Let’s Kill the Book Report!

I don’t know which enemy of humanity first came up with the idea that getting high school students to write the so-called book reports will teach them to write well. All I know is that I just got through over a dozen academic essays that are inspired by the high-school book report model. And I can say that the book report is a horrible practice that needs to be abandoned as soon as possible.

This is how these book-report essays are structured:

– The essay title is always of the “Essay 1, Essay 2, Final Essay” variety. All my exhortations to come up with a meaningful title seem to fall on deaf ears. Alternatively, people might think that this is what a meaningful title is like.

– Before the essay begins, there is always some exceptionally cheesy quote that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything but that kind of sounds warm and fuzzy. At this point, I’m almost tempted to offer bonus points to anybody who spares me the aggravation of reading an epigraph to their essay.

– The student starts the essay by offering at least a page-long analysis of whether the “reading was easy to read” (sic!). The miserable professor has to slog through the endless recounting of how “first, the reading was kind of hard for me to understand. In the middle it was sort of easy for me to understand. But then in the end it was again very hard for me to understand. Altogether I’d say the reading was fairly easy for me to understand.” (All of the essays I grade this semester were written in the students’ first and only language, by the way. And the readings they analyzed were also all in English.)

Now imagine getting through a dozen of those one after another. Fun, eh?

– After the hard to understand / easy to understand part, the inevitable “how this made me feel” portion of the essay always follows. After reading several pages of minute analysis of how each part of the text made the patient the analysand the student feel, you forget whether you are a psychotherapist or a professor of literature.

– There is always (and I repeat, always) a discussion of whether “the author uses highly descriptive words to bring his point across.” What the point that is brought across with these highly descriptive words actually is always remains shrouded in mystery. I still have 17 more essays to grade this weekend and, I swear to God, if I come across the “highly descriptive words” once again, I will howl.

– A little less frequent topic of discussion in such essays is whether “the author’s outlook is positive or negative.” Am I the only person to feel that the word “outlook” is horribly overused nowadays?

– The book-report-inspired essay never fails to end on a note of condescension towards the writers whose work was being analyzed. “Overall, I’d say Julio and Jorge [Cortazar and Borges] are OK sort of writers. I mean they are nothing special of course. They obviously tried hard to create there little pieces so that’s commendable. But often they failed. They should be commended for trying hard though.

I understand the need to get students to read and to reflect on what they have read as early as possible. These book reports fail to do that, though. All they manage to achieve is instilling really bad writing habits in students and it’s weary work eradicating those habits in college.

Who Is a Bigger Threat: Iran or Russia?

Now that I have my Kindle Fire, I use it to listen to radio stations from all over the world. Once, I decided to listen to the Echo of Moscow, the radio station that is considered to be the most progressive and anti-government station in Russia.

I tuned into a show that had already been going on for a while and was immediately transported back into 1982.

“The US wants to destroy us,” the host and the interviewees were agreeing. “They will not rest until they exterminate every Russian in existence. The very raison d’être of the Americans is to destroy Russia. They care about nothing else. And, of course, now that the US is so poor, they envy us our wealth and our empire. They have no future, while we are becoming the new world power.”

I thought, at first, that this was a broadcast of an old program from the times of the Cold War. Then, however, I heard a reference to President Obama (who also seems to hate Russians with a vengeance, according to this radio show) and realized that the program was contemporary.

A little later, a guest of the show suggested that Americans import their stupid Hollywood movies to prevent the Russians from procreating as much as they could. At that point, I had to go to class, so I missed what I’m sure was a fascinating explanation of how Hollywood movies mess with the procreation of Russians. Remember, that the hysteria of “we are not procreating enough and will be overtaken by more rapidly procreating races” is going on at full strength in Russia.

The anti-American rhetoric is promoted at every level of Russia’s hierarchy of power. On Sunday, the elections to the Russian parliament (the Duma) took place. The results of the elections were egregiously falsified. Responsible citizens who acted as observers at the voting polls were intimidated, threatened with being fired from their jobs, assaulted, and beaten. The falsifications were so shameless that even the people of Russia (who are mostly disinterested in political activism) took to the streets in protest.

Protests took place in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Police dispersed the protests brutally.

Yesterday, Putin gave his first public speech about the protests. And you know who is to blame for the protests, according to Putin? The officials of his party who organized the massive falsifications of the votes? The citizens of Russia who don’t know their place and dare to believe that democracy in Russia is possible? No, of course not. The real evildoer here is. . . Hillary Clinton who, according to Putin, organized the protests:

Putin said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had encouraged “mercenary” Kremlin foes by criticizing the vote.

“She set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work,” Putin told supporters.

And you know what is really sad? The protesters are a very small minority. Most people in Russia will be very happy to believe that everything is great and that the bad, evil Americans engineered the protests against the honest and truly democratic elections in Russia. They will believe that Hillary Clinton gave signals to the protesters because they are all paid lackeys of American imperialism, rather than responsible, engaged citizens.

There are many discussions going on about Iran right now. Will Iran become a nuclear power? What will happen when it does?

Nobody wants to talk about Russia, though. Russia is already a huge nuclear power. It is also a country that owns a lot of oil and natural gas, has a huge population, cannot be defeated militarily, and is consumed by a huge bout of anti-Western hysteria.

Western politicians have been bamboozled by the empty talk about democracy and the end of the Cold War that Russia has been offering for two decades. This is all a sham, though. The Cold War continues. And I have no doubt that the side to lose this war will be the one that refuses to recognize that the war goes on.

How to Provide Emotional Support for an Unemployed Partner, Part II

5. Now, this is very important: unemployment does not mean that your partner gets to check out of any aspect of the relationship. Being supportive does not equal tolerating snappishness, moodiness, aggression and rudeness from your partner. You are not their therapist or their wet nurse. Adults address their psychological issues without using their partner as a punching bag. Never let such behavior slide and if you are tempted to do so, remember, you are not being supportive. You are just being condescending. Taking on a parental role towards your partner is never healthy.

I hope I don’t need to mention that subjecting an unemployed partner to your moodiness, depressive moments and aggression is just as wrong.

6. I do not recommend that household duties be renegotiated because if unemployment. If the division of chores in your relationship is unfair, it definitely needs to be renegotiated. But not during the time when your partner is weakened by unemployment.

If the distribution of duties is fair, then there is no need to change anything during unemployment. I suggest preserving as much as possible from the pre-unemployment lifestyle because that will make it easier to return to it once your partner finds a job.

7. Most importantly, I wanted to mention that once an unhealthy patterns sets in, it’s extremely hard to change it. We all hope that unemployment will not be protracted. It can, however, stretch out for a long period of time. And if you expect that after your partner finds a job things will immediately be restored to their pre-unemployment state, you couldn’t be more mistaken. A relationship doesn’t go to sleep during a jobless period. It grows and develops. And after unemployment is over, you will have to live with the results of this development.