Friday, October 28, 2005

Playing God

Insert evil scheming laughter here: bwahahaha!

Now is the time to reconfigure small group discussions. Since my classes are around 40 students each, I must resort to small group work most of the time. Not my favorite... since making students stay on task and then making them listen as they all report back to the larger group is quite a challenge. But that's a blog for another time.

At the beginning of the semester I divide them into small groups based on last name. Some groups work well, others don't. So I revise the groups after midterms. And here is my confession: I use the reconfiguration as a way to reward good students and to (somewhat) increase pressure on the unprepared students. I start with my group list and highlight all the good students -- the students who are habitually prepared and engaged. The students who sometimes have to "carry" the weight of the small group, who have to explain the reading to their non-reading colleagues, and then give the report during large group discussion. I figure these students deserve to be rewarded -- they deserve to be assigned to a small group where they can talk to others like them, to others who have done the work and want to talk about it.

Which usually leaves approximately two groups of students who had previously been "dead weight" in their small groups. The ones who were not prepared, were not doing the work, and who were content to coast on their colleagues' efforts. When I first started doing this, I figured that (in a small, petty sense) this "served them right" for their prior efforts.

But then something interesting happened. When faced with the need to actually do the work, with the need to actually prepare their report... the "Slacker Groups" actually came up with something! Sure, I sometimes have to embellish what they've said so that the class as a whole gets the complete picture, and sure, they might be faced with more awkward silences within their discussions as they're not used to participating. But with the pressure on, they must become accountable members of the class as a whole.

Am I an evil genius? Or just evil?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Translation, please

This one has me stumped. In my night class this week, a young male student had on a very perplexing t-shirt. Let me tell you a bit about him, which might inform your answers. He's not a stellar student and sometimes borders on disrespectful. He shows up late. He misses class. He never contributes. And this week he sat back in his chair with his arms crossed across his chest for the whole class. And he had on a white baseball hat -- backwards.

He was also wearing a t-shirt that I just don't understand. Given what I've gleaned about his personality thus far, I'm guessing it is some offensive message but I can't figure out just what he's trying to say. Certainly I live in a bubble. The t-shirt was white with the traditional black+red lettering, which said:

I ♥ Lesbians

Any ideas? I wish I knew if it was clearly offensive because I wouldn't permit it in my classroom. Or maybe this is one of those "teachable moments" for me about making assumptions about students?

Update: After talking with several friends and receiving several comments -- a consensus has emerged. This young man was voicing his approval of "lesbian" porn. If that is indeed the case, WTF?? Who wears a t-shirt to school that says I ♥ Porn?? (And on a night when our class discussion is about the sexual exploitation of female slaves??)

So what would you have done if this guy appeared in your class?


Update, again: Another consensus. Most feel they would ignore the t-shirt, which is what I did. Of course, it is possible think of t-shirts that would be so offensive as to merit comment, but this nebulous one isn't quite there. And you're's quite possible he's trying to draw attention, which I did not provide. And yes, I can see the Onion headline now! "Area Man Unsure What Own T-Shirt Means." :)

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Okay, so it's been a while... and unfortunately I can't claim that my radio silence has been due to a furious pace of work or production. I've been coasting along, and I'm in something of a funk. Mostly I'm just tired of things. Ever have the urge to rearrange your whole house? Your whole life? At the moment, I'm tired of my job. I'm tired of grading midterms. I'm tired of trying to get tired students to be excited or engaged or outraged about things that they should be excited or engaged or outraged about. There are times I'm quite grateful that my little group of students don't run the world because we'd all be living in some post-apocalyptic nightmare with no civil liberties. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but if you can't get even slightly upset about Japanese-American (emphasis on American) internment, what can you get upset about??

I'm tired of the ever-looming dissertation. I am such a stick person (as opposed to a carrot person.) I have to turn this in to my chair for her overall approval in just under two weeks. (yikes! shit. excuse me for a moment while I have a panic attack.) Okay, now I feel better. So, yeah, two weeks. And I just can't seem to build up any momentum. I actually don't have that much to do, but the one large-ish item still outstanding is that I have to write a conclusion. Then polish the footnotes, then take care of about three tiny little details per chapter, then a bib. Then, fini!

So I suppose I should get working on it. I've got a few days without classes, and although those stacks of bluebooks are taunting me, the dissertation should come first. At least for a few hours.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Coming Soon to a Television Near You

Thanks to Jo(e)'s comment in my post about Candid Camera, I've begun to ponder just what a graduate student reality show would look like... (who would actually watch it is a different matter.) Jo(e) proposes that grad students be locked into a house with one computer and some kegs of beer... and then we'll watch what unfolds. Good. Like the competition angle plus the beer angle.

I must confess I don't watch reality TV, but hopefully I've absorbed enough from my cultural surroundings to ponder the following: what are your ideas for a grad student reality show?

One idea would be something called The Revolution. In some ways, I've never met a more downtrodden group of people as graduate students... and I've always had a theory that in separate little clusters across this country, as a psychological self-defense mechanism, graduate students apply their training in whatever theory they're steeping in (post-modern, lit-crit, political, etc.) to plot The Revolution. Ours began by pondering who would be "first against the wall." If I'm right, what did your revolution look like?

But upon further reflection, I think I could cook up a better TV show than that. So here's my idea for the show. I think I'd call it something like "You're Hired!" and then pick 8-10 graduate students from the same field and dangle their Dream Job in front of them. They would then spend each week of the season competing in events such as : Advisor Avoidance, Leading an 8 a.m. Section of Surly Unprepared Students, Receiving Brutal Criticism without Crying, Making Wallpaper with Rejection Letters (special judge: Martha Stewart!), and perhaps even a cooking demonstration called Foods I Can Afford on My Stipend. In keeping with academia, no contestant would ever be eliminated, instead, they'd each be given the false hope that they will finish the season as the chosen one.

Each event would be judged by a panel of star faculty in the field (note to self: hire numerous wardrobe consultants) and then the winner would assume his/her Dream Job at the end of the season. American viewers will literally be stunned when the contestant is thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to earn $46K!

Oh, wait, that's way too depressingly actually like reality. I must be in a dark mood today. I guess I won't quit my day job to pitch this in Hollywood.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Am I On Candid Camera?

I keep waiting for a man with a camera to jump out of the bushes and hand me tons more revisions to my chapters. I'm sitting here feeling quite stunned that I might have a revised copy of almost the entire dissertation by the of the end of the week. The fact that my advisors won't be giving me comments on Chapter Five (see previous post) until the defense effectively removes Chapter Five from the revisions process, obviously.

So, wow. I just finished Chapter Three. One advisor wanted me to read a few books and incorporate them... but part of me wonders if that isn't Book Manuscript kind of revisions. So I did a slightly half-assed approach, in that I sprinkled in quotes at appropriate moments to demonstrate I'm aware of this scholar. I might have to return to this issue after the defense, but maybe not. My brain just isn't engaged in that kind of thinking right now, and I realized I'd completely stalled out waiting for it to re-engage. And that's not helping... so I did the bare minimum and will now forge ahead. My approach has always been to take the easy way out and see if anyone complains. It's worked until now...

So, what's left?
1. Revise Chapter Four. Very few comments. Can probably fix this on Wednesday.
2. Revise the intro. Again, very few comments.
3. Write a conclusion.
4. Do all sorts of little things like standardizing footnotes, draw an organizational chart (any ideas here?? what software works for something like this? I need boxes and lines between them), number my pages, do the bibliography, etc. Time consuming, but not brain draining.

And then I'll send it off to various committee members, friends/colleagues, and, of course, my ruthlessly effective in-house editor (my husband.) I want to get a range of comments before the defense so I'll have some idea of where the discussion might go. I feel good that I'll have a few weeks to actually THINK about this topic as a whole...since writing a dissertation becomes, in part, an exercise in minutiae, and you lose the ability to see the forest through the trees. In fact, they could have grown an entire forest of new scholarship and I wouldn't have noticed.

But for now, I'm happily avoiding anyone bearing extensive revisions...