Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Dogma From The Other Side

I understand the desire on the part of student who have been wronged to support such measures as the so-called "Academic Bill of Rights," but let's be fair. Some of the students who back this measure fail to recognize a few problems. Often they complain that their instructors and professors are grading them down or blocking their voices based solely upon political differences, yet these same students sometimes want their instructors or professors to agree with them. The problem here is not with the bias of the instructor or professor,but with the bias of the student. Is this any less a violation of what SAF proposes?

What we end up with is not the complaint that the person in the front of the class has wasted class time on irrelevant political discussion or that he or she has graded unfairly based upon personal views. What we end up with, sadly, is the claim that the person in the front of the class does not agree with the student. This measure of hostility can end up cloaked in the same dogmatic approach that makes both Fox News and Air America Radio bad choices for real discussion.

The basic problem here is with the refusal to hear any position with which the student disagrees. While the numbers all but guarantee there are instructors and professors who are this way, which is wrong, they also suggest there are students who will bring this low level of thinking into the classroom. I have no problem working through relevant questions in class discussion or assigning low grades to poorly written papers, we are still faced with the core problem in that situation: the person making the claims is a student who is, ostensibly, there to learn.

When such students arrive, is it not my duty to pursue the issue? to introduce reason and structure to the debate? If I throw my hands up and let the student sink, what kind of future has he or she got, provided no one else gets through?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jazz, Jambalaya, And Tech

I spent yesterday as a volunteer at Tech Ed 2006. Now, I am a night person, so showing up at the Pasadena Conference Center at 6:15 was hardly an easy task. Add to that the fact that I stuck about until Registration closed at 5:00.

I managed to get a great sense of the venue so I could attend a few sessions today (I am sitting in a session right now, but the introductoory stuff about blogs is not that useful, so I have time). I had not considered, before my first session, the value of a wireless tablet in the classroom. Sadly, I now crave one. Think of being able to send a poem on a projector via your laptop, stap to the back of the class, and make scansion marks on the fly to help students understand the rhythms of the piece. How great must it be for the students to feel as if they are in a minimally-moderated environment? How wonderful must it be to fade into the background and let the content step up?

More coming later...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Forlorn Meatballs

I would say the title of this was wonderfully original (sadly, I could not properly claim credit for it, even if Google had not returned a result from mid-April, 1999). Such is life. At least there are three of us on the planet who know the story of this evening's use.

It came up late during the reception for the 2006 Kingsley Tufts and Kate Tufts poetry awards (rewards, as was twice said during the ceremony). Once more it was a night that mixed the austerity of an event at which $110,000 is awarded to incredibly deserving poets, the humor that John Maguire and others always bring, and the unsurpassed reverence for the written work given voice.

I am once more in awe of the creativity of others, the anabashed drive to throw together words and images that might be mundane, might be surreal, might be outlandish. If, as Adrienne Rich commented while inaugurating a new degree program at Claremont Graduate University back in the spring of 1998, the poet's job is to reinvigorate language, language has a promising future.

Once more I was pleased to speak with Derick Burleson and Robert Wrigley, two of the eight people involved in the judging of the books submitted for these awards. Once more it was an enjoyable chat. Derick Burleson's name must appear in here at least twice so it will come up higher in searches, and he knows why this is important.

Robert Wrigley pointed out to me that poets, in order to succeed, must have the firm belief that what they are writing is worth someone else's time to read. This led me to thinking, as I sat by myself some while later, that fear is perhaps what defines the difference between the artist and the successful artist. When I mentioned this to Wrigley when he approached to say his farewells, he mentioned a fear of failure, but I think it is something that arrives earlier in the process. Maybe not, though. If failure is measured by the critical or popular success of a work, then fear of failure arrives at the end. Now, though, I wonder if fear of failure is what stops so much from ever being written. Do people fail to write because they fear they will fail to be original? It's true that most of what one finds in the realm of poetry is derivative or worse, but is that a lack of talent? a lack of imagination? perhaps a lack of courage? Well, that is a thought to measure another day.

Finally, a note on Robert Pinsky's comments early in the ceremony. Pinsky, it has struck me for two years now, has not only a great gift for poetry but an immense talent for reminding us of the most basic facts of poetry, of those things we forget because we know them, have known them for too long to recognize their importance. As we sat under the Tiffany dome at the Doheny Mansion, Pinsky commented on the beauty of physical expression all around us, above us, beneath us. Then he said something that is simple enough and that I say, albeit less eloquently, to my students: Poetry is as physical as any other art, and perhaps more durable because, as Pinsky notes, it is made of breath. In this, it is more permanent and more portable than other forms of art. Indeed, even music—let is make it more challenging and say a capella music—is not even as powerful as poetry because it takes a trained voice; poetry takes a voice. Any voice.

How incredible I find it every year to attend this award, only to find myself trolling depths of thought I rarely reach on my own. Such events are more than the words and the people and the books, though all are important. Such events are, if Robert Pinsky will pardon my deliberate choice of words, inspirational.

A Shout Out To Austin

No, not the city, the person.

I was trying to sleep, but since that was not coming easily, I checked my Site Meter statistics quickly. What did I find, you ask? (OK, soyou didn't ask, but I will tell you anyway.) I found a hit from a Mac user in Hawaii. That alone is not too strange. People find their way to Caveat: Venter through all kinds of searches, but this user had Googled my name.

Now, there are two other people named Andrew Purvis who come up in these searches: one is a restaurant reviewer in England, and the other is the Time magazine Middle East bureau chief (he used to write about medicine for the magazine, so I have yet to work out that change of specialty). Anyone Googling my name could easily be looking for one of those two, though the latter is the more likely. Still, it was Hawaii. This got my brain going.

Back in high school I knew an Austin Sloat. I am not entirely certain why he put up with me back then (I was even more difficult than I am now), but we got along the entire year. He was only there for one academic year while his mother was on sabbatical at the University of Washington. She was a professor in Hawaii.

I put these pieces of information together, along with the fact that many of the people with whom I got along in high school are now Mac users, and Googled '"austin sloat" hawaii.' What did I find? An architect whose years of graduation seemed about right for someone in my high school class and who did his MS in Hawaii. Interesting, if perhaps merely circumstantial. This is all conjecture, but given that we are talking about a Mac user and that I have two widgets out there, perhaps the pieces really fit.

In any case, if it was you, Austin, and if you return, it's good to know you're out there. If it was someone else (someone who returns), leave a message to let me know.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I Can See Clearly . . . To Gloat


Yep, Windows Vista is once more delayed. It will ship as an enterprise version in November, but the consumer version won't arrive until January.

Library Patrols

I just happened to wonder about something a few minutes ago: What would happen if we introduced library patrols where I teach? The name needs some work, I must admit, but here's the basic concept:

Once every week or two, for perhaps thirty minutes or an hour, we faculty (in rotation) could skulk amongst the stacks, watching the students who came by, seeing what titles they perused. Most students, of course, spend time in the library researching projects or papers they would rather not have to complete for classes they would rather not have to take, at least during those first couple years (remember, I teach at a community college). Most. Not all.

Now, let me explain, by way of a story of yesterday, what this might yield. I was in the library grabbing a few additional ideas for my Monday evening class, and a student happened by. I was not conscious beforehand that I was near the litcrit section, but the student was just reading titles as if he had no specific call number in mind. As I finished up, he selected a book on Marxist criticism (co-written by Terry Eagleton, of course), so I thought to note Eagleton's significant role in modern Marxist theory. He seemed pleased that he had selected that title and explained that he had a general interest in theory. That, in turn, led me to recommend Gilbert and Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic and whatever he might find by Derrida, Lacan, and a few others, noting, in general terms, what each brought to the table. After five minutes, he was smiling and visibly pleased by his selection.

Now, how much more could we, as educators, do if only, say, 1 in 3 were to have one (possible) success story like that per term? How many more students could we energize about those topics that they have chosen to explore? How many students on the brink of deciding a major would discover a long-buried passion that much sooner?

It's easy to say that learning doesn't end at the classroom door and that teaching is an ongoing project, but what does it mean? I say we can, and should, create programs that put us into contact with the students who don't even know they are looking for these things. We can go where they seek answers to the questions that most intrigue them, and when we are fortunate enough to find those students pursuing their interests, a little engagement will go a long way toward entending the education of that one student and prolonging, even deepening, that passion we all feel for education. Office hours be damned, or at least shown for what they too often are: a passive tool for engaging the most troubled or the most excited, often leaving out the great swath through the middle.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Internet Really Works

I suppose that should not surprise me after I've used it for 13 years, but my earlier post about using the speed dating structure in the classroom has found its way, almost certainly via Teaching Carnival V, over to the University of Virginia's Writing Program, where Greg Colomb combined it with his "elevator stories" concept.

What's cool about this is that I wrote my post on 2 February 2006, Teaching Carnival V went up on 15 February 2006, and I got my first hit from Colomb's lesson plan on 3 March 2006. In a month, the idea went from my reporting something that worked in a classroom to being read by hundred of people to being adapted into a lesson plan by at least one of those people to getting back to me. That may not be zippy in the way that email is, but given that this is pedagogy, it's pretty good.

The best part about this is that it gives me great hope that all of those academic blogs are going to have a real impact on the ways we teach. Until now, it has all seemed like theory, but this is reinvigorating. Pretty soon I will be living in parts far removed from Los Angeles, and it may take me a few months to get into the system at my destination. In the down time, I have a few blogs to mine for ideas.