You Are Telling Me?

I feel gaslit:

Every other day or so I come across somebody I want to grab, shake and yell, “You are telling me all this? YOU are telling ME?”

People look me straight in the face and earnestly deliver the exact same statements for which they puffed at me like tea kettles two years ago.

Welcome to Spain

Exactly 5 hours after N bought my tickets to Spain, the conference organizers decided to reschedule for 3 weeks earlier. Spain, as we all know, is different.

N takes the management of my travel very seriously. Weeks go into meticulous planning of every detail. How will I get to the airport? How long is the layover? Is there a map of the airport clearly showing where to leave the luggage at the airport if I want to venture into the city during the layover? What transportation can I take? Is there a lounge? How do I access it? Which card should I use at which point of travel?

I felt so guilty, I almost didn’t tell him the conference date was changed. I did, in the end, because I really want to be at that conference.

For the second part of the trip, which almost became the only part, I’m planning to sit on a mountain in San Sebastian and stare at the cold sea.

Full Boot

People laugh at my packed car boot. But what can I do if I have to carry enough wardrobe for every 20-degree jump in temperature in either direction we experience throughout the day?

Today, for example, I started out in a fur coat because it was cold even by my standards. Now I’m in a leather jacket. I won’t be home until 6 pm because I’m taking Klara to her art lesson, and by that time we can go all the way to a cotton wrap or more in the direction of a cable-knit sweater. Or who knows, maybe back to the fur coat.

Everybody was looking at me like I was a circus freak when I showed up outside at noon in a fur coat. Like it’s my fault they all slept in and didn’t know it was below freezing when I woke up. Thankfully, the car holds half of my outerwear wardrobe, and I can change.

Soviet Martyrology

As a Soviet child, I was forced to worship at the altar of the Communist martyr Patrice Lumumba long and hard. I thought this concluded my penance at the feet of this particular saint but no. I’m now plunged straight back into the Soviet martyrology as I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

“The native wisdom against Western depravity” trope married to “America as a force of evil” by the power of the favorite Soviet martyr – what’s not to like?

I suffer, so you will suffer with me as I keep posting about this novel.

Retire the Essay

People on campus are in a state of panic over the SI chatbot that students can use to write essays. This should be a clue to retire the at-home essays for undergraduates. I did it a long time ago because it’s a useless exercise.

Usually, the students write an essay at the end of the course, hand it in, and the course ends. No learning happens. Many professors don’t even read the essays. Those who do and leave detailed comments waste their time because nobody reads those comments. It’s all a massive waste of time.

Instead, I have students write essays in my presence over two weeks. This means six hours of actual writing where I stand over each student and point out the errors as they write. For my Cervantes course, we did it over 3 weeks. Nine hours total. It took us a whole week to write a good first paragraph. And it worked. Not a single student – and these are graduating seniors – had the foggiest idea of how to do it. Years of writing essays, and they never had gotten a chance to find out what professors actually meant by “write an essay.” Only after I spoke to each one individually and guided them did it finally work.

Obviously, this can only happen in small classes. In large lecture courses, you can’t do it. Such courses should forego the essay and do something else.

The AI bot isn’t an enemy. It’s a friend that gives us a chance to rethink one of the outdated, useless staples of education. The essay, the book report, and the “presentation” based on copy-pasted crap from Wikipedia should go away forever. I don’t allow any presentations with text on a screen. Students can show images if they absolutely insist on doing so but words on a screen aren’t allowed. Whatever you want to say can be delivered orally with no visual aides. During a presentation, they speak for 15 or 20 minutes. No reading is allowed. In language courses, this is very useful.