Category Archives: College Life

Higher Education

Robert recently me a gentle note chiding me for silence.  Being a lifelong academic, I used a tried and true response: “I am off for the summer.”  Intellectually, I shut down from May to August–even if I do pick up a class or three over the three month hiatus.

The question sounded something a bit deeper.  And the sounding was reinforced by an article he included in the note:

Link discusses his loss of faith in academia.  The implied metaphor shook me.  Teaching has been a vocation for me.  And I have always considered myself lucky to have been able to make a living off of a passion and a vocation.  (As a friend once told me, “It is always better to be lucky than smart.  And I have always been smart.” )

In some part, my loss of faith is based in the very thing that has made my vocation a viable livelihood: the commercialization of higher eduction.

Michael Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy, has made a strong created a foundation addressing what he terms “Profoundly Disconnected.”  He “challenges the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

At first glance, the movement would seem to be an assault on higher ed.  In reality, though, it is an affirmation.

Equating success with college degrees is a form of reductionism that has cheapened skilled labor and higher ed alike.

I wonder if, like Oliver, my faith has been lost as well.

At the end of The Mission–a movie I have always wanted to live up to–one priest decides to follow his face and face death with the host.  Another embraces his roots and battles overwhelming odds.  I had always seen this as the two responses to that sort of injustice: embrace with love or battle for what you love.

What I failed to notice was the third option: the Indians, the believers, who melt quietly back in to the forest rejecting the options offered by the Church, Spain, and Portugal.

Reductionism and College Education

Dr. Z

I am in the process of wrapping up a short, three-week, online class: a mini-mester.  Ideally, in less than a third of the time, students cover the same materials in three weeks that they would in a traditional 16 week semester.

Although I benefit from the overload, I have always been ambivalent about the classes–even as I have continued to teach them on a regular basis.

My reservations about the courses have been difficult to articulate.  The students are expected to meet the course outcomes. But perhaps that is part of my discomfort.

The focus on clearly defined, defining, outcomes seems to be a form of reductionism.

This reductionism seems tied to the emphasis on career preparation and testing.  Education has been reduced to interaction with tests, outcomes, and degree plans, an extended, expensive form of training.  The goal of a college degree is to obtain a job.  I am not sure that is the same as an education.

Mark Bauerlein in “What’s the Point of a Professor?” warns that it is up to the professors to challenge students, to engage them to move beyond simply evaluating assignments.  He concludes if we fail to do so we are nothing more than accreditors.  “We become not a fearsome mind or a moral light, a role model or inspiration.”

The reasoning is simple; part of the dedication to our disciplines is an attentiveness beyond the enforcement and defense of a grade.

Looking at a fresh new set of essays awaiting my comments and grades, I question my own tenacity.

Cheers, Priests, and Gas Charges

Dr. Z
A Seminary Story
Professionally, the last few years have required several changes in direction–chair, faculty, interim jobs, and children leaving home for college.  At times, those shifts have left me disoriented, as well as carless.

It’s not that I expect such changes to be easy.  Just, on some level, I assume, or more accurately hope, that my experience will enlighten me when the plans I have made and shared become obstacles to overcome.

My last year in the seminary was a rough one–much of it my own making. Continue reading Cheers, Priests, and Gas Charges

Bicycles and Innovation

Dr. Z
Bicycling today,  I thought about a lit class I am teaching this summer.  I had planned to build the class around a series of group presentations on various aspects of class readings: historical criticism, biographic criticism, new criticism, feminist criticism.  Different views. Different approaches.  But I had begun to back away from that idea.  And I wondered why.

Why was I unwilling to try something new?   If the new approach did not work, I could adapt, change, or simply endure.  My administration encourages innovation.  I enjoy a certain autonomy in my classes.  Nobody would question the changes.  So why was I?

pathAll the while, I was bicycling though the master planned community where I live.  The bubble is about forty years old.  The original developer worked to maintain the feel of the forest that was torn down to make way for the homes.  Paths wind away from roads across golf courses along streams and back to the roads.

When we first moved here from The Panhandle, I tried to bike in the same way I had in the north. There, I would head out on long, uninterrupted rides on country farm roads.  Wind, cold, even snow, added to the joy of the rides.  I would return home exhausted and triumphant.  The solitude invigorated me.

Here, though, lights, traffic, and developments seemed to hem me in curtailing my rides.  I could not get out of the city; Houston stretches up, swallowing everything from College Station to Galveston.

It took me ten years to learn how to enjoy riding here.  I had to give up the sexy Italian racing bike Fuji CyclocrossI had bought with the raise and replace it with a cross, a gravel bike of sorts.  The turning point came about a year ago when I finally bought a bell–something I would have never deigned to do in the open plains.  I had to let go.

Now, I enjoy wandering the trails, sidewalks, paths greenbelts–whatever they are.  I enjoy becoming lost and turning back on myself, seeing new neighborhoods, coming across a snapping turtle, or cruising down the fake riverwalk.

I have started riding again.  But to do so, I had to let go of some of my preconceptions, some of my  pretensions, and some of my assumptions.

I am going to go ahead with the group projects for the summer.

Yaks and Sherpas

Last week, I was in Miami picking up one of the offspring from college. A native Texan, I have trouble settling into the cool, frantic culture of south Florida.

Sitting on a deserted patio of the student union sipping an iced coffee, I finally relaxed. The quiet of the campus calmed me. I had time to slow and consider. The school has been good to my son and my family. I have seen him change and grow as he pursues his bliss (stealing Campbell’s turn of phrase).

Comforted, I opened Yik Yak to snoop.

For those unfamiliar with the program—and that includes most of us who are not undergrads—it is a social media app that limits open messaging to a location or, more recently, a home base. “A live feed of what everyone’s saying around you.” Continue reading Yaks and Sherpas