A workplace where people are kind – too much to ask for?

I’ve written about my bittersweet leaving of Longwood – but not about my new adventure in education.   Too busy working, I guess.  And the wound was raw last fall – in ways I didn’t realize until I landed in a new teaching job and found myself looking over my shoulder, reminiscent of a war vet with PTSD.  It was as if I was waiting for an IED to blow, for someone to knock my legs out from under me the way my Longwood colleagues did.

But secondary education is not higher education.   People are kinder to each other in secondary education.  I don’t know why, but I’ve worked for two universities and four high schools and it holds true throughout my work experience.

Maybe I do know why – in secondary education, teachers teach.  Almost all day, five days a week.  K-12 teachers log hours and hours with students, relentless, in-the-trenches.  It’s demanding work, work not well-respected or remunerated in our culture.  There are very few professors from American universities who could hang with the pace of preparation, face-time teaching, and feedback/assessment that effective high school teachers pull off.

University professors aren’t generally rewarded for being skilled teachers.  They are rewarded for doing other things well – but the effective teaching of undergraduates is not why they are hired or promoted.

I think this is the reason American higher education is destined to implode, probably in the near future unless this country deals with unsustainable student debt and undergraduates who wake up to find that their ordinary degrees don’t get them anywhere they want to be.

Kevin Carey overstates his case in The End of College, but some of his points make sense.  Especially that students have to plan for where they want to go.  It’s no longer good enough to simply get a degree and know that meaningful and relatively well-paid work is going to be waiting for you.  A college degree is not a ticket anywhere if you don’t use the time earning it well.

Which is what I told students at Longwood, and some of them disliked me for it.  But better to tell them the truth while they could still do something about it. I do think I helped a few prepare themselves for meaningful careers in communications.  One thing I know how to do is teach.

Unfortunately, universities aren’t especially interested in hiring effective teachers.  They want young scholars who will publish and make them look good.  I wasn’t young enough, and I wasn’t a man.  Despite what was said when they hired me, and no matter how hard I had worked for them and how effective I’d been teaching students, I wasn’t who they wanted around for the long haul.  Sucker punch.

But here’s the good news – and perhaps what the forces of the universe had in mind anyway.  I landed in Chesterfield County, teaching at their largest high school, and I feel valued there. I’m paid better, I have some job security and excellent benefits, my commute is less than half what it was to Longwood – really a better situation all around.  I like my students, I like what I’ve been asked to teach and the way they’ve asked me to teach it, and I like and respect most of the people I work with.

This year, they’ve asked me to take over the school’s journalism program and help students produce a digital-first student newspaper.  It’s going to be great – a digital-first web-based publication with a quarterly news magazine.  I’m excited by the possibilities.  Why not create one of the best high school journalism programs in the country?  Why not at Thomas Dale?

Sometimes people ask if I miss teaching college?  And sometimes I do.  But mostly I feel grateful to have found a teaching home.  A place where I can settle in and do my best without looking over my shoulder, a place to take some risks to see what works, pick myself up if I fail, a place where people are basically kind to one another.


What doesn’t come up in the political debates: “let them eat cake?”

This is the real story – told in Chrystia Freeland’s book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  

In this video clip, Bill Moyers talks to the author, Chrystia Freeland, and Rolling Stone magazine’s Matt Taibbi. I’m going to vote for Obama – no question – I don’t want anyone as wealthy as Romney entrusted with my democracy. Can you say “let them eat cake” ?

This video was posted on Alternet – an independent source of news that I’m going to return to again.

“AlterNet’s Mission: AlterNet is an award-winning news magazine and online community that creates original journalism and amplifies the best of hundreds of other independent media sources. AlterNet’s aim is to inspire action and advocacy on the environment, human rights and civil liberties, social justice, media, health care issues, and more.”

on being plugged in … how much is too much?

This seems important for my dissertation research, as well as my eventual teaching in media studies. Turkle argues that we need to ask ourselves if an obsessive use of social media technologies is taking humanity to a place we’ll want to inhabit.

In my research, I’ve broadened the question to include other forms of technology, like bioengineering and the use of chemicals in agriculture. What if our trust in technology is taking us someplace we don’t want to be? Seems true for farming. For a sense of community and local economies. For freedom and privacy. For civil discourse. For happiness.

Definitely an issue worth talking about. A conversation, perhaps over a meal … with everyone listening and no one texting.

I do think that most people try to strike a balance and unplug themselves occasionally … at least in our sleepy southern city of Richmond. Or maybe I just run with a more contemplative crowd – a crowd that likes to unplug, that dislikes the tether of instant communication. Seems like people I know are asking these questions. I don’t think I know anyone who sleeps with a cell phone … wonder if Turkle’s research took her outside the urban Northeast corridor?

Uneasy about Google’s new privacy policy?

NYT, 2/28: France Says Google Privacy Plan Likely Violates European Law

The headline is a bit bland for the digital privacy issue.  What the French are saying is that Google’s “proposed policy [is] murky in the details of how the company would use private data.”   Should I be concerned about “murky in the details”?

I have to admit, I’m one of the 88 % of Google users who has not read the new policy that takes effect tomorrow.

From the letter sent by the French privacy agency, “Rather than promoting transparency, the terms of the new policy and the fact that Google claims publicly that it will combine data across services raises fears about Google’s actual practices. Our preliminary investigation shows that it is extremely difficult to know exactly which data is combined between which services for which purposes, even for trained privacy professionals.”

Okay … combining data from my Google searches, YouTube searches and my Android smartphone.  “Don’t do evil”  … right?

France has asked Google to delay the new privacy policy for a few weeks, so they can “assess its compatibility with European Union law.”  Google said “no” – “we are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles.”  Also – they’re too big and too rich to care?

Somehow “don’t do evil” doesn’t make me feel any better.  And yet, I’ll probably Google something else today.  Maybe it’s time to check out Yahoo.

why twitter?

Picked up the May issue of Richmond Parents Monthly today because there was this teaser on the cover – “Twitter: Fad, nuisance or tool?”

Here’s what Carolyn Jabs, columnist, has to say:
“For people who are working or parenting at home, the ebb and flow of Tweets is like what used to happen in the village square, around the water cooler or over the back fence. Knowing tiny details about the lives of other people can transform strangers into acquaintances and even friends.”

Hmmm … is twitter really like what used to happen in the village square or over the back fence? What exactly did happen – more precisely, what is it that makes a community a community?

Also: “Following someone produces unexpected, random insights – what snacks a celebrity eats, what books a favorite author is reading, or even when a neighbor is making her morning muffins.” Okay – only one of these has anything to do with community as I imagine community. Two of these examples fall into that strange intersection between knowing someone and feeling like we know someone who is actually a stranger … real and unreal at the same time.

It’s a strange, virtual middle ground – why do I want to know what snacks a celebrity eats?

For that matter, why do I want to know when my neighbor is making muffins … unless she’s going to bring me some. That would be community!

Twitter strikes me as being like people who text each other while sitting next to each other. Fingers texting rather than having an actual conversation, one that could include other people too. There’s a disembodied intimacy in this that seems unreal to me.

Then again, I don’t twitter (yet) so I really don’t know. Could always check out twittervision.com to see if the fuss makes more sense.

has our technology surpassed our humanity?

I was struck by the story A Tragedy That Won’t Fade Away in this week’s issue of Newsweek. It’s about a family’s legal battle for privacy. Their daughter died in a car accident and photos from the crash site have gone viral on the web. There’s not much the family can do through the legal system to stop it, but they’re trying.

Why are human beings so fascinated with images of death? It strikes me that our morbid fascination is nothing new … what’s new is the power of digital technology and of the web to disconnect images of people from the communities that know them.

I’m reminded of the Einstein quote I saw on a bumper sticker at the Visual Arts Center … “It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

Another aspect of this is public humiliation, covered in this related article: The Flip Side of Internet Fame