A Rumination on the Blog Itself

I‘ve noticed recently that my blog has been attracting more attention. Since close to the end of July, there’s been an upswelling of interest in what I write here, which I appreciate greatly. To illustrate, the week of 15 July 2018, which was a typical week for my blog in the time since I stopped trying to be a full-time academic, saw an average of six or so views a day from five or so visitors–and had days of no readership. The following week, however, saw an average of more than 45 daily views from more than 43 viewers, increases of 727% and 839% over the previous week, respectively. The most recent week, beginning 29 July 2018, saw an average of more than 66 views per day from 65 viewers, another 145% and 151% respective increase from the previous week.

Recent Blog Performance 20180805
You can guess when I wrote this, I suppose.
Image taken from the readouts WordPress gives me about my blog.

Again, and this needs to be emphasized, I greatly appreciate the interest in my work. I write here for others to read, and seeing that others do read what I write warms my cockles. It is because I want them to continue to do so that I find myself asking why it is so, what I have done that has prompted the renewed attention to my blog.

That most of the views I’m seeing reported are for assignment guidelines I’ve posted–which seems to be the case–suggests that my assignments are being used as models. Whether it is for instructors giving their own assignments or for the teaching of instructors about how to design them–and, in the latter case, whether as positive or negative examples–is less clear. I understandably hope it is one of the first two rather than the third, though if I have made enough of a name for myself that I have become an anti-role-model, I can comfort myself with the idea that no publicity is bad publicity. I have a long history of playing villains, after all, as those who have known me can attest.

The problem, of course, is that I am no longer in a position where I have leave to write my own assignments, not even so much as in the managed situation at the end of my time at Oklahoma State University. As such, I’ll not have much more of such material to contribute as has been receiving attention, though I am sure I could come up with some kind of assignment sequence that might be used, something not necessarily grounded in any one school’s programmatic requirements. Indeed, I recall a CCC article that proposes a writing studies curriculum; it might make sense to design assignments to suit it, and then to do something similar for the kinds of literature classes I would teach, had I but world enough and time–and opportunity, unlikely as I know it to be.

In any event, I can hope that attention to some of my materials will prompt attention to more of them, and I hope to be able to produce more that people enjoy reading or find useful to have at hand. I’m not intending on giving up anytime soon, and I am thankful for having had the readership and support I have had to this point. I look forward to yet more.

Your patronage is appreciated!

 

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In another Response to Eric Weiskott

On 30 July 2018, Eric Weiskott’s “The New Moralists” appeared online in Medium. In the article, Weiskott explicates the Rent Relief Act proposed by several Democratic US Senators and critiques it as a reflection of medieval three-estates ideology. After describing and offering a response to the proposed law (one that does not wholly endorse it), Weiskott notes the parallel to medieval social standards, using Piers Plowman as his example of medieval understandings of desired social dynamics. He points out that explicit or implicit work requirements for supportive programs are prevalent across centuries, although he notes that the author of Piers Plowman is, at least, more reflective than the 21st-century legislators that (unintentionally) echo him. After expressing the thought of supporting people regardless of work status, Weiskott concludes with the note that Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, who promotes such a position, won out over the proponent of a parallel to the Rent Relief Act.

One of the more notable depictions,
from MS Sloane 2435
and on the covers of many textbooks.
I’m told it’s a public domain image.

I’ve expressed my appreciation for Weiskott before, and some of what I’ve noted is applicable now. Weiskott remains a pleasure to read. Too, I’m happy to see another medievalist making comments accessible to a broad public, and I’m happy to see medieval literature being used to make a case relevant to current circumstances. Further, it’s always good to see the medievals presented as something other than the filthy idiots they are too commonly held to be–or those of us living now as uniformly more enlightened than they were. (There are ways, sure, but there are many things we retain, and there are some in which we may well be surpassed.) Too, I am glad to see the political comments made; I am not a proponent of the idea that the work scholars do is or should be apolitical. And for medieval studies to engage with such issues in the current cultural moment is particularly important, given some of the asinine shenanigans in which some are trying to employ it.

Related image
Not that three-estate life seems to have been good in any time.
Image borrowed from http://parismuseescollections.paris.fr/en/node/111064#infos-principales.
My French is not good enough to let me read the related text.

There is something potentially troubling about what Weiskott points out, though. If the idea behind the Rent Relief Act is one that echoes and repeats a kind of feudal ideology on display in Piers Plowman, it is one that bespeaks a continued slide towards a broader and more prevalent feudalistic social structure. The robber barons of the twentieth century were not afforded the elemental French feudal title idly. Their counterparts in the early twenty-first might well be so styled as they accumulate wealth and influence, and the access to and command of resources they embody, while more people grow increasingly poor. And I know that I, as well as most of the people I know, are more likely to be in what reflects the traditional third estate than either the first or the second. (The traditional second, those who fight, are increasingly those who work, as well. What god commands those who pray is open to interpretation. I acknowledge that the echo is not without garbling.) This is not Weiskott’s fault, of course, and it needs pointing out–but that does not make it not a sad thing to see…

Virtuous alms?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 9 August 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to paraphrase and summary before responding to student questions about orthography. In-class practice was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • Homework: Summary and Response, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Paraphrasing and Summarizing Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A Rumination on Commas

Standout Comma
I recently came across Chris Stokel-Walker’s 23 July 2018 BBC.com piece, “The Commas That Cost Companies Millions.” In the piece, Stokel-Walker details several legal cases where the presence and placement of commas matters, whether to the tune of millions of dollars (as in the Oakhurst Dairy case), in a Texas Supreme Court insurance case, an old tariff law, or a vendor contract, or in a capital case, as in 1916. Stokel-Walker along the way also reports on the need for linguistic ambiguity in some diplomatic contexts, and the article closes with a commendation to review documents carefully and hash out their meaning–adjusting the affecting punctuation–before agreeing to them.

As someone who remains involved in teaching writing, and doing so in accord with particular style guides (which have stated opinions about comma use), I am engaged in issues Stokel-Walker addresses in the article. Indeed, as was true of the Oakhurst Dairy case before, Stokel-Walker’s piece is a boon for those in my position. No few students have, in my experience, bemoaned attention to small details such as comma use (and commas are frequently an issue demanding attention in their writing); having a piece ready to hand that notes ways in which different punctuation results in different meanings–some of them quite costly–helps to make the real-world connections that are not always evident to those enrolled in required writing classes. And even if the use of particular style manuals can be problematic–as I acknowledge they can well be–they do speak to audience expectations, which must be addressed in any writing that would succeed at reaching any particular group of people.

That younger students I’ve taught, both at the secondary and undergraduate levels, would balk at having to pay such detailed attention is not a surprise. Being young, they tend to act as youths, and youth is not much associated with patience. Too, being young, they are newer to having to do anything, including to attend to details; they will necessarily be less practiced at it, and will therefore likely do less well at it–and I know of few who enjoy having it pointed out to them that they do not do a thing well. (They may appreciate knowing where they need to improve, but that is not the same thing as enjoying it, to be sure.) But I am surprised that the same attitude prevails among the older students I currently teach–people who, having been in the workforce and, in many cases, the military, are acquainted with the idea that small details matter. And I am surprised that those enrolled in the business- and technology-heavy programs offered where I continue to teach balk at such things, given the damage done by a misplaced decimal point on an accounting spreadsheet or by a single mis-typed character in a long string of code.

I suppose the matter is one of looking at standardized spelling and punctuation–whatever standard is applied–reads as a matter of being persnickety, as one that doesn’t affect anything “real.” Some of that, I’m sure, is an attitude held over from bad earlier teaching (not that I necessarily teach well; I’ve read the comments students have written of me, and they are not always compliments). That is, part comes from an issue I address in another essay, and part comes from teachers using “grammar” as a “gotcha” mechanism. Some, too, is the same unfamiliarity present among younger students; those I teach now have generally been away from formal schooling for a while, and the lack of exposure is not always helpful. But whatever the reason, I think it will be helpful to add Stokel-Walker’s recent piece to my teaching materials; while the details can differ, they do matter, and students–indeed, all of us–benefit from attending to them.

Care to help me fund my further comma use?

Another Rumination on an Online Course

A week ago, I commented on a training course I took to help myself and my major employer against disaster-readiness requirements, in which comments I made a note about my old study habits:

I looked at relevant texts–in this case, printed transcripts of the lessons [associated with the training course]–and annotated them before sitting for the actual lessons, and I followed along with the lessons as I could with the annotated texts in hand, making adjustments to my own notes along the way. Consequently, I had little difficulty in passing off the in-lesson assessments, and, when it came time to sit for the exam that would solemnize my completion of the course (and offer me continuing education units, which offer was not unwelcome), I passed it off with little difficulty.

Aside from coming off as more than a little arrogant–which I know it does, thank you–it suggested itself to me as a point of departure for more discussion. Indeed, I note that my study habits “might become [what I want to make a point of] in another blog post”–and so I offer this one.

First, I know that the methods I use may not be useful for every student in every subject. I’m trained as a reader and annotator, and I know not everybody is–and not all areas of inquiry and practice admit of annotation. The martial arts I have studied at times in the past are such disciplines; while judo may admit to it to some degree, what with certifications involved in refereeing and serving as a technical official, the performance of the art is a thing that must be done to be understood–and Aikikai aikido even more so. I hardly hold such practices in disdain–and many of the folks I esteem greatly are not “readers,” as such.

Second, I’m trained as a reader. Seriously. I’ve been damned lucky in being able to access and undertake such training, as I know many are not and have not. And I’m luckier in that I have a main job that still allows me to keep a toe in academe and run side-hustles that let me use that training to advantage. It’s a position of privilege I occupy, and I do not discount that. But neither this point nor the previous mean that what I do cannot be of some help to others, which is why I make a point of it now.

So, as I note above, I tend to print texts out (or buy them, when I have the money and I must or can) in large part because I find the physical media easier to use. I can page through books faster than I can scroll through screens, and while I can use a search function faster than that, I cannot always remember the best search terms–but I can glance across pages and remember what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. And I make marks on the physical pages for my convenience, in part to make later references easier–the marks stand out, being different from the printing on the pages–and in part to keep my notes about things with the things they are about. The things themselves need annotation, or I need them to have it, else I’d not make it–but the notes make no sense without reference to what they are notes about. I have a box full of notes taken on legal pads and other assorted papers, and when I look through them, I have no idea anymore what’s going on with them–but where I’ve marked my texts themselves, I’ve had no such problems at all, even a decade or more after the fact.

20180726_095727
One page of many.
The picture is mine. So is the handwriting.

To be sure, it’s no miracle method I use, nor is it anything necessarily special. For me, it works. I can hope it will for others, too.

Care to help me find and discuss yet better ways?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 2 August 2018

After a note about the abortive class meeting of the previous week, discussion turned towards the needs of introductions and conclusions before moving on to revision strategies. In-class practice with selected revision techniques was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Final Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Implied Main Ideas Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. The most recent office hour was canceled due to another obligation on the instructor’s part.

In yet another Response to Erin Bartram

On 8 July 2018, Erin Bartram’s “What It’s Like to Search for Jobs outside Academe” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, Bartram continues to relate her experience of transitioning out of academe and to present her findings as advice for others. She notes that discussion of such transitions tend to focus on where, rather than how, to look for work and that the non-academic job market is not necessarily simpler to navigate than the academic. Part of the difficulty comes from unfamiliarity on the parts both of transitioning academics and those who have not been part of academe with what the others do. Bartram asserts that conversing across the traditional town/gown divide is important before and during non-academic job searches before explicating several of the differences between the job-search types. She also reminds transitioning academics that they do have work experience and should apply for jobs as if they have been in fields for the time spent pursuing their academic dreams. And she notes that the simple announcement on social media of being on a job hunt can yield excellent results–results which are not often visible without taking such steps. Bartram concludes with notes about her own employment and a commendation to readers to investigate non-academic hiring before working on moving out of the field.

It is no secret that I have followed Bartram’s writing with some interest (as witness here and here, if not others). I was happy to see more from her, therefore, and I wish her well in her ongoing transition–partly from solidarity and partly because her own success would offer a model for others who, as she is doing and I seem more or less to have done, are making their own ways out of a system that all too often makes promises it cannot keep and has no intention of trying to keep. Too, her piece makes several points my own motion away from academe bear out as worth doing. The basic bit for humanities scholars is to parse job ads for future searches and better optimized responses to them. Using social media to find jobs, too, is useful, and the comment about scheduling job-search time–and an end to it each day–is eminently helpful. (Indeed, I wish I had had the insight to do that last.)

But there are some things that do not align with what I have seen as I have found my own (good) place in the world outside the ivory tower. The thing that sticks out most for me is the notion that years of work in the academy register as comparable years of work outside it; my experience says that they don’t often, if at all. I applied for close to 200 jobs between my last full-time teaching gig and the job I have now. Many of them were, in fact, entry-level (and those I got, in fact, were). Many others, though, were mid-level jobs that asked for two to ten years of experience–and I had that in teaching. But for the larger companies to which I applied, the fact that my jobs listed as “professor” or “instructor” meant that they failed to trip the keyword-matching that I have come to understand is endemic in larger hiring systems. And for the smaller ones, that my job titles were what they were meant that I was someone who couldn’t, per (that ass-hat) Shaw. Hell, even in getting the jobs I was able to get, I got to field the question of why I wanted them–and if I’ve landed in a good place, I know it was a stroke of good fortune that let me do so.

The transition out is possible, and it pays to talk to people in person and online. But it is also the case that there are more barriers to doing it than are necessarily evident, and it pays to be aware of them.

Care to support my ongoing efforts to navigate my largely post-ac life?

A Rumination on an Online Course

I recently began taking some additional training to help me be better able to do the job I have and the job I look to have before too long. The training, related to emergency management and disaster mitigation, is available for free online–from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA); I began taking it in response to one of the many demands made upon my place of employment. Being in the line of work it’s in, being in the line of work I’m in, obliges the agency for which I work to do a few things, and, since I am in the position I’m in, I’m the one who gets to attend to at least some of them–such as taking the emergency training.

Capture
Yes, I started at the beginning. It’s well outside my major.
Image taken from the FEMA website, used for reporting (and I’m pretty sure it’s public domain, anyway).

In taking the course, I fell back on practices I’d developed as a long-time student. That is, I looked at relevant texts–in this case, printed transcripts of the lessons–and annotated them before sitting for the actual lessons, and I followed along with the lessons as I could with the annotated texts in hand, making adjustments to my own notes along the way. Consequently, I had little difficulty in passing off the in-lesson assessments, and, when it came time to sit for the exam that would solemnize my completion of the course (and offer me continuing education units, which offer was not unwelcome), I passed it off with little difficulty.

That’s not the real point I want to make, though. (It might become so in another blog post, to be sure.) Instead, I want to focus on something I noticed in the course materials. Several of the sections–most of them, even–started out with narratives. Rather than always launching straight into the materials to be taught, the course started out with stories. It’s a course likely to be taken by those who have something direct and explicit to gain from doing so, not the kind of thing that is usually conceived of as admitting of “distraction.” More, the first lesson spends a fair bit of time discussing the history of institutionalized emergency management in the US, giving a story of a different sort as it lays out the legal underpinnings of FEMA and related agencies’ roles. I was surprised to see so much time and attention given to narrative amid a government-made training course–pleasantly, mind, but still surprised. And I find myself wondering at the purposes and effects of it; I know I am hardly a typical student, so my own thoughts are not like to be the most representative on the matter.

There are more courses for me to take, more continuing education units to earn. And I wonder if I will see more stories presented in those courses. If I do, there will be one set of implications to follow, to be certain–as will be the case if I do not, although I do not think I will like them nearly so much. But I look forward to seeing what the case will be.

Care to help underwrite more training for me?

 

Class Report: ENGL 062, 26 July 2018

Class was to open with treating questions from the previous class meeting before turning to concerns of writing as a process and of essay structures. Some time would have been allotted to work on student assignments. However, neither of the students enrolled attended.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Review Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Outlining and Mapping Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • My Reading Lab: My Reading Lab: Outlining and Mapping Topic and Post-Test Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 30 July 2018

Students, please keep in mind that the post-tests provide the grades for My Reading Lab assignments.

 

Another Rumination on Writing

I know I’ve spent a fair bit of space writing about my writing, as witness this piecethis piece, and this piece, among others that do not immediately present themselves to me. In the last of them, I make mention of returning to a practice of journal-writing, of putting an actual pen to actual pages to write words and help loosen some things in my mind. I was recently in mind of doing so, looking for things to write to keep my blog posts here going–as opposed to others I write on Ravings with a Dash of Lucid Prose or on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog–and I was reminded that the pages of my journals have often become the entries in my blogs.

Journal and Pen
One source among many for what I do.
The image is mine.

It’s not always the case, of course; I am often able to sit at my computer and hammer out some semblance of an essay, and there is much I write for the restricted audience of my journal (my wife has standing permission to read it, though she’s not availed herself of it that I’m aware, and Ms. 8 may someday look at the pages I’ve penned) that I do not want others’ eyes to see. But I do not seldom use the journal as a prewriting exercise, following patterns of behavior I’ve long commended to my students. I’m not as diligent in it as I ought to be, of course; while I’d like to write in it daily, I’ve not been able to maintain that schedule in the entire time I’ve tried to keep a journal. Even so, I often find the exercise a useful one, and I can hope that it has led to clearer, better writing for you to read.

And I’m aware of the archival value of such things as a physical journal. I’m not so arrogant as to think that there will be people study what all I do, of course; maybe, had I actually been able to be a regular academic and not the academic expatriate I have had to become, it might be the case that my notes and papers would be of value for a broader audience, but I entertain no such ideas at this point in my life. That said, I know that I might have like to have had some of the notes and such left behind by my forebears; I’m aware that my late grandmother kept a journal, for example, and I know that my great-grandmother kept a record of family events on the insides of her kitchen cabinets. The information that has been lost with the loss of those journals, those cabinets (because the family farm where the cabinets were was leveraged long ago, and it is lost to us), may have been incidental only, recording the mundane–but it would have offered me a connection to those who precede me that I am sometimes, as now, all too aware of lacking, having grown up where I did and not where they did.

My daughter has a better sense of her connection to her past, I think, or at least has it available to her. Her mother’s family still lives on the ranch they settled after immigrating to what is now central Texas–it was Mexico, then–and she is able to walk the lands her forefathers made their own. She will have to grapple with the problems of that making, admittedly, something that will be particularly fraught for her, given her heritage, but she will at least be able to see the land, to stand surrounded by it and to know it in her bones and blood. And she will not have to do as I have done, have meant to make some record of the stories of those who have preceded her and have neglected it time and again, thinking that there would always be another chance to do so–until, at last, there was not, and memory of what was fades or is shut away.

She is still too young to do it for herself. But I am not so old, yet, that I cannot do it for her. I can hope that, in addition to whatever other good it might do, and in mitigation of whatever harm it might do, that my keeping a journal, that my making some attempt to write what I know from day to day, will help her keep her connection to me when I am gone. And I can hope, as I think most parents must, that she will want to have that help.

Paper and ink cost money. Care to help me buy some more?