Friday, October 31, 2014

Georgia Nepotism

I voted today.  I think it is odd, or funny, or sad, that two top jobs--US Senator and Governor--have attracted family members of former persons in those jobs.  Jason Carter is Jimmy Carter's grandson and running for governor.  David Perdue is related (a cousin, I think) to Sonny Perdue, the former governor.  Michelle Nunn's daddy was the senator from Georgia for years.

Not saying whom I voted for, but it wasn't straight ticket.

Hey, playwrights!

A fellow writer informed me today of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's play contest.  I'm sending mine in as soon as I can.  One thousand dollar first prize and production on their stage, and three second prizes.  I'm pretty sure if you go to their website you can get the information.

The play can only have been performed once before, so I think mine qualifies.


It seems to me that if a place as powerful as the White House allows a leak about insulting remarks toward an ally to get out, it is either incredibly incompetent or wants the leak to spew forth.

Letting a comment get out in public that Benjamin Netanyahu is a chickenshit (yes, I typed it) and a coward is a new low.  It is also supremely ironic that this WH leaked it, since the Israeli PM is anything but cowardly.  Agree with him or not, but he doesn't back down and isn't driven by fear. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kick the Bucket List

Could we please get rid of the phrase "bucket list?"

I saw a girl in her early twenties use it the other day on Facebook about an activity she had wanted to try.

Unless she knows something about her health that no one else does, she doesn't get to say that.

But even for someone my age, let's stop it.  It implies we are going to die soon.  It implies that life is about doing a set of activities before one dies rather than quality of relationships.  It implies that the only reason to do the things is that we are going to die.

Sure, there are a lot of things I would like to do, but not because I will die soon.  Our lives are mists and vapors, and we could be gone tomorrow.  A colleague of mine had a student die walking into class one day.  Literally in the door way of the classroom, she fell dead from a brain aneurysm; early thirties, mother of three young children.  We tempt death every day the way we drive.

Of course, the other extreme is to not try new things ever, to be afraid, to sit on the sidelines.  No, no, no!  (Although my husband was talking about my riding his motorcycle up in the mountains today , and I was nervous about that.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Best of Men - 2012 BBC Film

Last night my husband got me to watch a movie he found on Netflix (which has truly changed the way the world watches TV) called The Best of Men.  It is the story of Ludwig Guttman, a Jewish refugee from Germany during World War II who also was a spinal surgeon.  He was assigned to a hospital for veterans with spinal injuries.  He revolutionized their care and his work led to the Paralympic Games.  But there is much more in this wonderful movie, which I highly recommend.  It was made in 2012 in connection with the Olympics in London (its a BBC venture, and very “period” as all their productions are.)

What struck me is that I asked myself, “Am I  Guttman or am I Cowan?”  Which is kind of funny in a way. Guttman means “good man” in German, of course, and Cowan is close to coward, which is how this man is (probably excessively) shown to be.  Cowan is a doctor who opposes everything Guttman tries to do with the patients, from getting them out of bed and reducing pain meds to letting them out of the hospital to getting involved in athletics in their wheelchairs.  He is a true you-know-what about it, and probably the movie shows him a little too oppositional and jerky for the sake of drama.

Still, I ask myself—do I take risks, do I expect more, do I push myself and people, am I forward thinking, do I care about the person more than the convention, the soul more than the traditions?  Or do I say, No, that won’t work, that does not fit how it’s been, we must stay with tradition because tradition is good even if it doesn’t always work, we can’t try something new for the sake of the person involved?

It’s somewhat like the contrast between the older son and younger son in the Prodigal Son story (which I also want to remind people means “the wasteful son” not “the returning son” which is what people take it as).  The younger son is clearly bad in every way, but he does take a risk of faith, meager as it is.  The older son is faithful, and gets a bad rap; I don’t think Jesus intended him to the bad guy, because he was a good son in many ways, and people read things into the story.  The father affirms the older son’s faithfulness; he doesn’t say, “You’re such a hypocrite, I know you just did this to be self-serving; you only stayed with me because you don’t want to go out and face the real world etc.”  All that is modern-day, Hollywood interpretations.  But the older son is judgmental and doesn’t fully understand grace and love, especially the Father’s love.

So,the movie inspired me to look at life as possibilities, not as limitations.  The research I am doing reveals that many people can get mired, reasonably so, in the limitations and seeming impossibilities of situations, and accept them.  May it not be so.

Cliches to Live By

As a writing teacher, I know all about cliches and how horrible they are.  Maybe.  Sometimes what we call cliches mask truths.  Here are some I like to quote.

The elephant in the room.  This is my signature phrase.  I like to get people to talk about the elephant in the room, the obvious issues that everyone is dancing around, the source of the problem they don’t want to admit to.  But it’s not always pretty.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  This can be care about them, the situation, or the subject.  Enthusiasm covers a multitude of problems.

To the man with a hammer, every problem is a nail.  This is so true of academia, where a writer, scholar, or “expert” has a theory that all problems must fit into.  As a colleague says, people are people, not theories.  I know that Lewin said, there is nothing so practical as a good theory, but he didn’t say, there is nothing so practical as a theory.  The qualifier “good” makes all the difference, and I’m not sure we understand what a theory is or what a good one is, either.

Jump in, folks—what are some cliches that work for you?

In Defense of Lecturing, Part III

I have posted two blogs on Defense of Lecturing, here is number one and here is number two.  You probably should read those before this one, or you'll get the wrong impression.  I have noticed a lot of readers have come to this one but not the others.  In the others I defended lecturing.  Now I will take the other side of the argument—an expose or attack on lecturing.

First, lecturing can be lazy.  Not in the sense that it doesn’t take a lot out of you and there isn’t any energy expended.  On the contrary, lecturing take a lot of physical effort, especially the way some of us do it.  I am quite active and animated.  I am known for it.  But I also tell my students that I could lecture in my sleep.  That’s an exaggeration, but not really.   I have given some of the lectures hundreds of times, at least. 

It is human nature to default to the easy, and sometimes I cherish  and look forward to those day when I get to go in, give that lecture I know backwards and forwards, for which I have all the jokes and stories and timing down, and that I know is pretty effective and clear.  It gives me comfort, in a sense.  “I can do this.  They like me, I’m funny and entertaining, and they get it.”  And they do like it  They can be passive, they know exactly what to write down for the lecture notes, I’m funny, and I give them stretch breaks.  Everybody is happy.


Maybe they are too passive, maybe they think I'm canned, maybe they wonder why I can't just write out the lecture, maybe their minds are everywhere else but there, in the class, in the moment.  And maybe I have defaulted to laziness.

That’s why we have to be teaching and developing new courses. 
That’s why every two years, at the least, we need to re-do PowerPoints, rethink the structure of lectures, really critique our approach to the lecture, really question our assumptions about the material and what I would call the syntax of the content—its method or order of being presenting.

The second argument against lecturing as a primary or sole method of teaching is that it violates communication methods.  Today I sat through a presentation on ESL students, a field that has all kinds of acronyms and I am probably using the wrong ones.  The presenter said a number of helpful things,but the one that rang truest for me was that people telling you they understand, or implying it, is often meaningless.  They smile and say they do, but they don’t know what they don’t know.  This is perhaps the worst thing about lecture.  Its unidirectionalness, its one-wayness, doesn’t allow for much admission, forced or otherwise, from the audience that they don’t understand.

When a political speaker wants to address an audience, he or she studies the audience, has researchers who gather data on the audience, and he/she crafts a message based on what would best reach the audience (or, of course, hires a speechwriter to do so).  A lecturer must take the same approach—before delivering a lecture, the lecturing professor must understand the demographics of class.  Example, and one related to the presentation today.  Much of our humor and storytelling is based on cultural and even pop cultural references that go over the head of people—of a different age, gender, ethnicity, and language—and we don’t even know it. 

The third argument against lecturing is that some of us don’t do it well, or as well as we think.  How do I mean that critique?  Some of us have monotone voices, or are very soft spoken and are just plain hard to hear.  We do not command interest very well as speakers.  To depend on lecture is to depend on your public speaking skills, which do not relate just to vocal skills but also to structure, creativity of examples, transitions, energy, storytelling, and sensitivity to audience feedback.  Some of us just have other strengths. So does that mean we shouldn’t be teaching?  No, it means we who have lesser skills in public speaking should not be depending on lecture very much. 

Which brings us to the question, are we as good at lecturing as we think we are?  Have we watched ourselves? Have we let others watch us and offer valid critique to which we are open?

On a related note, good oral communication skills are even more important in light of the diversity of our classroom.  In one class last year I had five Latino students (from different countries), one Kurd, one Viet Namese student—and this is a small Southern city!  I can’t list all the nations that have been represented in my class at this particular college, but let me try:  Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, El Salvador, China, Nigeria, Nepal, Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Canada, Viet Nam, Kurdistan, Ghana, Spain, Panama, India, Pakistan—21 and counting.  And most of them spoke English quite well but as a second language.  I know they appreciated that I spoke loudly and clearly, because they were struggling enough with the new environment.

So, let me give some advice on lecturing:
  • Be purposeful.  Use lecture ON PURPOSE, for good reason.
  • Tie the lecture into clear objectives.  Answer the "so what" question. 
  • Be organized.  Have a beginning, middle, and end.  Don’t stop in mid-sentence because the time is up.  Don’t walk into class talking, dump your books, and expect the students to catch up.  Grab attention, state an overview, use transitions, and end with a clincher.
  • Don’t cover the material, uncover it (I know, that’s a cliche, but it’s still good advice).  What does that mean?  Ask questions and interact, focus on the text, ask honest questions that you don’t have prefab answers to, listen.
  • Don't read out of the textbook and revise your notes regularly (these are the two big stereotypes of the lecture method, and they are straw man arguments)
  • Lecture 20 minutes, do something short to let them clear their minds or refocus, preferably an activity or even a physical thing (it’s just not good to sit for longer than an hour, for anyone), and then go for another 20 minutes.  Our periods are 75 minutes long, so I could do that 3 times.
  • Tell stories—but not your life story.  Too many lecturers actually do a monologue about themselves in class.  My mother died this summer and I have mentioned it two or three times in my lecture, but I did it in the context of communication and how to approach specific assignments.  One of them is a tribute speech, and I always tell them that if they want to tribute an older family member, to sit down, interview the person, and also videotape them—and I tell a story about my mother.  A little self-disclosure is a good thing, but as I have written on this blog elsewhere, it has its limits in lecturing.
  • Don’t use PowerPoint everyday; use it for the visual capabilities; DO NOT put big chunks of text to read to the students.  Again, the worst method is the one you use all the time.  (I hope it is understood that the fault is the lack of variety, not the method itself; it’s not a literal statement) 
  • Have a continuous quality improvement attitude toward your lecturing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

First-time writers getting literary agents

I am planning on my post-doctoral life, when I plan to write a great deal.  I'm posting this for myself but also for others.
Article on literary agents

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

In a time of universal deceit

Last week I posted on Facebook, "Why does my mind keep going back to the George Orwell quotation, 'In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act'?"

I got several likes (the whole LIKE phenomenon amazes me.  People will hit LIKE when a person reports a death in the family!) but I don't think people knew why they liked it.  They may have projected onto it their own frusration about something currently going on.

On the other hand, I might have been being oblique an pretentious.  What I wanted to say is I am sick of media and the complicit government (or probably the government and complicit media) hiding the truth from us about ISIS, about the effects of sexual promiscuity (in any form), about immigration, and about disease epidemics.  There. 

I am also tired of the church being all about us and not about God.  We can say it is all about God, but our actions say otherwise, as does our rhetoric.  We sit in Bible studies but don't pray.  I have long wanted to have a Sunday School class called "the prayer class" where that was all that happened.  I wonder if anyone would come.  I wonder how many American Christians pray daily or regularly for the people in ISIS' path, and for the Africans near Ebola victims. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Heights and Depths

I never cease to be amazed by the heights and depths to which human beings can reach.  Science, technology, art; crime, depravity, cruelty. 

An acquaintance, an academic in Denver, wrote on Facebook about bestiality being shown on the Internet, and others wrote about how they had been exposed to such things in other places. 

And yet we are created a little lower than the angels. 

Whatever Happened to Comedy Duos?

This may seem like a strange question, but it was spurred by a show I saw the other night on PBS.  I only watched about ten minutes of it; it was about a gay vaudeville performer and I really don't enjoy watching men kiss.  Sorry.  But it got me thinking about something that existed when I was young and that isn't around any more--comedy duos. 

I am thinking of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Stiller and Meara, Burns and Allen.  Now comedians are the last man standing.  They go before a crowd, totally alone. There is no back up.  No net.  No straight man. 

I am extremely concerned about lack of community.  It is epidemic.  There are only two, expensive bowling alleys in our area.  People used to bowl all the time  in leagues and with friends; then they bowled alone, according to Robert Putnam, and now they don't bowl at all. The bowling alleys, my son says, are "family fun centers" for little kids.  The kids can't play outside with the neighborhood kids, so they get taken to family fun centers. 

What must we do to recreate real community?  It is a question that is beginning to plague more and more scholars and leaders.  We see what happens without it, and without moral teaching that comes with it. 

Having Regrets

Should we have regrets about life?

Is it possible not to have regrets?

Do we regret what we did or what we didn't do?

Are regrets necessarily bad?

Can regrets turn into, or really be about, something worse, such as real, unconfessed wrong in our lives?

How much of our anxiety and depression may be due to regrets?

I think these are questions worth asking ourselves, individually and corporately.

I have some regrets.  I believe I have settled and that sometimes I haven't tried hard enough, have not worked hard enough, and have not taken risks.  But mostly I regret relational matters, and since my mother recently passed away, mostly right now they relate to her. 

I think a person without regrets is not self-aware and lacks empathy.

But regrets, of course, are crippling, too.  They can indicate a self-absorption and a lack of contentment.

I sat on the porch and listened to rain this evening.  My dogs were with me, but they were restless.  Mostly, they wanted my attention.  I do not regret that.


My husband often tries to get me to watch NetFlix or Amazon Prime movies with him, and sometimes we find something I had been wanting to watch or we find a surprise.  We watched Chocolat the other night, a film that I often saw referenced in other reviews.

One could just watch this movie as a charming fairy tale, get a warm fuzzy feeling, love to look at beautiful Juliette Binoche, and move on.  I can't do that about this film.  That is not to say I didn't enjoy it.  I did.  The acting was very good and the sets pretty, and I didn't get bored.  But I also got bothered.

Not so much in defense of Catholicism but in defense of traditional Christianity, I was bothered by the disrespecting of Lent, both by the Comte (Molina) who makes it a legalistic practice, and by the chocolatier (Binoche), who aggresively tempts them away from their Lenten practice.

It seemed that Binoche's character was essentially a practitioner of witchcraft.  She tempts people to enjoy the spell of her special chocolate even when it's not good for them.  Even when she knows Judi Dench's character is diabetic, she doesn't stop Judi from eating whatever she wants.  It is her heritage to do so, in the logic of the story.  Her mother bewitched her father and left him as mysteriously as she showed up.  (Her mother was too European-looking to be Mayan, by the way).  With her own mother she traveled like a gypsy to spread the magic of her chocolate infused with chili (which in itself begs the question, how does she get her utensils around and who is her supplier?) and now she takes her daughter around, but in a rare human moment, she admits her daughter is unhappy.

This is perhaps a flaw in the story telling of the film; she is above humanity for most of the film and oblivious of the foibles around her, and only at the end because of Johnny Depp, I guess, does she start to be like a real woman who isn't perfect in every way for the plot of the story. 

The Comte, her adversary, is repressed from lack of sex and food is a stand-in for that; he resists food while fasting for Lent but finally gives in.  After that scene, I was nauseated.  The very thought of chocolate is disgusting for me.  But he is not a bad person, and the film doesn't entirely portray him that way.  He is rejected by his wife; he also feels it is duty to keep tradition alive.  He sees her as a temptress and immoral woman, but he also wants to rescue the abusive husband.

I suppose I am just not enlightened enough to enjoy this movie as a freeing of the human spirit.  Yesterday I was driving home from Atlanta and got to hear an NPR story on the fiftieth anniversary of the Fiddler on the Roof.  Tradition and community are central to our humanity; modernity has discarded them.  That is the theme of Fiddler, but the theme of Chocolat is that tradition is stifling and inhumane. 

Gone Girl

I went to see this movie last week.  I am torn between seeing it as very good cinema (not great) and seeing it as a glorified Lifetime Movie of the Week.

The plot of wronged woman getting revenge is not new; let's go back to Medea.  And I knew pretty early about that plot twist, that is, the first one.  What I think makes the difference here are two things:  the media angle, and the acting that pulls off the ambiguity.  In the end, the two truly are partners in crime, one willing, the other unwilling but trapped.  He will play forever for his betrayal of his psychopathic wife.  And despite Ben Affleck's naive defense of certain things, he pulls off the role probably better than the female lead does.

Do I recommend it?  It's a thrill ride, but it's disturbing at points too. 

In Defense of Lecturing, Part II

There are of course many arguments for and against lecturing. In interviewing more than twenty faculty members at my college, one of the main reasons for a dependence on lecturing was “so much material to cover.”  In some cases the covering of so much material is mandated by state standards or accreditation necessities; for example, Anatomy and Physiology, the bane of pre-nursing students.  Students cannot legitimately be expected to learn material that is not discussed in class.  Lecturing is an efficient way to do that, using visuals like PowerPoint, either provided by the textbook company or teacher-created.

A second argument is that the students like it.  They see the professor as doing his or her job by showing up and “teaching” what will be on the test.  In talking to nursing professors, this was particularly the case.  Since there is a high stakes test for nursing students at the end of their course, it is vital for them that they be ready for the test.  They want the needed material “covered” so that they can pass the test.  “Learning activities” are well and good, but they can’t work as a nurse without passing the boards, so they expect no less from the instructors.

Many professors report that students complain and resist the “flipped” classroom and “problem-based” learning approaches.  With some cajoling they might get on board, but the students recognize that, even if the teacher claims they will learn more, that a non-lecture approach is much harder work for them. 

A third argument is “this is what we do” either as professors in a discipline or as professors period.  The students, consequently, should adjust to that, rather than the professors adjusting to them. real

A fourth argument is that only bad lecturing is a bad teaching method.  Some of us are really good lecturers and presenters; we can keep an audience engaged, can sense lagging and know intuitively what to do about it.  We are funny, organized, and know our students.  And some of us aren’t. 

Finally, some concepts just have to be explained orally as well as read about.  Plain and simple.  And some students learn better that way. 

But I am going to take this to a different level.  Lecturing is really a matter of epistemology.  How is knowledge “made” and what is it?  Ever since Paolo Freire termed old-fashioned lecturing as the “banking model” of education (banking, of course, being bad), and ever since constructivism became the flavor of the month, knowledge construction has been seen as existing in the personal realm rather than as an initiation into a body of knowledge, at least not primarily.

I use the term little-k knowledge for this personal knowledge, which may or may not be congruent with communal, disciplinary big-k knowledge, or Knowledge, just as there is for some “truth” and “Truth,” distinguishing personal belief and value systems from absolute, eternal truths.  Constructivism is a workable theory to some extent but has its limitations; I think the students recognize this.  They can do lots of activities to “construct knowledge,” but is it a stacked deck?  Are they supposed to come to the same conclusions through the activities that the teacher would give them in a lecture?  So, from their standpoint, what is the point? 

I have been guilty of asking questions that are supposed to make them think but really just think my way, just come to my conclusions.  That is disingenuous, to say the least. Why pretend to be “constructing knowledge” through clever, engaging activities? 

Of course, I am creating a straw man of the “flipped classroom” just like others make straw men of lecturers.  It is arguable that less, but deeper, learning may take place with methods other than lecturing.  How much learning is enough?  In some classes the professor has the freedom not to teach all the chapters in a book; some do not have that freedom, because the students must be ready for the next course in the sequence. The expert I mentioned in the previous post is in this situation; an accounting teacher doesn’t have that out. 

I think it’s time to stop with the shaming of lecturers.  Shame never gets you anywhere.  The lecturers will only entrench themselves.  They may be doing a better job of facilitating student learning than others.  It’s also time to stop the either-or thinking. 

I go back to what I heard at a Sunday School teaching seminar.  The worst teaching method is the one you use all that time.  I confess to lecturing, and I confess to trying to create engagements, something that I wake up at 3:00 a.m. sometimes to work out in my head.  Good teachers don’t stop teaching at the end of the course period.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

October 7, 2014: Blogging Lifestyle

I prefer to treat this blog the way a lot of people treat Facebook.  I can spend more time on my posts and it is available through search engines.  Plus, it's harder to get likes that don't require any response.

We had strong storms here in Northwest Georgia last night, but no official tornadoes.  

I am not very good at holding a grudge.  My little dog that I wrote about a couple of days ago is trying to "melt my heart."  I still tell him I don't like him, but he's very soft (and sheddy) and I want to play with him.  So far, I have kept my distance, although I have no idea what good that will do.

I will write about Craig's list soon.  I had one silly, ridiculous experience with it but some good ones, too.

One of the good things about blogging is that you can see who comes to it, and how much. My most popular post is the one about Twelve Angry Men and Groupthink.  It will spike at certain times, and I wonder if a professor somewhere has a link to it in a syllabus or online class.  If you do and are reading this, please let me know.  I wrote that paper for a doctoral class and it is rather good.  Almost 1700 people have accessed it, more than anything else, even the Kallman's one.

I am loving this Mac, for certain purposes.  Mainly, it's light and more portable. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

My dog and a spiritual lesson, however cheesy

After my mother’s death, her little dog Bumper came home to live with my husband and me.  We were concerned beforehand, knowing we would get him, that he would get along with our pit bull, Nala.  Nala is sweet and very smart, but shall we say rambunctious.  I call her a “pitbull in a China shop.”  She is not conscious of her physical presence.  My mother-in-law calls her clumsy; it’s not that because she’s agile.  She just takes up a lot of space.

Bumper, an eight-year-old mix of (probably) terrier and Lab on the other hand is a little neurotic.  That may have come from living with an ill, elderly woman who couldn’t give him much attention yet spoiled him with cheese and canned dog food.  When I was living with her, he became very attached to me because I was now his caregiver, his feeder, and I even put the leash on him and took him for walks (something he hadn’t had since my brother, his proper owner, passed away quickly three years ago).  Unfortunately, he poops (or used to) in the house when a thunderstorm is coming; he seems to be having a panic attack.  He had some other odd habits.  But it didn’t seem right to put him down or try to give him away, so he came home with us the day my mother was buried. 

Having to tolerate Nala, no longer getting cheese and canned dog food, having a whole cul-de-sac to traverse, having a flight of stairs he has to climb several times a day, and being forced to sleep in a cage have actually been good for him.  “He acts like a dog now,” my husband says, claiming he used to act more like a cat. 

(Actually, he and Nala play a good bit, but it's a kind of play that would bother most people.  We know she won't hurt him, and she even defers to him, for some reason. She weighs more than twice what he does, and she is very strong.  He tries to get tough with her, and she takes it as a game.)

Even now, the two dogs are asleep at my feet.  When I am home, that is their position; they follow me around, I guess because I am gone more and my husband rarely is.  I am the fun parent; I take them on walks, although I am rethinking it because they tangle up the leashes and I foresee another dog-induced fall that will be even more serious than the last, when I had a nasty black eye for two weeks from landing on my temple on a tennis court (after which Nala and Buddy, our old dog who was very much like Bumper, showed no concern whatsoever). 

I also, at least until Friday, often put them in the Volvo station wagon for rides.  Since I was going up to my mother’s to do some cleaning out of boxes and to sell a piece of furniture Friday, I took them along.  Mom has a nice yard for them to run in.  This ultimately was a bad decision, not one I am likely to make again.  Nala was put in the back yard where she barked incessantly, “like a redneck dog,” I screamed at her, and Bumper followed me around.  He doesn’t bother visitors.  However, after I loaded up the wagon and went to put them in the back (in limited space) Bumper apparently decided that the fancy-free world was more to his liking and he was going to explore his old neighborhood, one my mother never let him out to see.

And he refused to come to me.  He ran away.  I tried to get him for half a block; I would get within five feet, I would do a dance to step unto his leash, and he would elude me.  I got in the car to follow him.  Again I couldn’t get him.  He went another block.  Another.  I felt like a fool, but worst, he was getting closer and closer to a busy four-lane road.  If he got there, I knew he would be killed.

What in the world (and I would like to use stronger language there but won’t) was he thinking.  Here I was, the person who fed him.  The person who works very hard to keep a nice home for him, who walks him, gives him treats, had done nothing but shower care on him, and he was running away as soon as I got close to him—or even if I was 50 feet off.  The smells were too tempting, the opportunity to lift his leg on another plant was too inviting.  It didn’t matter that I symbolized safety, life, food, a warm bed (even if it had a gate that closed on it), he was more interested in fleeing all that.

You might at this point be asking, did he live?  He did go out onto North Moore Road, the section that borders the Brainerd Golf Course.  He went right out into the middle and stopped traffic—a lot of it.  He kept running away from me, who like an idiot, was out in the traffic too trying to avoid a splattered mess. 

Finally, he was trapped—a young man jumped out of a car, scooped him up, handed him over to me, and I went back to Nala and the Volvo, two blocks away.  I threw him in the car and drove home quickly;  he was cowering from me, apparently having figured out that running into 40-mile-per-hour traffic in rush hour is not too bright.  The twenty or more cars that were nice enough to stop and not kill me or my dog could go on their way, although I am sure there were twenty or more drivers rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at the crazy white woman who couldn’t control her dumb little mutt.  That is exactly what I would have thought.

I have told Bumper ever since that I don’t like him.  I have ignored him, smacked his butt with the yardstick (very lightly, since I couldn’t find the flyswatter), given Nala a treat but not him, even given Nala a bath and told him he was dirty, and generally acted childish but I am legitimately angry that I was put in that position.

Now, I could make a somewhat cheesy analogy between this experience and our Christian walk.  I could—and I will.  We distrust God when there is no reason to.  We run away from rich and deep relationship with God to smell the poop of other animals and urinate in a new place when all that is disobedience to the deity, the loving Father God who has given us everything richly to enjoy.  I am being a little gross here, but maybe not.  Yet, unlike me, God doesn’t smack our butts with yardsticks or say he doesn’t like us.  He doesn’t even withhold treats or baths.

He gives us our own way.

For the last two nights, my husband has let him out to pee before being put in the crate.  My husband stays up much later than me.  Both times, Bumper did not come back when called, and both nights, he got left out all night—and it was 39 degrees this morning.  I let him in when I got up for church; he ran in the house quickly and went to bed rather quickly, glad, I am sure, to be warm. 

OK, he’s a dog.  He has no reflexivity. He is just responding to stimuli, and he may stay out every night from now on.  I would prefer not, because he could get run over, dogs should not be stray, and he might start barking at 5:00 am.  I told my husband to put him on a leash to go out, and he will. 

But I can’t help seeing my own behavior in the dog.  Especially when it comes to prayer. I marvel that I run away from prayer.  I’ll gladly take in the intellectual and spiritual messages of the Bible, but returning that communicating to God?  Being willing to spend the time and emotional fervency that prayer demands?  I am running into North Moore Road on that one.  Very strange.  So I find myself out in 39 degree night when I could be home, spiritually speaking, I find it harder and harder to talk to God, to break that habit of running the other way. 

Another point:  Solitude in life has some joys and blessings, but the friction of having family in your face, even of having to care for a dog, seems infinitely richer to me.  Who would I be without husband and child to chafe up against me?

In Defense of Lecturing, Part I

Before I begin this article, which may be considered a reflection, a polemic, or a diatribe, depending on the reader’s viewpoint, and which to be is an honest exploration of an important topic in higher education, I feel I should give my credentials for writing about this subject.

If there is anything I know about, it is college teaching.  I have been doing it since  January 1978.  That is 37 years come January, and that is a long time by most accounts. Yes, I started at 22 (not kidding there).  I have taught in private colleges, technical and community colleges, a university, and a four-year state college.  In most cases, the institutions were more or less open-access. I have, by my accounting, taught over 20 different courses over the years.  I have also taught many of them in hybrid or online versions and developed a number of online/hybrid courses.  Here is my list:
Business Communication at freshmen and junior levels
English 1102
English 1101
World Lit I and II
History of Oratory
Communication Theory
Small Group Communication
Fundamentals of Speech (a lot!)
Human Communication
Humanities I and II
First Year Experience
Developmental Reading and English
Business English

Finally, I have been the director of a teaching and learning center, edit a journal on the subject, and am earning an Ed.D. in Adult Learning.  Consequently, I spend a great deal of time thinking and practicing epistemology. I think I am qualified to weigh in on this subject, which may seem minimal in importance to some but is vital to any who enter a college classroom to conduct learning experiences.

The impetus of this article is two-fold.  I receive a newsletter from a well-known speaker and writer on college pedagogy, a woman who holds conferences and whose work I have read and whom I have heard speak.  I will not mention her name, although many will recognize her by the description.  I forwarded this newsletter to two colleagues who I had often heard bemoan the fact that presenters and “experts” on teaching and learning berate the lecture as the world’s worst way to teach. 

The irony is that many of these speakers basically lecture the college faculty for two to three hours in order to communicate how bad lecturing is.  One of these colleagues teaches communication, the other history.  They shared that, basically, they were tired of hearing lectures treated as horrible and would like to hear presenters or “experts” talk about good lecturing.  As one stated, they set up a straw man, invariably showing the clip of Ben Stein monotonously calling for “Bueller, Bueller” or the classic Father Guido Sarducci “Twenty-Minute University.”  “This,” we are told, “is lecturing, and of course, this is bad.”  Bad because it reduces students to slobbering, somnolent, and stupefied and results long term in no real learning.

Straw man, indeed.  AT this point I will invoke a speaker I heard at a Sunday School teaching conference a few years back.  “The worst teaching method is the one you use all the time.” 

My thesis is, then, that lecturing is good, if done well and engagingly and not used exclusively (perhaps not more than 75% of instructional time, depending on the student level and discipline.)  However, in today’s constructivist, collaborative, student-centered-learning environment, 75% is seen as wildly extreme for lecture.  The author of the aforementioned newsletter wrote that lecture might be useful occasionally, that some things just need to be explained sometimes.  She allowed as lecture might actually relate to some students’ learning styles.  But it was clear from this article that it pained her to write that.  Of course, she is all about “a different type of learning.”  She has a monetary investment in lecturing being fruitless as a teaching method.

I am going to stop here.  Tomorrow I will post about the origins of this “lecture BAD” mentality, followed by reflections on why lectures could be effective and/or ineffective and what to do about the lecture problem. 

I write all this as someone who lectures and who does it, from what I have been told, fairly well.  But I also use lots of collaborative activities and expect the dreaded “group work.”  In teaching hybrid classes, I try to approximate the “flipped classroom” model, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  So I am not emotionally tied to lecture as the main or only way to teach.  I just believe it is unfair, discouraging, and counter-productive to tell good faculty and engaging lecturers that they are hurting their students by doing what they do best.

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...