A Question for Colleagues

Dear fellow teachers,

it is just me, or is the number of surveys we are asked to complete about every aspect of our work growing? I get an email from the administration, the professional organizations of which I am a member and the publishing houses whose textbooks I use asking me to complete a survey every couple of days, and if I don’t, there are annoyed and annoying follow-up messages. This is the end of the semester, I have a ton of work to do, and I’m getting very irritated with having to answer yet another bunch of inane questions as to whether I ever get irritated with students or whether I foster high self-esteem in “my learners”.

I don’t remember getting anything like this number of surveys even just a year ago. Is this evidence that people are enamored with the concept of collecting data, even when they have no idea what to do with this data?

Do you get as many surveys? Do you always respond to them? Are you always certain you know what will be done with the results of the surveys, if anything?

The title of the post says “a question”, but it seems like I have many questions. Should I do this as a survey instead? (The last question is a joke.)

Grandpa Timothy

My maternal grandfather Timothy died 32 years ago today. He was a veteran of World War II and he died quite young because his health had been ruined during the war.

And on this very day when my mother is remembering her father, she had to discover that in the Ukrainian village where she grew up and where her parents lie buried, there has been a Russian flag placed on the municipal building.

My mother is crying on the phone, telling me that she can’t accept that her parents will now lie in the ground held by the occupational forces. And I don’t know what to tell her other than this is horrible and I feel her pain.

And yesterday my parents went to a birthday party where they had to listen to endless anti-Ukrainian, anti-Canadian and pro-Putin excretions by people formerly considered friends.

This is all very bad and getting worse.

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My parents split their duties into the English / linguistics part (taught to me by my father) and Russian / math (taught by my mother). Unlike my father, my mother had to work Saturdays, so I lagged somewhat in the skills she was responsible for, especially the cursive writing in Russian that I picked up significantly later than the English cursive.

By the time I was to start school at the age of 7, I had already become exposed to the idea that having to learn Ukrainian would be an intolerable burden and ultimate unfairness. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I got this from (this was obviously not coming from anybody inside my family) but I recall approaching my father with, “Can you believe that I will have to take Ukrainian in school??? This is ridiculous! I don’t know Ukrainian!”

“Ah, don’t be silly,” my father said. “Of course, you know it. It’s your language, so you know it already. Here, take this book in Ukrainian, read it, and write a 3-page essay on what it is about.”

“In Russian?” I asked.

“No, in Ukrainian.” Then he paused and added for good measure, “And then translate it into English.”

And that was how I became tri-lingual.

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The idea of Bildung is a product of the XVIIIth-century Enlightened thinking that sees human beings as infinitely perfectible and charges every individual with the life-long task of intellectual and personal growth. Irrespective of our circumstances, we are ultimately responsible for our own Bildung and should see our lives as a project in self-development that it is up to us to carry out. In this series of posts, I want to follow Jonathan Mayhew’s lead in charting the course of my intellectual development which is very fitting since Jonathan contribution to my Bildung has been immense.

By the time I was four, I was already an avid reader. Even then I preferred to read long realist novels, and there are many stories in the family lore of me scaring strangers in public places by being glued to a huge volume of Dreiser or some other equally verbose realist.

Dreiser was the perfect writer for me even at the age of four. His characters are obsessed with the desire to succeed and transcend the circumstances of their birth by advancing professionally, socially, and economically. They are always thawarted in their efforts by their insatiable appetites, by the demands of their physiology. Imposing discipline on their temperaments is a task at which they always fail. This forever would be one of the central struggles of my life and my love of Dreiser’s work never lessened.

Dreiser is also the writer who, I believe, understood America, especially the tensions between the American Midwest and the East Coast, better than anybody else. Thirty years after I first read Dreiser on a beach in Ukraine, this conflict would become a defining experience of my life.

Ukraine’s So-Called Leadership

Ukraine’s so-called leadership is also very frustrating. While Russian gangsters kill, maim, and torture Ukrainians, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk wastes his time on meeting the Pope. WTF the Pope has to do with Ukraine? There are maybe 3 religious people in the entire country, one and a half of whom might be vaguely Catholic. Ukraine needs the Pope like a dead person needs a Zumba class membership. It’s beyond ridiculous that time and energy should be wasted on such meaningless encounters.

Yes, a meeting with the Pope is done to spite the Russians who hate him. Big whoop. It would spite them more if a serious military counter-offensive were organized to push them out of the country.

Conservatism vs Liberalism

I just read a very interesting post about the innate differences between Liberalism and Conservatism:

Conservatism delivers this message: “You are special.”

And liberalism delivers this message: “You are not special.”

From that you can see why liberalism has an innate messaging problem built into the very fibers of its being, even if it is more correct.

I never thought about it this way but I think this blogger has arrived at something very useful. All of the privilege check-lists and victimization Olympics are probably so popular among Liberals because they allow to overcome this “innate messaging problem.”

The “You are not special” message is so contrary to what a person with any degree of mental health feels that it will only lead to a movement’s failure. This is why it is a message that Liberalism needs to  ditch as soon as possible.

Let Them Drink Perrier!

The Crimea gets all if its potable water from Ukraine through the North Crimean channel. Getting water to the Crimea is a complex operation which requires a large group of specialists tending to the channel 24-7.

Now that the Crimea has been annexed, groups of criminals have been expropriating businesses and beating up or kidnapping their owners while the Russian authorities abstain from interfering.

Finally, the criminals got their hands on the channel. They threw out the Ukrainian engineers who were servicing it. Of course, the water immediately stopped flowing through the channel. As I said, it’s a very complex system, and when there are no engineers to make it work, the people of the Crimea are left without water.

When it was pointed out to the Russian authorities that the channel couldn’t function without the engineers, the response was, “Well, people could always drink bottled water.”

I don’t even want to think what the Russians will say when Ukrainians stop supplying the peninsula with food.

Does Kharkiv Want to Be Part of Russia?

If Kharkiv, the city where I grew up, becomes occupied by Russian invaders, that will be a personal tragedy to me. We keep hearing on the news here in the US that the Russian-speaking Kharkiv wants to become part of Russia. It’s impossible to convince anybody that being a Russian-speaker doesn’t necessarily mean one wants to live in Russia, which is strange since nobody seems to assume that every English-speaker in the world wants to see his or her town invaded by England.

Today, after the Russian terrorist groups have been beaten back and, at least temporarily, squeezed out of Kharkiv, there was nobody but actual Kharkovites to show up for a protest in support of Kharkiv separating from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. This is what the protest looked like:



Here is also a video of the protest.

I can also repeat what I’ve been saying all along: there is no division among Ukrainians. The number of people in the country who are interested in becoming part of Russia is not large. This minority is not interested in doing absolutely anything to make this fantasy become real. It’s a fantasy that they entertain after a few drinks and it doesn’t motivate them to engage in any actions. Everything we’ve been hearing on the news about the clashes, the wounded, the kidnapped, etc. is organized by the Russian special forces. The second the Russians are forced to leave, everything goes back to normal.