Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A thousand paws up! This says everything I have been thinking - minus the four-letter words.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back in Castleton early due to the snowstorm! Here is a picture of the Samsonville tree, cut in the yard on 12/23, a big Charlie Brown:

And here's Castleton's, cut by the boyscouts on 12/18:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How sad.

Added: the unsuccessful lobbying effort.

Also: My earlier post. She is as much to blame for this as anyone or anything else.

In memory of April, who died yesterday. My mother had her since 1981. I took this picture in August. RIP beautiful horse.

Added: This Christmas, donate to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Ulster County SPCA, Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society or Maine Coon Rescue.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm done with fall grades! Something alarming, ten students failed (out of the total 100 students), the highest number ever. There were also two incompletes, but that is not unusual. Now I am waiting to see if any student with outstanding issues responds to my emails (from last week) before I post them to the system. My deadline is midnight, but I don't plan to wait that long.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Only one assignment left to grade, and more than 24 hours to do it!! I think I am going to be done earlier than ever before, probably about lunch time tomorrow. YAY.

Yesterday, 15 members of my family met at Dinosaur BBQ in Troy - what fun!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I couldn't agree more. Difficult time explaining to the kids, eh? Oh boo hoo. That means he still isn't taking responsibility for his actions. No dogs for Vick, not now, not ever.
When I read this today, I remembered this post from a few days ago.

I'm not the sort of person who doesn't see the downsides of technology. I was very skeptical of computers thirty years ago. I was troubled by things like "efficiency" and "economies of scale." Certainly one can look back on how much television has changed life, and wonder about how bad the impact has been. In the last foundations class this semester, when we were discussing educational technology, I told students that in my grandfather's day, everyone knew how to play a musical instrument. The radio changed that.

It is possible to ask questions without being a detractor, or a supporter. For instance, was the invention of the car good or bad for people? Surely you can make a list that has both pros and cons.

I believe hysterics over the changes in communication - email, texting, and social networking are the equivalent of "if man were meant to fly he'd have wings." Now, I am not exactly an air travel enthusiast, and plan to never fly again unless absolutely necessary. But standing in the way of the march of "progress" was worthless in terms of planes, and is futile when it comes to e-communication.

It isn't just a fad. Sure, technology will zip on by, and a new innovation will come along. That doesn't change the fact that this is how it is now, and it is interesting to think about what that means.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am happy to report that both the "unabashed fan" and I were wrong!
First line, eighth paragraph of this story (even worse, it is the lead line in the story under "breaking news" on the home page for some reason) "To find Bailey guilty of the first-degree charge -- which carries a possible sentence of life in prison without parole..." What a careless error!
He's known for his powers of prediction? Duh. I can predict it won't be murder in the first degree, and I am not a retired cop, lawyer, or crime novelist. I'm sure the DA knows it too. So this jerk is an "unabashed fan" of hers? (I think maybe the TU is also.) What would have to be wrong with you for you to be anything other than repelled by her, someone who is clearly a morally challenged individual? Ugly on the inside and out, the deal she made didn't even preserve her exterior, the way Dorian Grey managed to pull off. The best there is indeed; the best what is the question.

Don't believe me, watch the Frontline she appears in. What a refusal to take responsibility!! I don't write this because she is a defense attorney. (Although I wonder who is paying her fee for this case? But we don't have the right to know that.) How about having to resign as judge over the Halloween costume photo and her behavior at the TU Center (it was the Pepsi, formerly the Knick at the time)? Even that is spun as if it was her quirky (translation charming) personality. If any of those things had been done by someone the TU didn't like, they would throw it up in every recent article on this case where her name appears.

It better be at least murder in the second degree though, or I am going to lose all faith in humanity. Do you see how they are framing it? To make it appear that second degree will be a victory for her and her client. Just reading the articles about the case makes my blood boil. Why do I pay for a subscription when 90 percent of the paper is unreadable? My heart breaks for the young man's parents.

Added: the only other time I have written about this sad case.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

One of the recently highlighted blogs on the TU site has something to do with midlife. Seeing the link, I remembered that quite a while ago I read this post and was perplexed.

It says to answer "Yes" or "No" to the 16 questions.

Then it says that you score 1 point for each “yes” on 1, 3, 5, 9, 13, and 16 and 1 point for each “no” on 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15.

So I went down the list. My score was twelve. I consulted the key, and it said:

"If your total is:
0 to 4. – You are in the flow, in the zone, on automatic MOJO! You should have your own blog about how to live a well-adjusted life. Or feel free to contribute to this one on a regular basis!
5 to 9. – You have a healthy outlook most of the time with the occasional self-questioning fest. Spend a little more time in the self-help section of the bookstore or library or get a life coach – shameless plug.
10 plus. – Welcome to Making the Most of Midlife! Boy! Are you at the right place. Be open and willing to be open and willing and know that you can change your life!"

What? I need to change my life? Why? The quiz is indicating I am in a crisis or something? I carefully went through every question, and checked the tally to be sure. OK, maybe there were a couple that could have gone the other way, but I'd still be in the least self-actualized category. Let's go through each question: 

1. I am more open minded today than I was 10 years ago.

I would say No to this one because I have always been open minded. That didn't get me a point, so didn't increase my score, so I guess no argument there. It is a weird question, since someone could say No to it because they were closed minded ten years ago and still are now, or they could answer it that way for the same reason I did - because they were always open minded. But why would someone who answered Yes to it get a point? Why would growth over your life result in a higher score on the "not living a well adjusted life" scale?

2. I haven’t been able to reduce my stress levels.

Well, I think I have never been a very high stress person, but I do remember having more money hassles and time conflicts in younger days, so I believe I have been able to reduce my stress levels. Leaving administration and finishing my doctorate ten years ago had that result.  It's a poorly worded question, but the No answer got me a point. Why? Why is being able to reduce one's stress levels an indictor of maladjustment? Because I never should have had stress in the first place?

3. I know who I am.

Yes, I think I do. I get a point for this? It is better adjusted to not know who you are?

4. I feel like I am running out of time to do all of the things I want.

No, I don't feel that way about life. I get another point? Why? Because it means I am in denial? I assure you, that is not true. It's just that I am an optimist, and I do the things I want.

5. My work life is no less satisfying than before.

It is true that my work life is no less satisfying than it was before. I earn another point for the Yes? Why? I have had quite a few jobs in my career. Many I have liked, a couple I haven't, and I love what I do now. I am supposed to hate my job and want out of there? Be dreaming of God's waiting room in Florida or something?

6. I often say to myself “How did I get to be this old?”

Funny, I do occasionally say that. It's more of a joke than anything else. But the Yes answer here is the one that doesn't get a point, so it's all good, I guess. Still, why does the No answer get a point? Someone who thinks of the years of there life differently, perhaps has reckoned with their age, is not well adjusted?

7. I now pay more attention to my self care than before.

Another one I didn't get a point for, this time with a Yes answer. I am not sure it is possible to not pay more attention to self care as we age. There's a reason they sell nose hair clippers, you know.

8. I resent the effort it takes to be fulfilled in my life.

No, I am generally not a resentful person. Why does that get me a point? Because it isn't an effort? In that case, it is a trick question. But frankly, I am beginning to suspect that this entire quiz is a sarcastic joke. If it is on the level, then maybe the scoring categories are backwards.

9. I feel good about my future.

Yes - another point. Huh? Feeling bad about the future translates to being more well-adjusted?

10. It’s hard to maintain a proper work-life balance.

No, it isn't hard...although sometimes there has to be juggling and that's OK (so maybe it could have gone the other way). Predictable, another point if I keep the No.

11. Just making ends meet wipes me out.

No, plus one again. This is getting old. This quiz was written by a life coach? Life where? The land of misfit toys?

12. I daydream more than I used to about all kinds of things.

I could go with No here, because I have always daydreamed and had a strong imagination. That gets me a point. Or I could go with Yes, which would have gotten me no point, because recently I have recaptured some creativity. I go through spells of very imaginative, and other times when I am focused elsewhere. Either way, this is a bad question.

13. My life so far has been great.

Yes - again, the satisfied optimist. You guessed it, score another point. So if you perceive that your life has sucked, you don't get a point? I guess because disatisfied pessimists are more well-adjusted.

14. Overall I consider security to be more important than I used to.

Yes, I think so. Again, with aging, it is almost a given. Whoa! Didn't get a point for that. Do people with low scores on this quiz have a disassociative personality disorder? Because the answers that do not yield points are wildly inconsistent.

15. Sometimes I feel I need more excitement in my life.

No, my excitement level is just fine. And guess what? I get another point.

16. I had more excitement in my life when I was young, but I’m okay with that.

Yes, that is true. Add on another point...I guess if my young life was boring, or if I was pining away for clubbing, I'd be more self-actualized?

So I wrote a comment on the blog. I didn't write this much, nor was I as critical as I am here. I just asked about a few questions, why a No or Yes would get a point, and for a better explanation of the categories.

My comment remained in moderation for a long time, and then was deleted. No surprise there, I guess. My high score means I shouldn't contribute to the blog, get it? I'm just too darn lacking in mojo.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Last day of classes! It was a good day teaching-wise. Not a good day otherwise...

Same dude that I described here is hassling me.

It's a harbinger. I have a feeling I am going to get attacked in tomorrow's meeting. But luckily I have already planned to not go.

Also good fortune,  I have already received my appointment letter for Spring. So I am safe until September 2012, whatever happens tomorrow.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Catching up on some things I wanted to comment on:

I clicked on this story link because I thought "B" stood for Bishop, and I wondered why anyone would send her a nasty letter. Then I read that "B" stood for Benjamin, and I thought, "well, duh."

Why the Record is worth every penny of its price. This actually made me LOL. 

I finally read this post and remembered that I had been meaning to write something sparked by this story.

On the tenure issue, I can only say that I don't have tenure, and won't ever have it in my current position. I am not complaining about that, I have plenty of protections and do not see all that much firing even of the nontenured (although in the current environment that is very likely going to change). I quit my job at System once I achieved tenure so you might say that it isn't an issue for which I would go to the mat.

About hassles with tranferring into different classes due to the teacher, I can sympathize. When I was in eighth grade, I was put in a class called Math 8E. It was basically honors math. I was also permitted to take high school level art classes instead of eighth grade art. My school was a centralized 7-12. (It still is, although now the junior high kids are somewhat more separated from the students in grades 9-12.) All of my other classes were regular eighth grade level, the upper track intended for students who would eventually be taking the Regents in high school.

There was not a big AP or honors program at my school, although I believe there were some courses. I did not take any AP or honors in high school, but I remember that a few social studies teachers were considered to be teaching classes that were not labeled that way, but I believe had kids in them who did eventually take the AP exam. I did not have any of those teachers. Even though the social studies classes I was placed in were not labeled any differently, the atmosphere was often bedlam, kids throwing stuff, swinging on the door and jumping out the windows of the classroom, and otherwise acting out. I didn't care or agitate to be moved, instead I just did my homework for other classes during social studies.

When I was in eleventh grade, I entered a contest that had to do with writing an essay on American history. I entered on my own, without direction from anyone in the school. It turned out that I was chosen as my high school's winner, and had to compete at the county level. I went to meet with the teacher who would be my mentor for the county competition. He was one of the social studies teachers who taught the kids who eventually took the AP exam. I recall his surprise at meeting me; although I knew who he was, he did not know me. He said, "why aren't you in my class?"

Back to the real reason for this anecdote, I'd always done well in and liked math, so the placement wasn't a surprise. Unfortunately the teacher was terrible, possibly the worst teacher I ever had in K-12.  I remember when we were learning pre-algebra, he would write an equation on the board (you know, of the 10x + 4y = ? or labeling triangles and other shapes variety), but the letters he chose were always drawn from his own initials and a boy's in the class. They were scrambled, so that the equation was not just a string of his and the boy's initials in order, but once we worked it out, the result was always his three initials plus the boy's.

He never used a girl's, not that any of us would have liked this better. Most of the boys targeted were extremely uncomfortable over it, too. He was a very strange guy, and had a reputation for having inappropriate relationships with the male students, that sometimes continued until they were alumni. The graduates would come to visit him during our class, and he would dismiss us immediately whenever that happened. But then questionable involvement with students was not uncommon, and it didn't result in headlines, jail terms and lawsuits as it does today.

I suffered through his class, making so-so grades, never failing, just not doing well for me. I think I wound up with a low B in the class, rather than my usual A. The weird initials in the equations wasn't the sole reason, the overall atmosphere was unpleasant, I just didn't "click" with the teacher or how he taught, did not do well on homework or exams in his class, and I started to dislike math.

Imagine my horror when the following year (which in those days meant Algebra), I landed the same teacher. I immediately made an appointment with my guidance counselor, asked to be switched to another class. You'd think she would have compared my math grade in seventh and eighth grades, been alarmed, and figured out that I had a point. Maybe she thought 8E was just too hard for me, and that was the source of my decline in grades, but she refused to change my placement and I was stuck with the creep for another year.

The result was essentially the same, I did not like math and did not do well in the class. At the end of the year, I believe I again had a B- or C+. Then I took the Algebra Regents exam, and scored a 96. Which I guess says either that the Regents wasn't very difficult, the teacher actually did teach me something although I did not demonstrate it in class, I taught myself Algebra, or someone at the school doctored the Regents results.

I had much more competent math teachers for the rest of high school, but it isn't a surprise that I did not pursue math in college. I drifted to the social sciences, and landed on history...guess the bedlam was better than the romantic strings in equations.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Toleration class ended last night. During the discussion, a student asked for my opinion on something. I try to be vanilla, but if directly asked I will share. He is a very good student, a bit older than traditional aged, works full-time and takes one or two classes per semester. He was in my foundations class last semester. He said he was discussing his courses with family, and some of his older male relatives (sounded like uncles) "went off" when they heard about toleration. He said he tried to explain and defend it (charmingly he said he was not as articulate as I am), but he wanted to know how I would respond.

So I said, "I'm assuming you mean that they thought it was ridiculous, a joke?" He said yes. I said I try to be thick skinned about criticism, but since people rarely say such things to my face, the only time I am confronted by that attitude is when I read blogs on the internet, where I quite commonly find people expressing all sorts of opinions about education programs at colleges, many of which are rather nasty and a good proportion are also uninformed. Things such as John Dewey being one of the most destructive influences in the 20th Century, that education courses are uniformly worthless, that education faculty should all be fired, that education students are morons, that schools of education should be burned down. I'm not exaggerating about that last one at all, I read that last week.

It seems people really have an axe to grind on this subject. I suppose because we all went through the system, and are familiar with it. Some, perhaps most, have had at least one negative experience. As a system it is compulsory, and it is expensive. There are frequently unflattering stories in the press, and there is no denying the mixed outcomes, whether you are a champion or a detractor.

I have to admit that when I read those things it does sort of upset me, but I do my best to ignore it, and I never, ever engage in the comments of blogs on that subject. There is no point. One time when I tried I was so viciously attacked that I gave up. I am not the type of person to get into a flame war.

I shared a personal anecdote, of one time when someone did say something along those lines to my face. I was at my local watering hole, and saw a woman whom I slightly knew, but had not seen in a while. She'd quit her job at a state agency, moved to California to find herself, then came back. People always want to ask me questions when they hear I teach college students. She asked me what I teach, so I told her, foundations and toleration. There was a pause, then she said "no offense" (ever notice when someone says that it is always followed by one of the most offensive things imaginable? And they seem to believe that prefacing their remarks in that way inoculates them from your being offended?) followed by "isn't that just bullshit?"

I laughed and wrote it off to her having one too many glasses of wine, and I asked about her background. She told me she had an undergraduate degree in English, and had taught high school for a few years in Pennsylvania before coming to Albany to work for the state. She hated teaching, and seemed bitter on the subject. I was itching to say "no offense, but you think I teach bullshit courses because you sucked as a teacher?" But of course I didn't.

I told him that I know my courses are not the most difficult in the university, but I also know that they aren't pieces of cake either, that portfolio assessment keeps students continuously working and gets the best results. It's structured so students can't procrastinate, and don't have to cram. I don't rely solely on theory, though there is a good dose of it in my classes, I also try to impart some skills, such as planning, making presentations, writing, research, assessment of yourself and others. I use a wide variety of measures to evaluate students, from multiple choice to essay to hands on projects. I know that many students look back on my classes and remember them, they really do learn. I lecture, I show video, students discuss material within small groups and with the entire class, blended between online and on campus. I get a lot of thank you notes after they graduate. I pour my heart and soul into my teaching, and I would hold up my credentials and achievements against anyone's.

I shared the reason the course was started, that what with ethical scandals such as Enron, Jayson Blair, etc., it seemed a good idea to expose freshman to the importance of academic honesty, and the perils of cheating and plagiarism. Yes, we cover moral education, and I discourage things like stereotyping. I don't hide my bias, that I am an objectivist on some issues, although I am more of a constructivist in my teaching style.

I said that I don't advocate for or against issues such as gay marriage, whatever my personal beliefs are on the subject, but in a world where a college freshman jumps off a bridge because his roommate has bullied him over his sexuality, I think there is a need for college students to understand toleration. It is just putting up with things that you don't like, in the social, political, or moral arena. I explained that many of them will someday be teachers, and have to deal with all sorts of situations in schools.

So I said that he should ask the critics "what is tolerance?" and "what do you think the course is about?" I told him that I doubted they would know the answer. They would say something about celebrating diversity, something drawn from a college's mission statement. They probably think I am pushing a political agenda, attempting to indoctorinate students, that I try to convince the women to burn their bras and that I want to castrate the men. I believe people of opposing views should have freedom...Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians or Greens should be able to debate and that makes me an extremist of some sort?

I asked if he thought they would say anything about political toleration? Would they know we cover free speech and freedom of assembly? That we read works by John Locke and Benjamin Franklin? Would they understand the history of toleration, and list religious toleration as a subject we study? That we learn about and discuss the Holocaust, character education, good samaritan laws, the Amish and compulsory education, Utah's outlawing Mormon polygamy to become a state, the legacy of Dutch toleration in New York, and the controversy over the Mohammed cartoons? Or do they suspect I have students hold hands and sing kumbaya?

I also told the students that it is funny to me that an outsider would have that perception of my classes, since my actual views are a mix of left and right. So much so that conservatives think I am liberal and liberals think I am conservative. Despite not favoring relativism, I am fond of Aristotle's idea of a golden mean, that virtue lies between the extremes. I clearly remember from my own school days, and observe right now many things about schools that are in need of reform, and I do not march lock step with any lobby group. I am really endeavoring to be one ingredient in a recipe that makes a great teacher, because that is more important than budgets, unions, class size, resources, privatization, etc. Yes, we read Dewey, Holt, Kohlberg, Piaget, Banks, Kohn, Macedo, etc. We also read Hutchins, Adler, Finn, Lickona, Famularo, Hess, Whittle and others. I don't stamp out dissent. One of my favorite messages is "ask questions."

Naturally this was resonating with students, and there was also a lot of laughter at some of my remarks. I am always pretty entertaining and funny in class. I closed by saying, "does that help? Did I answer your question?" He nodded affirmatively.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sophie got her stitches out! Yay! She was such a good girl. She doesn't have to go back for another check up for 3-4 months.

Yesterday, my on campus PC was fried when I arrived in the AM. A widespread electrical problem happened on Monday. The woman who has the office on the other side of my wall heard a "pop," her machine shut down, and soot came out of the surge protector. A campus electrician checked it out but initially found nothing wrong, and her PC worked when she turned it on. 

There was an electrical burning smell in my office, but no other indications of a problem (aside from the broken PC). So the computer staff took away my CPU, and the electrician checked everything again, this time finding the problem. The GA office was the source - their computers were on and were fine but mine was off and was dead (go figure). So I used the student lab downstairs which was OK but I don't have access to the network and can't print from there. Productive day! (Not.) And right at the end of semester. If I was capable of it, I'd have been in a panic.

They swapped out a power supply from a computer in the student lab to my machine and I should have been back in business, but the woman who originally reported the problem on Monday turned on her desk lamp, the bulb burned out and soot came from the outlet again. So we unplugged everything while they re-checked. They also swapped out the power supply in her machine, just as a precaution. By 3:30 everything was back to normal, but I unplugged my computer before I went home last night, just to be on the safe side. I have to get to my last day of classes before losing the machine again! After that they will have until January 20 to sort it out. (I am just remembering my computer crashed right at the beginning of this semester and needed a new hard drive...)

It's amazing to think how dependent we are on these machines, to the point where it is a waste of time to be there without one! I had my blackberry, so although I could use email, it was not my work account.