Manic-Depressive Teaching

My teaching experience this semester is very manic-depressive. The 10 am and 12 pm sections are phenomenal, engaged, curious, and hard-working. I come out of them feeling inspired and energized.

Then the independent researchers start visiting me in my office between 1 and 3 pm. In these meetings, I have to explain why 92 language mistakes on 4 pages of text translate into a failing grade and why Wikipedia is not a legitimate scholarly source.

The day culminates with my 3 pm class where students yawn and stare at the clock no matter what I do.

I’m beginning to feel that this is messing with my mental health because I’m constantly going from a high to a low.

Today, for example, I was talking about the current recession and felt zero response from my 3 pm students.

“Do you know that the world is experiencing a global economic crisis right now?” I asked.

The students shrugged and looked bored.

“Do you remember what happened in 2008 when the crisis started?” I persisted.

The students yawned and looked even more bored.

“2008? The housing market crash? The bailouts?” I screeched in a shrill, desperate voice.

The entire class turned their heads to the wall and stared at the clock. Have you ever seen 24 people simultaneously turn to look at the clock when you are talking? It is not a pleasant thing to observe.

Finally one student took pity on me.

“We don’t remember this,” he explained patiently. “It was a long time ago.”

Yes, 2008, that’s totally ancient history. I’m very happy that I don’t actually have to teach Ancient history to this group.

I’ve tried everything I could to awaken these students but the only moment in the semester when they came somewhat alive was when they saw my new haircut.

“Ah, you cut your hair!” said one of them with the animation I wish he invested into his studies. “VERY cute.”

“Yes, I like it,” another student agreed.

“I don’t know,” a student whose voice I had never heard in my life suddenly contributed loudly. “I liked her previous hair-style before.”

“I think she cut it for her conference talk this week,” yet another student announced.

Something must be seriously wrong with people who think the recession and the unemployment are less deserving of attention than my haircut.

Don’t Let Religious Bullies Intimidate You!

Ottawa used to be a haven of peace, civilization, and intelligence. These days, however, people everywhere are allowing themselves to be bullied by religious fundamentalists. This problem has now touched Ottawa, as well:

A trip for students from two Ottawa Catholic high schools to observe the U.S. presidential election has been cancelled because of an article on an anti-abortion website, leaving students and parents confused and disappointed. . . Scott Searle, a teacher at St. Peter, organized the trip to give them a first-hand glimpse of the American presidential election campaign and voting process as the campaign heads into its final days. . .

In an interview on the CBC Radio show Ottawa Morning on Friday, St. Peter principal Norma McDonald said the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s communications team had sent her an article about the trip on the anti-abortion website

It quotes an anonymous mother who said she’s incensed about the trip’s support for Obama, who is pro-choice. It also points out that Searle’s online LinkedIn profile lists him as an Obama volunteer.

McDonald said the multitude of increasingly negative and aggressive comments led her to cancel the trip.

Does this make any sense to you at all? Some “anonymous mother”, who can easily turn out to be no mother at all, posts a garbage comment on some idiotic website catering to woman-hating freakazoids, and a school trip gets cancelled as a result. Have you ever heard anything more ridiculous?

What is even more annoying is how the school’s principal explained the cancellation:

“At that point I had to reassess,” she said. “Certainly criticism and negativity is not something that you want to expose your staff and students to, and at that point I did make a decision — certainly in consultation with my teacher — that we would in fact cancel the trip.”

I have to ask where this idea that students should not be exposed to criticism and negativity comes from. Criticism and negativity are a part of a normal human experience. Is the school planning to raise tender hothouse flowers or citizens who will live in the real world and participate in the real political process? What is the message that Principal McDonald is trying to send to the students? That you should cancel your plans and stop learning if some anonymous jerk somewhere is unhappy with what you are doing? That we should all pee ourselves in terror the second some fanatic somewhere looks in our direction with disapproval?

How much longer will we allow idiots posing as “anonymous mothers” to dictate to us what we do?

The entire political process in the US has been hijacked by vociferous religious fanatics. Is this unfortunate trend now coming to Canada, too?

Enough is enough, people. Let’s stop letting these religious fanatics control our lives. Let’s oppose religious bullying.

A Country of Their Own

Today I gave an extremely successful lecture about Spain’s popular protests of the Indignados. This was one of those classes where even the most Facebook-obsessed students put down their cell phones of their own free will. Everybody listened, participated, and asked questions.

One student asked me the question I still don’t know how to answer.

“If so many people in Spain are unhappy with the two ruling parties, if they don’t believe that these parties defend their interests, why don’t they get rid of both of them? It seems like so many people participated in the protests that they could start a country of their own. If the protesters believe that neither party truly represents them and that there is a profound systemic crisis plaguing the country, why don’t they scarp the entire system and start from scratch?”

Why, indeed?

A Reason to Vote

Still need a reason to vote?

Here is one. This is what the Republican Congress has been doing this session:

A total of 67 bills attempting to introduce a legal definition of women as cattle.

67 anti-women bills.

They say they will occupy themselves with the economy but that’s a lie. All they care about is humiliating and controlling women. Tell them to stick their “preborn persons” up their collective asses and vote.

Stop the barbarians. Just vote.

Curve Grading

I’m completely opposed to curve grading. It is nothing but a way for a lazy, incompetent teacher who is incapable of creating a good test to compensate for his or her lack of teaching skills by punishing the good students and rewarding the bad ones.

The defenders of curve grading are the same people who have dozens of arguments in defense of multiple choice assignments.

Appealing to the Internet Generation

Neither candidate did enough to reach out to the Internet generation during this electoral campaign. Romney didn’t do so because he doesn’t have much to offer to people who spend their lives in the social networks and who tend to be more cosmopolitan, well-traveled, well-informed, and progressive than any other segment of the population. Obama took a while to figure out how much he needed the Internet generation. Still, the bulk of his campaign money was spent on television ads. This is a dangerous strategy because there is an entire new generation of voters who don’t watch television.

Yesterday I got the following message from the Obama campaign that shows some belated awareness of the voters who can only be reached online:

Clarissa —

This is cool:

You can see exactly how many people named Clarissa have already voted.

Take a look at that. Then share it with your friends so they can see how many people with their names have voted, too — and look up their polling place.

Bottom line: We need every Clarissa– and everyone else, too — to make it out to the polls to support President Obama.

So help get the word out — and the vote:

This is a fun gimmick but a lot more needs to be done to reach the Internet generation. Several of my students don’t know that an election is about to take place. Not a single discussion or ad has reached them in their world where TV-sets and stationary phones are a thing of the past. This will have to change and soon.

Are you ready to vote tomorrow?