Sanity and Cs

I have a confession: I was a good test taker and a terrible student. As late as my second year of college, I would cut class if the weather pleased me and I’d go read something (or do something) that mattered to me.

I made a few Cs as a result.

But I also managed to retain sanity throughout the most stressful moments of my education. I focused on the classes that interested me most, figured out how to make grades I could live with in the others, and proceeded from there. Part of me does not want my students to follow such a pattern. Part of me does, and here’s why: instead of knowing what interests them, I see way too many students fool themselves into believing that making As is what interests them. An A can be a wonderful achievement. However, it seems a hollow one when it isn’t tethered to a larger goal.

Be deliberate. “Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams.” “Be bold, but not too bold.” Be more than your grades and your standardized test scores.

Posted in Education | 10 Comments

Pennywise and Pound Foolish

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently presented a budget to Congress that would eliminate funding for Special Olympics. “We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” she told legislators recently. She added that the success of the Special Olympics program should enable it to make up for the $17.6 million cut through its own fundraising.

The cut saves taxpayers approximately the same amount as five presidential trips to Mar-a-Lago. DeVos and the administration she represents drew a conclusion remarkably out of touch with the realities of most Americans, particularly those who support children with special needs. Having said that, I do not envy the policy makers who have to decide how to fund education. The economy is a twisted zero-sum game. Want to spend more money on university-level research programs? Great! Shall we take cash from elementary reading programs to provide it? Well. . .hang on a minute.

Of course, the government’s biggest mathematical problem involves figuring out ways to pay for entitlement programs. It’s not like we can tell retired septuagenarians that the checks won’t be coming any more. This administration’s specific problem involves its funding priorities. If you ran the government, how would you balance spending on defense, health, and education?

Posted in Education, National Politics | 14 Comments

A Quick Reminder; Callout Culture

As tempting as it may be to blog during class, I consider it bad form. Also, unless you’re highly proficient at multi-tasking, you’re not really getting the material being covered while you blog.

On to another topic: callout culture, which is the practice of publicly denouncing the biases of others. Chelsea Clinton recently attended a vigil in New York for the victims of the mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. On her way there, students from a local university accosted her for being contributing to islamophobia. Her crime? Expressing support for a congressional resolution against anti-Semitism.

The logic of Clinton’s detractors is a thin potation of name calling and conspiracy theory logic. It points to a broader, identity-based cultural issue: the inclination to “shame” people for having opinions that differ from our own. I see it as something that cuts against the grain of our nation’s great experiment in democracy, which largely involves listening to a broad plurality of voices to find the great middle way that does the greatest good for the greatest number.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Welcome Back. Finish Strong!

Ponder this during the last nine weeks of the semester: some of you will attend colleges that admit students whose admission resulted from their parents’ strenuous–perhaps illegal–efforts to place them there, rather than on the merits of their own labors.

It isn’t fair.

It isn’t a surprise.

Parents will do amazing things to ensure the well-being of their offspring, from rewarding uninspired doodles with a place on the fridge to spending boatloads of cash on college admissions counselors. Such actions spring up from a natural impulse to see their kids do well. However, at what point do those parents cross the line between being pushy and doing too much? If you could counsel those parents about the best ways to encourage a child’s happiness and success, what would you tell them?

Posted in Education, Politics | 18 Comments

School Violence and Mental Health

Recent legislation to improve school safety not only involves active shooter drills and required training sessions for teachers, but also an expansion of the way schools and police scrutinize social media postings. Civil Libertarians fear that the latter provision takes us one step farther down the primrose path to a police state. However, I also know that things have changed from my high school days, when “school violence” meant a fight in the cafeteria.

I’m curious: if students were to draft legislation regarding school safety, what would they prioritize?

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

An Information Society

Imagine a state where medical professionals had immediate access to information that would assist in diagnosing health issues. Imagine a state where science reduced the likelihood of wrongful prosecution and imprisonment. Imagine a state where all citizens could know with the click of a button where the branches of their family trees extended. DNA databases can provide all these benefits–and, perhaps, just as many threats. Civil libertarians have sounded the alarm on proposed legislation in Arizona would require a wide range of public employees–and recently deceased bodies that come into the possession of local medical examiners–to provide DNA samples. Their forced contributions to DNA databases would be invaluable to researches, but would turn some facets of jurisprudence upside down. What risks to civil liberties do DNA databases present? Do they outweigh the benefits? Does a person have the right to keep his DNA private? Do dead people have any rights regarding the use of their DNA?

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

A Thousand Words–and Then Some

Last week’s revelation that two statewide office holders in Virginia had taken pictures in blackface–and that a third had been accused by two women of sexual assault–rocked the Commonwealth, and had trickle-down effects here in Mississippi: Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves belonged to a fraternity that hosted an annual Old South Ball, complete with members dressed as confederate soldiers, and dates dressed as antebellum belles.

All five men involved in these incidents have had notable careers in public service. So here’s the question of the week: at what point, if any, does a record of service outweigh the sins of the past?

Posted in Politics, Race in Mississippi | 25 Comments

And the Winner Is…

Below please find the nominees for Best Picture. Who’s going to win?

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

On a related note, the oldest film festival in Mississippi, the Magnolia Film Festival, takes place in Starkville February 28-March 2. You should GO! Student tickets are only $5 per session.

Posted in Arts | 15 Comments

Objets d’Art and Objects

Roman Polanski cannot return to the United States because he pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, but skipped bail instead of serving his sentence. Bryan Singer has been accused of assaulting prospective actors and other under-aged men. Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch is too dirty to give to a homeless shelter.

All three men have put unforgettably fantastic films on the screen–Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, and Shakespeare in Love among them. I teach two of these films on a regular basis. All three approach stylistic perfection, and carry masterfully nuanced themes as far as a film can. Yet the way these men have behaved begs questions about whether or not we can–or should–separate the art from the artist. Your thoughts are welcome.

Posted in Gender Issues, National Politics | 31 Comments

Elbow Room

According to the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative think-tank, the state population experienced a modest decline last year–just over three thousand residents. Louisiana experienced an even greater decline, while all our other neighbors saw population increases. The article linked goes on to suggest that blame for the decline may be traced to high local tax rates, which are 0.49% above the national average, and well below that of our neighbors.

I’m curious: do you find cause for concern regarding the emigration of people from Mississippi? Also, what do you see as the underlying causes? How can they be remedied?

Posted in Education, Politics, Pop Culture | 26 Comments