-modern, sensitive cartoons may be part of our problem. Wimpy taught an important lesson: don't keep enabling a moocher. Just like that character on the old Sesame Street who was "trying to get your nickels" (as my dad put it, and he also would talk to my brother and me about how advertisers would "try to get your nickels")

Inflation and real money

Something I've been thinking about:

The "increases outpacing inflation" in college tuition, and the rise in prices of medical care are probably caused by similar reasons.

In both cases, it's rare you're paying "real dollars" for it. Most of us have health insurance that covers the medical costs. And granted, there are tests and medications and things now that there weren't fifty years ago, but one of the men I go to church with was talking about how a friend of his who is on dialysis found that Medicare is billed some $7000 (I think that was the figure) per SESSION of his dialysis. Of which he has three sessions a week. And there are set-ups for six or eight people to get dialysis at the same time.

I wonder what dialysis would really cost, if the government wasn't paying for so much of it. (Or insurers. I wonder if there are some insurers who are heartless enough to "time out" someone on dialysis; to tell them they've used up their allotment for the year).

On the one hand: dialysis is necessary for people who have kidney problems. But on the other: does a 3-hour session of it REALLY cost $7000?

I've had more doctor visits lately than I have in a while. My heredity caught up with me and I developed a little chronic health issue that runs in my family. It's partly reduced by diet and exercise (which I am DEFINITELY doing, and I told my doctor that I will probably be one of the most compliant patients she ever sees in that area, because I'm a control freak and if I feel like I can control the issue by eating healthfully and doing stuff like avoiding salty fatty pizza and hamburgers, I will do it.) and also by a low dose of a medication. And by learning to calm the hell down, but I'm having a harder time with that.

But I've had something like three appointments in the past month, each of which has a co-pay for me of $25. My insurance pays about $100 per visit. Is 20-30 minutes of my doctor's time, plus a weigh-in, heart-rate check, blood pressure check, and temperature check worth $125 or more? And I'm assuming, based on the appointments I've made, my doctor sees at least a dozen people per day, five days a week. I know there's overhead on the building and costs of equipment and everything, but....how much of that is "that's really what it needs to cost" versus "that's what insurance will pay." (And I wonder: if I had NO insurance, would I be charged $125 per visit? I could afford it - just barely, by cutting back elsewhere - but it would be a strain to pay $375 in a month to see a doctor (though in the future, that will probably be less frequent - every three months, or every six. And thank God the problem I have is minor and controllable)

I don't know. I do know doctors go to school for a long time and have lots of expenses (malpractice insurance, for one thing) but I know if I were doing consulting in one of my areas of expertise (say, soil science), I wouldn't be able to charge $125 an hour (at least not where I live) and have clients.

Granted: I want doctors to make good money. I want it to be an attractive profession for "the best and the brightest" but I suspect there are other things (like tort reform) that would make it even more attractive without charging as much money. (And if malpractice insurance dropped in price....) Or if doctors had less paperwork. I have friends and relatives who are doctors and one of their major complaints is the mountain of paperwork and regulations they have to deal with.

I've also heard of some doctors who have a revolving door - patients see them for maybe five minutes at a go. I guess I chose well in my doctor in that she takes a lot of time to talk with me, and she does listen to my heart and lungs and all that every appointment. And I'm sure some of the revolving-door stuff is again driven by money - cost of overhead, cost of malpractice, maybe cost of paying back med school loans.

I think of the things you read about the older days - when someone went into the hospital to have a baby and the total bill was like $150 (including hospital stay) rather than the thousands it is today. And while I realize, as I said, technology is a lot more advanced (and there are a lot more things they look out for in newborns now), and there's been inflation everywhere, I still wonder.

I suppose some of the high cost to those of us with insurance is the fact that there are people who can't or don't pay....(for a while I was dealing with collections calls for someone with my same last name and same first initial, and it was apparently medical debt. I finally did make it clear to the company that I was not the person they sought). But there does need to be an option so that those with no ability to pay get at least a basic standard of care....but I know of a number of doctors and dentists here who do "free clinic" days several times a year and invite people who cannot afford care, or who can't afford regular care but could make a small donation, to come and get at least diagnosed and some basic treatments for free. And I am sure there are charitable groups who help provide healthcare for the indigent or those who simply can't afford it....but I guess there aren't enough of them. I mean, there needs to be some basic humanitarian standard, even someone like me who objects to carrying "freeloaders" on her back (figuratively speaking) gets that.

But again, I wonder how the cost of medical care is calculated.

And I wonder if something similar is operating in college tuitions. Again, I want professors to make a decent salary (and I most definitely have a vested interest in that!) and for people like deans and secretaries and librarians to. (What they pay the secretaries and janitors here is pretty sad. Most of the service staff have a spouse who makes better money, or they have a side career, like being a landlord). But tuition does seem to keep going up, and I wonder if some of that is the high percentage of people on financial aid or scholarship....if it's that the money becomes "unreal," that it's not clearly coming from one person's pocket, and so it's like Monopoly money.

I have talked before at some length about things that I think drive up tuition. Some of those things are perhaps necessary evils (more administrators to deal with the increased paperwork and federal/state mandates), some of the things are because parents and students say they want them (fancy workout facilities, wifi in the dorms, dorm rooms with kitchenettes and private bathrooms) and all that stuff costs money.

But it does seem that on a lot of campuses, what you pay has outpaced what you get, and it makes me wonder where the money goes.

Oh, I'm not complaining about my salary: I do very well, thank you. If I teach in the summer, I make just shy of $60K a year, and I get health insurance and the option to pay a small amount for extra dental and vision and long-term-care insurance. But there's an awful lot of deferred maintenance on my campus, and the library is always suffering cutbacks....and I wonder where the rising tuition money goes. I know we have lots of administrators and lots of coaches and they make some pretty high salaries. And I know there are certain mandatory costs, like site licenses for software in the computer labs.

But....I just wonder, sometimes, you know? (I will say: I strive to work hard at teaching, to do a good job grading. I want the students to feel like they got their "money's worth" in my classes and then some. I do know of a few profs in other departments who could be accused of phoning it in - but in my department we all seem to work pretty darn hard and care a lot about getting our students the best education we can, so they can go out and get a good job in their field. And our track record of doing just that is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.)

I wonder how things would change if we had to go back to the system of YOU pay out of YOUR OWN pocket for most medical stuff (I would think we'd still need something like catastrophic insurance, to cover really dire stuff) or back to the system of parents and/or kids working to pay their own tuition. Could we go back and do that? What kind of cutbacks would that take?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Was he kidding?

I didn't watch the Soul Train awards, but I did hear a soundbite from them.

And the way it's been snipped out, I honestly can't tell if the speaker is joking or serious. Tone of voice used says "joking" to me, but would someone joke about President Obama like that in front of a crowd of entertainers, many of whom (I presume) are supporters? Was there a collective sucking-in-of-breath after he said it, like "Wow, he just really put his foot in it"? I wonder what the crowd reaction was.

I will say that even as a joke, the "Lord and Savior" thing rubs me a bit the wrong way, and my brain immediately blipped to:

"Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

(Psalm 146, verses 3 and 4).

EVERY human being I have worked alongside or looked up to or known has, at times, disappointed me. Oh, I forgive them for it (though there are some I won't trust any more because of the level or constancy of the degree to which they disappointed me). But there's no human being - sorry, Obama-supporters, not even our President - perfect enough to be called Lord. There just ISN'T. And there won't ever be a human being like that. We're too selfish, too prone to conditional love, too desirous of getting ourselves ahead even if it's at the expense of another.

I do hope Foxx was joking; as I said, it SOUNDED to me like he was, regardless of what some of the conservative commentators are saying. But....if it's a joke, it's not a terribly funny one.  And in somewhat poor taste, I think, considering how many of us are gearing up to observe Advent, when we remember the coming of our real Lord and Savior.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thank God.

I'm thankful it's nearly the weekend for me. And barring one little bit of research work I want to clear up, I have nothing I HAVE to do.

And thank God - and I mean that sincerely - that Monday night I will be on a northbound train going to visit my family for Thanksgiving. A couple of days around sane people who love me and understand that too much noise and too many people get to me after a while.

(I called my mom about the punk mom at the PO yesterday and she just told me to forget her, that someone who gets so defensive over someone giving her kids the stink-eye is too used to apologizing for their bad behavior. She's probably right. But thank God I don't have to go back to the post office for a while).

And it's nearly holiday time. I plan to decorate my house this year. I know a lot of "efficiency experts" who claim that if you're traveling for Christmas, you "shouldn't" decorate your own house but screw that. I need some happy, I need some shiny. I need an excuse to pull out my teddy bears and line them up on the sofa. I need fairy lights. And I'm going to pull out my Christmas CDs and listen to them.

And I will pick up some canned tuna and peanut butter and beans and stuff on my Saturday shopping trip, to donate to the big drive they're having for the food banks here. They mentioned at the Monday CWF meeting just how down giving to the food banks have been. And yeah, times are tough all over, and I get that some people who used to donate may actually be relying on the food banks now. Thank God, I'm still in a position to have enough money to buy some extra staples to pass on to them, so I'm going to do it.

And I'm going to pick up a toy for Toys for Tots. This is a little tradition I've started: to find some toy, something that would have been something that either my brother or I would have really enjoyed when we were kids, and buy it, and drop it off for Toys for Tots. Because, I don't care whatever bad decisions someone's parents made: it's nice to think of a kid getting a toy on Christmas when he or she might not otherwise.

(And yeah, I'm still kind of mad at the outside world after yesterday, but like Linus Van Pelt, I tend to love humanity but hate people)

And again: to me it's a very tangible way of showing my gratitude that I both have enough now, and that I was one of those kids who was blessed with good parents who cared about me and made good choices and that every Christmas there was always at least one thing I really wanted under the tree. And it allows me to remember, a little bit, what it was like to be a kid waiting for Christmas. How huge that was, how fun that was. How it really was in a lot of ways the best time of the year.

I'm ready to say "screw you, I'm goin' home" to most of the outside world,. and to turn inward and put up lights and a creche and bake cookies. Because I need to stop and remember that there's more to live than grading and cranky people.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's confession time: I'm an awful person

Yeah, I'm an awful person. Because, honestly, I don't like most children. I really don't want to be around children very much.

Oh, there are exceptions. A few of my friends have children who are funny and nice and well-brought-up. But the average urchin out there? Nope. Keep them away from me and me away from them.

This was brought home to me today when I had to go to the post office. I had had an AWFUL day so far: dealing with students with massive entitlement issues (though how that differs from any day, I can't tell you). Had a faculty meeting where we learned more administrative lunacy (apparently one of the higher admins thinks it's fine to tell a prof what to teach, and says "You still have academic freedom. For example, you an decide whether you allow chewing gum in class or not."). Had to negotiate our constantly-torn-up streets and drive through an intersection that SHOULD have a stoplight, but instead has a red-flashing-light so we have to treat it as a four-way stop, which means traffic is ALWAYS snarled and ALWAYS backed up a mile and a half.

And so, I wasn't exactly cheerful when I walked in. And then, as I tried to go through the glass double doors, a group of four or five kids under eight banged through them. The doors are ALL glass so they could see me coming. The door very nearly HIT me. I jumped back and gave them a look.

The mom said, "Sorry" but not in a way implying she was sorry. Thinking I had a moment of privacy, I shook my head and kind of horse-snorted (where I blow air out my mouth and my lips flap; it's sort of an involuntary expression of frustration). The woman turned around and snarled at me: "They're ONLY children!"

Yes, okay lady. I'm a monster. I'm an unnatural woman who hates children.

Because I want people to like me to a degree that is unhealthy for me, I apologized: "I'm sorry. I'm having a really terrible day."

She did say: "I'll PRAY it gets better" but the way she bit off that word "Pray," it sounded more like and "F YOU" to me.

Okay, fine: I get it. I'm not fit to go out in public. I should just, as a pathetic single person, always bow down and get out of the way when there are CHILDREN out there. No matter how pushy and ill-behaved they are. Because the children are our future! And it takes a village! And all of that crap!

And you know? I wouldn't go out in public and expose the worthwhile people who are raising children to my horribleness, but there are some things you just can't do online. I'm sorry. I'll try to avoid going out in public in the future. 

I'm glad I didn't have kids. I'm not sure I'd have the patience to deal with them when they got pushy and rude. And it's bad for a kid to see their mom break down and cry because she can't cope with it any more.

And yeah, I did come home and cry for about fifteen minutes. Because there's some random woman in my town who thinks I'm a child-hating monster, and because I reacted badly to a situation I should have approached with more grace, and because our dang post office is in such an awful inconvenient spot that I'm already in a bad mood when I walk in, just because it's such an ordeal to get there. And because of everything else. And because no matter how bad the administration gets on campus or how entitled the students get, I'll be teaching until I drop dead, because my retirement savings are just freaking evaporating. I should have just SPENT that money, spent it and enjoyed it, and, I don't know, just planned on checking out early or something.

I expect to be doing a lot of crying in the coming years because I don't see things getting any better.

Monday, November 12, 2012

You've heard of "RTFM"?

You've heard of RTFM (read the (bleeping) manual)?

Well, there's a corollary: FTDD. Follow the Damn Directions.

Yeah, I'm grading another exam and it's UUUUUGGGGLLLLY. In fact, some of the "wrong" answers are almost like, I don't know, they had a previous-semester's exam and just memorized it and spat up what the answers were for THAT, totally ignoring that I write new and different exams every semester BECAUSE there are "frat house files" floating around out there.

I'm really put out with this crew. Has everyone just decided to give up? Did I miss some memo somewhere that we're all now wards of the state, and we're just to pretend to look like we're working and we get our checks, or something like that?

I'm really unhappy with my students right now. These are NOT stupid people. They are being lazy and people being lazy pisses me off.

ETA: No, really. It is just random crap, almost as if someone memorized last semester's test. Totally nonsensical non-sequitur answers to the questions I am asking. And this is maybe 30% of the class.

interestingly, the International students (two from Asia, one from Africa), none of whom have English as their first languages? Are kicking the butts of the Americans. This makes me angry and yet at the same time does not entirely surprise me.(I mean - I'm not angry they're doing well. I'm angry my fellow country-men and -women are doing so poorly. This is NOT an impossible class. Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Seriously, guys, wtf?

I gave an exam the other day.

On my review sheet, and in class, I harped on: "You need to know how to do these particular sets of calculations." Less than 10% of the class got them. This is despite working through them in class, my posting examples on the class website, and my having 10 hours of office hours a week where I sit in my office, more or less with my thumb up my butt, waiting for people to come in and get help.

I also told them, "Understand how this particular model works and be able to list the possible outcomes."

And on that question, about half the people just barfed up unrelated stuff, I guess in the hopes that they thought I wouldn't read carefully and would just check it off?

What frustrates me is that these are smart people. They're seniors. They should know better. I don't know if it's that they all have been admitted to med school or something and figure tanking grades now won't matter. Or what.

But I'm pissed off at them for being so lazy, when I went to extra trouble to make a detailed review sheet and to TELL them to know certain things for the exam.

I refuse to put up with any sadfaces or whining when I hand these exams back. They knew what was supposed to be on the exam. Either they didn't study, or they studied, didn't understand, and couldn't be arsed to come and ask me.

The job market really sucks right now, it will probably suck for a good long time. Not knowing your stuff is not going to help you get a job in your field.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Okay, I'm done with social media.

Too much football spiking, smugness, etc.


I just hope we make it okay through these next four years. I'm worried about the financial state of my country. I'm worried that more small businesses will close, and that the favored corporations will grow and prosper because they get governmental help they don't really need.

I'm worried about what this will do for my chances of actually retiring some day.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I voted

So the damned robo-calls can STFU now.

I really hate robo-calls. I wish they could be banned for political purposes just as they technically are (despite the execrable Rachel from Cardholder Services) for businesses.

Apparently, my particular voting registration is rare in the district in which I live, so I get all of my party's calls. (I'd register I, because really, in some cases, neither R nor D describes me, but that would close me out of any primary voting here).

Sadly, throughout my adult life, my presidential vote has mainly been "I like the other guy less" than "I really like the guy I voted for." I suppose that's a feature of how our system is but it's kind of sad.

I hope they can make voting go smoothly for the folks on the East Coast (and maybe, I don't know, hand out blankets and canned food while they're at it?). I've watched the devastation with dismay and y'all are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope all the snafus preventing help from getting where it needs to be get unsnafued fast.

I suspect this is going to be a long night. I'm not going to watch any of the coverage. For one thing it bores me and for another it dismays me. I'm going to either read a book or see if there are any good cartoons or cooking shows on. I'll find out tomorrow morning if the race was decisive enough (and there haven't been any shenanigans) to pick a winner.

(I will say, I hope Romney wins at least one of Axelrod's "I'll shave my mustache off" states. Just, because.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

A very short open letter to Donald Trump.

Dear Donald,




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Even they think it's crazy

The topic of FERPA came up before my first class today. Several of the students didn't know what it was, so I explained it. One person asked, "If someone is under 18, can their parents see their grades?" I said I did not know but I would guess yes, because they're still technically a minor.

One of the students commented that FERPA seemed kind of "stupid," but I shrugged and said there were cases where it was useful to us professors. I brought up the issue of helicopter parents, how some parents will call their kid's professor if the kid isn't doing well in class or if the kid has some kind of problem.

And one of the women in the class exclaimed: "Who DOES that!?! We're supposed to be adults! I'm not even sure my mom could tell you the name of the school I was attending!" And one of the men noted that "People that do that need to GROW UP."

I shared the story of the mom who called up a colleague of mine, all mad because my colleague was "giving" her son a D. My colleague responded that FERPA forbid him from discussing grades, but that she might want to ask her son about his attendance in class (this was someone who was present for maybe 1/3 of the classes). She called back a week later to apologize to him.

That got a laugh out of the class. But I'm glad to know there are students who think the whole helicopter-parent-of-college kids thing is out of control. (These are mostly seniors, all pretty responsible people, all science majors).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


One of my colleagues - someone I also consider a friend - has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She is fairly hopeful; it's a non-aggressive form and was apparently diagnosed early. She's decided to do chemo for it. (Not sure if she has had/is having surgery....I don't think she has, at least, she hasn't been out any length of time).

She came in this week with a wig. It looks much like her natural hair but the coloring is subtly enough different that I knew. (I didn't say anything. I never know whether or not to say anything. I tend to come down on the side of "let the other person bring it up if they want to." I know when my dad had cancer he did NOT want to talk about it, except with his doctors). She's started the chemo and has started losing her hair. (I know, people say "it's only hair" but I can see how that would be unsettling to traumatic to a person.)

She says she's counting the weeks until January, that's when she's done. But it's going to suck for her - she teaches a heavy load and a couple of the really important classes in the department, and her specialty is such it would be hard for someone to cover for her if she was feeling too unwell to teach. (Then again: I think I would rather go to work and teach if I at all could, rather than sit at home and think about what was going on in my body). At least she has got less of a load of committeework, and she's close to retirement, so she's not really doing research - so she can focus on teaching and on getting better.

But yeah, cancer can F off and die. I know way too many people fighting it right now.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tired of the snark

I'm just tired of it.

Can't we be grownups and discuss issues? I mean, seriously, if I listen to some of the people around me, it sounds like I have a choice of voting for an empty chair or a binder on November 6th.

I know, politics has always been ugly, and insults have always been hurled, but it seems like there's less substance and more insults of late.

To me, the election comes down to: Do you want someone in favor of increasing the size of government, increasing the dependency of people on the government, and (as a result of that second item) increasing the level of control government has over daily live, or do you want someone who will maybe shrink government a little bit, and will try to encourage people to be less dependent?

All the rest of the stuff out there is just clutter. Yes, I'm annoyed by how the Obamas act at times. Yes, I can understand the concern over the Romneys not "relating to" the average person. (Though is there any politician out there who is an average Joe or average Jane? I think not.). But what it comes down to, I think, is this: How big a role do you believe government should play in your life?

And that's how I'm basing my vote. I confess, I haven't even really watched the debates....and I tend to change channels when the news shifts to campaign talk.

But I'm so tired of the insults and the snark and the people saying, "If you vote differently from me, you're an idiot." I can't see the rift in our culture healing any time soon, and I hate that. I wouldn't be surprised if, 20 years from now, we were actually two (or maybe three) countries, rather than one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Interrupting cow

I posted that joke the other day partly because I have a chronic interruptor in one of my classes. She'll wait until I'm midway through an explanation, and then ask an out-of-left-field question.

I don't think it's a emotional/mental disease issue - though it could be; I've had this person in class before (in other classes) and don't remember interrupting behavior. I don't know how to delicately broach the "could you possibly have OCD or something?" topic without upsetting the person. There's actually no really good way for a faculty member to delicately let a student know, "You are behaving a little strangely, is something wrong?" Or at least I don't know a delicate way. (If it's actually super-disruptive, like someone getting combative and potentially violent in class, yes, we have a way of quickly and silently notifying campus police. Not sure how fast they'd show up....but then again, I've got enough big strong Conservation guys in most of my classes that a freaking-out student would probably be jumped and held down pretty quickly. (A lot of our conservation guys are either former military or have done stints in law enforcement of some kind, so they know how to do it).

This is more just garden-variety someone-being-a-little-annoying. I commented this morning that we were going to collect data next week to test a particular hypothesis, and this student blurted out 'That hypothesis is CRAP. It's not true."

I took a deep breath, not wanting to confront (but, oh, so wanting to say, "Oh really? Every class I've tested it with before has shown it to hold. And that's ten years' worth of data....") and said, "We will be TESTING the hypothesis next week...."

I get the sense that this is someone who is a little full of themselves. (They're a senior. I should probably check to see if they've been admitted to professional school yet - that might explain some of the attitude.)

But I have to admit: now I really, really hope the data we collect this year follows the trend and proves the hypothesis to be correct; it will be a little fun to have Ms. That Hypothesis is CRAP eat a little crow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Something I've noticed of late...

Maybe I'm watching shows/listening to radio that is aimed at a different demographic than I actually am in, but it seems to me that the anti-aging bandwagon has really ramped up for men.

I mean, women have gotten it for YEARS, with the cover-the-grays hair color ads, and the various-gunk-you-put-on-your-face ads, and now the take-this-thing-that-we-can't-really-claim-does-anything-because-we'd-have-to-go-through-the-FDA-but-we're-going-to-imply-it-will-speed-weight-loss pill.

But men were largely left alone, or so it seemed. Yeah, there was "just for men" and that beard-darkening stuff....but now there seem to be LOTS of ads for stuff that claims to "recapture youth" (mainly, it seems: raise testosterone levels. And while they don't come out and say, "we'll help you get a stiffy in a jiffy," that's implied, in among all the other "it will improve your energy and mood, and make you build muscle and lose fat" claims.

And, I don't know. While I don't judge people who choose to dye their hair or stuff....I don't want to feel pressured to do it myself. I don't feel like spending the time and the energy to, and the hair I have that's going white is actually going WHITE, and one of my grandmothers had white hair later in life....and you know? It was really pretty. And I think I would look better at 65 or whatever with white hair than I would with the best dye job I could get in my small town. So I'm not going to do stuff to slow down my "apparent" aging. And I do have the luxury of being able to do that - I recognize that as a college professor, I'm unlikely to be pressured out of my job, or not get work, because I look "old." I know not everyone has that luxury to choose whether to dye or not, whether to Botox or not. I wish they did.

And it bugs me that men are getting that pressure now, that women have had for years. It seems to me it used to be "more OK" for a man to show his age - a bit of gray around the temples suggested wisdom. Frown lines could denote a certain seriousness. And guys weren't expected to be as buff and trim at 45 as they were at 20....no one had time for that kind of hours in the gym, other than the marathon runners.

I mean, on the one hand, don't get me wrong: taking care of your health is good. It's a good thing to exercise regularly, it's a good thing to eat lots of fresh food from a variety of sources. It's a good thing to avoid tobacco and other potentially harmful chemicals.

But dyeing your hair isn't going to slow down your aging. It just makes it look like it's slowed down. And I guess that's the crux of it, for me: the idea that there's this need to fool yourself and other people, not to admit that aging happens. We all age. There's not a lot we can do about that. Yes, maybe getting a healthy level of exercise and eating a good diet can slow it down a bit, or prevent chronic diseases. But at some point, we all age. And it seems wrong to me to treat aging as a horrible thing that we should fear....though some of the ads I've heard for  the "male booster" or whatever they call them products seem to suggest that, just as the weight-loss-for-women-over-40 products seem to suggest.

It bugs me that some seem to want to deny the existence of a natural part of life. I'm sure it's wrapped up with the fear of death, and the fact that, for some, "right living" has become the thing believed in as giving immortal life.....and some of the people who follow "right living" make it an obsession. I have seen people exercise at levels that are really excessive, several hours a day when they're not training for a marathon or anything....it's almost as if they are trying to "outrun death."

I don't know. Maybe because I had a fairly lousy adolescence and wasn't even all that happy in my 20s that I have no issues with leaving that period of my life behind. But we don't need a culture of adolescents! And sometimes it seems that that is what our society is pushing for.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm'a just gonna leave this here....

Presented without further comment:

"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Interrupting cow."

"Interrupting c...." "MOOOOO!"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oh no no no no no no no no no no no

God give me strength.

I'm going to have to repeat that every day next semester. I just came from a meeting with my Chair. She wanted to give me a heads-up on a student I will be having.

"She has more ADA accommodations than I have ever seen," my chair said. "And she has had some medical issues, and refuses to walk up staircases or even inclines. She is threatening to sue the university because she had to walk up an incline to get to an office and she says it injured the site of a recent surgery."

Apparently she has not one, but two, lawyers on retainer. And she has the Dean of Students on speed-dial. And she's not afraid to call people up and complain when her "needs" aren't met.

This is not going to go well. I am happy with what I consider reasonable accommodations but some of the things she demands (oral exams with a scribe but then she doesn't show up to take them, because there's in incline to get into the building where they are given, so....I don't know what they do then) go to the point of Making The Professor's Life Miserable. I realize I sound insensitive here, but I had someone last spring who just broke me - I gave all the accommodations he was granted, but then he began to demand extra stuff. And come to my office and whine at me when he didn't get it.

I've been warned I may need to do "totally alternate" labs for her. Okay, fine. She can write short papers for every dang lab she can't do. I'm okay with that. (I'm not okay with other students going "It's hooooooot out. I want to write a paper like she does instead of lab" and I am bracing for that.)

But, I've also been warned that she continually threatens to sue, reminds the person she is speaking to about her lawyers, and then proceeds to button hole the person with tales of her victimhood.

And I HATE the whole victimhood mentality. We all have stuff in our life that constitutes a "bad hand." True, some people have worse hands than others. But I've known people with really very "bad hands" in life who worked hard and managed to get ahead - managed to do quite well, in fact. But the people I've seen who cried "I'm a victim!" invest so much energy into that that it's harder for them to get ahead. Or, they'd rather sit back and let other people serve them.

Which is what I suspect is going on here. I asked the chair, "Speaking frankly, do you think her whole "I'm suing" thing is her hoping she'll get a jackpot out of the university so she won't have to work again?" and she nodded and tapped her nose. (The dean of students remarked to my chair that "I wish she'd just sue and get it over with, and stop coming in and harassing us.")

But this is one of the things that makes me crazy: this person is gumming up the works for everyone. Yet, no one has the balls (and I am not in a position to, I'm just the lowly prof) to tell her: Get out. Leave. Yes, go ahead and sue us, I hope you choke.

This person is wasting everyone's time and everyone's goodwill. When an administrator who is known for her sympathy towards students (the dean of students) is over someone's nonsense and wants them gone, that's just bad.

Well, at least I'm forewarned. So I'll know not to blow up at her. Know to do the smile-and-nod thing I perfected with my "victim" student of last year. Know not to take it personally when she threatens to sue.

But, dear God, it's 1% of the people that give me 90% of the headaches.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Some good teaching stuff

I know I gripe a lot on here about entitlement-mentality students, so I have to report a couple of incidents that show the opposite:

1. I had a guy in my basic, non-majors class thank me the other day for handing back exams so quickly. (One of my goals, even though it damn near kills me sometimes, is to give them back the next class meeting, or at least within a week). He said, "This is a refreshing change from some classes where the professors sit on the stuff for a month before handing it back."

Frankly, I just want it done with and out of my life, but the fact that the students get quick feedback on how they're doing is a bonus as well.

2. I realized this morning in my stats class that some people were TOTALLY lost, so I backed up a couple days and did a complete review, starting over from scratch. One of the guys (he is an international student and is a good student) thanked me after class because he said he understood it much more clearly now.

3. One of the women in that class asked me if we could "discuss" her last exam, which always puts me on alert, because some students use "discuss" to mean "I'm going to gripe at you and demand more credit."

Well, in her case, it was more, "Please show me what I did wrong on these things I missed." And in the process of doing that, I realized that while she had done one problem "incorrectly," she had set it up in a way that was fundamentally correct - and therefore, not deserving of losing the full ten points, so I gave her back five points on the spot. And she was happy to see her mistakes were mostly minor ones (one was that she transposed a few numbers) but her fundamental understanding of stuff was solid.

I've also learned that I can joke around a bit with students. One of the big shocks to me about moving to the South - though people warned me - is that "people will tease you when they like you." I've finally gotten used to that. I'm not always good at giving it back to them (which is the best response), and in a few cases I've gotten between two students whose teasing of each other seemed to border on hostility (but really wasn't, and I overinterpreted it). But anyway. Bow hunting season starts today, I guess, and Wednesday one of my students asked me at the end of lab, "So, is class cancelled Friday for bowhunting?" And I laughed and said, "Nice try, no." and he laughed and said, "It was worth a shot."

My Friday F-off

I belong to a particular women's group (well, I belong to a couple, but I'm talking about one group in particular). They are service oriented organizations.

I like most of the women in this group. And what we do (raising money for local scholarships - we do service projects) is important to me.

But, oh heavens, one or two of the people in that group.

There are different forms of privilege, you know? I openly recognize and own that I came from a background that was privileged in many ways: my family had enough money that the necessities and some of the desires were covered (but not so much that my brother and I got everything we wanted; I think that's also bad for a kid). And more importantly, we came from loving parents that taught us responsibility and common sense and who valued hard work and education.

And I recognize that, and I'm grateful for it.

But. There are a couple people in the group I'm talking about who have had lives where they've never had to work outside the home (and they had cleaning ladies, and in one case, a nanny, for the children, so I'm not convinced they worked nearly as hard as the average stay at home mom did). They have always had someone else to be the breadwinner.

And they SO DO NOT GET what it means to be a single woman supporting herself. They SO DO NOT GET what it means to work full time (and then some) at a career. They don't understand the fact that I bring work home with me at night, that I work weekends, that I sometimes work on the few "days off" we get (No, we don't get every freaking Federal Holiday like the post office does - in the fall we get Labor Day, in the spring semester we get MLK day, and in the summer, we get Independence Day - but other than that, Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty much it. And even now, now when they do assessment activities on the student, we are made to do "professional development" - sit in a room and be talked at by some "expert.")

So these women don't SEE the 18 different things I'm juggling. They don't see that I am juggling the metaphorical equivalent of three flaming chain saws, a couple axes, and a bunch of tennis balls.

They only see the metaphorical tennis ball I happen to drop.

I forgot one piece of (relatively minor) information I was planning on bringing to the latest meeting. I finally blew up at one of the women when I got tired of sitting there and listening to her sotto voce snarking about it. And I told her: Look, I have been juggling a lot of things. I am teaching four grading-intensive classes this fall. I have work at church and other places. Yes, I was "stupid" to forget that paper and if it bugs you so much, give me fifteen minutes and I will drive back to my office and get it.

She demurred: no, no, we don't want you to have to do that.

Then wench? SHUT THE HECK UP. (No, I did not say that).

I get so tired of the undercurrent of criticism that some people just have going on towards other people. We're doing our damned best, most of us, and it doesn't help.

And yes, I know: some people are just like that and you have to just "deal" with it.

But you know? I'm EFFING TIRED of dealing with it. This Atlas is getting ready to shrug. If I quit all my volunteer responsibilities tomorrow, there'd be a huge hole in a couple of local groups. And it pisses me off that people don't seem to notice that - all they can notice is the stuff that goes less than perfectly.

Oh, and the critics? How much duty do they do? A little, but it's not the same as some other women in the group. And incidentally, the people carrying the heaviest loads? Have never aimed criticism at me for doing 999 out of 1000 things, but not getting that thousandth thing finished.

I mean, I get it: To each person, the particular thing that impinges on them is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I DO. Even if it really isn't, compared to, oh, I don't know, teaching my students stuff they need to know to get into med school. Or getting my grading done so my students have feedback on their work in a reasonable time frame. Or being one of the very few Youth Group leaders at church.

And here's the thing: if they think I'm doing it so badly, they can take the task away from me. It's not like it's something (like teaching statistics is) that takes a specialized skill-set.

But of course, no one ever suggests that, because it's much more fun to watch the overwhelmed person flounder a bit and then criticize them for not being 100% perfect.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Oh, spare me.

Okay, I know he was "joking," but I didn't find it all that amusing.

Apparently, when asked about debate prep, Obama remarked "They're keeping me indoors all the time. It's a drag."

Um, Mr. Obama? There are some days, especially towards the end of Daylight Saving Time, when I don't even SEE the sun all day, because I'm working from 7 am until 7 pm. There are people who work even longer hours and under less pleasant conditions than I do. And I'm ostensibly a field biologist but it's jolly hard some months to get out and do the field research I'm SUPPOSED to do, because of my other responsibilities.

And you know, you're kind of the leader of the free world? Maybe you should be working hard? Maybe it IS supposed to be a drag? (Maybe you should go on the chat shows a little less?)

I don't know. Every time he came on the news this afternoon (I was grading my hugacious class' multiple-choice exams and needed background noise) I found myself thinking: "This is the smallest violin in the world, and I'm playing it just for you, Mr. President."

I mean, maybe he'd rather be golfing, but there are a lot of things I'd like to do, but my responsibilities prevent me from being able to do them.

Monday, October 01, 2012

TSAgent top ten

So apparently it's all over the news that there is a fair amount of theft on the part of TSA agents.

I don't fly, so I'm going to make a little light here:

Top Ten Reasons Reported why TSA Agents Steal Stuff:

10. We don't get paid enough, so we're using our version of the "five finger discount."
9. The gnome that lives in my head told me to.
8. Why should the people who do the body-cavity searches have all the fun?
7. I feel disrespected, therefore I deserve a free iPad.
6. Somebody is trying to frame me! They PLANTED that stuff in my house.
5. **I** didn't steal it. My wife/kids/parents did and it just turned up in my house.
4. I'm just redistributing wealth! Those rich travelers don't DESERVE that kind of nice stuff.
3. I was just holding it for them, so they wouldn't lose it.
2. "Finders keepers, losers weepers."

And the top reason?

1. "What else do you expect from a governmental agency?"

Friday, September 28, 2012


This is one of those, "Maybe it's just me" things. Or maybe it's one of those "Death of a thousand papercuts" things.

I get really annoyed when students don't bother to staple their homework, their essays, whatever. When they just come in and drop a pile of papers with that crummy foldover corner thing on my desk. Or, worse, they ask: "Do you have a stapler?"

My "desk" in the classroom is an open-topped table. If there is not a stapler on it, I do not have a stapler. And I usually wear dresses to class that have no pockets, so it's not like I'm going to be able to reach into a pocket and pull out a stapler. And I do not carry a briefcase, purse, or backpack to class: it's me, the textbook, my notes, and chalk!

So, no, no, I DON'T have a stapler.

(On the last teaching day of my teaching life? I may well wind up responding, "Hang on, let me pull one out of my ASS" to the student. Because really? There is nowhere on my person I could have a stapler and that's pretty clear).

I know people who refuse to accept papers that are unstapled. And I can see the CYA aspect of it: "Wait, you didn't get the last page of my paper where I made all my brilliant conclusions? WHY, YOU MUST HAVE LOST IT! I deserve a better grade for your sloppiness as a teacher!"

But I can't quite bring myself to take up that fight. Because it would be a fight. And I'd have to deal with the students who whined about it. Or who said, "But just this one time? I couldn't find a stapler" or "My stapler broke" or who knows what.

(I tried bringing staplers and leaving them in the rooms. They were gone within three days. I refuse to be the supplier of staplers to whoever is taking them.)

But the thing is, this is just one of those modern-world problems: Is it really so unreasonable of me to ask that students staple their papers? Some of them act like it is. But then I have to make sure I keep them all together, get them back to my office, staple them myself....it's one of those things, like cleaning glassware: if each student in my lab cleans their own glassware at the end of lab, it takes each person MAYBE three or five minutes to do it. But if they leave it all (and worse, if they leave it all on the bench...or they wash it but do a cruddy job and I have to redo it), I may be stuck there for 30 minutes or more washing glassware. (We do not have a TA budget for TAs to be paid to do such things).

It's a question of, are you willing to put yourself out a little bit so you don't put out the other person in a bigger way? And what's even more: by not washing glassware, you are putting out your teacher - someone with more experience and authority than you are. You are saying, effectively, "I consider you to be equivalent to my servant, because I am expecting you to do the menial tasks I could just as well do myself."

I think that's what really gets me, especially with the dirty-glassware-left-behind bit. It's an attitude of entitlement - the students know I don't have a TA, they know that Custodial doesn't handle working with glassware....so they know that if they leave it, it's on me to do.

I finally broke down this year and told them, "If I see a group leaving glassware behind, five points off for EVERYONE in the group. (And I saved back the "nuclear option" - that if there was LOTS of messy glassware, I'd penalize everyone). That seemed to do it, but golly, I shouldn't have to either threaten or bribe my students to keep a shared lab clean!

Also, and I think I've noted this before: the students who have small staplers they carry with them to use to staple their papers tend to earn very high grades. The students who go and seek out a stapler on their own (for example, going to the computer lab, where one is chained to the front desk) generally are people who earn good grades. But often, the people who don't staple their papers and act like it's my job to do so, their grades are not so good. Not because of the staples: I don't grade people down for not stapling. But not bothering to staple your papers is indicative sometimes of a lack of attention, a lack of caring, in other areas: it's related to the idea that the students with the best attendance usually earn the best grades.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The news-radio station I listen to occasionally has a feature where a pastor of one of the large churches in that city comes in to talk about stuff. (One thing about living in the south: people will go on even not-religiously-oriented radio stations and talk about God, and not be concerned about people complaining).

Anyway, I liked his message for today. Because it made me feel better about my life.

He was talking about passion. And he pointed out that the same root word for passion in Greek (? I think it was Greek, maybe it was Latin) is also a word for suffering. And that people who are passionate about what they are doing sometimes "suffer" - maybe not suffer in this country in the sense that, oh, the Coptic Christians or Iranian Christians suffer for their faith - but that there is some element of sacrifice.

And he noted: if you're passionate about your work, you will make those sacrifices. You will come in early and leave late, you will do more than other people do, you will not just go the extra mile, but the extra second, third, and fourth mile.

And I kind of saw myself in that: granted, I probably don't work as hard as SOME on this campus, but I do know I sacrifice more of my time for teaching and student service than some people do. (I've had students tell me that: that I'm more willing to work with them, I'm more willing to provide help outside of class, than some faculty in other departments). That if you care, you're willing to make those sacrifices.

And, despite my regular bitching about the entitled Snowflakes of the world, I do care. (In fact, I think part of the reason I bitch so much is that I care: I see how they could be better, how they're really smart enough to do the work, if they could just get over being lazy)

And I think that's the root of something that distresses me about some of the students: I see what I perceive as a lack of passion in them. They don't give a dang! To them, coming to class is like, I don't know, going to stock the shelves at the Wal-Mart - it's not something they care about, they know there is some sort of potential future reward (a paycheck at Wal-Mart, a good job with a good degree), but rather than doing their best to be their best while waiting for that reward, they just kind of drift through. And while I can see that that might be okay - and perhaps even in some cases, sanity-saving, if you're working a routine job with little chance of advancement - it doesn't work when you're a college student. Because a lot of what you get out of college is based on what you put in to it. And if you're unwilling to put forth some effort and make some sacrifices - well, you might as well go submit that application to Wal-Mart. But if you want something better, you learn to defer gratification and do what NEEDS to be done, so at some future time you can do what you WANT to do.

And I see students who have problems with this. Who ask for test make-ups because they planned a vacation for the week of an exam. Or who ask for an "excused absence" so they can go wait on line for the new iPhone. Or to miss an early morning class so they can go to the midnight premier of a movie.

And I guess I see all of those things as stuff you really should defer if you're a student (or be willing to put up with the consequences: I have also known people who were up well past midnight who came to my morning classes the next day).

And I'm not saying to ALWAYS defer everything fun that makes you happy - heck, I schedule some weekends that I can be "off" working on teaching, grading, or research, so I can go antiquing, or read a good book, or go meet up with a friend who lives some distance away and hang out with them. But I'm not asking for time off work to do that, and I'm scheduling the work I must do so that I have the free time to do that.

And I admit, a lot of the time, when I do that kind of thing - when I put my work first, or put the responsibilities I have at church first - I start to feel a little sad. And I get to wondering, "Am I just an old fart who puts too much emphasis on being responsible?" Because our society, all too often these days, seems to either sweep up after the people who are irresponsible (often at the expense of the responsible ones) or actually encourages dropping responsibilities in favor of "fun."

And I am not made that way. I cannot slack off on what I know needs to get done and go off and have fun.

And hearing the pastor say that it was because of passion for what we do that we make these sacrifices - of time, of money, of sometimes doing what WE want to do - and that that is a good thing. And he made a comment about how it means you're going out and tackling what God has put before you this day. And I have to admit, a lot of the time I find it hard in my working life to think of myself as doing what God wants me to do....but maybe I am. Maybe by teaching students to calculate standard deviations, or teaching them about disease transmission, or helping them to learn how to do research - that's what I'm supposed to do, and maybe something I will do will help someone in the up and coming generation to become a great doctor, or a great medical researcher, or someone who will make some kind of discovery that will help us to have an energy source that is inexpensive and allows us to decouple our unhealthy relationship with countries that hate us....

it's just a hard thing to remember when you're mired in the situation of dealing with students who want to do the bare minimum to get by.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Student percentages (and a ramble)

I know I gripe a lot about the "special snowflake" students, but really, they're few in number. (But like any vocal minority, they sure make themselves heard). The really horrible people - the demanding, entitled ones - are maybe 5 to 10  percent of the population. And then there's maybe 20%-30% who are really only in college for that piece of paper that's "supposed" to get them a job  (Good luck with that, in this economy).

But then there's 10-30% (if you're lucky, 30%) who really do care. Who want to learn, who are willing to work hard, who listen when you critique their work because they have learned that constructive criticism - all that red ink - is how they get better over time. (I try to be kind. I don't, unlike another prof I know, write "WTF????" on a paper if it doesn't make sense to me. But I do tell them if the writing is awkward, if they've used the wrong word, if they are not supporting their argument well, if they have taken the lazy way out of doing the research....and I would hope that they would realize Not To Do That next time.

And a certain percentage of them do.

And there is a percentage of students who, even if they're not going to go into high-powered careers where they do lots of groundbreaking research, they're decent people. They're nice. I have a few students who always wish me a good day at the end of class, and you know, it makes a difference.

It so much makes a difference. I make an effort myself to be polite to the students (even as I may be critiquing their work strongly) and I make an effort to "see the person." Sometimes I fail at that; I find it harder with the people who are demanding not to just write off their behavior as "They've been given everything all through their lives and now they expect it." Of course it's possible some people are insecure, some didn't get enough love and care as a child, some are having a hard time adjusting to adult life...but sometimes it's hard to see that. (And some people really do try to take whatever they can get without working for it in this life).

A lot of my "nice" students are the Fish and Wildlife guys. Many of them come from more humble backgrounds than our pre-meds do - at least, that is the sense I get. However, though they may come from financially humble backgrounds, by and large, they are wealthy in one big way: They seem to have good relationships with their families. A lot of them talk about going fishing with their grand-dads, or getting together with extended family for meals, or going to their niece's or nephew's birthday parties. And I think that connection really DOES matter. I think college-aged students who interact a lot with people of different generations (especially older generations) often have a sense of perspective and community that the students who are only surrounded by other 18 year olds do.

I know I was a better person than I might have been when I was in college, because I attended church. And I felt like I NEEDED to attend church. It was good sometimes to talk with people older than myself who were NOT just my professors, who had a different perspective on life. I know these days I need to get out of the hothouse atmosphere of the campus on a regular basis - when someone like me spends too much time immersed in what goes on on campus, things get stretched out of proportion. Things that are really small in the grand scheme of things seem HUGE, because you are looking at them from such a close and tight perspective.

So it's often a relief to go to church, or go out to lunch with a couple of friends from church, or go do something with someone not affiliated with the university. To get my head out of my work for a while.

Sometimes I think that the way school and especially college is set up may stunt young people a little bit, by making most of their interaction with their own-aged peers. Maybe I'm prejudiced in that; I didn't like my peers much when I was a kid (I was one of those little kids with the invisible-to-anyone-but-the-bullies tattoo that said "Tease me. I cry easily. It's fun.") I have to admit, even today, I often have more in common with people 15 or 20 years my senior than I do with my own-aged peers....the women from church I prefer to hang out with are mostly in their 60s; most of the ones in my own age group (with one big exception,  and she is a friend of mine) are SO wrapped up in their kids' lives that they don't seem to have time for much else. And I suppose that's fine, it's just...there's a point I think where you become too wrapped up in living through your kid.

So I don't know. I think people do interact better when they have a range of ages around. I am not sure why but I have that sense. I don't know if it's the perspective of the older people, or if there is still some vestige of respect-for-elders that cuts down on the "Lord of the Flies" aspect, or what it is....but it seems to me that people act better and are kinder when they don't just interact with their own peer group.

And so, as I said, I get maybe 20% or so of the students who won't set the world on fire, who have decent but not outstanding grades - but they're good people. And I'd rather work with people who are basically kind and decent, if not hotshots, than with people who can earn top grades but do so while being jerks to the other kids in the class, and also sometimes the prof.

The older I get, the more I find that basic human kindness can trump skill or talent.  (The Scripture for this morning's sermon was the famous chapter 13 of First Corinthians. Again, the older I get, the more I see the truth to that. And the speaker made the point that the word used for "love" there translates poorly into English, that the word really used is "Agape," which is a sense of love we don't always seem to have much of in our society....)