Tuesday, March 29, 2005

101 reasons why I love Da Bitch (that's Dr. Bitch to you)

Okay, there's really just two, at least right now:

1. She recognized my Beckett ode to Peeps.

2. She linked to this fan-fuckin'-tastic blog about the trials and tribulations of a purported plagiarist. I offer it without comment. Okay, with one comment: You people think I'm mean? I'd never do this...
(which is not the same as saying I don't laugh at her plight).

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Heigh ho, heigh ho

It's fascinating to me that I'm still getting hostile comments about my mock-manifesto. I'm not gonna link to it here, because I am tired of getting nasty comments from people who claim they can know everything there is to know about me and my classroom from one post. And of those, I prefer the ones who are overtly snide to those who attack me because I supposedly lack the very kind of compassion they are supposedly demonstrating...by sending me nasty messages. There's a logical conundrum here, people.

The kindest of these kind of posts accuse me of being "elitist" and tell me that my obligation as a professor is not to intellectualism, but to reaching out to and "embracing my students" in some warm and fuzzy way. I don't see those two things as contradictory. I do, however, see that in the years that I have been teaching, I have learned to "care" for my students in ways that are perhaps less maternal and coddling and more rigorous and, yes, critical; this is a conscious decision, and I don't think it's a bad one. I know the bitter statistics about disproportionate expectations students have of women faculty—we are supposed to be more nurturing, less demanding, more forgiving; in short, more "mom" than "Doctor." I also believe that those expectations need to be countered, consciously—it's part of my job. Students need to understand their male professors as potential nurturers, and their female faculty as taskmasters. Even better, I want them to learn, as they go through college, to reserve easy gender judgments and become more astute at judging individuals and their expectations. Best of all, I want them to evaluate their own expectations, then raise them, and be able to meet them. I want them to think of the significance of their classes not as pleasing the professor, but as stretching their own interests and making themselves sweat a bit.

And especially given the current "Dumb is In" climate rampant in the U.S., I'm not sure that a little general intellectual contempt isn't in order. I don't think most of my students feel the gnawing hunger to "be educated" that I felt; I don't think the current cultural moment allows them that, or exposes most of them to the desireability of being knowledgeable in an academic way. This has nothing to do with their innate intelligence, and everything to do with the predominance of light-speed corporate late-capitalism, as far as I can tell. I longed, as an undergraduate, to be someone who could invoke more from my own professors than a little indulgent contempt; the contempt may have been largely projected on my part (I was smarter than that, and they were kinder), but it still spurred me on in ways that warm and fuzzy wouldn't have. As a professor, I certainly don't expect my students to relive my little psycho-drama of inadequacy (this article from The Chronicle of Higher Ed suggests that my psychodrama is not that individual, and that it may account in part for the high rates of depression among grad students), but I think there is something wrong with an entire society that caters so slavishly to its youngest adults (see, for example, the target demographics of any large corporate expenditure) without demanding anything more strenuous than shopping from most of them. I think we do our students a disservice when we suggest that there is no reason for them to be any smarter or more knowledgeable than they are right now, or imply that their every effort, however lame, will be met with acclaim out in the world.

A lot of educators apparently feel zealous about their profession in a way that I'm not convinced is good for us—individually, or as a group. I left one realm of academia largely because its practitioners seemed to get most of their "compensation" in martyrdom. They were woefully underpaid, genuinely underappreciated by their students, colleagues, and administration, and spent most of their time lamenting competitively to each other about how they had spent so much time grading or conferencing or working with students that they hadn't done laundry or read a book in weeks. That's a pretty heavy burden to put on your students—the fact that they prevent you from having a life of your own, and that their learning is supposed to legitimate your great sacrifice on their behalf. Again, I don't think it's good for them--it's not the way real adults ought to live their lives, and if we want students to have the opportunity to be fully and richly adult, I think we need to show that professors (and other teaching types) have lives aside from our interactions with them. At the same time, I give my students my home phone number, and with it, the permission or even invitation to interrupt me in my "private life"; paradoxically, I think it's also necessary for them to learn how important they are to me, and that I genuinely care and will respond if they are having a crisis—whether with verb tenses or a suicidal family member.

However, I don't buy the claim, implicit or explicit, that my profession is akin to the taking of a religious order. Despite my detractors' assertions, I do feel a deep calling for what I do, and most of the satisfaction I get from my work comes from the remarkable development I see in my students. One of the things I hated about my pre-tenure-line life was the drudgery I found in an endless string of freshman courses. Eighteen-year-olds are necessarily narcissistic, and without the older versions of themselves to measure their potential against, I got a bit lost. (I know lots and lots of people would rather teach freshmen; I'm simply not among them. I love my freshmen, but I love them more when I see them later as juniors and seniors, and I enjoy my freshmen more knowing they will become much better people, in most cases, in the next few years). I don't believe that a bracing dose of anonymous cynicism from some blog or another is going to cause my students to crumble and die. They are sturdier than that. I reserve my cynicism for the non-student-centered side of my life, but I insist on having that off-duty space, and on my right to be someone different here than I am in the classroom. I can't believe that the massive edifice of higher education is going to be brought down by me and my fellow snarky professors. But I do think that an excessive concern with students' "self-esteem" at the expense of intellectual rigor may be its death knell. I don't think I need to go out of my way to protect students from my wit, my candor, or even my occasional frustration. Certainly I have a tremendous responsibility to them, especially with regards to how I respond to them and to their work. But frankly, if I want to live my somewhat acerbic life here on this earth, I need some company of the sardonic, non-handwringing type, so that's what I aim to produce. And if several of my commentors here are any indication, my students could use a big dose of vinegar to balance out the cloyingly sweet earnestness that meets them at their classroom doors.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I'm late, I'm late

No time and even less brain energy this week; I had some thirty conferences with students about their papers, currently between draft and revision stages. I genuinely find that much of the really good teaching goes on in these sessions, and I really enjoy them--okay, most of them--but the psychological and physical cost of all that one-to-one is high. I used to find it invigorating (and I still do get a temporary "high" from the good sessions), but my energy goes in so many directions these days, that I end up exhausted.

I'm dying (okay, poor choice of words) to get into the Terry Schiavo issues and other topics of note, but can barely write my own name legibly at the moment, let alone put forth anything resembling coherent thought.

I did see that Pedablogue has a piece about classroom competence and making mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes in class. Some are harmless careless errors--I say the wrong word, or reverse terms, or forget where I am in my thought process and have to ask the students "Now, where was I going with this?" I've always done a fair bit of this; it's not just a product of the combined efforts of the tenure line, dissertation, and motherhood. I don't find it particularly embarrassing, and I generally make a meta-comment at my own expense, to the effect that no one should now fear making a fool of him or herself in class--I think of it as modeling a kind of no-pressure approach to formulating ideas. No student should be judged on one utterance, especially when they are supposed to be encountering and responding to new material. I consider classroom space, especially but not only for students, as a zone of provisional knowledge, a place for ideas to be freely experimental, and one where you never have to be held to an idea you want to change.

I also make less benign mistakes--I made a real whopper this week, the kind that comes from prepping too quickly for class and shamelessly cribbing someone else's copy of the text under discussion. It was a glaring error of under-preparation, and I hope I handled it with humor, some justified embarrassment, and a reasonably gracious apology.

I think it's important for me, as a teacher, not to seem omniscient (darn good thing, too). I respect my older colleagues, who have a breadth and specificity of knowledge I just don't have; you know, the old-time professors who can quote texts extensively, seem to have every date and historically relevant fact at their fingertips, and can discourse knowledgeably for hours on end.

I hope that I'm not merely an inadequate teacher, but instead represent a different and collaborative style of learning. I have no memory for dates; frankly, I'm not terribly interested in filling my brain with stuff my students and I can easily look up (but I still envy the people who effortlessly remember such details). I like to think that I am modeling for them a kind of "smartness" that is accessible and more welcoming than what I remember from my own days as an undergraduate. I hope they learn that you can have good ideas and still make mistakes, and that such errors don't invalidate the power of your observations or interpretations.

A lot of my students often seem scared--not of me, but of some "idealized intellectual" persona they feel is judging them. It makes me sad that this hideously depressing aspect of graduate school seems to be filtering down to undergraduates, along with multiculturalism and deconstruction. I like to think that my errors might help to free them up, might suggest to them that thinking can be fun, sloppy, intuitive, and occasionally just plain goofy. If they take nothing else from me, I would hope they'd learn to enjoy their own minds, even when those minds aren't working too well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mind games; aka Fraud Alert!

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
I suspect I will lose my professorial license for this, but I haven't read Fahrenheit 451.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
All the time. Adam Dalgliesh, natch. Once upon a time: Holden Caulfield, except I'm rapidly getting too old to think of him as anything more than a self-obsessed pubescent whiner. Mr. Rochester.

The last book you bought is:
No more blog-whoring for Amazon--the links above are purely for reference. I bought Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst because I read a review of it. I haven't read it, but you can get yourself a copy here. I also bought Curtis Sittenfield's Prep; haven't read it yet, either.

The last book you read:
Richard Wright's Native Son.

What are you currently reading?
The Neanderthal Enigma. I stole it from my husband, even though he had already started it. I'm also reading Lahiri's The Namesake when my daughter wakes me up at night and I can't get back to sleep.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
Jane Eyre. Fahrenheit 451 (see answer number 1). Martha Cooley's underappreciated novel about T.S. Eliot scholars, The Archivist. David Sedaris's Naked. Something long by Henry James--Portrait of a Lady, maybe?

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And Why?
ABDmom because I want to meet her daughter, El Pistola. I'll have to come back to the others--time to prep for class now.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Oooh--I've noticed that La Professora B. has tapped little ol' me to play the latest meme game. Color me tickled pink to be noticed, even if it is for past acquaintance rather than my savvy political contributions to the blogosphere. But hey, I'm just getting started here. Now I've gotta think up some super cerebral answers--I'm in with the in crowd now!

Confidential (if the shoe fits...)

Confidential to several anonymous responders to my tongue-in-cheek academic disclaimer:
I've deleted a couple of your comments because you clearly stated you didn't really want to open up a dialogue (or so I assume from comments about how you "won't be back" to my blog). I'm eager to have more serious discussions about teaching, and will, in the future, say a lot more about the positive aspects of my pedagogy and my teaching, but that post is a single response, deliberately provocative, to a midterm level of frustration. I'm amazed at the number of drive-by critics, and a bit saddened that so few of them apparently read either the introduction [in which I clearly position the thing as hyperbole] or the thoughtful exchange I had with another critic, who eventually moved from anonymity to pseudonymity, here. I'm finding it interesting that the most sanctimonious critics are apparently the least discerning readers. It's additionally interesting to me that a certain set of anons want that disclaimer to be the sum total of my pedagogy.

Just as I don't assume I know my students based on any one piece of their work, I'd hope my fellow educators would understand that every piece of writing--perhaps especially in blogland--is a performance, not autobiography. You can't possibly know me from one post, just as my students and I can only know each other in certain ways given the intensely mediated space of the university classroom. I'm more than happy to have a serious discussion about teaching, especially if it's framed as something other than an attack on a single sample of my blog.

home again, home again

I've just returned from one of those Big Deal National Conferences--in this case, noteworthy only for the inexplicable rudeness of several former grad-school colleagues I bumped into and the complete lack of anything resembling provocative discussion during my poorly attended panel. I knew it would be poorly attended; it was the kind of marginal topic that conference planners love to include but that no one finds sexy, especially not at that time of day. That was fine--in fact, I had cold feet about my topic and what might be seen as a provocative take on a touchy issue. But I was a little disappointed that even our session chair so clearly couldn't wait to get us out of there (Was she late for one of those "books'n'booze" freebies beloved by academics everywhere?). I thought there were some interesting connections among our papers, and to be honest, I didn't bother with much of the conference itself. It was held within driving distance of my family, and I spent most of my time with them. It's a conference I like, in general, but just couldn't really get into this time around. Anyway, this was my one shot at intellectual interchange, and I felt a bit let down that my fellow panelists were equally eager to check off their new CV line and split.

I got to see my fabulous niece--definitely worth the price of the ticket, even if my university weren't picking up the tab. She has a fashion sense all her own, and favors animal print (synthetic, of course!) separates mixed with psychedelic patterns and textured fabrics. She's the quintessential individual, and has been throughout her short life. She has more brains and personality than any ten or fifteen other kids around, and I'm not at all biased. My favorite story of late involves her examining her new Barbie (ethereally tutu-ed and with grotesquely shaded purple legs colored to resemble tights), saying to her mother, "But where's her belly?" Clearly the doll could not be a member of our family, with that wasp waist.

It's still a bit awkward; I've been an auntie for twice as long as I've been a mother, and in some ways the role is more natural to me. So my niece and I are still working out the delicate balance of our relationship now that it involves my own daughter, too. It's hard on all of us; my niece was so very central to my life, and her sibling and my daughter arrived in fairly short succession, messing the family dynamic up entirely. It's hard for me to tell her that I have to be more someone else's mother, and less her auntie. These are tough things to face at age four, or even at my advanced age.

Now I'm facing zillions of essay drafts, multiple conferences, and a dirty rabbit cage to contend with. I'm farming my daughter off on her grandmother, but still having a bit of trouble reconciling myself to the piles of work, the dirty house, and the long, long stretch to the semester's end.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

feeling self-revealing today

Provence. Or Marin County. Such a clichè.

My black sweaters with zippers up the front.

Bloodshot's Tribute to Wanda Jackson, Rockabilly Goddess.

Whenever my daughter does.

My exquisitely retro mint-green Kitchenaid mixer.

Dobro guitar.


A late 70s 2-door Saab sedan. I'm an academic through and through.

I gotta.

Margaret Wise Brown's The Little Fur Family.


Puritan gravestone art.

The ability to stretch time.

Ha! I can barely walk upright.

None. It's done.

Nothing, unless my daughter shoved it there.



I'm not sure anyone reads it! ;)

Everywhere. It's omnipresent.


Anything cooked by someone else.

Same as my daytime clothes.

Huevos rancheros. Or leftover pizza.

I love my job.

The one I have. I'd like to teach fewer classes and write semi-trashy feminist mysteries.

Are you kidding? This is my first year with a "real" (i.e., tenure-line) job. I'll just drop dead over a pile of grading in my office, at this rate.

My apartment. I rented him a room.

Go to Macchu Picchu. Or Angkor Wat. Publish fiction.

Random self-indulgent ramblings

ABDMom has a lovely piece on the joys of her daughter. I was reflecting on it today, driving home from my own daughter's preschool, where I had left her red-faced and screaming with rage and despair over my departure. I don't usually take her to school, but with Spring Break, I'm available and, by God, I am her mother, after all. I know the staff wanted me to leave more quickly, and I'm well aware that her tantrums subside almost immediately (both from their reports and my own surreptitious surveillance), but somehow it goes against the gut impulse of parenthood to walk away from my child when she so desperately pleads with me to stay. Now the part where she toys with me by insisting I pick up the items she intentionally tosses on the floor is not nearly so gripping...I can say no to that sort of manipulation, at least most of the time.

I think ABDMom captures so many of the things I, too, found unexpected about motherhood:
This is what I have learned from being her mother: it's so much more fun that I ever thought it could be, and I like her so much in addition to loving her.
[. . .]
I know these things sound small; that's because they are. But again, I completely underestimated how much I would love these small moments. Watching her sleep so peacefully next to me, seeing the enjoyment she gets from the dog licking her fingers, hearing her feet pound the floor and her scream of laughter as BH chases her...I never imagined how much enjoyment I would get out of those moments. Before Pistola arrived, I truly thought life with her would be drudgery (no wonder I was reluctant to have kids!), and I am just amazed by how she proves me wrong about that every day. Not that she doesn't try my patience at times--neither of us are saints! And it's not that there isn't a lot of grunt work to child-rearing--there is. But the rewards are just...well, amazing.

There's a lot more--read it. I feel the same way about my daughter; the surprise is not how much I love her, but how much pure enjoyment she brings. I was well-prepared, intellectually, for the difficulties. And there are a lot. I've yet to find that fabulous balance my academic friends boasted of, wherein they completed their dissertations or wrote articles in the 2 hour nap gaps because that's the time they have. I'm no more efficient, and still seem to require ten hours of computer time to do 2 hours decent work. But what still surprises me is how much I enjoy those days off when I am just her mother. Don't get me wrong; after a few days of that, I'm eager to get back to blogging, teaching, writing, and conversing with adults. But she does add a dimension to my life that is, if not completely unanticipated, an ongoing epiphany. There's something about loving someone this much that really has (gulp) made me a gentler, kinder person (pointed pedagogical disclaimers aside).

I recently heard this report on NPR about the Call Me Mister program at Clemson University. The goal is to get more black men into elementary school classrooms. I thought the piece and the program provided an interesting corollary to the Lawrence Summers flap. [I also liked bell hooks's reply to a Seattle newspaper columnist about the Summers debate:
hooks is a mixture of sweetness and brutal candor, possessed of a keen intellect and eager to offer an opinion on just about everything. When I met her for coffee, I had a long list of topics we might discuss. She said she was going to be talking about men and patriarchy that night at Town Hall, so I asked her about the recent conflagration over Harvard's president.

"There's nothing interesting about Harvard," she said. That was not the answer I had expected, which is often the case with hooks.

"Typical of the way our nation organizes its hierarchy, we make too much of these institutions like Harvard. The most interesting place of education in the United States is the public school and our failure to create excellence there.

"I think people would rather talk about Larry Summers than talk about why as a nation are we failing when it comes to creating public schools where children of all classes and all races and all languages can effectively learn to read and write. There is no hope of poor kids going to the Harvards of the world if they aren't getting a basic quality education, which we should all be able to get in the public schools."

"Look at somebody like me growing up in small-town America. My mother working as a maid, my father working as a janitor, seven kids.

"What is the space of possibility that comes into my life that allows me to become bell hooks. The space of possibilities were two public institutions that I support with my whole being ... the public school and the public library."

I like that she neatly skewers the public's institutional bias, and our preference for personal and specific targets over the more substantive but difficult-to-grasp problems. I don't think that the Summers brouhaha is irrelevant, but I do wish we could work up similar public outrage/ enthusiasm for these broader issues.]

But to get back to "Call Me Mister." I found myself applauding the program, and the young men who saw themselves as important role models among communities particularly at risk of lacking male role models. My daughter's preschool has one male teacher, and I was horrified at how surprised I was to see him. On the one hand, I want to resist the idea that male teachers automatically bring something to the classroom that women don't; on the other hand, having seen my friends' sons display behavior that appears innately male, I have to wonder. Certainly I can evade the question with a reference to social conditioning; kids of both sexes learn to read adults according to the general sex categories, and to respond in ways that are socially dictated. But I then worry that such a position plays into the hands of those who insist that the only "appropriate" family consists of a female mother and male father. On the other hand, until we have a perfectly gender-equitable society (not gender neutral, but collaborative and fair), it makes a lot of sense to me that kids need male role models early and often--whether at home, at school, or both. And too many don't get that.

I'm also delighted at a program that targets men for so-called "service" positions, and appeals to them on the basis of making that proverbial difference in society. On the other hand (I have a lot of hands here, and they're all pointing in different directions, like an "I Dream of Jeannie" episode gone haywire), it concerns me that once again the ranks of teachers are being pulled from among the socially marginalized. It's well documented that in professions like teaching, the influx of women has coincided with decreasing prestige and economic rewards. My elementary school had several male teachers, who supported families on their salaries. Now schools have fewer and fewer men, and the positions are filled more and more with women whose incomes are "secondary" (their characterization, not mine)--supporting things like vacations, college educations, and other "luxuries."

I just worry that programs should also exist to target white college men. And I'm not proposing some counter-discrimination argument here. I just think we need to see public schools and the students they serve as a central part of American culture--not as a fallback for those who can't go to private schools. We need ways to feed some of that social prestige associated with male teachers back into our classrooms. To do otherwise is to risk turning many of our schools into the socially marginalized serving the more socially marginalized, while the real social and economic power is more and more firmly vested in wrinkly old white male hands.

Monday, March 14, 2005

More Pedabloguery

But not much, 'cause I must get this paper finished while the sitter is here.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (pretty sure it's in the freebie section) has a touching piece on the topic of learning from one's students, as we all should. I, too, have had the good fortune (and agony) that comes with teaching so-called "non-traditional" students, whose wisdom and fortitude are exemplary.

Elsewhere: I'm delighted that so distinguished a source as the NYTimes shares my discomfiture at the loss of the analogy section of the SAT (and only in part because I aced it...). Given the proliferation of shady. sloppy, and downright bogus analogies from both sides of the aisle, the skill is not nearly so obsolete as critics and a certain breed of anti-intellectual would have it. Frankly, I think such a measure of students' grasp of language use (there's a demand for nuance in these questions, since the best answer is generally one that is both intuitive and reasonable) that is more sophistsicated than the sections that merely test the students' grasp of material they've already seen over and over in class.

Finally, from Salon, Joyce McGreevy's screed on the privatization of America is worth the brief ad to get to it—or, better yet, a membership to Salon. In these days of manufactured news, a genuinely ideological vehicle of truth, justice, and the American way is a necessary bargain.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Disclaimer redux

Duh. Here I am, screeding away (I know, I'm verbifying, but I'm off today) over at BitchPhD in the comment section, and I realize, "hey, why not post this on my own blog, where it's easier to find and not wasting someone else's comment thread." I realize you experienced bloggers figured this out long ago...

Anyway, many, many nerves touched by my post about the pedagogical disclaimer. And the fact that most of it so quickly evolved into (or forced me to evolve into) a more fair and even-handed approach to my pedagogical approach is precisely Why I do this at all--I love the fact that this profession collects so many people who are so willing to give themselves a second look. I'm more than a little afraid of the current cultural climate, in which thoughtfulness and reflection get read as "weakness." And I love being among a community, however discrete, where self-reflection is so highly prized, and so honestly engaged in. I personally haven't found much room for that in corporate America, but I didn't spend a lot of time looking.

I know that this is old ground for some of you; it's excerpts from various comment threads that I thought were well worthy of front-page status. I also want to take the time to address some of the more academically-oriented discussion of teaching and blogging over at Pedablogue, but that will have to wait until I take my daughter out in the sunshine for a bit:

Among the responses to my disclaimer:
First, a pointed critique from an anonymous commenter:

from anon:
God. This is the first post i read from your blog and it feels like 10 doors shutting on my face and 10 walls everywhere i look.

So many barriers and protection. So much defensive.

Is it cramped in there?

My reply:
well, anon, if you ever bother to return, i hope you'll also see some of the incredible determination, energy, and--yes--love I put forward toward my teaching. In fact, that's why I posted this as an anonymous manifesto--to defuse and vent the tension so that I can continue to be open to my students in person.

But then, if you consider one post--framed, I might add, in terms of a semi-snarky and hyperbolic response to my exhaustion at this particular time of the term--as the definitive statement of my identity as a blogger OR a teacher, then you probably wouldn't like my class, either.

Is the air thin up on your pedestal?

Anon again:
hello, it's me, anonymous!

No, i didn't mean to judge you on that one post. Sorry if I did or it seems like I did. I meant to share how the academic disclaimer made me feel.

And as you probably would agree with, what I feel is caused 90% by me and 10% by the stimuli itself, I'd say.

I definitely don't see myself on a pedestal either. In which museum?

And you're right, i don't teach and have only been a student. Actually i have "taught" language classes but not in an academic setting. I have considered academia and i might not be well suited for it. probably.

I just browsed by and read your post and the disclaimer. Call me sensitive, but I truly felt a really defensive/ agressive vibe coming from it, even though i am not a student, and i am not even involved at all. So, i feel for those who might be: the students and you.

I do feel that if i was a student of yours and read this syllabus disclaimer, I would be terrified of you and feel completely trapped, because it seems that whatever i'd say, feel, think, disagree with, or thought I understood, I would just be dismissed by you and you would have already thought about it all or judged it all.
I'd feel completely "cornered" in my thinking. Like a true discourse is not possible, because you have decided in advance that you know/ understand/ judge everything that could come from me.
Like there is really little space for me to move in. Like I am in this maze and you say "don't go there", "don't go here" "go faster" "no, go slower."
Obviously i empathized with your students after reading the disclaimer, not with you. I am not sure why. I always liked my professors actually.

The part that ticked me a bit was this one: "I am paid to have a broader range of knowledge than you do." That might be true, but that is in one area only. And knowledge is not equivalent to perspective, insight or experience nor breadth/creativity of thought. I felt a lot of contempt in the disclaimer, a lack of respect for what another might bring to the table.

I guess I was just surprised by my own reaction to this. It made me feel shut down, made mute. Like nothing I could ever say or think would matter to you or could make *you* change and evolve in this set-up. No exchange there. A one way conduit.

I realize the intrinsic problem of leaving a comment on someone's blog that you are visiting for the first time. But i had a strong feeling that i just wanted to share. I don't know you, so i am reacting from a surface feeling obviously.
I can see from the others' comments and your response that I reacted to your post with an utter lack of humor or light-heartedness and I am sorry for that. I understand this was meant as a funny rant and I guess i missed it. It felt too contemptuous to make me relax and laugh. I think you have to be one of the professors that identify in order to laugh.

mmmmm....I wonder what my response is bringing you. I hope not just grief/ annoyance/ contempt.

If I could do it over, I would take away my last sentence "Is it cramped in there?" I went into the attack mode too. Sorry about that.

Please don't belittle my grammar or spelling or expression, English is not my first language.

Ok, I'll stop taking space in your comments now...

Have a good day,


Now me again:
Thanks, T, for the thoughtful follow-up. I can see exactly what you mean about how it would make you feel shut down--in some ways, that's the intent of this mock-manifesto (emphasis on the mock).

It's absolutely not the way I run my classes or my real-life encounters, in which I absolutely agree with you that my academic areas of expertise are not the equivalent, much less the superior, of my students' personal experience. In my real life, I am constantly honored, humbled, and awed by my students--they overcome difficulties I could never have envisioned, with a grace I'm not sure I could match even at my advanced age.

And I think the subtext of the post, and the commenters who agreed with some element of its frustration and, yes, hostility, was that those of us who take our teaching so very seriously, and who work so hard to respect our students' beliefs and values, honestly resent the FEW who treat us so contemptuously.

There's a lot that's not said in this rant. And yes, it was meant as a humorous post among a community of (from much of my reading lately) similarly frustrated and dedicated faculty--of all ranks. This is precisely why I would never actually reproduce it for students--as several of us have noted, the few hostile students we want to stop short with a post like this won't get it, while someone who, like you, genuinely welcomes dialogue and has something to teach _us_ feels (understandably) shut down.

Thanks for reminding me that my anonymity does not absolve me of my desire to or need to blog in a way that is reasonably consistent with my larger pedagogy and philosophy.

I just linked to "Pedablogue"--whose author points us to one of his students' responses to academic blogs...a lot like yours. It's a much more complete discussion of the issue, one that I wager to guess all the pedagogues I hear from spend hours obsessing over.

I'm still going to use this space to rant from my side of the desk on occasion, but I do appreciate the reminder that a teacher is, oddly enough, never off duty.

(And it really makes me feel bad that you would expect to be belittled for grammar, etc.--although, in this sphere, I can see why you might...)

Thinking about this exchange, I then said this in response to Blondebutbright's comment in the thread (basically supportive, but how she would never really hand out such a document):

I'm glad T went from anonymous to pseudonymous, and took the time to reply so thoughtfully.

On the one hand, I think one of the most important things students tend to learn during their undergraduate years is that teachers are not automata but human beings--I love that when I have to cancel class for a crisis, many of my upper level students (especially those who've taken more than one class from me) send me supportive emails that say, basically, "we hope everything's all right."

But most people (not just our students) have to grow to that level--both in terms of having the capacity to see beyond themselves (a purely developmental change--and, of course, some students are amazingly empathetic at 18; some professors never got there themselves) AND to be aware that they can wound/inspire/console us as partners and colleagues and even friends in the intellectual and personal enterprise that is academia. That requires a kind of social, intellectual, personal maturity that college should allow students to acquire, gradually. Part of what my Real teaching persona is about is creating more and more opportunities for that more equitable exchange--really caring about their lives, and asking after things outside of the classroom, being delighted to go on a tangent and scrap my lesson plans, and working very, very hard to help them develop their ideas, especially those that are not "typical" or "politically correct" (as they would say).

Almost everyone who has replied to me, here or on my own site, has said, even when identifying with my venting, that they would never dream of actually putting this on a syllabus. Me either. But I do think it's important to find ways to make our teaching and ourselves usefully transparent to students, in part because it defuses such tensions from both sides and promotes the kind of equality that is essential to genuine exchange, inside and outside of the classroom.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Painful procrastination

So I'm dawdling about in my various email accounts instead of working on the conference paper I'm supposed to give next week (the argument of which I have recently realized is dangerously close to being complete and utter CRAP) and I come across one of the heartbreaking messages about an adoptable child whose placement has fallen through. This child has several special needs—one minor and correctable, one long-term and scary—but she's only four fucking years old and she needs a family, goddammit. But a baby is not a bunny (last week's "rescue" mission, and happy to report she's thriving), and my husband assures me that unlike cats, children can't be cared for in packs by merely dumping an extra portion in the food bowl. With all that is going on in our lives, we can't even look into a second child.

One of the things we were supposed to learn in our pre-adoption classes was to respect other people's reproductive choices. I couldn't imagine that I would have any problem with that. Motherhood was something I didn't really long for for much of my life, and I had No Freaking Idea how much it would undermine my basic assumptions (stupid? me? yes, I was). But now I see something like this, or hear any discussion about the wasteland of foster care and older child adoption in this country, and I just do Not Understand why everyone isn't adopting. I still sincerely subscribe to the idea and practice of respect for others' choices, but I have to say that I no longer fully comprehend them. I can't look at my daughter without thinking about what her life might have been--what life is like for all those children as smart, funny, and beautiful as she is who fail to find a family, and who live their whole lives without knowing that they are the center of someone's universe. I didn't used to say or feel sappy shit like this, but now I do. All the time. And I hate it. I know that only people who really want to should adopt, and I know that people have very personal responses to the idea of creating a family that way. But I want to show the whole world my daughter and say "This. This. is the best little girl on the planet and there is no F-ing way she could be any more 'mine' than she is right now. What are you waiting for? Adopt! Think of it as a pregnancy you can drink during!"

All aboard the disclaimer train

As usual, I'm at least a few steps behind the blogging sistern. Here, brought to my attention by the estimable Bitch, PhD, is my reinterpretation of the trenchant and witty disclaimer first posted by Lauren of Feministe.

Both of them are using these disclaimers in particularly blogocentric ways, as befits their vast readership and lively comment sections. I can't claim such an active, if occasionally hostile readership.

But since I am a) now officially Spring Breaking; and thus b) blissfully free from my students for 10 days; and therefore c) eager to vent the frustrations that have built up over the first half of the semester before the headlong race to the bitter end (I love my job, I love my job--really, I do), I want to fantasize about the kind of disclaimer I could give my students on the first day of a class. I would ask them to read it carefully, then quiz them on the material on day two. Those who choose to stay in class must earn a B or better on the quiz and sign a waiver indicating that they are now fully aware participants in MY pedagogical universe (which I would, of course, call "Our" pedagogical universe).

1.) I have been teaching college courses independently for (gasp) almost ten years. Over this time, I have had my teaching skills challenged, berated, chided, and belittled by far more sophisticated and articulate students than you. I have been accused of playing favorites, and of hating all my students. I have been informed, each time completely inaccurately, that I do not like a particular student merely because of the student's age, sex, hair color, town of origin, computer font, politics, food preferences, diagnosed disability, or choice of eau de parfum. (I have also been told that a student disliked me for each of the above reasons). In neither case was it true. If I don't like you, it's probably because you are a) dumb, b) belligerent, c) rude, d) unkind, or e) arrogant. If you are certain none of these applies, then I guarantee that the reason is a).

Chances are, if you have something nasty to say about me, my politics, or my pedagogy, I have not only heard it before, but have heard it several times. Thus, if you intend to hurt my feelings, please be creative and grammatically correct. Compliments are always welcome, but they should be substantive and relevant to my pedagogy, not my fashion choices. You are not my target fashion audience, and I don't care if you like my shoes or not.

Here is A Glossary to Words and Phrases That are Inaccurate, Overused, and Thus Meaningless: feminazi, socialist, Marxist, intellectual, liberal, leftist, man-hater, frigid, bitch. And I know perfectly well that I don't want you to write only what I already think, I want you to write what you think--and if you don't think at all, then this will be painful for you, I know. But don't bother telling me what you think I "really want to hear." It ain't so.

2.) This course is not an opportunity for indoctrination by either of us. I am not, by my choice of material, necessarily advancing its agenda. Nor am I interested in your refusal to read things that do not conform to the childhood beliefs you carted with you to college, along with your boombox and your fantasies about fraternity life or finally losing your virginity. I am paid to have a broader range of knowledge than you do, and to use it in order to help you develop a critical mind intelligent enough to argue in an intelligent manner without resorting to sarcasm or the above-mentioned insults. If you disagree with materials, comments from me, or comments from your peers, please state so, but only if you are interested in a civil debate.

2a.) I am not interested in conforming to your media-fueled fears that the university is being "taken over" by elitist leftists. If I fail to conform to your negative expectations of my role in your indoctrination and brainwashing, I heartily apologize, but do remember that I and my colleagues are complex individuals in a complex world. I am genuinely committed to my beliefs, but recognize that there are contradictions among them. My philosophy is not composed of a bullet-point list of talking points and behaviors--especially not a list composed by those seeking to discredit me and what I represent. If you don’t understand that, chances are you are not yet ready to benefit from higher education.

3.) If you have a sincere question, frame it respectfully. Show me the courtesy that I show you. One cannot expect a thoughtful and intelligent answer to an unthoughtful comment. One of the things I am helping you learn is how to disagree and debate from a position of nuance and respect.

4.) If you send me an email, be savvy enough to do at least a perfunctory proofread. And here's an insider tip: get my name and title correct--especially if you are requesting a favor (extended due date, extra meeting, late admission code).

5.) Do not assume that you know everything there is to know about me simply because you attend a particular course on a regular basis, or because you have particular associations with what you are asked to read. Any judgments you make will be based on the information I have provided about myself, which is probably vague, incomplete or embellished. What you hear from me may include any combination of the following: hyperbole, sarcasm, humor, "devil's advocate" points of view, summaries of other people's ideas, personal philosophy. You will probably get very little of the latter. In every course I teach, I choose works from a political, social, and cultural spectrum. I do this on purpose. That purpose is called "learning."

6.) My sincere commitment to you, to your ideas, and to your education does not allow you to impede my ability to express myself. The classroom is our shared space, in which we have different but complementary roles toward each other and the material. My relationships with colleagues, my private life, and my publications constitute my rhetorical space and I have put hard work into establishing an identity and a certain level of credibility. If I did not personally provide you with information about my life outside of the classroom, it is probably because I may not want you to read certain things I might write about you or others.

Once you enter the academic community, as a student or a professor, you are no longer able to make decisions about your beliefs and opinions merely by reverting to how you feel about them. If we make our opinions public, we will be held accountable for them. We have to own our words, be willing to take responsibility for what we have said, admit flaws and quibbles in our rhetoric. We have to pay attention to the particulars of language, how punctuation and word choice can shift an entire argument. We have to be our own and each other's editor, personally and publicly.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Chris LeDoux has saddled up and ridden off for the last time.
Yep, that's me. Rabid leftist intellectual feminist animal lover/ country music fan. Just to keep y'all guessing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

My thoughts exactly!

I'm dying for spring break--one more action-packed teaching day left, and then a week that, while hectic, will be free of students like this one (courtesy of Professor Cheeky). I feel pretty much just like she does here about my students right now--even the good one. Here's a comment from cut-rate parasite on her original post:

Yeah, that boy needs killing. Where I live that would stand as a legitimate defense in court. "He needed killin'." Usually it isn't used in this sort of situation, but I think it could apply. You just need to bring him on a roadtrip to Texas before killing him.

I know, I know, this is old stuff. But think of how many times you replay a favorite song? Today it's just a little "I'm sick of my students" refrain.

Here's what I'm gonna ask for for my birthday this year.

I wonder if they can be custom made? I can think of some choice sentiments I'd like readily available...

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Bunny tales

So as if a toddler, T-t job, and the dissertation that would not die were not enough, now we seem to have acquired a rabbit. Near our house, there's a large park where sick and evil people (aka former pet owners) have in the past and continue to this day to dump their pet rabbits, once they realize that rabbits are not necessarily easy and self-reliant pets [i.e., they require food and occasional fresh water, can't drive to the store to purchase their own supplies, and have to have their cage cleaned every so often]. There are now several substantial colonies of free-range bunnies living there. Despite the fact that the park is bisected by a major thoroughfare and that former pet rabbits do notoriously poorly when released, there are enough of them hopping around, looking cute, to convince the wildly ignorant or irresponsible that it would be a kindness to poor unloved pet Bun, this setting him free.

Yesterday, en route to the local big-box store (something I swore off until, as the mothers in the audience will recognize, I became a mother. It's one trip every six weeks for massive pallets of diapers, wipes, paper towels, etc., or some 450 smaller trips to buy such items in boutique sizes), I passed a rabbit huddled on the sidewalk alongside the busy drive. This is not, sadly, unusual; one sees the occasional wayward Bun scurrying along the sidewalk, hemmed in by traffic on one side and a fence (that does permit passage back to the grassy areas, but then, I've noticed that rabbits are not especially good at slowing down to think things through). And all too often, one sees the bunny frisbee--all that remains of one who took a notion to see what was across the street (or one who ill-advisedly fled a passing dog). This rabbit was unusual for its distance from any grassy areas and for its wretched stillness. But I've learned the hard way not to corner frightened animals when the alternative is busy traffic, so I hoped the poor thing would stay still or maybe even survive a dash back across the road.

But then, on the way home, some 2 hours later, it was still there, huddled and completely still. I knew this could only end in catastrophe, but I also couldn't go by again and leave it there, possibly injured or ill. Fortunately, I was with my mother. She's not only crazy enough to be game for rabbit rescues, she wrote the book on rescuing injured animals. So we double-parked the car and headed back toward the bunny, armed with a recently emptied box that once contained motor oil, two towels, and a canvas grocery bag.

We approached the rabbit from the rear, careful as big-game hunters, and helpfully concealed by the rush of the traffic. We paused. We dallied. We knew that a sudden move toward the bunny would send it into traffic--at best, one dead bunny. At worst, a dying bunny, and a major pile-up on a two-way road, news headlines, and a lifetime of notoriety. Then, salvation, in the form of Animal Control. I assumed of course that my husband (whom I had already called twice with pleas to get us some sort of animal rescue out for back-up before we killed someone) had summoned this civil service godsend, but no, he was just passing through. Still, he stopped his truck, put the towel over the bunny without incident, and handed it to my mother.

After a stop at the veterinarian's (to make sure the bunny wasn't rabid or injured) and a desperate round of local second-hand stores in search of something sturdier than a cardboard box, she's wedged in a box inside her small cage while I type this. She's had three carrots, refused pellets, and seems surprisingly gentle. We've christened her Maud Bunne. Seems there are far more bunnies in search of homes than there are homes in search of bunnies—especially undernourished bunnies who smell distinctly of life on the streets. Now if those Craig's List folks with the hutch for sale will just return our calls...

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Not so dumb as I look

Well, I don't think I am, anyway. But why can't I get the hang of the whole blogrolling thing? Everyone else's blog has a cool, readily updated list'o'links to their favorite and relevant blogs--but my "blogroll me" thing is floating out in the middle of my blog, and I can just barely manage to add a link--plus the title for the blog friends is invisible. I like to imagine that I am reasonably capable of following basic directions, but can't get it straight. Even my husband, who actually designs shit like this can't yet make it work right. Perhaps it's a Mac thing? A Safari thing? Or did I just become enamored of the polka dot template (polka dots are a big source of dialogue with our two year old daughter) and not realize it was going to be incompatible with creating a community of blogheads? Grrrr.

Re: the title of this post: a friend and I, having been "nicely" dumped by a few too many men who accused us of being "too smart" (i.e., too much work, too challenging to their masculine identity, whatever) decided that our tombstones would carry a fitting epitaph for all smart and mouthy girls: "She was too smart, and she thought she was funny." Worse cannot apparently be said of a single woman (and yes, this is grossly sexist, and, in fact, I have had the stunningly good luck to find and marry a man who likes me too smart, and thinks I'm funny. So this is not a blanket indictment of men so much as a confession to having dated the wrong ones--or having been too combative in my smartness back when I felt young and good looking).