Archive for November, 2013

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

That’s right, my dear Turtle groupies! Kant can’t rant because, well, he was a very very intelligent, epoch making genius, while being extraordinarily profound as well and, well, at least back in the mid 1700s, extraordinarily profound German philosophers simply didn’t rant. It simply wasn’t their style. Of course styles change and by the 1820s German philosophers were starting to rant and the rants picked up a considerable head of steam until by the end of the 19th century a very gifted perhaps even profound German philosopher, Mr. Friedrich Nietzsche, became probably the greatest ranter in philosophy’s long strange history, not to mention also becoming, by definition, the greatest German philosopher of rant.

Yes, but what does any of the above have to do with you potential Black Friday shopper of gazillions of gifts for loved ones and others as Christmas 2013 fast approaches. Or as Gordon Gekko famously put it, in the mildly dated but still rather interesting finance movie called, that’s right, “Wall Street,” named after that famous street sporting the exact same name, “Why should I care?”

And my all too honest answer is probably, “I don’t know. You just should. Period.” Or maybe a better answer is this stuff is good to know because it puts things in perspective and adds some texture and, like stickums, helps things stick.

Also, I suppose, you should keep these somewhat pedantic, dry, arcane mumblings in mind to prepare you for some further background trivia l wish to share with you as you shop from web site to web site or actually leave your warm lovely roast turkey smelling abode to walk through actual stores prowling for Yule tide presents.

Indeed failing to share a few thoughts on recent political developments which is the trivia I was referring to in the previous paragraph could easily be viewed as a dereliction of duty, like a cop deciding not to chase a car going 90 down the Outer Drive where the speed limit is set at 40. For being a student of politics shouldn’t I provide a report from time to time on recent and not so recent political developments of note? Of course I should.
And so, by far the most important political happening over the past few weeks concerns Obamacare. On this topic I have much to report but I will limit myself to pointing out what is obvious and has already been mentioned a lot by friend and foe alike namely, that President Obama bombed big time with the thoroughly mangled Obamacare rollout. For not only was the rollout a bust from a variety of standpoints, both technical and political, but–and here I’m adding an original thought–the fiasco was totally unnecessary, meaning it never had to happen. And by this I mean something very simple. All Mr. Obama had to do was go on the air and say that the work on the websites hadn’t been completed. Instead he announced along with Ms. Sibelius that work on the sites were finished and Obamacare was ready to roll! OMG! (Oh My God i.e.)

072413_al_obamacare2_640Now a commentator far more insightful than my poor self might point out that the President’s failure to make such an announcement was rooted in at least one earlier decision which on a moral or metaphysical level was far more complex than the most complicated aspect of the computer screw up. I’m referring to the fact that the President was completely dishonest about another key aspect of Obamacare. This concerns his repeated pledge that if people wanted they could keep their existing policies. He knew and his policy advisors knew his pledge wasn’t true. Obamacare would require insurance companies cancel policies because the administration wants to beef up the rolls as quickly as possible. Once their plans were cancelled, people would have no alternative but to sign up for Obamacare or pay a penalty.

When you add the computer breakdown to the President’s false pledge that Obamacare would allow people to keep their current insurance I think it’s fair to conclude that the Obama and his administration has failed to provide the electorate with an honest account of what Obamacare entails.

I have much more to tell you, if you’re still with me, about aspects of Obamacare I find troubling, but instead I’ll quickly touch on another issue which seems totally unrelated to Obamacare, but to me smacks to the same kind of politics. In this morning’s Sun Times, you’ll find a ringing eloquent plea for the passage of a new pension reform bill which was put together under the leadership of Mr. Michael Madigan. Among the many questions I could raise about this editorial, I’ll only mention one strange fact: it never mentions how this Reform Bill will be financed. The editorial does state the new bill will save taxpayers 160 billion dollars over a 30 year period, but not a word on who and how this legislation will be paid for? Of course not. Why in the world would that be of any importance?

Citizens of Illinois don’t need to know how they’ll be paying for this magnificent brain child of Mr. Madigan any more than they should be told that Obamacare will cancel millions of people’s current insurance so they can buy a more expensive policy through the good offices of Obamacare once the websites are up and running . End of rant.

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Thanksgiving is here! It’s time to eat as much as possible and then do some Black Friday shopping for bigger pants. But this holiday isn’t just about giving your cholesterol a boost; it’s also about giving thanks. So, allow me to give thanks:

  • I am thankful that Jesus invented Thanksgiving.
    • I just wonder where he plugged in the electric carving knife.
      • Never mind. I forgot. Jesus doesn’t need an outlet.

Last Supper

  • I am thankful that the Pilgrims brought turkeys to America on the Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria, and Titanic.
  • I am thankful that Europeans and Native Americans got along so well that not even a trace of of tension or racism exists to this day.

Redskins logo

  • I am thankful for cornucopias: the classiest way to spill produce onto a table.

Cornucopia

  • I am thankful for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, because no one gets tired of seeing gigantic, inflatable versions of culturally irrelevant cartoon characters.
    • I am also thankful for C-rate musicians who lip-sync on floats.

Woody Woodpecker

  • I am thankful that a turkey’s body cavity was specifically designed for stuffing.
    • I am thankful for the wishbone, which can grant anyone’s wish except the turkey’s.
  • I am thankful for ham, which like turkey, ends up on our plates only out of obligation.
  • I am thankful for Pillsbury crescent rolls, which are half doughy deliciousness, half pipe bomb.

pillsbury rolls

  • I am thankful for potatoes au gratin, ’cause au damn they’re good.
  • I am thankful for casseroles, all of which are absolutely “secret family recipes” and not at all taken from a Campbell’s soup label.
  • I am thankful that Ocean Spray cranberry sauce doesn’t have the shape and consistency of dog food.
Ocean Spray, Purina? Purina, Ocean Spray?

Ocean Spray, Purina? Purina, Ocean Spray?

  • I am thankful for the family and friends who think “Can you please pass the mashed potatoes?” means “Can you please pass along your unsolicited views on politics and religion?”
    • “Also pass the gravy boat of self-righteous anger and ignorance. Thanks!”
  • I am thankful for alternative recipes to classic dishes, because every gathering needs one item we can all agree not to eat.
"Everyone grab a spoon! I brought mashed beets! It's so much better than the normal people food that you all would rather eat!"

“Everyone grab a spoon! I brought mashed beets! It’s so much better than the normal food you all were expecting to eat and enjoy.”

  • I’m thankful for the NFL tradition of having the Detroit Lions play on Thanksgiving. There’s nothing better than eating dinner while watching a perennial Super Bowl contender.

  • I am thankful for jello molds, so that even the laziest relatives can contribute.
  • I am thankful that pecan pie is both tasty and low-cal.
  • I am thankful for pumpkin pie, whose pushy, narcissistic ways have earned it a starring role in two major holidays.
    • On a related note, I’m thankful for whipped cream.
  • I am thankful to tryptophan, the official amino acid of Thanksgiving, for making it biologically acceptable to say, “It sure is getting late,” shortly after dessert.
  • I am thankful for Tupperware, which keeps Thankgiving going all weekend long, like a drunk, lonely buddy who guilt trips you into having “just…one…more.”
Tupperware: In use for only days, yet dirty in the sink for months.

Tupperware: In use for days, dirty in the sink for months.

  • I am thankful for giving thanks, because thanks giving makes Thanksgiving the prime time for thanks. So, thanks for that. Happy Thanksgiving!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

It’s kind of awful, but people need to be reminded to enjoy the holidays, and I am here to do just that.

I’ve always had rather mixed feelings about Thanksgiving celebrations. The thing that most people (especially women) realize early on is that Thanksgiving is a lot of work. I used to wonder where the reward was. Eventually, I determined that the true gift on any holiday is the time spent together, and all holidays only happen once. In a few short days, Thanksgiving 2013 will have come and gone, and I intend to try to relax and enjoyeat_drink_enjoy_1 all that.

A Thanksgiving meal requires at minimum three hours of preparation (this doesn’t include any deep cleaning or holiday decoration). The clean-up also requires several hours, sometimes overflowing into the next morning and beyond. This is all fine. Family meals are important rituals, going back millennia. It is not the preparation time that irks me; rather, it is the speed with which some guests gobble a meal and pack-up to head home, or often to the next event.

I sympathize. I understand that many people are expected to visit two or more households on Thanksgiving. I used to do the same thing when I lived in Ohio. We all know in the end, we are fortunate to have so many loved ones inviting us to visit and dine and drink. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded: enjoy your holiday! Perhaps arrive a bit earlier and stay a bit later if only to allow yourself time to have a bit more time to savor.

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving (or even if you don’t), try hard to be present in each moment. Enjoy the simple act of laying the table. Marvel at the mismatched china and silverware that hold the secret stories of the origins of families and friends. Waiting for guests is something we do on every important event. If one family happens to be late, relish the moments of waiting; there is nothing to be done, just sit down and anticipate their arrival. Someday, they won’t be able to come to dinner at all.

Nice-FranceSome of my favorite Thanksgiving meals have been less traditional. In 1999, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Nice, France, with my cherished friend, Leah. She was living there, teaching English. We went out shopping to get items for the meal, but because we were in France, where turkeys aren’t in abundance and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist, the closest we could get to a turkey was a chicken. We shared that Thanksgiving with her French neighbor and her Moroccan boyfriend. After the meal, we went to the Irish Pub Leah and her friends frequented. Here, I drunkenly explained our mysterious Thanksgiving traditions to the owner.

In my terrible French, I said, “Nous mangeons trop. Nous regardons la tele. Nous regarder le football Américain.”

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We didn’t stress because we weren’t required to get it right; no one had any expectations. We were free to enjoy where we were and the people with whom we shared the day.

Many times, altering holidays helps alleviate feeling overwhelmed. Our day-to-day calendars might have to remain unchanged, but celebrating doesn’t have to be limited to UFThanksjust one day. Since many of us will be scattering by holiday travel, I hosted a wonderful, imperfect Thanksgiving with my Urban Family this past Sunday at my place. My heavens, they are a gorgeous group. More importantly, they are all smart and funny (or laughable) and unique and quirky and loving, which is the way I prefer my family members to be, and spending time with them is always reason to celebrate (it doesn’t hurt that Kris had the foresight to bring a “signature cocktail”).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the meal isn’t perfect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even want a perfect meal. Laughter is the lasting result of dealing with the beautiful imperfections of life. One of my absolutely favorite memories is when my exacting mother over-cooked the roles. My hysterical brother-in-law Dana determined “these must be the wheat rolls.” Years later, we still reference the “wheat rolls,” so the humor and the moment live on.

When you find yourself rushing or running around or raising your voice to those loved ones for whom you are trying to make the holidays so perfectly special, I invite you to pause, and follow Kurt Vonnegut’s suggestion; “I urge you to notice when you are happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

It certainly is.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Two years ago, at about this time of year, I asked a group of my Freshmen students what traditions they looked forward to most during the holidays.  Not surprisingly, I got a good number of responses centered on the food and feast of Thanksgiving.  Some were most excited to be home with their families.  Still others were just looking forward to relaxing during their couple days off of work and school.  I expected about as much.

But, then, a couple young ladies shocked me. They stated with great excitement that they could not wait to go shopping on ‘Black Friday’.  I think I frowned, mentioning that this was not really a holiday ‘tradition’, in the purest sense of the word.  Of course, I was wrong to doubt the traditional basis of their shopping excursions. As many additional students pointed out, at 18 years old, they had been participating in ‘Black Friday’ madness for as long as they could remember. All traditions are invented at some point in time,  and for these folks, ‘Black Friday’ was timeless.

I will admit, this was upsetting to me because, I, like many others, despise ‘Black Friday’.  Now, I don’t hate the idea of shopping for presents on the day after Thanksgiving.  I actually enjoy Christmas shopping for, and with, my family.  But, I think what happens on Black Friday is a different exercise altogether, corrupting the meaning of gift buying.

Holiday shopping should be about spending time with family and friends, and thinking about how to make them happy. For example, in the couple weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my wife and I use a few Fridays to meander our local shopping community, searching for gifts for my daughters and friends.  We take our time to think and discuss long and hard about what gifts would make those we care about most happy. There is not much in this world better than finding that perfect present that will make your youngest daughter yell for joy on Christmas morning (to be honest, it is pretty easy to make her yell for joy); perhaps the only thing that can beat that is discovering a stuffed hamster that your oldest daughter will proudly exhibit for her 1st grade, wholly self-created, hamster club. The purpose of such shopping is to enjoy the shared thoughts of our loved ones’ future happiness.  We are consuming to give, not consuming to take.

black_friday_600

Black Friday has another purpose altogether, and it is a symptom of a larger cultural disease in American life today. Friday’s storm of shopping is not really about finding a gift that will make others happy (of course, some shoppers have this intention). For the majority of consumers, Friday’s shopping madness is more about competition. Storming the ramparts of our local big box store  in order to win the holiday.  Who will be the first one in line at 2AM?  Who will be the first into the store?  Who will grab the best deal?  Who will fight hardest for the latest toy/electronic gadget that their child/husband/wife can’t live without?  The winner walks away with the cheapest merchandise, at whatever the human cost.  In order to win, contemplation towards what would be a wonderous gift is unlikely; action is the most important response. It seems ‘Black Friday’ enjoyment comes not from the thoughts of Christmas morning joy, but from an individual, selfish desire to defeat other consumers. Not surprisingly, the competition can get nasty.  We see it each year when mobs of consumers break down doors, stampede workers, and sometimes attack others that stand in the way of store-crowd-black-friday-blur-615cs112212their material victory.

This is why it should come as no surprise that Black Friday is now being moved back 24 hours, into what retailers and media have dubbed ‘Brown Thursday’ (Thanksgiving, of course).  Since consumers will line up at 4AM, 2AM, or 1AM to win the shopping world series, it only so obvious that they will take any advantage they can get. If that advantage is leaving our homes and families on Thanksgiving, then so be it. We want to win, whatever the cost to our families, or to the families of those who must serve us at our retail palaces.

There is no shortage of tragic irony that our individualistic desires of consumption and victory are encroaching onto one our diminishing  sacred days of community.  If ‘Black Friday’ is all about desire and struggle, then the ORIGINAL Brown Thursday holiday was created to symbolically overcome wrenching strife.  In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday, obviously intending the day’s spiritual message of reconciliation and togetherness as a counter to the death and Henry_David_Thoreaudestruction scarring the nation. With this in mind, the idea of ‘Brown Thursday’ reeks of sacrilege.

And so, as we sit down this Thursday to enjoy family and friends, and our mind wanders to the flat screen TV on sale for only two hours at Wal-Mart,  it may be good to pause and reflect on Henry David Thoreau’s words:

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

With Armistice Day but a few weeks past, and the commemoration of President Kennedy’s life and short tenure as president only several days away, I nevertheless can’t help noticing how completely the immediate concerns of the present grab our attention whether it’s keeping us absorbed in preparations for a big Thanksgiving Day meal, or watching the drama of a malicious tornado swooping down on an innocent small Illinois town, or shaken by yet another story about a suicide bomber in Iraq killing fourteen people while walking on their way home. This absorption in the present is certainly understandable, yet it also entails a drawback for it inexorably leads us to forget our debts to past generations whose heroics made possible our comings and goings of the day.

Perhaps William Faulkner’s famous statement about the past–the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past– helps a little in nudging us from the pressures of the present so we can better appreciate important past events. When Faulkner thought about the past, he was probably thinking mostly about the tortured events which played such a destructive role in the history of the south both before and after the civil war. Maybe Faulkner hung on to this past longer than he should have if he wanted to lead a happy life.

I believe our problem today is the exact opposite of Faulkner’s; it’s not that we hold on to the past too long, but that we don’t hold on to it long enough with the result that we lose the benefits that a tie to tradition brings anyone who wishes to cultivate it. What are some of these benefits? A sense of security from being part of a larger world rooted in a worthwhile past and a sense of hope that connects us to a future which will preserve the things we do today that we find so important.

One of my favorite ways of keeping alive a connection to the past is by recalling the remarkable life of Mr. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century and a man who represents the unique tradition that comprises what he called the history of the English speaking peoples. At first blush, trying to establish a connection to Winston Churchill seems absurd for he was born and lived in circumstances very different from my own, and led a life which couldn’t be more different than the one I lead, or think I lead.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Churchill was born into an aristocratic family which enjoyed an extraordinary reputation for patriotism and public service. Moreover, Churchill was a renaissance man interested in adventure, military exploits and innovations, and spending lots of time painting his beloved landscapes. He also cultivated a distinguished career writing for English newspapers while also becoming an extraordinarily successful political figure. Already in his early 20s, he fought for England in the Boer War at the same time he negotiated a contract to write newspaper columns back home as a war correspondent.

Finally connecting with Churchill seems like a formidable undertaking given that he’s such a complex difficult man who, while invariably successful at most tasks he undertook, also managed to attract lots of critics who enjoyed attacking him for a variety of shortcomings which most charitably could be lumped under a heading called impulsiveness.

Churchill enjoyed upsetting the apple cart. Of one distinguished member of parliament he remarked that the gentleman had no idea what he was going to say before giving a speech, no idea what he was saying while he gave the speech, and no idea what he had said after he ended his speech.

Still despite his shortcomings and some major disappointments which resulted from them, he also possessed remarkable abilities including a terrific sense of humor and a magisterial writing style inspired in part by Edward Gibbon, author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. More importantly he was a courageous and extraordinary leader who spoke his mind, wasn’t afraid to voice unpopular positions, and to the toughest jobs, assuming full responsibility for their outcomes without blaming others for his own mistakes.

Churchill’s greatest legacy probably stems from the leadership he provided Great Britain and the United States especially during the darkest days of WWII following Hitler’s lightening fast military victories in 1940 conquering both Western and Eastern Europe in less than two years time. Immediately following these victories, Hitler wanted to launch a full scale invasion of England and England’s defeat seemed only a few weeks away. Hitler’s invasion plan was to start with a devastating series of attacks by the German Air Force whose planes outnumbered those of the Royal Air Force 3-1. Miraculously, the RAF successfully withstood the German air attack; as a result, Hitler decided to scuttle his invasion plan and instead turn his attention again to the East where he would soon begin an attack on Russia.

"In 1940, children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home."

“In 1940, children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home.”

After Hitler ended his efforts to conquer Britain, Churchill broadcast his famous praise of the RAF and its pilots. “Never in the course of history have so many owed so much to so few.” If one person were to be singled out for their role in saving England and defeating Hitler in 1940, surely Churchill would be that individual. And to give Churchill’s line a little extra “mo” possibly we could include ourselves in Churchill’s reference to “the many” owing so much to the brave RAF pilots whose sacrifices helped create a society which in the history of the world has never been more prosperous, more egalitarian, or more free.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Robert Morris University’s Fall graduation was this past weekend at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. As is our tradition, the faculty, staff, and administrators proceed backstage after the ceremony and form two lines. The students then walk between the lines and have the opportunity to celebrate with us before they go find their family and friends.

It’s like an academic soul train line. Don Cornelius would either be proud or horrified.

Love, Peace, and Soul.

Love, Peace, and Soul.

This is, without a doubt, my favorite part of every graduation. I love seeing how excited the students are to have reached this moment. After watching the seniors trudge around campus for months – exhausted, stressed, and wearing whatever happened to be clean – they are now wearing their best clothes and biggest smiles.

Selfishly, I stand by hoping that I will get lots of handshakes and hugs from my students. While this is their day, this moment also tells me a bit about myself. Some students can be effusive with their love (or hatred) of a teacher; other students are coy about their feelings. There have been times when a student has run up to me in that line and given me a bearhug and thanked me for everything, and that was the first hint that I had any impact on that student at all. The lineup can be a nice indicator that I’m doing something right as a teacher.

Superficially, hugs and handshakes are also like graduation day Facebook ‘LIKES’ and I totally want more ‘LIKES’ than all the other professors!

And if the day comes that I’m the only teacher at the university, I’ll finally win.

Graduation is a bittersweet moment, though. I’ve worked with and known some of these students for years are they are now leaving the nest. Except in rare cases, I won’t be working with or even seeing them again. I’ve considered failing some students just so they could hang out longer, but that wouldn’t be ethical.

One graduate or another will pop into mind during a normal workweek, and I’ll be curious about what that student is doing now. With social media, I suppose it’s technically possible for faculty to keep up with lots of alums, but that’s impractical…and possibly creepy.

Plus, the sweet sorrow of commencement is offset by a new crop of interesting students and stories right around the corner. Just as one set of relationships end, a whole batch is about to begin. That certainly adds excitement and spontaneity to my profession.

Congratulations to all of the graduates! Come back, visit, tell us about the amazing things you accomplish.

And to current students, remember to shake my hand or hug me on that big day. My fragile ego needs it.

RMU Graduation! (About an hour before the ceremony started.)

RMU Graduation! (About an hour before the ceremony started.)

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Here is the dark secret of the crisis in higher education: many students just don’t put forth the effort required to succeed.

Writing the above makes me a little nervous, mostly because implying that students are anything but ideal causes concern, raises Imageeyebrows, suggests insensitivity. Often at the end of the term, professors are asked to explain why a certain percentage of students failed to successfully complete the class. The reasons are contained in this post. In fifteen years as a college instructor, I have never failed a student who did the work and came to class. Never. Success and failure is the direct result of student work. If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. The 21st century world requires a complex network of knowledge and skills, and too many students are failing behind of their own volition.

There are critical skills for success in academic life, and all professors routinely attempt to impress upon their students the vital behaviors for scholastic achievement. Recently, I created a “Student Empowerment Treatise” that I distribute and discuss at the beginning of the term in all my classes. Item #2 reads, “I understand that if I fulfill the required assignments and attend and participate in class, I can expect to earn a C or better in class.” Therein lays the mystery of success: show up and do the work.

I can encourage students to wake up in the morning, but they themselves must use their own power to get out of bed, and undertake whatever it is they hope to accomplish. I want my students to learn, but they alone must do the work of learning.

Attending class

I was fortunate that when I went off to college, I had six older siblings who shared with me the paramount importance of going to class. Students who attend class regularly succeed at a much higher rate. Also, it is likely that if students come to class, they actually might learn something interesting, or meet someone exciting, or hear about an event on campus, or any other wonderful occurrence that is directly tied to actively engaging in education.

 Focusing in class

Many of my more generous colleagues will blame themselves for students’ inattention, striving to be more charming or inventive. I strive to be entertaining and student-centered, but the notion that learning can always be fun is simply ridiculous. Learning is complicated, and frequently arduous. Granted, it is hard to pay attention, but accomplishing anything requires focus. Even doing the dishes entails addressing the nature and scope of the task at hand. When a student forces himself or herself to pay attention to what is going on in the lecture, the text, or the discussion, he or she is exerting the self-discipline necessary to realizing any goal.

Completing course work

These are the smaller tasks that involve the practice of skills associated with a subject or discipline. These are assignments for whichImage a student can earn 100% just for completing the work. The work need not be perfect or completely correct. It just needs to be done. Each week, there are typically short readings assigned, Discussion Board posts related to readings, and in-class written responses on a variety of topics, either covered in lectures or other content areas. If I did the statistical analysis of the percentage of students who actually accomplish these weekly tasks, it would be horrifying.

Submitting projects on time

Each term, a few large projects are assigned per course. The nature of these projects depends on the class, but all courses require larger, more polished work that illustrates an advanced understanding of central skills and concepts. For example, HUM 120 (Introduction to Literature), consists of three course sections: poetry, short fiction, and drama. Each segment of the course culminates in an essay, exam, or presentation. I do not take late work (unless there is a documented illness) mostly because it would devastate my own grading schedule to let students submit work whenever they wish to do so. To those students who protest that they have paid for the class and should be able to submit late work, I remind them that simply purchasing a plane ticket does not guarantee the plane won’t leave without them if they fail to show up on time. Deadlines are a part of every endeavor, and time management is expected in every professional field.

Using available resources

There are scores of people working at every college in the United States whose job it is to help students in every possible way. There are tutors, administrators, librarians, advisors, counselors, coaches, and professors who are present throughout the week for consultation. Students who utilize the available resources quickly learn that spending thirty minutes with any one of these mentors can radically improve their understanding. I wish more students utilized support services.

Persevering, even when faced with difficult challenges and unthinkable obstacles

Students face day-to-day struggles that make completing studies extremely difficult, which is always the case for everyone. Every student endures a unique set of hardships. College graduates are those individuals who found the power within to complete coursework despite the overwhelming challenges that are a part of life.

I’ve Been There; I’m Still Here

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I learned to practice the behaviors associated with scholastic advancement. I was not a perfect student; I struggled in many classes; I earned bad grades; I went to tutoring. All of my skills improved with time. My academic performance developed as my professors continually pressured me to create meaningful work. I hope my current work in the classroom serves the same fundamental purpose. I do not expect my students to be perfect learners. However, I hope my students begin to achieve their highest potential through consistent and significant effort.

As long as I am teaching, I will continue to require the practice of the fundamentals of academic success in the hopes that students are listening. There are two more ideas I share with my students on the first day of class.

I tell them, “I want you to thrive.”

I also entreat them to stop considering higher education something they buy; a product-based description is scarcely useful. I do not want them to invest in an education.

I say, “Invest in Yourself.”

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

I am just going to put this right out there: It seems to me that football (I am talking about soccer, my fellow Americans) became the sport of the world as a result of English Imperialism.  Why this thought came into goal savemy head the other day, I have no idea.  But, when it did enter my brain, I thought about how this theory seems more than plausible; dare I say that it seems likely.  You see, evidently, games that were football-esque have existed from the earliest civilizations, but modern soccer (what I will use from now on, since most of the readers of this blog are American) is quite a recent invention. The modern rules of the game formed in mid-nineteenth century England.  During this era, soccer gained popularity in lock step with England’s superpower status. England’s naval strength and prowess, and it’s commercial, industrialized economy were central to its position at the top of the national pecking order.  But, what separated the isles from Germany, France, the United States, and other powers, was its massive empire.

English imperial power globalized English culture.  Even where the English empire did not reach, British cultural carriers in the form of English_imperialism_octopussailors, diplomats, explorers, and merchants did.  These nomadic sea-faring hordes in coats and top hats brought British goods, and British practices to much of the world.  Soccer was one such practice.  

Obviously, the European imperial relationship to the rest of the world during the nineteenth century was one of exploitation.  But we must remember that a great many proud imperialists of this era believed themselves to be paternal do-gooders.  These men and women rationalized imperialism by pointing to it’s purported benevolent core.  ‘Native’, ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ peoples benefited from the ‘superior’ cultures they were provided. Albert Beveridge, a US Senator from Indiana stated this quite clearly in 1898.  Running for reelection on a pro-Spanish-American War, pro-imperialist stance, Beveridge stated that,

Therefore, in this campaign, the question is larger than a party question. It is an American question. It is a world question. Shall the American people continue their march toward the commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broaden their blessed reign as the children of liberty wax in strength, until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of all mankind?

Have we no mission to perform no duty to discharge to our fellow man? Has God endowed us with gifts beyond our deserts and marked us as the people of His peculiar favor, merely to rot in our own selfishness, as men and nations must, who take cowardice for their companion and self for their deity-as China has, as India has, as Egypt has?

Beveridge

Beveridge

Beveridge felt the American imperial experience would even outshine the British since, as he put it, America was ‘a greater England with a nobler destiny’.

In 1898, America was playing catch up to other European powers, and to England in particular.  England had brought its laws, its government, its religion, its commerce and its language to the world. England also provided the benevolent gift of soccer.

As the twentieth century commenced, many of England’s imperial holdings rebelled against English power, and often, English culture. But, soccer remained and flourished. Instead of rebelling against the imperial game, the peoples of the world embraced it.  They made the sport their own, creating specifically national styles of play.  This may be an example of cooptation and transformation of the European cultural hegemony that often marked the decolonization movements of the mid-twentieth century.  Rebels such as Ho Chi Mihn, Mao, and Che Guevera took European ideologies, transformed them, and used said ideologies against the imperial powers that be.  

Defeating the imperialists in the streets was necessary, but often deadly.  Defeating the imperialists on the pitch was safer, and undoubtedly almost as fulfilling. 

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I think soccer being understood as an imperial force may solve a major conundrum regarding the sport; why is soccer so popular everywhere in the world, except for the United States.  The general response most Americans give is pejorative.  Soccer is just too boring to watch, as this Simpsons clip humorously illustrates:

But, this explanation doesn’t hold water. Americans religiously watch boring sports all the time.  No matter what you think of baseball, it is hard to argue that the game is not one marred by hours of stasis.  Though for true purists of the game, pitchers’ duels that lead to 1-0 scores are the epitome of the sport, for those on the outside looking in, such a three-hour ‘spectacle’ can seem mind-numbing.

Boring soccer is not the answer as to why the sport never captured the American imagination. Instead, I venture that nineteenth century beliefs about American cultural exceptionalism may be behind Americans’ general tepidity towards the ‘beautiful game’.

During the time of soccer’s viral spread, as England ruled the waves, Americans were often quite distrustful, and even disdainful, of the ‘old-world’.  Cultural and political figures in America were a paradoxical melange of feeling historically inferior to Europe, and yet, socially/culturally superior to the old world. Americans viewed their nation, their people, and their land as different from the decaying world across the Atlantic. America was supposed to be exceptional. Our sports were no different.

Thus, baseball would become America’s game at roughly the same time that soccer was taking over the rest of the world. Baseball would become a symbol for America itself.

Even today, this prejudice against European and worldly culture retains its power for many Americans. As in the past, America feels Europe can keep its English invention of Imperial Football. We now have our own imperial sports to ‘provide’ the world.   

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

As a human being and a person in the knowledge business both as student and teacher, and as a worshipper of books, and libraries, and book stores, and finally as a great fan of good old Socrates, the creator of the Socratic Method, and founder of western philosophy, I often enough find myself worrying about how the learning process works for I want to continue learning new things as well as hang on to what I’ve already learned.

But you might be asking yourself, my dear, exceptionally sweet, always forthcoming Turtlett, “What’s there to worry about? By your own admission, you’ve got it. You learned what you’ve learned and you’ve then gone ahead and stored your learning where you can summon it up whenever you need it.” “That’s possible,” I might reply, though a more likely response would be that learning’s not quite so easy. Firstly, let me mention that I’m perfectly capable of forgetting things I think I’ve learned; and secondly, if I do forget things, maybe that’s because I didn’t really learn them or learn them as well as I thought I’d learned them. This explanation surely makes a great deal of sense to me, even if my imaginary interlocutor remains entirely unconvinced.

school-of-athens2

Can you find Peter Stern?

But I also reminded myself that another major cause of my concern stemmed from remembering the example of Socrates and his confession of ignorance. For I can never entirely forget his famous declaimer that he knows he knows nothing. Let’s think about this for a minute. I mean if Socrates says he knows nothing, how can I claim to know so much, indeed, how can I claim to know anything at all? Surely a conundrum of sorts, at least for me, and very possibly somewhere down the road, for you too, my ever thoughtful readers doubling as intrepid explorers and exemplars of critical thinking’s joys.

So, wandering lonely as a cloud over a wine dark sea as more dilemmas leaped out at me like hungry lions waiting for their favorite midday meal, a new thought suddenly flashed in my brain bringing me some small comfort from my concerns. As this new thought increasingly occupied my mind, my worries about learning and knowledge seemed to lessen.

Can you find the dalmatian?

Can you find the dalmatian?

And here’s why. The idea that hit me so suddenly was amazingly simple and yet extraordinarily helpful in sorting out what learning and knowledge are all about, and hopefully you’ll find this idea helpful to you too. Again, the idea is extremely simple or at least simple to state. Here it is. Learning involves seeing patterns in the information or data or material we’re thinking about.

In other words, facts are facts and in theory we can approach each fact as an entirely separate sort of thing and commit it to memory. But that’s not learning; it’s memorizing. By contrast, learning entails seeing the connections or patterns between facts or between different things which in turn tells us what they mean. Reading or listening to stories provides a gazillion examples of this sort of experience.

In a story, we’re introduced to a series of main characters who find themselves in a particular setting with a singular goal they’re trying to achieve or an issue they wish to resolve. They create and initiate plans to realize their objective. And at the end of the story we find out whether or not they were successful. In many ways this sounds like Aristotle’s famous statement about stories having a beginning, middle, and end.

Reflecting on a story reveals to the reader or listener how the beginning is linked to the end and how other elements of the story form a variety of patterns. We can notice how two characters operate either in similar or in very different ways. We might even realize that they do both: they act in similar ways but also in contrasting ways. We can discern patterns with respect to the characters and the setting and how the things the characters say foreshadow the story’s end.

I had just such an experience in class the other day watching a film called “A League of Their Own.” Although I had already seen the movie a bunch of times, it was only this week that I noticed early on how the main character, who was the team’s star, was going to get into an increasingly ugly argument with her sister who felt her star studded sib was hogging the stage—or rather, the diamond. This time around I also understood the ending much better as I saw far more clearly the pattern that linked the sisters and thus could appreciate in a deeper way the twist the ending provided.

The same sort of people patterns we see in a movie or novel or short story can also be found in real life whether in the news, in politics, at work, and/or at play. You might also find them in a painting, in a song, or in an amazing cloud formation as you look over Lake Michigan very early in the morning and see the rosy fingered dawn first breaking through the still largely dark night sky.

 

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I am definitely a Millennial, because nothing is ever fast enough. All internet connections seem slow, McDonald’s can’t have enough drive-thru lanes, and instant oatmeal is never quite instant enough.

Hence, it is difficult for Millennials to have perspective on growth rates and progress, because we truly expect Rome to be built in a day.

My impatience also applies to The Flaneur’s Turtle. I am rather upset that we have not yet been bought out for billions by Google or Yahoo! And how much longer do I have to wait for some powerful person to discover my comedic genius like Ira Glass did with David Sedaris?

C’mon, fame and fortune! Turn your gaze on the Turtle!

Despite my Millennial desire for instant gratification, I understand that some things take time to develop.

To that point, last week I had a moment of reflection on the Turtle’s development.

The Flaneur’s Turtle was born from a brilliant idea by Michael Stelzer Jocks. He bounced that idea off of me and our entire department, with the blog’s title being brainstormed during a departmental meeting.

The Turtle went live on April 16, 2012, with a first post that simply said, “Welcome to The Flâneur’s Turtle, the new blog of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at Robert Morris University – IL.”

Turtle First Post

That was the first and only time the Turtle has managed to be concise.

(Three cheers for verbosity!)

The Turtle got off to a hot start before hitting some rough patches, such as publishing NO material in September or November 2012.

Entering 2013, the Turtle rededicated itself. I declared that I would write something new every week – both to continuously have material on the site, and to keep myself writing. I settled into Thursdays as my days to publish. MSJ followed with Mondays. Since then, Tricia Lunt has held down the middle of the week, and Peter Stern has recently taken Fridays.

Along the way, other Robert Morris University faculty have written wonderful posts, as have some RMU students.

Collectively, we have now reached this post: the Turtle’s 200th.

In 19 months, we’ve written 200 pieces! Our unofficial word limit on posts is 750 words (which we often fail to keep). But, just for the sake of perspective, 200 posts at 750 words is 150,000 words.

(And students think a 1,000 word essay is long! Geez!)

To put that number in perspective, 150,000 words is about the same length as TWO average-sized paperback novels.

And it was all given to you for free!

You’re welcome.

And by “YOU” I mean the 341 Facebook ‘LIKES,’ the 53 e-mail followers, and the additional 93 WordPress followers. We are so happy for all of our readers, and we look forward to adding more people to this Turtle community.

But all of this wasn’t my real reflection last week. When I step back and look at the Turtle’s full body of work, and don’t just focus on the here and now with my next post and who is liking it on Facebook, I find something interesting.

The Turtle’s content has gotten progressively better, and the term “blog” seems almost inappropriate any longer. I credit Michael Stelzer Jocks for founding what has now developed into a real online publication of quality creative nonfiction.

(That’s kind of Creative Writer jargon. My apologies.)

On April 16, 2012, I wouldn’t have guessed the Turtle would blossom into what it is now. But now that is has, I am eager to see where it will climb to in the next 19 months, which at current pace will put the Turtle nearing its 500th post.

Let this be a lesson to all my fellow Millennials, which includes my students. Waiting for something to develop can be maddening when stuck in our mindset of instant gratification. We are part of a society now that wants to evaluate everything from athletes to politics on a moment-to-moment basis, rather than wait until a full body of work is available to look at. However, it’s true that good things come to those who wait are patient and work hard.