Tabula Rasa Sunday

Tabula rasa, meaning blank slate in Latin, is the epistemological theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception. That’s according to wikipedia.
No, don’t get on my case about wiki being an illegitimate source. It’s summer. Yeah, that’s my excuse. And I’m stikin’ with it.

Point is… what knowledge do you want to share from your experiences (in any matters) or preceptions (of said matters) related to our academic lives (HWC, CCC, CPS, SURS, CCTU, etc, etc.)? Or if you’re taking a break from academics (ha!, as if that were possible), then life in general.

Have your democratic say and keep enjoying that summer break! This post will run every Sunday during the summer, so don’t fret of you cant’s think of nothin’ right now. Perhaps the effect of those spirits from last nigh hasn’t worn off just yet? Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout…

A Survey by Dr. Farah Movahedzadeh

If you missed the email from Margie, read the following:

“Dr. Farah Movahedzadeh has been doing some research on why students fail. She presented Phase I of the research at the Lilly conference last summer. She is extending the research now and is asking that faculty at HWC participate. The goal is to learn more about faculty perceptions so that we can provide more outreach to students to increase their success. If you would like to participate, please fill out the attached form and email it to , or you can hand it in anonymously at the State of the College on Friday. There will be a box by the door.
Thank you for your participation.”

This is a good opportunity to add your perspective on this important issues. Also, a nice opportunity to support our own HWC faculty research! It seems likely the next research might be on why students succeed.

Why Do You Think Students Fail Classes Survey

The HWC Transfer Center

I just spent some time with Transfer Center Director Ellen Goldberg.  During this time, Ellen graciously acquiesced to contributing a podcast (about 6 minutes) about the services the HWC Transfer Center provides our students.

If you’re not sure what the Transfer Center offers our students, take a listen, and please consider sharing the podcast with your students via the following url:

The Writing Lab

John Cahill, a tutor from the Writing Lab in 203A, stopped by my office today to record a brief (< 5 minute) podcast about the Writing Lab and the service the excellent tutors in the Writing Lab offer our students.

If you don’t have time to have a tutor visit your class to explain the services (per Elisabeth Greer’s, Writing Lab Coordinator, January 22nd e-mail), then please consider sharing this mp3 podcast with your students.  You can do so by sharing this link with your students:

Things You Could (Have) Do(ne) Over Break #3: Literature Edition

Why literature? Because it’s good for you and tastes better than brussel sprouts.

~Use THIS, which is glorious, to teach narrative, interpretation, personification, metaphor, whatever. Or just watch it. It’ll be a highlight of your day. Promise;

~Consider irony. Don is doing it. And in response to the article that prompted his reflections, many others did too, though they came to different conclusions about the merit of the original piece (as here and here);

~Check out this article on the top Literary Heroines of 2012 (with links to other such lists) or this list of great books from 2012 (Hologram for a King was entrancing; I read it in two sittings only because I wanted to slow the experience down a bit to enjoy it longer. Really, really great.) or this longer one (with poetry!);

~Think about translation and how it affects what you read (you read stuff in translation, right? RIGHT?)

~Read up on the various perspectives and associated controversies surrounding the latest Nobel Prize Laureate, Mo Yan (whose book, for the record, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out was one I enjoyed greatly) and the difficult intersections of politics, language, and art;

~Let Poetry make you weird;

~Have you read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet? I loved it when I was in college. I’ve been a little fearful to go back to it, lest it disappoint, and it hasn’t come up since, except in my own mind when Alexandria is mentioned. It was in those books that I first found C.P. Cavafy, whose work I love. And someday, I hope to visit. In the meantime, I was happy to find this;

~Learn about Wayne Booth’s helpful distinctions of narrator, implied author, and actual author (or at least the implied author part) as applied to political punditry. Or, learn about Wayne Booth. He was awesome;

~Read about epigraphs and their history, one way that books talk to each other, as Umberto Eco might put it.

~Did you know “Toni Morrison” is a pen name? Or that she did this with Rokia Traore (who put on one of the most amazing live music experiences I’ve ever had–you should check her out if and when she comes back to town) I didn’t, until I read this;

~Imagine life as an editor. Nothing but commas everywhere. And errors;

~Read this absorbing essay about Literature and Digital Humanities. A bit of it:

At the advent of print, the humanities emerged, under the aegis of Erasmus and others, to negotiate the spread of the classical tradition out of the monasteries into private hands. Today, with the advent of the Internet, Google’s self-described project is to make the world’s information “universally accessible and useful.” Academia could have done what humanists have done throughout history and tried to add to Google’s mandate: make the texts legible and available. They could have tried to bring out the contemporary relevance that only historical context, knowledge of literary tradition, and scholarly standards can provide. But this ancient task was anathema, for the simple reason that it would have involved honest work. Much easier to remain in the safe irrelevance of mass publication in the old mode, what Kingsley Amis called “the pseudo-light it threw on non-problems.” For at least 50 years, humanities departments have been in the business of creating problems rather than solving them.

All in all, it’s fair to say that the conversion of literature into data could not have gone much worse, which does not bode well for the second, oncoming phase, where we decide what to do with the literary data we now have…

But the really great part of the essay (I think) comes in the second half when the author discusses literature as “resistance to data.”  Which is another reason to love Lit.

~Read a difficult book; or, better (?) read about other people’s picks for the ten most difficult books;

~Check out these two interviews with Junot Diaz (here and here)–both great;

~Or find some other author talking about her or his book;

~Read this letter from Steinbeck to his editor about books and reading and audiences and life;

~Consider what should (and should not) be “required reading” or think about re-reading;

~Or read about a snob’s opinion of Stephen King’s work;

~Have you read any lit crit lately? Are you wondering what Terry Eagleton is up to?  Or wondered why contemporary lit is “gutless” (as compared to the work of Rabindranath Tagore–do you know Tagore? You should. Interesting dude.)? Anyway, not to fear–postmodernism is dead. Unless it isn’t;

~Finally, to bring it around, you might (re)-consider the effects of literature and its limits:

When we’re practiced in sympathy it is easier for us to notice “what is not seen.” When we have tried, over and over again, to put ourselves into others’ places and to see the world from where they are standing, we’re better people, living in a more civil world. Because we’ve read Alice Adams, we might not go over the top trying to impress people the next time we’re under great social pressure and we might not be so harsh on those who do. Because our children have read, and have had read to them, stories that help them think about the perils of greed, or the importance of kindness, or the dangers of drinking from bottles marked “Drink me,” they will grow up to be more considerate and more careful of themselves and others.

It’s tempting to close with promises about how if we all just read a few more books—better books—support our local arts scene, visit museums, attend concerts, read to our children and make them take piano lessons, our problems will be solved. Surely, a society that’s grounded in civility and sympathy and learned in the humanities would not be plagued with financial irresponsibility and ethical misconduct. Surely it wouldn’t be run by politicians and reported on by journalists who use language that would have shocked Lady Chatterley. Unfortunately people who offer easy answers to complicated questions are usually trying to sell you something.

The humanities can teach us civility and sympathy, but they can’t make us perfect and they can’t fix our problems for us. They can help us be more aware of the “unseen,” but they cannot help us predict unintended consequences. There isn’t a philosophical theory or a novel or a painting or a piece of music in the world that can solve the Middle East or clean up an oil spill or make the economy recover. The best the humanities can do is to remind us that, as Auden put it, “We must love one another or die,” and then show us how to do it.


Things You Could (Have) Do(ne) Over the Break #2: Security Edition

Way back last year, I had a notion of a series of posts on things to do over break that was meant to help clear out my “Instapaper” account (which currently stands at 20+ pages of material) and backlog of stuff I wanted to post and address some other items that I hadn’t managed to get to over the course of last fall. Unfortunately I didn’t get any farther than the first one.

Still, as with most things, I prefer the long view, and so, though belated, you can expect a few more of these.

One of the things I wanted to get to last semester (admittedly, in order to do some moaning and complaining about it) was security. There were a couple of incidents in the fall that had me thinking (again) about the topic (as here along with the numerous incidents around and near Truman and Kennedy King, as well as elsewhere). Remember the Faculty Council survey from 2011 and the findings (more information on the results and the context here)? If not, this is what we found:

1. 90% of the respondents feel HWC is a safe environment, but roughly 3/4ths of those who held this view think it can be improved;

2. Roughly 75% of the respondents did not experience any immediate or potential threat to their safety this semester; that number dropped to 65% when asked to consider other situations that made them feel uncomfortable about their safety;

3. A clear majority of the faculty that responded do not know how to access emergency plans and crime information;

Well, that one, at least, we can do something about. If you missed it, over the break, Armen sent out some links for everyone to review; you might also consider posting a link to one or more of these in your Blackboard site.

Finally, one last thing you should know about (and please help spread the word)–Harold Washington College has something called the Supportive Intervention Team (SIT). Its origins lie in the Clery Law’s mandate that every college have a Threat Assessment group with training and processes for identifying and dealing with threats that strike the necessary balance between intra-institutional transparency and student privacy. In the worst of the college-campus tragedies of recent years–Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, etc.–subsequent investigations found that earlier interventions might have made a difference. Over the past year and a half or so, George Bickford and Michael Russell have led the development of a set of process/protocols that have led to regular communication among security, administration (especially student services), faculty, human resources, and our Wellness staff. The process has been both educational and painstaking (I was a Faculty Council co-rep, along with Rosie and Matt Usner, last spring and summer) and extremely thoughtful.  You should DEFINITELY take a gander at the SIT page and maybe make a note of the link for reporting a “Person of Concern.” If you scroll down on the SIT page, you’ll find guidelines for reporting, as well as an explanation of the process once the report is made. There is also a link to a page with helpful reminders about engaging with distressed people (students, faculty, staff, strangers–whoever).

Originally I was going to belly ache about the absence of a sign in every room with the phone number for security large enough to be read from the back of the room (maybe we should make our own in the meantime?) and the fact that the last lockdown drill and associated key distribution (that I know of) was conducted almost two years ago and was only partial even then. I would guess that these items will get more attention in light of Newtown.  At least I hope they will. In the meantime, for yourself and your colleagues and your students, make sure you’re not the person who doesn’t know what to do if you need to know what to do.

Open mike on the strike

What up peeps? I saw PhiloDave’s earlier post and followed the link to the post on Diane Ravitch’s blog. The reply from phillip cantor got me thinking. It reads:

“You can also support the CTU by spreading the word via social media. So much of the mainstream media and the “common sense” you hear from folks doesn’t address the real issues. You can educate people.”

Very true. So in the spirit of spreading the word and supporting our union sisters and brothers, I hope we can use this post to hear about the real issues, not what the media would like us to hear (and of course, believe).

I’d like to be educated in this matter. Sure, I’ll read the papers and watch the news; but I believe it is important to balance all of that with words from CPS teachers. So if you know a teacher that’s on strike, ask them to share their story on this site; just like Andrew did. Time to level the media playing field. Anonymity welcomed/encouraged.

I’ll do my best to get the discussion started:
I read this excerpt from this story titled, Teachers strike expected to go into 2nd day, from the Trib:

Emanuel sought to reassure parents that CPS was working quickly to resolve the situation and return kids to the classroom. He again characterized the strike as “one of choice” by teachers and said that it could have been avoided.

What say you the CPS teacher? True?
IMHO, Yes, it was a choice. No joke. But, it was not a choice that was made lightly. If my boss decided to increase my teaching load from 15 contact hours a semester to 16 and only pay me for 15, what choice does that leave me? Hmmm… let’s see. I could, A) say yes, I’ll work 16 contact hours while you pay me for 15, or B) say no, that’s not fair, pay me for the extra contact hour.
True, the strike could have been avoided if, A) the mayor does not extend the school day until negotiating with CTU, or B) increase the school day and compensate the teachers.

If you know a CPS teacher, send them a link to The Lounge. I’d like to hear their side. Educate me.

First Day (Unsolicited) Advice

For Them (Seven is a winner on the come out roll):

  1. On studying
  2. On the right mindset
  3. About grades
  4. On their purpose and motivations
  5. On the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
  6. On failing
  7. On Metacognition (my students have reported this one as being particularly enlightening)


For You (this list goes to 11):

  1. On clothing
  2. On syllabus revisions
  3. On teaching community college students (for those who haven’t)
  4. More on clothing
  5. General platitudes
  6. About grades
  7. Tricks for convincing students that you have “psychic powers”
  8. Keep hope alive!
  9. For those of us who teach writing
  10. On failing
  11. A speech you might give (with revisions)

What else have you got?


For Metoyer

In just a few short weeks John Metoyer will be leaving Harold Washington College. Let’s take a few moments to identify ways that Metoyer has positively influenced faculty, staff and students in his roles as President of Faculty Council, Associate Dean, Dean of Instruction, President and Vice President of HWC.

If anyone would like to post verse in iambic pentameter, musical numbers, odes or Haiku – that would be awesome!

Bonne chance mon ami.

More 12th Century Chinese Philosophy for Armendarez

While looking for the quote I used, I found these gems, all from Chu Hsi:

~In reading, if you have no doubts, encourage them. And if you do have doubts, get rid of them. Only when you have reached this point have you made progress.

~Every morning, something should be ventured. Every evening, something should be realized. Every day something should be nurtured, and every day something should be preserved.

~Learning is something we have to do. If we don’t know to learn, we make ourselves deficient. Only if we know to learn, will we have no deficiencies. People today thing learning is something from the outside added on to them.

~Simply make a concrete effort. Arguing about it a lot just creates a ruckus.

~You mustn’t want do do everything at once. In a day a man can eat only three bowls of rice; he can’t eat ten or more days of rice at one sitting. In a day you can only read so much, and your efforts have a limit. As ever you mustn’t want to do everything at once.

~The problem with men is that they feel the views of others alone may be doubted, not their own. Should they try to reproach themselves as they reproach others, they may come to realize their own merits and demerits.

~In teaching and guiding the younger generation, you must be stern and untiring. But only if you’re able to inspire and enlighten them as well will you be successful. If you’re simply stern with them, restraining them and that is all, it’ll be of no help.

~Students today are not the least bit excited about learning.

~People nowadays are unwilling to get started in making an effort–they all want to wait…how are they going to make any progress like this?*

~Everything is a matter of learning.

*This one is actually much longer with a great section that I neglected to write down. Unfortunately, I don’t have my books with me so I can provide neither the rest of the quote, nor the source information, except to say that some of them came from Chu Hsi’s Learning to Be a Sage and others came from his book Reflections on Things At Hand, both of which are great.

Feeling Earthy

Did you know about the City’s “Sustainable Backyard” Rebate program?

Just in case you’re doing planning on doing some gardening this weekend (or month), you might want to check this out:

Sustainable Backyards Rebates

Rebate forms are available to Chicago residents for up to 50% off their next local purchase of:

TREES (up to $100 back)

NATIVE PLANTS (up to $60 back)

COMPOST BINS (up to $50 back)

RAIN BARRELS (up to $40 back)

Free money, baby–they’re giving it away! Click HERE for the full story, including information about the process.