The Russian Leon Trotsky, the English Abraham Lincoln, and the Spanish Juan Peron

I’m reading a novel by a Spanish writer called Julia Navarro, and at some point a character says,

A while ago he had requested a meeting with Leon Trotsky, and finally, the Russian politician accepted.

“That’s weird,” I thought. ‘This is happening at the time when Trotsky is living in exile in Mexico. Why would a Russian politician arrange his meetings for him?”

It took me a while to realize that the “Russian politician” in question was supposed to be Trotsky. Of course, not only was Trotsky a Jew, he was never a politician in Russia. He was a revolutionary in the Russian Empire and a politician in the Soviet Union. And he wasn’t even a Russian Jew. Trotsky was born in Ukraine.

This casual reference to a Ukrainian Jew as a Russian reminded me of  a video clip for a documentary I had seen earlier today. “The Russians made a decision. . .” the narrator enunciated, as the footage of Iosif Stalin and Lavrenti Beria appeared on screen. Both these men were, of course, Georgians. Stalin spoke Russian with a strong accent until the day he died. Still, ignoramuses around the world can’t manage to distinguish a Georgian, an Armenian, a Ukrainian, a Moldovan or a Jew from a Russian.

Maybe I should refer to the Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, etc. as “English.” They do speak English, so they must all be English, right? Just like Mexicans, Peruvians, Chileans, Dominicans, and Guatemalans must all be “Spanish.”

Seriously, the ignorance is daunting.

A New Disturbing Trend in Job Recruitment

My sister, known on this blog as “The Sister”, owns a job recruitment agency in Montreal. She tells me that there has appeared a new and very disturbing trend in the job recruitment process. On several occasions, she found a candidate who was a perfect fit for the job and who was really liked by the prospective employers. However, the employers added a new step to the job interview process: a personality test.

These personality tests consist of prefabricated sets of multiple-choice or yes or no questions that are extremely silly and pointless. Let me share a couple of examples with you.

“Do you agree with the statement ‘It’s a jungle out there, and everybody is out for themselves’?”

What is this, people? Who asks this idiotic kind of question of professional adults? What is the “right answer” supposed to be?

The following question was part of the “personality test” administered to a person applying for a managing position:

How would you describe your leadership style?

  1. Leading by example
  2. Leading by authority

Any leader worth his or her salt would be hard pressed to answer this question. Good leadership means you know how to adapt to a variety of situations instead of choosing one vaguely defined method and imposing it on every situation.

I have no idea why employers don’t trust their instincts as to whom to hire or don’t rely on the advice of professional recruiters. Instead, they rely on these meaningless questionnaires that, of course, will weed out all the good, self-respecting candidates with an ounce of independence and original thinking.

On the Importance of Having Fun

From Inside Higher Ed:

Many students say that they avoid early morning classes so they can get enough sleep to do well. But a study by psychology professors at St. Lawrence University, of students there, finds that the assumption of those who favor sleeping in is only partly correct. The study found that those with later classes indeed get more sleep. But those who get more sleep appear to use their rest to go out more and to abuse alcohol more than do other students. So it is the slightly more tired students who are in the early classes who earn higher grade-point averages, the professors found.

I don’t know about their grade-point average, but the students who don’t go out a lot and have fun with friends are missing an important stage in their development. Nothing is sadder than a 20-year-old who obsesses about some stupid grade-point average instead of enjoying existence to the fullest. When I hear a kid telling me gravely, “Oh, who has time for a hobby / sport / boyfriend / girlfriend / a pet, etc. I have to do homework!”, I always feel sorry for them. It’s the kids who never partied enough in their youth who get into horrible mid-life crises in their forties and start making up for not having had any fun in their twenties.

This is why when I come into class on Monday, I always ask my students, “Did you get to party over the weekend? No? That’s no good, folks.” And before I leave them on Friday, I always say, “Have a great weekend and don’t forget to have fun!”

A Ukrainian in Canada

As I said before, my Ukrainian aunt Natasha is visiting Canada for the first time ever. She’s seen Montreal where she visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Lion King musical, the Biodome, and the Jean-Paul Gautier exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum. She has been to Ottawa and to St. Saveur. Now, she is going to Nova Scotia where her twin sister lives.

“So, Aunt Natasha, what is the most surprising, exciting and unusual thing you have seen in Canada so far?” I ask.

“Oh, everything is so beautiful and amazing here,” she says. “But there is one thing that absolutely stunned me.”

‘What is it?” I inquire.

“When it rains, the roads become clean immediately! There are no puddles and no mud! That is so amazing!” Aunt Natasha enthuses.

I know exactly how she feels. When I first came to Canada, one thing that really stood out to me was that there was no dog shit on the pavements. You could walk around for days without seeing a single pile of dog shit. In Ukraine, you could barely take a step without stepping into it.

People often judge cultural realities by their own frame of reference. When my sister first went to a Canadian CEGEP, she tried telling her new friends about Ukraine. They were mostly unimpressed with her stories because the reality she described was impossible for them to compare to their own.

One day, however, my sister mentioned that students never had lockers at school and had to lug all their stuff with them all day long. This really stunned her Canadian friends.

“Oh my God! That is so horrible!” they exclaimed. “How could you guys live like that? What an atrocity! It’s a total violation of human rights!”

These kids couldn’t relate to bigger issues but the absence of school lockers really appalled them.

Why Is So Much Crap Being Published?

I just found a description of yet another book by people who like nothing more than to dump on the younger generation:

“Every generation claims that the next one has been coddled and spoiled, but it really may be true this time,” writes Ken S. Coates, arts dean at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and Bill Morrison, history professor emeritus at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George. “Something new and nasty is going on with university students these days, and there’s more trouble in store.”

The authors blame societal permissiveness, child-centred educational and parenting styles, overwhelming materialism, video games, sexualized media and the guilt of two-income families.

As you can see, the insufferable old fogies who wrote this piece of silly garbage realize how boring and unoriginal their premise is. Whenever people feel they have entered into old age (which is not a chronological but an ideological concept), they invariably start issuing proclamations as to how the younger generation is so much worse than they were in their youth, i.e. the time when the sugar was sweeter and the sun shone brighter.

What’s sad is that even though the authors realize that they are making themselves look ridiculous by repeating the age-old invective against younger people, they can’t help themselves. The need to condemn the young for having what the authors don’t have any more (namely, youth) is too strong.

It is so strong, actually, that it forces the authors to come up with a series of explanation for why the kids today are so bad, mad, and dangerous. Let’s look at them one by one.

Societal permissiveness – I find that when people complain about “permissiveness” it means that they simply bemoan their own incapacity to take advantage of said permissiveness.

Child-centred educational and parenting styles – can anybody imagine parenting that isn’t centered on the child who’s being parented? It’s like condemning book-reading for being too book-centered. Or eating for being food-centered.

Overwhelming materialism – I’m kind of surprised that the authors who are so overwhelmed with materialism don’t just place their work in free access online (just to combat the materialism, you know) but sell it for $22.95 in paperback. In my experience, whenever anybody starts screeching about the horrible materialism of everybody else, this is the surest sign they want to make money off those others.

Video games – I didn’t know there were still people who evoked this silly bug-bear to support what is supposed to be a serious argument. I, for one, refuse to believe that playing video games is a less noble pursuit than publishing the kind of books that these authors have done. Actually, I’d much rather people just played video games instead of addressing their psychological issues through dumping on young people.

Sexualized media – this one is just beyond hilarious. Do the authors even speak English? Or are they, indeed, trying to say that the media is being objectified sexually and that sad fact somehow magically makes today’s kids all bad? I can just imagine a teenager in her room getting all hot and bothered about the media. “Oooh, the NYTimes, you are so sexy!”

Guilt of two-income families – what does this even mean? Please tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m perceiving anti-feminism behind all this jargon. Are these authors suggesting that women who work are supposed to feel guilty about that? And that working parents are actually bad for children? In spite of all the overwhelming evidence that has amply demonstrated that the opposite is true?

To conclude, as a middle-aged college professor, I can testify to the fact that today’s eighteen and twenty-five-year-olds are absolutely the best, most amazing, inspiring and intelligent generation ever. Just twenty minutes ago, I couldn’t leave the classroom because my first-year students wanted to continue the discussion about the ideological appropriation of history. It’s a Friday afternoon but they want to talk about something like this after class.

And then look at the young readers of this blog: Pen, Nominatissima, Jaime, David K., el, and others. These people are the world’s future, and I only hope the future is as bright as they are.

Honestly, I have no patience with folks who dump on the young people.

A Fireable Offence of a Tenured Prof

How do you feel about the following statement:

Science is the litmus test on the validity of the educational enterprise. If a school teaches real science, it’s a pretty safe bet that all other departments are sound. If it teaches bogus science, everything else is suspect…. I want a real college, not one that rejects facts, knowledge, and understanding because they conflict with a narrow religious belief. Any college that lets theology trump fact is not a college; it is an institution of indoctrination. It teaches lies. Colleges do not teach lies. Period.

Does it shock you? Appall you? Mildly surprise you? Or not really?

Would it, however, shock you to know that this statement got a tenured professor, an eminent educator with a handful of teaching awards, fired from the college where he had taught for 35 years?  Inside Higher Ed reports that Erskine College fired Professor Crenshaw for expressing these ideas in spite of the fact that he has tenure. Religious fanatics who called for the professor’s dismissal referred to his teaching as “the triumph of anti-Christ” and “secular brain-dribble.

Well, at least the secular folks have brains. The fanatics seem to recognize that they are terrified all this brain-power might dribble on them and contaminate their empty heads with – oh, horror! – knowledge.

Shame on you, Erskine College. You have traveled the path from being an educational institution into becoming a laughing stock of every educated, reasonable person in the country. You have to decide whether you want to run an indoctrination school for religious fanatics or an actual college where people receive education. Nobody will take you seriously if you don’t mend you ways and invite Professor Crenshaw back with an apology.

I know that people will now tell me, “Well what do you expect from a Presbyterian college?” Actually, what I expect is what an alumna of this college described as its past:

What a shame the Erskine of old no longer exists. It mattered not what faith or non-faith one practiced during my years there. It was a time to grow and bond with close friends I still have until this day – time of discovery – finding out who I was – who I wanted to be.

I would not be the confident woman I am today if it were not for Erskine and professors who made me learn to think – such as Dr. Crenshaw. (And yes, I would never deign to use his first name. He deserves more respect than that).

Thank you for the difference you have made in my life, Dr. Crenshaw. Keep writing on this board. Eventually someone will listen.

I agree with Ms. Janie Bryan Simpson, what a shame!

Clarissa Speak

Reader Elizabeth recently paid me a great compliment:

If by language of your own, you mean the unique “voice” that authors are supposed to have…..ohh yeah you totally do. I feel like I could recognize something you write a mile away.

This comment made me very happy and inspired me to compile a list of my trademark words and expressions, a.k.a. words I grievously overuse:

  • screeching
  • endless
  • vile jerks
  • all kinds of fool
  • crazed religious fanatics
  • those stupid XYZs
  • so (at the beginning of a sentence)
  • Ah!
  • irredeemably
  • quasi-
  • pseudo-
  • the whole process
  • this is torture
  • has the gall
  • as much as the next person
  • move on already
  • creepazoid

I just remembered more:

  • buddy – to signal annoyance
  • my friend – to signal that I’m smiling when I write it

Feel free to add any other verbal constructions or linguistic peculiarities that you associate with me. 🙂