04 August, 2015

A Baboon In An Ivory Tower (Or, The Gig Life, Part 2)

The beginning of August means one thing -- the academic year is about to start. And while I am still persona non grata at KCTCS -- Kentucky Cutthroats, Thieves, Cabbage-heads and Stinkbugs -- I do have some scheduled classes at the larger university down the street.  I'm going to be teaching and maintaining my newspaper gig... I'm happy doing both, like them both.

It's like dating two people except that neither one likes me enough to claim me exclusively.

Getting back in the classroom requires some prep. Each class has a blackboard module I am 
The game is: How the Hell Do I Turn in a Paper?
bound by expectation to use. It does cut down on the number of papers I carry around, since students turn things in online most of the time. It does simplify communications and makes handouts more accessible.  If the interface wasn't so non-intuitive and the overall design wasn't such a hold over from the 1980's movie Wargames,  I probably wouldn't hate it so much.

Some of my more experienced (READ: older) colleagues also hate Blackboard. Like me, they remember when teaching meant walking in with a syllabus and a piece of chalk -- yes, real chalk. We sometimes pine and talk about the days when teaching was as much a community building activity as it was an educational one. We talk about being able to circle up, talk about writing (in my case) and break down the conventional modules of institutional education that we matriculated through.

Then this funny thing happened. The conventional module of institutional education broke down.

From the time I accepted that technology would play some role in my role as teacher, I have looked tried to look at digital space as ... well... space. Students define it as a kind of space. After all a significant portion of their lives are spent in and out of digital space. The executive admins at colleges and universities see it as space, because they try to jam pack it as much as they can.  As a teacher, I have to see this ethereal space as a  kind of space where community occurs and where education can happen. My other option is to close myself off to the educational possibilities, not to mention closing myself out of potential work.

But this acceptance of digital space as educational space comes at a cost. A friend of mine recently told me an online class she is set to teach is capped at 35.*  That cap is brought to by greedy cutthroats, thieves, cabbage-heads and stinkbugs. Not only will that strain my friend, who is an excellent instructor, but it will negatively impact the educational experience of students.

Academic Deans, Provosts, and College/University Presidents who insist upon and create this kind of  institution do not care about the excessive and exploitative work loads they create or about the educational lives of students. They care about dollars. They care about the prestige of their own position. They care about how close they are to retirement so they get out of the education game and wax nostalgic about the days when paddling was an acceptable form of student crowd control.

I'm pretty excited about getting back into the classroom. There's work to be done.

*Just to give you some background: the optimum class size for a writing class is 18. One teacher for 18 students provides the best teacher-student interaction in and outside of class.

01 August, 2015

Pre-Fancy Farm Update

I haven't taken a road trip without Walt Whitman since I left Mount Carroll in January 2012.

The penguin pocket edition of the 1885 version of "Song of Myself" -- which has slight differences from the deathbed edition version people are most accustomed to -- fits perfectly in ruck or pocket. I've read through it multiple times on the road. It's the version that inspired "Whitman By Moonlight." I've underlined and bracketed and breathed in different verses:

"I pass death with dying, and birth with the new-washed babe... an am not contained between my hate and boots,"

 I wanted to take it with us to Fancy Farm because if there is any place Walt needs to be, it's around a bunch of politicians in their natural habitat of vulturing, hand kissing, and baby-shaking. After all, Uncle Walt was a journalist. Like any poet and any journalist, he was a pre-eminent muckraker... finding the story wherever it's buried.

When I dug out my copy of pocket Whitman, it was in pieces. I didn't have time to tape it together, and brought it anyway. After all, Uncle Walt would not have wanted to sit out when there's proper loafing and inviting of the soul to be done among the political princes and hopefuls here in Kentucky.

"I discover myself on the verge of my usual mistake."

I'll be tweeting live from Fancy Farm, (#FancyFarm) a uniquely Kentucky political party with bbq mutton and political spitting. Follow me on twitter (@dirtysacred) for current coverage of Mitch McConnell's under bite and the acute absence of Rand Paul. I'll leave you with a few inspirational words of Uncle Walt's:

"The sound of the belched words of my voice... words loosed to the eddies of the wind,
 A few light kisses... a few embraces... a reaching around of arms..."

we're all in this together, Dear Friends and Readers.