Monday, March 28, 2011

I saw this link on the homepage of the TU and wondered what perspective it would take, and also whether it would mention this opposing view. Well, the answer is, "big fan," and "no." I wonder whose viewpoint is more worthy on this subject, the arts and entertainment editor, or the executive director of the humane society?

Poor Vesta. Why can't she sleep wherever she wants?

I think if you have ever had the experience of a heavy heart, while stroking your beloved elderly pet and begging him or her to eat just a little more, you would feel nothing but joy when your enthusiastic, happy dog or cat eagerly takes his or her bowl.

"In his live show, however, he takes that criticism further by indicting all American culture. Growing up in Mexico, he said, he never knew about Santa Claus, but arriving in America, he saw dogs waiting in line for Santa.

“Dogs in Mexico are skinny,” he said, “but they don’t have psychological problems.”
What an unbelievably offensive remark!

First, mentioning malnourished dogs as a throw away remark is acceptable, as if it was of no importance compared to dogs who are taken for a picture with Santa? What was his take on a couple of other things that are more common in Mexico - say, stray dogs? Or homeless litters of puppies? But oh my, the horror of a dog who barks at visitors when they arrive! Why isn't "it" chained to a coop and cowering in fear as you approach with "its" daily ration of kibble?

And just so you don't think I am only about snoozing on couches and squeaky toys and wagging tails, I consider barking to alert me about things to be part of a dog's job.

Second, I'd say he's done pretty well by American culture, wouldn't you? Despite having no credentials, he is on a television show where he is paid wheelbarrows of money for lecturing people about how to exercise a power trip over their dog, and I am thrilled every time mine greet me when I arrive home from work. In fact, to maximize excitement, I say "I'm home! I'm home!" while calling out their names as I unlock the door. Who is the more egregious example of disgusting American culture - me or the celebrity?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

There are rumors of "rogue" Fountain Days popping up (how can it be FD without the fountain?) and now this. LOL. He surely was only after publicity, which he got. It's all over the papers and on television too. I hope this dude never enrolls in one of my classes.

On a completely different note, there are no words to express what I feel about this, but I'll try: Heartbreaking, heroic, and scum.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Great cartoon.

I believe a protest is planned for tomorrow. Here's what I wrote to students who were commenting on Fountain Day's cancellation in our online discussion forum for class:

Earlier today I received a follow up email from the provost, asking faculty to dialogue with students if the issue of canceling Fountain Day came up, so here goes.

I can understand the disappointment of students over this, especially among seniors for whom this would have been the last Fountain Day (although I understand that it will be the last for a while anyway, since the large fountain is going to be renovated for the next few years). I can also understand, after the very severe winter we've had this year, that Fountain Day may have been more anticipated than usual.

I have to do full disclosure a this point, however, and tell you that I have never been a fan of Fountain Day. Not because I am shocked by the antics of students (I am not), not because I am "square" (most definitely not, quite the opposite, in fact), and not because I always promote the "company line" of administrators (I certainly don't).

But I do remember it from '04, the last time it was held on a weekday, in the year when UA was designated #1 Party School by Princeton Review. It was a fiasco, almost on the level of Kegs and Eggs, and resulted in very bad publicity, injuries, and hospital visits. There was no point in holding class, it was so noisy and chaotic and everyone skipped anyway.

I have never attended it on a weekend, but my sense is that it has calmed down somewhat.

My understanding from the provost's email is that the cancellation is not intended as punishment for the majority of students who did not participate in Kegs and Eggs at all, nor for most of the participants who were bystanders and did not smash cars or televisions or throw litter and mouth of to cops, and not even for the jerks who did commit vandalism and get arrested.

It is intended to send a message that the university takes responsibility for what happened, even if it was off campus and attended by some who were not UA students (although I think we all know that many were UA folks), and it is also to avoid additional bad press. Fountain Day this year would be covered even more extensively than it has in the past, with the media and onlookers documenting and widely publicizing every single offense. That's the last thing UA needs right now.

While it is true that I thought the reaction of some to Kegs and Eggs was overblown and hysterical (figuring this too shall pass, in terms of the negative PR), the provost's email is quite persuasive:

"It is important for all of us to be aware that since March 12, the University has received an overwhelming number of e-mails and phone calls from individuals including alumni, community members, parents, prospective employers and admissions recruiters. Unfortunately, there is a general misperception that UAlbany students indulge in excessive alcohol consumption and are not responsible citizens. While we may know this is not the case, Fountain Day places the University at risk of feeding this misperception because of the contingent of students who use the day as an excuse to engage in irresponsible behavior. This behavior compromises everyone's safety, tarnishes our reputation and diminishes the value of a UAlbany degree." 

It will be interesting to see how many protest. I won't be on campus tomorrow, so keep me posted. Considering a war in Libya, a tragedy of massive proportions in Japan, and looming State budget cuts that will undoubtedly impact the university, it is important to put things in perspective. What I mean is there are many worse things in life than Fountain Day being canceled.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The university has canceled Fountain Day this year due to Kegs and Eggs. Then, in 2012 the large fountain is going to be renovated, so it may be a couple of years before there could be another Fountain Day. I think it is probably necessary to cancel it this year, even though it would have been the last one for a while. Not really as punishment - after all, the majority of students did not damage cars, mouth off to cops, litter the streets and throw televisions out of second story windows - but more as a message to the community that the university is serious about taking responsibility for the irresponsible behavior, even if it was off campus.

Fountain Day used to be a weekday - it was so out of control that there was no point in holding class. One year there were so many injuries and alcohol poisening incidents that required medical attention that they moved it to a Sunday and made it more "official." That was a big relief to me - I hated it when it was a Tuesday.

That semester - Spring 2004 - stands out for me, since my afternoon class was terrible. I couldn't stand it, was so happy when it was over. I resolved never to write a letter of recommendation for any student who was in the class, and surprise, surprise - no student ever asked me, so I didn't have the satisfaction of refusing.

This past Fall was the next time I had an afternoon class that I would consider "less successful" than usual. There were many better students than in Spring '04, but there was a large enough number of irritants to make me glad when the class ended.

I was also involved in a couple of other classes that Spring '04 semester that were large sections, team taught. There were some issues with them, but it would be hard to blame it all on students with less than serious attitudes. The team teaching structure, the large size were probably bigger factors.

Finally, the only other semester that stands out for me in that same way as Spring '04 was Spring 2006, although it was my Toleration class that time around. That semester, there was a large group of seniors within the class who did not take it seriously at all. It had the atmosphere of middle school.

I don't feel that way about this semester, so far it is going well, but the Fountain Day / Party School / Kegs and Eggs fiascos are making me wonder if there is a similarity between the time periods? (In attitude of students - they vote for the party school label, it isn't some sort of scientific survey, after all.)

Added: Bob thinks it is the bad economy. Our college experience was during the late 1970s, similar times to now in that sense. I think he may be right.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Doing to kegs 'n' eggs what I mentioned Oneonta did after the Halloween revelry. I hope it has the side benefit of improving the Spring academic calendar. This year the stretch between winter break and spring break is too long, and it is ridiculous that there is only a bit more than a week after Spring break before classes end for the semester.
One more post that has to do with the kegs 'n' eggs fiasco. Last night it came up in class. The students had a much more insightful, close and nuanced view of being a bystander and diffusion of responsibility across a mob than ever before. Another example that social aspects of school are very influential. (Food for thought.)
I know it's a day past St. Patrick's Day but I had to link to this by my favorite Capital District writer. There will surely be a few appreciative Sound Off calls over it.

It's been a couple weeks since my print subscriptions expired, and I miss the Record more than the TU. I've subscribed to Dear Abby, Annie's Mailbox and a few comic strips, so aside from the "experience" of reading the morning paper, I'm not missing those. (Admittedly, there is something tangible and material about paper with A.M. coffee that the e-world can never replace.) 

In terms of content, Sound Off and John Gray's Wednesday column are two of the reasons I miss the Record more, but there are a few others; the website of the TU is much better, so it is an (almost) exact replacement (and it is a lot more expensive to subscribe), I love the size of the print Record, the comics layout is better in the Record (and it is in color), and finally, the TU's articles irritate me more.

That didn't start out to be the object of this post! My recent posts have (mostly) focused on students and the media acting foolishly over an event that was sparked by St. Patrick's Day (kegs and eggs). I'm inspired by the linked column's proud take on heritage to write about my connection to being Irish. You'd never know it, but I'm 1/4. Mimmie was 100%.

It's funny, but each of my grandparents had an impact on me. I write "funny" because I never knew my paternal grandparents who immigrated from Sicily and Italy, they died long before I was born, when my father was a small child. But I have my grandfather's surname and my grandmother's looks. Then, my maternal grandfather died when I was 9. I was born when he was 88. But I do have some memories of him, and I grew up in his hometown, West Shokan. I am a member of the eighth generation of his family to live there.

Still, my maternal grandmother was the most influential of all my grandparents. She died when I was 31. I spent many, many nights with her when I was a teenager. All four of her grandparents immigrated from Ireland. She was proud of her Irish heritage, and had no patience for tired jokes about being Irish and drinking.  Her mother, she said, would not touch birch beer or root beer either, just because of the word “beer.” On the card for my 18th birthday she wrote:
“Want to wish you Happy Birthday for Tuesday.  Hope my card gets there on time.  Eighteen is a lovely age to be isn’t it.  Just think you are now your own boss.  Have a Happy Birthday Tuesday and don’t drink too much (champagne).  Suppose that is spelled wrong, but guess you will know what I mean.  That horrible tasting drink that they always have at weddings.”
Irish Soda Bread was being sold at the Kiwanis Club barbecue at the firehouse last weekend, and Teagan's served it with dinner last night. I was not really familiar with it, so was wondering if Mimmie had a recipe for it. I looked, and couldn't find anything. (Guess that's why I am not familiar with it!)

As a newlywed, Mimmie started writing recipes in a spiral-bound notebook. On the cover is taped an illustration of a kitchen by Maxwell Mays that looks much like Mimmie’s at the old house. At some point she labeled this notebook “Old Book.” The stained pages inside are written in fountain pen and long ago started to crumble. At one place, they were sewn by Mimmie to the binding, and the thread remains intact. This old book begins with a recipe for Irish Wedding Cake. She wrote on the page: “I started this cookbook in 1926. My first recipe was given to me by Gladys Fox.”

Irish Wedding CakeFlour    2 cups
Baking Soda    1 teaspoon
Butter    1 tablespoon
Cinnamon    1 teaspoon
Cloves    1 teaspoon
Egg    1
Molasses    1 cup
Boiling Water    1 cup
Sift dry ingredients, add remaining ingredients and beat all together. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes in loaf pan, or recipe can be used to make layer cake. Use white icing.

Last night Bob and I shared Irish Apple Cake for dessert. Here's Mimmie's recipe; this one is not from the 1926 notebook, but from a later recipe file box that she used:

Irish Apple Cake
Flour, sifted    3 cups
Sugar    3/4 cup
Salt    ½ teaspoon
Egg Yolks    3
Butter    1 cup
Lemon Rind, grated    from one lemon
Applesauce    1-3/4 cup
Cinnamon    ½ teaspoon
Cloves    1/4 teaspoon
Mix flour, sugar, salt, egg yolks, butter and lemon rind.  Divide mixture in two parts.  Press one part in bottom of pan.  Mix applesauce, cinnamon, cloves, and spread over mixture in pan.  Sprinkle rest of mixture over applesauce.  Bake at 350 degrees in a greased 9x9x1-3/4-inch pan for 40 to 45 minutes.  Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This is almost too good a story to be true. I assumed the students involved were juniors and seniors, 20 and 21 years old, but based on his age, it seems as if this kid is a freshman. I appreciate that he turned himself in (although it took the pictures in the paper and I suspect his dad's insistence to achieve that result).

Regardless, taking responsibility, as well as the consequences, are important. Maybe this will be the wake up call the young man needed. I hope so. I sincerely wish that it doesn't turn out that he gets off with no consequences, and learns that dad and a sharp lawyer can make any repercussions magically disappear. I don't want to be cynical, but I take a hard line on cheating for that very reason. Parents can be enablers. They think they are doing the loving thing, when really they are just spawning monsters who lack a moral compass. Maybe that isn't so in this case, but I've learned that the "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" cliche contains a lot more than a grain of truth.

However turning himself in, especially setting an example by being the first to do it - good sign.

Today as I walked to class on campus (outside for a change. What a beautiful day!) I overheard a few students on the podium talking about someone who was pictured coming forward. Maybe it was this specific student, but it could have been another, perhaps less famous? I didn't want to obviously eavesdrop, and I was in a hurry anyway, but I believe they mentioned something about being made an example?
Something else I've been meaning to write about: this yogurt. It's awesome! High protein, delicious, and made in central New York! I have been the company's facebook friend for a while, and have won three cases of it to date. Now that they are advertising on television, the friend list has expanded astronomically, and it isn't as easy to win. But no matter! It's still the best yogurt on the market. Go Chobani!
I've been meaning to write about this for the past few days, and have had this post in draft since yesterday...but no time to finish it. So here I am, at almost 1 am. 

On Saturday a bunch of (mostly) UA students participated in something called "kegs n' eggs" which apparently is some sort of annual event. I'd never heard of it before, but it is the morning of the city's St. Patrick's Day parade. I'm sure there is much partying every year, but this year it got out of hand, and the students damaged cars, threw televisions and other junk out of second story windows and harrassed some police officers, all the while taking pictures and video with their ever-present smart phones, and then plastering them all over the Internet. Dumb.

I didn't know this happened until Monday, when an email appeared in my in-box from the university president. Naturally, after I read it, I googled for video, and came across this site. But I hardly needed to surf, because I discovered there was extensive coverage in the Times Union, and not just news articles, but pictures, video links, and a large number of blog posts (including the ASP's). As usual, the bloggers couldn't resist this story, some even posting more than once or twice, and the comment community jumped on the bandwagon too - most ripping into the students (some way over the top), but a few defending them (generally for all the alleged money they bring into the economy). Plus there was this article today which is masquerading as news, but strikes me as an editorial. What gives?

I've received several emails this week that have left me shaking my head. First, there was the official one about the "riot" or whatever label is appropriate. Next, the Student Association emailed, asking us to mention in class this week's rally advocating for SUNY at the Capitol. It said that students might be coming around asking for a few minutes of class time, so they could recruit participants. I decided if a student appeared asking me that favor, I would say OK, but first you have to mention this event:

Alas, no one came, I should have known apathy would rule. Then, there was an email about a Community Day that was also scheduled for Friday. (I thought really? Is that the best timing?) Then, one about our annual April campus clean up day. (Again, is this good timing? Not for the event itself, but for the email announcing it?) There were emails about graduation and Fountain Day volunteers (are you kidding? That had to be moved to a Sunday because students got out of hand. When it was on a Tuesday, there was no point in holding class.) Today one arrived announcing the Community Day had been postponed, so that faculty and students could participate in the neighborhood clean-up. Someone finally got a clue!

All I can say is that we certainly partied hearty when I was in college, so I am not particularly shocked by all of the behavior. My observation is that many of my peers could drink today's lightweights under the table. "Locals" or "townies" or whatever they were called didn't like us much, either, although their biggest complaint was that we played loud music. And I think some students did puke in the streets on the way home from the bars (18 year old drinking age tends to keep partying more bar than house party focused...and no money for cars leads to a walking while drunk culture, not to DWI. Was "back in the day" better or is that old person talk?). 

There was one Halloween where a mob of students really got out of control and did vandalism to the campus bus. I did not participate in those antics, but I was downtown that Halloween. It created a big controversy, and after that, I believe the college had a break at Halloween, which completely stopped the foolishness. I am not sure why fake holidays such as Halloween and St. Patrick's Day cause such nonsense, but for some reason they do. The bus incident was bad, although I think the students who did it believed the bus to be "ours" and the acting out was directed at the college, not at the community.

They didn't overturn cars or throw televisions out of second story windows or mouth off to cops. (At least not when I was a witness, anyway.) And no one was stupid enough to be photographed or taped! Today everyone has a smart phone camera. You'd think the students would have enough sense to keep their faces off screen, or at least to delete what they captured afterward or only share it off-line. But today everything has to be documented on youtube and facebook and go viral, memory is just not enough.

Last Thursday, when the subject in one of my classes was ethics and academic dishonesty, and I cover the plagiarism episode in the student newspaper (see here), I mentioned some posters that have been distributed on campus for the past few years. I believe they came out of the effort to combat the image the university had after it won the Princeton Review #1 party school, and that's the reason I discussed the subject with students; the plagiarized story was about an alumni and student group's disgust with the party school label. 

Several messages are printed up every semester on posters, and pinned up all over the place on campus. They are statements that are based on the results of surveys of students. The current one says something like "70 percent of students report drinking 0-4 alcoholic drinks when at a bar." Whenever a new one comes out, the faculty with whom I chat laugh and laugh at the ridiculous messages. I've had students in my classes over the years tell me the statements are not supposed to be positive or negative, nor are they intended to be examples of good research - they are supposed to be dialogue starters. I am not sure the office that produces these posters realizes they are only wasting trees - they are not accomplishing any worthwhile discussion.

I could be wrong, but I have a sense that for many students who participated (maybe not as vandals, just those who were there partying in the crowd), it is a badge of honor. They are kind of proud, as if it gives them some sort of street cred. It's a pseudo-event; one of those incidents that goes down in school history for the next several years, it takes on a life of its own and becomes an urban legend, until the last participant has finished graduate school. The tale is told to new freshman every year, older students brag "I was here when the St. Patrick's Day riot happened" and the younger students lament that kegs 'n' eggs is now so tame or has been discontinued entirely. I felt the same thing after the party school ranking, and after the Fountain Day debacle too. It seems it is a lot cooler to imbibe too much, act like a jerk, have your photo taken as evidence and have it then make the news, than it is to be on the Dean's List or to volunteer at the soup kitchen.

This is not related, but another email I received was about how the university system is adopting that ugly logo I mentioned here.

Added: I'm not sure why the post starts out light and changes to a darker typeface. Too late to fool with it any longer!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I hate springing ahead! Seems we do it earlier than in the past...and wait longer to fall behind. Ugh. DST is fine in July. In March and November, not so much. Give me my hour back! It will take me weeks to get used to it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I must have picked up another cold on campus last Thursday, because by that evening, I felt like crap. Friday I had unpleasant sinus symptoms. I'm still not sure if it was a cold or just my sinuses acting up, but since so many students on campus are sick, I'm leaning toward a cold. We didn't let it keep us from going to Samsonville. It was the first weekend we'd been there since Martin Luther King day weekend. The ride home on Sunday was a h-ll ride, pouring rain which turned to ice just as we arrived in Castleton. Monday was spent shoveling - the most difficult of the winter, believe it or not. Thick ice covered by heavy snow. It was like cement and had to be broken up first. It was cold and windy, too. What a winter! It is beautiful though.

I'd like to write more here on the subject of education. I share as much as I am comfortable with writing publicly. Sigh. Once again, I think about the paper journal of days gone by. Since 2002, when I started this blog, from time to time I've thought about trying the private approach again for some subjects, but I have not done it. The positives of this site are that I have continuously maintained it for nine years, and I think the longest break in posting has been a week. That's amazing.

I have never successfully done that with a private journal, whether paper volume or word processor document. I've kept a journal for various reasons and using different approaches throughout my life, until age 40, sometimes intensely writing regularly, while other times there would be long silences. In 2002 I started this blog, and since then the only private journal I have kept are from class observations (brief notes on student presentations and performance in my classes, and notes from my consulting about K-12).

The downside to this approach is that it is self-censored. So are private journals to some degree (at least after the age of 20 anyway) but it isn't anywhere near as much. It's funny because my audience is not large. Yet it still requires censoring.

There used to be a debate on blogs about whether the public nature was stifling, and if so, whether self-censoring was a good or bad idea. Was it necessary to do it? Did it stomp out "truth," however defined? Should a pseudonym be adopted? To me, then and now - that it is stifling is a no-brainer, but that can be both good and bad. Even when I wrote a private journal, I would ask myself if I was comfortable with someone finding it and reading it someday. While I definitely had more freedom to be expressive on all subjects using that tool, I did start leaving behind the teenage angst pretty quickly after considering the question. That was good. No one cares, not even me.

Stifling out voice, though, is another issue. That's bad. For instance, not writing on some subjects in education because of my professional responsibilities. This is similar but not quite the same as censoring details when writing a short story for print publication, to avoid hurting someone. Changing names to protect the guilty, so to speak. With the story you can craft it and claim fiction. That's not the case with a journal.

The debate seems settled at this point? I think most people have concluded good or bad it is necessary to self-censor, and that using a pseudonym is no guarantee of anonymity.

Have to write a midterm! Lots to do.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The subject in class this week is philosophy of education. I told one of my semi-tangent stories in class when I was explaining the Socratic method. I didn't talk about the Memorial Day parade or the band, I told them of not taking instrumental music and so landing in the feared and hated general music in junior high.

I also spoke a bit about inclusion. It isn't really part of the philosophy of education area - I cover inclusion during sociology of education. But it has been on my mind lately because I am observing elementary school classes. Educational research supports it, law requires it, and it is the company line. It does seem fair, when properly implemented (and incredibly misguided when implemented on the cheap).

Last night a student posed the question, could we be harming students' self-esteem with constructivism? The question captured what I have been thinking this week. Do inclusion classes need more structure? Is constructivism fair to kids with special needs? Is a disruptive atmosphere fair to the regular education students? What is the proper mix in terms of (so-called) "special" v. "regular?" How are the regular education students selected for placement? Randomly? Because they are nicer? Because their parents are more supportive or less involved? And the biggie, which is about philosophy (and sociology, and economics, and history, and policy)...are we replicating or changing society?
Yesterday was my first day back on campus after winter break, and since I rarely write posts when I am on campus, it passed by without my acknowledging that it was the ninth anniversary of this blog...or ejournal, as I've always preferred, while admitting long ago that the "b" word had won.