By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This Tuesday’s Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation day offered an awesome opportunity to ponder the power of tremendous teachers everywhere.


How cute is this?

As a teacher, I have the good fortune of working with extraordinary teachers. My colleagues in The College of Liberal Arts at Robert Morris continuously inspire me and my teaching practice. My fellow teachers are exciting, creative, funny, and smart. Naturally, all of the regular Turtle bloggers top my list of coworkers whose contribution I hold in high esteem (MSJ, Paul, JJS, Dr. Stern, Mick, Ellen). Many more colleagues in the College of Business, Health, and Design impress me with their ability to encourage and empower their students every day.

My past teaching life in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere in Illinois was equally enhanced with wonderful educators who helped form my curriculum and understanding, many of these past coworkers remain among my most trusted friends.

My personal experience with teachers has been rich and varied. Most of my closest friends currently are or have been teachers (too many to list; we teachers stick together!).  Over the years we discussed, at length, the countless joys and frequent frustrations teachers endure.  Ultimately, teachers are my tribe.

Thinking back on my most memorable teachers calls to mind not precise details, (who taught me fractions? I have no idea). Instead, the larger lessons emerge, and with them the recognition of the ways they suffuse all that I am and do. To honor the teachers who shaped my life, I contemplate and celebrate the knowledge they so generously shared with me.


Mrs. Debbie Bernauer was an incredibly kind and supportive third grade teacher. The woman went so far as to attend one of my softball games. This compassionate commitment is typical of the best elementary school teachers who devote a marvelous amount of their time, talent, and energy to the children they teach with boundless love.

In Middle School, Mr. Johnson taught the behaviors of critical thinking and the importance of the preparation a good education can provide. A history and government teacher, his favorite phrase was “There’s nothing constant except change.” This sort of philosophical wordplay stayed with me across the years. His side job as a farmer no doubt helped underscore his tendency to address the cruel realities each life was bound to encounter.

Many of my teachers at Brecksville-Broadview Heights high school are still vivid in my memory: how extraordinary!bee

My long-suffering Math teacher, Mr. Sycz, worked tirelessly to help us grapple with geometry, algebra, and calculus, which resulted in a much easier encounter with college math requirements.

My choir teacher, Mr. Valley, was a fixture throughout all four years. Choir class concluded my day, and I still highly recommend singing every afternoon. His enthusiasm for music and the program resulted in the growth and development of remarkable range of musical opportunities. He expanded the choir, band, orchestra, and song & dance team, the delightful “Music in Motion” in his time, long before Pitch Perfect made singing cool.

Mr. Chordas’ intense approach to education was endlessly inspiring. A brilliant history teacher, he also taught a psychology elective senior year that offered an intriguing peek into the life of the mind.  The biggest impact on my learning was a result of his model of excellence, curiosity, and openness.

Mrs. Ford was the woman who helped me love language and literature. She planted the seed for my future in teaching. In her class, we read widely, the classics: Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare; moderns and contemporaries: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Alice Walker. Conversations of the texts, followed by writing copious journal entries molded my thinking and my life. I’ve kept a journal ever since her class.

In college, I learned from many different teachers, all of whom knew a great deal, but I did not make the effort to develop a meaningful relationship with most of my professors, the exceptions being Kathy Fagan and Christopher Highley. No doubt the sheer size of The Ohio State University makes creating a personal connection more difficult. I regret not having sought ought my professors for advice and guidance.

In graduate school, the bond between professor and student evolves. The exchange of information tends toward a cooperative learning of equals working side by side. At Cleveland State University, I had the benefit of an extraordinary English Department filled with professors who were thoughtful teachers and accomplished writers: Dr.  Neal Chandler, Dr. Leonard Trawick, Dr. Daniel Melnick, Dr. Rachel Carson, Sheila Schwartz, and the brilliant Dan Chaon.  At Kent State for MLIS, my thesis advisor and favorite professor, Dr. Jason Holmes, guided my every step, a kindness for which I shall be forever grateful.

Teachers create an incredibly positive impact on the individual and the world; I remain humbly in their debt and happily among their ranks.

Cue Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”

By Scarlett DeRousse, RMU Student.

America: land of the hot dog, apple pie, and the nation’s favorite pastime: baseball. As April rolls in, all is normal and well as the first pitches are thrown, and American cities can begin to hate each other once more. A wave of excitement and hope sweeps across the nation as fans root for their currently flawless team. But this excitement is not as strong anywhere as it is in Chicago with the Chicago Cubs. Writing for the Tribune, David Haugh saw that”the enthusiasm of Cubs fans made its presence felt in the first outing of 2016″.  Of course, a “blank slate” is nothing new for the Cubs, but it is April so their hearts are in October. I guess Nelson Algren was speaking the truth when he said that “Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring”. This time, though, it is not just fans who are living on hopes of the future: According to Haugh, “On day one, the Cubs already were thinking as if it will be a long one”. Last years near success, changed the team’s focus to “staying fresh for September and October”. It is a long time until October’s playoffs, but all eyes will be watching the Cubs, especially in Chicago and St. Louis.


during game four of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

“In baseball, as in life, all important things happen at home,” and so my heart is with my home team in St. Louis. I was raised on the bleachers outside those dusty fields, so naturally I have a love of the game. Unfortunately, I ended up in the city of my home team’s rival. My presence in Chicago for everything else grew and intertwined myself deeper with the city, but my love of the game has never made me feel more like an outfielder. As the season takes it opening, I become a little less Chicagoan.  I love this city, but I hate it’s team.This part of myself, however, is at risk with the potential success of the Cubs. This side of my identity is built on the confidence against my new town, and the win of a World Series would crush my St. Louis pride. Would I be a Cubs fan? Absolutely not! It would, however, take away the superiority and confidence I receive as being a Cardinals fan.

However, with a history like the Cubs, it is unlikely they will make history.

While the Cubs may have been caught up in their fantasies last season, reality hit like a st_louis_cardinals_fans_23bnne8z_s9dcey67fastball. Apparently, that reality wasn’t hard enough to crush the hopes for next season; that hope is over 100 years old, so its doubtful anything can. Even I, a Cardinals fan, cannot deny their potential. But I am no Cubs fan, so I live in reality; that potential is nothing more than potential. The Cubs may be able to get close this season to winning it all, but close doesn’t make dreams come true. The Cubs will lose, I will stay rooted in my Cardinal identity, and I will always root root root for my home team.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(This post is a response to “Superhero Movies are Rarely Super” by Michael Stelzer Jocks.)

Yesterday, my dear colleague Michael Stelzer Jocks wrote about how superhero movies are rarely super, and I feel compelled to respond. I am a lover of superhero films (the only thing I want for my birthday on May 5 is to see Captain America: Civil War that night), and I am familiar with the genre both as a fan and as a writer/teacher of Science Fiction (SF) & Fantasy. However, I am not an apologist for the genre. So, allow me to respond to some of the points made by MSJ.

“There seems to be no end in sight to our nation’s endless desire for…the spate of ‘superhero’ movies that just keep racking up box office records.” – MSJ

First, the desire for SF & Fantasy films (of which superhero films are a subgenre) is not restricted to the United States. Of the top ten films with the highest worldwide grosses of all-time, eight are SF/Fantasy films. The highest grossing superhero movie is Marvel’s The Avengers, which earned $1.5 billion dollars. Of that total, 41% was domestic, which means it grossed nearly $900 million outside of the United States.

Avengers Poster

Also, while we are in a golden age of superhero films, cinematic adaptations of comics are certainly not new. Just to name a few, there is the classic Adam West Batman TV series of the 60s, Richard Donner’s Superman film in the 70s, and Tim Burton’s Batman film in the 80s.

The success of superhero films, like all films, has been dictated by the quality of the film’s writing, direction, and acting. Countless comic book adaptations have been financial and/or critical disasters, such as last year’s Fantastic Four, Halle Berry’s Catwoman, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, and the infamous Joel Schumacher Batman films of the 90s. So, you are correct: not all superhero movies are super.

However, what has driven this golden age of superhero films is not a blind interest in comic book stories, but rather studios finally treating these stories with care.

A great example is Deadpool, 2016’s surprise hit. The Deadpool character was, prior to the film, virtually unknown to the general population. Even to comic book fans, Deadpool would classify as a C or D-level character in the Marvel universe. For iconic characters that all people know, like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, audiences will flock just based on the name value of the character. Deadpool’s success was not due to a craving for comics; it has a sharp, hilarious script that is well-paced and well-acted. Positive word of mouth drove that film’s success, not opening weekend name value (like Batman v. Superman).


The same can be said of Marvel’s Iron Man. Now, in 2016, Iron Man is well-known to all moviegoers, but when the first Iron Man film was released in 2008, Iron Man was a character known largely only to comic fans. There was plenty of skepticism even among comic fans about how a “lesser” character could carry a film; yet, director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. made a wonderful movie that caught fire and led to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Putting [Batman and Superman] in the same film would be like plopping Indiana Jones down in a James Bond movie. What is the point? It reminds me of when Scooby Doo would inexplicably team up with Sonny & Cher or the Harlem Globetrotters. Come on! Why are these people hanging out with meddling kids and helping solve mysteries? I say again, ‘ridiculously asinine’.” – MSJ

Superman and Batman sharing a film is not at all like Indiana Jones and James Bond appearing in the same film. The general movie-going audience has become accustomed to superheroes being segregated into their own films, but that is a product of film studios and business, not the source material.

Superheroes have always shared the same “universe” and regularly interact in all mediums (comics, cartoons, video games) except films, where dollar signs and film rights had kept characters separate until Marvel Studios started their cinematic universe in 2008 with Iron Man, which paved the path to The Avengers in 2012. The first time “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” combined in the comics was 1963, nearly 50 years before it finally happened on screen.

Batman and Superman appeared together for the first time in a comic book in 1952, a whole 64 years before the Batman v. Superman film.

Sup and Bat

Indiana Jones and James Bond were written by different authors for different mediums and never had a connection. They were never meant to share a story or screen, unlike comic book characters.

A better analogy would be to take the process in the opposite direction. Imagine if George Lucas had written Star Wars initially as a book, but Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to Luke Skywalker and 20th Century Fox had purchased Han Solo. Then, for 50 years, the studios made films independent of one another in which Luke and Han could never share the screen, because it would result in endless legal battles. After 50 years, casual moviegoers who weren’t familiar with the source material would find it perfectly normal that Luke and Han aren’t sharing the screen; they’d be their own, independent SF/Fantasy space opera franchises. Meanwhile, fans of the source material would be left daydreaming about seeing Luke and Han together in the Millennium Falcon up on the big screen just as was always intended.

Han luke

“Why are Batman and Superman fighting?” -MSJ

Let me make something clear: Batman v. Superman is a terrible film. I saw it twice in the theater, and was not biased against it. I love the Batman character and wanted the film to work. However, the writing, direction, and editing are all terrible. The acting has some horrible failings, as well. In total, the film failed miserably to properly represent why Batman and Superman would ever come to blows.

However, let’s look to other superhero films that have tackled this concept successfully.

Whether in superhero films, other storytelling genres, or just real life, it is very possible for “good guys” to have ideological differences that put them in different camps, if not outright conflict. This has been well-depicted in a number of superhero films, particularly both Avengers films and Captain America: Winter Soldier. Throughout these films, the heroes all mean well, but they do not see eye-to-eye at all times about what is right. The growing tensions of what’s right and wrong are what precipitate the conflicts in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.

Civil War

Thus, heroes being in conflict is not absurd – it’s good storytelling. It is actually a sign that the characters are well-rounded, that they have personalities and beliefs that make them much deeper than just their SF/Fantasy superpowers.

“But my real problem with most superhero movies…is the fact that they center around boring, lifeless characters. Action movies must be more than just action. Adventure movies must have interesting, complex protagonists that face and overcome challenges. In other words, human beings need to run the show. Superman? The Hulk? Thor? An all powerful alien, a freakish monster, and a god? There is no complexity here. There are no challenges these beings can’t easily overcome.” – MSJ

Oh, Michael. Your limited viewing of superhero films is really showing on this statement. One of the most important reasons that we are in a golden age of superhero films is because of precisely the opposite of what you claim here. As you stated, “Give me a ‘superhero’ movie in which the hero is more human than super!”

They’re all around you. You cited two wonderful examples in Netflix’s Daredevil and Nolan’s Batman series, but those just scratch the surface.

In any SF/Fantasy story, the key is to speak to the human element. As readers or moviegoers, we marvel at and enjoy the lightsabers and high-tech suits of armor, but those aren’t the elements of the story we, as humans, connect with. It’s the emotions, relationships, and themes we grab hold of. Likewise, in superhero movies, there is always the “supervillain” but the best superhero movies have much deeper, human conflicts. Here are some examples of the human emotions and conflicts:

  • Peter Parker is dealing with his love life and regrets over how he failed his family. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is a love story about Peter struggling with how his life and responsibilities always seem to prevent him from being with the woman he loves.
  • Tony Stark is tormented by his consciousness after the death and destruction that resulted from his actions (which is somewhat Dostoyevskian, Michael, which you should appreciate). Tony even deals with PTSD in Iron Man 3. A famous story-arc in the comics, Demon in the Bottle, deals with Tony struggling with alcoholism.
  • Scott Lang in Ant-Man is an ex-con trying to regain the life he lost due to his troubled past, and all of his “heroic” actions are prompted by wanting to be a good father to his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife and stepfather.
  • Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy struggles to hold onto the memory of his mother who died of cancer when he was a child.
  • Bruce Banner in The Hulk is struggling with his own isolation from others.
  • In the popular TV series The Walking Dead, which is also a comic book property, fans understand that the the real danger is not the zombies; the zombies are sort of peripheral, especially since they’re slow-moving and easily dispatched. The real danger is other humans, and how some people and societies can fall to pieces when pushed into a corner.
  • Captain America is a kind-hearted, scrawny guy who feels powerless to help others when that’s all he wants to do. Michael, as a History Professor, you should love a tale about a guy who wants nothing more than to serve his country in WW2 as he watches everyone, including his best friend, get shipped off to war.

I even like to use Captain America as an example of leadership in my classes. In The Avengers, there is genius Tony Stark, Norse god Thor, the monster Hulk; yet, it is Steve Rogers, the guy who was born scrawny but with a big heart, who is the leader. Even with his superpowers, Cap isn’t the smartest, fastest, or strongest of the group. He is sort of the Average Joe of the team, but he is the one who commands the respect of the group, because he does what any real person can: be a good person, have conviction, and fight for what you believe in.

Avengers Cap

Moviegoers will never have real superpowers, but we understand these human moments, and the better comic book films/TV shows are packed full of them. Superhero movies are no longer just mindless action set pieces with empty scripts and ample explosions…they’ll let Michael Bay corner that market.

“See, I like some superhero movies/shows; I just don’t care much for most superheroes” – MSJ

I am biased in favor of superhero movies only in that that I will often give films in the genre a chance before casting judgement, but then I judge them on their own merit. This year, Deadpool was outstanding; Batman v. Superman was terrible. I am thrilled for Captain America: Civial War; I am extremely skeptical about X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. The best superhero films are funny, heartfelt, emotional, resonant, and exciting. They are no longer just “good” genre films; they’re great films, period.

Give some of the better properties a chance, Michael. If you need a viewing list for homework, let me know.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The other day our illustrious Editor-in-Chief of RMU’s student newspaper, Kevin Morales, asked me if I would like to write a quick word regarding why I don’t particularly enjoy superhero movies.  I thought, ‘sure, I’ll play the contrarian’. And evidently, not liking superhero movies is a pretty rare stance these days.  Marvel and DC Comics have taken over Hollywood, and there seems to be no end in sight to our nation’s endless desire for new tales taken from comic books.


So, what is my problem?

Before I get into why I generally ignore most of these movies, I feel I must make one thing clear.  I am not necessarily a movie snob. I like a good number of movies that have been critically panned. Every movie I see doesn’t need to be an art-house flick. Also, I am not one who despises or mocks ‘nerd culture’. Sure, I really can do without Lord of the Rings, but I like Harry Potter.  I don’t go for Star Trek, but I love Star Wars.  Avatar? Oh goodness no! The Matrix?  Oh, heck yeah!  So, you see, I don’t reject sci-fi and fantasy out of hand. I like some, I loathe some.

Which brings us back to the spate of ‘superhero’ movies that just keep racking up box office records.  I think Kevin assumes I hate all within the genre, but that is not true.  In fact, I love some superhero stories.  Hey, I saw Tim Burton’s Batman on opening night in 1989! I even bought and proudly wore a Batman t-shirt after seeing that seminal film. But, that love doesn’t automatically extend to all Batman stories. I most definitely do not have any desire to see this new Batman v. Superman flick.  I’m avoiding that one like the plague.  There are a couple reasons why.

First, it just looks like a ridiculously asinine concept.  Why are Batman and Superman bat superfighting?  Scratch that; I really don’t care. Any explication of the plot will be absurd. Putting these two characters in the same film would be like plopping Indiana Jones down in a James Bond movie.  What is the point?  It reminds me of when Scooby Doo would inexplicably team up with Sonny & Cher or the Harlem Globetrotters. Come on!  Why are these people hanging out with meddling kids and helping solve mysteries?  I say again, ‘ridiculously asinine’.

But my real problem with most superhero movies, and this includes Zack Snyder’s new Man of Steel vehicles, is the fact that they center around boring, lifeless characters.  Action movies must be more than just action. Adventure movies must have interesting, complex protagonists that face and overcome challenges. In other words, human beings need to run the show.  Superman? The Hulk? Thor?  An all powerful alien, a freakish monster, and a god?  There is no complexity here. There are no challenges these beings can’t easily overcome.  They are superhuman, and hence, you get a snowball effect of absurdity. Since humans would be squashed like a bug by these characters, you are forced to provide them with superhuman enemies.  Evil geniuses, other aliens, or, yes, fellow deities. One Norse god fighting another; one alien fighting another.  Why should I care again?

Give me a ‘superhero’ movie in which the hero is more human than super!  No films have Batman-the-jokeraccomplished this better than Christopher Nolan’s adaption of Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight’ series.  The Batman/Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s films is emotionally and mentally fragile. He is complex.  Sure, you know Batman will win in the end. But Nolan creates realistically troubling adversity for his hero. He wants you, the viewer, to ask questions. Are you sure Batman’s vigilantism is a positive thing?  Is he obsessed with justice so much that it will destroy him and all he loves? And, what about Batman’s relationship with his arch-nemesis, The Joker?  Perhaps Batman should have killed The Joker?  The Joker, like Batman, is mortal. He is not some demigod or alien.  These films then illustrate the struggle of man v. man, not monster v. monster.  For goodness sakes, by the third installment of the series, Bruce Wayne needs to get a knee brace if he wants to keep fighting villains! Can’t get much more human than that.

In this same vein, Netflix’s Daredevil series is similarly successful.  Of course, Daredevil has some ‘superpowers’; a never quite defined sixth sense that allows him to predict landscape_xlargemovements and foresee actions.  But, the show illustrates the challenges of these ‘powers’. The character must train himself to use this power, and prepare himself physically to fight the evil all around him. He does not have super-strength, super-speed or the ability to shoot lasers out of any orifices. Since he is just a man with some unlikely mental abilities, Daredevil doesn’t automatically win all his fights. Out on the streets of NYC, he usually gives worse than he takes, but he takes quite a bit.   He comes home with scratches, bruises, sprains and breaks. Daredevil could lose. The tension is real.

See, I like some superhero movies/shows; I just don’t care much for most superheroes.

By Sean O’Hara, RMU Student.

As I drove to class this evening I started to ponder the things that make me happy. More so, the things that make me feel personally satisfied, e.g. money, family, that “A” I received on the management paper, etc. But, I really don’t think these things satisfied meProfile-Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi personally. I mean, I love my family, I make decent money, and grades come and go. I thought to myself, what was this thing that creates true happiness? And then it came to m: ‘Flow’. ‘Flow’ you ask? You see, I learned this concept while taking a psychology class at Harper College in my freshman year. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the former head of the psychology department at the University of Chicago and the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College. The idea of ‘Flow’ was introduced by Csikszentmihalyi as a tool to measure genuine satisfaction and true happiness.

Csikszentmihalyi believes that if a task is too challenging and you possess a low skill level 1000px-Challenge_vs_skill.svg_this would create anxiety. By the same token, if a task has a low level of challenge and a high skill level required, one would become relaxed and less engaged. In a perfect world everyone would have high skill and challenge levels; this is where ‘flow’ takes hold. When in ‘flow’, while at work or at play, a person is in a state where nothing else matters. This means focused, productive, and more importantly, happy and satisfied; that mental state where nothing is distracting and you are completely zoned in on the task at hand. The cool thing about this concept is that you can identify when you are in flow, and when you are not. Here is what you can do:

1)      Set the alarm on your smart phone to go off four times a day, every day, for a week. Make sure the times are random, twice in the A.M and twice in the P.M.

2)      Each time you receive the alert write down what you are doing and the level you being challenged and skill level you possess. Rate each of these, level of challenge and level of skill required, on a scale of 1-5, one being the lowest.

3)      At the end of the week take a look at your results and determine when you were being the most challenged and when you possessed the skill level needed to accomplish the task.

Yeah, you are probably thinking, so how is this information useful? Well, the data offers a kind of road map for you to identify your strengths and improve your weaknesses. For instance, if you are finding yourself in the area on the chart in apathy, boredom, or relaxation levels, you probably need to increase the challenge of the tasks. If you have apathy, worry, or anxiety, you may want to increase your skill level when completing those o-buy-happiness-facebooktasks.

Now, I realize that we not always going to be in ‘Flow’. But wouldn’t it be great if we could load the dice and set ourselves up for the highest possible payout? What would you give to be happy and content in life? Believe it or not the happiest people on this planet are not the wealthiest, with the best families, and the best jobs. So find your ‘Flow’ and make yourself happy. It’s worth it.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The other day I zoomed through Arthur Koestler’s classic prison memoir, Dialogue With Death.  Koestler was an important 1930s journalist/novelist/intellectual.  As with many of 9780226449616his generation, he was a leftist who flirted with Communism before becoming disenchanted by Stalin, Stalinism and the horrendous crimes perpetuated by the regime during that era.

But, Koestler was more than just a pie-in-the-sky intellectual with his head buried in dusty books.  He got his hands dirty experiencing the unstable political world of 1930s Europe. He witnessed first-hand many of the continent’s revolutions, putsches and civil wars.  Dialogue With Death is his 200 page account of Spanish Civil War battles, his coverage of Republican forces in that war, and his eventual capture by General Francisco Franco’s fascist troops.  After being captured, Koestler was thrown in jail, where he was kept in


Koestler on his way to the North Pole, 1931


solitary confinement for the weeks leading up to his expected execution. In the hands of Franco’s fascists, death was the common punishment for ‘Reds’.  However, after a couple weeks his solitary slowly became less solitary. He began to clandestinely speak to other prisoners outside his cell; eventually, he was even given the opportunity to pick a book out of the prison ‘library’.

His description of getting his hands on his first book in over a month is a wonderfully evocative ode to the joys of reading:

‘I sat down on the bed, lit the cigarette and began to read….I read devoutly and fervently – and very slowly….I learned to read anew, with a long since forgotten concentration on every sentence, every adjective; I felt like someone who has been bed-ridden and who in learning to walk anew is acutely conscious of the play of his muscles. I fancy the Romans must have read in this fashion when books were written by hand on long parchment rolls; devoutly, sentence by sentence, only a few inches of the roll a day, so as to keep the rest for the morrow. When writers were obliged to use parchment rolls they knew how carefully people read them, and had confidence in their readers. Nowadays readers may have confidence in the writer, but writers have no confidence in the reader.’

Koestler was a bibliophile.  But, Koestler’s statement illustrates more than simply his love of books. Koestler’s words illustrate his discovery of the lost art of ‘intensive reading’.  Before his nightmarish prison experience, Koestler was most likely a typical modern reader; he read ‘extensively’. He read whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.  But in prison, the world he understood was destroyed.  Books became an impossible luxury. When he was finally able to settle into a book again, Koestler could not help but intensively read. By reading in this way, he made himself a pre-modern.   Literary scholar Geoffrey Turnovsky has pointed out that intensive reading was a skill practiced prior to the 15th-18th century printing boom. At that time, reading

‘was shaped by scarcity rather than abundance, and by the sway of powerful institutions – the Church, universities- that oriented reading in a conservative, stabilizing manner. To read intensively was to focus on a small set of works, rereading each one over and over, not….new information, or surprising amusements, but as part of a ritualistic re-affirmation of faith, understanding, or inclusion in a recognized community.

Though troubling in many ways (ie, not informational or original), intensive reading meant that the reader was supremely focused upon what he/she was studying.Friedrich_Herlin,_Reading_Saint_Peter_(1466)

In comparison, the modern world is marked by extensiveness.  We are more likely to be inundated under an avalanche of reading materials than to be facing a scarcity. Thus, reading as a skill is most valued by speed and efficiency. Just think of the millions spent by those who take speed-reading courses in hopes of plowing through a 500 page novel in 2 hours. In our education system, efficiency is as important as speed. When some of my fellow students in grad school complained about the reading load for one professor’s class, he informed us that we needed to learn what to read, and what to ignore in the books he assigned. A strange request, for a strange culture.

Of course, extensive reading and ubiquitous texts have led to a great many goods. The average human today has knowledge that the pre-printing intensive readers could only dream of.  I mean, who really wants to return to a world of medieval monks chanting and repeating memorized liturgies? Needless to say I am also not romanticizing solitary confinement in a right-wing secret prison with only a handful of books. Personally though, I sometimes think I don’t enjoy what I read enough; I find that I have the habit of thinking about my next book during the reading of my current book.  This is extensive reading absurdity.

In our world of extensive readings, Koestler’s rediscovery of books in a dark fascist prison cell is always good to keep in mind.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

The expression “I’m a mess” may still, to some degree, describe my emotional state, but I hope it will never be associated with my living space.


Thus, I spent this past chilly weekend in Chicago cleaning and rearranging my apartment. An intense seasonal cleaning accompanies the need for renewal. There is no better time than spring to shake off the dust, to purge, to take an accounting and decide what is worth keeping and what, at last, must ultimately be let go.

My new lease begins in June, so I will remain in my current place until May 30, 2017, on that much I can rely. This small certainty feeds my willingness to invest time and energy and money to ensure that my home is as comfortable, efficient, and harmonious as possible.

In my act of decluttering, I have reintroduced myself to some of the principles of Feng Sui, proactively clearing and organizing for utmost efficiency and advantage. I am willing to believe that a clean, well-organized space can have a positive impact, no matter how measurable the outcomes might be.

Ultimately, the energy that moves through a space can be purposefully impacted by thoughtful design, a practice studied and applied according to a variety of formal disciplines, including environmental psychology.

Several recent books discuss the benefits of intentional clearing of space; the most widely read perhaps being The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The principles are well outlined here. Meanwhile, I utilized the Feng Sui diagram that corresponds with the physical space according to the orientation of the floor plan.


Harmony and balance are my aims. When researching Feng Sui, I discovered my “Love & Relationships” and “Wealth & Abundance” corners were particularly in need of attention. To which I sarcastically and sardonically replied, “Obviously.”

I moved three large and heavy pieces of furniture, providing a better path for energy (Chi or Qi) to flow freely through my bedroom, as I anticipate someday welcoming a new man to fill the space left vacant by the previous one.

The photo previously in the “Love and Relationships”

I Love You Sign 2

A nice reminder.

area also sent the wrong message. I looked around my apartment, only to discover that I own little artwork that evokes positive emotions, surely an important detail. Only one piece was thematically suitable, a framed photo or graffiti reading “I Love You,” which I optimistically moved to the appropriate corner.

Conversely, the center of my creative endeavors aligns with my well-loved kitchen, a room in which I am perfectly at ease. My brilliant friend Kris encouraged me to make the most of this knowledge and start writing in my kitchen, too!

For added comfort, I ordered a lamp for the dining room, which has wanted a better lighting scheme for three years. My beloved dinner guests will no doubt be more relaxed and linger longer in low lamp light.

Bathrooms in Chicago apartments aren’t terribly luxurious, but mine is always clean and uncluttered. For freshness, I bought a new shower curtain, which just made me crave a fluffy new sand-colored bath mat (how have I become the kind of person who craves a bath mat?)

Along with my spring cleaning comes the changing of the wardrobe. Relegating coats and sweaters to the back of my one over-used closet and bringing out piles of summer dresses, shaking them out, hanging them to free the wrinkles trapped all winter represents the height of optimism.

With the best intentions, I have cleaned my place, polished my possessions to make them shine. Nothing more to be done, I gladly bid farewell to a winter dominated by the dark and cold, and move on to a new season, ideally one that will bring both warmth and light.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

About a month ago, 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.


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.


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.


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.