kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/23/12 - 12/30/12

Saturday, December 29, 2012

oh, the humanity!

Having taught English composition to college freshman for the past two years in the context of a traditional English course, I conclude that: the humanities are kaput.

Not an original observation, I know, but until now I hadn't seen the phenomenon up close.

The humanities are not kaput at the college where I teach, by the way. The college where I teach is a holdout for traditional English (and grammar!): an outpost. But the very fact that traditional English is holding on at my college may actually be evidence for the kaputness of the humanities elsewhere.

(Which reminds me....a while back I downloaded a series of lectures on American literature by a professor at Yale. I should find those and listen to one just to see.)

This week I have been stumbling upon near-daily evidence that the humanities as we once knew them are no more.

Yesterday, for instance, I came across a film professor at Appalachian State University, I think it was, explaining that the purpose of education is to expose 18-year olds to "diversity," thus eliminating "hate."


College eliminates hate via affirmative action enrollment.

(What is the purpose of college for the diverse people whose presence on campus is so educational for their white counterparts? Not addressed.)

Then today I listened to a 10-minute Stanford podcast, an interview with a Stanford English professor, on the Book of Genesis. I was excited to discover the podcast, which I'd forgotten I had, because I teach 3 chapters from the Book of Genesis in my composition class. Also, I'm reading the Bible (trying to), and I'm interested in the Bible.

But the interview was a great disappointment. Mostly, the professor spent his time talking about why anyone should want to read the Book of Genesis in the first place.

To be fair, the interviewer had pretty much asked, going in, "Why on Earth are we reading the Book of Genesis?" She asked nicely, but the fact that she asked at all: more evidence the humanities are dead. Dead or not doing their job.

Of course, given the fact that the humanities are not doing their job, "Why are we reading the Book of Genesis?" is a legitimate question. Maybe even the question. I myself would have liked to hear a scholarly explanation of why an educated person should read the Bible. For instance, I'm especially curious about how ignorance of the Bible affects my ability to read the many novels that draw on the Bible.

But the professor didn't get into that. He did make the interesting observation that everyone has an opinion about the Book of Genesis whether they think they do or not (not his words), but he didn't develop that idea, either.

Instead, he transitioned to a lengthy reflection on the fact that so many people take the Bible seriously in a non-English-professor sort of way -- "and that's OK," he said.

But not completely OK, apparently. The reason to read the Book of Genesis, he finally concluded, is to show students that it is possible to talk about contested material in a civil and dispassionate manner, and that is the goal of a college education.

Civil discourse is the goal of a $60K/year Stanford education.

That's going to come as news to parents, most of whom likely think -- if they think of it at all -- that civil discourse is the prerequisite for a college education, not the goal. Minding your manners in class: something a Stanford student should know how to do going in.

Then tonight I came across the following, also on the Stanford website:
What do you think of when you think of the word "grammar"? ... "Usually, our minds go to those unending rules and exceptions, those repetitive drills and worksheets..." (720). This formal grammar is "the deadly kind of grammar," the one that makes us anxious....
So film professors at Appalachian State are curing hate, English professors at Stanford are curing religious conflict, and composition theorists are attending to anxiety about grammar while bludgeoning the rules, drills, and worksheets that would prevent anxiety about grammar developing in the first place.

English as a discipline seems to be gone.

Friday, December 28, 2012

how were teenagers were invented?

the answer: technology!

"Hold On to Your Kids" and "authoritative parenting"

re: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté

I'm only a few pages into Hold On to Your Kids but already I feel my entire parental life rushing before my eyes: from Neufeld's perspective, everything looks different.

Ed and I are "authoritative parents," so much so that we ended up pulling C. out of public school and sending him to an "authoritative" high school (a Jesuit school).

"Authoritative parenting" is warm/strict (in Doug Lemov's terms). Actually, it's warm/strict combined with 'autonomy,' which means autonomy of thought, not behavior. Teenagers being raised by authoritative parents are free to think whatever they please without incurring the wrath of their parents. But the rules stand.

With authoritative parenting, warmth is as important as strictness; without the warmth you have authoritarian parenting, which does not work. But the name American psychologists have given to effective parenting is authoritative parenting, and I have always thought about "authoritative parenting" in terms of parental authority first and foremast. I took the warmth for granted.

Reading Neufeld, I think that's wrong.

I think the essence of authoritative parenting is that the parent-child attachment remains quite strong even through the teen years and even in the midst of a "youth culture."

A few minutes ago, I pulled out my copy of Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom and tracked down this passage, which I remembered from the book. Although it made a big impression on me when I first read it years ago, today I discover that it's almost a throwaway:
Adolescents from permissive homes are in some ways a mirror image of those from authoritarian homes. On measures of misbehavior and lack of compliance with adult authority, permissively raised adolescents often appear to be in some trouble. Their drug and alcohol use is higher than other adolescents, their school performance is lower, and their orientation toward school is weaker. All of this suggest some reluctance, or perhaps difficulty in buying into the values and norms of adults (most of whom would counsel staying out of trouble and doing well in school). At the same time, though, the adolescents from permissive homes report a level of self-assurance, confidence, and social poise comparable to that seen in the teenagers from authoritative households. Especially attuned to their peers, adolescents from permissive homes are both more capable in social situations with their age mates and more susceptible to their friends' influence. All in all, it appears as if parental permissiveness leads teenagers to be relatively more oriented toward their peers, and less oriented toward their parents and other adults, such as teachers.

The differences we observed among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive homes point once again to the power of authoritative parenting---this time, during adolescence--as an approach to child-rearing that protects adolescents from getting into trouble while at the same time promoting their maturity and successful school performance.
This may be the only passage in the book that addresses the subject of peer versus adult orientation. The rest of the book takes it as a given that all teens are effectively 'raised' by other teens (although that is not the way Steinberg puts it): that this is a natural state of affairs.

But it's not. A separate "youth culture" or "generation gap" is a relatively new phenomenon. The word "teenager" didn't even exist until after World War II.

Pacific Child

Have just been introduced to Ira Heilveil, who writes about autism and the behaviorial treatment of autism at Pacific Child. Looks great, especially the post on top, which has to do with getting autistic children and adults to cooperate with doctors.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

from the annals of greatest hits: do not press send

Thinking about schools and peers and parent-child attachments....I came across one of my favorite posts.

"Hold On to Your Kids"

For a number of years, now, I've been thinking that schools per se are a bad idea. Not education, schools.

The way I put it to myself had to do with "age segregation." Every time I thought of middle school or high school, I would think: all those 14-year olds together in one place---eeek!

The age segregation of the middle school struck me as particularly unnatural. K-8 schools seemed a more constructive social grouping, and in fact there is evidence that K-8 schools are more constructive academically, although I'm not going to take the time to look it up just now. (Middle school posts here.)

In any event, age segregation bad is as far as I ever took this line of thought -- until this week, when I ordered Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor MatéDebbie S was raving about it, so I got it.

Neufeld's book is a revelation.

Neufeld puts into words the inchoate thoughts and intuitions I've had re: kids, schools, and parental authority (helicopter parent posts here).

Hold On to Your Kids argues that teens are being raised by teens -- and that our culture sees this historically unprecedented situation as normal and correct.
The chief and most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parenting authority and parental love is the increasing bonding of our children with their peers. It is the thesis of this book that the disorder affecting the generations of young children and adolescents now heading toward adulthood is rooted in the lost orientation of children toward the nurturing adults in their lives....For the first time in history young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults. Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity. They are being brought up by each other.
I imagine Neufeld and Maté are going to say that a school, depending upon its culture, can act to increase -- or to decrease -- "peer orientation," but we'll see.

That is certainly what I've observed.

More later.

Christmas present review

Game of Thrones 1st Season Collector Edition: not a hit, especially after Episode 2. Dog murder is not entertaining.

Downton Abbey: Silly but fun.

buzzers and glass

C. is working at Andrew's vacation program this week. When he got home today he said they've really beefed up security. "Beefed up the security" means they're keeping the exterior glass doors locked all of the time instead of most of the time, so parents have to fish their key cards out of their wallets or purses or glove compartments in order to buzz themselves inside. If parents don't have their key cards or if their key cards have stopped working, they have to try to attract the attention of people inside to come get them. That's easy to do if there's anyone in the hall because the door and the wide panels flanking the door are made of glass.

It will be the same here in the district, too, no doubt. The new superintendent has sent out an email saying the district will be increasing security measures and asking us to be patient with the coming "inconvenience."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


at Marginal Revolution

Here, too

And: MR likes Givewell for evaluations of charitable organizations.

related: One of my favorite books is William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.

For me White Man's Burden was a page-turner.

bring back English

A university funded, award-winning undergraduate Honors thesis at NYU:
Shahida Arabi, The Show That Must Go On: Gender Performativity in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s As you Like It*
The Show That must Go On: Gender Performativity in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s As You Like It Shahida Arabi, English
Sponsor: Professor Elaine Freedgood, English

Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity asserts that gender is a performance that is constantly problematizing itself. using this idea as a basis for my research, and combining literary criticism with performance studies and gender studies to guide my analysis, I explore how gender is theatricalized and problematized in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice within their respective historical contexts. The body in both texts serves as the site where cultural meanings are inscribed and performed through various stages of gender signification, including cross-dressing, drag, and the rituals of marriage. The body exerts a performative labor that exposes and subverts the very performances being staged. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice emphasizes the role of marriage in successfully “passing” for a woman in eighteenth-century England, while Shakespeare’s As You Like It reveals a world of drag and cross-dressing that both destabilizes and exposes the performativity of gender through the vehicle of Rosalind’s body. Rosalind’s doubling performances construct several layers of gender performance, reflecting the nuanced roles of sixteenth-century English women and the dubious nature of the gendered body on the Shakespearean stage.. These performances, engineered through clothing and language, are partially negated by Rosalind’s references to her biological body, even as they are reinforced by her defamation of the female sex. The financial necessity of marriage in eighteenth-century England compels female characters in Pride and Prejudice to perform their gender through marriage rather than through the stage props of clothing or weapons. Consenting to or refusing a marriage proposal could secure social mobility or undercut social and class expectations. The narrative, however, complicates seemingly subversive performances by reducing characters to the physicality of their bodies, or granting physical agency to “flattened” or one-dimensional characters. These two texts, despite the difference in historical era, problematize this timeless discourse of a stable gender identity.
Inquiry: A Journal of Undergraduate Research

* supported by Dean’s undergraduate research Fund † winner of Phi Beta Kappa Albert Borgman Prize for Best Honors Thesis

Monday, December 24, 2012

Il Est Né le Divin Enfant

I first heard Il Est Né le Divin Enfant just a few years ago, and it instantly became my favorite Christmas carol.

Then I saw this YouTube video and it became my favorite version. I don't know why!

Unfortunately, the video cuts off before the performance is over. I don't remember that being the case last year or the year before....

Il est ne, le divin Enfant,
Jouez, hautbois, resonnez, musettes;
Il est ne, le divin Enfant;
Chantons tous son avenement!

1. Depuis plus de quatre mille ans,
Nous le promettaient les Prophetes;
Depuis plus de quatre mille ans,
Nous attendions cet heureux temps. Chorus

2. Ah! qu'il est beau, qu'il est charmant,
Que ses graces sont parfaites!
Ah! qu'il est beau, qu'il est charmant,
Qu'il est doux le divin Enfant! Chorus

3. Une etable est son logement,
Un peu de paille, sa couchette,
Une etable est son logement,
Pour un Dieu, quel abaissement! Chorus

4. O Jesus! O Roi tout puissant!
Tout petit enfant que vous etes,
O Jesus! O Roi tout puissant!
Regnez sur nous entierement! Chorus

a cookie factoid you may not know

Cookies made from scratch taste best straight out of the freezer.

True of chocolate chip cookies, too, though freezing makes the chips too hard, so you have to let a chocolate chip cookie sit for a minute or two before you eat it. Where chocolate chip cookies are concerned, flavor and hardness of chip are a trade-off.

I bring this up because my sister didn't know.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

dog dog

C's friend E is here & the three of us are watching Scared Straight while I finished grading the papers that straggled in at the end of the semester.

E's brother is dating a young woman who is working on her Ph.D. and teaching undergraduates in the university. She told E. that one of her students recently, in a paper, used the expression "doggy dog."

As in It's a doggy dog world.

Speaking of which, my neighbor sent me an email with the title "Never Again" this morning.

There were dogs inside.

more books - "12 months of reading"

Have only skimmed this list, but it looks great: 12 Months of Reading