Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Theory-Process-Product

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

On the first day teaching any course, I begin with this hand-drawn schematictpp

I approach all learning this way. The rest of life is rather messy, but classroom learning moves at the pace I want it to, in the direction I want it to, for at least the first ten minutes. Thus, in those first ten minutes, I essentially describe the only thing I believe to be absolutely true about learning.

Theory-Process-Product embodies all.

Theory—all we know about a thing, which may not be much: the combination of experience, however flawed, and abstract understanding, the concepts, the ephemeral (and consequently perfect) ideas associated with any discipline or action. Theory remains intangible, and misleadingly simplistic.

albert-einstein-balanceBegin with something easy, like riding a bike: how hard can it be?

No problem, in theory. The complexities do not arise until you have to do it.

Cue Process (practice, if you like). The doing. Entering into the thing itself: excruciating. Freakishly difficult considering that in theory this (whatever it is) shouldn’t be that tough. In actuality, when practice happens, where process occurs, chaotic. We muddle through practice. The process of doing something becomes complicated by a thousand unknown factors, and we just have to do our best. I recently told my sister I was just pretending to get by, something adults feel alarmingly often. In response, she said something truly smart, “Pretending is good because you are practicing something good.” Herein lays reassurance, and a lovely echo of Kurt Vonnegut’s reminder that “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” It might all be a convincing forgery.

Nevertheless, we should endeavor to enjoy the process itself. The joy of doing transforms practice into something else entirely. People in the midst of something they do well, musicians, athletes, thinkers, are marvelous to watch; they are in a state that has been described as “flow.” However, it takes years of practice, totaling 10,000 hours, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, before the gates to flow open. A child pounding away at a piano cannot imagine hours in the future when a beautiful escape will be available through 88 keys. See the historical example of Henry Adams “at past 50 solemnly and painfully learned to ride a bicycle.” In “Plug in to Your Hard-wired Happiness,” speaker Srikumar Rao wisely reminds us to invest in the process. Pursuits we approach with confidence are naturally more enjoyable, but bravely trying something for the first time—rousing ourselves, surprising ourselves with what we can achieve—extraordinary.

Product—the outcome of process. The thing created: the artifact, the result, whether temporary or permanent. This, combined with the extent to which our process succeeded or failed is what we have as tangible evidence of our efforts. I warn my students that quite often product is distressingly bad. I ask them how often they have been “armchair quarterbacks” yelling at the TV screen because of a missed play. Even with advanced theory and rigorous practice, sometimes things just don’t turn as planned, professional quarterbacks are frequently intercepted (ah-hem, Cutler). Just as the earliest definition of essay came from the French “to try,” after having written something imperfect (always), I have at least created something where once there was nothing, and I have learned something new; knowledge I pack up and take back to theory. Knowing only a fraction more than I did before, I return to the start and begin again.

Many things, much more complicated than riding a bicycle still elude me.  It is always helpful to imagine that having done anything at all is a success, as it reveals a new path to follow, according to James Joyce’s definition, “mistakes are our portals of discovery.” We make our feeble attempts. We enter into the fray, we make our way.

Such is the cyclical, unending, reassuring, infuriating nature of how little we can know, and the importance of practice, and the necessity of accepting even our meager results.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Every night before bed I read at least two books to my girls. I have been doing this since they were born.  As such, I have become a bit of connoisseur of children’s books.  Like every other area of literature, some books are good and some are 51Ny20bi-eLnot so good (I’m looking at you Rainbow Magic Series!). I have my favorites, and sometimes, but not always, these favorites are the same as my daughters.

As they have grown their tastes have changed and so have mine.  At this point of fatherhood, I think I can safely say the worst genre are the books intended for the smallest of babies. These books can be cute, but there are only so many times you can read ‘Goodnight Moon’ by Margaret Wise Brown, or ‘The Going to Bed Book’, by Sandra Boynton before you want to scream.  Luckily the toddler books are a bit better.  The ‘Olivia’ books by Ian Falconer, ‘Madeline’ by Ludwig Behelmans, and Jon Muth’s ‘Zen Shorts’ were some of our favorites.

Finally, in the last couple years we have started with chapter books.  We’ve completed some classics, such as Roald Dahl’s ‘James and the Giant Peach’, and E.B. White’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’. But most commonly these days we read more recently published series. Usually these series have female protagonists, such as ‘Judy Moody’ by Megan McDonald, ‘Nancy Clancy’ by Jane O’Connor and Annie Burrows’ ‘Ivy and Bean’. All three of these sets are pretty enjoyable, but I highly doubt the ‘Ivy and Bean’ or ‘Judy Moody’ books will have the same classic cache as the works of E.B. White. Most are just a bit too formulaic to live on beyond one generation of kids.

imagesStill, there is something incredible about children’s books nowadays. In one way at least, modern books have a leg up on the works of Dahl and White. Though perhaps not as strong in the area of story-telling, the newer books seem to be more pedagogical.  I have noticed that many books written during the last decade deliberately, though not obviously or annoyingly, attempt to assist children in growing a large vocabulary.

Let me give you just the latest example from our nightly readings:

During the last week, the girls and I have been reading a book called ‘Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible.’  Yes, it is not exactly Dickens or Hemingway, but it is a pretty fun read. Plowing through it, I have been awed by the number of college-level words sprinkled within an elementary school level book.  Here are just a couple of examples of words that forced my girls to ask, ‘what does that word mean’ as we were reading:

  • Ethereal.
  • Melancholy
  • Deportment
  • Praetor
  • Cower
  • Thwarted
  • Crone
  • Blighted
  • Snit
  • Haughtily
  • Dubiously

And this list is just from a quick glance through the book as I sit at my keyboard. I think it is realistic to say that there is a ‘vocab’ word each page or 618dqurp5PL._SX386_BO1,204,203,200_so.

So why the change from those old classics?  Well, I think authors of children’s books have an understanding of how important reading and hearing words are to developing the minds of children.  As I mentioned in a post a couple years ago, ‘it has been estimated that children who have parents that read books to them  will have heard 30 million more words in their lives by the time they start school than those that have non-reading parents.’  If this is the case, why not use as many words as possible?  Instead of ‘witch’, why not use ‘crone’; instead of ‘run-down’, why not use ‘blighted’; instead of ‘sad’, why not use ‘melancholy’?

At the very least, it keeps us parents on our word-definition toes.

The Water’s Fine

Posted: August 19, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Northavebeach

North Avenue Beach, August 2015

I began swimming right around the time I started to walk. My first swimming pool was at the entry to nearby subdivision; here, I encountered my lifelong love water. I swim about once a week. Nine months a year, I have the extraordinary pleasure of biking to and from the public pool in my neighborhood. If you have not done that lately, I cannot recommend it enough. In the winter, I welcome the joy of shedding layers of clothes and releasing the cold-weather hunch from my shoulders.

The physical demands of swimming laps require focus: breathing and counting. Best of all, swimming makes sending an email or text, or checking in on social media quite impossible.

The laps I complete approach meditation. I swim, I think, I count, I turn, I extend with my arms and propel with my legs, I float. I cannot be concerned with much more than my movements and the way the water embraces me.

Throughout life, I have ventured into fresh and salt water bodies, all the while relishing a singular connection with the natural world.

I swam in Hinckley Reservoir as a child, the lake near Centerville Mills Summer Camp, and Lake Erie off my big brother’s boat, and this past summer I swam Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Rivers have welcomed me, too, Mohican and Tippecanoe.

clearwater-beach-1

Clearwater Beach, Florida

I swam once a week in the Gulf of Mexico from Clearwater Beach the year I lived in Tampa, Florida.

I swam in the Atlantic Ocean during a Spring Break trip to The Florida Keys, a visit to my Uncle George’s apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a post-grad school trip Bermuda. While in Ireland, I dipped my feet in the north Atlantic, which according to legend, means I will return there someday.

I encountered the powerful water of the Pacific off the coast of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, realizing that the cautionary advice from my tour guides was well-founded.

Ease in water is a lifelong gift granting access to alien atmosphere like none other. More importantly, knowing how to swim can offer some protection from the hazards.

I recently had the pleasure of encouraging my friend and her daughter to swim in Lake Michigan. After some initial reluctance, we frolicked all afternoon, getting happily knocked down by wave after wave.1280px-Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2

Water possesses a truly awesome power, made evident when the waves grow from inviting to foreboding, or flood waters rise. A reverence for the astonishing power emerges in those intimately acquainted with water; a close relationship deepens the respect.

Entering water, walking or jumping, plunging or diving, means entering into a wholly other physical space, an utterly transformative sensation. Movement changes; speed and sound follow different rules.

Standing in front of the ocean has often been described as the utmost awareness of our personal insignificance, but I feel completely connected, entirely myself, one unique life amidst millions of other lives, whether particles of chlorine in a pool, or insects skimming the surface of a lake, or spirited fish flashing around me in the ocean.

People seek escape from ordinary life, longing for the mysterious; all while surrounded by miles over miles of unknown.

Next time your are standing on shore, jump in.

You Are Here

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Maps are endlessly fascinating: as beautiful as a work of art, as instructive as a book, as engaging as deep conversation.

map4Exquisitely illustrated and saturated with information: cardinal directions, space, distance, colors, shapes, patterns, the best maps are like the finest of all literature: clear, concise, and compelling. Last week, I was confidently led arBritannicaound the Lincoln Park Zoo by a 6-year-old wielding a map.

I encountered the first of many maps in the enormous World Atlas that accompanied the Encyclopedia Britannica that still resides in the family room at my mother’s house. A map inspires inquiry, and rewards it endlessly. Constantly encouraged to “look it up,” I remember pulling out the huge book, laying it open on the carpet, gazing at the countries with awe, wondering what the world might be like so far from home.

Maps are succinct, communicating multiple meanings with the artistic economy of poetry. Whoever decided to designate mountains ^^^ : genius.

I occasionally envy early cartographers, imagine encountering places unknown! How remarkable to attempt to plot the world, only to be continually amazed and astounded. The United States seemed navigable until the explorers ran into the Rocky Mountains. Ken Burns’ excellent documentary about The Lewis and Clark Exhibition provides a necessary reminder that romantic notions of earlier generations are misguided. Throughout the voyage, the air was thick with illness and mosquitoes.

Imaginary lands need maps, too. middle earthThe story of The Hobbit was made more real thanks to the map provided inside the front of the book. Online interactive maps explode with possibility, including this incredible Game of Thrones realm.

“You are here” on directional maps is a tremendous reminder of place, space, and self-centeredness.

Maps invite us to locate ourselves precisely where we are, and then decide—where to next? A destination clarifies things, creates direction, proposes a plan. Maps edify and empower.you are here

Locate yourself in space; locate yourself in life.

I am here, in the midst of life, surrounded by possibilities.

A map proposes we can all successfully navigate our world. We just have to know where we are and where we want to go.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The other day, I made a commitment. Since I will be teaching a Civil War history course in the Fall, I wanted to take a look at the over 4 hour, seriously mini-series-esqe 1939 Hollywood classic Gone With Wind. Yep. Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, gone_with_the_wind_smTara Plantation and all that jazz.  It may seem strange, but I had never seen the film.  Since Gone With Wind is probably the most famous, and most watched Civil War film ever made, I figured I better spend some time viewing it to see what all the fuss is about, and to see if the movie had any classroom usage.

I must admit, I came into this experience with some prejudices.  Though I had never seen it, I knew that Gone falls between the poles of beloved pop-culture icon, and disturbing Hollywood racism.  On the icon side, lines such as ‘Frankly My Dear, I don’t give a damn,’ and ‘As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again’ are part of movie lore.  However, you can only romanticize so much. Gone is now famous, or perhaps infamous is a better term, for it’s racism. Racial caricatures are central to the film.

I knew this going in. Coming out the other side, I was even more disturbed than I thought I might be.

First, I want to say that I am no movie critic.  However, I thought the film was really

pretty atrocious.  I have watched films from ‘Hollywood’s Golden Age’ and I would have to say Gone is not one that really holds up well to the modern viewer. I will be honest, I got through about 3 hours, and I had had enough.

But, perhaps the early turn off had to do with the level of offensiveness in the film? Even though I realized the film was racially insensitive, I had no idea just how obscene it really was.

Obscenity may seem like a strange word to use when talking about Gone. The word itself is usually still regarded as a descriptive term of sex or smut, and Gone is lacking in those regards. However, as French historian Joan DeJean pointed out in 2002, the word ‘obscene’ has begun to take on a different connotation in our society.

Of late, obscene seems to be moving beyond the meaning it slowly acquired in early modern French — ‘immodest’, ‘indecent’ — and to be taking on two new meanings: first, any subject that we find hard to look at and therefore do not want to see represented….; second, as a semantic catchall for actions we consider morally indecent.’

And, just like all words, ‘swear words’ change over time.  As Melissa Mohr illustrated in her extremely interesting book, Holygone-with-the-wind-shouldnt-be-romanticized Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, the most taboo words in our society are no longer words to describe sexual acts, or bodily functions. Instead, over the last twenty years, racial epitaphs have become the unholy of unholies. Racialized attack language has the power to disgust, anger and enrage. It has the ability to destroy friendships, get people fired, or ruin political careers. The obscene of today is open outspoken racism.

By this definition, Gone With the Wind is incredibly obscene.  As mentioned, caricatures of African-Americans abound in the film. Black men and women are depicted as fools, cowards and buffoons. Related, and just as disturbing is the historical mythology the film furthers using such stereotypes. The bold-faced lie that African-Americans were happy-go-lucky simpletons who stayed with their masters gladly after emancipation, or gullible tools of aggressive white northerners has a long sordid history. Gone reinforced these harmful, hateful myths for American film goers in the 1930’s. Even more disturbingly, many historically illiterate Americans still undoubtedly accept the film’s depictions of race-relations as truth. With this in mind, you can understand why Chuck D would sing ‘Burn, Hollywood, Burn’.

And, if it’s obscene racism is not enough, the outright sexism in the film is nearly as disturbing.  The women in Gone are depicted as foolish children who need to be told what to do. They sit at home waiting for their men to come home from war, twiddling their thumbs and crying into their pillows. Once their men return, all life has meaning again. Of course, if they get too uppity, such as Scarlett, they need to be knocked down. Rhett will take care of that.

As I watched this horror-show, all I could think was, ‘my goodness, I don’t want to let my girls see this.’  My daughters are 8 and 6 respectively, and this is the type of obscenity I want them to avoid until they are older.  But, oh, the irony!  Gone With The Wind is a ‘classic’. It’s not late night TV for mature audiences only.  Heck, I am sure a great deal of Americans would think the film wholesome.

But, it is not. Not at all. It is marked with an obscenity that I don’t want my children to see.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Travel brings out the best in me; thus, I am deserving of a camera crew, creative editing, fabulous make-up, and wardrobe.

I’m a great traveler, primarily because I am happy one, thanks to my techniques for terrific trips.

rockies

In the Rockies

Be impressed

My destinations vary greatly with respect to broad appeal, but every part of the world possesses treasures. Many places are not glamorous, but every corner of the world has something worth seeing.

Act normal

Find a grocery store, a neighborhood park, an independent book store, a coffee shop, a comfortable bar. Those are the places I spend most of my time in my own city, so why not do the same in Boston or Portland?

Talk to strangers

I travel alone as often as I do with others, so I am comfortable staring conversations with friendly-looking strangers, typically asking for recommendations, or often directions. My experience as a waitress and bartender makes me feel at home perched at the end of the bar near the service well, where I can enter into conversation or listen and learn. One memorable conversation was with a man at a gyro stand in Prague. He didn’t speak English and I don’t know Czech, but we shared horrible French skills and spoke for a while, just impressed we could understand each other at all.

Seek the unique

As globalization builds, the opportunity for experiences that can’t be replicated holds immense appeal. Local charm is why high-priced airfare is still a good buy.

torchklight

Parade for The Aquatennial in Minneapolis

My penchant for parades is just an extension of my desire to get to know a place by celebrating their local identity with them. Drink wine in Sonoma; watch orcas in Puget Sound; stroll the Promenade des Anglais in Nice; groove at The Continental Club in Austin; eat beignets at Café du Monde; drink in a beer garden in Munich.

Visit new places

orcas

Dock in the San Juan Islands, Washington

The world is vast, and as my friend, Tammy, recently pointed out, we can expect at best three new destinations each year, and maybe forty more years of active traveling, which means there are only 100 new places in life I might still get to see (unless I win the lottery). Better get going!

Get around

Navigating a new city via public transit, on foot, and, recently, by bicycle remains a rewarding challenge. There’s no better way to get a sense of a place than to wander, or even get lost. A trusty paper map is a good beginning, but a two-night stay in Vienna taught me to always consider a sense of scale.

Start early

My status as an “early riser” is firmly rooted in my family tree, so I don’t bother fighting it. On vacation, I wake up early and am frequently the first person anywhere. Last year while visiting Seattle, I got to Pike Place Market before many of the vendors. Bonus: shorter lines!

Pack light

I bring what I can carry. I find it easy to abide by the one-bag limit on the seriously going-to-charge-for-everything Spirit airlines. I wear dresses and add layers. I accessorize with scarves (of course!) which can make a similar outfit look different or used as a shirt or skirt. I stick to the two pairs of shoe rule. As my friend, Ivor’s sweet Irish mother used to say with regard to fashion, “Ah, sure, who’ll be looking at ya?”

native am

This gallery of handcrafted Native American art has existed in Santa Fe for 150 years. I will shop here.

Don’t waste time shopping

When I travel, I seek out things that are distinctive to the area; this means no strip malls. No malls whatsoever, if they can be avoided. My recent trip to Minneapolis did not include a stop at the Mall of America. Unique it may be, but I suspect it is just as soulless as any other mall I’ve ever visited. I am not a shopper. Unless it’s a local market with history and style along the lines of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I’ll pass.

Do it on the cheap

I may spend a bit more for special meals or once-in-a-lifetime excursions; however, I won’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on any one thing. A round-trip ferry to the Aran Islands is still only 25 Euro, so I cannot be convinced to get the $75 lamb entrée.

Bring it home

Life-charging travel adds spark to daily life. Anything that’s worth doing on vacation is worth making a part of daily life, too!

My travel-savvy I might stems from my deep and abiding love for this big, beautiful world, and my close friends assure me that my travel photos and planned excursions are all tailor-made for engaging TV.

Someone better tell Rick Steves to watch his back.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I love 21st century political satire. In our 24 hour news cycle world, I feel like John Oliver, Colbert, John Stewart, Larry Wilmore and the satirical news-org The Onion are sometimes the only outlets of political sanity.  Today’s satire onion_fb_placeholdercan capture reality much better than ‘real’ news.

And so, I just about died laughing the other day when The Onion ran a faux-commentary by Donald Trump titled, ‘Admit It: You People Want to See How Far This Goes, Don’t You?’ It was the laughter of recognition.  But, after a couple guffaws, I got to thinking.  As so often happens, The Onion glimpsed an enduring truth in the Trump-capade. Donald Trump is trying to become our first ‘Reality-Show President’.

As a child of the 1980’s, Donald Trump will always be a symbol of Reagan-era decadence to me. He epitomized the ‘Lifestyles of trumpnewsweekthe Rich and Famous’ world of yachts and private jets.  Of course, by the late 2000’s Trump renewed his fame with his reality TV hit, The Apprentice.  He was the perfect candidate for reality TV.  Larger than life, flamboyant and just a bit dangerous.  You never can tell what Trump will say, or who he will destroy. Heck, perhaps he may destroy himself while we all watch. Reality television has always been about this danger, even if it is quasi-scripted. It is like pro-wrestling.  A little real, a little fake, but for so many, addicitively entertaining.

Now Trump the political candidate is using Trump the reality TV star methods on the campaign trail. These methods constantly keep him in the news.  First, he stated that Mexico is sending drug-dealers and ‘rapists’ over the border on purpose. Then he snarked on John McCain’s military record. Most recently, he gave out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number at a rally, and called Rick Perry and Scott Walker dumb.

After such well publicized, and well criticized gaffes, political candidates usually back down.  They apologize, and hope to move on from a slip of the tongue that caused uproar.  But, not Trump. That is not the way of reality of TV!  Trump has doubled down on all his controversial stances and statements. He will not apologize. Instead, he argues that he is simply telling the truth, and the media is attacking him for doing so.

150616161704-donald-trump-june-16-2015-exlarge-169The media doesn’t know how to respond to this. They point out Trump’s clownishness, and assume he will quickly fall from grace.  But, Trump is proving that he is no clown when it comes to understanding the American public. He understands he is a reality TV star, and reality TV is what people want. They want to see what Trump will do next; who will he insult?  Who will he attack? What ridiculous claim will he make?  Perhaps, he will self-destruct on live TV.  Grab the popcorn.

I don’t think Trump can win the national election with these methods…..at least not yet.  I think there are enough serious Americans out there who think politics must be more than an episode of Survivor.  Then again, more Americans have been known to vote for American Idol than for president. So, you never know.

Words, Words

Posted: July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

words

Librarians love reference books.

The acquisition of words is remarkable to behold. Lately, I have been in the happy company of one incredibly curious and eager new reader and learner. A few days back, he asked what “superstition” meant. I suggested we look it up, because he enjoys looking up words (is this a great kid, or what?) He read the definition aloud, after which I provided relevant examples to help him understand more fully. I taught him how superstitions include “knocking on wood” when hoping for a reprieve, and throwing salt over a left shoulder was thought to stave off evil spirits. His pragmatic father added the insight that “superstition” is nonsense, which is also true, and the word means much more. One word can encompass an awfully long lesson.

Flaubert famously searched for “le mot juste,” a heroic quest. What is at stake is not only what we know and experience but how we might communicate those myriad meanings.

The tension between abstract ideas and concrete specifics permeates the nature of words, communication, meaning, connection. The tremendous complexities of words and diction were a recent topic in NPR’s piece, “The Magic of Words.” The intangible quality of ideas when compared to the tangibility of specific examples I typically associate with the duality of experiences: intellectual (or cerebral) and visceral (or physiological), two facets of being, developed and augmented by and through words.

language-tree

Seems simple enough.

The instability of definition inherent in abstractions practically demands elaboration, clarification, qualification. I start here, encouraging a balance of abstract ideas and concrete example in my writing and writing classes, believing that the best writing creates equilibrium between these impulses. Conveniently, thesis statements and topic sentences tend to be populated by ideas, appropriate space for abstract words and concepts. Then the rest of the paragraph can be “fleshed out” with concrete, specific, tangible examples. I could stay in this territory for weeks, navigating the nuance of implication, the complexities of denotation and connotation. The private, local, regional, national, and global meanings; the notion of words as living things, evolving in content and purpose: awesome!

success

Follow me!

I ask my students to create a list of abstractions in order to practice constructing illustrative examples. Since college students yearn to succeed, the abstract idea “success” is a constant companion, one they attempt to embody with a college degree, a high-paying job, a fancy car, a big house. Success invades their days and nights, but will often remain as ethereal as most undiscovered dreams.

Experiences can resist definition. In such moments, I pause and think. As I struggle to describe, I arrive at these words: intense, overwhelming, amazing, all of which are insufficient.

Art can provide new names to call the matter of life. Poetry and song powerfully express love and longing, see Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence. The multitude universes alive in the eyes of love, only poetry or song can manage to convey.

As a teacher and student of all things literary, I am in the business of grappling with words. I marvel at their power and writhe in frustration at their inefficiencies, and my own.

All our words are as tangible as the light from the stars; still, I am a lover of words.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The British Romantic poet John Keats wasn’t pleased with science.  In his 1819 poem ‘Lamia’, Keats complained:

Do not all charms flyJohn_Keats_by_William_Hilton
At the mere touch of cold philosophy? (Science)
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line…

Yeah, I know.  Science has the bad habit of making the magical seem natural; the sublime seem mundane.  But, let’s not be reactionaries. Keats died 200 years ago. He made a definitive statement about science far too soon. If he had the scientific tools for looking at the natural world that we do today, he might have changed his tune.

Simply looking at the night-sky can be a magical experience.  But, when science let’s you know what is really out there, and how vast it actually is, your eyes can be put to shame.  Just have a look at this incredible 3 minute video. It shows that the heavens are even more sublime than your puny senses let on. (Warning: Even if you are not spiritual, you may feel a spark of the divine watching this.)

All those stars!  Planets around each star!  Those countless worlds!  And, are you ready for the the mind-blowing kicker. That video focuses upon one small segment of one galaxy. It is estimated that our universe holds 100 billion galaxies.

Sorry Keats.  Your words pale in comparison.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

One of the many benefits of a profession in education is time off in the summer. The others include the certainty that everyone needs what I can provide, and the product I deliver will perpetually increase in value.mandela

My school year concludes on July 9th. Now is the time to reflect on my year as an educator. Reflection is a central part of education, and I am happy to model a behavior I frequently urge my students to practice. Intellectual inventory can be conducted in countless ways, but I typically frame the discussion as “what’s working” and “what’s not working.” I try not to get too fancy with the daily stuff of life.

I’ll limit this reflection to the classroom. All the rest of professional life is just meetings and paperwork, both of which are necessary, but neither terribly fun. Side note: I am a proponent of the rare, trendy, and marvelous “walking meeting,” and will push for its further use next year.

I confess I’d have to look up my schedules for fall, winter, spring terms to determine exactly which classes I led in 2014-2015. I know I taught writing classes, and communications classes, and creativity classes, and literature classes, and humanities classes, and I suppose that is specific enough. In each of these courses, I was offered the opportunity to learn for and with and from my students.

As a teacher of a wide range of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, I regularly learn which texts work and which don’t. Students always enjoy reading Martin Luther King, Jr., finding his writing to be even more impressive than expected. The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton was so well received by my Creativity 230 class that I bought the book for my nephew Alexey; he starts college this fall at my alma mater, The Ohio State University. I find my students generally like poetry more than anticipated, this year’s favorites included “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden and “The Facebook Sonnet” by Sherman Alexie. My Dystopian literature classes proved Bradbury and Vonnegut’s appeal is timeless. And we all loved a twenty-first century short story treasure (with a ridiculously long title) that I found by Eugie Foster.

Readings that didn’t work are always a surprise because I believe I’ve chosen spectacular texts. My students could not get excited by Brave New World; too slow, they lamented. The creativity text Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson did little to engage my classes, his examples oftentimes distracting from the abstract ideas represented. I’ve already identified new books to try next year, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Creative Habit by Twlya Tharp.

Besides the texts, things under the heading of “what’s not working,” included a set of assignments that I considered reasonable, but were deemed overwhelming by students. Midstream, I made changes to better serve the intentions of the class. Over a decade of teaching provided prep work for the lesson I only recently accepted: the paramount importance of flexibility; I have learned to bend.

What worked included a student’s desire to know more. When many tired students were asking for a day off, or at least a “movie day,” one student rejected the idea, observing: “She’s not going to cancel class, so we might as well learn instead of just watching a movie.” At least someone was paying attention.

Ultimately, what matters involves groundwork for what happened in the classroom. A class worth being a part of is not an ordinary occurrence. Teachers struggle to concoct a winning mix of preparation, enthusiasm, knowledge, openness, and community. My primary efforts lie in creating circumstances in which all of the above flourish. Establishing a true sense of community among the students is of paramount importance. I forge community slowly, introducing new ways to meaningfully interact. I am sometimes struck by the sense that I am just throwing a perpetual intellectual cocktail party (sans cocktails), and any omission or inclusion can spoil the occasion.

What works is when students are truly present. I remind them that their presence starts with the act of waking up, putting on clothes, and coming to class (ideally with books and other learning materials, too).

group-of-people-walking-and-texting1This effort, I assure them, ought to be respected, rather than negated by texting throughout the class. Many, many of my students would rather text or do whatever it is they do on their “machines” than attend to what is happening in class. Such is the burden of their generation. I do not envy them.

ranger_14_circle_col

Ranger Trish?

What works is when students take ownership of their learning; then, I simply facilitate, answer simple questions, offer suggestions. Analogies illuminate every aspect of my teaching practice. One equates a teacher to a park ranger: both provide necessary information, note potential dangers, and point to a wide range of paths each individual might explore. I never tire of an awesome analogy.

Watching my students work together, talk, learn, grapple with meaning, that’s the stuff of a good day teaching, always and forever “what’s working.”

I am eager to have a term off, to read and write (as I encourage my students to do), to travel and explore, to rest and relax, to reconnect with who I am and who I long to be, to inspire myself so that in the autumn I will have energy to begin again.