"Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping." --Virginia Woolf A Room of One's Own

bring in the clowns!

Today at a departmental meeting, I learned what our college president really thinks of my department's faculty and the work we do. The good news is that we no longer have to pretend there is mutual respect. There isn't. This revelation came about during a meeting about the qualifications for certain new hires. These new hires would be high school teachers teaching high school students in high schools using high school textbooks only marginally under the control of the college. Sounds like high school to most people who bamboozled by all the bull shit. But instead, this is called "college in the high school." Yes, high school teachers teaching high school students in high schools using high school resources is now college, if some get their way, and likely they will thanks to the stupidity of the legislature and the spinelessness of the boards of trustees and administrations they put in place. In short, we are selling credits with our imprimatur in the hopes that these students will come our way after they graduate or leave high school.

Lots of people like to think the graduate degree in English they earned, whether an MA or PhD, has meaning beyond filling some space in a frame while hanging on a wall. The legislature says that the high school faculty must be qualified and meet the same qualifications as the college faculty. In the English department, this means anyone we hire will have an English degree, which could be some generalized degree, a comp/rhet degree, a focus on some particular literature and when the "closely related" aspect is taken into account, that is generally taken to mean American Studies, Comparative Literature, Linguistics or something of that sort. Our president, and unfortunately our dean as well, are taking "closely related" to mean the most common graduate degree in the school system, which is a Masters in Education.

When arguing for sticking to the MA in English or something closely related as our minimum, our president said no. In her words, "Anyone can teach composition." And that's when we learned what she thinks of us and our work. Well, she's right. Anyone can teach composition. But that's not really the concern. What matters is can they teach it well? Can they translate an understanding, assuming they have it, of current theory and pedagogy in a way that benefits students? Just as the answer would be "no" in any other field of study, the answer is no when it comes to teaching composition in a way that best serves students first and foremost. Expressing contempt for a department that teaches the only required course of all incoming students, expressing this contempt in front nearly two dozen faculty and administrators makes clear just what is wrong with education today. So bring in the clowns, where they can join those who are already making funny.

It's not about the students

One of the more recent efforts underway at my college is college College in the High School, or something like that, where high school students take classes from high school teachers in high school classrooms, but for college credit. Back in the day, whenever that was, this was called high school. But now, because everyone is exceptional, and apparently high school is a waste of time for high school students, the teachers that are apparently failing them in their high school studies are now going to guide them through a college level education. I guess the first thing we need to figure out is whether these teachers are the problem for the failure of the high schools and their students (I don't really think they are) or whether the problem lies elsewhere, such as the bone headed state legislature.

What I do know is that the more we, meaning society, devalue high school education, and the more we try to make it a college education because high school sucks so bad, the less meaning high school has for everyone, including college teachers like myself.

Saddest of all is the reason we are doing it. Not because it serves students well, but because another college in the area is getting in on the action and we don't want them poaching our students. This is not, and lately it never is, about what is good for students, for teaching and learning. It's all about market share and revenue streams. How about we stop all this fast track bullshit in favor of providing students a worthwhile education at the level they are presently at. If students are exceptional, they can come to the college campus and take classes. But please, let's not turn high schools into pseudo-colleges, because the joke is then on everyone involved and it's all of us who will pay the price down the road when we have credentialed but uneducated graduates who aren't worth a damn.

Atop Headwall

This the view from atop the Headwall run at Schweitzer Mountain. Around the middle of the image is the village. Further out is Lake Pend O'reille. The skiing wasn't great, but there was several inches of new snow covering some crusty stuff. While the snow was fresh, the skiing was great.

Whoops? Foot in mouth? Head elsewhere?

Unit 731 and American Exceptionalism

Unit 731, as very few Americans, and very few others but the Chinese, was a unit of the Japanese occupation force in what used to be known as Manchuria, now the area of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, within the city of Harbin. Unit 731 is infamous for their focus on bacterial, biological and ecological warfare studies. Unit 731 experimented on primarily Chinese peasants and prisoners of war, but some English and quite possibly American prisoners as well. There is little doubt that these experiments were as despicable as those conducted by the Germans during the war. So, how does this fit with American exceptionalism? Click the "read more" link beneath the picture of me standing in front of what remains of the complex.

Summer Reading

My summer reading indicates something of a "man crush," but on a country. Having spent nearly a month in Harbin, Heilongjiang province in northeast China, the area that it seems is no longer referred to as Manchuria. I went to China for two reasons, maybe more. What became the first was initially the second reason, and that was to teach at the English Summer Camp at Harbin Institute of Technology. What was initially the first reason was to learn about China in order to revise a class with an international focus, thanks to a small grant from the Northwest International Education Association, part of the Association of International Educators, otherwise known as NAFSA. So, here's what I read:

Bacon, Ursula. Shanghai Diary: A Young Girls Journey from Hitler's Hate to War-Torn China. Milwaukie, Oregon: Milestone, 2004.

As the title indicates, the story of a Jewish girl and her parents escape from Nazi Germany and their life in Shanghai during World War II.

Kommie Kitsch

I probably shouldn't be so irreverant, but what the heck. Some of the best stuff I've bought in China is what we've come to call "dollar store crap." But much of it is "only in China" dollar store crap. What I'm most happy with is three decks of playing cards. One is the "Ten Marshalls." The other decks are "The Great Leader" (Mao) and "Red Age." Each deck of cards comes in a nice outer box and inside is a plastic case. The cards are wrapped inside the plastic case, so I'm reluctant to open them. I suspect these cannot be found in America, though maybe I'm wrong.

Perhaps I could start importing them and make a bundle. These, so my thinking goes now, are bound to be White Elephant gifts at the family Christmas eve celebration. I have no doubt these will be a hit, the "must have" gift that sparks fights. The perfect white elephant gift. As I have time to shop some more, I hope to find more of this sort of thing. By Chinese standards, I paid too much, Y40 for three packs of cards. That's about $6.50 total.

Another Chinese Breakthrough

For the traveller from America to China, perhaps little will be more disconcerting than the stomach's ability to adjust to the new diet. It's not something most will consider before travelling. Nonetheless, I can report that it took my stomach about two weeks to make the transition from my standard diet (which is probably not as healthy as it could be given that I don't eat meat (fish being the exception). As of a few days ago, my stomach has settled down. I no longer fear what has been called "Beijing Belly" (never mind that I am far north of there in Harbin) though that is more likely something that occurs should one drink the water, something I have not done, and still guard against. So, if you plan on staying in China more than two weeks, your stomach should come around by then.

Chinese Breakthrough

One of the downsides of blogging in drupal is hitting the wrong key or clicking the wrong spot on the screen and losing one's work. That just happened. It wasn't a lot of work, but it irks me nonetheless. Because of that, I'm not going to try to replicate what I've lost and I will just go straight to my breakthrough for today.

I ordered an iced latte in Chinese! I didn't do a great job of it. First, one orders a coffee latte.The coffee part was easy. Coffee, but pronounced as one might pronounce it as would a European. Rather than caw-fee, it's cah-fay. Still, easy enough for an American. The latte was a bit harder. I was pronouncing it "nitesche," like the philosopher. It's more like nah-tay, or naughty in English. Ice or cold is "bing." Easy again. Iced, though, is bing-shen. pronounced somewhat like it sounds, And it only took two weeks!

Harbin, China day three partial

I'm getting more comfortable in and around HIT, but not so much Harbin itself because, at something approaching 10 million people, I think, that seems all but impossible. Yesterday, Saturday, July 21, we stood in line in the bowel's of the university stadium in order to get swim passes.

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