Sunday, December 21, 2014

Organizing the Humanities

Many literary historians concede that the traditional pedagogical organization of the humanities according to national language and literature has exceeded its expiration date, yet there is little consensus on alternatives. Mobile demography, immigration, and dispersed media networks defy such categorization, but post- nationalism can blind us to the economic and national power struggles that underlie literary politics and to conflict among monocultural states and multilingual communities. Cf. Emily Apter's Untranslatables: A World System

Monday, September 22, 2014

Whom Does the Engine Train?

"In spite of our collective belief that education is the engine for climbing the socioeconomic ladder ― the heart of the 'American dream' myth colleges now are divided by wealth more than ever," Vicki Madden, a veteran teacher and instructor, observes in her New York Times op-ed. As a token student in my era, I am not surprised. As data amassed by Profs. Michael Bastedo and Ozan Jaquette reveal, only 14 percent of students in America's 193 most selective colleges come from the bottom half of her socioeconomic strata and just 5 percent from its lowest quartile. The more elite the school, the greater the gap, not only among students' financial status but the students themselves. "As the income gap widens and hardens, changing class means a bigger difference between where you came from and where you are going," Madden concludes. Ah, there's the rub. The price demanded for a better life for self and family should not be the abandonment and even betrayal of  your people, the kith and kin left behind where you came from. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sense on Censorship

"If the concept of censorship is extended to everything, it means nothing," Robert Darnton, Harvard's head librarian, cautions in The New York Review of Books, calling to mind analogous labels broadly applied in an attempt to stifle debate on matters to which they do not properly apply. For those genuinely concerned with defending the principle purportedly under assault, however, such charges  or, not infrequently,  slanders ― are far too grave to be trivialized for partisan gain and thereby increasingly discredited among the remnant who yet dare to think for themselves. As censorship is essentially a political sword wielded by the State, Prof. Darnton, author of the upcoming Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, is well suited to address it.   

Friday, August 22, 2014

Our Processed World

Utopian reveries spill forth daily from the pulpits of the Oracles of Progress, promising the transformation of the drone labor of our soi-disant Information 
Age into acts of impassioned freedom by a liberated leisure class. We know 
all too well, however, the painful truth about today's work routines, which have become more ― not less ― routinized, soul-killing, and laden with drudgery 
to be beguiled. Indeed the grim contrast between the glum reality of cubicle labor and its ilk with the gilded rhetoric of a technocratic Golden Age, which once enticed us, then amused us, now only galls us as we contemplate 
our increasingly processed world. As Thorstein Veblen presciently observed
at the dawn of the last century: "Wherever the machine process extends, 
it sets the pace for workmen ― great and small." 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Birth of a Language

The story of the English language is an extraordinary one. It has the characteristics of a bold and successful adventure: tenacity, luck, near extinction on more than one occasion, dazzling flexibility, and an extraordinary power to absorb. And it's still going on. New dialects, new Englishes, are evolving all the time all over the world. But every story needs a beginning and, in the case at hand, who better than Lord Melvyn Bragg and the BBC to recount the tale of the birth of this remarkable language?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Visigoths at Academe's Doors?

"If the scuttlebutt about reading is true, the Visigoths are at the door,"
 warn Drs. David Joliffe and Allison Harl. An array of national surveys
 and studies suggests neither high school nor college students spend
 much time preparing for class, the central activity of which entails
 reading assigned articles, chapters, and books. Similar reviews indicate
 college students spend little or no time reading for pleasure. As major
 players in general education, most of which requires substantial reading,
 English department faculty are increasingly asking themselves:
 What are our students reading and why?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Like I Mean This Doesn't Help, You Know

"What the poor, the weak and the inarticulate desperately require is power, organization, and a sense of identity and purpose," affirmed the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-WI), "not [the] rarefied advice of political scientists." Nor, we would add, a gloss that deems recent research on inarticulate speech patterns, viz., the use of filler words such as um, like, you know, "a minor victory for the inarticulate, who think more, even as they stumble in speech." Um, I mean, this doesn't like help, you know, even if it is easier and cheaper than constructively addressing the matter by improving our educational system.

Once More into the Breech

First, an overdue apology for my gross inattention to these pages. I'll spare you the hoary bromide of the tree falling unattended in the forest and simply confess that like my beloved Brazil football team for a moment that seemed longer, my motivation dived. Confession is good for the soul, and reflection is good for the mind. On reflection, I recall what I've long held as a touchstone, viz., writing is not merely a means to present ideas but a catalyst to develop, organize, clarify, and even create them. In other words, it doesn't require an audience, as much as I might, after a year of labor, hope for one. Besides every thought  written or not  is contemplated by at least two minds. With that in mind then, once more into the breech! Comments as welcome as they are absent.  

Friday, March 07, 2014

Too Little, Too Late?

Responding to changes in the SAT announced by the College Board, Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, has dismissed the modest reforms as a case of too little, too late. "The blunt fact is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of academic achievement in college," he writes in Time, citing high-school grades as a better indicator. Not content to leave it at that, Botstein adds yet another charge to his litany: "SAT scores have also become an integral part of another money-making racket ― college rankings." He is, of course, not the only critic of the changes. In her Washington Post op-ed, Alexandra Petri agrees they do not go far enough, suggesting the test should consist of a single question: "Can you use Google?"

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lord of the Ring?

Many university professors would quite willing forgo Tolkein's magical ring for a successful finale to their quest for the equally elusive one of tenure. In his two-part series in Inside Higher Ed, Jacob Vigdor, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, offers some advice on "How To Earn Tenure." Hopefully, it may help your mission to be Lord of the Ring. Part 1  Part 2

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Angelica's Journal/Angelica's Journey

"On top of it all, I'm stressing out over what school is going to believe enough in me to accept me. I'm afraid that if I don't get into a great school, the word will never hear Angelica Herrara," the aspiring writer wrote in her journal ― a practice she'd begun at age 10. Thanks to it, in part, I don't believe that will be the case. "I pray somebody hears the honesty I am proclaiming in my words," she added. To which I say, amen. "If nobody listens, nobody hears the voices of the might be greats," our world will be impoverished far more than this working-class girl with a dream. From Journals to Journalism: Tracing the Trajectory of Literate Development

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The New English Empire

Till about 40, Lenovo's CEO Yang Yuanqing spoke hardly any English, but when he bought IBM's personal computer division in 2005, he immersed himself in the language. This week, he was in São Paulo for a board meeting. Like all the proceedings, save a press conference for Chinese media, it was conducted in English. Lenovo is not alone in the switch to the emerging language gold standard in business, as The Economist reports.