August 6, 2010

Moving over to Wordpress... theme ideas?

I've decided to shift my blog onto a Wordpress platform. That'll happen in the next few days (weekend project?), but if you're a Wordpress afficionado and have a suggestion for a theme, give a holler in comments.

And speaking of comments, one reason for the switch is the ability to get my comments off the JS-Kit platform, which I've come to hate. I don't know if I'll be able to attach the comments that currently exist: they may be lost. But I'll do what I can.

(The existing entries will remain where they are in the /mt/ directory of my website, so I'll just redirect the main page to the new WP installation.)

June 16, 2010

Unholy alliance proposal #573: FinReg and journalism

Inspired by a blog entry today by Ezra Klein's research intern and today's Dilbert cartoon, I had a crazy thought for addressing both the decline of commercial journalism and Wall Street lapses: is there a way to give solid journalism a revenue source that also forces more transparency/responsibility on Wall Street? One idea for better responsibility on Wall Street is the transactions tax proposal, which was the focus of the blog entry by Klein's research aide. But I'm afraid that's probably too sensible, since it penalizes financial churning, and thus it's not politically viable.

But there's a way to replace the revenue stream of classified ads, the one that CraigsList stole, and we can use current practice and history as a guide: require that certain forms of financial transactions by institutional parties have public notice in electronic form in venues with substantial readership. Public-notice requirements are common for all sorts of legal purposes, and there is a very long history of printers' reliance on such revenue streams. Okay, in Ben Franklin's case it was because he became the printer for the colonial government of Pennsylvania (e.g., Franklin's printing of this text of a speech). But we continue to require both public agencies and private parties to pay for a public notice of some transactions and other items of public interest. Sometimes these are in daily newspapers, sometimes in local legal periodicals designed almost entirely to capture the revenues.

The key here is to require the non-password-requiring electronic publication of an appropriate set of transaction records in places with substantial traffic. There is absolutely no guarantee that today's professional journalist sites will capture revenue by gathering substantial traffic, and I suspect if such a requirement were in place today and if it weren't a walled garden, Facebook would suddenly capture a large chunk of the potential revenue. But it's a way to use an existing model of public notice requirements to replace some of the revenue stream that's disappeared in the past 10 years.

May 27, 2010

An immodest and hopefully obvious proposal for electronic citations

I had a thought today after reading of Barnes & Noble's new iPad app, which allows customers to loan/borrow purchased books. I haven't heard whether the annotations go along with the lending, but it strikes me that academics needing to cite locations in ebooks and those interested in annotation technology both need a way to refer to locations within electronic documents.

The problem for academics looking for citation conventions is that we're all used to page numbers, which give us a way to identify a location manually by flipping through pages (or by hunting for a letter or other archival document within a file folder). Do we really need that sort of human-navigated location specificity? If we can search for text inside a document, we certainly don't. But the reference format is needed, and I think there would be an easy way to create another convention that would serve both academic purposes and ereader technology:


What's that, you ask?

location/file number (within envelope, 1 if no envelope)/file size/file checksum (using some conventional algorithm)

Given a particular edition (i.e., uncorrupted file in a recognized format with a file size and checksum), this would give a precise location. With a different edition, the approximate location within a file and the first part of the quoted passage should be sufficient for finding the passage quickly. Let's call the three numbers a brief spot location reference and the numbers plus the quotation the spot location reference. What if you're referring to a passage?


I know I'll be torn limb-from-limb by my fellow historians, until I point out the following:

When Patto/d her hat./
This passage shows the protagonist's commitment to blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda./
Sherman Dorn/20100527080312-0500

That's the range reference, the first and last ten characters of the (theoretical) passage, annotation text, annotation author, and timestamp of annotation. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is a format for annotating electronic materials. It does not require changing the EPUB format, just tracking a file of annotations and ereader software that can put the annotation in the right place (the start and end of the passage for disambiguation). They can be shared, accumulated, analyzed, etc.

There may be important reasons why this wouldn't work, but I can't think of them at the moment.

March 4, 2010

Every 24 minutes: why it's time to vote on the health care bill

Two years ago, a friend I've known for more than 40 years who works at the Urban Institute updated the Institute of Medicine's estimate of the annual excess deaths in the U.S. due to lack of insurance. In 2008, the updated estimate was 22,000 annual excess deaths. That's an average of one preventable death about every 24 minutes.

Every time that a Republican talks about "starting over," think of how many 24-minute chunks of time that would involve. Every 24 minutes of delay = one more excess death. Every time that an overly-righteous proponent of the public option talks about "being slapped in the face by the White House" and (again) starting the debate over, think of how many 24-minute chunks that would involve. Think of how many 24-minute chunks have passed since 1993 (the last time a major health-care initiative died). 

It's time for the Senate to vote on amendments to its bill using reconciliation, and it's time for the House to pass both the Senate bill and amendments.

Updated: Families USA has calculated that it's now a preventable death every 21 minutes.

December 31, 2009

One more almost unreadable student paper for 2009...

After trying to decipher Chuck's handwriting with all those scribbles and crossouts, I will never, ever complain about my own students again.

December 19, 2009

What can graphic novels teach us about verbs in static displays?

I'm in my office this afternoon for a few hours getting some work-related puttering done.

While I'm procrastinating on the puttering for a few minutes, I want to talk aloud (or write publicly) about some thoughts I had in the last few days about how graphic novels convey verbs. Here's the problem: most forms of visualizing information are all about nouns--whether points on a graph or text inside chart boxes. In a few cases (such as with the wonderful, visualizations have implicit verbs (in Gapminder, changes). But for the most part, the existing "grammar" of concept mapping is all about nouns. I realized this in June when attending a digital-humanities unconference and someone who worked on Internet 2 was running a show-and-tell about a number of visualization tools. Great stuff! And then I realized why I was so uncomfortable: where were the verbs? Where do you get to show what the implicit model of the world is?

This issue is important because however useful visual representation of stuff (i.e., nouns) is, it is enormously hard and rare to put verbs in the picture. Minard's famous graph of Frenchmen dying throughout Napoleon's invasion of Russia is the exception, not the rule. But we think about the world with verbs as well as nouns, and those of us with some quantitative skills need to figure out how to (and help others) put verbs in visual representations, else we will be stuck with cryptic, largely useless concept maps as the default, too-often-brainless attempt to visualize ideas.

That challenge has been nagging at me for half a year now, and probably because it's the end of the semester, a few days ago I realized something obvious: what visual medium is able to convey verbs in what is ostensibly a static representation? Oh, duh, yeah: comics. Graphic novels. Whatever you call them, they've got action. Oh, boy, do they have action!

I am not sure exactly where to go with this. I don't have anything clear in mind except a few fragments: something that's the reverse of Edward Tufte's sparklines (reduction of visual information to stick in a line of text), or maybe something like the xkcd stick figures dancing within and on the margins of graphs, talking about what's happening. This is one of those times I wish I had wasted months of my adolescence reading comic books, because if I had, I would know exactly how graphic novels represent verbs.

November 11, 2009

Sometimes, negotiations are tough slogging because they're tough

Whether in reference to the Obama administration, the AFT, academic administrators at some universities, Iran, or some other entity, my personal news reading and listening in the last week has been full of finger-pointing about reneging on deals, backing away from apparent deals, undermining good trends, falsifying promising hints, or ruining fresh minty breath. It is frustrating to see people so quick to jump out with criticism, a self-fulfilling prophecy of finger-pointing in situations where further negotiation could be fruitful.

There's a corollary to the truism about not worrying about credit attributed to Ralph Winter, George Marshall, Ronald Reagan, and probably many others: sometimes you have to choose between getting things done and setting up blame in case of failure. 

October 25, 2009

In no language either is there the phrase "as quiet as an airport"

Heard on the Philadelphia International Airport intercom. Or at least the small bits I could "understand"...


September 17, 2009

In honor of rivalries

This afternoon my son will be on a bus with his marching band for a "road" game where his school's football team is playing my daughter's school's football team. Minor irony: I can't pick him up at the end of the game because he needs to go back with the band (to put away his uniform and equipment), though my daughter's school is closer. In any case, we'll probably be sitting in the home stands with the visitors' colors on. Let's hope we survive!

XKCD comic on pep rallies

August 31, 2009

Bad social criticism 'r' us

Kay Hymowitz's piece on dating in the City Journal reminds me in one way of a horrible newsmagazine story in the late 1980s or early 1990s, one that proclaimed certainty that women who were single in their early 30s were doomed never to marry. In another way, it reminds me of Sex and the City: this bears no resemblance to the New Yorkers I personally know, many of whom have been in monogamous relationships quite happily or otherwise are dating without displaying the angst for the world. And it is in the display where this article reminds me of the selectivity bias in whoever calls the Laura Schlessinger show: "Hi, Doctor Laura, I love your show and I love my kids and I am my kid's mom, and my moral dilemma is whether it's okay to let this cute ex-con sleep in my house on the couch when my 12-year-old is in the house, and I know that manslaughter isn't good but it isn't murder, either, and we're just dating and I've just let him peck me on the cheek." Thank you, Kay Hymowitz, for your interviewees' TMI. Next time, if I want rigor with the salaciousness, I'll at least head to Lillian Rubin's Erotic Wars.

Dear people who are dating and don't have it together enough to know what you want, explain it, and then accept the choices potential or real dates make in response: it's just a phase you're going through, called "life." Don't worry: it'll be over before you know it, but in the meantime, make the best choices you can.

June 10, 2009

Someone left me out of the conspiracy

Dear Rev. Jeremiah "Them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me" Wright,

Apart from fact that you spoke on the day a white supremacist shot a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Museum (once again, your timing is impeccable), there are only a few things I have to say to you:

First, I have yet to receive my Protocols of the Elders of Zion Secret Decoder Ring, despite sending in the required two cereal box tops, the completed, photocopied application to be a Junior Elder, and proof that my mother is Jewish. Personally, I thought that her affidavit about being forced to attend Jacob Neusner's piano recitals when they were growing up in Hartford was both ingenious and obviously genuine, but either the envelope got lost in the mail or someone intercepted it. I have been thinking of blaming someone, but I have yet to narrow down the possible list of suspects.

Second, to hurl this invective a week after it's becoming pretty clear that President Obama is, in fact, pressuring Israel to stop expanding or creating new settlements? Yep, that's a sign of the Victorious Conservative Jewish Conspiracy if I ever saw one. Or maybe you were talking about the J Street Conspiracy? Please make sure you identify the correct Jewish conspiracy, because they have different addresses and phone numbers, though I'm fairly sure the phone numbers both end in "666." 

Third, I haven't heard personally from the president in over three weeks, and I suspect he's starting to listen to others at this point. To be honest, he hasn't called me since I suggested that Peter Sagal become the Official White House Jester. Well, actually, if you want to know the truth, he hasn't called me since the election, the ingrate after all I've done for him. Okay: he has never called me. But I suspect that's beside the point. If we were good buddies, despite my being a lousy point guard, the president would probably follow his own counsel. That's probably been true for most of the presidents we've had, and since he and Michelle have steadfastly refused to get a bearded dragon, he's also ignoring my wife as well as me.

Fourth: you want the two pink pills in the morning and the green one at night. Don't forget to take a glass of warm milk with the green one, since you can get an upset stomach if you forget.

Yours very agnostically Jewishly,


April 18, 2009

If you're an unemployed teacher or academic, run for office!

Which unemployed or underemployed people could plausibly run for office in 2010?

The budget outlook in Florida is better than it used to be, thanks to the federal recovery funds that have already flowed and are likely to flow; essentially, federal funds are plugging about half of the gap legislators were facing for the next fiscal year. But in our state (and many others), even with the better budget proposal there are still going to be hundreds of teachers laid off (which is better than thousands), and in our state, a number of other teachers who will be forced into retirement through technical means (including one of my daughter's teachers, several others I know, and probably a principal I know). If the state budget is closer to the worse proposal still alive, there will be dozens or a few hundred university faculty and professional employees who will also be out of work.

From a party perspective, there is an obvious reason why unemployed individuals are not usually great candidates for public office: their primary concern is (rightfully) getting a job! But our state legislature is so gerrymandered that a large minority of legislators waltz into office without any opposition whatsoever. Not just meaningless competition: literally no opponent. In this environment, a party that doesn't currently have a certain seat and can't recruit an experienced candidate might gain a little leverage by convincing an unemployed professional to run for office.

From a potential candidate's perspective, it's different. If you're an unemployed teacher, professor, or researcher facing unemployment, and you want to run against an incumbent, I can give you one great reason to run: you'll meet loads of people. The best way to run for a Florida House seat is to walk door to door for weeks on end. The districts are small enough that you really can walk through a district over an election season, certainly if you start today, and if you can't win the seat (which has a small income, but it's there and it carries insurance), you might meet your next employer while you're running. The same is true in many other states. And if you try to qualify by petition rather than paying a fee, you'll definitely have to meet people in your district.

Case in point: I know a former graduate student from USF who ran for office in a House seat against an incumbent who was well-liked and endorsed by several local unions. The former grad student was an adjunct at a community college with almost no fundraising connections and little money, and he got into the race very, very late. Even with those disadvantages, he racked up 48% of the vote. A few weeks earlier, a little more organizing, and he could have won.

So if you get a pink slip or are an adjunct, think about it: you could be a legislator, and even if not, running for office might be how you get your next job.

February 19, 2009

Better late than never

Proof that the Obama Administration is doing the right thing but not always on my preferred schedule: Sweet Honey in the Rock performed in the White House yesterday, either 29 or 31 days after they should have performed publicly. And they'll be performing publicly April 12 at the Lincoln Memorial for the Marian Anderson Tribute Concert. We know that the president likes the Boss, but only one group has a founder who's a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution. Now that's culture.

January 27, 2009

The good, the bad, and the supremely weird

The good

  • DeanDad shows that he understands higher-ed history far better than Stanley Fish.
  • Eduwonkette has a new gig (sociology at New York University).
  • Barack Obama has been president for a little less than a week, and he's already fulfilled a bunch of campaign promises. (Well, it's good from my perspective.)
  • Paul Krugman's been tearing up the world with ideas, corrections, and so forth.

The bad

  • The economy is still tanking. 
  • We lose Eduwonkette as an active blogger (though I'm hoping she returns after shoving a dozen articles out the door).
  • The new Treasury Secretary is one of the many Americans who didn't pay taxes correctly. His gig includes... supervising the collection of taxes.

The supremely weird

  • Central Florida school districts seem to be falling over each other (or maybe falling down in domino-fashion) to implement mandatory school-uniform policies. So much for basing policy on evidence... search for "mimetic isomorphism" to understand.
  • Rod Blagojevich defends himself not in the Illinois Senate but on daytime television because nothing says calm, reasoned discourse better than The View.

January 11, 2009

Last chance to tell me off

No, it's not: you're always welcome to tell me off in comments. But this is the last day that the January 2009 reader survey will be available. Again, my thanks to everyone who has participated. It takes just a few minutes (or more if you want to give me lots of ideas for topics). Tell me what to do by taking the survey!

January 6, 2009

Reader survey to tell Sherman Dorn what to do

If you would like to tell me what I'm doing right and wrong in this blog, as well as suggest topics for me to write about in the next few months, please click here to take a seven-question survey. This is not for publication but just for my use in figuring out where to go with this blog in 2009, and it will remain open for this week and the weekend. It should take you just a few minutes (or more if you want to give me lots of ideas for topics). So please help me improve this blog by taking the survey!

December 25, 2008

What you do today if you don't celebrate Christmas

To all of my readers who celebrate, please have a wonderful Christmas. This morning, I'll be upgrading the blog's software.

Update: I need to fiddle with templates a bit, but the Big Bad Scary Upgrade is done, with relatively little pain. Thanks to Jose Vilson for the shove.

December 17, 2008

Cosmic-ray bursts. They must be.

Or at least that's how I explain the odd pattern of phone calls I've been receiving recently, where people fail to leave messages even though I didn't answer the calls. Some of them have been local, and I am guessing they are wrong numbers. But in the past few weeks I've received a series of phone calls from the same number in the 940 area code. It's a bit spooky, since the caller hasn't left a message. If you read my blog, understand that I will not answer a phone call from that number. If you want to contact me, leave a message or e-mail me! And please be aware that lots of people view repeated phone calls as a type of stalking behavior. In my case, I am not concerned for my safety, but I do not have any social obligation to answer all phone calls. That's what voicemail is for...

In related news, someone commented on a post recently in a way that obviously uses the post as an excuse to tout an organization. It's a nonprofit, but since it looks like the organization hired a media firm to write comments on the same topic across multiple blogs, I'm treating it as comment spam. Zap!

Finally, my daughter has decided to read Leonard Susskind's The Black Hole War after discovering that it has an Escher drawing as a key metaphor towards the end of the book. She's upset with the pollywog-and-rocks illustration early on, partly because she's disappointed that a physicist could have such a poor understanding of biology. (You'll have to read the book to understand.)

December 1, 2008

Top 10 Reasons To Be Glad You're Not on a Transition Task Force

Speaking for the approximately 300 million of us who are not on one of the Obama-Biden transition task forces, I can say that we're all horribly disappointed. So to cheer us all up, here's a list of reasons why we're secretly glad we're not among the top movers and shakers in the next two months:

10. Can ring up all of that lobbyist easy money instead.

9. Too busy working on perpetual motion machine to solve world's energy problems, remove the threat of a global climate crisis, and stop the impending global depression.

8. Too much eggnog at holiday party? No Matt Drudge to worry about!

7. More time for online shopping today.

6. Won't have president-elect/Mr. Constitutional Law Professor interjecting himself into water-cooler debate about church and state and religious displays.

5. Have time instead to read favorite book on education policy, Accountability Frankenstein.

4. Can finally get Step 13 completed in Bill Ayers' Master Plan for Ruling the Universe (cell codename "Roger", control contact "Brandi" at Palmer House Hilton, behind translucent plastic sheeting in construction area).

3. There is a great need for someone to start the new Facebook group, Why I'm Upset I Wasn't Immediately Named Obama's Internet Guru: sure to get 3 million friends.

2. Working on transition task force would delay filing for unemployment benefits. 

And the Number One reason why you should be glad you're not on a transition task force:

1. Really don't want to be remembered by Rahm Emanuel as "that idiot who gave me the worst head cold in my life."

November 10, 2008

You know you're punchy when....

... a correspondent guesses that no real news on Obama and education will occur soon "outside of a secretary announcement," and your first thought is, "Inside a cabinet secretary, it is dark and hard to read."

Apologies to Samuel Clemens, of course. Or maybe no apologies necessary.

And now, to finish some teaching stuff.

October 21, 2008

NEWS FLASH: Limbaugh eats other foot

Rush Limbaugh, in an e-mail to Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen October 19, 2008:

Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race. OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with.
Rush Limbaugh, on ESPN September 28, 2003:
I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.
Okay, so Limbaugh's hydrophobic qualities aren't that newsworthy. But I'd be surprised if he can get through this week without finding a third foot to stuff somewhere.

June 1, 2008

Possible boondoggle in broadband build-out?

There's something possibly important but important to check in the Educause podcast of a May 8 speech by John Windhausen, who runs the Telepoly website. To put his argument briefly, he is convinced that the U.S. will run out of broadband capacity, and he argues for a "national broadband policy" to expand the broadband infrastructure, specifically a $100 billion investment in getting broadband to every single home in the U.S.

I don't know about his factual predictions based on an exponential model of broadband usage growth, but I do know that he is right that the private market is not enough: the basic economics here don't make sense unless you say upfront that federal and state governments are going to pay for the majority of every single inch of conduit for this expanded broadband capacity. If I remember correctly, what happened the last time that there was network expansion (and this was not at the "last-mile-to-the-consumer" issue that Windhausen discusses) was that it was built on wildly inaccurate assumptions about the profitability of networks, with fairly highly leveraged capacity construction. Once built, the price that anyone could charge for access to the network (or, more importantly, anything above a local ISP) dropped. I forget who was left holding the bag the last time that network capacity increased dramatically, but if we're going to have more broadband, I don't want to have public financing through the back door of company bankruptcies from another highly-leveraged build-out.

Having said that, I'm still skeptical that the best use of the next $100 billion in federal resources is to put broadband in every home.

May 19, 2008

Small irritations when reading blogs

Not aimed at any specific blog, and if you think this is about you, you're probably wrong, but if the following discourages you from any of these practices, ...
  • If you invite comments, why are you asking people to register using a system that doesn't work?
  • "This" is obscure text for a link, makes it difficult for readers to decide whether to follow the link, and in general is not reader-friendly. Same with "that."
  • Your snark isn't nearly as funny as you obviously think it is, and it's going to be less funny tomorrow.
  • Scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll. Scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll. Scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll. Even my (Neolithic version 0.01) blog puts the content first on a page to be mobile-reader-friendly, not behind N kilobytes of navigation/fluff. Several news-outlet blogs fail that simple test. (Tell your webmaster to use CSS properly, so the left-strip navigation can appear after the content in the HTML but on the left side when rendered for desktops.)

April 3, 2008

Speedy animation

Done in about two minutes of downtime with K-sketch:

Yes, I'll keep my day job.

February 27, 2008

Human tendencies to think in hierarchies

This is the follow-up to my earlier entry on Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives and our very human tendency to think in hierarchies, even where inappropriate or misleading. (The great chain of being or evolutionary ladder metaphors are other examples.) It's frustrating to me as a teacher, but as an academic, it's a fascinating phenomenon.

After talking with a few clever adolescents (my children and a limited selection of their friends), we developed a few hypotheses:

  • Humans are social animals, and our history of seeking and defining social pecking orders reinforces hierarchical thinking.
  • Humans have all sorts of ways in which we make distinctions: two easy examples are taste and scent preferences, which are often very strong. Those preferences establish and reinforce hierarchical thinking.
  • Humans already have spatial metaphors we use for abstract concepts, such as time (which we move through, or sometimes time passes by us; we move meetings up, or sometimes back; life is a journey, etc.: see Steven Pinker's book The Stuff of Thought for a lay explanation). Our hierarchical thinking may well be a carryover from whatever gave us those spatial metaphors, or possibly the converse.

This is all speculation; any evolutionary psychologists are welcome to contribute some more rigorous thinking and possibly sources of evidence... anyone want to check with experimentation whether those with stronger senses of taste or smell are more likely to think hierarchically?

February 10, 2008

Notes on a college visit (sort of), days 3-4

I'm lagging behind on the college visit notes, because we had to get up early for yesterday's flight, and I've been too tired today to write until now.

Friday, we did not tour a college but instead toured the area. I incurred the justifiable irritation of my daughter for not having planned where to go but just picking a direction. We found a (lost-)tourist information center and while I engaged the very friendly employee in a discussion of the area's history, my daughter planned a state-park visit using the center's maps. So we headed out again, found the state park, spent some time tramping around and getting a bit cold (or I did), and then drove back to the hotel where we collapsed. "Why am I tired from sitting in a car for a few hours?" she asked. Well, at least she didn't do the driving.

A few hours later, we walked around the center of the college's town with its very college-town-like boutique stores. She had dinner makings in the hotel room, but I didn't, so I bought a sandwich from a local bakery (very good bread), we window-shopped and laughed/cried at some of the fashions, and then crashed (after eating dinner). (No, I am not an abusive father: I asked her to eat out, and she declined.)

Yesterday, we spent far too much time in airplanes and hotels. Today I've been very inefficient at almost everything, so I volunteered to shop so I could at least be useful without too much of a brain. But...

The January 29 This Week in Science podcast has a shout-out to our zebra finches at the end of it. Thank you, Dr. Sanford! (Earlier in grad school, Kirsten Sanford worked in a lab researching the memory of zebra finches.) Yes, I'm a sucker for science podcasts. TWIS has the same AM morning-drive feel to it that the Fordham Foundation's The Gadfly podcast has. It doesn't work for me when it's a standard AM radio station, but for topical podcasts, I like it better.

I'll probably have the brains for a post mortem tomorrow, or the day after.

February 3, 2008

All-American dad... sort of

So here I sit, a few seconds from the end of the Super Bowl, rooting for the Giants to pull off a miracle, with beer in hand... but with no television... and the beer is gluten-free* ... and in a mug, not a stein or the bottle. I knew the Giants should have gone for it at fourth-and-one with 8 minutes left. But did they hear my advice?? No!

At least the mug has pictures of grape bunches on it. Properly bacchanalian, but I don't think my kids will believe it. My daughter is practicing violin and starts with a speedy folk tune.  I suppose that's appropriate somehow.

So this time, when forced to, the Giants went for it on 4th and won the first down. They're alive, still, but Eli Manning is not the quarterback I'd want in this situation. This is torture even for a relative nonfan like me. 3rd and 5 on the Giants' 44.

Tyree! First and 10 on the Patriots' 24.  Maybe this isn't quite so hopeless... but they always raise your hopes before dashing them. This is a great ending, no matter the result.

One-yard loss. Damn. Incomplete pass, and now it's third down. Several hundred million are now in sports agony.

First down on the Patriots' 13.  The next three plays determine the game.


The rest is denouement, and rather sad for Tom Brady, to get sacked at the end. I feel sorry for Patriots fans. They had a perfect season, or thought they did.

* - No, not because of my health. And I should've put the other variety in the fridge, since the bottle I drew is less well hopped than I'd like.

January 27, 2008

Active listening can be too active

When reading Profgrrrrl's account of two admiring students' comments, which left her in very different places afterwards, I had the same reaction as she did. Very briefly, one student projected a whole bunch of assumptions onto Profgrrrrl's life, while the other didn't.

Projections are dangerous, especially when you're doing it because you're trying to reach out to someone. I know that because of my own experiences having others project onto me when they're trying to be nice or solicitous. I try to keep my grumbles to myself.

And if I ever forget, my daughter will remind me that "active listening" can be too active. "You must be-" "No, you don't know what I'm thinking." And I don't.

So with all due respect for Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (whose books are otherwise wonderful for parents of young children), projecting psychological conclusions onto someone else's words or actions is pretty foolish.

December 26, 2007

Basex: addressing management problems in deep ways?

Basex, Inc. has successfully promoted its 2008 problem of the year in a variety of news outlets, and I'm sure you'll hear about it by tomorrow morning. The problem: too much information overload through e-mail. Never mind that we're not in 2008 yet, and this is more a matter of promoting the (who ever heard of them before?) company's consulting business than serious analysis.

And if you want more information on tech trends from Basex: Subscribe to their e-mail newsletter, which will... give you more e-mail information overload.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to return to editing a journal article, after this minor distraction.

December 19, 2007

7 random things you probably don't want to know about me

Thanks, Eduwonkette. I'll skip tagging 7 others (if you're reading this, consider yourself tagged, with response optional).

  1. I have a cold right now.
  2. When he was in office, I once asked former California Senator Alan Cranston what he was doing for wild horses.
  3. I have solved a Rubik's Cube, but I've forgotten the solution.
  4. My high school debate partner and I are now both academic historians.
  5. When I was in high school, my state senator was thrown off the John Birch Society National Council because he embarrassed them.
  6. My oldest sister sits on the Orange County (Ca.) Board of Education
  7. I saw Prick up your Ears because I was told it was a hilarious comedy.

As I expected yesterday, I needed some down time after grading: I fell asleep at 7 pm. This morning's task: organize my time during the semester break.

November 25, 2007

Small bits: gratitude through use and reciprocity

If you're the parent or teacher of an adolescent, or an adolescent looking for concrete study skills, the best way to thank the folks who put together James Madison University's Learning Toolbox is to use it. It contains a concise description of various study skills.

A different way to be thankful for opportunities is to reciprocate. I have absolutely no experience with the self-organizing conferences known as BarCamps, but an educational variant has sprung up, and I think the next one is EduCampNYC, December 1 in Teachers College. If you're attending, please tell us how it goes/went!

November 7, 2007

Hug Threat Level: Orange

In Mascoutah, Illinois, Megan Coulter was suspended for hugging a friend. In Taiwan, meanwhile, the military quickly suspended its new program begun October 1 to welcome new soldiers with a hug. Hugging is dangerous stuff, whether in the military or in schools.  Apart from the documented threat that teenaged huggers will spread dangerous diseases such as the tendency to say "like" repeatedly in sentences or the even more life-threatening Leo Buscaglia Syndrome, there is surprisingly little research on hugging as it pertains to education policy.

Therefore, I hereby announce my policy recommendations on hugging:

  • Hugging should be a matter of choice. I don't particularly care whether this is a public or private choice, but as long as there is no money attached to hugging, I don't think anyone would care.
  • Performance pay for hugging is right out. Don't even think about it.
  • The ordinary rules of expression in schools should apply to hugging: schools may put time, place, and manner restrictions on hugging, but in general, as long as it is nondisruptive, it is absurd to ban hugging.
  • Hugging is not the same as freak dancing. Anyone who confuses the two (whether student or educator) needs to get a life or take a cold shower (depending on the circumstances).

Somewhat more seriously, stories about students being suspended for hugging friends or bringing ibuprofen to school illustrate a level of rigid regulation that can easily rise to absurdity. Schools should be able to ban necking without banning hugs, and schools should be able to create a drug-free environment without banning students from bringing tylenol or ibuprofen to school.

October 31, 2007

"Man in Black" (Halloween version)

After the series of photoshopped education "costumes" on Eduwonkette, I should confess that I didn't put on any costume, or so I thought when I went into work. An undergrad work-study student showed up as a flower child, and another coworker came in orange and black. I thought for a second, looked down at my black trousers and black shirt, and said, "This is the closest I'll ever come to being Johnny Cash."

What are you dressed up as, today?

October 27, 2007

From confectionary to connected reasoning

Occasionally, I have students or colleagues who provide a stream of oddly (and sometimes randomly) connected chunks of material as if the stream is sufficient to carry an argument or thought. In the past I've had little trouble understanding why such streams are illogical but great trouble understanding why the author of the stream thinks it makes sense. It is not stream-of-consciousness material; the modules of the argument are stuck together with some conscious glue, from what I can tell, not just following in a sequence of associational steps.

I'm slowly coming around the conclusion that under stress, people tend to operate with the type of conjoint causal reasoning that David Hume asserted a few centuries ago: stick things together, and they must be connected. Hume's argument doesn't work with more rigorous reasoning, but it sometimes appears to hold with the panicking or too-quickly-talking person in front of me. There is nothing inherently wrong with sticking things together and seeing if a combination of ideas work: that's the art of speculation or brute-force brainstorming (a term that is not an oxymoron, though the explanation requires its own separate entry).

Perhaps we can borrow a concept from Edward Tufte's Visual Explanations, a book that has a chapter on confections, or visual representations of complex processes through multiple (and varying) uses of images. The premature expression of speculations often appears as a conceptual confection, layers material whose connections are self-evident to the author or speaker, if not to me as listener or audience member.

The sticky part is reducing the confection to a more easily consumed finished piece. In many cases, the original confection and the reduction process are fascinating, comprising a type of mental candy; my favorite blogs often serve up experimental fare that is quite tasty. As a teacher, my job includes helping students with their own confectionary reasoning, encouraging them to boil ideas down to their essences, and discouraging final papers with half-baked ideas.

But since guiding that process is part of my job, I am not sure why I have such distaste for other intellectual confections, mixes that I want to hold at bay so I don't have to smell them too closely, let alone taste them. In those cases, the raw meat and processing of ideas are closer to the production of sausage (or legislation): don't show me all the steps, just the final stuff I can choose to consume (or not). Is the distinction a matter of aesthetics, the random tastes of my intellectual palate, or is there something more substantive in the distinction between the speculations I want to examine more closely and those which I would rather just go away until they're presented on a plate?

October 19, 2007


The first entry for this blog is dated March 24, 2001, with 2400 days between that entry and this one. (For those who check permalinks, there are two reasons why this entry is number 1053 instead of 1000: some entries get uploaded twice by mistake, so one copy must be deleted, and there is another, rather quiescent blog using the software and database, and those entries are part of the count.) When I started blogging, I was a tenure-track assistant professor and one of a handful of historians or education folks writing in this new online journal form. It started on Livejournal and then moved here a few years later, when I decided an eponymous domain was useful. Now, everyone and her brother has a blog, and I am but one voice of hundreds of thousands, and that trend is just fine. On average, I have written something every few days on topics ranging from my classes and research to education policy, academic freedom, and various bits of my academic life, and while I am not Samuel Pepys, some of you would surely disagree.

Ivan Tribbles of the world aside, blogging fulfills the commandment of Russell Jacoby, Go thou into the world and speak, lest thy thoughts waste in the vault of academe. He didn't quite say that, but he did call for academics to spend more time as public intellectuals, and I cannot think of a more public and accessible forum than a blog.

October 18, 2007

The day I've been waiting for

Exercise. Catching up with my online class's discussion board and adding the starter for a new thread. Reading and accepting three revised manuscripts for Education Policy Analysis Archives. Writing two (and with this, three) short blog entries. More small tasks to come.

In other words, today has been a perfectly mundane day. I needed it.

October 15, 2007

I am not Spock Sherm

Twice in the last day, people who know me a little but are not particularly close have called me "Sherm." This occasionally happens both face-to-face and on e-mail, but I'm wondering if others take slight name mangling as a subtle signal about interlocutors. (Others misspell my last name, especially customer-service folks who find it hard to distinguish Dorn from Dorm on the phone, but Sherman is easy to spell.) I'll answer to the name, certainly, but I'm curious how it is that people don't listen when I introduce myself and don't ask whether abbreviations are preferred.

October 10, 2007

Caribbean Frost

In the honors class I'm teaching, I'm trying some without-a-net activities each week to connect technology with social and cultural history. One recent week, I asked students to describe the aesthetics of everyday objects. In a plurality of cases, students discussed the commercial choices involved in consumer-product design--i.e., that the aesthetics are shaped as part of product marketing. (Anyone who has seen Monty Python's Michaelangelo sketch can wonder if perhaps that dynamic holds true in the creation of highbrow culture as well, if in a personal relationship with patrons.)

One of my students chose to examine as one of her two objects a bottle of blue-green nail polish and discovered that its official name is Caribbean Frost (and you can see the colors at Wet n Wild's website, if you wish to confirm this oxymoron). I live in Tampa, north of the Caribbean. It's mid-October, and the high today will be around 90 F. Who do they think they're kidding?

These weekly adventures are worth a small portion of the semester grade, but I hope they're engaging for students, and in some cases students have made some interesting connections. None yet, though, between nail polish and Leonardo da Vinci (where we started the course).

October 9, 2007

Please tell me it's August or November

What is possibly worse than being sick in a temperate-climate February is being sick in early October when the temperatures are in the upper 80s outside and when you know part of the reason why you're not well yet is because you drove to another city 2 hours away three times in the last two weeks. D***it, I'm already behind on too many things. I don't have time to be sick.

My body begs to disagree, and my body has won the debate, at least for the last few days. Consequence: I haven't had the catchup to catch up. By Monday morning, I barely finished the prep-work for two of my courses, stuff I normally would have handled in about half the time. Regional campus visit today? Cancelled, so I can rest and get some work done at home.

I need to turn the clock back to August so I can get some work done or turn it forward to late November so I can look forward to the end of the semester. Right now, I don't particularly care which.

Update (10:40 pm): I think I'm fine as long as I'm drinking tea. I downed an entire pot of TAZO minty something in an hour while waiting for my daughter's orchestra rehearsal to end. I can plug away at things as long as I don't need a great attention span and can collapse a few times a day. Tomorrow is my long teaching day, until 8 pm.

A bit of reflection on this: I think I'm reasonably organized now, and my professional life is still tripped up by outside events such as a state budget crisis or a minor cold. I am not the professoriate, but my strong suspicion is that the days of being an absent-minded and successful professor are just about over. No matter what institution you're working for, no matter how out-of-touch one may be, you either have to work very hard or be very organized or (more likely) both to succeed in academe.

September 29, 2007

If I had a million hours

My life this week brings the Barenaked Ladies song to mind:

  • Watching nervously over the state budget situation and engaging in various tasks around that
  • Finishing and submitting my promotion portfolio
  • Assigning and circulating manuscripts for Education Policy Analysis Archives... and receiving a bunch of yes and no responses that require some individual attention (without time for that yet)
  • Teaching for three classes (two in-person, one on-line)
  • Meeting with students I'm advising
  • Preparing for a meeting that was canceled
  • Getting called by a St. Pete Times reporter about NAEP results (getting the last word in the article was a surprise; I think the lesson is that I'm more likely to get a soundbite quoted if I make the reporter laugh).
  • After reading an article about USF's outsourcing some security operations Wednesday, I was very alarmed but had my long teaching day, so didn't get a chance to respond until late Wednesday night... the column was printed Friday. (Of the two grammatical errors I spotted, one was my fault, while the other was introduced by the student editors. No, you don't hear from me which was which: I'm responsible for it all.)
  • On Thursday, driving my son to his martial-arts class, driving my daughter to a "college night" at her high school, driving myself to Orlando for the Florida Education Association delegate assembly, and possibly driving myself nuts.
  • Being at the delegate assembly yesterday and today, doing some work simultaneously, talking with a student on the drive home, and spending time with my family this afternoon and evening.

How's your week been?

September 18, 2007

Unable to celebrate tomorrow

Tomorow's my long day this semester, which is darned unfortunately, because otherwise I'd be worshipping the 18th letter of the alphabet for Talk Like a Pirate Day (song) (lyrics). I'm sure that there's a good education policy joke in there somewhere, but it's too late for my brain to figure it out.

September 16, 2007

Of promotions and cranberry wine

I just finished the draft of my promotion-packet narratives. The whole thing is due at the end of the month, and apart from proofreading, there are other tasks to complete:

  • Collect information on journals and my books' publishers for my chair
  • Collect and confirm grant information
  • Check for consistency between tenure packet and cv
  • Create a checklist for documentation (Yes, faculty up for tenure or promotion need to provide documentation. Loads of it.)
  • Decide what documentation is hard-copy and what is electronic (I'm tempted to just put copies of my book and coedited volumes, together with a vitae, and put everything else in my Blackboard collection, both as a statement of what's important and also so people don't have to sit in their office to read my materials. But I suspect people generally want to read things in hard copy, so I need to guess what they'll want access to in paper.)

This is only the list for my promotion materials. You don't want to see my full, metastasizing to-do list.  Really you don't. And I think before trying anything else on that to-do list, I'll have a glass of the scandalously-consumer cranberry wine I bought last night.

September 2, 2007

Work dross

There is something about spending six hours in a chain cafe on Sunday that is either gold or dross. In the last year, I have occasionally knocked out loads of work when leaving my family alone to relax (I hope!) while I work. Today has been humbling in terms of the lack of concrete accomplishments on my to-do list.

That isn't to say I haven't been working. I've helped an EPAA contributor submit a manuscript, answered student questions, collected reviewer comments for several manuscripts, reviewed those manuscripts to prepare disposition letters, and worked on my promotion portfolio. I suspect I've done a bunch of other things as well, but there's nothing I can really point to and say, "Ha! See what I've done!" [Competing metaphor about partially-weeded plots deleted here to avoid the barbs of my favorite Scathing Online Schoolmarm.]

Fortunately, I can put such days in perspective, especially when I've had a succession of them as I have in the last week. I may get nothing at the end of today but the lump of impurities that has slowly coagulated since 9 am, but I'll get something later.

For those in the U.S., please accept my wishes for a great Labor Day. I won't be blogging tomorrow, at least here.

August 30, 2007

One of those days

The bear is currently chewing on me.

Extra credit for the correct identification of the folk reference (no, it's not dirty).

August 28, 2007

Today's priorities

On the agenda today: working on my promotion packet and on Education Policy Analysis Archives.

August 24, 2007

A Full Life

The details for the last 24 hours:

5:20 a.m., alarm clock
5:30 a.m., get into shower
6:00 a.m., wrangle son into car to get to bus
6:10 a.m., bus picks son up
6:11 a.m., head to early-morning cafe to work on simulated case for undergraduate class I'm not teaching (something a group of us have worked on over the past few weeks)
7:15 a.m., send draft of case to key person who then distributes to the faculty group
7:17 a.m., receive phone call from spouse. Chat for a few minutes
7:19 a.m., start work on the general-education recertification of the course mentioned above. This includes finishing the answers to various questions such as How are we to trust that you're actually going to do what you say you are? (phrased more politely and specifically) as well as creating a revised syllabus.
Intermittently read a few e-mails and decide whether they're urgent, not urgent, or distractions when my concentration wanes on the other stuff.
12:40 p.m., finish the draft of the gen-ed recertification answers and revised syllabus and distribute to colleague group e-mail
12:44 p.m., ask cafe staff for an empty coffee cup, cup lid, and cup jacket.
12:45 p.m., leave cafe, head to health-food store for lunch supples
1:00 p.m., get home and eat lunch, read paper, call tech support line for something I received in the mail yesterday.
1:20 p.m., get back on computer, make final decisions on whom to invite to the Education Policy Analysis Archives' new-scholar board and send e-mail invitations and regrets to all applicants.
2:15 p.m., start drafting e-mails to the editorial board summarizing the process and identifying the new-scholar board invitees
2:30 p.m., swear vigorously, realizing I have to stop and pick up my daughter
2:50 p.m., arrive at daughter's school, having remembered to take the back way in to avoid major traffic, park in the faculty parking lot, and get to the front door before the flood of adolescents washes over the sidewalk.
3:06 p.m., my daughter exits the school, and we head to her violin teacher's house
3:34 p.m., a kind neighbor of the teacher tells me the code to get into the subdivision's gate
3:38 p.m., realize that without a map, relying on dead reckoning and a several-months'-old memory of where the teacher lived, we're at least a few blocks beyond the teacher's street; hand cell phone to daughter to call her teacher. Daughter leaves message
3:39 p.m., realize where the teacher's street is, after all
3:41 p.m., find the house
3:45 p.m., open laptop clamshell and realize that without wifi, I can't send out an e-mail. Switch to editing syllabus of masters' level course.
4:35 p.m., leave violin teacher's house.
5:05 p.m., arrive home. Leave laptop in car trunk hoping to find a cafe after the next event. Have dinner. Bring in mail and realize that the Santa Cruz Comic News is in it.
5:25 p.m., wife and son arrives. Son writes down list of classes and teachers.
5:35 p.m., leave house for son's middle school with list in hand and laptop in trunk of car.
6:05 p.m., get to middle school, start open house rounds.
8:20 p.m., finish open house rounds. Head directly home instead of to cafe for a few reasons. Receive phone call from fellow union activist about a fairly urgent matter.
8:40 p.m., get home. Start cleaning kitchen and some other household tasks.
9:40 p.m., spouse and daughter gets home from self-defense weapons class. Debrief spouse on middle-school open house.  Talk with daughter.
11:30 p.m., handle a few other e-mails. Finally open laptop again.
11:40 p.m., reboot computer, as it's having a rough day when I didn't pay enough attention to it.
12:25 a.m., finally finish e-mail to EPAA editorial board about new-scholar-board decisions.

Still undone:

  • Presentation for talk to grad-student workshop tomorrow on academic integrity
  • Completed syllabi for all courses
  • Find 5 more objects for the undergraduate course's first-week activity.
  • Do more work on Education Policy Analysis Archives, including both getting the next article into shape and also addressing some long-term needs.
  • Writing a piece for the union newsletter on intellectual property and online courses.
  • Lots of other things that I can't remember at the moment.

The day reboots in a little over 4-1/2 hours. Time to sleep, if you'll pardon me.

August 19, 2007

On working when sick

I'm a fairly healthy adult, on the whole, and lucky to be so. Apart from whatever genetic proclivities I inherited from my parents and the tendency to be too sedentary when work piles up, I'm not sick too often, have reasonable control over my faculties, and consider myself temporarily able-bodied, with some luck staying that way for a few more decades. So when I get the occasional cold, I consider it a temporary delay in whatever needs doing.

What I find frustrating this weekend is the drained feeling I've had a few times each day, exhaustion that has no accompanying congestion or fever. Part of the exhaustion is from headache, I know. I don't (yet) have the painful headache I had each of the prior two days, but I'm having to rest after each activity and pace myself carefully. So I shopped, and then I had to rest without having to concentrate on anything. (Sorry, my dear spouse, for not thinking coherently about the family calendar then!) I've finished one chunk of writing right now, but I need to pause before attacking the second (of three "chunks" I should finish today).

Once again, my spouse provides the right perspective: how can a union activist complain about needing down time? Got me there. So I'll sit here and rest a bit before starting the next chunk of work. You may even get another (blathering) bit of blogging.

August 16, 2007

The Library of Congress has webcast notices by feed

The Library of Congress webcasts looks like an amazing collection of lectures available through RealPlayer, and the announcements on the relevant pages are now fed through rss. I wish that LOC had automated the system so that they would be podcasted, but I suppose you can't have everything.

August 7, 2007

Florida no longer has the silliest school calendar

As the Dayton Daily News observes,  Believe it or not, school's back in... in Ohio. Thanks to a state law, Florida public schools cannot open earlier than two weeks before Labor Day, a move to forestall the nutty shoving of the school calendar further back into the Sweaty Season to eke out a few more weeks before Testing Season. There are some problems with this limit, but it's preferable to starting August 3 or 4.

Dayton schools are starting in the middle of a heat wave. At least in Florida one could say that it doesn't make a practical difference whether the two extra weeks of school are in early June or early August, because the schools will still have to pay for air conditioning. But in Ohio???

Update: I have to remember not to blog at 1:30 in the morning any more... had to fix two typos in the heading.

August 6, 2007

A double-dare for Eminem and 50 Cent

From Confessions of a Community College Dean:

Word you never hear in rap: azalea.

For extra credit: put orange at the end of a rhymed line without using door hinge.

July 24, 2007

Appointment snafus

The first problem with the morning, my putting one appointment down for 9 am instead of 10, is entirely my problem, but I've had to cancel a 10:30 meeting in another part of town for it. Not fatal, just mortifying.

The second problem is about an afternoon meeting and a conflict between the legitimate need for auditable trails for soft-money people, on the one hand, and the legitimate rights of a union for a particular issue. I know how it's going to be resolved (there's only one way to resolve it that I can tell), but there are going to be a few raw feelings I'll have to smooth over.

Since I have a few minutes thanks to the snafu'd meeting times this morning, I'll try to write a blog entry about ordinary collegial sadism.

July 14, 2007

At work on Saturday

I have a bunch of things to catch up on, mostly with EPAA and teaching, so I'm here at my office.  But don't worry: as a reward for reading my blog, you get a video!

July 12, 2007

Wasted another perfectly good hour...

Other fans of Car Talk will recognize the title phrase that Tom and Ray Magliozzi use at the end of their show, and right now the number one site on a Google search leads to another blogger's noting the dissipation of time. In my case today, I had glorious intentions to spend the whole day on journal editing tasks... until I had two long phone calls. Ai. And an emergency student request that really is an emergency. Double ai.

So I'll have a decaf tall double ai with cream and two blues.

July 10, 2007

Academic joke

In lieu of content today, a joke:

A political science professor, a mass comm professor, and a math professor were watching the news together. "To know the president and just get off like that, scot-free?" asked the political scientist. "I want to be Scooter Libby."

"You got it wrong, Jane," said the mass comm professor. "To get out of jail, be an idiot on television the same day, and get paid a million dollars? I want to be Paris Hilton."

"You both got it wrong," said the mathemetician....

The punchline is left as an exercise for the reader.

July 5, 2007

Free trade doesn't cover this one

The general principle with travel is to leave footprints and take pictures (and memories), so I didn't return with much physical stuff, other than two Anders F. Rönnblom albums, two postcards, one book on international historical perspectives on child labor, and a copy of the Daily Mail to show my children what tabloid papers are really about.

What I regret not discovering until the last morning, and what no free-trade policies will cover, is that there is a flavor of sugarless gum that exists only in Europe: salty licorice. It's wonderful. It also doesn't exist in the U.S. (though some may remember Black Jack quite-sugary licorice gum). Here is the polite and useless e-mail I received back from a Wrigley's representative:

Unfortunately, Extra Salty Licorice is not available in the U.S. Frequently we tailor specific products to local consumer demands and desires and therefore not all of our brands are available globally.

Currently, we do not sell any international brands directly to our U.S. consumers. The only suggestion we can offer is that perhaps you can make arrangements with your friends abroad to send you a box or two of Extra Gum.


I know: I haven't blogged in substance about the Supreme Court decisions last week. I'm still catching up on work...

July 4, 2007

Norrköping trip photos, set 2

More photos from the Norrköping trip, just from the last evening in Copenhagen. I was exhausted by the end, but you should be able to identify the photographs related to my research. (I'll highlight it in another entry in a few days.)

Panoramic photograph of Kongens Nyrtorv (or King's New) Square at sunset after the jump...

Copenhagen Kongens Nyrtorv square panorama
(Full image available on clicking.)

This panorama includes four constituent photographs. Can anyone spot the obvious stitching error?

July 2, 2007

Norrköping trip photos, set 1

You can now see photos of the trip to and the environment of the conference. I'm doing my best to stay up a few hours longer so I can get the pain of jet lag out of the way by tomorrow morning. So while I have loads to catch up on, a little travelogue:

June 26: Tampa-Atlanta-Copenhagen flights. Overnight flights to Europe are not designed to be fun. I anticipated getting little sleep, so at least I wasn't disappointed by the occasional and incomplete napping. Zonked in Copenhagen, shocked to discover something in the airport that's in the photo album linked above, frustrated that there was no Swedish train-line agent there to see if my ticket for the 12:44 train could be changed to the 10:44 train that I might have been able to make, disoriented when my train was canceled but I had to luck into finding out the way we're supposed to handle it (hop a commuter train unpaid to Malmo and get the ticket reservation changed there, in Sweden), and relieved to get the train reservation changed in Malmo, where I found a quaint and very pleasant coffeehouse.

But my adventure wasn't over: heavy rains had warped or otherwise damaged tracks over a small stretch, so everyone had to get off the train and onto buses. I was probably the only passenger happy with the detour: As Bengt Sandin confirmed, tourists often pay high prices for precisely the rural-Sweden bus tour I got without any extra charge. I had a dermatologist sitting next to me, and we talked about how our 15-year-olds are environmentally conscious. This was either foreshadowing for something the hotel did (show Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth over and over again on one of the movie channels) or just a common concern. In any case, I finally arrived at the hotel late at night, a little before sunset. I met some colleagues on the deserted main street at 10 pm (2200) and discovered the dearth of nightlife. Ah, well.

On the whole, the conference was quite good, in part because organizers had arranged for an online upload, so we could read a bunch of papers before the conference. There were several I discovered I hadn't but wanted to download after the conference. The repository is a nice feature that many conferences are now using. I heard 2 of the three plenary sessions, and they were linked thematically, though without any conspiracy. Kriste Lindenmeyer argued that Americans haven't shown the capacity to understand and cope with dependency as a concept, and Linda Gordon argued that the innocent child rhetoric has been damaging to children's interests when applied to public policy. Both are firmly rooted in historiography in the U.S., but Gordon's message is the one that I suspect is hardest to swallow, in part because of the deep roots of "child saving" and other patronizing reform movements.

One of the very nicest experiences was a conversation I had with one of the other presenters after his session and a Major Scholar whom I knew strongly disagreed with the presenter's perspective. The Major Scholar didn't try to browbeat but just asked factual "how did this happen?" and "what happened to this?" questions, listening intently, finally asking a few questions designed to prod the author to rethinking a basic perspective. I don't know if the author picked up on the clues, but it was one of the gentlest acts of intellectual criticism by a peer I've seen in years. For those who encounter intellectual sadists, there are better ways and better colleagues.

The return trip by train was much smoother, and I had enough time to visit the center of Copenhagen, having dinner and then walking briskly as far as I could in the 3 hours before sunset. Those photos aren't up yet, and I'll have a bit more to say, because a few are directly connected to one of my areas of research. All I will say is that I saw plenty of cows, white hats, and European architecture, and I ate well. It was good.

When I returned to the hotel, I heard about the Glasgow car bombing attempt. I also saw the short clip of new British PM Gordon Brown talking to camera from a hallway in 10 Downing Street. Definitely not the glitz of Tony Blair, but I suspect the British public will welcome Brown not as the dour Scot but as the sensible Scottish PM. It doesn't hurt the impression I received of him that he has a history Ph.D.

The plane flight back yesterday: Copenhagen-Paris (Charles de Gaulle)-Atlanta-Tampa. Charles de Gaulle is a horribly confusing airport, and I'm one who takes O'Hare, Atlanta, and Dallas-Ft. Worth in stride. I made the plane without fuss, but I saw the panic in other passenger's eyes. Air France is definitely a different airline. Delta flight attendants on the way over announced that passengers over 21 could have one complementary (alcoholic) beverage with dinner.  Air France was willing to give you a glass of wine whenever. (I had two glasses of red wine in the 9 hour flight.  Gasp. Horrors!)

I returned with photos, one scholarly book, two Swedish folk-rock albums, two postcards, and two newspapers (an edition each of the International Herald-Tribune and the Daily Mail). I have a few dozen e-mails and a bunch of tasks to organize, and it's back into the fray.

Photos coming

Unlike profgrrrrl, I don't yet have photos of my trip to the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth meeting online. My bags didn't make the transfer in Atlanta, and my digital camera (and its memory card) were in one of them. And I'm a touch jet-lagged after a 23-hour day, though going west is much easier than going east. (And after talking to some Australian colleagues, I will never complain about that again. I'll just be disoriented, quietly, without a word of complaint. This isn't a complaint, just a touch of loopiness and exhaustion.) But there will be photos.

My last evening was in Copenhagen, and while there I saw hordes of young men and women literally whooping it up in the streets, yelling at passers-by from what looked like produce trucks, and climbing statuary in a public square. This public celebration is intimately connected to one of my research areas, and anyone who grew up in Europe will know instantly what I'm talking about, but I have to get my photos online before I can blog about it in detail.

Loads of things to catch up on at home (teaching, some writing that's overdue, union stuff, etc.), and I'll start that today in bits and pieces. I'm glad I took the college iPod and the portable iPod mic with me, so I could say a few things when class-related subjects came up from the trip: the tacit knowledge I lacked when one of my trains was canceled, my embarrassment in Europe at being essentially monolingual, the youth celebrations mentioned above, and a few other matters.

June 16, 2007

This blog is now a podcast

You can now subscribe to this blog as a podcast. Just click on the picture Link to Podcast (RSS feed) for Sherman Dorn or save the URL and paste in your favorite podcast aggregator (you can also click on this handy iTunes one-click link). The podcast uses text-to-speech technology, so you don't get my voice, but it has decent production values given the fact that I'll put no more effort into it. There are also no ads in the podcast. I tried both Talkr and Odiogo and chose the program that didn't pronounce sign as sig-nn. (Unfortunately, many of the Talkr feeds already available only have the teaser text translated into speech.)

June 15, 2007

Off to Arizona

My son is going with his grandmother for an Elderhostel trip along the Colorado River next week, so I'm chaperoning him to Phoenix today, spending the weekend with family, and then flying back. I have an article to finish preparing, some other stuff, and who knows what else. I'm exhausted from trying to combine a week of union conferences and my other obligations, so I may sleep on the plane.

June 2, 2007

Bankrupt my pants and tags, NCLB news, and old-fashioned American ambivalence

One of my English friends created a not-quite-acronym in spring 2006 that adequately describes the phenomenon of having been too busy to read one's blog roll, a translation from

been away, not catching up on the flist [friends' list, one's blogroll on Livejournal], point me at it if there's anything you need me to see



which he noted reads disturbingly like 'bankrupt my pants.' So in answer to Mike Antonucci's question of where has all the blogging gone, our collective pants are officially bankrupt. I still need to write about the 2006 scoring errors in the FCAT, a story that continues to unfold, but I have a number of other priorities. Or I've Been Away, Not Catching Up on the News Blogging until My Important Tasks Are Gone, Sorry. The acronym of that is BANCUNBUMITAGS, which I am reading loosely as bankrupt my tags.

I'm currently in ChainCafe, trying to finish a conference paper due Monday, after Tropical Storm Barry swept through Tampa. I also have journal editing to do, teaching stuff, union stuff, not to mention trying to spend time with my family. My tags are clearly bankrupt. I hope yours still have some credit.

In the meantime, here is a quick analysis of the story bandied about regarding one story that the majority of Americans would like changes to or the repeal of No Child Left Behind. Eduwonk correctly points out that "change" is fairly nonspecific. As I've pointed out before, polling over the past few years consistently shows deep ambivalence about who is responsible for addressing educational inequality and achievement. Depending on the wording of the question, you can conclude that the public thinks families are far more responsible for failures of achievement than schools, or the other way around. I'll admit that my reading is idiosyncratic: another explanation is that Americans are fairly clear on what they think and the wording is the issue. I think that puts a little more weight on question wording than is warranted, but your mileage may differ.

May 26, 2007

Excel zen

I'm a fan of Edward Tufte in terms of information design, even if he did clash with Jakob Nielsen in an OK/Cancel superhero spoof of HCI gurus. Every year or so I dip into the website to see if there's more stuff I need to learn. Tufte hates PowerPoint and Excel with a passion, though many of us don't have the time to climb the learning curve of alternative programs.

But to the point: if you work with Excel, check out Juice Analytics' wonderful writings about improving charts. I don't have time to work with them at the moment (too busy with other items this week), but I will create beauty using these tools someday.

May 19, 2007

I hate discomfort's side effects

Mild venting here: I have some moderate lower-back pain today. Yes, I've done the back exercises you're supposed to do (do not lie down with ordinary muscle-related back pain if you can avoid it), and I'm sure it will go away in a day.

But one consequence is that I have just a touch less energy and a lot less capacity to concentrate... just in time for my son's sleepover birthday party tonight. So if you read some blog entries and wonder why I'm blogging instead of completing other work tasks... well, some things take more concentration than others. The discomfort's mild in terms of pain. The mental costs are much greater.

Incidents such as this always makes me appreciate every pain-free day I ever have (which fortunately is most of them, at this point in my life).

May 7, 2007

From the jury room

Your Verdict is nothing, you play upon the Court; I say you shall go together, and bring in another Verdict, or you shall starve; and I will have you carted about the City, as in Edward the third's time.

The new state courthouse in downtown Tampa has a much better jury waiting room than the old courthouse with an old creaky-seat auditorium. In the new courthouse, we have comfortable seating in a large room, pleasant lighting, water and comestibles around the corner, and wifi. So while I wait to see if I'm in a jury pool for a trial, I can do a little bit of work, online even.

Thus far, we've only had two pools pulled. The first was for 22 people, and the bailiff asked for volunteers who might be able to come back every day for two weeks. (I couldn't do it because my summer term starts next week.) When he got his last volunteer, everyone applauded. The next pool had 36. It's now almost noon, and I suspect this is just a slow day for jury trials, or maybe on Monday the majority of pools don't get pulled until the afternoon.

I don't anticipate either an unpleasant time or being starved or imprisoned for anything I may do as a juror. All I give is my time. And for that, thank you, Edward Bushel. (The quotation above is from the trial of William Penn in 1870.)

Update 1: Some possible unpleasantness in the afternoon avoided: some wanted the television on, others (including me) didn't. Fortunately, the room clerk figured out how to put the sound on very quietly at one end, close to the TV that was on.  Peace lasted for a few minutes. Then, suddenly, one my fellow maybe-jurors-in-waiting started semi-tunelessly singing "76 Trombones" from The Music Man, oblivious that we could hear him. Those of us around him just smiled at each other. We think he's allowed. 2:45 p.m. and I'm still not on a jury pool.  Looking good for a clear week...

Update 2: 4:21 pm, and I suspect that the clerks running the room are waiting for a single judge to decide whether to call for one more pool today or wait until tomorrow. As with attorneys and the parties, we all wait upon the judge. Update to the update: waiting on three judges, according to a clerk.

Update 3: We were finally released at 6:04. Whew!

April 29, 2007

Working without glasses

I left my pair of reading glasses at a recital Thursday night and wasn't able to find it Friday morning when I returned to the hall.  So I've been without my reading glasses over the weekend. My eyesight isn't that bad, mild farsightedness. But I can't just read and compute for hours the same way I can with my glasses.

Tomorrow morning I need to make one last attempt to find my glasses at the recital hall or in one of the various lost-and-found places on campus. Barring that, it'll be time to shell out more money than I'd like to an eyeglass shop.

April 22, 2007

Travel whiplash

I was back home last night after another quick overnight trip, this time to Orlando to interview candidates for the United Faculty of Florida executive director position. That's the fourth overnight trip this month. As you can probably imagine, everything else is happening by sheer force of will right now, and I'm glad that I'm experienced enough now to balance things so that the stuff stays reasonably up in the air even though I haven't had a day to myself (i.e., a day to just work on things without classes, meetings, trips, or other obligations) since March. We're driving up to visit my (very nice) mother-in-law today, so today doesn't do it, either.

Does someone have a spare two or three days they can loan me? I haven't found any on eBay.

April 15, 2007

April 10, 2007

Off to Chicago today

This evening I board a plane for my one-day AERA adventure. My panel: "Semi-semiotic pandering pondering to laborious Laborite Labradors wanting wandering to two serious series of off quadrilateral extensions of path-codeficient metalinguistic metallurgical discourses of No Child Left Behind."


Not only wasn't that panel accepted, I didn't even propose it. But I'm goin' anyway. Shameless plug: Book signing tomorrow at noon at the Information Age Publishing exhibit (I forget the booth numbers).

April 5, 2007

Trip to Atlanta, but no pictures

I had a great time yesterday in Atlanta: talked at Emory, visited Morehouse College, spoke with a bunch of exciting graduate students in different disciplines.  I'm going to be paying for it in the next few days in exhaustion, and my throat's already telling me I should expect a head cold soon, but it was very nice.

Unusual surprise of the trip: I stayed at the house of friends who live almost directly in the line that runs between the Clarkston, Georgia, field that the boys' soccer team known as the Fugees (named for the members who are all refugees from other countries) had been kicked off and the elementary school where they now practice (see NYT and NPR stories). The fields are only a few hundred yards apart.  No, I didn't have time to take pictures of the two fields.  Darn!

April 3, 2007

Book geography thanks to Google

Google Books now has an interesting feature: in one page, you can find all the places mentioned in a book displayed on a map.  I just discovered it for Education Reform in Florida.

April 2, 2007

Notes from the underground academic

Tidbits from the last few days:

  • I've been so busy with various things that I forgot to note that two days after Accountability Frankenstein appeared on my doorstep, Education Reform in Florida appeared at my office. Two books in three days: not bad.
  • Tomorrow I head to Atlanta and a talk Wednesday at Emory. Gotta finish the PPT slides and transfer to a thumb drive! (Going to go security-blanket-less... I mean, travel without my laptop.)
  • I got jury service postponed, so I'm going to AERA... for one day.  Yikes!  Wednesday at noon I'll be at the Information Age Publishing exhibit (booths 508 & 510). Two one-day trips in two weeks.  Definitely the way to punish my body, but longer would be punishing my family.
  • Some positive stuff in my program area (curriculum-wise) is just over the horizon, a good thing.
  • I picked up business cards for the journal and hope that they can appear before AERA in the mailboxes of the editorial-board members who sent me their addresses. (There were two other business-card orders, too, one for Accountability Frankenstein and the other for the hat I now wear as faculty union chapter president. But it was the EPAA/AAPE card order that was urgent.)
  • My daughter appreciated the unit-circle explanation of sine and cosine tonight (which I always thought made more sense than the opposite-/adjacent-leg definition).
  • My son and daughter each had public music performance opportunities this weekend.
  • Second day of being chapter president, and I drafted a more serious agenda.  And I prepared the last of the materials for the new chapter treasurer. We need to get her on the signature card for the account, something that I've given myself a good incentive for: I have some receipts, but I didn't make the check out myself. So I only get reimbursed when I get the transfer done successfully. Agendas, getting rid of old responsibilities... as long as there are no politics involved, my time in office will be a complete success!  Oh, darn, ...
  • And I even cleaned my office a tiny bit.  My desk is now in organized piles of junk instead of disorganized piles.  (The disorganized piles have migrated elsewhere in the office.)

April 1, 2007

E-mail early April 1, 2007


The following is a draft agenda for the April 6 chapter meeting. Please let me know if there are things that need to be added and deleted. Please also remember that this is my initials agenda, and as the saying goes, "Any president really is like falling off open lake systems."


  1. Approval of agenda
  2. Bargaining update
  3. Getting some union thugs for Sherman
  4. Next year's chapter priorities
  5. Completely irresponsible statements go here
  6. Other reports
    1. Grievances
    2. Gripes
    3. Communications
    4. Miscommunications
    5. Excommunications
    6. Treasurer
    7. Waste
    8. Membership
    9. Committee for the Reform of the Task Force to Restructure Committees
  7. Other business
  8. Funny business
  9. For the good of the order

March 18, 2007

Quantum scheduling

If last week was the interrupted-work week, the next few weeks is the quantum-scheduling period of the semester. I still have a jury summons for April, a matter that is always uncertain until the facts are observed (i.e., whether I'm on a jury, or if I ask for a postponement, whether I receive one). And right now, I may or may not be in Tallahassee Wednesday, the same day that a candidate with great credentials is coming to campus for a search I've participated in. (Never mind that any candidate coming to campus for a search I'm participating in will have great credentials. Got that, right?)

Apart from my guilt over not knowing if I'll be able to meet the candidate for various events (including seeing the research presentation), I want to meet candidates.  If the search process works well, it's a great opportunity to meet scholars from other parts of the country or world.

So, apart from my frustrations with the quantum scheduling bit, I hate missing the chance to meet people.  Ah, well. This month is definitely the time to reread a bit of Chuang Tze to laugh at the vagaries of life. (Incidentally, is that spelling still the accepted version of his name these days?)

March 13, 2007

One of those days when the walrus stomps on your toe while reading sonnets...

In several ways, the day has been quite good, from discovering that the way a friend and I had thought of poking around the back of Richard Ingersoll's work is quite interesting in the results to completing several critical errands.

Then there are the other things, from driving 50 miles in city traffic starting at noon to not getting ahold of the person from whom I ordered my son's oboe reeds about 2 weeks ago (and they're still not here) to not finishing another task I had intended to or getting a step along the way of a weeklong task to ... well... let's put it this way:

I just got a jury summons for the day I had planned to be in Chicago for the annual meeting of AERA.

I could ask my department to declare me essential to get me out of jury duty, but I'm not teaching that day, and AERA rejected the session proposal I had submitted last summer. I don't want to waste my "get out of jury duty" karma on this. And I wouldn't find out whether I was excused until too late to change plans. So sheesh. I knew I had a travel curse this semester (having to give up two potential leisure trips already and another quasi-business trip rescheduled), but this is getting ridiculous.

March 9, 2007

Caution: Life changes ahead

This weekend is the beginning of my spring break, and a colleague and I were joking about how we're so well-socialized that we think of break as an opportunity to clear some of the work backlog. Yes, I'll also relax.

I can't quite announce something officially yet (no, it's not a job switch, exactly), but there was something decided today that will be changing some aspects of my life in the next year (and possibly beyond).  I'll write about it when it's official.

One of our zebra finches died overnight from an intestinal blockage. Carl was a young bird who was cheerful and adventurous. We're going to miss him.  We have two others, and they've spent the day ripping up newspaper to stuff in a food dish.  Silly things.

March 7, 2007

Dear stranger grad student

Yes, dear grad student at another institution, I have received your e-mails imploring me to participate in your online survey of faculty's interest in splotnik and splotnik needs, but I don't wish to participate. I'm offended that you've spammed me for research purposes, and I hope your advisor is asking how you are selecting targets, since response rates and response characteristics affect the trustworthiness of data.

March 3, 2007

Why I am a history-education half-breed

The last of my Michael-Katz-student bloggish discussions, on my being a history-education half-breed and other matters of scholarly parochialism, is over at Education Policy Blog.

March 2, 2007

50 and counting

It's been a longish week. Starting Sunday, I've worked 50 hours, not including union-related time (and given that there was a campus crisis, that absorbed a few hours, too). At least 12 hours of that has been catchup on the backroom operations of Education Policy Analysis Archives (and I'm still not caught up, by any means).

Note to anyone who think I'm asking for pity or plaudits: Except for the campus crisis that I'm not counting here, most of this has been enjoyable. And by no means am I the hardest-working member of my department, let alone my college or university. I just occasionally log hours in a week to see if my sense of time is consistent with reality. And my sense of this week is that it's been a long week, if not the week when I've spent the most time working.

February 16, 2007

Hot cocoa

We're expecting an Arctic mass coming through the Gulf and to Florida overnight, so it might be freezing overnight, but right now it's a Florida-freezing but everywhere-else-toasty 50 F. In sympathy with everyone who's reading this from snow country, and because I have a head cold while trying to ignore my e-mail and finish a manuscript today, it's time to fill our covered mug with the type of cocoa that can be justified as Good for You:

  • 2 heaping T. cocoa
  • 3 T. milk powder (mine is nonfat)
  • sweeteners to taste (none for me this morning)
  • a healthy sprinkling of chipotle chili powder

Yes, it should be chipotle, if you want a liquid version of Moonstruck Chocolate's ocumarian truffle.  Trust me on this.  The key to making cocoa with dried milk powder is to add just enough hot water at first to make a smooth paste.  Get all the lumps out in the paste stage. Then add enough water to fill the regular-sized mug.

February 1, 2007

In B'ham

Back from dinner with a bunch of folks at the conference (which starts in earnest tomorrow). Met someone I'd corresponded with for some months. Will blog more about that shortly. Need to see if I can get one bit of short writing thought out tonight before bed, make sure I know what I'm talking about tomorrow morning (or, more importantly, what I'm not talking about), figure out how to work football into the end of my talk (really!), and then do 100 crunches and go to bed.

Yeah. 100 crunches. Not that it improves my stomach profile!

January 29, 2007

Travel and Blogging

Some folks can blog (or expand their blogging) while traveling. Me? I've just finished my second of three consecutive traveling weekends: one for an academic conference, one for the faculty union, and one for family. There are things happening during the travel that I'll blog in the near future (as well as the usual attractions to blogging), but for now I'm catching up on all the things I didn't do while traveling.

The main difference between now and work stress two years ago is that I have a few more coping/prioritizing skills. Unfortunately, gaining more experience does not expand the day, and extensive blogging will go by the wayside.

January 17, 2007

Shoe blogging

I won't blog about the video ipods that the dean helped distribute today for the faculty who are participating in the podcasting program for the college, except to say that I'll figure out how to use the Belkin TuneTalk to record spontaneous material for podcasting, and I managed to get a decent acrylic cover for the thing before I scratched the screen deeply. Whew! (I watched one of John Merrow's NewsHour segments while waiting for something this afternoon, so it really is a professional tool, or at least I'll use it for that most of the time.)

So what will I blog about?

I'm one of six faculty in my program area who are banding together to produce a series of podcasts for the mega-multi-section undergraduate class, so that students get more than one faculty member's perspective on the major assignment for the course and to tie together the different sections together. In some ways, I suppose we're using the podcasting project to guest teach in a virtual sense, so we don't have to schedule going to each other's classes. For the all important transitional music clips (from ccMixter), my colleagues preferred the 19th century Spanish composer's piano piece to the techno-Goth selection I preferred (or at least am guessing the students would prefer). But thanks to a sound booth in the college and the Audacity program, we have three podcasts in the can, one up already, and we'll continue rolling. (We're doing short podcasts, less than 5 minutes apiece, but they have scripts so students with hearing impairments or who have dial-up connections still have easy access to the content.)

Finally, to the shoes. No, not yet: I'm still working on the next article for Education Policy Analysis Archives. In many ways, I'm now paying the price of having worked furiously on the book manuscript (revision) over break. The article should be mostly prepared sometime tomorrow morning or early afternoon.

Now to the shoes. Oh, wait: I had to go buy a printer cartridge for our home computer, because the old one had died out, having saved the youngest child from the raging stream behind the house. Wait a second. Maybe that's from another story, because the dead printer cartridge's name isn't Farley.

In any case, after all of that, I realized that just a few painful steps' walk away from the Chain Office Supply Store (where I had just purchased the replacement for Farley the Printer Cartridge—we'll call the new toner cartridge Farley II), there was a Chain Shoe Store sandwiched between two Chain Clothing-though-I-wouldn't-let-my-daughter-wear-any Stores,* and my old work shoes have now been so late for a resoling (if they can be resoled) that my right heel is on a first-name basis with the sidewalk. So I figured, "I'm so glad I went for the dorky socks-with-sandals look tonight!" and walked right in (to the shoe store, not the clothing-though-I-wouldn't-let-my-daughter-wear-any stores).

So here we get to the shoe-shopper's version of The Divine Comedy. You see, I tried on more than 20 pairs of shoes. Before we go further, I should note that I am one of those people who walk into a store, grab four pairs of identical trousers, try one on to make sure it fits, and walk out with the purchase in 10.32 seconds. I'm not finicky, and what's more, I don't like shopping. But shoes are a serious matter, especially when I am on my feet for several hours on teaching days this semester.

How does it feel to try on 20 pairs of shoes when you'd rather the first one do? That's Inferno. About halfway through the trying-on-shoes stage, I found one that I thought worked (hallelujah!) until I realized that an instep was hurting when I walked. 'nuff said, I assume.

Finally, after the 63rd pair of shoes, I discovered one that worked. Finally! At least until I needed to buy shoes again. That's purgatory.

Fortunately, I took a step that I don't usually take when shopping for shoes: I looked at the shelf where my pair came from and noticed another box with the same shoe size. After a quick check, yes! they were the same model and size, and my feet liked both. So we are now a happy contractual family from one of those Heinleinesque SF novels, where you shack up with multiple pairs of shoes. I don't now what the shoes think of this, but I need to find them a chaplain, even though we're nonobservant. I knew two on USF's campus, and they just have the skills to address our needs.

Why clergy when I'm agnostic/nonbservant? Maybe it's a traditionalism. But I think we're doing right here, for one important reason: Shoes have soles.**

* - The Clothing-though-I-wouldn't-let-my-daughter-wear-any Stores were not negligee stories, incidentally. I just saw mannequins in the store window wearing gold lamé. That's enough for me, as a parent!

** - 2 points if you recognize the television show, the episode, and the character who says that line, 1 point if you can guess 2 of the 3.

January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr., birthday

Here are some things you could do to use today for a day on, not a day off:

  • Check out the MLK Day of Service website
  • Join the NAACP, American GI Forum, or another organization that works on behalf of equal rights
  • Donate to the United Negro College Fund or other scholarship organizations
  • Donate to your local legal-services organization
  • Schedule time to do something for your community, block it out on your calendar, and say no to other commitments during that time
  • Talk with your neighbors about how to make your community a more humane, welcoming place

Anyone want to add other ideas?

January 10, 2007

Harvard's presidency

As I've said before, I don't think higher ed discussions should revolve around Harvard, but I happen to know one of the apparent finalists for the top spot, and I know that this person would be absolutely fantastic and exactly what the institution needs.

(If you know a few things about me and the other person, you could probably piece it together, but this is more of an observation than a campaign, which wouldn't work anyway, so I'll have to wait to see if the person gets the job.)

January 9, 2007

The week's menu for Sherman Dorn

My week's to-do list (PDF image file) is full. It's the first day for my classes. One done, one to go. It's chugging-along time for me...

Missing from the to-do list: the blogging topics I noted yesterday and now the end of Michael Bérubé's blog.

January 5, 2007

Situational attention deficit

In the last day, I've had the worst problems concentrating on any task for more than about 10 minutes at a time. Part may be a bit of a cold: I have the standard slight bone-weariness I associate with a cold, plus a touch of congestion. Part may be induced by lack of sleep: I wrote into the wee hours on either Tuesday or Wednesday night (I forget which). Part may be idiosyncratic interruptions: this morning I stopped by a rental car agency to switch my rental (while I'm waiting for collision repairs to my car after last month's hit-and-run rear-ender: don't worry, I'm fine, as is my son, and that's the important thing), and then I was called to a meeting on a regional campus once I got to my office (the reinstatement of an expected meeting that had been moved, since it was moved back).

I suspect the larger picture is that I spent a good part of the winter break revising a book manuscript, and my brain is just depleted of extended concentration stamina. I can breeze along fine in a well-known area, but ask me to think in a different way and pow! I'm easily distractible.

So I have my long to-do list and will chug along, switching tasks when I find my attention lagging. I have a bunch of tasks that really do require more than an hour of focus, and so I hope it returns soon.

January 1, 2007

Happy new year!

May your 2007 be peaceful, productive, personally fulfilling, and [adjective of choice here]. For us thus far in Tampa, the adjective of choice is "wet," since it's raining. And in our household, the air is filled with zebra finch song (on Friday, we acquired two companions of our older finch). The adults are up with vegetarian hoppin' John on the stove, but the children are still in bed.

Since I had spent much of the last week frantically finishing the book manuscript revisions, I caught up with my to-do list yesterday, did one side of household finances (paying bills!), and wrote a few thank-you notes to my mother-in-law, who took us to a local bookstore when we visited her recently, and to my mother, who sent the household a DVD of pictures from her and my father's trip to the Galapagos Islands in 1998 and pictures from her and my daughter's trip to Newfoundland in 2005. She also sent us Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld (2003), which is one step above The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew (1969): The Rumsfeld book has some words in it.

Today brings some organizational tasks at home and some relaxation. Tomorrow, Elizabeth has her teacher workday, and then the students (including our 11- and 14-year-old) return Wednesday.

Embarrassing quotation of 2006: "this very ingenious way." But I probably did say it to a reporter working on a Jeb Bush education legacy article.

December 14, 2006

Poking away...

Having a cold is not fun. Having a cold when you're trying to grade papers, revise a book manuscript, keep up with journal editing stuff, and chaffeur children is particularly not fun.  And then having a cold when it's your spouse's birthday?  Yes, of course I'll still pick the younger child up from school.  What part of "spouse's birthday" don't you understand?

In the meantime, I'll be plodding away on small tasks. No brilliant insights for me, today.

December 10, 2006

Why Sherman's not blogging today (excuse note)

Apologies to Pat Cooksey

Dear Readers I will plead with you, don't have a fit of pique.
This blog will start up once again for you to read next week.
My mind is all quite bloodied, and my thoughts a formless mess.
I write this entry 'cause our blogs are here for to confess.

I wish that I could tell you of what befell my work.
But I can't claim bricks or buckets fell, to excuse a day of shirk.
I have a spouse, a preteen son, and a teenage lass.
And I have to keep up with a journal, book, and class.

While grading in my office, exams I have to read.
And while I work with students, there's silence on the feed.
I thought that I would scatter them across the building's stairs.
But someone told me doing that just wasn't very fair.

I opened up a file that a student sent to me.
It had a software virus, and quickly I could see
my hard drive was evaporating, useless to me now.
I had to get the data back; I didn't know quite how.

I walked up to the library, which had computer folk.
I told them what had happened, and they said it was a joke.
They told me not to write this song, they told me I was haughty.
So I went around the corner to get a decaf latté.

So, in other words, the reason why I'm not blogging daily this week is ... Starbucks!

December 5, 2006

Headachey woes

Oh, lovely: first day I've had in several weeks to devote to more in-depth projects (the type that require intense concentration either because of intellectual requirements or sheer mundanity), and I've got a headache. Or, rather, the minor headache I took naproxen for about six hours ago is still with me and growing.  Do I risk another pain-reliever at this point or give up until I can?  I know the intelligent answer: go relax until either the headache disappears or you can take another pain-reliever.  I'm not feeling that smart right now, so I'll just be disciplined and walk away from the computer for an hour or so.

December 2, 2006

Meetings swallow up the week

I had nineteen events on my calendar this week, mostly meetings. I missed two of the events by planning, thanks to a colleague who took my place, and missed two because the aftermath of one meeting ran over the others. As a consequence, I am severely behind in two or three obligations.

And this weekend, my wonderful mother is in town. This is a good thing. It also would complicate the catching-up, except that she lives in California, so she will be here by 8 am... Pacific time. Time to get to that paper draft that's been sitting for several days while I've been in meetings, and then to as many other things as I can.;

November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

This holiday, like so many, is proof that we make our own traditions, even when the historical genealogy isn't as clear as young children are told.

In my household, the pumpkin pie is in the oven, the (homemade) cranberry sauce is in the fridge, the (homegrown) sweetpotatoes are cut up, ready for cooking, and the (homemade) breading is made and reading for turning into stuffing. That's right: this vegetarian household has stuffing even without something to stuff.

Oh, wait: our stomachs.

To my fellow U.S. citizens, a happy Thanksgiving. To everyone else, have a great 4th Thursday in November!

November 16, 2006

... and some days the bear gets you

Anatomy of a latté fix:

  • An AERA symposium proposal on the grad-rate debate was rejected, a session which would have been a discussion with Larry Mishel, Chris Swanson, Rob Warren, and Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej. (I will not identify the division to protect the guilty.)
  • Two local campus-political things are going mildly wonky, but wonky nonetheless.
  • Various appointments and child-care issues swallowed up huge chunks of the week.
  • Work is piling up seriously.
  • Sometimes, a fellow youth athletics parent doesn't show up with necessary equipment. Head coaches can be called out of town suddenly. Too few kids might show up for what we were planning anyway.
  • Paying two minor bills late doesn't hurt the credit rating but doesn't contribute to the week's productivity, either.

Most of these are relatively minor bumps in life, more irritatants than anything—and there are some definitely good things going on—but the irritants are making this stretch of road a bit jangly. Time to find one thing to do for a few hours and do it.

November 15, 2006

You go, profgrrrrl!

Just after I read Michael Bérubé's discursion on blogs as a professorial discourse came profgrrrrl's on being a grrrrl -- blog identity issues, which is as pointed an example of Bérubé's argument as anything else you'll find this month on the 'net.

Incidentally, as a vegetarian I avoid the meaty metaphors used in the Bérubéan analysis of raw and cooked blogs, as in, "Most blogs are somewhere between raw and cooked, perhaps half-cooked or medium rare."  This blog?  It's half-baked.

November 12, 2006

English professors and the biological trope

Is there something in the air this month that compels English professors to seek metaphors in the natural world when describing their discipline? Miriam Burstein calls the squinting modifier a rara avis, and Margaret Soltan says she is looking forward to seeing a movie with an English-professor main character to examine the latest representative of the breed. I know that paperwork tends to reproduce in the darkness unless you firmly take charge of it (proof that de Tocqueville was right and Malthus was wrong when one examines bureaucracy), but this seems, well, the odd end of interdisciplinary work.

Then again, there's the pleasant tome on writing, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, so I could be wrong.

October 31, 2006

Errata week: mundane typo

I'll end Errata Week here on the blog by noting one embarrassing typo in Creating the Dropout (Praeger, 1996):

Changes in the proportion of nineteen-year-olds dependent on relatives cannot account for the drop; a higher proportion was dependent in 1980 (86 percent) than in 1970 or 1980 (80 and 81 percent, respectively). (p. 20)

This is just a boneheaded proofreading mistake.  The first 1980 should be 1990. It's not my usual type of mistake, either; I'm far more likely to mismatch the number of subject and verb than to get a number wrong. (Often, I hasve to edit my blog entries to correct such mistakes, after publicatoion.) But for the thousands of you who were wondering if they were going a bit crazy on p. 20, no, you weren't. 

Oh, you weren't kept awake by my typographical errors?  I hope that by ending on the mundane, I've made a bit of a point about issuing errata as a professional process: it is not so much the typo (though we should be careful with that) as the sloppy interpretation and omission where we are most likely to make errors that last.

Update: One more (embarrassing) typo from a column July 6 on the Spellings Commission: I typed Barmak Nassirian's name as Barnak. My apologies, Mr. Nassirian.

Errata week: Primary-source misinterpretation

Sorry for the gap in writing about my mistakes: I needed access to my office for today's entry. In my dissertation, Creating the Dropout (U. Penn, 1992), I wrote the following in a discussion on the silencing of race in the construction of dropping out in the 1960s:

In 1962, Georgia's Deaprtment of Education cosponsored a conference on high school dropouts whose participants included the state superintendent and several representatives from the Atlanta public schools. According to a newsletter written by a consultant for the Georgia Association for Mental Health and distributed to counselors and other mental health professionals, "We succeeded real well [sic] in blocking off any consideration of Negro dropouts, in the conference." (p. 174)

The original was a memo from Frank A. Smith to Frank McFall, 20 July 1962, p. 4, in the Georgia Archives, record series 12-6-71, box 11, in the "Dropouts 1962-63 Summary" folder. (The minor error was describing the quotation as part of a newsletter.) At the time, I read that sentence as a straightforward racist comment about complicity in silencing racial differences in educational outcomes.

Over the next few years, though, I reconsidered my reading to some extent. Yes, Atlanta counselors and psychologists were tools of segregation when they facilitated pupil-placement regulations, and they were willing to talk openly about differences in graduation by race in private, even though the public policy starting in 1961 was to be completely silent on race. Yet I decided I was wrong in interpreting that passage as a straight racist comment.  In the end, I think, the school staff and other officials realized they were playing a publicity game (and a losing one, in the long term) rather than just boldly trying to suppress information.  It doesn't make the larger picture any better (still public silence about differences in outcomes), but here's what I wrote in the book Creating the Dropout (Praeger, 1996), with the changed text in italics:

In 1962, Georgia's Deaprtment of Education cosponsored a conference on high school dropouts whose participants included the state superintendent and several representatives from the Atlanta public schools. Frank Smith, a consultant for the Georgia Association for Mental Health, wrote Executive Director Frank McFall after the conference, on July 20, 1962. According to Smith, educators could not "much longer refuse to consider the implications of inferior Negro education." Nonetheless, he thought it more important to keep racial inequality out of the discussion: "We succeeded real well [sic] in blocking off any consideration of Negro dropouts, in the conference." (p. 103)

One interpretation is of school and other public officials suppressing any discussion of race and dropping out.  The other interpretation is of school and other public officials aware that the time of silence was going to end in the near future and still recognizing that their job required complicity in silence. Does the change matter? It may be a matter of subtle shading more than broad interpretations, but I was bothered by my earlier description of Frank Smith as a heavy-handed manipulator. He described manipulation of the conference but was well aware of the changing circumstances in the South.

In the end, I think that makes him and others in a like position more culpable.  It is one thing to be complicit in a regime you think is inevitable. It is another thing entirely to be complicit in a regime you know will end at some point.  Do you choose to help end it, or do you help prop it up a few more days or years?

October 28, 2006

Mistakes and big mistakes

I'm taking a break from Errata Week here because it was my nephew T.'s bar mitzvah today, and his Torah portion was Noah, the ark, and a certain extreme weather event. I think that story represents enough mistakes for the day, and I'll continue tomorrow.

October 27, 2006

Errata week: What to do when you can't track down a citation?

Back when I was finishing Creating the Dropout (1996), I had an ethical dilemma.  I knew I wanted to draw on a short reading I had seen in my anthropology of education course (taken at Penn from Michele Foster some years before). The selection I remembered was a wonderful three-page observation of U.S. graduation ceremonies seen through the Nacirema lens (Miner, 1956). (For those who don't know the piece, spell Nacirema backwards.) But the selection in the course packet didn't have the citation information (or maybe I had lost the course packet), and Michele Foster didn't remember it when I contacted her by e-mail. I sent an e-mail out to a few lists, asking for help, but no one had an answer (or at least no one replied other than saying how they were glad others found the Nacirema concept useful).

So what do you do when the academic culture says, "Acknowledge your sources," you know that a particular concept (in this case, the cultural value of rites of passage) came from a source, but you can't find the citation?

I fudged.  I cited Joseph Kett's Rites of Passage (1977) and (I think) another anthropologist who talked about graduation ceremonies.  But there was this debt I hadn't repaid.

Some years later, when I was putting together a satirical piece on high-stakes testing, I searched again and, thanks to the internet, finally found the piece, which had originally appeared in Bock's (1974) cultural anthropology text.  Whew!  Unfortunately, several education journal editors found it entertaining but a bit outside their scope. So I turned it into a photoessay in 2004, Pencil Art of the Nacirema, and cited Bock there.

But that photoessay is tucked away on my personal site, and I haven't called much attention to it. So, while I'm engaged in online errata, it's time to acknowledge the debt here.  Thanks, Professor Bock (professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico).

I've also found two other pieces on Nacirema education, which I've cited below. All are witty and provide a different perspective on modern formal education. (Isn't that what good cultural anthropology does?)


Bock, P. K. (1974). Nacirema initiation ceremonies. In Bock, Modern cultural anthropology: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp. 83-85). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Available on pp. 97-98 of ERIC Document ED 403140.

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58, 503-507.

Muller, J. (1971). Nacireman academies dysfunctional? A rejoinder. American Anthropologist, 73, 267.

Walker, W. (1970). The retention of folk linguistic concepts and the ti’yčir caste in contemporary Nacireman culture. American Anthropologist, 72(1), 102-105.

October 26, 2006

Errata week: acknowledgments omission

Today's entry is the second in a week of acknowledging professional errors I have made. A few weeks ago I was looking at one of my co-edited volumes, Schools as Imagined Communities, and I noticed something about my chapter on special education and communities.

Or, rather, it was what was not there: "This work was partially funded by U.S. Department of Education Award H023N60001. The funding agency is not responsible for errors of fact or interpretation."

Yikes.  It's standard practice to acknowledge grants, and I completely blew it. So to Lou Danielson and every other program officer in the Office of Special Education Programs, please accept my humble and public apology.  I goofed.

October 25, 2006

Errata week: To be read (yet)

I'm declaring the next week or so to be Errata Week, where I declare a bunch of mistakes I've made professionally. One of the obligations of academics is to acknowledge these openly. Since publishers don't print errata sheets frequently, it's time to use blogs to do that instead.

Today, I'll start with a list of very specific omissions (and omissions count as errors): books I've committed to reading in a very concrete way, by buying them, but where I haven't cracked the covers (yet). When I was studying for comprehensive exams in 1989-90, I realized I had three lists of books in my head: books I wanted to read, books I should read, and books I should have read two weeks some time ago. That last category has grown considerably in the past 17 years.

I'm amazed at The Little Professor's frequent This Week's Acquisitions notes (a personal version of an academic library's recently acquired list), and I admit that I don't scarf down books as voluminously as Miriam Burstein because, well, I'm not as persistent. So here's the tip of the hat to Miriam and a commitment to get to the following books Very Soon Now:

  • Steven Mintz, Huck's Raft
  • Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods
  • Richard Neumann, Sixties Legacy
  • Lee Jones, ed., Brothers of the Academy
  • Roger Geiger, Knowledge and Money
  • Clive Griggs, The TUC and Education Reform, 1926-1970
  • Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"
  • Philippe Meyer, The Child and the State
  • Judith Sealander, Private Wealth and Public Life
  • Antwone Fisher, Finding Fish
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel
  • Vincent Harding, Hope and History
  • Lisbeth Schorr, Within our Reach
  • Etta Kralovec, Schools that Do too Much
  • Linda Christensen and Stan Karp, ed., Rethinking School Reform
  • Viviana Zelizer, The Social Meaning of Money
  • Candace Falk, Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman (though I think someone else picked this out in the bookstore, it's lying in my pile)
  • Pauline Vaillancourt Rosenau, The Competition Paradigm
  • Scott Sandage, Born Losers

And adding to that list is a package on its way to me this week:

  • Michael Bérubé, What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts?
  • David Nye, America as Second Creation
  • Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones, Agendas and Instability in American Politics
  • Thomas Misa, Leonardo to the Internet
  • Natalie McMaster, No Boundaries
  • Cape Breton by Request (2 vols.)
  • Harold Jones, Let us Break Bread Together

Oh, wait: Those last items are CDs, but at least the last one deserves to be on the list. Jones's chamber group played at my wedding more than 18 years ago (my wonderful mother-in-law knew him for years while living in New York), and I should've gotten it before now.

Tomorrow's errata: acknowledgment omissions of various types.

October 21, 2006

MOO if you love Shakespeare

The Synthetic Worlds Institute at Indiana University is apparently building Arden, a virtual world based on Shakespeare's works, thanks to the MacArthur Foundation. See the IU news release about it.

All the [virtual] world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
(As You Like It, II, vii)

(Hat tip: kip-w.)

October 20, 2006

Best-laid plans aft gang agly and other meeting war stories

My semester has gone fairly well thus far with my attempting to spend an hour or two Sunday evening or early Monday getting everything out of my head and then sorting through my several-hundred-item task list for the highest-priority items for the week in various categories. That was one tweak of my internal attempts at organization.  With my children's leaving the house at about the same time most days, this has helped a significant chunk. The business-guru (MBA porn?) organizational system Getting Things Done suggest a "weekly review" on Fridays and then a daily scan, but a consolidated review-and-prioritize time is working better for me.

And then the other, critical step was to reorganize my week so I could devote a day to one type of work, whether journal editing, teaching, research/writing, or union work.  Since my time is divided roughly into 25% chunks, that leaves Friday as meeting/catchup time.  It's worked reasonably well for a month.

...until this week and its 11 meetings, with at least one every day of the week, plus a morning child-shuttling task one day.  So how would you say squeak in Scottish Gaelic? Fortunately, the meetings were all worthwhile, except for adding to my already-full plate. But I've been playing catchup all week.

Nonetheless, if I hadn't reorganized my work habits this semester, I'd now be tearing my hair out.  Now, I will just let it fall out of its own accord, if that's fate. See, I'm letting go of the unimportant stuff...

October 17, 2006


Sorry for the lack of entries recently—my professional life has just become crazy-busy (and more than usual). I'm keeping my head above water, not a problem with that, but some things will drop off as priorities shift. And I love blogging, but there are only 30 hours in the day.

Or something like that.

October 9, 2006

Narrators of academic and political life

To new scholars hired into academic jobs:  Remember that your colleagues are unreliable narrators. That doesn't mean that they are necessarily vicious, mean, backstabbing folks (and I hope you don't run into those types, because they unfortunately exist). I mean that people to whom you look for advice on institutional morays have their own sets of lenses that distort and color the world. They are unreliable in the classic literary sense:  Trust them as people. Just don't trust them as the definitive anthropologists of your institution. This includes me, by the way; I'd like to think of myself as an astute observer, but I'm going to have my own limitations.

As Iraq has continued to descend into chaos, with our involvement in it following apace, I've been wondering about the political version of this phenomenon: major politicians' self-delusions.  We all delude ourselves in some ways, whether minor or major, and I can't think of a president that hasn't had at least one historically significant self-delusion.  The current president's delusions about Iraq are now all too plain, but I wonder how a political history would look if written with an eye to identifying historically significant delusions operating in different eras, whether held by individuals or groups. Now that project would be an interesting version of psychohistory!

October 1, 2006

I blame Bob Mondello

My family loves me. After all, I'm still alive after they came with me to Half Nelson, which I asked for since Bob Mondello gave it a positive review in August. It didn't open in Tampa, so we had to wait until it came here this week at the Tampa Theatre.

(Warning: movie spoiler ahead.)

Mondello's review was the most misleading recommendation of a movie I've relied on since my mother assured my father and I almost 20 years ago that Prick up your Ears was a comic farce. Mondello correctly described Half Nelson as the reverse of the standard heroic-teacher genre of film. But the film is better as a negative object lesson of everything you don't want a teacher to do than as serious film. This pitiful excuse for a teacher still ends up as a magnet for 13-year-old Drey. And in the end, the writers left Drey rejecting the neighborhood drug dealer and riding off on her bike... to go find the teacher after a late-night binge.  The false dichotomy (what about going home and spending time with her mom?) says a great deal about the ability of even so-called avant-garde film to reinforce stereotypes. A cliché reversal can still reinforce the source cliché.

My wife wanted the teacher to drive his car off a cliff. But the movie was also set up for him to die by overdose, with Drey's mom (an EMT) finding him dead. Too bad the movie didn't take that alternative ending.

I have no problems with oddly structured or challenging movies. But in Half Nelson I didn't find myself challenging prior beliefs about education, race, social justice, or drug use. I just found myself challenged to believe I was still in my seat by the end.

September 30, 2006

Sociology of medicine dissertation topic

Advice to grad students in science studies: Wired's The Thin Pill describes the controversy over metabolic syndrome. It would be a great dissertation topic for a medical sociologist or anthropologist.

Academic joke of the day

Q: How many faculty does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: I've heard the administration tried to buy it out, but we're just going to live with it and let it figure things out from bad annual reviews.

September 26, 2006

An appropriate column on bipolar disorder

Today in Inside Higher Ed, Ohio State historian Mark Grimsley has a perfectly appropriate column on living in academe with bipolar disorder. Chances are that you've known someone with bipolar disorder, whether diagnosed or not, "out" or not.

September 16, 2006


Excerpts from a note to a class after grading one set of quizzes:

There were two reasons why the quiz scores were lower for this quiz than for the others. First, the material is more difficult, and most of you haven't had experience with legal opinions. I wouldn't be surprised at all if this quiz had the lowest measures of central tendency in the entire semester. (I hope so!)

In addition, many of you turned to quoting chunks of the opinion, ... Reading an answer that is mostly a quotation frustrates me, because my obligation is to evaluate your understanding; did you understand it and select an appropriate excerpt, or did you get lucky? It's also very hard for me to give you any constructive feedback if you don't use your own words; if we agree that quoting is appropriate, then any feedback would consist of, "Well, select a better quotation next time." I hope you'll agree that wouldn't be very helpful!

Because of my experience reading the quiz answers this week, I strongly advise you to avoid quoting in your answers for the rest of the semester.

I can't mandate the no-quotation rule for quizzes (though I will next time!), because I didn't put it in the syllabus. But does anyone else get frustrated with the fallout of coming after teachers who do reward the extensive quoting of source materials in lieu of paraphrasing?

One well-known writer in education (whom I'll call Dr. Overquote) has a habit of quoting other sources for a good chunk (sometimes more than half!) of the typical Dr. Overquote article. Dr. Overquote is a nice soul and does a very nice job of synthesis when it's Dr. Overquote's own words, but, sheesh, it's sometimes as frustrating to read a Dr. Overquote article or book as the student answers that prompted my note quoted above. Some years ago, Dr. Overquote was lured away from Grand University to Big State University, and Grand University then proceeded to bid him away from Big State University, to return to their genteel and loving climate. Since then, I've had the idea to prepare a joke article manuscript that would be a ransom note in Dr. Overquote's style, if just a bit exaggerated.

"Dear" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "Grand" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "University" (Overquote, 200x, p. n),

"We" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "have" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "Overquote" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "and" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "will" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "not" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "return" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "your" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "perfesser" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "until" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "you" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "give" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "either" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "us" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "or" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "Overquote" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "3.2" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "gazillion" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "dollars" (Overquote, 200x, p. n).

"P.S."* (Poobah1, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "Don't" (Poobah2, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n) "go" (Poobah3, quoted in Overquote, 200x, p. n) "to" (Poobah4, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "the" (Poobah5, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n) "fuzz" (Poobah6, quoted in Overquote, 200x, p. n) "or" (Poobah7, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "you" (Poobah8, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n) "will" (Poobah9, quoted in Overquote, 200x, p. n) "be" (Poobah10, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "sorrie" [sic] (Poobah 11, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n).

The key, of course, would be that the references section would be about seven times as long as the "article."

*—I'm doubtful that I could find a "P.S." in an article except as first and middle initials, and I'd have to be lucky. Everything else I'm sure I could find some version of.

September 7, 2006

Adventures in postmodernist typos

So after reading Michel Bérubé's blog entry yesterday, wherein he discusses "residual humanism at work in Marxism [Raymond] Williams-style," and why he likes it, among other things, something in it reminded me of his July 25, 2005, entry, wherein he had discussed the latest Harry Potter book and cultural studies, writing at the end,

If indeed cultural studies is partly responsible for making it respectable to read and discuss work like Harry Potter, and I do believe it is, then surely someone like Janice Radway deserves a cut of the action. And maybe people who point out that people like Radway deserve a cut of the action could put in for a cut of a cut of the action? Just asking. We cultural studies types have to take our mass-cultural triumphs where we can, you know.

In comments, I had written (comment 18):

Very restrained of you not to mention Michel De Certeau along with Radway (or, for SF-nal folks, Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers), or you'd have to figure out how the heck HMS Pumpkin Pie is related to the Potter universe (not that I agree with those folks, you understand).

His response (comment 22):

And Sherman, I have to admit I never really loved the whole de Certeau moment in cultural studies. It produced rafts of assembly-line essays in which the good guys had tactics and the bad guys had strategies, and there was much invoking of the "everyday." What made (and makes) Reading the Romance so fascinating, I think, is Radway's juxtaposition of her own training as a narrative theorist (influenced by Proppian structuralism) with the readings of the fans. Cultural studies took a wrong turn a bit later, I think, but the question of how to do an ethnography without simply ceding interpretive authority to the ethnos is still with us. I will, however, save this larger point for a future Theory Tuesday.

Well, he hadn't yet, but yesterday, Bérubé's riffing on Williams's riffing on Gramsci's riffing on hegemony led to sentences like

The argument that The People line up with the radical left "naturally" and are diverted from their true interests only by a furious elite propaganda barrage is not only bad politics; it's bad theory, the kind that some leftists fall back on to explain to themselves why their followers are so few.

There's a serious point here about the difference between hegemony and ideological structure and the work that goes into the maintenance and evolution of the deeper structures of thought in a society. This is at the intersection of history and culture studies, and Bérubé is touching on the problems with assuming intentionality and with ignoring it, with determinism and with a decontextualized celebration of agency. In critical studies of education, this has wandered back and forth over the landscapes of functionalism, reproduction, resistance, and so forth... lots of fallow ground at this point, more than 30 years after the beginning of the interpretive education-studies wars. But do I treat this seriously?  Nah...

Nice to see an acknowledgment of Foucault's weakness as an historian from a literary guy. Thanks. And "power produces resistance" is going to be my mantra when I exercise for the next week. (Or is that one "resistance produces power"?) Incidentally, I'm still left on the hook after your promise July 25 last year (see comment 22) to discuss "the question of how to do an ethnography without simply ceding interpretive authority to the ethnos is still with us." Or was that a promise to cut de Certeau to ribbons? Ech, he's not worth it.

Bérubé's response?

Which brings me to Sherman, comment 27: why, thanks ever so much for reminding me of certain ambitious promises I made last summer. I'll deliver one of these days! In the meantime, if it's de Certeau you want, repeat after me: strategies bad, tactics good. Strategies bad, tactics good. And there's a devastating treatment of this kind of thinking in Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's (very entertaining) Nation of Rebels, for those of you who are interested.

Heath and Potter argue that the notion of a counterculture is a myth, that "rebellion" feeds into the marketplace. This market-culture analysis is very close to the arguments of the old education-resistance writers such as Paul Willis (he of Learning to Labor). It looks at first glance like an academic version of "you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," where those people who rebel against "the system" in education (or culture) are feeding the system by their own choice to rebel. But that's an unsubtle look. It ignores the tremendous work that goes on by various people to frame the world around us and the context of that work. It's why (and how) the reproduction writers of the early 1970s argued that the practices of everyday life (a phrase I'm choosing deliberately to set up the end of this post) had dual purposes, both socializing individuals and also setting up a larger ideological structure (hegemony?) of meritocracy. Much of that argument was relatively crude, and I think they got much of it wrong (life is more complex than the deterministic assumptions of Bowles, Gintis, and others from that era), but there are different layers at work in the practices of schools and shopping malls.

De Certeau's work fits into that discussion in its celebration of the rebellion. That's where the strategies-v.-tactics comments above come in. Historians have a similar high-wire act they play among the grounds of focusing on the structures that make life difficult, recognizing the agency of individuals under difficult circumstances, and romanticizing survival in oppression. The whole historiography on North American slavery is replete with such arguments.

To check my sense of this, I did a simple search on de Certeau and ran across a set of online notes on Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life (translation, University of California Press, 1984), on the site of Dave Harris. And I came across a wonderful typo, one that captures the sense and problems of overweening celebrations, a post-Freudian slip that says it better than I ever could.

Tactics "often involve victories of the week over the strong."

Did I really say that? and other interactions with journalists

This morning, I was quoted in a local newspaper article on our school district calendar as saying, "There was much kind of grumbling on the committee about those options." Much kind of?? Someone please remind me to write everything down before I respond to off-the-cuff questions of a journalist.  Peter Jennings I'm obviously not.

Marilyn Brown was taking notes by hand, so I'm not sure I spoke those words as she took them down, but the sense of the statement was true: I was saying that some members of the local calendar committee had grumbled a bit about some of the restrictions that district staff had implied on the calendar.

Hey, at least she spelled my name correctly! 

And now you know why I take Philip Graham's canard about journalism's being the first draft of history quite literally. First drafts always get some things wrong. So I figure that a newspaper account that is 70% correct is doing fairly well.

August 26, 2006

Your next faculty meeting

Profgrrrrl has an absolutely dead-on description of a common faculty meeting dialogue structure. It definitely brought a grin to my face this morning.

August 18, 2006

You know your server's spam filter needs adjusting...

... when 90% of your e-mail on a Friday evening is spam.

Usually, the tech gurus at my college require a few hours the next business morning to reconfigure the spam filters, but whatever the spammers did new happened on a Friday afternoon.  Very smart, spammers.  Very annoying.

August 13, 2006

Performative masculinity, or not, in academe

I'm not like Timothy Burke or even Michael Bérubé in the whole performativity of gender in academe thing, or as the case may be, performative masculinity in extracurricular activities through using chainsaws or at least renting them out in a chivalrous gesture before giving up and calling the tree folks (and here I mean the people who trim limbs, not the trees that walk around in a nightmarish Tolkien vision). No, sir. Not me. After my wife and I get paid at the end of the week, I'll be performing masculinity in writing out a check to the arborist. Or Elizabeth will be performing feminity in writing out the check.

So, Timothy, I'm afraid I can't help give you advice on that huge branch/trunk, except to recommend that you get someone to train a camcorder on you while you try, so that if the insurance isn't high enough, at least the rights to the sequence will help compensate. But if you stop by this neck of the woods suburbia between October and March, we can treat you to a fire with orangewood and vegetarian, gluten-free s'mores. Really.

Academics on notice

Look who's on notice with Stephen Colbert:

(Yes, you can generate your own "on notice" board. Fred Block? Nice guy. Doesn't deserve to be on notice at all.)

August 9, 2006

Library of Congress takes blogs seriously

My friend Kathleen de la Peña McCook has received an ISSN for her Librarian blog. That's right—the Library of Congress's ISSN processing unit is now recognizing blogs as periodicals.

So what are you waiting for? Blog and get your ISSN today!

Wiki, Witty, Wicca

Duly noted:

There. I've always wanted the excuse to have a title something like that. (Yes, I know enough people who identify themselves as Wicca to know that Kevin Carey is not a member of his local coven...)

July 24, 2006

Frederick Mosteller, 1916-2006

ASU educational researcher and statistician Gene Glass just distributed a notice by Gale Mosteller of her father's death yesterday. Fred Mosteller was truly one of the giants in 20th century statistics, right along with John Tukey (Mosteller's frequent collaborator). My friend and former fellow history grad student Tim Hacsi was at Harvard several years ago on a postdoc and met Mosteller, who was still active and still generous with his formidable intellect.

July 23, 2006

The Little Professor whomps on the CHE anonymous columns

Miriam Burstein (aka The Little Professor) whacks the anonymous dyspeptic column for 6. Best academic snark I've seen in a while (and I have access to high-quality academic snark).

July 21, 2006

What is fair use in blogging?

I just winced again—a blogger with plenty of witty, sharp things to say quoted 74% of an article: out of 1,047 words from the original source, 771 appeared in the blog. There were, in addition to the massive quotation, 57 words written by the blogger.

Is this fair use?

I ask because we seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of block-quoting, and this example is only one of dozens I read every week. Every time, I wince, because according to one of the standard online references I refer students to (the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use website), the amount and substantiality of a quotation is key, and in addition, the guide suggests, "Your copying will not be a fair use if the portion taken is the 'heart' of the work." Quoting 74% of an article, excluding only the first few paragraphs and the last sentence, seems to violate this guideline.

Overquoting seems to me to be a misuse of the internet. You don't have to quote 74% of a piece—paraphrasing with a link is enough. We have immediate access to the original, after all. Maybe some bloggers who overquote think their readership is too lazy to click on a link. I don't know, honestly. But I'd like to wince a little less in the future.

Clarification (11 pm): No, I'm not going to be a fair-use cop. There are better uses of my time.

July 10, 2006

Spam translated into Valley Speak

While I'm recovering from a weekend camping trip, I'll provide a translation of info-service spam e-mail into Valley Speak (my high school cohort's putative SoCal lingo) via the inevitably flawed but fun internet filter:

After readin' your blog, fer shure, it is clear that education is like wow! an issue you care about. As your commentary becomes a part of history, oh, baby, you are well aware that it is like wow! intrinsic to stay informed and up to date. Like, ya know, this is where we come in.

Now, don't you wish all your spam came translated thusly?

Note: My only high school acquaintance who spoke true Valley Girl lived in Tustin, far from the Fernando Valley. And today, that is far removed from the early 80s in demographics and culture. The Sherman Oaks Galleria closed before the century's end, and the mall rats are now middle-aged.

July 2, 2006

NEA Representative Assembly, day 1

It'a after 10 pm, and I'll be kicked out of this café in about ten minutes, so my ideas about improving graduation will have to wait. The day at the NEA representative assembly was long, whether you were a volunteer who woke up in Tampa at 5:15 am and stayed in the convention center until 7:30 pm or so, or a delegate who went to a state caucus at 7 am before coming to the convention center. I discovered there were even more caucuses than I had seen before (both major parties, a peace-and-justice as well as a veterans caucus, etc.). And the mostly K-12 crowd knows how to be rowdy. (Let's just say I was glad I brought earplugs for a few interludes.)

Not much earthshaking in terms of public policy was discussed. Oh, NEA President Reg Weaver's address was fiery at points, but nothing was new in terms of NEA positions. (Yeah—he switched positions entirely and announced that he loved the current version of No Child Left Behind, and the delegates were entirely with him on that. Joke, folks! Please clean up that keyboard, okay?) It was part ceremony, part organizational business, and part affirmation of existing values for NEA.

There is an underlying current of hostility towards NCLB, though—and the big surprise is that Weaver didn't talk about AYP at all. The notion of expertise-managed reform struck a resonant note, and that was a definitely surprise (that it was emphasized over AYP and the teacher-quality standards). That's... very interesting. I'll have to see what I can tease out of that over the next few days, in terms of observation.

And now, back to the hotel. Have a great holiday, everyone!

July 1, 2006

NEA Representative Assembly volunteering

I drove about 3-1/2 hours today, back and forth to Orlando for my orientation session at the National Education Association Representative Assembly, which starts its official sessions tomorrow. I'll be at a microphone station tomorrow through Tuesday, but it seemed silly to go to a morning orientation session and spend the night there when I could as easily drive back home, turn around, wake up at 5:15 tomorrow morning to drive back, and have half a day more with my family.

After the orientation session and lunch, I walked through the exhibit hall. There are the usual booths you'd expect—on insurance, on different disciplines, on various gadgets good and bad (the most clever simple idea: a hard-plastic cover to go over a flat desk and that can take dry-erase marker), as well as the sponsors' booths (such as a satellite-TV company, where about a dozen others and I watched the overtime and penalty kicks of the England-Portugal game). There were a bunch of empty booths (in terms of no teachers being interested). And there were the consumer-item booths (massage recliners and foot stuff seemed popular, as were clothing and jewelry). Then there were the affinity-interest groups, such as the women's interest caucus, the NEA Democratic caucus, and a bunch of others—and, lest you think the NEA is one-sided, there's the Educators for Life caucus and a Creation Science caucus (the latter of which makes me wince).

The most interesting, which I'm not sure enough appreciate, is the booth commemorating the 40th anniversary of the merger of the NEA and the American Teachers Association, the former Black teachers association in the years of legal segregation... and for 12 years after Brown v. Board.

I don't know if I'll have internet access there... I'm sure I'll have to pay for it unless I go somewhere with either my particular cell-phone company's hotspot. Maybe there'll be a cybercafe for the convention. (There is at the Florida Education Association delegate assembly.)

June 30, 2006

Questia spam!

I just received an e-mail offer that's clearly spam:

After reading your blog, it is clear that education is an issue you care about. As your commentary becomes a part of history, you are well aware that it is intrinsic to stay informed and up to date.

This is where we come in. Questia provides an online library service with full-text access to over 30 million pages of academic books and articles.
We're reaching out to a select number of bloggers like you who write on topics within our library by offering a complimentary 3-month subscription to Questia.

Our site is set up so that you can create a direct link into the full text of any page from any one of our 66,000 books and 1.4 million articles.
Below you will find a few materials that might interest you: [the rest cut—SJD]

My response:
It's interesting to receive spam based on my blogging. You may note that I teach at a university, which provides me plenty of resources, and I'm unlikely to want to pay for more.

Look, folks—in case you haven't noted, bloggers can ridicule you when you do something foolish! Update: My university carries Questia. You think someone might put in a routine for spam generation at least to check for that? Hmm...

June 27, 2006

Spellings commission draft shows signs of distortion

Sigh. Sometimes, it's hard to have perspective. Reports of the Spellings commission's draft are not exaggerated, and it appears that Miller is hell-bent on claiming that college costs have risen and need to be clamped down on.

Oh, yes, and quality needs to rise.

What is true, and what I explained to a key staff member last summer at the NEA/AFT Higher-Ed Conference, is that tuition has gone up dramatically. But tuition has risen far more than actual costs, especially at public institutions, because states have cut the proportion of higher education funding provided from state coffers. In the public sector, at least, tuition costs are a reflection of cost-shifting from the state to students and their families.

And in the private market, the "list price" is as much a marketing tactic as a real cost. It's the snob factor that causes Princeton's tuition, room, and board to top $40,000, even though its endowment could allow everyone to get an undergraduate education without any tuition at all.

So what the heck is Miller getting at, and does he understand that maintaining this stance in the final report would be as close to an outright lie as one can get without stepping in it?

June 22, 2006

Theo Bell, RIP

Former Pittsburgh Steeler and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Theo Bell died yesterday after a long battle with kidney disease. I knew him from my brief involvement with a local GEAR UP project a few years ago. Some years after leaving the NFL in 1985, he earned a masters and devoted his time to following kids in school in different counselor-type jobs, including the one funded by the GEAR UP grant. He had all the money he ever needed, and he spent his time in schools instead of partying away his money like some other athletes have done. Maybe it was because the kids loved him, or the reverse. Maybe it was because, according to him, a mentor at the same age had saved him from the life some of his relatives went into.

But regardless of the origins, I know several hundred teens from the center of Tampa will be sorely missing a football star they never saw play.

June 21, 2006

Full-time in the summer

No new writing commitments for me for about two or three years. I'm working full time right now, without being paid, given the book I'm trying to write, a few grants I'd like to submit this summer, some other research, the journal, etc. I realized this morning as I was resting (my leg is still in pain and, yes, I'm headed to the orthopedist tomorrow morning) that I'm feeling under pressure for more than the journal, and that's just silly. There's not enough hours in the day to do everything I'd like, but there's a difference between keeping things on the back burner so you'll never be bored, on the one hand, and getting stressed about it, on the other.

So I'm going to trim my wife's hair (and cut my son's, if he wants), then pack up the laptop and head off to a cafe to work and enjoy the day.

June 14, 2006

Well, that was fine as far as it went

I don't think I'm going to be doing any more substantive writing or focusing for the rest of the evening, thanks to the growing batting skills of my 11-year-old son. The batting cage didn't have a screen, and I (stupidly) threw him BP. He effectively walloped the ball several times, and one of the line drives hit my left leg about two inches below the knee. For those two inches, I'm very grateful right now. (Okay. I'm grateful it didn't hit my head.) I'm also smarting from my foolishness, now that the melon-ish lump shrank after the application of a cold pack and after 400 mg of ibuprofen has turned the inevitable pain from a stab in the consciousness to a very effective reminder of what the screens are for in batting cages.

June 7, 2006

Calendars and conferences

I have to make a choice soon about where I'll be spending my spring 2007 conference time. It's either the Population Association of America (PAA) March 29-31 (Thu-Sat) or the American Educational Research Association (AERA) April 9-13 (Mon-Fri). Actually, I don't think I have a choice—as a journal editor, I should go to AERA when I can. But I think I could put together a very nice substantive panel on graduation rates for PAA, when some of those folks would probably not come to AERA! Ah, well. I'll put together a different panel for AERA, at least.

No, I can't go to both. It's less a cash issue (though going to New York for PAA would be very expensive) than how many times can I leave my spouse the burden of doing the afternoon runs for kid pick-up, etc. Unless I can bring one of my children with me to New York while I'm at PAA. Hmmn...

My only regret about AERA—okay, not the only regret—is that it's again on weekdays only. Sheesh.

June 4, 2006

Syndication details

For those who have been frustrated reading my blog on an aggregator because you don't see the links, try subscribing with the Atom index (at That should have the links.

May 30, 2006

On the limits of reunions

Since my previous entry on Bryn Mawr's reunion drew a few responses, I should note that the entry wasn't about the broader reunion (of which I saw little) but more about folk cultures on residential campuses. I didn't see who showed up at every event, but I think that those alumnae who came back were disproportionately white compared to the graduating class as a whole—if my impression is correct, it is something that should worry a college in terms of having alumnae feeling connected with a college. That doesn't have to be the case—I know of several majority-white colleges where minority alumni networks are active. And I know that Haverford has an active gay/lesbian alumni network.

Then there is the other limitation of my observations, about the class makeup of a residential liberal-arts college. Bryn Mawr and Haverford have students disproportionately from wealthy families, which is both an inevitable dynamic and also a problem. Private colleges need money and thus have legacy admissions. They also need diverse student populations to work well. I know this from my own teaching—a class of reasonably well-off 20-year-olds learning about the history and organization of schools does not work nearly as well as a class where at least 4-5 students are over 30, where at least another 4-5 students are from the first generation in their family to go to college, etc.)

What happens to a campus culture as the population shifts is an interesting question. I don't know if anyone has studied that, but it would make for a great dissertation or book.

May 28, 2006

College folk cultures, formal and informal

I'm currently in Pennsylvania, having come up here with my family for my wife's 20th reunion at Bryn Mawr College. Last night we went to the reunion stepsing, which has its roots in a thrice-yearly ritual at the college of undergraduates' gathering in the evening to sing a bunch of songs. At one level, the ritual is fairly formal, with each class sitting together, led by a class songsmistress and, when all of them sing, by the senior songmistress. There are several songs that are de rigeur, starting with two in Greek. (Hey, this is Bryn Mawr, where significant minorities of students take Latin or Greek.) Even the parodies of college life can be fairly old. (The times when Haverford College students are welcomed to respond can be embarrassing. The one we alums were called on last night to sing includes the following verse:

Her suite will be occupied by ten cats
A parakeet, goldfish, and two white rats.
Mind's precocious, hair's atrocious;
If you get her in bed, she's ferocious

This is to "The Girl That I Marry," from Annie Get Your Gun, and that's the least offensive verse, either in the version sung by Mawrters or the one down for Fords to sing. I'm assuming it was written in the 60s, and oh, is it dated. For one thing, Haverford has been coed for about a quarter-century, and I don't think the authors were that enlightened about same-sex marriage when the parody was written.) And yet the culture is clearly a folk process, even within the formality. The alumnae association reunion songbook includes a number of clever turns of phrase, such as the following from one of my wife's classmates (Claudia Ginanni, to the John Denver tune, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"):

Well I haven't seen a man in 17 weeks;
The closest that I've come is a wimp and a geek.
Can't remember how they look, but I think they have beaks;
Thank God I'm a Mawrter Girl

I remember that from when I was an undergraduate, and it's still one of the best set of lines written by a student at that time. (Too bad it wasn't one of the songs chosen last night.) It's not surprising that an all-women's college would have parodies that poke fun at single-sex social life, but there are plenty that also poke fun at the strenuous workload, such as the parody of "How Lovely is the Morning" referring to early-morning classes and the way that the central building on campus tolls the hours (in round form):

Oh how ugly is the morning, is the morning.
Taylor Tower sounds its warning, sounds its warning.
Goddamned bell. Goddamned bell.

The larger context at Bryn Mawr is a single-sex residential liberal-arts college with a student-run honor code, a college that used to be affiliated with the Society of Friends (i.e., Quakers), and where there was a long history of informal group writings on campus well before blogs existed. So-called "backsmoker diaries" (group journals) survived for many years after the relevant dorms were declared no-smoking domains. There is no "gut" degree anywhere in the college, the only Greeks are those majoring in the subject, and while the college is not as physically isolated as some well-known liberal-arts colleges I could name, getting into or around Philadelphia isn't exactly easy for students without cars. Students respond to that isolated pressure in different ways. Many thrive. Some turn to individually-destructive actions. A few turn (and I hope as relatively few as I saw when I was a student at Haverford) to collective destructive actions when drinking. And those who aren't sure whether they're thriving often forge social support networks through creative endeavours.

The parody songs sung at stepsing (see how many forms of that verb we can use in a sentence...) are the most visible signs of that creative culture on the campus. The formality of the ritual should not obscure the informalities behind it. Part of the reasons why the students at Bryn Mawr continue stepsing is because a critical mass find value in a shared culture at precisely the time when they both want to demonstrate independent value in their lives and also when they realize how desperately they need social support in the tough environment of a liberal-arts college.

Disclosure: one of the songs I wrote as a Haverford student appears in the songbook, albeit uncredited. That's okay—folk processes tend to obscure authorship, especially when a lyric sheet is passed down as faded copies retyped over the years—it was rather nice to see it there.

Small-worlds note: I discovered this weekend that the advisor of my colleague Barbara Shircliffe—SUNY Buffalo professor emerita Maxine Sellers—was in Bryn Mawr's Class of 1956. I never did catch up with her to tell her that Barbara's new book, The Best of That World, is finally out. It's a history of the desegregation of Tampa, and I strongly recommend it. I'm biased, of course, but I'm also right here.

May 15, 2006

Joanne Jacobs' self-marketing

Joanne Jacobs is trying out a new way to generate buzz for a new book: asking bloggers to mention two book-readings in May, one last week in Washington and one this week in Philadelphia. On May 4, I received an e-mail from her asking me to mention the events in my blog, and I'm guessing she wrote similar e-mails to a bunch of other education bloggers. It worked to some extent, with comments recently in edspresso, D-Ed Reckoning, Mentor Matters, Scheiss Weekly, Education Wonks, DC Education Blog, and Eduwonk. Only the first three clearly stated that Jacobs had solicited the mention (and D-Ed Reckoning was highly critical of Jacobs' planned appearance at one school). Let me be clear: I have no problems in general with this publicity. Books are books, the more people read 'em, on the whole, the better, and it's common to get friends and colleagues (and, I guess, strangers whose blogs you know of) to recommend books and various events. I'm just a little surprised at the lack of disclosure by fellow bloggers (several of whom have no problems acknowledging sources). I'm also a little curious why she didn't respond to my e-mail asking if she'd be willing to reciprocate when my next book came out.

Correction (5/21/06): As KDeRosa (author of D-Ed Reckoning) explains in the comments, that particular mention was not prodded by an e-mail from Jacobs.

May 8, 2006

Data recovery...

Grades are in, mother and mother-in-law have left town, and so it's time to see about that data recovery...

Update (5:30): So far so good. Almost all of the data is safe and transferred. I'm worried about my Outlook files, as anyone who uses Outlook can probably attest. I have too many things hidden in there to want to let go of it...

(6:15): I figured out how to recover most of my passwords for Firefox (yeah!). So when do I try for the Outlook stuff?...

(5:51 am): I'm not sure why MovableType didn't accept the update yesterday evening, but I recovered everything I cared about. Whew!

May 6, 2006

Summer tasks

As Profgrrrrl has noted, the space between terms can be odd for rhythms, and May is like that for me, even when I'm not teaching in the summer. This morning, I'm one student's late-final tech-glitch away from finishing grading, and then I will see what's on my data-recovery disk, and then the May crash hits for me. It's the last month of the school year here in Florida, so all of the parents-must-be-there events are now, plus two birthdays, an anniversary, and this year a 20th college reunion over Memorial Day weekend.

More on the jump...

I'm definitely looking forward to a summer without teaching. Last year I taught for the first summer in a few years, and while I enjoyed the class, I didn't enjoy the summer as much. I know a bunch of financial folks would tell me I should be working as hard as I can to squirrel away money before my children hit college (at which point I should cut back for financial-aid purposes), but I'd rather have a relationship with my children. So I'll probably be working as hard as I can while they're in college.

That doesn't mean I won't be busy with work-like stuff. I'll probably work 3-4 hours a day. This summer, I have the journal to keep me busy, a few grants to write, one of my two book ideas to work furiously on, the college's governance and constitution committee, and a maybe even get some pleasure reading in. But May comes first. And I need to remember to enjoy it instead of fretting about the work I'm not getting done. Yesterday, I saw a colleague in another department for the first time in months and found out why—she had two deaths in the family and her husband is under treatment for cancer. As fellow historian of education Carl Kaestle said a few years ago, at the end of life who says, "Gee, I wish I could have put in a few more hours at work"?

And now I need to shower before I take my daughter to a science study review at school, my son to his Little League game, shop for a picnic later, go back for the game and chat with my wife and mother and mother-in-law, either transfer my daughter from the study review to the last-minute youth orchestra rehearsal downtown or take the son, mother, and mother-in-law back home for lunch and changing, change, head back downtown for the youth orchestra concert, hang around a bit at the reception, head over the bridge for a picnic and pops concert by the Florida Orchestra and fiddler Eileen Ivers. No, my Saturdays are not usually like this. But it fits with my typical May.

April 30, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith died last night in a Boston-area hospital. He was 97. I started reading him as a teenager, one of my aunts became an economics major because of his writings, and we will miss the voice of one of the best public intellectuals in the U.S. in the 20th century. He was shrewd, sharp, funny, and humane.

As with so many things, I learned about the news from Ralph Luker.

April 19, 2006

Usefully erroneous assumptions

One of the 'baristas' at Chain Café has just brought me a drink. I wonder why, apart from the fact that I've been a very loyal customer over the past n months. I wonder if they think my marriage is on the rocks and I come here as a respite from home. It isn't—I'm working here to be nice to Elizabeth and the kids because it's the tradeoff for letting my son come home instead of go to day care as many days as I can manage. And it does none of us any good for me to be grouchy not getting work done while my children are, well, children. I'd much rather work a decent day and be home in the evening.

But I don't mind the minor perks of being a loyal customer.

April 13, 2006

Disk crash

It's not a good thing when my work laptop wouldn't load because of a corrupted systems folder. It's probably a good thing that I know what to do at this point (download the latest version of Knoppix, transfer essential files, and then turn the laptop over to our college computer gurus), but this is the second hard-disk problem I've had to deal with in the last six months. Not fun. Slows work down considerably...

March 29, 2006

I like memory

I was able to swing by my campus's computer store this more and install a GB chip in this laptop. Whooeey! Going from 512 MB to 1.25 GB makes a big difference in working with several complex programs open (for me, typically Outlook and Adobe at the same time starts slowing things, but not right now). Okay, time to recharge the batteries before the plane trip, and then work through to Albuquerque. I'm guessing I won't get a chance to recharge there, though. Too bad...

I was going to pick up Joe Williams's book today, for when my laptop had to sleep, but I have a Chain Bookstore coupon whose open period starts tomorrow, so I'll reserve that as a reward for finishing the next batch of grading on the trip. Incentives for me work best in terms of my identity (in this case, as a reader and education policy junkie), not my self-interest. No, that's not an incidental comment, given what I know of Williams's book. Education policy is always about the adults, though in different guises.

March 26, 2006

Caring and teachers

See my contribution today to the new group blog The Wall. See also Leo Casey's note in a similar vein, which I only ran across in preparing the entry.

Update (3/29): Read the comments on the post, now, which discuss whether my observations are new at all and whether we should be teaching caring as a relational skill in teacher ed. Go add more!

March 24, 2006

The schedule has fallen apart. We apologize for the inconvenience.

The 7.49 loyal readers of this blog may have wondered at the hypothetical story that appeared on my blog last week. Well, some things aren't hypothetical. I've been invited to address a committee of the Florida legislature next week about the state's education accountability policies (or, more specifically, address HB 1427). So, this throws a whole bunch of things into a whirl:

  • I have just notified my students of the change in plans and what they will be doing next week instead of coming to class
  • I have to prepare an online presentation for my students
  • I need to make arrangements so my spouse's life isn't Single Parent Hell for the time I'm gone next week (which includes the conference in L.A.)
  • I need to prepare the testimony
  • I need to finish the materials for the conference
  • I need to finish grading a set of papers for my classes
  • Probably a whole host of other things that aren't coming to mind right now, but I'll wake up in the middle of the night with it.

But the invitation is an opportunity to address the public debate about accountability in the state, and that's good. I appreciate the invitation from the Florida House leadership and the efforts of staff to schedule this for a few moons. And I will very much owe my family some serious quality time when I'm not out of town next week.

And I'm now very glad I'm not scheduled to go to AERA's annual meeting the following week in San Franscisco.

March 22, 2006

Funding fudges

As CNN reports, state funding for higher ed has continued to decline as a proportion of total revenues. This is why claims about "educational inflation" being higher than general inflation is misleading—it's true for tuition costs but not all costs; it's true for some elite institutions but not the bulk; and it neatly avoids the public disinvestment in higher education. Fortunately, the students at yesterday's open hearing of the Spellings Commission gave the members an earful on that front.

Here in Florida, the governor's budget proposed virtually no increase in state higher ed funding despite a record revenue windfall for the state and enrollments that are bursting the seams of both the universities and the community colleges. I forget who first told me the quip that universities are the first to be cut and the last to be helped, but it's certainly been true in our state.

March 19, 2006

Misconstruing schools of education

Peter Wood, the provost at King's College, has abolished the college's school of education, something that Joanne Jacobs and Margaret Soltan have noted.

Wood had some criticisms of the (non)intellectual curriculum in schools of education, which Jacobs quoted:
Schools of education mis-prepare would-be teachers in many ways. They deprive those would-be teachers of the opportunity to learn more important, substantive things during their undergraduate years; they require students to take hugely time-consuming courses of dubious intellectual value; and they inculcate would-be teachers in the educrats' pernicious ideology....
But Jacobs missed the earlier explanation of Woods for that curriculum:
These [state] regulations mandated that we offer dozens of intellectually vapid courses far below the College’s standards for the rest of the curriculum....
And then, after Woods decided to close down the school:
Then New York State officials got involved. At first, they couldn’t believe that we would just walk away from their precious undergraduate education major — a major they had perfected through long years of careful cogitation.... I still sense incredulity on the part of a lot [of] the New York educrats, who can’t imagine anyone having a principled objection to preparing would-be teachers according to their recipe.
There are a number of ironies here, primarily the fact that this is the same department that is in charge of the state's high-stakes testing program (albeit one that botched the testing by bowdlerizing reading passages some years ago). Maybe the department has multiple personalities. But more fundamentally, it points to the bind that many institutions find themselves in if they wish to offer certification programs.

Those binds don't completely explain the problems of teacher-ed curricula. I see some of those problems (or their symptoms) every semester. I'm a little chagrined that many students think our undergraduate social-foundations course has too much work—not that I don't want them to work but that they think it's a lot of work in comparison to other classes. They read the equivalent of three books in a semester (two books and eleven shorter pieces), when they really should be reading six to have a truly critical mass to absorb and think about.

Schools of ed are criticized when they focus too much on techniques (not intellectually rigorous!) and also when they don't teach enough techniques (our kids can't read, and it's your fault!). Fundamentally, a teacher-ed curriculum is a compromise, trying to provide a professional and intellectual education in four years—or two years in our case, when many students transfer to USF from Florida's community-college system.

(What Woods does not explain is the fate of the faculty in the school and whether the faculty of the college as a whole concurred with his decision. It's legitimate for an institution to close down a program, but ideally that should be a decision of the faculty as a whole.)

March 17, 2006

What didn't happen this week

If I had been approached by a state's minority legislative caucus staff earlier this year about whether I'd be interested in being asked to participate in a forum on ed policy, but they hadn't been able to convince the sponsors to allow in those with views different from the state's governor, then something like the following may have happened this week: I would have gotten a call from the staff contact Wednesday, asking if I'd be free to speak at a hearing on a bill that was just filed; I'd have looked at the filed bill and suggested changes that really were necessary, even though I was aware that the bill was expected to be squashed like a bug; been contacted several more times in the past few days, as the staff tried to secure a hearing for the bill and slot for me (and possibly others); had a conversation with a senior staff member about the need to be formally invited by the committee chair given state rules about public employees' speaking at hearings; been told the chair was inviting me; been bcc'd an e-mail from one minority legislative leader to the chair regarding the implied invitation; contacted my chair about the invitation and made reservations; wondered how much effort I'd go through over the next few days to prepare a statement and record online lecture material for the day I'd be gone (I teach Tuesdays), as well as tackle the other items on my to-do list; e-mailed a blogging friend to see if we could meet in real life for the first time; been called while I was at dinner with my children and told that while the chair had invited me, the chair had later disinvited me (saying there wasn't enough time to hear witnesses, given the laundry list of bills on the agenda); e-mailed my chair and fellow blogger about the cancellation (I hope with humor!); and been able to cancel the travel reservations. I'm not saying that all really happened, but it would be plausible.

I'm somewhat experienced with tilting at windmills, but I'd like to know if I'm really scheduled to suit up, y'know?

March 15, 2006

Summers, teaching, and history

NYU historian of ed Jonathan Zimmerman has penned an article on Larry Summers that's really about college teaching, and then University Diarist responded.

A few thoughts: The hook's wrong. I don't mind an essay on college teaching, but surely there was a better connection to current events in higher ed, such as the Spellings Commission. This one left me with minor mental whiplash. Why did Zimmerman think that Summers' exit had much to do with teaching at all? I thought Summers left because he pushed Cornel West out, or maybe because of last summer's comments on women and science, or maybe because of Harvard's $26+ million payout for an economics professor's follies, or maybe because he shoved out the FAS dean, or maybe because Summers was simply inept at interpersonal relations.

Note: Zimmerman e-mailed me after reading this entry to note that his original column did have the Spellings Commission hook, but the editors wanted a shorter piece and something they thought was better (i.e., Summers). So this is the Monitor's fault...

More substantively, Zimmerman is on target in terms of the rewards of teaching. I love teaching, and I feel its time squeezed by so many other obligations. Yet I do know of good scholars who were denied tenure because of teaching. More common is the "good fit" push—a scholar whose research is great and whose teaching style just doesn't fit for the institution (i.e., students gripe about the workload or the lecturing). The faculty member is taken aside, explained subtly that there are just a few options available, and within a year or so there's often a lateral move inside academe or the person leaves the field.

More subtly, Zimmerman implies (probably unintentionally) that there was some golden age of teaching: How did we arrive at this strange state of affairs? The story begins about a century ago, with the creation of the modern American research university. It's hard to see evidence that teaching at four-year-colleges has declined in quality over that time, or that there was some golden age in the past when professors were real professors, students were real students, and student athletes were also real students. The disincentives for paying attention to teaching exist but may not be impeding the improvement of teaching over time, and they may be relatively mild at many institutions or departments.

March 10, 2006

Performing masculinity in academe

Some time ago, a colleague of mine called another colleague (one I respect for several good reasons) a "number one asshole." This wasn't to his face but to me, at the tail end of a discussion about something my colleague (the insulting one) is rather stressed over (unrelated for the most part to the insulted one).

Pardon the vulgarity, but it's necessary to quote to make a point about academic men: almost no one illustrates the perfomative nature of gender better than male professors. In part, academic culture socializes graduate students into a culture of peacocking, as Emily Toth explains in one "Ms. Mentor" column. And while many disciplines have had a critical mass of women as senior professors, others don't, or don't in a particular department or college. These legacy old-boy network(let)s operate to maintain a semi-bitter rhetoric of what a true academic man is, or how one performs. When one is whinging, griping, or staving off career disasters or a campus-political faux pause, attacking others isn't a queen-bee thing at all. The men know a thing or two about internecine squabbles and the snarky comment.

There are solid reasons to be distressed about the comment just in itself—it distracts my colleague from what he should be looking at, and it's just plain manipulative (I work closely with the insulted colleague)—but in another sense there's something incredibly signal about the casual vulgarity. It's something you can recognize in the White House tapes of the Nixon White House—vulgarity as assertion of manhood. For some reason, backstabbing vulgarity is an even more pungent performance of masculinity in academe, as I've witnessed it.

What ran through my head—though I wouldn't say this to someone who is upset about other things and who I didn't want to distract further from more salient points—was, "Oh, you're so cute when you're performing masculinity in that way." Yeah, I can think snarky thoughts with the best of them.

There's another, more subtle and academic point I'll make in a few weeks on a new group blog I've joined, The Wall of Education. It has less to do with gender than character attributes and colleges of education, but there's a loose connection here that I'll tie in after the post is public.

February 21, 2006

Summers of Discontent

Larry Summers has resigned, and the blogosphere is full of intemperate claims of political correctness. Tim Burke has the sensible view. No one's hands are particularly clean here (are they ever, at Harvard?), but Larry Summers had plenty of self-inflicted wounds.

February 4, 2006

And on the right side of publishing competence ...

Our edited book Schools as Imagined Communities is out! I'm so happy. This is one of the two edited collections I've been working on for the last few years. The other one is still in press, but the imagined communities book has been a labor of love, especially since it involves other people's labor. Go buy! Assign it to classes! Deirdre Cobb-Roberts, Barbara Shircliffe, and I don't get a single red cent, since all of the royalties are donated to three organizations (the History of Education Society, the American Educational Studies Association, and Bealsville, Inc., a local preservationist society—see the obituary of Carrie Johnston for a bit of the background).

And, unlooked for, Palgrave Macmillan corrected a minor error that I thought was going to be preserved in the book. We had asked that Deirdre be first author, but when we saw the cover, it came back with me as first author, and then the galleys had Deirdre as first author. Yikes! It's a minor inconsistency but a bit embarrassing. So we told them we didn't really care who was listed first (we don't, really), but that it needed to be consistent. The next version I saw (including the one on Amazon) had me listed as first editor, so that's how we gave the citation to our chair. And then we got our copies in the mail. They fixed it!

It's a minor thing, really, but a point of professionalism in favor of the press. (And, if you have the chance to work with Palgrave Macmillan, I recommend them. We received the copyedited MS and the galleys electronically, which speeds the work on a collaborative project dramatically.)

Incidentally, the link to the book is for Amazon—Powell's doesn't yet have it listed. But I don't care where you buy the book.

February 3, 2006

A preposition! My kingdom of a preposition!

Well, I've been misquoted in the press again, if mildly. Ed Week reporter Debra Viadero wrote a generally nice article about Rob Warren's EPAA article comparing different graduation measures, and she quoted from an e-mail I had sent her after a misdirected missive (that came to me though intended for someone else). I had written (in part),

My gut sense as an editor and someone who has written before on the topic is that Warren has the best look thus far at the different measures, his idea is a definite if marginal improvement, and that migration continues to be the greatest problem for estimating graduation accurately at the local level.

That came out as...
“Warren has the best look thus far of the different measures,” Sherman Dorn, the journal’s editor, said in an e-mail message last week. “His idea is a definite if marginal improvement.” (emphasis added)

At, of—what's the difference? It makes me look a little less literate, but it's more amusing than anything else. The article is at least 70% correct, so that's pretty good for education reporting.

January 28, 2006

On tap this weekend

The tradeoffs of scheduling your own time: my son's after-care situation has been deteriorating (or maybe at a steady-state mediocre quality), and until a new after-care can open in early March, I've decided to pick him up early as many days a week as I can (which is the majority). I'm very relieved to have the ability to do that, as a faculty member who teaches in the morning. But combine that with my other default-chauffeuring duties in the week, and I'm spending much of my evenings and weekends doing work, at least for the next six weeks or so. On tap this weekend: finishing up a grant revision for NIH (yes, an historian applies to NIH—cool or just weird?), so I can get it in for the Feb. 1 cycle (after which there is electronic submission and who knows how that will go the first year); editing an article manuscript for uploading next week to EPAA; writing a few disposition letters for same; reading revisions for same; reading work a student did to finish an incomplete; grading a good part of an assignment from my classes; and (with luck) a date with my wife (the luck part referring to carving out a time when we won't be slumped over in exhaustion).

And those who expect an occasional entry on academic freedom, don't fret. I have a draft entry that's partly written, in response to the "Bruin Alumni Association" incident, and there is some good news on the academic-freedom front at USF, if only the paperwork will get done properly and promptly. But that all takes a back seat to other stuff, including time with my family.

January 19, 2006

Historical Statistics of the U.S.

Robert Samuelson's discussion of the new Historical Statistics of the United States says that there is an online version where access can be purchased by libraries (presumably so members of universities can use the materials). I hope so, because otherwise the volumes will be largely underutilized.

January 16, 2006

The critical mass of information...

A former student of mine has a blog where she occasionally puts things down in free verse (something I needed an explanation of ... clueless me when she was an English grad student, right?). This morning, I responded with a sonnet. Awful, of course, but since her entry was vaguely about the problems of learning too much, I felt the need to point out that part of the role of grad student is to acquire enough information to put scholarly writings into perspective: what's new, what's a real contribution. Okay, with a twist at the end.

Historians claim that Los Alamos
was where the nascent sub-critical mass,
analyzed over poached eggs and dry toast,
was then declared a failure or a pass.
Those one percent, we ex-grad student fools,
know better. Reading we came upon ore,
mind through dross with our self-sharpening tools,
for nuggets of insight. The open doors
to that written, printed uranium
did not carry any red hazard sign,
warning us too much and a cranium
explodes or, worse, learns
. But now it's just fine.
Redrafted dissertations come and go,
deconstructing old Michaelangelo.

January 14, 2006


I have a student from my alma mater shadowing me next week. While I wish my schedule allowed me to attend a candidate's presentation on Tuesday, I think the rest of the week has enough things to give her a sense of what one professor's life is like. I have the next Education Policy Analysis Archives article about 75% edited, giving the right amount to do jointly; some grants to draft/redraft a bit; student stuff to read; classes to prepare; committeework; a journal manuscript to review; and whatever else comes up as urgent or important (and the two aren't the same!).

And while my university hasn't listed anything for the MLK holiday on its website (which is rather strange, as we've typically had a bunch of activities this time of year commemorating King's legacy), we do have Desmond Tutu talking on Thursday evening and a Wednesday-evening movie-shown-on-the-student-union-wall (outside) that she can attend. And I may have a last-minute presentation to prepare for. (This is last-minute in terms of the invitation, not my procrastination! I usually wait a while before procrastinating...) So if she doesn't mind eating at least mostly vegetarian for the week, and the cot we have doesn't throw her for a loop, we'll have a busy week.

December 14, 2005


Ugh. Someone has hacked into Dr. History's blog, turning it into a one-entry porn reference. (Proof that this is not Dr. H's work is the Google Blogsearch's list of Dr. H's posts.) I don't know her in real life, but it's highly disturbing that someone would have the maliciousness of screwing up an academic blog. And the Internet Archive doesn't save blogspot entries, apparently.

December 13, 2005

Haloscan comments with ads??

Has anyone else noticed the appearance of text ads in Haloscan comments? It's appearing in my comments but not in those of some other blogs. Hmmn...

Volunteer annoyances

I volunteer in my son's elementary school on Monday mornings, but things have changed this year. Because of a state law requiring fingerprinting/background checks for vendor employees in public schools, school districts are having to make choices about which volunteer situations require fingerprinting (at a cost of $50/person, which the district can't really pay and can't ask volunteers to do). Hillsborough has decided that volunteers and researchers need to be fingerprinted if they're going to be with kids one-on-one. I understand, but the practical import is that I'm not spending one-on-one time tutoring a child. I've instead spent rather frustrating time in the classroom helping, well, maybe one child in the midst of a social-studies lesson.

And then there was yesterday. One student asked me if I could help her with a longstanding annoyance. It turns out that the touchpads on the school's cart of computeres are all set to have the tap-click feature (where tapping on the touchpad is equivalent to a mouse click). Me, personally, I turn that sucker off because the pad of my thumb touches that off, and the cursor goes wild while I'm typing. So I perfectly understood what she wanted.

Except that I couldn't find the right setting.

A friend of mine who works for the computer company who makes these laptops guessed that the district employee who set up the computers failed to install the Synaptics touchpad driver that would allow for the toggling of the tap-click feature. One more thing that makes the students waste time and feel like they're incompetent.

December 6, 2005

Disciplinary reading recommendations

Congrats to Margaret Soltan (aka University Diarist), whose Inside Higher Ed column today explores the nature of English as a field, or the lack thereof. It's not my discipline, but I understand her concerns. History was in the midst of such consternation a while ago, or maybe it's still there and I haven't noticed.

And while we're on disciplinary-pondering recommendations and the inevitable debates about postmodernism, may I suggest Ian Hacking's The Social Construction of What? (2000), which is currently irritating a group of honors-college students here at USF. Or, rather, his elliptical references are irritating them. Nonetheless, it's a good and important read on the philosophy of science, and the third chapter is invaluable for distinguishing different questions in social-construction and deconstruction arguments:

  • Contingency—the extent to which a concept's development and history could have been different
  • Nominalism—whether a concept reflects some outside-humanity reality or whether our concepts are human bins (or pigeonholes) for a reality that is either not structured that way or has no structure we can recognize has humans
  • Explanations of stability—whether the long-term viability of a concept reflects the utility and consistency within a field or the social and professional factors that impose a certain inertia on disciplinary conventions

Hacking describes Kuhn as high on the social-construction scale for all three dimensions and rates himself most highly in nominalism. I think Hacking is right in rating Kuhn high for contingency and explanations of stability (he's the one who abused paradigm for the first time, after all), but is dead wrong on nominalism. (Incidentally, I never met Kuhn but did meet his son, as he and my older brother Stan were college friends.)

For the record, I'd rate myself relatively high (on the social-construction scale) in his contingency category and medium on nominalism and stability. Then again, we historians naturally argue for contingency, or we'd have nothing to talk about.

Update (noonish): I forgot to credit my brother Ron (a geographer at ASU) for ties to some of the work discussed by Hacking in his chapter on rocks. Yes, rocks. Hackins discusses the work of McKenzie and Vasconcelos and their theory that nanobacteria are responsible for creating dolomite, and since my brother has some experience with biological explanation of geographic/geologic phenomena, I asked him if he knew of this stuff. He said it was fairly complex, since it touches on what's called the faint-sun paradox. This is far beyond my knowledge. That's why he's the geographer and I'm the historian. Now, ask me about the irony of Daniel Schreiber's career as an educator, and I'm there.

A paean to the city where I learned

This morning I just discovered a wonderful weekly-paper article on linguists' analysis of native Philadelphian speech. I spent ten years in the Philly area, and I have to distort one of Jim Quinn's sentences thus: Our dialect is so unique the University of
Pennsylvania has had a whole department, led by William Labov, one of
America's most distinguished linguists, studying it for more than 25 years
... and they still couldn't get anyone to tell them where to get a good cheesesteak. (They forgot the at.)

November 14, 2005

Do I look like I'm from MIT?

Yesterday, I was at the Central Park hawk bench, enjoying a discussion with one of the birding regulars there about Pale Male, when she asked me if I taught at MIT. Well, I'll admit that's the most unusual question I've ever heard from an adult. Occasionally I pretend that I've heard a rude question for the very first time (I've never been asked that by a stranger!), to give another person (especially students) a hint that you don't ask that.

But I really had never been asked if I taught at MIT before. So I explained that I taught at USF, and after a bit more conversation, it turned out that she had probably never heard of USF even though she had lived in Florida for several years, before she had become a birder.

Incidentally, New York was great. I'm exhausted, and I didn't get enough work done, but it was an absolutely wonderful trip. And I've been invited to play along with coauthor a review article over the next few months. Fun! Challenging. Trying to conceive of fitting that in with everything else. Anyone know a temporal equivalent of a shoehorn?

November 13, 2005

Plagiarist e-mails...

I just received an interesting e-mail from Judith Kelly, the author of a "memoir" whose work was surprisingly similar to a work by Antonia White in 1933 and more recent work by Hilary Mantel. I'm a bit at a loss as to how to respond, so I thought I'd let my readers vote. Here's what she wrote:

Dear Sherman Dorn, I am replying to the blog on your website with the above title regarding my book, Rock Me Gently. Firstly, I would point out that I do not consider myself to be a writer as I have never written a book before and I do not intend to write another in the future. Therefore I am not what you describe as a "professional plagiarist". Nor have ever claimed to have a photographic memory - that is media hype. My story is based on the diary I kept as an eight year old child, which is still in my possession. Therefore my story is not a lie, but a true memoir. It took me seven years to write my book and my main aim was to give a voice to the two eleven year old friends of mine who died at the convent I attended as a child. Since the publication of my story,I have received numerous letters from people who experienced the same kind of abuse that I did as a child. All of them tell me that my story has helped them come to terms with what happened to them as children and for the first time in their lives, they are able to speak up about it. I learnt to tell my story by reading and imitating the masters and I am truly sorry for the mistakes I made throughout the years as I wrote it. I am not trying to excuse what I have done, but would only add that the similarities between my book and that of other authors is minimal in comparison to the amount of words contained in my story. Please would you read my book and judge for yourself. If you agree, I would like to send you a free copy Kind regards, Judith Kelly.
I should note that a comment on my earlier entry also defended Ms. Kelly. I guess she and her friends read blogs, or at least Google her name (or maybe check Technorati).

So, Gentle Readers, how should I respond?

November 6, 2005

Waves of globalization

This morning, I was chairing an attrition-attacked panel at the Social-Science History Association meeting, where one presenter just never made it and where the discussant had to e-mail me her comments because of a minor family crisis. But the comments started a very nice discussion after two papers that appeared to have an odd juxtaposition—one paper by an economics grad student on post-Civil War literacy rates (1870 census) and counties with Freedmen's Bureau activity, on the one hand, and a paper by Penn State-Behrend historian Liz McMahon on the relationship between Qur'anic and Protectorate/colonial schools on the 20th century Zanzibar colony's Pemba island, after the British takeover and emancipation.

I don't remember how we got around to discussing globalization, but the idea floated in the small group that there have been several waves of ideas, behaviors, patterns, spread by global mechanics as a conveyor or vector: disease, ideas, materials, wealth, and social relationship repertoires.

I'm not sure where to go with that—I don't quite have the span of knowledge to wrap my brain around it—but it seems far more historical than Thomas Friedman's "flat-world" book. Anyone want to pick up the idea and run with it (or let loose the cruel pack of vicious facts on the innocent hypothesis , to paraphrase from Bloom County)?

October 31, 2005

Cliopatria award nominations

Cliopatria, the group blog at the History News Network, is giving out awards for blogs. Nominations for different categories are now open (through November 30). I suppose this blog is eligible for some categories, but not in the group blog nor newcomer categories.

October 20, 2005

Door-to-door philosophers

Thanks to a student who compared Descartes's God existence proofs to evangelists, I had perhaps what should be a Monty Python skit of door-to-door philosophers pop into my head:

Rorty: I'm sorry to trouble you, but it's very important that I offer you some practical truth today.
Resident: Look, I had John-Paul Sartre peddling his Being and Nothingness yesterday morning, and I still haven't digested existentialism. Can you come 'round next week?
Rorty: Can I at least have a few minutes— [door slams!]
Resident: Pesky philosophers!

October 6, 2005

Productivity in the midst of chaos

After my car adventure yesterday (what? a link to my personal blog? oh, well—the secret's out for all 1.273510... readers), it turns out I wasn't half-bad in the productivity department. I sent out a rejection notice (which required piecing together a picture from five reviews), loaded the new version of SAS on my work laptop, started looking at Florida 1999-2000 and 2000-01 data for the attrition/graduation analysis, edited materials for one class's interview project, and a few other odds and ends. I'm behind on reading some revisions for EPAA, as well as other things (it's an eternal job, so I'm very glad it's enjoyable), but we have an article to come out tomorrow, and the following one is mostly put together (need feedback from the author), so that's in pretty good shape. I need to do some union stuff in the next day, teach, pick up my son and then take everyone and the toad to the vet for an afternoon appointment. And I'm sure there are other things as well that's not currently in mind.

This is why I try not to keep to-do lists in my head (thanks to A.G. Rud, and that's credit for helping, not responsibility for my absent-mindedness).

Oh, and there's an interesting e-mail correspondence that's come from my union e-mail newsletter item about academic freedom. I wish it included the administration, but you can't have everything that's sensible in life. More later...

Added later: Hmmmn... I didn't intend to give off the impression that writing a rejection letter for a journal was productive in itself—more a matter that any letter that isn't an outright acceptance requires some care in giving guidance to the author(s).

September 23, 2005


Lots of little things done this week but no long stretch of time where I could get one or two significant things done. To steal from the nursery rhyme (can anyone give me an authoritative source, or is this "Trad."?):

Monday's work was fair for meetings.
Tuesday's work had student seatings.
Wednesday's work was lots of grading.
Thursday's talks were very sating.
Friday's meetings were very long.
Saturday's work would turn out wrong.
The work I'll do on the second weekend day
will surely turn my remaining hair gray.

I was hoping to get an Education Policy Analysis Archives issue out today, but some issues on each of the next two articles are still unresolved, so that's delayed. I've started to climb that particular learning curve, and then a few others hit, with no immediate resolution, and then lots of short things ate up the rest of the time.

And then there's indexing of the Schools as Imagined Communities book, whose proofs go back at the end of next week. Aiiieieieieieie! Nothing's inherently wrong, I'm keeping up with essential things and have almost everything else lined up in some reasonable way, but I haven't had two hours' open time for anything but grading. And Blackboard isn't coughing up feedback for my students, so I'll need a workaround if the Blackboard techies can't help by Monday.

Nothing wrong, at all, that a little time and the bashing of Blackboard won't accomplish.

September 10, 2005

Fowler's English

While Henry Fowler's Modern English Usage (2nd ed.) is not available online (being reprinted by Oxford University Press—get the 2nd ed., not the 3rd), his brother H.W. Fowler's The King's English (1908) is available online.

September 2, 2005

The institutional memory of survivors

One of the dominant undercurrents of reporting this last week has been the terror and outrage of journalists caught in the hurricane and its aftermath. The CNN and NPR reporters at the Convention Center yesterday were clearly witnessing as well as reporting, and I suspect most journalists in New Orleans right now will come out of this with firm beliefs about the powers of government and the effects of negligence.

The tenor of these stories, however fleeting, should remind us that survivors and witnesses of great historical and demographic events have a lasting impact on national memory and culture. And there is no doubt that Hurricane Katrina is one of the great demographic events of our country's history. The hundreds of thousands of refugees will be stranded for months until they either give up on New Orleans, resettling, or find their way back to whatever New Orleans becomes. The deaths from Katrina will include not only those directly killed this week but also those whose health was and is yet to be affected by the stress of evacuation or living in the affected area after the hurricane. Southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi will be suffering for years to come in terms of infrastructure and culture.

Journalists are some of the most powerful historical observers, because they can reshape national perceptions in a matter of hours and days. The reporting of the civil rights movement helped shape national opinion about civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. But journalists aren't the only ones who survived, observed, and will retell over the years. Some of the survivors will remember and pass on the sense of terror at nature's fury. Others will focus on the lack of preparation, the shoddy assumptions built into the levees, and the underfunding of the levee projects in the years prior to Katrina. Yet others will think largely about the aftermath, either of the New Orleans residents who terrorized their fellow citizens or the agents of government who could not mount an effective evacuation or recovery effort until it seemed all too late.

I suspect that the white-collar survivors will choose either the second or third as the focus of remembrances, plus a universal one: the dislocation at the loss of a beautiful American city and the utter rupture of communication with loved ones and friends. Among historians, I think of Rosanne Adderley, who was in grad school with me at Penn and is/was working at Tulane. I hope you're safe, Rosanne.

Unfortunately, it looks as though my prediction of fires is coming true all too soon. I feel foolish for having thought of it this late. As others (Penny Richards and Steve Savitzky) have noted, fires followed both the Johnstown flood in 1889 and the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. A good historian shouldn't lose perspective just because more than a million fellow citizens are homeless and thousands dead and ... oh, heck. I'm going to assume that some competent planner years ago put "likely fires" in the assumptions for a post-hurricane New Orleans. But municipal and national politics being what they are, such wisdom is probably buried in the muck of City Hall file drawers. No, I don't think that the current administration's underfunding of FEMA is the only human-oriented culprit (though it's one).

The foreseeable burning of New Orleans

Signs are increasingly clear that, at some point in the near future—maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week—a significant portion of New Orleans will burn to the ground.

Any reasonably-conscious social historian and civil engineer can tell you the consequences of a large city with significant petroleum on the ground (and fumes near the ground), with no water pressure, little or no police protection for what minimal fire-fighting infrastructure still exists, no power, and gangs of thugs running around.  Maybe it will be arson, or maybe it will be an accident—and the explosions this morning could have been either, at least from my lack of knowledge about it at the moment.  But at some point, one of the fires around town will ignite petroleum on the ground or vapors in the air, and the fire will spread.  Depending on wind conditions, this could ignite a firestorm, though that's unlikely.

What is certain is that any fire of significant size in the devastated city will not only destroy the area in which it starts but will also spread toxic pollution, killing hundreds of already-fragile refugees who have no inside shelter and further complicating rescue efforts. FEMA and other rescue crews will likely withdraw to an area where they can be safe, leaving more to die from dehydration, exposure, and violence, plus the new threat of smoke inhalation.

And after it, FEMA and Homeland Security heads will scratch their heads and say, "This was so unexpected.  How could we have known that this could have happened?"  

Tell them they're full of bullshit.  

Better yet, call the White House comment line (202-456-1111) now and tell them that unless FEMA and other rescue crews have smoke-inhalation and other gear that should be in place when expecting a massive fire, the federal government is going to be killing hundreds more through another act of negligence. Because while I dearly hope I'm wrong, I suspect a massive fire is in the offing.

Whether you spread this message in your blogs is your choice, of course.  

Update (9:22 am EDT): The White House line is clogged. I've contacted my senior senator as well as Sen. Landrieu's office. My apologies for the strong language, if you're offended; I thought of changing it after posting and then decided that, occasionally, my professional judgment as an historian backs up the strength of such expressions. And it is ignorance at best to claim that a fire is unlikely in circumstances anything like this.

August 12, 2005

Online OED

Thanks to Piers Cawley: there's an OED gateway that Tarrin Wills has set up at the University of Sydney. From the entry on drop-out, it's clearly from the older edition (not the OED online for which you need a subscription). But it's still fun.

July 28, 2005

Bulwer-Lytton failure

Alerted by Margaret Soltan, I found the winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Alas, I did not earn any recognition for this scintillating entry:

Leaning backwards over the balcony after three glasses of Merlot, the dean suddenly found himself dropping into the courtyard like a delinquent duck shot by a vigilante Supreme Court justice, landing squarely on students about to be honored for making the Provost's List and finally realizing his public ambition of impacting college students in a lifelong way.

My congratulations (or condolences) to Dan McKay, the winner of this year's (dis)honor. In other news, I chug along recovering from the summer course and chipping away at small things while engaging my son in high academic pursuits such as a 13-mile ride on the Tampa Bay trail, something that readers of the Michael Bérubé column on summer projects will recognize.

July 19, 2005

Work horcruxes

This is going to be a fragmented week. Yesterday, I served part of my jury duty in the federal courthouse and finished an article review for a journal before I went to voir dire for a civil suit. I wasn't chosen, so I'll see if I need to head downtown again next Monday for another round. In the meantime, I had two chats for my online course, rescheduled the last two chats for this weekend, will be reading the group wiki pages and then the multimedia essay and calculate final grades, all while trying to catch up on my editorial duties for Education Policy Analysis Archives and of course seeing my family (including my mother, who flies in Wednesday night en route to taking my daughter to an Elderhostel trek next week).

For those who have read HP6, I'll just say that I have several work horcruxes. No, I didn't do anything evil to create them.

July 10, 2005

Ivan Tribble fisked

It looks like there has been an explosion of blog entries about the "Ivan Tribble" blogging column. Most of it is justifiably critical. The best title thus far goes to The Trouble with Tribble, by Timothy Burke. Profgrrrrl notes that she wouldn't want to work in Tribble's department, because she's already had colleagues like him (or her) before.

July 9, 2005

More foolish search committee stuff

I've slowly come to agree with remarks I've seen in various places that the anonymous columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education constitute an attractive nuisance for whining academics. The latest case in point is anonymous Ivan Tribble, who warns potential bloggers of the dangers posed by search committees who might read one's blog and strike you from a search. Daniel Drezner has the best advice for such a search committee: don't ever hire anyone, if you're fearful that your colleague might embarrass you. Margaret Soltan points out that this provides an incentive for academics to write articles for obscure journals that few will read.

Now, I suppose that there's a risk that an academic blogger might say something embarrassing for one's institution. I suppose a search committee has the right to be paranoid about some things. So let me ask my faithful 2.37 readers: what is the likelihood that someone who crafts an anonymous column for the Chronicle will write something embarrassing? Or, more to the point, when was the last time you read a non-whiny anonymous column at the Chronicle?

July 4, 2005

On patriotism and principles

I'm an educational historian, and sometimes there are gems in my field that say something to the world at large. Today, it's from the wartime court decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943):

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. (319 U.S. 624, 642)

Happy birthday, U.S.!

June 25, 2005

Bloody search committees

While I'm in a mental fog after donating blood today, I'll engage in some speculation. (Proof of my post-donation daftness is the bloody bad pun in the title.) Over the past few years, some thoughtful academics have argued that universities need greater intellectual diversity. I'm not going to comment on the David Horowitz-like or Lynne Cheney-like arguments about curricula (which includes deep textual analysis of course descriptions and counting the names in standards documents: Suffice it to say that calling for curriculum quotas is a wee bit inconsistent for political conservatives who would rail against quotas based on race). Instead, let me refer to Brooklyn College historian KC Johnson (examples 1, 2, and 3), NYU historian of education Jon Zimmerman (in the end of Whose America?), and Atlanta historian Ralph Luker. Let me represent their best argument: the failure to take some adequate care about the intellectual diversity of a department or broader unit results in more shallow teaching and research and endangers the intellectual mission of higher education. One component claim is that an intellectually-monolithic unit acts as an echo chamber that impedes dialogue and intellectual challenge.

While I think such a claim deserves some serious study rather than cavalier approval (where's the anthropologist studying higher ed?), it makes some sense to ask what some legitimate, non-politicized ways of encouraging intellectual diversity might consist of. A few months ago, I noted the UIC chemistry department's having part of a faculty search proceed after blinding the name and institutional identity of candidates. I suppose the idea is to eliminate the chances that name- or institution-based biases would intrude on the decision-making process. At my institution, that's feasible in an early step of a search: deciding which candidates have met the minimum qualifications as posted in the job announcement.

Sitting on the donation couch in a donation coach a mile away from home, the following uncouth thoughts slipped from my brain:

  1. What about an external review of assistant-professor candidate pools? We have external reviews of tenure candidates, and the original hiring decision is a far more open process. Why not an occasional appointment of two or three external experts in the field to review the candidate pool in a streamlined fashion—say, picking those invited to campus interviews, adding an equal number of those close to the campus-interview list, and then a third portion of randomly-chosen candidates who passed the first sniff test? It would have to be a post-mortem process, and it couldn't replicate the discussion of a department's needs that often play into the search process. And to attract the external reviewers, provosts and deans would have to cough up the honorarium equivalent of one additional campus-interview in costs. Nonetheless, it might be an interesting, occasional comparison of a search committee's perspective with those in the field but not in the same institution.
  2. What about using the target-of-opportunity program structure to expand the type of subfields included in a department? Currently, target-of-opportunity programs focus on gender and race/ethnicity as diversity concerns. But there's a plausible argument that departments narrow their focus on specific fields and exclude some based on various predilections, including academic trends, a perception that a field is thin in candidate pools, or experiences and expectations of available lines and funding. There are a number of risks with target-of-opportunity hiring programs (including the usual perceptions associated with affirmative action programs, the risks of going around standard hiring processes, questions about outyear budget obligations for departments, and resentment among some faculty about the inevitably higher salaries paid to new faculty in such programs). Nevertheless, they are attractive opportunities to departments who are willing to seize them.

Slings and arrows welcome... (and we'll see who really reads my blog entries when I'm in the mental stratosphere from lack of iron)

June 24, 2005

Blog research

At MIT, Cameron Marlow is working on a social-network dissertation with blog authors as the target population. Want to help?

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

June 10, 2005

Got a postcard!

I received a postcard from profgrrrrl from her trip to Taiwan yesterday and, as promised in the sign-up, I've scanned both sides. Here they are:



June 1, 2005


So the news today is filled with the revelation that former FBI No. 2 Mark Felt was Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat, the anonymous source for much of their Watergate coverage. I expect that we'll first see the lionization of Felt for being a whistleblower. Regardless of the putative motivation (in one version, revenge at Nixon for having targeted the FBI), Felt helped unravel a conspiracy to suppress an investigation of a political crime. I wonder how soon will come discussion of the rest of Felt's record—his work as J. Edgar Hoover's right-hand man, the person in charge of internal inspections who raised no ethical questions about COINTELPRO, his conviction related to one COINTELPRO operation (against the Weathermen), and the pardon by Reagan. Does his service as Deep Throat mitigate his undermining of American democracy through COINTELPRO? But Felt's record isn't the only story of redemption in popular consciousness this month. There's Anakin Skywalker, after all, ...

Discovering that my children don't remember anything about the original Star Wars (you know, "Episode IV," originally released in 1977), I showed the DVD to them last week and discovered a few uncomfortable things, like Princess Leia's complete failure to mourn the deaths of millions on the planet where she grew up. But let's skip the fairy-tale elements here and get to the myth of the broader Star Wars story-arc (see Alex Soojung-Kim Pang's commentary for the best critique of Lucas's general movie-making): The six films together are far more about Anakin than about either Luke, Obi-Wan, or the political struggle in the SW universe. As many others have noted, Anakin is a tragic figure, falling into the depths of savagery before being redeemed at the last minute, quite literally, in Return of the Jedi.

But is it really the saving of his soul or whatever is akin to that? Anakin's redemption in SW VI: RotJ consists primarily of his heaving Palpatine to his death to save Luke. Given his role in millions of deaths in the prior twenty years or so, seeing Anakin as redeemed would be like the celebration of Lavrenti Beria if he had killed Stalin in the early 50s. (Please, don't tell me in comments that he really did! I'm not a Soviet historian and don't wish to be swamped with various conspiracy theories. The question would still remain.) Without having seen SWIII, I think I can safely say that Anakin/Vader was responsible for much of the harm of the Empire in Lucas's mythical long-ago, far-away galaxy. One good moment doesn't wipe out hundreds of crimes.

In history, though, there is a broader question: is redemption individual or collective? I recall more than twenty years ago a similar storyline about redemption when George Wallace was elected Alabama's governor one last time in 1982, after announcing he had become born-again and apologized to civil rights leaders for his recalcitrant segregationist stance in the 1960s. Yes, it is true that Wallace turned himself around in many ways. But the redemption story ignored in 1982 was that the American political system had been redeemed in significant ways with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Facing newly-enfranchised Black voters, a whole bunch of white segregationists suddenly discovered religion (or at least civil rights). Some of them were heartfelt. Some, like Strom Thurmond, you really couldn't quite believe. Some, like Jesse Helms, betrayed the lip service to civil rights with their actions (the "white hands" ads in Helms' first campaign against Harvey Gantt). But the true story of George Wallace's election in 1982 was the redemption of a region (and a country), not just of one individual.

Whether Mark Felt's whistleblowing as Deep Throat is a similarly broad redemption is much more questionable. But we're taken with stories of individual redemption—thus the appeal of the SW movies and what I expect will be an eventual journalistic judgment that Felt really was redeemed by his maybe-not-so-well-intentioned semi-whistleblowing.

May 26, 2005

My hat is off to those who work at home...

One of the joys of academic life is the freedom to schedule one's life, such as the time I spent this morning at my children's schools, shuttling between the party in my son's fourth-grade class and the end-of-year celebration at my daughter's middle school. So they're home this afternoon, releasing some energy by playing together in the room next to this one. They're chattering and playing together. That's wonderful!

And I can't concentrate worth a dime. It's part of the parents' curse, to pay attention to every sound around you.

So I officially and permanently extend my great admiration to those who are able to concentrate with children in the home. I can't do it. If you can, enjoy the skill, and would you be willing to write my next piece?

May 23, 2005

Dis-positioning the institution

Today, Brooklyn College historian KC Johnson dissed colleges of education for collecting evidence of student dispositions, claiming that the response to NCATE's push for evidence about dispositions is part of the leftward tilt of campuses. Hmmm... While there certainly are examples of silly institutions trying to cram ideologies down the necks of students, such as LeMoyne College, as Robert Sibley of FIRE points out, blaming NCATE is taking responsibility away from faculty. I'm used to seeing NCATE blamed for plenty of things, and while I'm no great fan of the accrediting body, it cannot simultaneously be the font of group-think, as Johnson implies, and also the carrier of corporate reform rhetoric as I have heard from some colleagues in colleges of education around the country.

There is nothing that says that a disposition has to be about a specific political position. My institution's conceptual framework for educator preparation is pretty tame in that regard, mentioning the disposition to advocate for students in addition to things like collaboration, reflection, commitment to learning, etc. I was on one group drafting it, and there was some language floating around about social justice. We eliminated that language, precisely because the majority (or a vocal, convincing minority) thought that it was inappropriate to put in a set of institutional commitments. Teachers should advocate for students' intellectual careers. But that advocacy doesn't necessarily mean following a specific political party platform.

In addition, there is nothing in the analysis of dispositions that requires thought police. A few years ago, we invited John Johnson as a speaker (no, I don't have additional identifying information!), who suggested looking at behavior as evidence of dispositions.

I am not claiming that my college is perfect—far from it. But it is a counterexample ot KC Johnson's broad-brush approach to colleges of education.

May 4, 2005

Glad my plate is full

I thought I'd come to Chain Bookstore to redeem my free drink as a reward after my fillings and then get some early grading done, but I'm useless on grading thanks to the epinephrine that went with the anesthesia. (For those who are curious, he said that it's a vasoconstrictor to delay the anesthesia's dissipation.) If this distractibility is what ADD/ADHD is like, I'm glad I don't have it. So I'll turn to something else: write more in the last chapter of Citizen-Scholar, try to ignore the gorgeous peahen looking in the window at all the food she'd like to snitch here in the bookstore cafe, and then go to my son's school advisory council meeting in 90 minutes to explain to the other parents that there is no research supporting the use of school uniforms.

April 28, 2005

Paulo Freire and the chic cultural capital of academe

I'm on the committee of a graduate student just getting into Paulo Freire's work, and that brings back memories. I remember reading Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) when I was sixteen, and it was an early, "Oh, I can read that" experience.

I was visiting my sister's intro women's studies class at UC Santa Cruz (Eileen called it her baby-feminism class), and the lecturer was discussing the sociology of knowledge (though she didn't call it that) and mentioned Freire's book. Cool, I thought, and when my mother and I hit a bookstore later that day, I convinced her to buy a copy for me to check out. Then, over the next few days, I waded through it (and those who have read the book know what I mean!). I was fairly sure I got the gist of his repressive-education-as-banking theory, though I did have the sense that he could have explained it more clearly and in about a quarter of the length. This was lesson #17 in the Socialization of an Academic: you, too, can read dense obfuscatory prose using the Force and the confidence that you can grasp the central concept with enough concentration—assuming, of course, that there is a central concept.

That confidence stood me in great stead in graduate school and since, but it was somehow disillusioning. Was there nothing to this work (whatever the work was) except a fairly simple central idea camouflaged by a few dozen thousand words of verbage? The generally dense style of postmodernist/poststructuralist/deconstructionist writers was not the only thing that made me wonder what made a work famous. There was also the wild-eyed tone of some authors (Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky) who were minor bestsellers at the independent bookstore House of Our Own Books where I spent a few hundred hours behind the cash register. And then the pre-Civil War reading seminar where the prof casually explained why certain books won awards ("oh, shoot, the paperback of this omitted all the color prints; that's really why Bailyn won the Bancroft Award"). So I'm occasionally cynical about effusive praise of Big Men/Women on a Campus (and positively scared for the world when anyone treats me as if I have gravitas).

So when this student writes several adulatory paragraphs on Freire, I'm tempted to shout, "But don't you realize that Freire is now just chic cultural capital for Leftist academics??!!" But if I did, I'd be denying the student the chance to come to an independent judgment. Our committee needs to clue this student into the thoughtful criticisms of Freire's work but subtly.

April 12, 2005

American Educational Research Association meeting

I'm in Montreal this week for the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, and it will be one of the odder conference visits I've ever had. I won't attend a single paper session....

I arrived yesterday, spent a few hours getting through customs, to my hotel, and checking in for the conference itself. Then I tried to attend a roundtable session with an overflow crowd and realized it was not to be, so I attended the annual lecture of the John Dewey Society by Herbert Kliebard and then the business meeting of the Communication of Research SIG, where we honored Gene Glass's service as founding editor of the Education Policy Analysis Archives. This morning I had breakfast with 9 members of the editorial boards for the journal and spent the morning walking through the exhibit hall buying far too many books and talking with editors about my plans for Academic Citizen. Nine or ten business cards later, it was time for lunch with an editor and some colleagues to talk about an edited book manuscript we sent and for me to sit back and listen to my colleagues pitch another book idea. Then time to go back to the hotel, swap the book load for my laptop, and head back to the exhibit hall, where I'm currently ensconsed in the internet cafe (one corner of the exhibit hall), trying to catch up on some things and prepare to work on my laptop sans connection while traveling tomorrow. In a little, I'll head to the business meeting of one of my divisions, and then run my class chat, and then head back to my hotel. And I leave tomorrow.

My major embarrassment is mixing up the day I'm supposed to be available as a journal editor to all comers at a roundtable of meet-the-editors. I was sure it was today, set my travel plans accordingly (returning tomorrow), and then realized the problem. Yikes!

Montreal itself is absolutely gorgeous in the spring. The sky was this pure azure yesterday right after the son set, and the Mont-Royal (that's the hill just north of McGill U., if I recall correctly) was silhouetted with the cross at the eastern end against the sky. I vaguely recall it as the setting for several scenes from Jesus of Montreal, but that may be my definitely fickle memory. Walking to breakfast this morning in the brisk air was wonderful, and the distance (a bit over a mile from my hotel) was perfect for exercise. So right now I'm nicely exhausted from the day's walks and strolls.

Tonight I find the hotspots in this hotel where I can run the class chat or go to the cafe on McGill College (the street, not the campus) where I can get online. In either case, a good run. Still, weird that I haven't attended any sessions, but I really, really needed to do the editors' walk this morning. Chatting with them gave me some ideas on how to organize the book or, at least, reinforced some ideas I had had already.

April 8, 2005

The subtleties of research ethics with children

Today comes the news that California Senator Barbara Boxer and Florida Senator Bill Nelson are holding up Stephen Johnson's nomination as EPA chief because of the EPA's Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study in Jacksonville. Designed as a study of the effects of normal pesticide use on young children, it may now be used to miseducate the public about research ethics. I'm not a medical or environmental research, but the politicizing of this concerns me.

From what I understand, the study had very poorly-written materials to inform parents about the study, problems which violate one of the basic principles of research ethics coming from the Belmont Report (1979): respect for persons, operationalized as informed consent. But Boxer's statements yesterday (you'll have to listen to the audio) implied that there should never be research about dangerous substances involving children, and that's also indefensible. The third Belmont principal is justice, or making sure that research includes appropriate populations. Years ago, publicly funded health studies generally studied men and ignored women. For years, drug companies failed to conduct pharmacological studies on children that really should have been required by off-label uses.

Research with children and other vulnerable populations requires special safeguards, but we still need such studies or we just won't have information about the effects of drugs or pollution on children.

March 21, 2005

Blind reviews for search committees?

In a fascinating story about Stanley Fish's successor as Arts and Sciences dean at UIC is a little nugget: the chemistry department is trying the first stage of search committee portfolio reviews blindly, after a staff member strips identifying information about names and institutions from the submitted material. I'm curious; what do you think?

March 5, 2005

Working for boba...

I'm currently in the north Tampa Boba Internet Cafe, having fled my office after a few hours of isolation (and good work on my chapter for the Imagined Communities book). I've seen it several times while driving past and decided to try it. It serves "bubble drinks," or sweetened teas or fruit drinks with tapioca pearls. Very sweet. It also has one of the pop radio stations on (tending towards rock but not too interesting), so I'm glad my work consisted entirely of setting up a reviewing-queue table for Education Policy Analysis Archives, copying titles, authors, and contact information into a table. I suppose I could have set up the next set of reviewers (my original intention, since I still have a backlog I inherited from my first day as editor, plus more manuscripts that have come in since), but I decided a good mindless task was appropriate, so I came up to the present on the titles and whatnot. I'll print it out and start assigning tentative reviewers over the next few days and start the next wave of reviews. Earlier today, I finished reading through the graduate-student editorial board applications (three dozen applicants, each with recommendation letters!), and the next step is consulting with the board. And there are two or three disposition letters I need to write—Monday, I think. I can't neglect my classes tomorrow, when I hope to get a bunch of teaching stuff done.

Anyone have a spare week or so?

February 28, 2005

Monster days

There are two types of monster days, though maybe I should call them bear days (as in "some days you get the bear, and some days ..."). One kind of monster day eats you alive—equipment breaks down right, left, and center, there are seven phone calls that need urgent attention right before class starts, nothing works in class dynamics, a student points out a horrendous error you made that will take days for you to fix, you get dumped with stupid bureaucratic tasks, and if the university president happens to pick you out personally to insult, it doesn't actually make things any worse. The other monster day is where you accomplish huge amounts of work or at least finish sizable chunks, and while it's not visible to the world yet, there is a sizable weight lifted off your shoulders.

No, I haven't quite had the second type of day today, but on top of finishing my annual review, getting my blood drawn for a lipid panel early this morning, and picking up a key from the campus key shop, I almost finished revising the introduction to an edited book, and over the last two days I did get my own chapter in almost-ready shape (need to recontact some sources first) and finished all of my own work on the other edited book. So the two days combined make a monster day. (Whew!) It probably would be a monster Monday by itself if I had another three or four contiguous hours left, but the day is broken up by picking up children (for which I need to leave campus in a few minutes).

February 26, 2005

The Art of the Annual Review

My annual review is due on Monday, and it's time to acknowledge that there is an art to bragging about oneself in a way that fits with the format of our over-bureaucratized annual review form in my college, with its headings and required entries (how much time were you assigned for this type of teaching, or research?). If one focused on the headings and boxes, you'd never get anywhere with the form.

The key is to remember that this is not a sonnet, and the structure is not fixed. There is usually an option to add one's own statement, a narrative, somewhere (in my college, at the start of the form), and that narrative is where I put most of my efforts. Since this year is the tenth I've been working with essentially the same form, much of the narrative remains the same from year to year. For a few years before tenure, I used the annual review as a rehearsal—could I project my 'academic persona' effectively? And now, having developed a workable form, I spend a few hours fiddling with it, making sure my vitae is up to date, and that's it. Last year, a colleague showed me that she was putting most of her documentation on a CD-ROM, which seemed much more sensible than a carton of stuff, so I followed suit.

I'm sure everyone has their own "tricks" to present themselves, but here are some of mine:

  • A chart to show progress on different projects (for those from different disciplines in my department, where the expectations is for more frequent publications than mine), with one row per project and one column per type of activity (grant proposal, primary research, presentations, publications, and works in progress), and that year's set of activities in boldface (a wonderful suggestion of my chair, Harold Keller, when a colleague and and I were going up for tenure in 2001-02 and worried about how to discuss our productivity")—
  • Beginning my discussion of teaching by talking about the key goals of the discipline (again, necessary because of my interdisciplinary department)—
  • Trying to link my service with goals either for teaching or resesarch—

February 10, 2005

Eyes on the Prize held hostage

As reported in Wired, Blackside Production's Eyes on the Prize is currently unavailable because it only negotiated the rights to all of those film clips for a limited number of years, and it was never released on DVD. Downhill Battle is organizing screenings of the documentary, using Henry Hampton's prize-winning work to make its case that our copyright laws are arcane and obfuscatory.

February 6, 2005

Managing work

After an "I'm overextended!" panic entry last week, a far-flung colleague recommended David Allen's Getting Things Done. I looked at the associated website, and it's clear Allen is a "workflow" consultant whose primary m.o. is a set of streamlined (and updated) to-do lists. I'm familiar with to-do lists and have had mine on the left side of my web page front matter for a year or more. I've managed the time crunches over the past year quite adequately with to-do lists. When I feel overloaded, that's my crutch: "Okay, time to make a to-do list." I get through the crunch, relax, and ... the to-do list drops off my mental landscape.

I don't like to operate in a crisis mentality, and that's what I associate a list with. Though I haven't read the book (I may if I have time when it comes into the library!), I suspect this mental association is the secondary issue with getting mildly behind (apart from being overcommitted—the list I drafted this morning has 18 items for today, and I just thought of a 19th). I think of to-do lists and my heart starts racing. So many things! When I operate by the seat of my pants and routines, no problem. Some things get dropped, but my life doesn't feel like a set of pressures and neverending deadlines. And closing in on 20 years in academe (including grad school), I've done quite well by this method.

The challenge: can I relax when I think about to-do lists, enough to work with them and keep them as part of my routine rather than as a stopgap measure?

February 3, 2005


Head colds are nasty enough in life, they shouldn't make me restless and unproductive, but they tend to. I hope this is one of the few bad head colds (and I'm quite sure it's one of the few bad ones in a year) that does not keep me up until 2:30 or 3 late in the process. I've already run through this week's Sleep Equity, and while the weekend looks pretty good, I want energy next week to use my two free days for scribbling productively. I'm gonna be selfish and write write write!

And that would be the plan except for this darned cold. I'm sure I'll plow through writing and other tasks, but not as effectively. And my mind does funny things with head colds (and the resulting lower oxygen flow to my brain). For some reason, while I can do many things after 1 am or on little sleep the next day, thinking clearly and deeply about my research isn't one of them. Instead, my mind flits to random and useless topics like the rhetorical power of humorous triplets of pairs, or whether I can afford another dark-chocolate dessert this week. (You thought only female academics had such urges? Hah!) Or bad attempts at witticism like this union organizing line I will not use: "Dues or dues not. There is no try." As I said, I didn't guarantee quality under these conditions. Open brain, insert foot.

And I'd probably describe some of the productive things I did, except I've forgotten. I'm just glad I did them before I forgot.

February 1, 2005

We're Number 200-something!

The University of South Florida now ranks in the 200s in Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Institute of Higher Education Top 500 World University "study" (thanks to Frog in a Well for the link). The method (incorrectly termed "methodology," but that's a different rant) is better on some levels than the North American rankings based substantially on reputations, but it relies on quantitative indices that measure the international "greatness" of a faculty (Nobel and Field prizes of faculty and alumni, statistics in certain citation indices, etc. ). The vast majority of productive research faculty who fail to win Nobel Prizes still contribute to their fields, and I can easily imagine "great" universities coddling the relative handful of stars while ignoring needs of the bulk of productive faculty. And that's still refusing to acknowledge teaching, left untouched by this "university league standings."

My guess is that my university president will tout this ranking as evidence that we're moving up in the world. But maybe we need to trade for a good center, centerfielder, or quarterback, depending on your choice of awful sports metaphor.

January 26, 2005

Reviewing books to kill Benjamin Bloom

In the middle of the 20th century, Benjamin Bloom became the best-known psychologist to categorize abstract thinking (or rather in a project to categorize the types of thinking in educational environments). His work has become known collectively as Bloom's Taxonomy of knowledge, and people in colleges of education can spout the categories almost by heart: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

So far, so good. Having terms for the different ways you want to see students sweat while thinking can be useful for designing work for them. That's what we in academe call a heuristic classification scheme, devised to be useful. Philosophers might call it pragmatic in the sense of calling something real if it's useful.

Unfortunately for pragmatist philosophers, something happened to this taxonomy once it was released into the wild. Many people decided that it was real in all contexts, not just useful in a limited set. And, having done so, they started describing the categories in a hierarchical sense. In this way, you will commonly see descriptions of higher-order and lower-order thinking skills, with knowledge and comprehension as clearly "lower-order." When I see or hear such description these days, I want to scream. What is it about humans that make us classify things in a hierarchical scheme and then latch on to them in this addictive fashion?

Wait. I should probably explain why I don't agree with a hierarchical scheme of knowledge: book reviews. Profgrrrrl wrote yesterday about voice and book reviews, and the tenor of comments is consistent with what I advise students about one critical skill in reviewing books: listening carefully to the author's voice. If I were to categorize that in Bloom's Taxonomy, knowing the author's perspective would be "knowledge," the lowest, basest form of thinking according to the hierarchical thinking-classifiers. And yet it is the hardest task in reviewing a book.

January 23, 2005

Irregular verbs

When I first saw Yes, Prime Minister, I was charmed by its wit and insight into politics. Probably the best lasting contribution was the invention of the irregular verb, a pointed description of different (and egocentric) perspectives:

  • I have high standards.
  • You sometimes let your students get easy A's.
  • They are letting grade inflation run rampant.

January 17, 2005


No assigned work today—holiday, and Elizabeth helps me enforce my standards on this sort of thing.

I'm allowing myself to do stuff that's linked to social activism, in the spirit of MLK, but that's it.

January 15, 2005

Trying comments again...

After checking out several other academic blogs like Playing School, Irreverantly, I've decided to try using Haloscan's comment accounts because it appears it's less subject to comment spam. So we'll see if anyone's interested enough in this to comment! (Hmmn... does this say anything about my time management on Saturday evenings? Maybe because my spouse and daughter are on a Girl Scout encampment...)

January 2, 2005

Relationships between faculty and students

Today's St. Petersburg Times covers USF's faculty debate over faculty-student relationships and the appropriate policy: discourage or prohibit? The article is pretty good for journalism: I didn't catch any inaccuracies, and it covered at least 60% of the substantive issues on campus. (There's only so much you can do given the news space even in good papers like the Times.

The problem is not in discouraging such relationships: I think they're stupid, regardless of defenses like bell hooks's ("Erotic student/faculty relationships," Z Magazine, March 1996). You don't have to patronize students to say that student-teacher relationships are destructive to the academic environment. The problems are in the practical contortions necessary to regulate faculty's private lives and student's rights.

Ban all relationships between faculty and students who are taking any courses in their departments? Then what happens with a faculty spouse in another area needs to take a required course in the spouse's department? (That happened to my wife—let me declare that personal bias here.) Carve out an exception for spouses and you run into sexual-orientation discrimination on campuses with such policies (including USF). Say that it's okay for a partner to take a course in the department but not be a student majoring or specializing in that area? Then some students in a course you don't teach are "off limits" but others aren't. Decide that the issue is starting relationships and then you get into the muddy area not only of regulating sexuality but defining it (never mind you're there already).

Suppose you narrow it down to prohibiting sexual relationships between a teacher and students of that course or between an advisor and student, as one respected colleague of mine suggests (or pleads for at least that much prohibition)? But then you're left with the issue of students who don't take one's courses but are in the program area, up for scholarships, etc. Ban undergraduate-faculty affairs and you're leaving the more serious problem on a large university campus of graduate student-faculty relationships.

There are three fairly clearly-defined concerns that one can address without a strict prohibitionist policy:

  1. Sexual harrassment. Most campuses, like USF's, already have a sexual harrassment policy, but egregious harrassers can and apparently do use the prior existence of a consensual relationship as a defense. You can simply prohibit that as a legitimate defense. (I don't know the legalities involved, but I suspect it would hold up. States often explicitly prohibit specific defenses, such as the DUI offender's claim that the time she or he was driving was the time when the alcohol had been drunk but not yet absorbed into the bloodstream.)

  2. Conflict of interest. The general approach to conflicts of interest—appearances of impropriety as well as egregious favoritism—is the management of apparent conflicts of interest. Faculty preparing grant applications involving a private company have to disclose investments, and the university then manages the conflict. "Disclose and manage" might seem like an incredibly dry phrasing for handling affairs of the heart, and I'm well aware that it puts chairs on the spot, but it's feasible, has parallels to other policies at large universities, and most importantly, provides a clear bright-line standard that serious abusers are sure to violate. And that, in the end, is what a policy needs to handle.

  3. Ethical guidelines. Several of the prohibitionists on my campus (including one chair interviewed by the reporter at the Times) are from psychology, where ethical guidelines do clearly prohibit sexual relationships in a broad range of professional areas. And a sensible policy would require faculty to observe the ethical positions of their disciplinary bodies. I think prohibitionists would like to believe that a clear prohibitionist policy provides that guidance and only a prohibition provides the necessary guidance. Hmmn... on that basis, we should prohibit students from quoting any secondary source for fear that they might plagiarize from a lack of judgment. Instead, we take the view that education is the better route, even if it's highly imperfect. I think the same is true here.

I may be on the losing side of this argument locally. That's acceptable, because these are differences in approaches, not our reaction to student-faculty affairs. (My "ugh—gross!" wasn't quoted in the article, somehow...) And, more importantly, I'm confident that the faculty judgment here will decide the shape of the policy, rather than its being handed down from the administration without collegial governance.

So I'll take the results, no matter what they are, as long as it's at the end of faculty deliberation. To paraphrase Warren Rudman's comment at the Iran-Contra hearings, the faculty have the right to be wrong. And I don't think they're going to be too far off at USF, no matter how it ends up on this policy.

December 23, 2004

Religion and the public sphere

In Florida, Pasco County Commissioners may have stumbled into a reasonable solution on religious expressions in public places: an open forum where everyone's expression is welcome.

The arguments about nativities on public property—and then menorahs, wreaths, trees, and the like—have focused on the legalities. Does the First Amendment prohibit such displays as an impermissible "establishment of religion"? The ways that courts have split hairs on this matter has led to the sad irony that—like several briefs in the Newdow pledge-of-allegiance case in the last year—defenders of religious displays including Christmas trees often defend them as "seasonal" rather than religious, "ritual deism" rather than filled with meaning. How sad.

About three-quarters of the American population is Christian. But in a constitutional democracy, the majority does not get to impose its will on a minority in violation of the minority's rights. And whatever the arguments over the First Amendment, those who are nonreligious or are members of non-Christian religions have developed the reasonable political expectation that the government avoid marginalizing them through sponsorship of a specific religion, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, Wicca, or Rastafarianism. (For more information on the demographics of religion, see the American Religious Identification Survey.)

I'm not going to pretend that there can be a meeting of the minds either about religion or the meaning of the First Amendment. Many, but not all, Christians would be happy with governments that clearly express Christian ideals. Many others, including Christians, see any such expression as violating a preferred wall separating church and state. But there can be a compromise that everyone can live with, even if no one is perfectly satisfied. As in Pasco County, governments can set aside space for any sort of expression by individuals or groups, and as long as the space is constructed and managed to welcome diverse perspectives, we don't have to worry if part of the space expresses religious ideals by private individuals, not governments. But there's a trade-off: no religious expressions elsewhere, put up by governments, including displays that are often argued are neutral because they are only "seasonal," like ... um, er, yeah: Christmas trees and wreaths. (Religious expressions in public schools are a separate matter that I won't take up here. OABITAR and the National Association for Music Education's position statement on music with sacred texts in public schools are good starting places for that subject.)

Our public spaces do not need to be antiseptic, as long as we agree that there can be a difference between government's maintaining a space for common use, on the one hand, and sponsoring religious displays, on the other. It requires some to give up their preferred ideal of a sterile public square, but it requires others to give up their preferred vision of a government that actively promotes religious expression. A government that welcomes but does not sponsor a wide range of expression is one that is consistent with the First Amendment and with a country whose population is majority Christian and yet diverse.

December 7, 2004

Will the international debates ever be Finnish'd?

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD')s Programme for International Student Assessment just released Problem Solving for Tomorrow's World - First Measures of Cross Curricular Competencies from PISA 2003. According to the latest international comparison, the highest-achieving 15-year-olds in problem-focused math appear to be those from the western rim of the Pacific and Finland. So, of course, the stories will start to ask what Finland is doing right. And then will follow consternation about why we're not doing what Finland is doing, or maybe counterarguments about why Finland is not comparable to the United States.

As an historian, this falls into a fairly typical pattern from the last few decades: an international comparison shows U.S. students performing in the middle of the pack, and then we wring our hands about what's wrong, what our competitors are doing right, why we're not like them, and so forth. But it goes back further. Horace Mann's seventh school report in 1844 reported on his trip to Prussian schools, discussing how advanced they were and how little they humiliated pupils. The implication, of course, was that Massachusetts schools were barbaric in comparison with the best European schools. (Lawrence Cremin edited a set of those reports in Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Man, which is still in print.) And then came the counter-arguments from Boston schoolmasters and others. Why should we trust the comments of this person who had never been a teacher, who thought that a European monarchy was the best comparison for American democracy, and who didn't understand the need for academic and social discipline and order as a foundation for social order?

More recently, the launch of Sputnik in 1957 gelled a set of views on education that had been building for the prior decade (that it should be helping to fight the Cold War, and that the federal government had an important role in promoting advanced teaching in math and science, among other areas). The international comparisons are interesting, but it's the response inside a country that is the Rorschach test of educational politics. How anxious are we about our national identity? How much are we looking inside or outside the country? Whether this most recent report sinks or splashes will tell us quite a bit about ourselves—and I mean our national education politics, not just the school system.

November 29, 2004

See George dissemble

No, I'm not talking about our president but George Will, whose November 28 column on academe repeated the distortion of the American Enterprise Institute's Karl Zinzmeister that our campuses are one-party operations. If you look at the graphs from this "study," it appears as if American academics have only a left wing, because—gasp!—there were five Brown University economists who were registered Democrat and one registered Republican. Oh the horrors!

University of Michigan historian Juan Cole has written a rebuttal of Will's column based on general principles. But let's look at the actual Brown University economics department, shall we? Admittedly, in the fall of 2004, there will have been some turnover over the past few years, since the "research" was done. According to the department's listing of faculty, there are more than 30 tenure-line faculty in the department. Sure, some of them aren't American citizens, but that should leave about two dozen faculty members who are eligible to vote in the U.S. So why didn't the article by Zinzmeister report the registrations of the vast majority of the faculty? Maybe most of them are registered as a member of no party or of minor parties. Maybe the majority are too apathetic about public policy to register to vote (now, wouldn't that be a real scandal!). Or maybe the "study" was just plain full of baloney.

Now, the fact that neither George Will nor the American Enterprise Institute can get the facts straight on academic's political inclinations isn't too surprising. Nor does it eliminate the fact that there are political leanings in any department. But that doesn't mean that academics as a whole are more liberal than similarly-educated residents in their surrounding communities. (Testing that would be a challenging study.) And while hydrophobic folks like Zinzmeister and David Horowitz blather on about the most well-known universities, the vast majority of faculty and students are at anonymous public 2- and 4-year institutions.

(Horowitz, in particularly, has been on a raging crusade over the past few years about the evils of campus liberals. I wonder what he thinks the appropriate solution would be. But we know already from Horowitz's claims of a campus blacklist: mandate "balance" in every single syllabus and department meeting. So does Horowitz want ideological quotas? Hmmn...)

There is a serious argument to be made about the failure of academics to live up to their obligations as public intellectuals. Russell Jacoby made that case in The Last Intellectuals (1987). On that score, regardless of one's political inclinations, you'd have to admit that the public face of most campuses is in the football or men's basketball team, not the faculty. I don't know how much of that is the fault of faculty and how much is the public-relations trap colleges and universities find themselves in. But I wouldn't expect George Will to write about that any time soon.

July 15, 2004

Classroom use at USF

Today, the Oracle, USF's student newspaper, printed a guest column I sent a few days ago. The electronic version is cleaner than the column that appeared on p. 5 of the printed version (the link which will only show the relevant issue in PDF through mid-August 2004), but neither is precisely what I wrote:

There are two problems with the recently-floated trial balloon to radically change class schedules at USF. (If you haven't read about it yet, the July 24 memo to department chairs asks for most 3-hour classes to meet three times weekly and for more classes to start at 8 am and to meet on Fridays.) One problem is untenable assumptions about the facts at hand. The other is a deeper problem with decision-making at USF.

First, the "classroom utilization crisis" may be an illusion. We shouldn't assume there are huge numbers of empty classrooms on Friday, just because there is no scheduled use. The fact is that many classrooms are in use on Fridays. They just don't appear in use officially, because students are using rooms without reserving them.

Last Friday, I met a group of students in a classroom that was scheduled for a faculty meeting. They explained they had grabbed the room that appeared empty because they needed to study. The library doesn't have enough study rooms, they explained. One student showed me her dry-erase markers and said she and her classmates could write formulas and diagrams on the room's dry-erase board for each other while they studied for a biochem exam. They couldn't do that in the library, she said.

This is a common event, at least in the College of Education. Several times a semester, I get to a room early for a Friday meeting and find students studying together. Some colleagues in Arts and Sciences report that whole classes are sometimes meeting in rooms without reserving them. In other words, many students are working hard on Friday, using university space in an absolutely legitimate way, but they're not being recognized for it officially.

What USF needs is an accurate survey of how faculty and students already use space when a class is not in a room. A random check of rooms during the semester would show what proportion of rooms are actually empty and unused on Fridays. The university could also implement an online space reservation system to encourage more use of open classroom space.

But the proposed policy is more than a panicked response to incomplete data. It shows once more that the administration habitually ignores collegial governance. A USF assistant vice provost issued a memo June 24 demanding that almost all 3-credit courses meet on a MWF basis and threatening to schedule classes randomly when they didn't meet his guidelines.

A week later, Provost Renu Khator backed away from her colleague's threat when pressed by department chairs. Is that result any surprise, when my colleagues and I saw no evidence that her staff had consulted with the faculty senate, student government, or the United Faculty of Florida? There was, at best, a small hand-picked advisory group, which is neither genuine consultation nor joint decision-making. And, according to staff in the provost's office, that committee truly was "ad hoc," with no minutes or reports they could find to document what happened inside the meetings.

Once again, actions have undermined the administration's previous promises to respect collegial governance. Working with the elected representatives of faculty and students, USF administrators should be able to assess space use accurately and find a university-wide consensus if something needs to happen. This issue need not start a crisis (again) in university governance.

But this incident is a symptom of the long-term habits of university administrators, avoiding collegial governance unless pressed. When awkwardly-worded, unworkable ideas pop out apparently from nowhere, I wonder, "Are administrators just paying lip service to collegial governance? Do they really get it?"

When will administrators learn that making decisions in a closet has consistently undermined morale and trust across the university in the last five years? There is no reason for the habitual insulation of decisions, in any case. Faculty and students generally do not bite, or at least they won't when administrators back up statements about collegial governance with consistent actions and collaborative habits.

I'm quite proud of the Oracle editors for not introducing too many grammatical errors and nonsensical phrases while editing my piece. I've heard from one staff member who has scheduling responsibilities, thanking me for the column. These opinion pieces generally sink without a trace, so any reaction is pleasant to hear.

July 7, 2004

No comments (administrivia)

Since there's only been one legitimate comment on about 120 postings, and a lot of my traffic is from spammers attempting to comment (but generally hidden), I've removed the comment capacity from these posts. It's a matter of practicality.

July 4, 2004

Happy Birthday, U.S.A.

Today is generally reckoned as the 228th birthday of the United States of America. Some good wishes are therefore in order.

  • May you display the best ideals you've always put forth to the world. They're older now, but they're still good ones: equality under the law, freedom of thought and conscience, and the rule of law over the rule of might. You don't always remember them in the heat of the moment, but they are your abiding strengths.
  • May you use your diversity as another strength in its many guises.
  • May you use your military and political might with humility, because your mistakes will have more severe consequences that the mistakes of other nations.
  • May your people see their neighbors as another source of strength, especially when they disagree about the affairs of the nation, for without disagreement there is no correction.
  • May you have many more birthdays to celebrate.

Your friend—

June 30, 2004

Kitsch memorials

With the death of Ronald Reagan, there were the inevitable "what is his place in history?" gabfests as well as proposals to put his name or face on everything from the $20 bill to Mount Rushmore. What was missing in the latter was a sense of perspective about memorial acts and sites as public events and places. We tend to think only of the monumental memorials and fail to look at memorialization in a systematic fashion. Who wants to think about the ironies in having New Jersey Turnpike stops named after Walt Whitman and Joyce Kilmer?

Maybe Kilmer deserved his, and the Joyce Kilmer Rest Stop provides a great line for teachers forever more: "If you produce trite claptrap, your name may be more familiar to schoolkids for being on the New Jersey Turnpike than for what you've written." And when some people were upset that PATCO union-buster Reagan's name was attached to Washington's National Airport, I kidded that it was perfect: "Millions of passengers will associate his name with the white-knuckle flights over the District. It's how I felt for eight years; it's a unique form of public history."

But we should look at memorials more seriously, I think. (Yes, this would be a great dissertation or book topic in popular culture studies.) They are not just the austere Vietnam memorial, or the august sitting Lincoln in his memorial. They include everything from the tacky Mount Rushmore to postal stamps to stamps to the roadside memorials in Florida wherever someone dies in an auto accident (often festooned with flowers by family members).

Some memorials are elegant. Many are not. Instead of focusing on the appropriateness and elegance of proposed memorials, I think we should welcome a diversity of memorials, understanding that good taste is not a wise determinant of what makes a memorial. It certainly was the least of Ronald Reagan's concerns when he was alive.

June 28, 2004

Academic blogging

I've discovered an interesting comment about this blog (and an implication about blogging) at Ralph Luker's March 17, 2004, Cliopatria group blog entry: "Dorn seems to post to his blog primarily to let his dean and his in-laws know what's going on. (I do my dean and in-law communicating separately and a little more privately.)" Hmmn... I'm delighted someone's reading this occasionally, but it's not for my dean (and my mother-in-law has been without a computer for some months).

Some people use blogs as places for public pronouncements, rhetoric, etc. That's fine. But if I spent most of my blog writing on stuff meant to be read by millions, I'd be ignoring some higher priorities for me in terms of teaching, research, and other matters. My hat is off to all those who write incredibly pithy items for most of their blog entries. But that's just not me.

More importantly, why is an historian assuming that there's only one purpose to blogging, and if it doesn't fit her or his box, it's ripe for ridicule? So much for the historical uses of diaries and journals, I suppose.

June 6, 2004

Functional data analysis

Every once in a while, I choose some form of "brain candy" to read for work—something that's out of my field and that's just fun in some sense, because there's no pressure other than the challenge of reading something new. Because of something an editor suggested to me, I decided to see what functional data analysis is. Why is an historian reading this? It has to do with the net-flow research in that I'm really looking at a step function (net flow as a function of the grade) but one that one could smooth in various ways and then look at the smoothed curves as the object of analysis.

When I was at Vanderbilt for a postdoc and looking at curriculum-based measurement data for K-12 students, my brain candy at that time was looking at locally weighted regression as a smoothing device (1). Functional data analysis takes smoothing one step further by providing tools to make the smoothed curves differentiable.

Arbitrary? Certainly, but the advocates of functional data analysis point out that all analyses assume some specificity that really isn't there, including just the raw data. That willingness to transform data before analysis is the hallmark of John Tukey's exploratory approach. So, the argument goes, why not make some reasonable assumptions about an underlying function and see what you can make of that?


Cleveland, W. S. (1979) Robust locally weighted regression and smoothing scatterplots. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 74, 829-836.

April 11, 2004

The pledge case

Like many observers of the Supreme Court, I am assuming that the court will reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and rule for the school district in Elk Grove v. Newdow. If it does so by accepting the argument that the words "under God" are a form of ceremonial deism, it will be accepting the argument of many defenders of "under God" that the words are largely inconsequential in a legal sense—even while defenders insist that the words are essential in a political sense.

I suppose I could pull out the standard journalistic probe, "So if the words are inconsequential as religious expression, what's the problem with removing them?" But that quip belies the fundamental cultural conflict over religious expression in public life. Those who approve of religious expression in public (including on public grounds) see it either as an inherent part of our cultural heritage or as a beneficent resource that shouldn't offend anyone (like a coffee pot in a work breakroom). Those who disapprove of religious expression in public see it as pervasive and coercive (like elevator music), marginalizing them and their beliefs as unimportant.

Thus far, the courts have avoided facing this conflict by resorting to a legal fiction—some religious expression is not religious. Thus, Christians can put trees in public places as long as they don't have stars or mangers, somehow becoming "seasonal displays" instead of the tacit religious symbols that everyone recognizes. The words "under God" don't really mean "under God," somehow, being emptied of their content over 50 years—even though millions of Americans are livid at the possibility that they might be stricken from the morning ritual in thousands of schools.

This legal desanctification means nothing to ordinary people, and it's confusing. "Under God" will probably be ruled acceptable in the officially-sponsored Pledge of Allegiance, but officially-sponsored prayer isn't. One Christian translation of the Ten Commandments can't be on state grounds, but "God save this honorable court" is a perfectly fine way to open sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court. The legal fiction of ceremonial deism and seasonal displays evade the deeper cultural conflict. Maybe that's right—courts aren't supposed to resolve all conflicts.

Maybe it reflects the curious mixing of religion and other influences in society. Is it a watering-down of theological significance to commercialize so many holidays (Easter to some extent, Christmas to a much greater extent?). That's a question for the religiously-inclined to answer, but I would definitely understand considerably mixed feelings that the court allows "Christmas Lite" displays.

January 29, 2004

Fixed code!

Found out what was wrong with the collapsing archive list tip from Scriptygoddess: nothing! I had forgotten to add a code in one file to make sure that the server interpreted the PHP code in the template. But you should now see a collapsed (and expandable) list of months on the left. I wonder if it can be used for archived categories as well (i.e., a list of the most n recent entries in a category, but a list that one can expand). I suspect so. I just don't have the time to fiddle with code in a language (PHP) I don't know.

HEC goes public

After a brief correspondence with someone from H-Net working on web support for sites, I've decided to take the history-of-education-and-childhood site public. It's just been sitting for a month, and so I tweaked the main index's template and announced it. I wish I could get it to run on a subdomain, but I can't, and it's no big deal. Now to get all those who contributed to the project database to resubmit here...

January 6, 2004

Web-page setup

I've been playing with a web site setup, with Movable Type, for colleagues in the history of education and childhood. Won't have time to fiddle with it for a few days ... or weeks.

January 5, 2004

Behind already!

It would be extraordinarily silly to be bothered about this, but I just didn't get done with everything I hoped to accomplish over break. But I suppose break is not for getting everything done but for setting yourself up for a big to-do list just when students want and deserve your full attention. Ah, well.

Met today with Srinivas about our project. Meeting with him is a real pleasure—we gab a bit, we get our business done, and we then agree on when we're meeting next and what we hope to do then. Fabulous!

December 31, 2003

Again, wireless

A little more time with this wireless device (the Alphasmart Dana) is teaching me humility in technology, once again. I suspect that the key is finding something simple (like the Eudora browser I'm using currently) and then sticking with what works. We'll see what happens as I try to extend this over the next week or so! (Yes, I'm looking for a Palm-based Blogger API client to upload entries a bit more efficiently.)

December 30, 2003


At the office today—what I thought would be only this morning. So much for efficiency! I did get one syllabus printed and stuff ready to go be copied, and I did talk with two graduate students and a colleague, and I just have to remind myself that "inefficiency" often leads to a better work environment. That, and I'll just have to wait for next week before contacting the preferred funding agency for a project. Sheesh! What does it say about a place that it actually gives everyone a few days off? (Yes, I have my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.)

Chipping away

I've been chastened by the news today, Book Worm Crushed (will open new window). Time to clean my office!

December 28, 2003

Poking away

Sometimes there are huge strides or finishing points in projects, and at other times just wading and getting some work done is important. Today is one of those days: a Sunday, when there are loads of other things going on. So I'm poking away at various things, from syllabi to a proposal to a recommendation letter to burning CDs from conference sessions (long time, that one!). And, now, off to Borders and a skate session. (Hey, the category is "Random comments".)

December 27, 2003


I am both a technology user and a technology skeptic. I've just created my fourth (or maybe fifth?) weblog/journal (this here thing), imported entries from my prior work journals, and am likely to buy the nifty quasi-laptop I'm evaluating when the month is over.

But I am rarely among the early adopters in any technology "wave," and I am very aware of Larry Cuban's cautions about technology use in the classroom. So when is it worth it, and when does one throw in the towel? I generally wait until I can see one or two shrewd uses for something before I try it. So I waited a few years until I thought of how to use Movable Type before taking the several-hours' effort today (or yesterday and this morning) to install it and configure it to my satisfaction. I don't use a digital camera to take pictures of students (something I have to do to learn names); I use a tiny Polaroid camera that the company developed to find a niche with teens. Didn't Shakespeare writes something in Hamlet, "The use—the use's the thing wherein we'll catch the image of the thingamabob"? Uh, maybe not. But if it'll work for something I can use, I'll take it and run with it, and ignore the fancy stuff that's on sale somewhere in my metropolitan area.

December 26, 2003


And here we go with a bit of blogging as professional communication. In large part, I'll experiment with this interface as a way to establish a research community.

October 19, 2003

Wednesday and week summary

On Wednesday, I worked 2-3/4 hours.

  • 10:30-11:00, meeting
  • 11:45-2:00, lunch with staff in the college and another meeting.

Through the whole week, I worked 52 hours. I don’t mind the length of time spent. What’s remarkable about the experience is how little I did that was focused on broader obligations to my field and research. I had some meetings related to them, but I did no reading in my field this week (history or history of education) and no writing. There are so many things I left untouched that will probably remain untouched in the next week and perhaps month.

This is definitely a week that makes me think about the balances I have in my life. Work is important, but I can’t work too many more hours in a week without having serious repercussions for my family or my health. And I suspect I won’t work very well if I don’t get enough sleep. So, what to do? No easy solutions.

October 7, 2003

Summary of Tuesday work

10-1/2 hours today.

  • 8;10 a.m.-10:00, misc. office stuff
  • 10:00-2:00, classes
  • 2:00-3:10, misc. office stuff
  • 8:00-9:30, misc. class tasks (grading, making study guides, grade minutiae)
  • 9:45-11:45, misc. class tasks

For my loyal half-reader left, I’ll have some comments tomorrow, at the end of this accounting week.

Monday summary

9-1/2 hours yesterday.

  • 12:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m., grading and thinking about grants (including reading some materials online from one target agency)
  • 12:00 p.m. - 1:20 p.m., lunch with colleague
  • 1:20 - 2:20, misc. office tasks
  • 2:20-3:20, talking to student
  • 3:20-3:50, talking to colleagues
  • 3:50-4:30, grading
  • 4:30-5:00, talking to student
  • 9:30-11:00 p.m., grading at home

Thus far, it’s been almost 39 hours. I haven’t mentioned what I haven’t been able to get done in this time yet.

October 6, 2003

Summary of Sunday work

4-1/4 hours (let’s call it four)

  • 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m., grading
  • 1:30-1:45 p.m., grading minutiae (uploading, etc)
  • 7:00 - 7:45 p.m., grading (and minutiae)
  • 10:15 p.m.-12:00 a.m., grading

Thus far, since Thursday midnight, I’ve worked a bit under 30 hours. Hmmn...

October 5, 2003

Summary of Saturday work

4-1/2 hours

  • 12:15-12:45 a.m., quiz-writing
  • 10:45-11:45 a.m., quiz-writing
  • 12:05-2:35 p.m., quiz-writing
  • 3:00-3:30 p.m., quiz-uploading
  • 7:00-7:30 p.m., paper-grading

October 4, 2003

Summary of Friday work

7-1/2 hours

  • 6:15-6:45 a.m., e-mail
  • 7:45-9:15, quiz-writing
  • 9:50-11: misc. office work
  • 11-11:30: errands around campus
  • 11:30-12, misc. office work
  • 12-2:15, meetings
  • 2:15-3:20, misc. office owrk

October 2, 2003

Summary of Thursday work

13 hours today:

  • 5:05 a.m., for a few minutes to do e-mail before breakfast
  • 6:25-7:40 a.m., about an hour total writing a grant report at home
  • 8:40 a.m. - 8:52 p.m., on campus, teaching and doing misc. stuff

Thursday is my long day this semester.

October 1, 2003

Dull boring stuff over next week

Okay, all 1.5 readers out there: I’m curious exactly how much I work in a week. So, starting midnight tonight, I’m going to turn into Time Clock Dorn. Everything I do work-wise will be written down, so I can tally up exactly how much I’ve worked in the week from Thursday through the end of next Wednesday.

September 3, 2003

And the pace steps up...

Thanks to several server failures at the university’s Blackboard portal, students have panicked this week about various deadlines for taking on-line quizzes. I say, “Don’t worry too much.” So this week is scrambling to figure out what Blackboard is actually doing (or not) and holding hands.

I’ve been invited to be a “fellow” at another university’s ed policy center. It’s a low-time commitment, and I’ll accept it pending my university’s approval of the outside work. That’s almost inevitably forthcoming, if you fill out the right forms. Now, if only that annual meeting wouldn’t conflict with the annual meeting of the Social Science History Association (which they do this year) ...

April 5, 2003


I am now deeply indebted to John Willinsky at the University of British Columbia for having created the Open Journal Systems, a PHP-based system for on-line journals that is a wonderful all-in-one package that’s similar in scope to other software to create an electronic editorial office (a list distributed by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers). Except that the Open Journal Systems is free in all senses of the word. I’m using it now as back-end support on my desktop at home for my work as H-Education‘s book-review editor and I have a few other projects in mind for it.

Now if I can only find a server that will have all the necessary stuff (PHP and MySQL support, primarily), and we can get cracking.

March 2, 2003

Slowly clearing

The list, now:

  • Prepare another student sample paper for undergraduate class
  • Nag authors from a collective book project (though that’ll recur)
  • Talk to one of the authors who is editing a chapter
  • Finish one of the books for the masters class that students will be submitting papers on next Monday
  • Prepare quiz in advance for masters class
  • Prepare practice quiz for undergraduate class for this week
  • Read undergraduate papers and quizzes
  • Reading work of a student who finally submitted stuff to end an incomplete on a course from a prior semester
  • Work on Social Science History Association program
  • Union stuff, membership and otherwise

Still a heck of a lot of stuff, but I’m slowly getting on top of the urgent matters.

March 1, 2003

A little less overloaded, now

Now, my to-do list looks more like the following:

  • Prepare another student sample paper for undergraduate class
  • Nag authors from a collective book project (though that’ll recur)
  • Talk to one of the authors who is editing a chapter
  • Finish one of the books for the masters class that students will be submitting papers on next Monday
  • Read undergraduate papers and quizzes
  • Reading work of a student who finally submitted stuff to end an incomplete on a course from a prior semester
  • Work on Social Science History Association program
  • Prepare quiz in advance for masters class
  • Union stuff, membership and otherwise

Slow progress...

February 28, 2003


Another weekend of ... too much work, despite my spouse’s probable arguments against it. Things to do:

  • Read undergraduate papers and quizzes
  • Reading work of a student who finally submitted stuff to end an incomplete on a course from a prior semester
  • Prepare another student sample paper for undergraduate class
  • Nag authors from a collective book project
  • Talk to one of the authors who is editing a chapter
  • Work on Social Science History Association program
  • Finish one of the books for the masters class that students will be submitting papers on next Monday
  • Prepare quiz in advance for masters class
  • Union stuff, membership and otherwise
  • Omit a whole lot of other stuff, inevitably

February 18, 2003

Willful or ignorant idiocy

I will admit first that, as a partisan in two overlapping battles at the University of South Florida, perhaps my view of the President’s Award for Excellence handed out over the past 6 weeks is cynical, but a colleague pointed something out to me today that flabbergasted me more than I thought possible, not from the outrageousness of it but the sheer stupidity of the omission. Never mind that the administration consulted neither with the faculty union nor with the faculty senate over the process, never made clear guidelines or processes, never announced the processes that did exist broadly to all faculty, never invited faculty to nominate themselves or provide some documentation, etc.

What I confirmed today was that the administration completely omitted all faculty from the regional campuses—St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee, and Lakeland—from the awards. Not one of the 140 recipients came from the regional campuses. Why someone in the administration would want to shoot themselves in the foot over this, I don’t know, and there may yet be a list for the regional campuses that is separate from the process for Tampa. But regardless of the outcome, it’s more egg on the face of administrators who have already had to apologize to faculty for a royal screw-up in November (well, the most obvious royal screw-up in November).

February 12, 2003

Working frantically

Before family descends over the weekend, I’m frantically trying to get some work done. Today: outlining the rest of a book proposal, grading student work, and reading.

January 30, 2003

Sick day yesterday

For the first time in a long time (a few years), I asked the office manager in my department to log a sick day for me. Usually, when I’m sick, I just work from home and get something done productively. No such luck, yesterday. I watched a campus meeting via the Internet, but I didn’t get any grading, writing, or reading done. Or, at least, not enough to count. My children were sick and home from school, too, which didn’t help. So, because I have a largely unset schedule, should I have taken advantage of that fact and not reported the sick day?

Honesty is the best policy in this case. I was sick. I didn’t get work done. Tough. I can take a sick day, occasionally.

January 17, 2003

Work habits and meetings

The student from Haverford College who was shadowing me for several days this week told me yesterday (his last day) that I don’t end my work when I go home for the day. In fact, for the week, I did work late at night (which I do approximately half of every workweek). He saw that as unusual in jobs.

Part of the reason why I often work late at night is because of where I am at the moment, in a department meeting. The faculty is debating whether credentialing graduate faculty (whether someone can chair a doctoral dissertation committee) should happen at the college or department level. The consensus, I think, is that we think there still needs to be a college process, and that the proposal to shift it back to the department is not the fundamental question (the standards we use).

So I’ll be up again tonight doing something... not sure what, but something.

January 15, 2003

Me and my shadow

A sophomore from my alma mater, Haverford College, is shadowing me around this week for a few days. Haverford and Bryn Mawr College, which share the same career office for students, calls these externships (as opposed to internships, though I don’t understand why), and James is the third externship who’s visited me in the last 5 years. Last year’s extern, Andreja, came during an incredibly dramatic time, shortly after our university Board of Trustees announced it wanted to fire a tenured professor, and she was there for an emergency faculty senate meeting that clearly disapproved of the administration’s efforts.

This year, life is more normal (well, apart from the local union chapter‘s struggles with the administration), so he’s getting the more typical mix of faculty activities at the beginning of the semester. He’s been to both of my classes this week, seen two hours of spine-tingling editing (where’s the antecedent?—yes, we have the next candidate for Reality TV), looked at several research proposals, seen several reviews I’ve written for a refereed journal, watched as I created an on-line quiz, and seen me rush around as I usually do this time of the semester.

Oh, yes, he’s seen the pre-Disastered Office.

Now, was I supposed to encourage him to go to grad school, or not? We’ve talked a bit about what graduate school is like, what academics are like, and he’s asked the logical question: What else can someone who has a degree in European history before 1918 do with a Ph.D.? I suggested the booklet on the subject published by the American Historical Association.

January 6, 2003

Smooth day

Today was not a particularly productive day. Nothing great happened. No great epiphanies. No finished projects. But it was a remarkably smooth day to begin a semester, at least for me: appointment at 8:30, discussion with some colleagues a bit later, appointment made at credit union for 1 pm, some business by phone until then, appointment at credit union, drive home, spend time with children, babysitter arrives on time, drive back to campus with a short stop at Wal-Mart for Polaroid film (see below), collect everything for class, go to class, have most of the class with you for the whole time (nice the first day), go home, go pick up new car. Some of that was not work-related, but there were no missed steps anywhere in the day. It’s a rare phenomenon and gives me the illusion that I’ve been in the middle of a railyard stepping effortlessly from one train to another through open doors, without so much as a jolt.

Tomorrow will surely have all sorts of mishaps. Maybe not.

Polaroid’s tiny i-Zone cameras have one very useful purpose: you can take pictures of students, quickly attach the photographs to the back of index cards with their names (and other relevant information, and then have flash cards to learn names.

August 31, 2002

Saturday, again

I'm in my office again this afternoon, working on some data that came to me late. I've been cleaning it up and getting it in shape to pass to the next person in line to use it. I need to get it done both to help the project director involved and also to get it off my plate, now that the semester has begun.

August 21, 2002


I am in the middle of the week from Heck (as Dilbert would put it). Yesterday, I began listing my tasks for the week and squeezed in everything I had to do, barely ... and then realized there were two huge projects (finishing a chapter and working with a set of data I should've had in my hands a month ago and maybe received properly yesterday) I hadn't scheduled. So I was in my office tonight getting stuff done for one class that meets for the first time on Saturday afternoon. I got back home at 10 p.m.

Also tonight, my union, the USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, found out that that our campus president has called a press conference tomorrow at 10 a.m., probably to announce that she is firing Sami Al-Arian. I'll be at a new-faculty orientation to press the flesh from 8:30-10:30, so I blessedly have an excuse to avoid the event itself, though I'll probably go back to my office passing through the administration building. I will be in a suit and wouldn't mind showing my face just to document that a number of faculty oppose the firing—or, on the unlikely chance that Dr. Genshaft has decided not to fire Al-Arian, to show some magnanimity and defend her from the inevitable carping.

August 4, 2002

It can't be the end of summer already

But it is... the children start school again on Wednesday, the academic year contract starts this year, and of course I finally received the data I had been hoping to work with this summer ... in the second half of last week. So I'm in today working with said data (or the start of it). I may need to rework the syllabus of the new course a bit, depending on whether I can get permission to use a pre-publication book MS in the course, and I need to look seriously at my other course before the end of the month (when classes start).

This is the first time in a while of weekends when I didn't choose just to work on what I would get satisfaction on. Today's been a bit frustrating, even if I've made some significant headway with the data. It'll be several more long days' worth of work to get it in shape and cleaned up. But there are other folks who need it, so...

July 21, 2002

Life just doesn't stop

Yes, I have tenure (finally), which is nice. I'm back from a trip to visit my mother-in-law in New Mexico, so I'm working today (a Sunday) on both a project of the Consortium for Educational Research in Florida and some other work items. Then I juggle child-care, several meetings, and (hopefully!) data coming from the Hillsborough school district over the next week or so.

Archives problem

My apologies to anyone who's been trying to read the archives. In my weblogging hiatus, something's happened, and Blogger has the database of my prior entries but isn't publishing it. I'll try to find out what's happened and correct it.

March 12, 2002

Working Break

"Spring break" is a misnomer. I have a pile of papers to read, and students often have work of their own. Plus there are many projects that are just itching to be scratched—uh, demanding work. I read a few papers this morning and will head into work shortly to get the new work computer in order (assuming it's an easy task; it should be, as the tech gurus here got it up and running, essentially, last Friday. I just need to do some software installation and data transfer and then I'm back home again.

March 6, 2002

Efficient telecommuting

A new home computer, with updated software for critical tasks, should mean I can do more at home and do less commuting on non-teaching days. Well, we'll see.

February 28, 2002

Preparations for a trip

I have a bit of a bind this weekend, traveling to a gig (yes, a concert) where someone else is paying for my travel—and also getting some stuff done work-wise over the weekend. My students this week handed in a set of papers, and so I'll be reading them on the flights (while with my daughter). No chance of getting to them while I'm in San Jose, but that's life. I'll just have to crack down and work this afternoon and tomorrow morning, before I go.

I had a chat with my chair Tuesday morning about my limited time and expanded work. He'd probably advise me to be careful in how much time I spend writing a weblog. I agree. I think my primary task at the moment is to figure out how to be a better supervisor of graduate assistants and research and clerical staff. I hate the task of following up on things, but I think I just have to knuckle down, plan a set of tasks with a timeline, and follow up.

February 19, 2002

More computer troubles, and life

This time, the computer problems are local, with my desktop. It's probably not a virus (though I should update the virus definition files I have, to make certain). My colleague Barbara Shircliffe had to have her whole computer reinstalled, and I hope it doesn't come to that before I get a new computer (which I've told is on order ... though it's supposed to come later this week).

In the meantime, I'm caught up on weekly student work, have the annual review stuff drafted, will try the virtual chat tonight with undergraduates, have read the draft dissertation proposal I was supposed to, and can try to do some playing with numbers.

February 15, 2002

Computer Fritz

Who cares, at the moment, if the college's server is down? Well, most in the college do, since they rely on the servers for the software. I won't get into Tech Support politics at the moment, except to say that I have locally-installed software (with the proper licenses), so it does not affect me except when I need to print (which I don't think I will need to, this morning).

Up today:

  • Working on my annual review efficiently and without too much enthusiasm. What's the point, when there are no merit raises forthcoming this year, with the state's budget in disarray? The tenure packet was far more important (he said, bluntly).
  • Getting back to analysis of the GEAR UP data I have, and getting on top of other stuff on it. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a federally funded set of projects to encourage children attending schools with high proportions in free and reduced lunch programs to attend college. USF has one of the projects, now in its third year, and I'm the internal evaluator.
  • Looking at data on Florida education as part of my role in the Consortium for Educational Research in Florida (CERF). I have a few items on tap, and I want to get to it while the classes are requiring less of my time.
  • Following up on my requests to USF's Academic Computing about combining the Blackboard sites for my two sections of Social Foundations, so I can conduct an on-line chat for both of them simultaneously.
  • Reading a draft dissertation proposal for a graduate student.

Updated (5 pm). Hey, I did a bunch of that stuff! Now I go home.

February 14, 2002

Clearing the desk (if only metaphorically)

Trying to get some odds and ends cleaned up this morning before class -- a few things to grade, make sure I have everything ready for class, and so forth. The first rush of the semester is over, so I have a bit of a breather teaching-wise. The first month, students write a paper a week. While the grading is low-stakes (pass/fail, just a few points), I try to respond carefully to everything. Now the group activities start, but that's a routine at this point I know well from prior semesters (though that's certainly not the perspective of the students). The collection of materials for the pre-approved perspective paper topics is now finished, and I wait for their drafts at the beginning of March.

So now I focus on other activities, like the Social Science History Association meeting, for which I'm a network representative and research (and maybe writing). And being the parent who is home when the kids get off the bus.

February 13, 2002

I'm slowly catching up, I

I'm slowly catching up, I think, and trying to balance various things. Right now, I'm working my way through the last of a batch of student papers.

October 2, 2001

Breathing again

Almost a month after the last entry here, I have a life again. What intervened? The September 11 attacks, a tropical storm that shut down campus the 14th, and then finishing the tenure application process. I had intended most of my entries this semester to be about teaching (and thus a course portfolio, in effect), but that's gone by the wayside, now. C'est la vie. Weblogs are less important than the guts of the work.

Tenure application

I have, behind my office chair, two binders and a black plastic file box. The binders each have a complete copy of my tenure application: 50 pages in the original shell, over 100 pages when I was done, and then add another 83 pages for student comments and summaries of student survey statistics. The file box has the documentation. I'm waiting now for two items: the student survey statistics summaries and a letter confirming my being on one search committee (part of university service). Then it all goes in.

Tenure in most universities involves three aspects of faculty life—teaching, research, and service—and guidelines on those matters. So the University of South Florida has its formal tenure and promotion guidelines. So I have a sections on teaching, another on research, and another on service (though the service is less important than the others). I describe my goals in teaching, how I put things together, and refer to the documents (including the course syllabi). My research includes a few books, articles, etc., and in addition to what I wrote, several external reviewers (in my case, Maris Vinovskis, David Labaree, and William Graebner) are asked to comment on my work. The letters in my case were very supportive of tenure.

In addition to the formal parts of tenure, there is the informal guiding question senior faculty ask about tenure, which Florida State University Provost Lawrence Abele stated well online: "Would I be honored to have this person's teaching and scholarship represent me? Would I be honored to have this candidate be the only representative of me and my university that anyone ever sees?" Tenure used to be called the "million-dollar decision", and it's probably more now (see Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's T&P statement). But behind the "investment" in a tenured faculty member, there is the symbolic meaning attached which many faculty take very seriously. There is no way for me to really document that worth, apart from working day to day for several years in an institution.


One colleague and I agreed this morning that neither of us has really gotten into any rhythm for the semester. Usually, I have an inherent sense of what I'm teaching this week and where each class is. I wish I had a better sense this semester. I'm catching up on reading student work, and I know roughly where each student is. (And the first group in my undergraduate class was fabulous last week, using the first chapter of Joseph Kett's Rites of Passage [1977] as a springboard.) But I'm functioning right now on intellect and previous preparation. That'll have to do. After the turmoil of September, I'm about half a week behind, which makes the reading assignments discombobulated. But we'll get over that, I'm sure. That intellectual assurance will just have to do.

Writing and research

Other things that went by the side included several research projects. Now they're off the back burner: looking at student transience (mobility), coordinating the work of the Consortium for Educational Research in Florida (I'm associate director), doing evaluation stuff for the USF GEAR UP program (see the federal GEAR UP office site for more information), and reading historiography as a change of pace.

When I came home Friday afternoon, having mostly finished the tenure stuff, I must have had 50 e-mail messages in my inbox. Now I have 8. I think of it as clearing off my mental desk. (The physical desk will have to wait a little longer.)

August 24, 2001

Ramping up

And I thought the summer was busy...  I'm up for tenure this year, teaching two courses, being a director/principal investigator of one small project, associate director of another (larger) one, and evaluator of a third, co-coordinator of a program within a professional association, co-editor of a book review project that's just started up this year, and who knows what else. I made some headway this week on a few things, including drafting the front end of a web database on history of education/childhood research projects. In part I want to encourage folks to conduct conference matchmaking by themselves as much as possible, and this might just help. I need to wait for suggestions, revise, put the "results" pages together, and then post everything officially (and wait for it to work, with some luck).

August 7, 2001

Reconstructing a webpage

Since students often do use my webpages during the semester, I need to make sure that my main work site is current, and I've decided to overhaul it completely. Aaarrrggghhh! Well, I fiddled this morning with a cascading style sheet and have begun editing the text this afternoon. It should be done shortly—well, by the end of the week.

July 27, 2001


I haven't had a long chunk of time to delve into statistics in several years. I'm making the time now, starting with learning a bit of map-making (or map-altering, really). As a colleague warned me, it's dangerous to play with maps. We'll see. At least I go home in the evenings. When I did computing on a mainframe by modem from home, I easily could stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning, trying to get one more run in.

July 6, 2001

Staying I spoke with Michael


I spoke with Michael Coomes, interim chair of the School of Leadership and Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University's college of education today and declined the BGSU offer.

One of the results of that decision was that I need to start immediately on putting together the tenure and promotion application, even though this year's application is not available—but prior years' are, and the format is not going to change much. That adds one more task to the summer, but one much less complicated than moving. (No, that last sentence was not the deciding factor!>

July 3, 2001


I'm considering this week an offer from Bowling Green State University to join their education faculty. The college of education there mailed the offer letter while I was on my trip out West. I had promised the interim chair of our department last year that I would give him and USF an opportunity to counter-offer, and I'll make my decision by Friday one way or the other.

In the meantime, stuff still has to happen ...

  • I wrote about 30 pages of a book manuscript while on the trip, on my PDA.
  • An article manuscript that was accepted by the History of Education Quarterly needs some polishing.
  • Two colleagues and I are co-editing a book on Schools as Imagined Communities and, while one publisher looks at the prospectus, we write the introduction and wait for article manuscripts (thanks, Vicki Eaklor, for being the first to send in a draft chapter!), as well as redraft our papers from a conference last year for our own chapters.
  • An IRB (Institutional Review Board) proposal for a service project evaluation needs to go to our local office for approval.
  • The Consortium for Educational Research in Florida still needs data to eat—uh, analyze.
  • Miscellaneous other things catching up with stuff that happened while I was gone and was waiting for me on my desk and desktop.

June 13, 2001

Life with a PDA

I've done it—started on a two-week trip without a laptop to do work on. I thought about the data I could analyze (look at the archives) and then rethought the move, for several reasons (risk and weight being two important ones). So I left the number-crunching for when I get back and took my PDA from work, its keyboard, and a module to backup the data during the trip. During the plane flight to California, I rounded out two short pieces that (with some luck and time) will be part of a book manuscript that develops over the next year. It's too late to work more on it tonight (well, too late for me to work competently at it, for while it's 10 pm here in California, my brain tells me I'm typing at 1 am in Tampa).

I am a skeptic of technology for its own sake, but there are a few items I adore for what they can do. The ensemble I now have with me is light, small, and does more than the T1000 laptop I carried around to take notes at archives when I was in graduate school. Wireless PDAs are a little silly, to me, but I converted two of my colleagues to the PDA+keyboard idea this summer. Mine saved my life schedule-wise before the folding keyboards came out.

Of course, one still cannot write a blog entry from my PDA. So I borrow the computers of others.

June 7, 2001

Saving my life

I'm waiting here in a computer lab at the USF College of Education while a CD-ROM R/W drive writes all my workfiles to disk. I've been having problems using my backup facility, so I zipped my files up, sent them to my server-based directory, went here this morning, unzipped them, transferred them to the CD-ROM, and am now waiting for the drive to reorganize the directory so it's readable by CD-ROM drives. Ah, there it goes. Long process—I started about an hour ago. But this is quite important (see the title above), as anyone who has lost files can well testify. I also should be able to do some number-crunching while on a trip for two weeks June 12-26, because I downloaded a dataset for a project to the CD-ROM.

I'm also waiting for a device whereby I can backup my Palm files while I'm away from the desktop. My colleagues on a grant have a Visor with a backup device, and I envy them. So I'm getting one before our trip out west.

I suppose I should also note a real-life incident that justifies the title. Sunday, while we (my family) were driving to the Albuquerque airport from a memorial service near Santa Fe, New Mexico, a driver in the middle lane didn't see our car in the left lane and started to move over. I saw it barely in time, swerved half off the pavement, and honked. Since both cars were traveling at 55 mph or more, that would have been a very dangerous collision. Incidents like that and the memorial service put worklife in perspective.

May 15, 2001

Working and Partying

Academics either have the last of the preindustrial jobs or the first postindustrial jobs, because we can work any time on our stuff but generally have flexible schedules. Today's a good example. I have several things I need to do this week on the summer projects and writing, but it's also my son's sixth birthday today. I had a meeting at 11:00 a.m. this morning, but I'll be heading home soon to help Vincent's mom. I don't know if I'll have a chance to work on my work stuff at home, though.

What—you thought I meant alcoholic matters?

May 12, 2001

Most enjoyable transferable skills

Over the past ten days, I've carried on a correspondence with a graduate student at another institution who is having problems with her advisor and wondering if she can do anything with her skills if "professoring" doesn't work out. Among other bits, I brought out our dogeared copy of Richard Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute? (the 1993 edition). For the record, here are my ten most enjoyable transferable skills:

  1. Putting public policy in (a new) historical and sociological context
  2. Writing to teach or explain
  3. Researching history in archives
  4. Coaching students and colleagues
  5. Teaching history and related interdisciplinary courses
  6. Reading great scholarship
  7. Analyzing diverse sources of information (data)
  8. Referring people to each other or books for intellectual purposes
  9. Editing serious scholarly writing
  10. Getting things done in a bureaucracy to help other people

The first seven are fairly close to each other in terms of what I enjoy.

May 8, 2001

Tying up loose ends and creating others

My office desperately needs a river to run through it after the end-of-semester streamlining of tasks (teaching first, breathing second, everything else last). Nonetheless, I want to accomplish something concrete today. That chapter, still due in Herb Rieth's hands, needs but two citations and a proofreading before it goes off. So it has first priority.

The next set of tasks involve making my life more complicated, in the short run, and making other people's work possible in the long term. I need to start the work of collecting data sets for the new Consortium on Educational Research in Florida, so we have some numbers to crunch for the number-crunchers. I need to draft an Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposal for each piece of data we get. The details are many, and the reward may be long off. But this is work worth doing.

May 5, 2001

No work

Congratulations to all USF students graduating today. Monday is soon enough to start on summer projects. Sorry to all 0.427 readers who were expecting a pithy thought today. Check the archives!

May 2, 2001

Closing in

My daughter's been sick, now (after my son), so grading and other work is being juggled with child care (and hanging around the house). Yesterday I rushed into the office, e-mailed myself some documents, did a few other items, and left. I graded a majority of my student quizzes remaining, so I really don't have many to do, right now. In the meantime, I need to decide whom to interview for a graduate research position for the summer (and fall, potentially) and figure out what else to do before I leave again for home.

Then the summer work starts—not as many schedules, but lots to do.

April 21, 2001

In the middle of the storm

The papers came last Tuesday, and I'm in the midst of reading them. Tomorrow will be a long day at the office. That plus other obligations means I'm doing plenty of juggling. Vincent has had a 104 F. fever the last few days, and I took him to the doctor's office. Some things just take precedence.

The incoming chair of my department, Harold Keller, last week e-mailed those of us going up for tenure for a curriculum vitae (resumé) each, as well as some of our scholarly writing, and he e-mailed me today saying he had received my packet and respected my not sending a copy of my book Creating the Dropout. He's moving from Nebraska, and I feared what would happen to the book if the box it was in got lost.

April 16, 2001

Home stretch or the calm before the storm

This week is the penultimate one in the semester schedule, and so work is going to start piling up. Doing nothing work-wise over the weekend was crucial to my maintaining my balance as everything comes due for students and I need to read things quickly and fairly. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student, I would go on candy binges at the ends of semesters, but I can no longer do so with impunity at my age. Carrots, on the other hand, ...

Other issues are always surfacing and respect no schedule. We have a new chair in the deparment who will be coming in July, and with the loss of two faculty members over the past three years in my program (social foundations of education—I am an historian of education), we're going to be hard pressed to meet our obligations for both undergraduate and graduate teaching. We also have some long-term interests, both as faculty members and as members of our field:

  • To have a teaching load that is involved in both teacher education and advanced graduate studies;
  • To have time for research and writing;
  • To have departmental colleagues understand our program and field in concrete ways (e.g., reading and commenting on our work);
  • To be supported in our growth as a program, in terms of research and influence on the field.

We create a lot of "student credit hours", which is the lingo in our state system for what generates funds from the state, and yet I've also heard several colleagues from outside our program talk about our need to get involved more in graduate studies, as we're also supposed to be a top-notch research university. Hmmn. How can we simultaneously be intimately involved in teacher education and also expand our graduate teaching?

April 14, 2001

Not working!

We're off to the Atlantic coast, and I'm not bringing anything to work on.

April 12, 2001

Rolling on

Work definitely rolls on. I've sent off one MS and have another one on deck, finished the series of weekly quizzes today and will get in the term papers next week, finished an application packet for one competitive award and can "look forward" to the tenure packet, and so forth.

April 10, 2001

Climbing back on top

Being a professor is like the job of Sisyphus—no sooner is the ball up the hill than it rolls down, or another one appears at the bottom again. Fortunately, some of the balls are considerably enjoyable to roll. (Did anyone, by the way, think that maybe Sisyphus liked his task? Maybe he painted the ball as he rolled it.) That book chapter described in prior journals is mostly put to bed, and now I have part of an introductory chapter to another book to write, as well as a batch of papers that'll land on my desk in a week, several projects in the wings, and ...

But getting some things done is extraordinarily satisfying. I provided my classes today with some organizing background information for the papers they need to turn in, beyond the materials I gave them earlier. Several students came up with wonderful ideas in class that I had not even considered. I get to go home happy, as a result.

April 9, 2001

I thought I was going home early today!

Obviously, if you look at the time stamp below, I'm not getting there too much before when I'd normally. I met with two colleagues to discuss an introduction to an edited book (I'm looking forward to that when I get the chance), a student over work, and the department chair over two matters. I spent some time editing that overdue chapter (sorry, Doug!) and answering e-mail, but precious little else. Where did the time go?

April 6, 2001


I finished the items I had forgotten earlier this week (see the archives for April 3, if you're interested) and have today to do miscellaneous stuff:

  • Meet with a few students about paper drafts
  • Work on a packet for a campus award
  • Work on a draft paper
  • Read a journal I'm halfway through
  • Get an Institutional Review Board approval note (making sure I don't abuse the rights of human participants in research—never mind that, for this particular project, I'm not having individual contact, but I do need to promise confidentiality for the records I'll be using) to the right authorities for a research project
  • Probably many other things I won't get to

At home, we received a small (not great) digital camera, so I now have a photograph of my office on this webpage.

April 3, 2001

Too busy forgetting

In the last two workdays alone, I have forgotten the following:

  • To send notes from a meeting last Friday to the researchers involved;
  • To do other misc. follow-up from the meeting I had intended to do yesterday;
  • To thank a staff member in the college for sending me some documents;
  • To look at a recommendation letter draft and finish it;
  • To bring home a CD-ROM with a program I need to try out;
  • To go to the library to find a few items;

I'm not as good at "multi-tasking" as I suppose I should be, yet.

March 26, 2001

Working at the library

Elizabeth (my spouse) and I walked to the new library branch this morning, my first time to walk there since it opened almost six weeks ago. The county added two stretches of sidewalk to connect the library's to the others on the street, so it was a very pleasant stroll. I brought my student's quizzes to grade, did a week's worth, and then walked home. I'll do more this afternoon. (I'm behind!)

March 24, 2001

Waiting to go home

My desktop computer is being VERY slow in translating (and I'll have to contact Dragon Systems to ask for suggestions again). The accuracy isn't affected, but sheesh! I'm supposed to be home in four minutes. Believe me, I can't get home in four minutes, and the computers may not be off by then. Time to grovel to my spouse (as she's waiting to work while I take the children).

Working Saturday?

I'm working this morning on-campus on a book chapter about placement issues in special education. Why, since I'm an historian? Because a former colleague at Vanderbilt, Doug Fuchs, invited me to help write a chapter, and I'm a nice guy (and maybe taking on a slight overload of work is a useful way to avoid boredom). I'm using a digital voice recorder and dictation software to draft pieces of it (which is fine for how I'm thinking, in pieces, today) and going outside to talk for five minutes, inside to set up my desktop to transcribe while I go outside again to talk for ... you get the idea. The day is sunny, 65 F., and its being a Saturday means I can sit almost anywhere without being interrupted by others (or having that noise interfere with dictation) helps. I just wish my desktop were a bit faster in transcribing, but that's the consequence of having a relatively cheap desktop that's almost 2 years old. (Don't ask how old our home computer is!)

I also have about a foot-thick stack of student work to go through this weekend. I put most of that off while reading through the draft papers that approximately half of my students turned in at the beginning of the month, before spring break. Then I visited my parents with my son, so I didn't have nearly enough time to read through them while traveling, and played catch-up after getting back here. Being a faculty member is a balancing act.

I finally figured out how to add my faculty home page as a link permanently to the front page.

Back to the grind ...