Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I always spend some time reflecting on my classes once the semester is over. Something I notice in the toleration class is that there are students (seems to be quite a few, although this is anecdotal and I haven't counted them up based on writing or discussion) who hold two positions that disturb me: 1) a belief in ethical relativism (which little understanding or distinction between the subjective or conventional forms) and 2) paying lip service in support of, but having very little respect for free speech. Many of these students want to have it both ways - they insist they are tolerant but at the same time believe in censorship, and they are uncomfortable with examples of relativism's dilemmas (ie, slavery, Nazis, infanticide) but hold fast to the "everything's relative" mantra, personally and/or societally.

Since many of the students in the toleration class are freshmen, I have suspected that they don't really understand the relativism / objectivism debate, are not familiar with the (valid) historical origins of relativism, don't truly comprehend the meaning of political tolerance, and are confused about social and moral tolerance. But even after several classes on the subject, on the midterm some students continue to argue positions they can't logically defend.

Now I do my best to be "vanilla" in my classes. I've never been someone who respects when teachers and professors push their opinions on students. I select the materials and let students make up their own minds. I have to admit, though, that these two positions I detect nearly every semester in at least a few students bother me.

I've read (on the Internet) assertions that this is coming from K-12 schools (and colleges) pushing an agenda. I have a hard time believing that is what is responsible for it. Not that I think agenda-pushing is absent from schools (and higher ed institutions), just that I am not sure how effective it is. Blame is sometimes assigned to teaching multiculturalism and even on classes such as my toleration course. (The latter is amusing and demonstrates the same ignorance these students have with understanding what the word actually means.)

Full disclosure: I support teaching some level of diversity and multiculturalism. However, when I solicit student input on how much multicultural curricula and methods they have experienced, although nearly every student has been exposed, it is limited to food festivals and fairs about an array of individual (and usually non-threatening) cultures. Any sort of deep immersion is very, very rare - practically nonexistent until college, and even there it is usually through solitary electives. Finally - toleration especially but multiculturalism also do not automatically equal ethical relativism and reduced free speech.

So I am not sure that schools (and colleges) can be the primary cause.

I think it has more to do with just general societal attitudes and misunderstanding. It isn't just schools or colleges. It's everywhere, and I believe stronger and more influential in media (for example) than in academe.
Here is my photo tribute to Edna.

Monday, December 28, 2009

This is a picture of Edna when she was young. She died at 10:15 am on Saturday, December 26. She was at least 17 years old. She was a full-grown stray back in October 1993 when we took her in. She'd been living on Main Street for a couple of months, and Richie had been feeding her. He convinced me to take the beautiful cat who was always sitting on the front steps of his restaurant when we ate there. He said, that cat will never survive the winter. She wasn't wild cat material. I wrestled with the decision for a couple of weeks before going there one night, picking her up and telling her "sweetheart, this is your lucky day." I'd always liked cats, but never had one, and even now, I'm still more of a dog person.

Edna could turn you into a cat person, though. She was a Maine Coon Cat, beautiful, friendly and sweet. She had long hair and enormous green eyes. Not once in her life did she do something bad. At that time, I had two elderly dogs -- Howie and Penny -- and I wasn't sure how they would handle a cat. For two weeks I kept her on the front porch, and then slowly introduced her to inside. At first, when I wasn't home, I kept her in the office, which is the room I am in right now. Then we let her have free run, and there was never a problem with either of the dogs. She didn't scratch them, and they didn't chase her.

After Howie died, Edna was very upset. Then we adopted Rudy; she had to put up with an active puppy, which she did with great patience. Eventually, Rudy and Edna became great friends, and when he died she mourned him very deeply. After Penny died, we adopted Sophie -- who has never bothered cats at all, she's be a "0" on the cat reactive scale that shelters use. But four years ago, when we adopted Sam after Rudy died, once again Edna had to raise a puppy. Two years ago, she had to accept Ande - and she did. He loved her, and she tolerated, maybe even lukewarm liked - him.

Even as a young cat, she only rarely played, and when she did, it was always with a rubber band or twist tie - cat toys didn't interest her. She was a big, dignified cat. She didn't like cat treats, but she loved regular people food - even chicken parmesan - and barbeque potato chips. She only liked fish flavored cat food. A few years ago, after the pet food tragedy, I switched her to Wellness (could do an ad for them!). It had to be from the tiny 3 oz. cans - she wouldn't touch it if it was scooped from a larger can. (I even tried fooling her by using a small can as a "cookie cutter," but she didn't buy it.)

She loved salmon, the kind that comes in a foil pouch. She also loved tuna, but I didn't give it to her often, due to the mercury. She never required grooming or nail cutting until she was quite old. She rode loose in the car (but often got car sick). She went outside nearly every day in the good weather, and occasionally in the winter, never went too far from the house, and came when she was called. She was able to jump quite high until just a few weeks ago.

She got a few mice in her lifetime (and a chipmunk over the summer!), and years ago, one bird (the only time I was truly mad at her). She spent most of her time in the kitchen, rarely venturing into other rooms of the house, especially in recent years. I let her get on the table, and that became her favorite place.

She declined gradually for the past few months, and then more dramatically for the past month. She was quite sick for a week before she died. I suspect she had cancer, since the tests she had on Tuesday didn't show kidney or heart problems...they showed anemia. She had lost weight - went down from nearly 13 pounds to just under 9. It wasn't easy to tell because she was so fluffy. Her last night was not pleasant, although except for a couple of episodes and the last five minutes, she was comfortable. Ande spent several hours laying right beside her, it was very sweet of him. She died in front of the fireplace in Samsonville. We had spent the night on our sofabed, so we could be near her all night.

On Saturday afternoon, we buried her next to Rudy. There was a snow cover and it was a drizzly day, but we managed. Back home in Castleton, the house seems so odd, the kitchen in particular. She was always there - on the table - begging for the food she loved to eat. What a sweetheart she was; that October day back in 1993 was not just her lucky day, but mine.

Ande is very upset. I suppose he will adjust eventually, but it is hard to handle. Because of her age - how much longer can you expect a cat to live, even one who has had a remarkably healthy life? - it isn't as difficult to accept, plus I didn't want her to suffer, but it still is very, very sad. How I will miss her! RIP my dear Edna. I won't forget you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I finished grades an hour before the deadline. The Fall 2009 semester is officially over! Yay!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If you're in California - these 63 young, female Basset Hounds were recently rescued and need homes.

Update: I don't believe anyone who truly "loves dogs" could write this.

Another update: The "dog lover" in the above update wrote: "I’m annoyed when dining at people’s houses if their dog is permitted to pester while we eat." I wanted to comment (but didn't, as it didn't seem polite): Oh yeah? Not that it matters since you will never have the pleasure of dining at my house, but not only will my dogs pester, they will LICK THE PLATES after we're done. And then I will put the dishes BACK IN THE CABINET. Added bonus, it really saves the planet - I'm so green. So there.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I wanted to write something about Christmas last night when I posted the picture of the tree, but it was late so I decided it would keep. It still should be keeping (the clock is not quite ticking on end of semester grades, but it will be soon enough). But I can't resist. A couple of unexpected tasks surfaced today anyway, so I decided to take care of them and get back to grades tomorrow.

I remember my mother telling me that Aunt Dot calls her Christmas ornament box her "box of memories." On Saturday it struck me that mine is too. With the smaller tree I could really enjoy selecting each one and reflecting on how long we've had it and where it came from. The angel my mother made, the basket my sister made, the downtown Albany collectible series, the handmade ones for each animal, from the Empire Plaza craft fairs. The three Avon ornaments, the mice Santas that I've had since childhood and were a gift from Aunt Dot, the needlepoint Santa that Davine made.

We haven't decorated in Samsonville yet, and won't until we go there for Christmas. But I know there is another box of treasures waiting for me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The boy scouts cut it for us yesterday. I think it might be the smallest tree we've ever had. I love it, minimum disruption, it fits well in the small space of the livingroom. It's the first time in several years that we haven't gotten a scotch pine.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

We got more snow. It was a big storm that they under predicted. I cleaned off the vehicles and a little in front of the door, but this time, it is worth getting someone else to do the rest.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Lots of people point the finger at research in social science or education and profess skepticism (or even hostility) but an awful lot embrace natural science or medical research more easily - because the data and methods are not "soft." I am generally pretty skeptical, even of so-called "scientific" research, including medical. (See my post about educational technology; as an undergraduate, I told a history professor "technology kills me" and he proceeded to write it on the board the next class to spark discussion.) So the recent controversies about climate change, the hackers, and the suspicious emails and data don't shock me.

How many cases of dishonesty can you cite? Just give it a moment's thought. In my class that covers academic dishonesty, I ask students to consider all the things that have been in the news in the not-too-distant past: corporate corruption (insider stock trading & employee/retiree pension squandering); government corruption; sexual abuse by clergy, school personnel and others with access to children; plagiarism and fabrication by news reporters and writers; increased reports of cheating by students; fabrication of scientific evidence by researchers; violations of fair play, as well as crimes etc. in athletics; theft of public funds by school district officials; falsifying assessment data by teachers and administrators; and medical and legal malpractice. (List adapted from University of Michigan Center for Ethics in Public Life.)

This doesn't raise to the level of many of those scandals, but it does speak to how common (at best) incompetence, and (at worst) fabrication can be in widely accepted (and respected) research. In 2000 or 2001, I attended a conference where the keynote speaker was a man presenting on student learning styles. I’d never given the subject much thought, and in fact, did not really study the issue myself until several years later, after I started teaching. But the presentation that day really captured my interest. He was a very dynamic speaker. I remember he spoke a great deal about the ways students learn, and the proportions they retain, based on each way. Something that stood out was that he asserted that students don’t remember as much from some approaches, and retain a lot from others. Things such as reading and listening were very low on the retention scale, while drawing or speaking were higher. He even illustrated this point on a flip chart.

A few years later, after I started teaching, I was interested in what he presented for two reasons: first, when thinking about various assignments in my classes, and second, because in one of my classes we study educational philosophy and psychology. Over the years I remembered the presentation, and did some research to see if I could find anything in the literature to support his points. I was never able to find what it may have been based on when I searched. Then, a few years ago, when I was working on material about learning styles and online learning, I made a major effort again to see if I could find anything related to what he had presented that day, and finally I landed on it.

What he presented was based on “Dale’s Cone of Experience,” from 1946. It depicts learning from concrete to abstract and was the first to attempt to describe the connection between educational theory and technology (specifically, audio-visual). Computers weren’t around so this means radio, movies, television, etc.

Here is the original cone:

Dale, E. (1946, 1954, 1969). Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: Dryden.

At some point, proportions were assigned to the various approaches, just as I remembered from the dynamic speaker at that conference nearly 10 years ago. Problem is, there is no evidence to support the proportions; although they are frequently attributed to Dale, he never suggested we retain 10 percent of abstract approaches and 90 percent of concrete approaches. He never implied one approach was better than another. However, the proportions continue to crop up in papers, websites, presentations, etc. I think it sounds “anecdotally good” to us, that hands-on approaches such as internships result in more retention of material than listening to lecture or reading a book, that watching a DVD is somewhere in the middle. But there is no data to back this up.

Here is a version of the cone with proportions:

A number of sources de-bunk the proportions, document how widespread citing the proportions remains, trace where the proportions originated, and this one does all three.

Not one person at the conference challenged the presenter. I wish I knew more at the time, so that I could have done so. It would have added a bit of spice to the Chicken ala Marriott! What is funny to me is that I so distinctly remember his presentation, yet did not speak, take notes, draw, watch a video, or present. (So much for only retaining 20 percent of what I hear.)

Unrelated: It did snow on Saturday, maybe 3 inches. I shoveled! One more thing Bob can't do. It wasn't enough snow to make getting someone else to do it worthwhile. With our new, pristine sidewalks, it wasn't so bad.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fence is fixed, classes are done, grades are due 12/21 - and the "feel" of snow is in the air.

We've been playing doorman. Apparently, not having a fence for a few days really made the dogs appreciate having a yard!

Sitting here with Ande in my lap. Makes it very hard to type...