Archive for March, 2016

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

About a month ago, Salon.com ran a video/story that depicted today’s college students in a pretty negative light.  As explained in the short article beneath the video, a group of politically active students went around Texas Tech University asking their classmates simple questions about American history.  ‘Who won the Civil War’, ‘Who did downloadAmerica gain it’s independence from?’, ‘When did we gain our independence?’ and ‘Who is the Vice President of the US?’ were a couple of these softballs.  It wouldn’t be newsworthy if the students answered correctly, so you can guess how they responded. In the hyperbolic language of the Facebook scroll, Salon by-lined the video by warning it’s readers that it would be ‘the most terrifying thing you will see today’.

Now as a history teacher, I am appalled that any American over the age 12, much less college students, would not know these simple facts. But I try to keep an important point in mind: This video is edited to peddle the groups’ agenda.  As Stephen Colbert illustrated in his mocking of a similar series of videos done by Fox News, you really need to take these experiments with a grain of salt. People seem to love laughing at their fellow citizens’ ignorance, so, of course, you only see the most blatantly absurd respondents. But how many of the people asked these questions actually know the answers (what percentage is that?), and hence, don’t get on camera, compared to the ones who did not know the answers (the minority?).  We never will get the true numbers, and so we are left believing Americans are the most laughably ignorant of people.

And it is comedic. The students and Bill O’Reilly have political points to make, but as far as I know, Jay Leno’s ‘Tonight Show’ was the first to really practice these question/answer maxresdefaultsessions with unsuspecting strangers.  His cringe-worthy experiment of interviewing ignorant Americans has been taken up recently by Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show. Interestingly though, the fact that these skits are so popular and funny illustrate an important paradox. The audience find humor in these videos because we understand how absurd it is to not know these facts; in other words, the majority of the audience know the right answer to these questions, and can laugh at those who do not. If the audience was similarly clueless as the interviewees, these videos wouldn’t be entertaining.

So, these videos are no big whoop, right?  Not so fast! As I ponder these interviews, I find something much more disturbing than the obliviousness of a couple poor rubes.  I ask myself: Why is it a sign of historical intelligence to simply restate facts? Why do millions of viewers believe knowing trivia makes you ‘smart’, or well-versed in history?  What is the end-game here?

These videos hint at a much more important issue; the ignorance of the interviewees are not nearly as troubling as the assumptions made by the questioners, and thus, their audience. Jimmy Kimmel and the sunglass-wearing college girl asking questions are only symptomatic of our education culture.  Their concern with rote memorization and trivial fact retention are central to our education system, where test results are all that matter.  These results have come at the expense of understanding larger processes. We ask, ‘what were your test scores’. We rarely ask, ‘do you actually understand the subject that you were tested upon?’

In the study of history, such quantification of ‘knowledge’ is inherently destructive. When history results are graphed by the number of facts you can remember, the meaning of the subject has lost MTE4MDAzNDEwNjEwMzI1MDA2it’s central importance. Think about it: If these kids knew who won the Civil War, would it be all that edifying in regards to their knowledge regarding the event?  If they could identify a picture of James Madison, would that tell us anything in regards to their ability to be good ‘citizens’?  This seems to be the notion behind such recorded questionnaires.  If you can recognize Madison, if you can say who won the Civil War, if you can identify what country America gained independence from, then you are one of the enlightened, and our education system is working. But, this is a ridiculous assumption.  Rote memorization or facial recognition does little to illustrate your understanding of a topic.

I have an anecdote I like to tell my students that illustrates my point.

I took American history in 11th grade.  My history teacher was fine. He was funny, and the-elusive-gettysbur-newh1jpg-bb1c896ba697396dlikable. But, his notions of what proved your knowledge of history was sometimes questionable. For instance, in his course, each student was required to memorize an important speech that shaped American History.  Like many others, I recited the Gettysburg Address.  One day, I sat at his desk and repeated verbatim the words of Lincoln’s revolutionary 2 minute masterpiece.  I did this with no hesitation, and knew every word, and hence, I received an A on the assignment.  Repetition was the only thing necessary for memorization. Memorization was the only thing necessary for an A.

Though I was able to repeat Lincoln’s political poetry back word for word, I actually gained no understanding as to why the words were so important!  My teacher never dealt with WHY Lincoln’s call for a ‘second birth of freedom’ was radical in comparison to the first ‘four score and seven years’ of the American Republic. For that A,  I recited each word robotically. I was asked to be an automaton, and automatons don’t make ‘good citizens’.  Not until college did I realize that history is not only about the who, what and when questions. The litany of facts mean little compared to understanding the larger concerns: HOW and WHY.  Like so many American school kids, I rarely got either.

This is why if I had a student who showed up on one of Jimmy Kimmel’s or Bill O’Reilly’s videos, I wouldn’t really care if they could not tell you when the Civil War ended. But, I would hope beyond hope that he would be able to explain to the interviewer why it was fought.  I am sure such critical explication wouldn’t make for the greatest news blurb for viewers to laughingly cringe at, but it would be much more telling of the interviewee’s knowledge.

 

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Embrace Empathy

Posted: March 22, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

New and emerging education research examines and supports the critical importance of empathy, both as theory and practice.

wego-health-elements-of-empathy

Last week, the theme in my ENG 325 class was ‘Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Pluralism.’ I intentionally frame the conversations by addressing aspects of constructive choice (it is not ‘racism, sexism, and xenophobia’ week). Learning how to nurture positive responses to difference is much more empowering. Moreover, research shows that diversity feeds creativity, productivity, and stability.

We live in a diverse world, one in which our experiences are both strikingly similar and decidedly different than other members of our human family; a glimpse at what it means to be alive right now on this planet is offered in this fascinating video.

Another text that informs our dialogue is the (rather hippy-trippy, even for me) documentary called I Am, which delves deeper into the interconnection of all living things. Ultimately, concerning ourselves with the well-being of all life is an act that benefits everyone.

Connecting with each and every other person we encounter is an enormous challenge, but one that must be met. According to Jeremy Rifkin whose work The Empathic Civilization was presented as a lecture at the RSA, and beautifully animated here, suggests that if we don’t prioritize and promote empathy, “We’re simply not going to make it.”

Daily incidents of violence and destruction declare the importance of empathy. If we respect and value difference, if we feel connected to all of humanity, if we see in them a mirror of ourselves rather than a frightening, menacing other, it is much more difficult to label, harass, blame, or inflict pain.

Many years ago, a storyteller visited my school in Brecksville, Ohio. I recall sitting in a circle with my classmates in the little library inside Chippewa Elementary school. This event was greeted with the standard amount of elementary-school excitement—a real, live storyteller! We were going to experience something new and exciting, the way learning felt to all of us then (naturally I still love learning and libraries).

At the end of his performance, the storyteller shared a brief and ultimately prescient parable (the message came to resonate later in my life). The story offered a lesson in the destructive power of hatred. The exact words I have forgotten, yet the meaning remains incredibly vivid.

Here is what I remember:

Once upon a time, there was a powerful ruler. He craved complete power. As such, he was terribly jealous of his closest rival. The ruler wanted nothing more than to exceed his rival in every possible way.

Eager to realize his goal, the envious, suspicious leader asked for the assistance of a magical creature.

The wise creature told the ruler he would be granted one wish, with one stipulation. When the ruler’s wish came true, the benefit requested would be doubled and bestowed on the despised rival. If the ruler asked for a million pieces of gold, he would receive it, but his rival would receive twice that amount.

The ruler thought for a long time, confused and conflicted. Surely, what he wanted most was to surpass his rival. What gift that would be doubled could possibly achieve that end?

The ruler came to a decision and announced his desire.

“I have chosen my wish. I wish for you to strike me blind in one eye.”

The other children and I were stunned.

“How could anyone ever wish for something so terrible?” we naively asked.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I’ve always been a nostalgic kind of guy. I enjoy romanticizing the previous iterations of my life.  There is irony in this.  I am a history professor that loves to preach to my students that ‘THERE WAS NEVER A GOOD OL’ DAYS’  It is not much different in my own personal history. Yet, I often romanticize time periods of my own past that I realize were not necessarily good times. Evidently I’m a paradox.

Let’s venture into this strange nostalgia.

  1. Though I was undoubtedly nostalgic at an earlier period in my life, I would say my 9390178-largeoddest nostalgia occurred when I was in college.  Inexplicably at 19, I began to view my high school days through rose-tinted glasses. This made absolutely no sense.  When I was living high school, I hated high school.  I deeply romanticized a time that should not have been nostalgic.
  2. After college was graduate school.  Surprise, surprise; at 23 I could not get enough of college memories. Now, this made more sense. College was a great time; much better than high school! Plus, in comparison to undergrad, graduate school was trying. My desire to succeed began to really take over my life. The pressures of grad school just made any blemishes on my college experience pale in comparison.
  3. I got my advanced degree in 2002. I went looking for a job. Then I found a job.  Oh boy.  My student loans needed to be paid back.  Hmmm… maybe grad school, with it’s bookishness, it’s intellectual stimulation, it’s trips to the library and wide-open schedule wasn’t all that bad after-all. At 27, as a working stiff, the thought of once-stressful grad school made me nostalgic.

From 1999 (grad school) to 2008 (career),  Chicago was my home. Though my university was by no means small, the big city was a bit of a culture shock. My initial nostalgia chicago-image-1for college probably  had as much to do with the location of my university as it did with parties, classes and social life.   The entity of Chicago just added to the stress of school and career life.  Chicago was bills. Chicago was truly being independent for the first time.  Chicago was living with my fiance, paying rent on time, dealing with bad landlords and constantly  taking in stray cats.  All the eras of my life seemed simple compared to Chicago.

Then, in 2008, my wife and I left Chicago. We moved to Oak Park, just to the west of the city.  We bought a  house one block over the Chicago city limits.  My two small daughters were born, and then they started day-care (that bill was like a second mortgage!) Oak Park hasn’t been utopia. Taxes, house repairs and play-dates keep us busy and sweating. Still, I would not want to live anywhere else.  I love our community, our neighbors and our friends. Oak Park is much more home than Chicago ever was.

But, just because a place isn’t home doesn’t mean I can’t be nostalgic for it.

A couple  months ago, I turned a Chicago nostalgia corner. I was given the opportunity to teach the ‘Chicago Urban Experience’ course at RMU, and began to really think about Chicago.  What is the identity of Chicago? How does Chicago shape you? I wanted my students to think about these questions. So it only made sense for me to ask the same questions of myself.

One day, I was on the train reading Neal Steinberg’s memoir about his life in Chicago. Then, GR-Ashland2-10it hit me: That feeling of nostalgia. The feeling put a silly smile on my face. All of a sudden, I find myself doing something unexpected: I am looking around and absorbing Chicago. I look at the faces on the train. I look out the window on the El at the neighborhoods going by.  I pay attention to the beautiful architecture of the loop. Heck, I even enjoyed a Chicago hot dog the other day. The people, the culture, the history of Chicago are wonderful!  This class reminded me that when I lived in Chicago, it wasn’t just stressful, it was also incredibly exciting!  The restaurants, the friends, the unknown. These things are now my romantic past, and the thought of them warms the cockles of my heart.

‘Sweet Home Chicago’. Yeah, I guess it really was that.

 

By Angela Gutierrez, RMU Student.

After surviving another hectic work week and wrapping up finals, I felt completely frazzled! Worn out, strung out, I needed to find a way to relax. While millions of thoughts ran through my mind, nothing seemed to quite catch my attention. With loads of laundry and house work to do, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of doing nothing. DoMainReq I dare schedule an oil change for Saturday at 7a.m? The maintenance light has happily greeted me every time I start ‘old Bessie’ for about a week and a half. That’s not too bad, right? Or should I just get my grocery shopping out of the way? I’ve been meaning to return that ugly Christmas sweater mom got me from Kohl’s.
For sanity’s sake, I decided to wrap myself up in a good book and great cup of tea. As it might not seem like much, it was my own personal moment. Many of us don’t allow ourselves the much needed attention our inner being requires. We’re all too busy with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, often leaving the most important person unattended. Yes, that person is YOU! Many of us are working a full time job. Others are parents busy make-timetending to their children while also juggling work duties. It doesn’t seem like there is much time left after tending to family, work and school. But, if there isn’t time, make time! But, when you treat yourself right, everything else seems to fall right into place.
Go ahead and treat yourself to a pedicure.

Schedule that hour long massage.

Go out to eat.

Catch up on your favorite T.V. show (as long as it’s not KUWTK; that would be a complete waste of time!)

Treat yourself to some retail therapy.

Catch up with a friend at Starbuck’s.

Or, my favorite: Take a nap!

Leave work on time; the work will be there tomorrow.

Hit the gym to burn off some of that negative energy.

Enjoy a long hot shower.

Go for the gold and have two glasses of wine (instead of your modest one.)

Go for a drive.

Catch a movie you’ve been wanting to see.

Take up a hobby, like fishing, knitting, or even writing poetry.

Take the dog for a walk.
With an endless list of possibilities, schedule time for yourself. Sometimes, taking a little bit of “me time” leaves us feeling guilty, but there is nothing wrong in scheduling “me” time. Sometimes half an hour is all you need. A healthy mind needs a healthy soul. Healthy equals happy, so go find your little bit of happiness.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Having just concluded most of my birthday celebrations (an additional birthday brunch scheduled for tomorrow and a birthday trip planned at the end of March), it seems as though I have successfully stretched my birthday celebrations from a day to a week, to a full month.

Ah, but Isn’t life always worth celebrating (my life especially, it seems)?

As a self-proclaimed celebration aficionado, I have hit upon yet another “teachable moment” and intend to continue to make the world a better place, not just by being in it (duh) but by sharing what I have learned and encouraging everyone to celebrate life and themselves as often as possible. Thus, I shall share my successful celebration strategies.

Make a “birthday wish list”

The list should include activities and ingredients for a good time. Share it with those closest to you. My list this year

krisflowers

 

Flowers

Sushi

Art

Music

Dancing

When brilliant, observant, and attentive friend Kris gave me flowers, I was thrilled, but he reminded me that he was just helping me check items off my birthday list.

Know great people

I have often thanked the sun and moon and stars for what I have deemed my incredible “Friend Karma” (my ability to meet, befriend, and build relationships with truly tremendous people). Having good friends is particularly wonderful on birthdays. This year, my birthday celebrations began with a dinner of sushi at Wasabi and a night of classy cocktails at Scofflaw. Then, I spent a magnificent night dancing at Slippery Slope with many friends; we formed a circle of awesomeness and sexiness rarely seen outside of 1970’s era discotheques. In short: Dine, Drink, Dance.

Get out there

Since moving to Chicago, I have included a “birthday trip” to my celebration schedule, an excellent addition if ever there was one, an idea that I learned from a former student at Columbia. His name was possibly Conner Johnson (can’t recall precisely). He himself had a list of brilliant birthday trips that began after a disappointing 15th birthday party. He determined to have much more fun on his 16th birthday, so he completed a road trip from California to Chicago via route 66 with his dad. Can you imagine? Suitably inspired, I added a birthday getaway to my celebration schedule. As a result, I have given myself the enormous and irreplaceable gift of fond memories of time spent with friends! I have travelled to Boston with Hanna and Leah, hannaleah

New Orleans with Leah, Bill, Kait & Alex.

Visited Kait & Alex in San Francisco.

kait

This year, I’ll be hitting the road with Kris to see St. Louis. Following my bliss, every step of the way.

Be delighted by surprises

Good surprises in life are fairly rare, so I am thrilled to report that my lovely family (one marvelous mother, four fabulous sisters, and two terrific brothers) decided that I deserved a great gift this year: a new bicycle! The fun of bicycle shopping and selection coupled with the promise of faster and fancier biking throughout my neighborhood and beyond surpasses just about every other (material) birthday wish I can imagine. The fact that my ideal birthday gift today (at my age) is essentially the same as when I was ten years old seems a remarkably good sign.

Cheers, as always, to another year wiser!