Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Asked and answered at IHE and the Chronicle: why are halls empty? Because loyalty is a one-way street.

Deborah K. Fitzgerald's "Our Hallways are Too Quiet" at The Chronicle asks, in effect, "Haloooo? Is anybody there? Where'd everybody go?" (Bardiac has a post about this issue, too.)
Entire departments can seem like dead zones, and whole days can pass with only a glimpse of a faculty member as someone comes to campus to meet a student, attend a meeting, or teach a class. The halls are eerily quiet. Students, having figured this out, are also absent. Only the staff are present.
This seems a bit of an exaggeration, yet there's something in what Fitzgerald says. Yes, it's better if faculty are around so students can talk to them and so they can talk to each other. Being collegial at brown bag sessions, etc. can help with that.

But there's only so much time in a day, and, as the old saying has it, "what gets measured gets managed." Not to be too cold-blooded about it, but presenting at or organizing an event gets you a line for your CV or annual review. Warming a chair at one, well, doesn't. You show up because you care about your colleagues, and because you want to support them, but at year's end, you have to weigh where you want to spend your time.

Also, faculty, especially newer faculty, are being told endlessly by the productivity gurus "Get your writing done. Keep your door closed," which is exactly the opposite of what Fitzgerald suggests.

How often have we seen on blogs and academic sites advice about the plight of the (usually) overworked woman professor who's around a lot and gets to do the hand-holding and general friendliness on those empty halls while her male colleagues are away writing their heads off and getting treated like stars?

In unrelated news, John Warner tells us at IHE that "In Higher Ed, Loyalty is a One-Way Street." He describes the insanity necessary to get a raise:
So, not loyalty, but leverage counts. This is similar to scenarios where, in order to be considered for a raise, tenure line faculty must hit the job market, secure a competing offer, and try to use it to improve their local position. 
The unbelievable waste this practice entails is sort of mindboggling. When I was first informed of its ubiquity, I almost couldn’t believe it, but I now know it to be common. 
The faculty member who likely has no real desire to leave, but wants or needs a raise, must carve out time from their regular duties to hit the job market. They may also miss classes to interview for these jobs they don’t really want.
I think Warner's point answers Fitzpatrick's, to a degree.  As faculty we're getting mixed messages.

1. Be loyal and supportive. Show up! Be there for students and your colleagues. Hang out. Our college would be better for it.

2. If you pin your loyalty to an institution, you're loving something that can't love you back. You'll have to strongarm it into a raise by being disloyal and getting a competing offer. If you don't do what it values--and even sometimes if you do--it can turn you out without a backward glance.

So academe says it values loyalty above all, but that's not what its actions show. Houston, I think we have a problem.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Cursive handwriting rises from the dead

Figure 1. Thoreau could walk around Walden Pond
 with a notebook and a pencil he made himself.
He knew that the hand  was connected to the brain, all right.
The AP announces that cursive handwriting is once again being taught in schools, after being sidelined in favor of printing (reasonable) and keyboarding (not).

The insistence that keyboarding alone would fill the gap assumed that people would have available at all times a keyboard, battery power, and wireless access.  Like Apple, which insists that the default should be using data on your phone to listen to music instead of downloading it, this assumes a level of financial privilege and an urban environment in which you're never out of range.

Where I live, you're out of range plenty of times. You're better off with a notebook and pencil, like Thoreau, and even if you're in range when walking in the woods, a notebook, unlike a phone, never talks back with little buzzing messages. You talk to it, in writing, and it listens.


I know I've written about this to the point of exhaustion (yours! sorry), citing everything from the class dimensions of not teaching cursive (ruling class needs it, grimy proles don't) to the uneasy alliance with American "traditionalists" who want it, but this point needs emphasis one more time, for two reasons.

First, the connections between hand and brain, as when you do something with your hands and it helps to rewire neural connections in your brain and create new areas, is well documented, as when students take notes by hand instead of typing them. True, you don't need cursive to do this, but I'm in favor of anything that gets students writing by hand because this connection is real and helps them in a way that keyboarding doesn't.

This is what Anne Trubek misses in her bestselling takedown of handwriting. In the new article, she says it's like piano lessons: you don't need them to succeed at life. What about the correlation (not causation, I know) between piano playing and math ability? Doesn't this hand-brain connection deserve more study?

Second, here comes that pesky class dimension and the humanities again. You might not need piano lessons, or music lessons, or art lessons, or a knowledge of literature, history, foreign languages, economics, and politics to succeed in life. But you can bet your bottom dollar that any little Trubeks, and any other middle-class children of aspiring parents, will have access to these "frills," even if the parents have to pay for them separately. Why? Because more knowledge is better and is a marker of future success, that's why. Trubek saying you don't "need" piano lessons is only part of the truth.  They're an added value that helps not only to develop the brain but helps students to succeed.

Figure 2. Lorelei Lee explains the economics of added value.
I'm reminded of what that great economist and philosopher Lorelei Lee says in the movie version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When accused of marrying Gus for his money, she says, "Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?"

All those humanities frills, including cursive handwriting, do help. Why should they be reserved only for children whose parents are wealthy enough or savvy enough to ensure that their children get them?

Friday, March 03, 2017

Writing inspiration: writing group models, part 2

In an essay that's making the rounds of social media, here's another kind of writing group: Researcher Alice Kelly describes the process as this:

I convene a group of postgraduate students and early career researchers to write together for three hours twice a week. After coffee, I ask everyone to share their goals for the first 75-minute session with their neighbour. Goals must be specific, realistic and communicable, such as writing 250 words or reworking a particularly problematic paragraph. I set an alarm and remind everyone not to check email or social media. When the alarm goes off, everyone checks in with their partner about whether or not they achieved their goal. After a break, we do it again. After our Friday morning sessions, we go for lunch together. And that’s it.
Have you ever participated in a group like this? Does it help with writing or make you want to claw the walls of the coffee shop?