Cute Squirrel Babies

We have a… thing for the squirrels here in State College, PA.

This was on Facebook. Sometimes squirrels aren’t little thoughts scurrying in our minds, but simply cute, fuzzy creatures.

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting lately – here’s why. Squirrels have two litters per year – the first in late May/early June, and the second in late August. I’ve been so busy raising another batch of little kits that I just haven’t had the time to do much modeling work! Currently, my babies have all their fur, and their big, bright eyes are open, but they’re too little to leave the nest yet – they…’re about the size of chipmunks and could fit in the palm of your hand! This picture I found on the internet isn’t mine, but it should give you a good idea of what my babies look like. Of course, I’m not the only mama squirrel on campus. Many of the trees around here are full of leafy squirrel nurseries right now -if you walk past one and look carefully, you might see tiny squirrel faces looking down at you!

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3 Things I Said I Would Do, But Haven’t

Age of Ultron and Trillium

How I Started Reading Again

The term “bucket list” has become popular. These are things we want to do before we die. Sometimes these are really challenging ideas like base-jumping or climbing Mt. Everest. Others might simpler like following the Grateful Dead on a tour (too late for that) or reading all of the works of Dostoevsky.

We all have different dreams and thresholds for what we are willing to do. If you have a fear of heights, try zip-lining. I did. I am still a little nervous up high, but much less so.

My 3 Things are more what I have started, but never finished.

Maybe it is a lack of confidence or even sheer laziness that prevents me from just doing these things. Time isn’t an issue. If I want to do these things I merely have to sacrifice some time and dedicate myself to meeting the goal.

I have fallen into a vicious little cycle. Lack of confidence leads to laziness, which leads to more lack of confidence, which leads to eventual rationalization that doing such and such is a “waste of time and energy” anyway. Then I feel guilty or bummed out about it. Then I start up something completely different to feel better thus starting the cycle over.

So here they are. I thought I could do them this year, but I have not even scratched the surface.

Read 25 Books in a Year

Many people will read 50-100 in a year and might not understand why this is such a hard goal to achieve. I can’t remember if I have ever read this many books in a year! Part of that is because I have never kept count. I had to have at least in school.

If I can point to a reason it is burnout. I think I did not let myself recover from the stress of finishing a dissertation and defense in 4 months time. I simply could not bear to pick up another book. I had all the intentions of reading something I really wanted to read but could not, but each was a 50 pound weight my fingers could not handle.

I have started up my reading habit once more. You know what got me back into it? Comic books. I found my inner geek once again and started reading comics. It is the perfect medium of text and images which helped wean me off of movies. Netflix and Redbox have been getting business from me this year. Time to hit that unread library which is…extensive.

Write a Book

If I can’t get myself to read, how can I get myself to write? The issue is confidence. When I think I have a good idea, somehow my mind goes into panic mode and recoils. The negative self-talk starts into a crescendo, “You are not interesting enough,” “Who would care about what you have to say,” “You don’t have any good ideas anyway.” The voices go on and on.

This blog may be my comic book for writing. If I get some feedback and start a conversation, maybe there is an idea that will work.

My goal with writing anything is to find something helpful to someone else. I also over-think. I don’t want to impose what I think is helpful on others. What if I am writing for a selfish purpose? Is this all about me? Is that ok if it is?

See what I mean? Over-thinking. Paralysis by analysis. I can rationalize myself into thinking a bear trap is fluffy and soft.

I have about 6 starts to different ideas, but I just don’t think any of them are good. That, my friends, is called a writer’s block!

Help a Struggling Student Achieve

School was rough for me for at least grade K – 7. My family situation was less than ideal, and I had what I call emotional constipation. With trauma packed into my brain, there was no room for anything else. Social skills never came easy. Meeting new people was, and still is, not a natural skill of mine. I had the potential, but it was all so difficult.

I eventually got help and made it. In fact, I more than made it. I was on the honor roll for 4 grading periods my junior year of high school, graduated with a 3.0 from undergrad, a 3.5 from my M.Div, a 3.7 from my Th.M. where I won a fellowship and a scholarship, and a 4.0 from my Ph.D. I went from special ed student to doctorate. Pretty solid.

But I needed help to get all the way there. Family stepped in big time. That is where I am fortunate. I have a very supportive and loving family. There are kids who are out there, alone, and with no presence to protect them. I know what that feels like. Most just need one champion. I know I could be a champion for some kid who has no hope today. My kids will have me and their mom who will be there to push, hold accountable, and love them. Some minds with a ton of potential just don’t have that support.

I started the Big Brother’s and Sister’s program this year. I did not have enough time or energy for it. Maybe some other time.

So I start and then stop projects I really enjoy. I have a tendency to sabotage myself that way.

This blog, taking up cycling, and reading comic books have been my baby steps.

What are your near-accomplishments that you might be struggling to complete?

Long Weekend Blahs

Today I woke up with the blahs.

Ok, it might be more significant that having the “blahs.” It was more weighty. Some morning I wake up with a certain gravity that pulls me down. I am heavy metal and the bed is my electro-magnet.

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, there was not a cloud in the sky, and the air was fresh with potential. I finally had enough escape velocity to get in the shower and get ready to go. I walked the dog, ate a banana, and was off to the office on my bike. This was on 7 hours of sleep. I even got paid!

I have a three-day weekend, fun stuff with the boys planned, and there is nothing that seems wrong.

I did everything correctly to feel good. But I did not feel right with the world then, and I have not since. I am productive at work today, but even that may not help the shadow over my head.

Sometimes I just wake up that way and stay that way until the next morning. I just have to move through the day as if nothing is wrong.

Maybe I should have known I would wake up in a funk when this song was the most awesome thing I heard yesterday.

Naw… That’s not it at all. That song just rocks!

Humanities: A Waste of Money?

With the focus of higher education on jobs and income more than ever, it is a wonder why the liberal arts and the humanities are worth the investment. A history or philosophy class can’t deliver skills that the workforce requires, right?

A very small fraction of graduates will qualify for an MBA, law school, or medical school. A small fraction of undergraduate students in the sciences complete a biology or chemistry degree. More jobs simply require a bachelor’s degree as evidence of some set of competencies – from clerks to kitchen staff. James McGrath makes a point of this:

I wonder whether the question “Will this be on the final exam?”, and the sense many of today’s students have that core curriculum and general education courses are irrelevant to their chosen vocation, are not connected. Both reflect the belief that the future will follow a predictable path, and that all students need to do is gather up the answers now and then have them ready for the moments when they are needed.

I am finding the “final exam” rhetoric no more prevalent than in recent talks about higher education ratings and jobs. The final exam is employment and the outcome of employment is a return on investment in that degree. In the end, getting a job and money are why we go to school. This would mean that religious studies is superfluous unless wrapped in, say, an international business degree. Philosophy is pointless unless it might help you in, say, debating in a political or law career. Music, art, and literature? These are clearly wastes of money and time.

Once again liberal arts and humanities are on the chopping block in a revolving door of utilitarianism.

Not everyone in the business world would agree that a liberal education is superfluous. Learning how to think and acquire a diverse plasticity of the mind is valuable.

The people who succeed in more expensive labor markets like the U.S. will be those who can think creatively and generate the ideas that will propel economic growth. Such skills, (Vivek Ranadive, CEO of Palo Alto tech firm Tibco Software) said, are best fostered in a traditional liberal-arts environment.

Ironic how we keep coming back to a liberal education and the liberal arts to “reform” higher education when education takes a utilitarian route.

While outsourcing skills learned in a liberal arts education to the MOOC environment is debatable at best, dumping what seem to be “useless” courses will prove a bad investment in the economy and in society once again. Re-envisioning models for teaching students to think is always important. Cutting programs based on arbitrary return on investment data points has no long-term gains.

My Education: The First Memory

I am starting a new series on how I remember my education. By some miracle I went from a special ed classroom to four post-secondary degrees and a steady career in higher education. I know there is a story there. I just need to find it.

This little series I will revisit on this blog will share how I remember my journey as a student, a teacher, and a person who supports teaching and teachers. I will tag all of these with My Education for future reference (for me and the reader).

Some of these posts will be fragments and some will be longer vignettes and anecdotes. Hope you enjoy my self-exploration.

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We stood up to say the pledge of allegiance and I screamed it in a high-pitched, funny voice. Ms. McQueen took me out of the classroom and I was not allowed to say the pledge with the rest of the students for the rest of that week. This is the earliest and most enduring memory of my education.

That morning another kid in the class was also acting out. Why not mimic something that was getting a laugh from the other kids in the class, I thought. There is no better feeling than being the center of attention for a kid. I had a deep urge for some kind of positive attention.

When the teacher scolded me for my little display of disrespect to the flag and the class I felt dread. I could hear my heartbeat as the numb sensation of blood rushed to my head. Her voice sounded muffled and my vision blurred. My eyes we stuck on my feet. For one moment I felt like a horrible person. I had done something wrong and had to pay for that offense through isolation. Feeling left out was the worst punishment I could have had. My teacher succeeded.

Maybe she succeeded a little to well. From that 10 minutes of shame onward I never felt part of the “in” crowd but always a little on the outside looking in. My voice was stolen from me that day. I took a rear position in the society of schooling. My strategy became drafting off of the charisma of others hoping to get validated just for keeping up.

This was kindergarten.

Social Orgasms with Miley Cyrus, Pink, and Billy Idol

Elvis

Elvis’ Mississippi Delta

So the once “pure” child twerked, imitated masturbation, and played strap-on with a large finger all while in a hideous, white, latex undergarment.

We’ve been shocked before. It was controversial for Jim Morrison to use the word “higher” on the Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis was rarely seen below the hips because his gyrations were too sexual. Madonna humped the stage in a wedding dress. Michael Jackson humped more air than an unfixed dog on an unsuspecting leg. Why are we all freaking out about Hannah Montana getting busy with a giant bear and Dr. Jason Seaver’s real-life boy?

Miley is mimicking Pink who is mimicking Billy Idol. That annoying sneer is still annoying no matter what face it is on.

As absurd as Miley looked, she was also doing a pretty good parody of everything that is bad with music at the VMA’s. However, she was trying so hard to be a badass that she simply looked like a really frustrated teenager taking 20 selfies a second to splatter on her social media profiles. But c’mon. Dancing around sensually isn’t new. It is as old as dance itself. So what if it is through Viacom’s lens of highly produced, throwaway, script-free media?

But what about Lady GaGa?! There is nothing novel or even interesting about her off-beat but highly rehearsed and produced shows. Sure it’s entertainment, but it’s also derivative. I venture a guess that most VMA fans haven’t been too up on Kate Bush. The eyes have it.

Lady Gaga

Kate Bush

And that’s the point. Absolutely none of this is new stuff. The same act of giving our parents the finger happens over and over again and for some reason we all are aghast when it does.

Miley got exactly what she thought she would: attention. Just like Bieber, just like Spears, just like Lil’ Kim, just like Nicki Minaj.

In the end publicity stunts are like sociological orgasms. Every has the shock of one on the system. And then as soon as the moment arises, it disappears. The good old West will go on the hunt for its next sexual target.

Get out your little black books for next year. The next booty that is waiting for a call.

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Source: http://www.otrstreet.com/
Source: http://hitfix.com/
Source: http://thatgrapejuice.net/
Source: http://last.fm/
Source: http://buzzworthy.mtv.com
Source: http://eil.com/

College À La Carte

In the age of the extra value meal there is something elegant about getting one sandwich. It is getting second nature to get the value meal as if it is the only option. The downside is that extra-value meals result in us consuming more than we need and we are getting fatter from it.

Try not getting a value meal at a drive-thru. It takes more time to look over the menu to figure out what you want. The choice combinations are difficult to sort out. Choice is not what it is cracked up to be since it takes more effort.

Barry Schwartz argues that too much choice creates a situation in which too much choice results in unhappiness. This is The Paradox of Choice. Having more options seems to give us more freedom, but that much freedom creates a situation where we are not sure if we made the right decision. We second-guess rather than enjoy what we have.

However, some kind of guidance to lessen the blow of being overwhelmed by options can help. I will go to Consumer Reports or read reviews of a product before I invest in it. I need a “nudge.” Having a little nudge in one direction helps to oil the rational machinery of choice. Of course, there are bad nudges from people who have unreasonable opinions. Do we agree with all the crappy reviews or good reviews a movie gets from critics? I will stand by my opinion that both Forrest Gump and The English Patient suck. Critics did not help me at all.

Enter education. We have plenty of nudges. The President wants a nudge of a ratings system to help consumer choice. US News and World Report has been a nudge for education consumers for years. We have Peterson’s guides, and now MOOC’s, all there to help us with our decision-making. Each institution nudges us with marketing departments in the spirit of competition.

So what if we removed all of that and let the students choose what they wanted? Interesting idea from David Roberts:

Cloud U students could define their own educational paths, deciding what and how they want to learn by purchasing individual courses via an iTunes-like portal, with formats ranging from large, multilayered affairs with online lectures, interactive tutorials and chat sessions to microclasses that would quickly teach very specific skills.

The idea isn’t new. The largest ground-shift in US higher education came at the close of the 19th century when Charles Eliot introduced the secular, elective curriculum at Harvard. It was a light form of a pick-your-own adventure experience which was unheard of before that point. That basic structure exists to this day. However, in recent decades, institutions have moved back to some form of core curriculum to ensure graduates are getting the same set of skills and knowledge with social science, philosophy, history, mathematics, etc.

Can we trust our youth and their families to make educational degree and learning decisions without the kind of direct interventions that an institution of higher learning provides?

It is not enough to let students go à la carte with their educational goals. The reason is simple: students and families don’t know well enough what kind of learning a student needs to design a program of study. Maybe in this area, the extra-value meal is not a bad thing and is actually a healthier option in the long run.

Students still need a nudge and a system that helps them to make choices that will affect their entire lives. We don’t purchase cars or houses one part at a time. Why would we let ourselves do the same with an investment as massive as education? Having someone with training to teach us how to create our learning isn’t much different from enrolling an engineer or architect.

For as much as higher education is challenged, we still come back to the conclusion that we still need it – and for good reason.