31 August 2006 - Thursday


For my independent study on British responses to the French Revolution, I am supposed to read Richard Price's "Discourse on the Love of Our Country" this week. Price's pro-revolutionary address, delivered in 1789, provoked a famous response from Edmund Burke, beginning the pamphlet war I will be studying.

To find the text, of course, I checked our library first. But it looked as if our only copy is on microfiche, and I did not want to bother with that. So I resorted to the trusty old information superhighway.

I quickly found a copy here. However, I then decided I wanted a slightly more authoritative source, so I tried Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty. But for some reason, I couldn't access the site. So I just printed out the Constitution Society version.

The next day, I tried Liberty Fund again. This time, I got through to its copy of Price's speech. And as I looked at that page, I made a discovery.

I already own a hard copy! Liberty Fund published the discourse in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, which is sitting on one of my bookshelves right now.

I am not sure how to explain why this event had such significance for me. It represented vindication and hope.

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28 August 2006 - Monday

First day of classes

This afternoon, I had my first graduate class ever. But it doesn't really count. It is just an undergraduate course with an option for graduate credit.

My first real graduate class begins in about an hour.

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22 August 2006 - Tuesday

The most dangerous subtitle in America

Apparently, David Horowitz has a weblog dedicated to his recent book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. I stumbled across it in the course of doing other Internetish things, and the latest post caught my eye.

Now, I have refused outright to read this book on the basis of its subtitle alone. I consider that subtitle inherently pejorative and defamatory; it makes civil dialogue impossible from the beginning. Interestingly, Horowitz admits that this subtitle is misleading. He claims that "Most Dangerous Academics in America" was not his idea, and that he opposed it at first.

The academics [profiled in the book] were all ideologues of the left, which meant that their growing influence in the academy would undoubtedly influence, in a negative way, America's war on terror. The claim that these professors might be the "most dangerous," on the other hand, was hard to justify. Because my intention was not necessarily to show extremes, but to reveal a pattern of professorial behavior that affected a larger group than I had included, there were obscure academics such as Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin. The inclusion of these three (and a few others) under the rubric "most dangerous" was sure to raise eyebrows, and legitimately so. This was of particular concern to me because I knew that my critics would jump on the word "dangerous" to avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book and to charge that it was a "witch-hunt."
How perceptive of him. I think he was right; to include "moderate" professors among the "most dangerous academics in America" just might lead to confusion among some readers.

But of course, Horowitz thinks this confusion lies mostly in the minds of the book's disingenuous critics, who use the discrepancy to "avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book."

I opposed the addition. "If we give it this subtitle" I told the publisher, "academics will regard it as a witch-hunt and no one in the academy will read it." My publisher's reply was this: "Who in the academy is going to read it anyway? They'll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it, whatever its title. We need to market it to a large audience, and this subtitle will do the trick, and that’s what we're going to do."

Journalists don't write the headlines of their articles, and most book authors don't have authority over their book-titles. The campaign to taint me with the McCarthy brush was already extensive. If two hundred tenured radicals at Harvard could censure its liberal president and force him to resign, why would I think they could not discredit me, while discouraging academics generally from reading my book? [...]

So I went along with the marketing strategy, which seemed to work. In its first six months of publication, The Professors sold forty thousand copies and stimulated a national dialogue on the issues it was attempting to raise. But the strategy also facilitated the predictable attacks.

Something was bothering me at this point, as I read his post. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There was something amiss ....

Oh, yeah. The weblog I was reading. Its title is Dangerous Professors. And its address is http://dangerousprofessors.net/.

So let's get real. Horowitz is no victim of unreasoning vitriol, at least in this respect. He is basking in the warmth of the fire he started with that subtitle. He is deliberately inviting his readers -- for he preaches only to the conservative choir, his claims about "national dialogue" notwithstanding -- to view even "moderate leftists" in the academy as a national security threat.

And we know what happens to national security threats, don't we?

Lest readers think the unfortunate subtitle was out of Horowitz' control:

Even though this was not a claim actually made in the text of my book, I am willing to accept responsibility for a provocation appended to the title page and cover by its publisher.
So be it.

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12 June 2006 - Monday


Fortunately, David Davisson managed to do what I could not when I tried: he tracked down the text of the Florida education bill mentioned here. The fact-checking was badly needed, as Davisson discovered:

It turns out that Zimmerman's characterization of the new Florida law is somewhat misleading. The actual law, as signed by Jeb Bush says this -- "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence." The "revisionist or postmodernist" line was dropped before the bill reached Bush's desk.
The "as factual, not as constructed" phrase is still meaningless at best. But the rest of it could be worse. If I could, I would change "defined as" to "defined by" for the sake of accuracy and flexibility.

In fact, I'll quote more than that from the bill:

Members of the instructional staff of the public schools, subject to the rules of the State Board of Education and the district school board, shall teach efficiently and faithfully, using the books and materials required that meet the highest standards for professionalism and historic accuracy, following the prescribed courses of study, and employing approved methods of instruction, the following:


The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

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8 June 2006 - Thursday

I think I am becoming a god

According to the LA Times (get a login here if you need it), the state of Florida has ordered American historians to be infallible and omniscient.

"The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth," declares Florida's Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed."
Uh ... we'll get right on that. Just as soon as we figure out what the heck the "revisionist viewpoint" of history is.

Update: An important correction to the article is here.

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27 May 2006 - Saturday

Fear and snobbery

I am reading Julius Getman's In the Company of Scholars: The Struggle for the Soul of Higher Education (UT Press, 1992). Getman is a law professor, and the book reflects his professional experience, but many of his arguments apply to other disciplines as well.

One of the main themes of the book is the tension Getman sees between the elitist and egalitarian impulses of the academy. He is particularly critical of what he interprets as widespread pretense and arrogance on elite campuses. His complaints come from personal experience; Getman went on from a working-class childhood to get an education at Harvard Law.

Getman argues that the snobbery is a result of fear:

Academic life is frequently perceived to be a haven for the timid, and there is much to the stereotype. Many of the worst features of academic life -- the pedantry, jargon, obscurantism, and removal from reality -- have their roots in fear of discovery. Yet meaningful success requires a degree of boldness.

In later years, I realized that many students and young faculty members behave in self-defeating ways. [...] They do not believe that they have anything of value to contribute to a high-level academic debate. Often this feeling prevents people from publishing or teaching effectively and sometimes it makes them pedantic, overly abstract, or unnecessarily elegant in the presentation of their ideas. Sometimes I think that the great majority of young academics fall into two categories: the unnecessarily diffident and the infuriatingly arrogant. In more reflective moments, I realize that the two categories are essentially one. Underneath the arrogance so common among young academics, there is generally fear of being exposed as an intellectual charlatan. The feeling is almost universal. The fear reflects, among other things, that deep down almost all of us are aware of how little we know about the subjects we teach. (pp. 25-26)

This got me thinking. Assuming Getman is right (and I'm guessing he's not entirely wrong), I would add that I think similar fears lie behind a lot of the popular anti-intellectualism that some of us complain about. If many academics cloak their insecurities with arrogance, I think non-academics often do the same. At least, in my experience.

Many people speak proudly of their participation in "the real world" as if it were morally and even mentally superior to the sheltered and luxurious (ha!) life of the universities. Some openly disparage intellectuals as subversive and supercilious pantywaists (those probably aren't the terms they would use, but never mind that). I suspect such anti-intellectuals feel threatened by an educational system that obviously wields a great deal of power in society, but in which they are unlikely to be allowed a voice. Anti-intellectualism is itself often a form a snobbery prompted by fear and a sense of exclusion.

And it's true that the opinions of many segments of society are unlikely to be taken seriously by the academy. At best, the intellectuals smile indulgently and try to figure out how to liberate these people from their woeful ignorance. It's no wonder if they respond in kind.

I still think one of the best things we all could do to make everybody feel human again is to avoid politicization [edit: "polarization" might be a better term than "politicization"; the problem is not being opinionated but being antagonistic]. If we could overlook the accumulated partisan baggage of personalities, cultures, and ideologies, we might treat each other with more respect and become better thinkers, too. I'm not claiming to be good at that -- quite the contrary -- but I would like to improve.

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19 May 2006 - Friday

My two cents

Please remember what would happen to a student caught in repeated plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification -- especially if that student showed absolutely no remorse for his or her behavior.

It would vary according to school, of course. But at Harvard or Yale, the average punishment for academic dishonesty is a two-semester suspension; at Washington and Lee University, plagiarism automatically results in permanent expulsion.* And at CU-Boulder, where students "frustrated with the lack of academic integrity on campus" asked for an honor code in 1998,* violations result in punishment ranging from a warning letter to permanent expulsion.*

Therefore, I have little sympathy with anyone insecure enough to think that Ward Churchill's offenses are somehow mitigated by his critics' political views. He should be fired. For the sake of the children.

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15 May 2006 - Monday

Trouble in Purcellville

At Cliopatria, KC Johnson has drawn my attention to the fact that five professors recently resigned from Patrick Henry College. The conservative Christian institution has drawn a lot of attention over the last few years; these faculty resignations reveal internal debate over academic freedom and the role of Scripture in intellectual life.

The story, as reported in Leesburg Today (23 March and 12 May) and in the Chronicle of Higher Education (12 May), is as follows.

Continue reading "Trouble in Purcellville" below the fold . . .

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7 May 2006 - Sunday


It is done! I am now a former LeTourneau University student, bearing a BA in history-political science and a BS in business administration.

Furthermore, my friends Rachel and Wheeler are married.

I am full of contradictory emotions. I may never see some of my friends again (and two of them are now united in a way that will take some getting used to), and I have left a place that had almost come to seem like home. But I am also free to start a new life in a new place. For the moment, I am back in rural Central Texas, hoping for a little peace and quiet. For the Wheelers, I wish a similarly peaceful summer and a marriage that will grow ever stronger.

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29 April 2006 - Saturday

Seven days to degree

And now I'm totally done with my undergraduate work. Just now, I completed my last business assignment (a team presentation to a local nonprofit organization). I've earned my degrees.

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28 April 2006 - Friday

Eight days to degree

I just got out of the last class lecture of my undergraduate years.

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20 April 2006 - Thursday

Closing in

I have a Firefox extension to count down the remaining days to graduation:

16 days to degree

Here's how the counter looked when I first installed it.

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4 April 2006 - Tuesday


I just pulled an all-nighter to write a report.

It's a report for a business class. A report on Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

The silly thing ran to 20 pages. And now I'm sitting here, quivering slightly, listening to the birds as they begin calling outside. I'm trying not to think about the assignment I have to turn in later today, the biblical studies assignment that might almost be fun if it weren't for not sleeping the night before.

Did I mention that I did this while suffering from nausea? And that I hate the course? I hate it because it's a business course; I hate it because I've already been accepted to two graduate programs in a totally unrelated field; I hate it because it's the only course that's really requiring me to do any work for the rest of the semester.

Now I have an hour and twenty minutes before I have to turn in my 20-page report on Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. What can a person do in an hour and twenty minutes?

I think I'll go watch the sunrise.

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19 March 2006 - Sunday

Keeping it real

Peter Wood, provost at The King's College, a Christian school in New York City, has closed TKC's school of education.

I wanted my little college to cease feeding the monster. Schools of education mis-prepare would-be teachers in many ways. They deprive those would-be teachers of the opportunity to learn more important, substantive things during their undergraduate years; they require students to take hugely time-consuming courses of dubious intellectual value; and they inculcate would-be teachers in the educrats' pernicious ideology. It's an ideology that insists that virtually all of America's social problems derive from institutionalized prejudices; that most knowledge is "socially constructed;" and that children are best taught by allowing their natural creativity to flourish, rather than by actually trying to teach the habits of self-discipline and mindfulness.
Via University Diaries.

Update: Ralph Luker points to Arthur Levine's recent defense of schools of education.

We blame the institution for all of the problems in its field and deem its inability to change willful.

That is what is happening today when critics hold education schools responsible for many of the problems of underprepared students who fail at the transition between school and college. But the expectations for education schools are misplaced: They are being asked to carry out activities that they were never intended to perform and that they lack the capacity to achieve.

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27 February 2006 - Monday

Vita excolatur

I'll be spending the next few days visiting the University of Chicago. I'm excited by the opportunity, which presented itself quite unexpectedly at the end of last week.

In related news, I find myself reading this comic fairly often. Call it morbid curiosity.

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15 February 2006 - Wednesday


If I ever assign true/false questions to my students, I hope I may die the death of a thousand tiny paper cuts.

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28 January 2006 - Saturday

CFP: Interdisciplinary

I am posting this for the same reason I posted the UT Tyler call for papers -- it represents an opportunity for LETU undergrads.

"DaVinci to Derrida: Breaking Codes Across Disciplines"
***Open to faculty, graduates, and undergraduates***
EGAD (English Graduates for Academic Development)
15th Annual Interdisciplinary Symposium
Texas A&M University-Commerce
March 31, 2006

Now accepting proposals for papers and panels dealing with contemporary issues in academia. We welcome submissions from all areas of academic discourse including, but not limited to: English, History, Journalism, Political Science, Education, Psychology, and Sociology. Suggestions of possible areas of interest:

Critical Theory
Academia/Professional Issues
Graduate Student Issues
Technology in the Classroom
Foreign Language Studies
Composition & Rhetoric
Pop Culture
Creative Writing
Film Studies
Science Fiction
Writing Center Theory & Practice
Literary Studies

Deadline for Submission of 250-Word Abstract: March 18th, 2006
Electronic Submissions Encouraged
Panel Proposals and Workshops Welcome

Notification of acceptance and conference registration materials will be mailed electronically by March 20, 2006

Please send inquiries and abstracts to:

c/o Josue Aristides Diaz
Department of Literature and Languages
PO Box 3011
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Commerce, TX 75429-3011
EGAD2006 at aol.com

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CFP: Classical, medieval, Renaissance

I ran across this call for papers on the H-HistMajor list. I figure some of my fellow LETU students may want to submit abstracts, if they have anything relevant.

Plenary Speakers: David Bevington (University of Chicago)
Gordon Kipling (University of California, Los Angeles)
Paul Woodruff (University of Texas at Austin)

The 2nd College of Arts and Sciences Conference on Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies will take place on Friday and Saturday, April 7th and 8th 2006 at The University of Texas at Tyler. The conference is intended to bring together students, faculty, and the local community to discuss a range of issues concerning the Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance periods as well as their continuing importance for us today. It will provide a wonderful venue for those interested in earlier cultural traditions to interact and gain greater exposure to the richness and diversity of these periods through panels, presentations, roundtables, displays, demonstrations, and musical and dramatic performances.

Abstracts from undergraduate, graduate students, faculty, and interested members of the community are encouraged on all topics concerning classical antiquity through the Renaissance. Papers or sessions on drama are particularly encouraged, as are comparative studies addressing the later influence of the classical, medieval, and renaissance periods on more recent aspects of British, American, or World Literature.


Abstracts of 150-250 words for a 15-20 minute paper should be e-mailed (strongly preferred) to Victor Scherb at vscherb at mail.uttyl.edu or Edward Tabri at etabri at mail.uttyl.edu.

In addition to the abstract, please include a brief personal statement or Curriculum Vitae of less than one page, with full contact information and a tentative assessment of any audiovisual equipment required for your presentation. The deadline for abstract submission is Friday, February 17th, 2006. A faculty/student committee will review submissions and respond by e-mail by the end of February. Abstracts of accepted papers will be made available on the conference web site.

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24 January 2006 - Tuesday

Looking forward

I submitted my graduation application today. In 101 days, barring any unexpected flunking, I will receive a BA in "history and political science" and a BS in business administration, with an English minor on the side.

I'm not sure when our "department of history/political science" (the name of the department when I entered) became the "department of history and political science." A couple of years ago, I heard rumors that such a change was being contemplated. I recall advising unofficially against it, pointing out that it would make our single major look even more like a double major. I admit, of course, that the name looks cooler now -- but also less honest.

At some point, I'll have an exit interview with one or another administrator. I already have a general outline for my side of the conversation; I'll begin with the fact that the "history and political science" department currently has only one full-time professor on campus -- the other one is on sabbatical-- and neither has a degree in political science.

I would also like to write an op/ed for the student newspaper (on a different topic) before I graduate.

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15 December 2005 - Thursday

8 December 2005 - Thursday

And the weather is cold today

The paper is done. I made it most of the way down the 21st page early Wednesday morning, then -- as if it were the most natural thing in the world -- stopped. After reading through the paper later that day, I made a few repairs and expanded the ending paragraph. I printed out my final draft around four in the afternoon and stumbled through a short presentation on it an hour later.

Right now, I am finishing Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew so that I can turn in a short review in class (Life and Teachings of Christ) at noon. After that, I suppose I'll have to turn my attention to Financial Management work and studying, which I have neglected for the last couple of weeks. I'll also need to see about those graduate school applications. I keep saying I want to, like, go to graduate school, so I should probably avoid missing the December deadlines a few of my choices have in place.

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4 December 2005 - Sunday

Term paper progress

I have a very long way to go on my Tocqueville paper. It is due Wednesday everning and needs to be 20-25 pages long. I won't disclose my current length, but ... let's just say I started the actual writing sometime this afternoon.

On the positive side, I have an ironclad thesis. It falls into the disseverment school of Gordian-knot-untying; I choose between two opposing answers to a question by taking issue with the question. It looks mealy-mouthed and ridiculously complicated, but I've never been more proud of a thesis in my life.

I've just inserted my first block quotation, a bit I clawed out of the French myself (quite unnecessarily, since I also have a translation from someone who knew what he was doing):

I am not a believer (which I am far from saying in order to praise myself), but nonbeliever that I am, I have never been able to keep myself from profound emotion in reading the Gospel. Several of the most important doctrines contained there have always struck me as absolutely new, and the collection forms something entirely different from the body of philosophical ideas and moral laws that had previously governed human societies.
Right. Back to work, then.

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3 December 2005 - Saturday

Student literary conference

LETU had its own little student literary conference this morning. Although the conference was the idea, I believe, of Dr. Watson, who included it as part of this year's Literary Criticism syllabus, most of the actual planning was up to undergraduates. We had a student MC, student session chairs, and student presenters. I must congratulate all of the organizers and apologize for getting some of their credit; contrary to Dr. C's impression, I did nothing at all to make this happen. The event you planned was marvelous.

I presented a paper I wrote last spring, discussing Philip Larkin's poem "High Windows." The content of the poem raises eyebrows at this conservative Christian school -- which was precisely, I explained to my audience, the point. Fortunately, my session had no siblings or parents present -- unlike that of the unlucky Jared Wheeler, who presented a paper on Lolita to an audience that included some uncomfortable-looking families.

Regrettably, I'm not in any English courses this semester, so I won't get class credit for attending or presenting. Nevertheless, I relished the event for its own sake. I saw several excellent presentations from other students, including some whose work I had never been able to see before, and I am grateful that I was allowed to make my own contribution. I wish this sort of thing were not so very rare on this campus.

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20 November 2005 - Sunday

Call for undergraduate papers

The Interlocutor: The Sewanee Undergraduate Philosophical Review is calling for essay submissions:

We seek to publish essays that defend a specific substantive thesis on the correctness or incorrectness of some significant philosophical view and that show all of the virtues of a successful dialogue: close reading of texts along with clarification of key claims under inspection, entertainment of possible criticisms along with development of responses to criticisms. Even though we believe that the essays published in earlier volumes mostly satisfy these criteria, on occasion we have decided to publish essays that defend a substantive thesis, but which show rigor, independence of thought, creativity and imagination. In no case have we published essays that simply offer a reading of a philosophical text or a summary of schools of thought.
The deadline is 1 March 2006.

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1 November 2005 - Tuesday

Graduate Record Examinations

I took the GRE today. I went into the exam sick, exhausted, and scared to death. I came out sick, exhausted, and pleasantly astounded by my math score. I'm still a little shaky on my feet; it's been a hard day.

Update: History Carnival XIX is up at (a)musings of a grad student. I would link a few of the entries as usual, but I'm pretending to study for the Financial Management exam I have in the morning. I dislike that class. Remember, kids: friends don't let friends become business majors.

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5 October 2005 - Wednesday

Pedagogical atmospherics

A few education-related links for your enjoyment and edification.

Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker review of Jerome Karabel's The Chosen highlights the social aspects of Ivy-League admission:

When the Office of Civil Rights at the federal education department investigated Harvard in the nineteen-eighties, they found handwritten notes scribbled in the margins of various candidates’ files. "This young woman could be one of the brightest applicants in the pool but there are several references to shyness," read one. Another comment reads, "Seems a tad frothy." One application -- and at this point you can almost hear it going to the bottom of the pile -- was notated, "Short with big ears."
In Orion, Lowell Monke argues that classroom computers are "Faustian bargain."

In Common-place, Thomas Augst reflects on the implications of an online resuscitation of P. T. Barnum's American Museum.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Henry Farrell argues that "the blogosphere represents the closest equivalent to the Republic of Letters that we have today" -- an opportunity for academics to rekindle the romance.

Via A&LD and Ralph Luker.

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27 September 2005 - Tuesday


Henry Adams, The Education of, ch. 5:

The German students [at the University of Berlin] were strange animals, but their professors were beyond pay. The mental attitude of the university was not of an American world. What sort of instruction prevailed in other branches, or in science, Adams had no occasion to ask, but in the Civil Law he found only the lecture system in its deadliest form as it flourished in the thirteenth century. The professor mumbled his comments; the students made, or seemed to make, notes; they could have learned from books or discussion in a day more than they could learn from him in a month, but they must pay his fees, follow his course, and be his scholars, if they wanted a degree.
So, how is this different from the American system?

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23 September 2005 - Friday

Taking notes

I'm trying out a new toy. My senior research seminar, I decided, calls for a slightly more advanced research management system. The usual Windows folder of text files just isn't going to cut it this time.

So I skipped over to the Center for History and New Media to download Scribe 2.5.

I tried using Scribe once before, actually -- a year or two ago. That time, I found the program confusing and abandoned it. This time, while I still wouldn't exactly call it user-friendly, Scribe seems to be behaving. I guess I now have enough experience with research (and computers) to understand Scribe's eldritch logic. I should reserve judgment, however, until I have used the program a little more.

It certainly looks more useful than Notepad.

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22 September 2005 - Thursday

Favorite sons

The September issue of Perspectives -- which inexplicably arrived in my box only today -- includes an article of immediate interest to me. In "Privileging History: Trends in the Undergraduate Origins of History PhDs," Robert B. Townshend examines data on the undergraduate careers of PhD recipients. His conclusion? The data "serve as an important reminder that the beginnings of an academic career can play an important role in the way it ends."

According to information collected from the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates and from the American Historical Association, a mere 25 undergraduate schools accounted for 26.5 percent of history PhD recipients in 2001-03. The top 200 feeder schools, in fact, accounted for about 70 percent of all PhDs. That is not encouraging for students in somewhat less prominent undergraduate programs.

The good news (maybe) is that the remaining 30 percent of PhD recipients come from a wider pool of institutions than in the past; 633 undergraduate schools sent students on to get history doctorates in the most recent cohort, compared with 530 schools in 1986-88. Perhaps we in the academic nosebleed section have a chance after all.

But according to the Digest of Education Statistics, the US has 1,298 institutions granting bachelor's degrees in social science or history (as of 2001-02). A lot of colleges and universities, it seems, are not sending many of their students on to higher work.

I'm not sure that any of this means much. It's actually kind of obvious that most PhD earners come from the undergrad programs that send the most students to get PhDs; this is a tautology. Furthermore, it is not only obvious but also good that the history doctorate is exclusive; for those of us who intend to get one, the exclusivity provides some hope of securing employment in a few years.

The article is merely a reminder that we undergrads need to work hard and motivate ourselves if we want success in the future -- especially if we are at less demanding schools. This university, frankly, is not going to require me to do what I need to do to prepare for graduate work. It's up to me.

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13 September 2005 - Tuesday

Good practice

Yesterday, I received word that De la démocratie en Amérique (that is, Tocqueville's Democracy in America), which I ordered some time ago, had finally arrived at the library. I picked it up and started browsing that evening.

Since my friends keep asking, here's why I wanted to have the French version on hand:

There are some countries where an authority, in some way exterior to the social body, acts on it and forces it to march in a certain way.

There are others where the force is divided, being at once placed inside the society and outside of it. Nothing similar is seen in the United States; there, society acts of itself and on itself. Only within it does power exist; one meets nearly no one who dares conceive or above all express the idea of looking for it elsewhere. The people participate in the laws' composition by the choosing of legislators, in their application by the election of the agents of the executive power; one can say that they govern themselves: as long as the role left to the administration is weak and restrained, it shows the effects of its popular origin and obeys the power from which it emanates. The people rule over the American political world as God rules over the universe. They are the beginning and end of all things; everything comes out of them and everything is concerned with them.


There are countries in which some authority, in a sense outside the body social, influences it and forces it to progress in a certain direction.

There are others in which power is divided, being at the same time within the society and outside it. Nothing like that is to be seen in the United States; there society acts by and for itself. There are no authorities except within itself; one can hardly meet anybody who would dare to conceive, much less to suggest, seeking power elsewhere. The people take part in the making of the laws by choosing the lawgivers, and they share in their application by electing the agents of the executive power; one might say that they govern themselves, so feeble and restricted is the part left to the administration, so vividly is that administration aware of its popular origin, and so obedient is it to the fount of power. The people rule over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it.

The first block is my initial rough translation; the second is George Lawrence's translation (1966). The passage comes from the end of part one, chapter four.

I'm fairly pleased with myself, actually.

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21 August 2005 - Sunday

In search of reform

So, why was I on on the LETU campus recently, before the end of summer? I drove up for a meeting with the vice president and the assistant VP for academic affairs. Why did we have a meeting? Wheeler, another history major, arranged it a couple of weeks ago. Our main discussion topic was staffing in the department of history/political science.

Right now, my department has just two full-time faculty members. One of these is leaving on sabbatical in the spring; we have been told that his courses are going to be picked up by adjuncts (soon to be hired). Wheeler and I are not happy about this.

I have been taught by one or two excellent adjuncts in other fields, but I have my doubts about adjuncts' ability to build up our department, which is already stunted. We need another full-time professor, not just to teach the current courses but also to develop new courses, be available for advising, and add to the areas covered by our department.

It would be nice to have someone on staff who could teach some premodern or non-Western history. It would also be nice to have someone to teach political science, given the fact that "political science" is on the name of the degree along with "history." At this point, our political science courses are just taught by our history professors, or by a particular adjunct about whom I have qualitative concerns.

We brought up some other quality-control questions in this meeting as well. The enactment and enforcement of prerequisites have been a major concern to us. Most of our upper-level courses have no prerequisite except junior/senior standing, if that. Therefore, we often get students from other majors in our highest courses -- even when those students have never taken any college-level history or composition courses before. Besides, what prereqs we have often go unenforced. We figured that the office of academic affairs might be able to do something about this.

Wheeler and I spoke with the vice president about these concerns. He seemed very receptive. Of course, he could not have made any commitments to us, and hiring is an elaborate process. We have no expectations of any progress before we graduate; we only hope that our agitation will stimulate discussion and thought. I could be wrong, but I don't think undergrads usually volunteer this sort of advice. It is rather hubristic of us, of course, even if our professors have also been asking for another faculty member for a long time.

We have some ideas beyond those we brought up in the meeting. Offering a foreign language besides Spanish and Greek would be a good idea if we want to graduate real liberal arts majors. Also, we need to require a course in historiography, and also a senior research class. (Right now, a historiography course is only open to members of the honors program, and a research seminar is being offered this fall at student request; neither is required.) It has also occurred to us that since the major is called history/political science, we should probably be requiring everybody to take Intro to Political Science; currently, it is optional.

Of course, I also have the extremely unpopular idea that all political science majors should have to take an economics course.

I don't expect any visible progress at all this year. But maybe someday.

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17 August 2005 - Wednesday

The saga continues

Here's an interesting possibility.

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15 August 2005 - Monday

A new responsibility

Since this morning, I have become responsible for my university's celebration of Constitution Day next month. Naturally, I am all in favor of constitutions, and of the American one in particular. I must admit, however, that I'm not sure how valuable this congressionally mandated observance will be. Will anyone really learn anything this way? On the other hand, perhaps it is wise to mark the birthday of this document, merely for the sake of the mention. Certainly, it could be worse. If we were celebrating this the same way we celebrate many other holidays, the Constitution might not come up at all.

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26 July 2005 - Tuesday

The gentleman's B

At Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse is asking for solid evidence of grade inflation. Is intuition leading us astray? Fascinating discussion in the comments.

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13 July 2005 - Wednesday

Finding my place

This afternoon I headed back to the American Historical Association's site. I was hoping to do two things: first, to confirm or call into question my top grad-school choices, and second, to find a few slightly less prestigious schools that still pertain to my interests.

Allow me to recommend a couple of features of the AHA's site, especially since some of my readers are undergraduates in history.

First, you can search graduate programs by field of specialization. Select "trans-Atlantic" from a pulldown menu, for example, and you will get just two results: UT Arlington and the University of Toledo. The individual records for these schools will give you a lot more information about their history departments.

An even cooler feature, however, is the directory of dissertations in progress. With this, you could retrieve the titles of 17 dissertations currently being written by students at UT Arlington (along with the names of the advisors). Alternatively, you could search all dissertations for "transatlantic"; that would show you 18 projects at 10 institutions -- again, UT Arlington figures prominently. You could even find all of the dissertations overseen by a particular advisor -- very helpful once your search gets that detailed.

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29 June 2005 - Wednesday

In which Wilson and Wheeler annotate their lives by IM

Poor Wheeler. He has to take a class on the Cold War this summer. A class populated by people with ... interesting perspectives on international affairs.

In the following transcript, we begin by discussing the views of a particular class member, as expressed on an online message board specific to that course.

Yours truly: So ... Eisenhower could have prevented Indochina's independence from France by nuking it?

Wheeler: Yeah . . . kinda.

Wheeler: *nods*

Yours truly: I'm sure the French would have liked that.

Wheeler: although I took this as more of a Johnson administration action, from other things he's said

Yours truly: Ah. So he's just being a moron again.

Wheeler: like, at that point, nuke them rather then send in more troops

Wheeler: Yeah. Again.

Wheeler: BUT

Wheeler: THIS post, by someone else, get's dumbest of the week . . . and it was posts like this (a couple dozen of them) that got me REALLY in the mood to start sniping:

Wheeler: "It may not sound like much, but we won a stalemate that maintained the freedom of the South. I checked some travel sites, it's fairly easy to visit there. They refer to Vietnam, not North or South. You can visit Ho Chi Mihn or Hanoi in the North as easily as Saigon and the Mekong Delta in the South. It's almost as if we won simply by ignoring them for twenty years."

Yours truly: *Giggles*

Yours truly: It's Asia; it's all the same thing.

Wheeler: *screams incoherently*

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27 June 2005 - Monday

Grade socialism

I loathe group projects.

I have long suspected that group work is an attempt to distribute grades more evenly -- propping up the grades of the poorest students and even depressing the grades of the most accomplished students. It constitutes a sort of a curve, but one entirely unrelated to student performance. This impression was cemented in my mind when, in a class in which modest effort earned me a high A on every exam, I made a low C on a group project, having slaved away in order to compensate for total apathy and incompetence on the part of several group members. They got the same sad grade I did, but for all I know, it kept them from failing (which at least one of them should have done).

When I feel even less charitable, I view group work as a form of tutoring on the cheap -- or even as an implicit admission of professorial inadequacy. Perhaps this is because the professors who assign me the most group work seem to be, with a few exceptions, my least competent instructors. "Here," they say, "I don't seem to be making much sense. Let's see if you can figure this out by talking amongst yourselves. But I still get the paycheck."

Do some students learn well by working in groups? Of course. Sometimes I do myself. But I have never found it a very efficient method. Most of my group projects involve two or three times as much work as other methods would for the same grade and learning payoff. I admit that this will vary with the individual, but I have never heard anyone hail group work as efficient. In the very best of times, the amount of time and energy wasted in coordinating team members is ridiculous, and dedicated group members almost always have to compensate for slackers besides.

But this is preparation for the real world, I hear you say. When I grow up, I will have to work on group projects all the time.

Well, I think there are certain aspects of the "real world" that need reform -- including a pernicious managerial culture that encourages hypocrisy, mediocrity, freeloading, and empty gestures. In this artificial commercial reality we have constructed, pretty PowerPoint files and manufactured camraderie are worth more than ingenuity and meaningful communication. Let's conspire to resist it, and let's begin with a commitment to grades that mean something.

I am complaining because of a little group project I have to turn in tomorrow in my French class.

This assignment is as follows: For the oral portion of the final exam, we students were supposed to form groups of three. In these groups, we were to write dialogues in French. We were supposed to memorize these dialogues and recite them in class (that's what happens tomorrow).

Indulge me if I suggest that this scheme has certain flaws. First, it tests our ability to write and memorize, not our ability to form sentences on our feet, defeating the purpose of an oral exam. More to the point of this post, however, it forces us to memorize each other's work. As I discovered today, that means memorizing some impressive illiteracies -- just before I take my written final. In other words, thanks to this group project, I have to study bad French.

Perhaps I could have corrected my team members' work, you say, so that I would not have to memorize their errors. Ah, but that would only be possible if I had seen my team members' work before this afternoon. One team member missed at least three deadlines; I spent the weekend trying to track down a document that was supposed to be in my inbox on Thursday. (Furthermore, my correcting their work would tend to compromise the value of the exercise as a gauge of individual learning, would it not?)

Yes, I am procrastinating. I now have just 17 hours left before class.

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23 June 2005 - Thursday


Scene: The other side of the classroom. Groups of students are working together on an assignment, but some have finished and are chatting quietly.

Orthodontized Chick: That class is so boring! I have this paper to write on the socioeconomic impact of slavery. I mean, it's an easy thing to write about, but it's frickin' eighteen pages! How do you write eighteen pages about anything?

Adolescent Dude: (Attentively) It's like your life story.

Orthodontized Chick: Hey, my life story is a page and a half.

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20 June 2005 - Monday

Alpha Eta Mu

LeTourneau University's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta is Alpha Eta Mu. AHM now has its own blog. Unfortunately, we only have two active contributors so far -- but that is, after all, half of our current membership. (We're tiny, but we shall grow.)

If you are an LETU student with an interest in English, I encourage you to participate in AHM's activities this fall. Even if you are not currently eligible for full membership, you should feel free to get involved. We want to expand the cultural opportunities available to all students.

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16 June 2005 - Thursday

Thinking historically about literature

The Little Professor is discussing the relationship between students' and teachers' understanding of history and their interpretation of literary texts:

But when we introduce "history" into our courses, how do we go about it? At a conference several years ago, a historian observed that historians like their literature to stay stable, whereas literary critics like their history to stay stable. In other words, it's very easy to slip into the habit of presenting historical background stripped of its own disciplinary signposts--especially when we don't actually know the debates surrounding our history of choice.

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15 June 2005 - Wednesday

Lovely career for the allergic


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2 June 2005 - Thursday

Now what?

I am still investigating various history PhD programs, looking more and more closely at the work of their specific faculty members. Some of the schools I'm interested in have application deadlines as soon as December, so I am beginning to hurry things along. I am in the process of arranging to take the GRE early this fall.

But I have a hunch that in addition to this sort of thing, I need to make contact with the departments that interest me. Somebody probably needs to know that I exist. That's how most sectors of society work, anyway.

The trouble is that I don't know what to say. I can always request an application, I suppose, but that seems perfunctory -- especially given the fact that most applications are available online. Is there anything else I should be saying? Are there any questions I could be asking the DGS or individual faculty members?

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27 May 2005 - Friday

Fox U.

At TNR Online, Ross Douthat reacts to the Right's calls for "intellectual diversity" on American campuses:

These lines of attack are defined, above all, by a belief that universities can be diversified from the top down. And this is precisely why it's likely to fail. Understandably but fatally, conservatives are ignoring the example set by the very New Left "tenured radicals" they hope to unseat, which is that real academic change comes through bottom-up infiltration, not attempts at engineering from the top.
Read further here. (Registration? We don't need no stinkin' registration.)

Via Cliopatria's Ralph Luker.

Incidentally, I find extremely bizarre this notion that we should do away with tenure in the name of academic freedom and diversity. Tenure being perhaps the most important protection of controversial views among professors, any call from the Right to eliminate it seems absurd.

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23 May 2005 - Monday

Le cours commence

French III began this morning. The course will last five and a half weeks; it will be followed by French IV in the same format. Initially, I was concerned that my skills would be dangerously dull after a year off. I spent a few hours reviewing my old textbook over the weekend.

The drive into downtown Austin was easier than I expected. Because the class begins later than my classes did last summer, I was afraid that I might have problems with morning traffic. That fear, it seems, was unfounded. Parking, however, is harder to get, since many students arrive on campus before I do.

I strolled across the street to buy my textbook, then picked up my parking permit at the campus police office. With more than an hour to go before class, I found an alcove near the classroom and sat down to scan the opening chapter of the textbook. I was relieved to find not only a thorough review of introductory French in the first unit, but also continuous review of the concepts in French I and II throughout the text.

When class started, I found that most of the students will need all the review they can get. There are several people in the course who have not taken any French in years; a few have no hope of survival at all. The bright side of this situation is the fact that I will not feel inferior or inadequate in any way.

I was flattered, in fact, to find that both my current teacher (with whom I also took French II) and my old teacher from French I, M. Prévost, recall me from last summer. "I remember you!" M. Prévost exclaimed when he saw me. "I remember your grades, too." I grinned. We'll see whether things go as well this time.

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22 May 2005 - Sunday

Political theory and film

Check this out. Russell Arben Fox is fleshing out a bit of jolly good sense: a political theory class designed around movies.

The class is going to open with a discussion of movies and politics, and specifically some of great examples of films inspiring, reflecting, or shaping political discourse in America; if possible, I'm going to show some clips from The Best Years of Our Lives (regarding America's postwar aspirations and supposed ideological "consensus") and Network (dealing, obviously, with the breakdown of such).
Thanks to Ralph Luker for the link.

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10 May 2005 - Tuesday


Not that I count for much, but I have endorsed the American Association of University Professors' condemnation of a document put forward by Britain's Association of University Teachers.

The AUT recently voted to boycott some Israeli universities. Here is the AAUP's response:

Delegates to a recent meeting of the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) approved resolutions that damage academic freedom. The resolutions call on all members of AUT to "refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration, or joint projects" with two universities in Israel, Haifa University and Bar Ilan University. Excluded from the ban are "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies," an exclusion which, because it requires compliance with a political or ideological test in order for an academic relationship to continue, deepens the injury to academic freedom rather than mitigates it.

These resolutions have been met with strong condemnation and calls for repeal within the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The American Association of University Professors joins in condemning these resolutions and in calling for their repeal. Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has been committed to preserving and advancing the free exchange of ideas among academics irrespective of governmental policies and however unpalatable those policies may be viewed. We reject proposals that curtail the freedom of teachers and researchers to engage in work with academic colleagues, and we reaffirm the paramount importance of the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas. The AAUP urges the AUT to support the right of all in the academic community to communicate freely with other academics on matters of professional interest.

Go here to add your name to the petition, which not only endorses the AAUP's statement but also calls on the American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association to adopt it as well.

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4 May 2005 - Wednesday

I feel sort of guilty

It struck me for the first time today that I have no actual final exams this semester. I normally have it easy during finals week, but this is the first time everything has taken the form of a paper or presentation instead of a test.

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1 May 2005 - Sunday

Harvard Law School hates God

They are trying to frighten me.

They are trying to scare me away. They are trying to convince me that an evangelical Christian is totally unwelcome. They are trying to persuade me that I am going to be harassed, intimidated, even professionally destroyed. They want my family to despair for my very soul.

They are not radicalfeministhomosexualsocialistatheistabortionistterroristdemocrats.

They are my fellow evangelicals. And they want me to tremble.

When I received the 30 April issue of World Magazine, one of the leading publications of American evangelicalism, I opened it to find an article entitled "Uncongeniality contest: Two views of elite academia from Harvard Law School."

I smirked.

Right away, of course, the title suggests that there are at least two parties vying for control of academia -- those "uncongenial" to evangelicals, and those even less congenial to evangelicals. The headline admits no possibility of welcome or even indifference; clearly, academia is actively trying to make me feel unwanted.

Now, before I go on, I should say that this is not an entirely unfounded opinion on World's part -- but it is being presented in a simplistic and recklessly political way. A rough equivalent would be for a university's student newspaper to tell its constituents that evangelical churches do not welcome liberals.

Fortunately -- and to my pleasant surprise -- this article (written by Marvin Olasky, himself a journalism professor at the University of Texas) is not merely an editorial. It is a pair of interviews, reproduced in question/answer format.

The first interviewee is an evangelical Christian, William Stuntz, who is a professor at Harvard Law School. Guess what? He wasn't playing along with World at all.

Continue reading "Harvard Law School hates God" below the fold . . .

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27 April 2005 - Wednesday

Happy survey day

Today I got my first college-level history survey textbook.

See, I discovered during my senior year of high school that the College Board offers a set of exams called "CLEP." With suitably high scores on these exams, I learned, I could get credit for various college courses. I also discovered that these exams are ridiculously easy.

By taking CLEP tests, I managed to get college credit for both semesters of US History and both semesters of Western Civilization. The first history course I actually took in university was a senior-level class. Occasionally I wonder what I missed in those four courses, but I've never regretted avoiding them.

This afternoon, I wandered into a history professor's office to borrow some animal crackers. While I was there, he asked, "You haven't taken any survey classes, have you?"

I replied that I had not.

"Here," he said, opening a package. "You'll probably find it useful to have a survey text on hand for reference -- and I have no other way to dispose of this." He handed me an examination copy of a brand-new US history book. It was a hefty hardback -- easily worth $100 except for the "not for sale" notice on the cover -- still in shrink wrap.

Perhaps I shall add it to my reading list.

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17 April 2005 - Sunday


I found a Firefox extension that adds a countdown clock to the browser. I downloaded it and set the counter for 6 May 2006:

383 days to degree

The anticipated degree is my bachelor's in history/political science and business administration.

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5 April 2005 - Tuesday

"Real world" indeed

I am losing patience with the business half of my degree program. Now that I have shifted my career plans away from political science, the major doesn't make any sense except as a "backup plan" that will be worthless within very few years of graduation.

Today I made a B on a management exam. Studying for this exam involved (but was not limited to) going over incoherent PowerPoint files put together by the instructor. Here's an example slide:

Goals of Strategic Compensation Policies

* Linking Compensation to Organizational Objectives
* Pay for Performance Standard
* Motivating Value of Compensation

Just how does one motivate value of compensation? Or how does one pay for performance standard?

Another slide includes a helpful clip-art graphic of a woman writing something on a piece of paper. The entire text of that slide is as follows:

Administering Incentive Plans


That is so enlightening I could squeal.

To think of all the time I could have spent taking real courses . . . .

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4 April 2005 - Monday

Ten-minute rule

Earlier this semester, somebody asked me whether Section 5.2.2 is still in effect. Apparently students have had occasion to invoke it recently.

Yes, there is a ten-minute rule at LeTourneau University. No, it's not an urban legend (not at this school, anyway).

The latest version of the Faculty-Staff Handbook was published on 23 August 2004. Here is Section 5.2.2:

Section 5.2.2

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30 March 2005 - Wednesday

Reading lists and the hermeneutic circle

I often read books before I am equipped to understand them. When I was fourteen or fifteen, for example, I chewed my way through a great deal of A. V. Dicey's The Law of the Constitution (1885); although this book taught me the origin of the expression "read the riot act" and informed me that the British constitution is hard to find written down in any one place, it was probably the least efficient way I could have discovered these things. I'm not sure why I ended up reading it. On the other hand, I often discover that I have not read texts everyone else read in junior high and high school. Except for a few outliers, for example, I haven't had much experience with the American novels everybody is supposed to read as a teenager.

I'm a great fan of educational programs that have students read primary sources extensively--at all ages. On the other hand, students need guidance from secondary sources in order to understand what they read. Even with help, many readers later find themselves wishing that they had waited longer to read, say, War and Peace for the first time (just such a reflection in Isaiah Berlin's The Crooked Timber of Humanity served as the inspiration for this post).

This is not a particularly big problem for short works, but longer works involve a significant opportunity cost for the audience; if the reader is too inexperienced to have a basic appreciation of the whole before he reads the first part, he will probably find it unprofitable to wade into the text at all. Even the brightest third-grader will find it difficult to appreciate enough of The Divine Comedy to make reading the full text more valuable than reading a summary. In such a case, the first reading of the work would be better deferred, however great the literature may be.

At the same time, I think it unfortunate that so many people know so many texts only through the eyes of other readers. Early development of "cultural literacy" is desirable, but in some cases so much important detail gets washed out of a text that the popular understanding of it is not only shallow but inaccurate. To use an example that has appeared on this blog before, I believe the film Rashōmon (to construe "text" loosely) has entered the popular imagination as something entirely different from what the director had in mind. Even when the public's understanding of a work is generally accurate, it may be distilled to the point of denaturation, stripped of everything that would make the text interesting to the individual and thus effective as a means of communication. (The higher a document is held in the cultural esteem, the less likely people are ever to get around to reading it. The dust on America's copies of the works of Shakespeare could be measured in cubic yards.) Even if a member of the public knows important things about such a text, he cannot claim to understand it.

In other words, while one must often understand the whole of a work before being able to understand any of its parts, one rarely gets an appropriate understanding of the whole without interacting with those parts.

How, then, should we design a program of reading, for ourselves or for others? If there are "canons" to be followed, where do we begin them? Should we design reading programs around themes that will explicate texts, or around texts that will reveal themes? Given unlimited time and energy, of course, a student could simply read everything over and over--but in real life, efficiency is desirable.

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29 March 2005 - Tuesday


Alpha Eta Mu, my university's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, met for dinner last night at the Olive Garden. Every member present who is not a graduating senior was officially elected an officer. I'm president. Huzzah.

I spent the rest of the evening plotting ways to make the society useful.

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22 March 2005 - Tuesday

The very witching time of year

So . . . it's course selection time again at LeTourneau University.

For this fall, I have 16 hours lined up (five courses and a one-hour seminar). The history courses on my list are American Foreign Policy and Colonial & Revolutionary America. I would rather remove American Foreign Policy from this slate, though; I'm far better versed in foreign affairs than in a lot of other areas. Unfortunately, Foreign Policy is one of only three upper-level history courses being offered this fall, and I've already taken the one I haven't mentioned here.

There is some hope, however. Before spring break, I asked Dr. Kubricht (the history/political science department chair) whether it is possible to put together an independent-study course--something related to modern intellectual history. This morning, I was assured that Dr. K and Dr. Johnson think it should be possible. They seem to think, however, that it would be a good idea to open the class up to a small group of upper-division history students rather than set it up for independent study. I am highly pleased.

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19 March 2005 - Saturday


Lots of fun advice for (high school) students:

The best protection is always to be working on hard problems. Writing novels is hard. Reading novels isn't. Hard means worry: if you're not worrying that something you're making will come out badly, or that you won't be able to understand something you're studying, then it isn't hard enough. There has to be suspense.

Well, this seems a grim view of the world, you may think. What I'm telling you is that you should worry? Yes, but it's not as bad as it sounds. It's exhilarating to overcome worries. You don't see faces much happier than people winning gold medals. And you know why they're so happy? Relief.

I'm not saying this is the only way to be happy. Just that some kinds of worry are not as bad as they sound.

"What You'll Wish You'd Known," by Paul Graham.

Via the Vengeful Cynic.

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8 March 2005 - Tuesday

MCP: Poe and Ransom

I completed this reading assignment:

Edgar Allan Poe
"The Bells"
"Annabel Lee"
"The Raven"
"For Annie"
"To ---- [Violet Vane]"
"[Lines on Ale]"

John Crowe Ransom
"Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter"
"Here Lies a Lady"
"Piazza Piece"
"Dead Boy"
"Painted Head" [scroll down]

Here are my reflections:

Except for "The Raven," of course, "The Bells" was the first Poe poem I read. I recall my English teacher using it in junior high as an illustration of several concepts, including onomatopoeia and alliteration. The sound of the words, she pointed out, reminds the reader of the sound of bells ringing. Reading the work now, I am struck by the importance of rhythm to the success of that effect. For me, the poem does not capture the tone of the bells as much as their beat and the psychological effect they produce. This works particularly well in the second stanza, in which the irregular meter of the poem suggests the uniquely syncopated rhythm of wedding bells, and the third stanza, in which the irregular meter suggests the panic and confusion of an emergency. I do not find the technique as effective in the first or fourth stanza.

"To ---": Let's just be good friends . . . 'cause we've already got lovers. Somehow, I think, the sentiment would have seemed more convincing if it had not produced a poem.

In "[Lines on Ale]," the author's attitude toward the intoxicant in question reminds me more of typical reactions to absinthe than of common literary reactions to ale. Unlike most of the writing I can think of that involves ale or beer, this poem has a very solitary feeling to it. I doubt that the author was drinking in company. For some reason, I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton's statement in Heretics (chapter 7) that alcohol is best taken not medicinally but recreationally:

Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.
In this case, unlike most of the ale literature I can think of, the poet's drink seems to be a replacement for, not a seal of, human fellowship.

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3 March 2005 - Thursday

Squirming in paradise

I am developing a love-hate relationship with my schoolwork this semester. On the one hand, I have a light workload and adore all of my classes but one--and that exception is a very easy course. On the other hand, because I am actually getting to dig more deeply into the humanities than ever before, I resent the workload I do have; sometimes, my schoolwork takes me away from my learning. Even so, I find that my assignments--even the most annoying ones--are consistently leaving me satisfied with my learning afterwards.

The previous paragraph may not make any sense. I shall try to explain my meaning with a specific example.

I made a presentation in International Business on Tuesday. I presented a case study on the rapid depreciation of the baht (Thai currency) against the US dollar in 1997. The case study was a lot of work; it even showed up in my dreams. By the time I stood up in class, however, I knew I had mastered the topic. I was euphoric by the end of the class period. My grade on the case was 105.

I recount all of this because International Business is exactly the sort of course that I should and sometimes do love. Most of the time, however, I feel that I am not learning much. Ironically, this is partly due to the course's heavy reliance on student presentations; I am not an auditory learner at all, so the only presentations that do me any good are the ones I make myself. This is frustrating. Why must the methodology be so inconvenient and my learning so spotty?

I have extremely easy weeks, and I have extremely busy weeks. So far, I have not discovered a practical way to even out the workload; a substantial portion of it cannot be predicted more than a few days in advance. This week was busy. Last week was light.

The reader should not imagine that I am having a difficult semester. I am taking only 16 hours; 9 of those hours are from literature courses, all of which are excellent. At the same time, I am working in three sections of English Review as a tutor, and I occasionally get work from the history/political science department as well. My c.v. is expanding very nicely. I've even made some new friends along the way.

Right now, I am sitting all alone in my apartment, listening to Arvo Pärt's Passio. I am still warm with the afterglow of this afternoon's succesful presentation on D. H. Lawrence in Modern & Contemporary Poetry. Do I really need anything else? What cause have I to be dissatisfied, with myself or with anyone else?

This is a long way of saying that I want for nothing except sleep. In fact, I'm even getting a good deal of that this semester.

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23 February 2005 - Wednesday

Webb Society events

I should have posted this earlier.

Tonight at 9 p.m., the Webb Historical Society at LeTourneau is inviting students of all majors to attend a discussion about graduate school. Dr. Coppinger (English professor and Assistant VP for Academic Affairs) will lead the presentation. The meeting will take place in Heath-Hardwick 139. Attendance is required of all Webb Society members, but all students interested in graduate studies are encouraged to come.

On Friday, probably at 7 p.m., the society will host a film screening. I highly recommend the movie--it's a classic. The room will be Heath-Hardwick 104.

Also, the society will be volunteering at the Gregg County Historical Museum this Saturday. Again, attendance is mandatory for society members (and non-members may find it profitable). There will be two shifts: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Please contact Rebecca Minelga to sign on.

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15 February 2005 - Tuesday

MCP: Ezra Pound

I completed this reading assignment:

"Portrait d'une Femme"
"The Return"
"A Pact"
"The Rest"
"In a Station of the Metro"
"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
"Lament of the Frontier Guard"
"The Temperaments"
The Cantos I, II, VII, and XIV
Here are my reflections:

"In a Station of the Metro" astonishes me. Pound described this two-line poem as his third attempt to capture the overwhelming emotion generated by seeing a succession of beautiful faces at a metro station in Paris. The verse astonishes me because it merely couples one brief image with another; it is not even clearly a simile or metaphor, only a comparison of simple sights. I focus on the contrast between petals (presumably of a light color) and their black branch; perhaps Pound was startled to find lovely faces in the dullness of an urban underground.

"Lament of the Frontier Guard" seems very still; the image of the North Gate is quiet and subdued. The war seems far away, as it might to sentinels at a gate before it is attacked, but the poet speaks in retrospect; the guard has already been overcome. The despondency in the image reflects a very modern attitude toward the destruction; there is no hint of purpose or nobility, and even memory will fade. Perhaps this is why Pound chose such an ancient foreign war as a topic. Without any stake in the outcome, the modern reader in the West needs only to feel the brutality of the loss. I have only one thing in common with that frontier guard: mortality.

The adaptation of ancient myth in Cantos I, II, and VII, blending with more recent history and even modern life, reminds me of a theory of language that was first introduced to me by Northrop Frye. According to this theory (as I recall it now), language has passed through three major stages: metaphoric language, in which we rather unconsciously speak of abstracts as if they were concrete (instead of referring to love, for example, we might tell stories about the god Eros); metonymic language, in which we consciously refer to abstracts as equal to concrete things ("love conquers all"); and descriptive language, in which we avoid abstracts as much as possible and confine ourselves to the world of the senses ("they kissed").

I thought of this system because I am aware that Pound paradoxically emphasized the need for intensity and clarity even while using some very obscure language. To me, Pound's elaborations on myth represent part of a redefinition of our way of looking at abstracts. Instead of writing stiltedly of ephemeral concepts, he presents images that, taken together, lend themselves to a flexible perspective on life. He compiles particulars; on the surface, at least, the worldview emerges from the the details rather than details from the worldview. Each allusion or bit of narrative stands on its own, with the poet presenting little overt judgment of its value.

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13 February 2005 - Sunday

Optimistic outlook

I did my first history grading work last week. Dr. Kubricht had me work on Western Civ II exams, processing Scantron forms and correcting a section of matching questions.

The matching section was alarming; far too many students identified Edmund Burke as a prominent liberal and Goethe as a nationalist rather than a Romantic. A number of students missed every question. Worse was the student who left every matching question blank (she also left two open blanks on the multiple-choice section). I helpfully wrote "guess" on that exam in red ink.

Dr. Johnson informed me that this sort of self-destructive behavior is the reason he lies awake at night.

Meanwhile, at Cliopatria, Jonathan T. Reynolds reviews the results of a map quiz:

We support our troops.. wherever they are. 58% of students placed Iraq properly. For all the Iraq-is-another-Vietnam types, you will be interested to know that nearly half of the incorrect answers for Iraq placed it in Southeast Asia.
I look forward to a wonderful career.

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11 February 2005 - Friday


Sigma Tau Delta: The International English Honor Society

Last night, I was informed that I am now something like president-elect of Alpha Eta Mu, the LeTourneau chapter of Sigma Tau Delta.

My first act as president shall be to find us some members.

My next act shall be to sign a free trade and mutual defense agreement with the LeTourneau chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, which does not, in actuality, exist.

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10 February 2005 - Thursday

MCP: Stevens, Williams, and Wylie

I completed this reading assignment:

Wallace Stevens:
"Sunday Morning"

William Carlos Williams:
"The Young Housewife"
"Danse Russe"
"Sympathetic Portrait of a Child"
"Portrait of a Lady"
"The Widow's Lament in Springtime"

Elinor Wylie:
"The Wild Peaches"
"Let No Charitable Hope"

Here are my reflections:

Ironically, Stevens' "Sunday Morning" has a mythic and even apocalyptic texture. Here, a still morning provides the backdrop for a discourse on metaphysics, a discourse that makes use of Greco-Roman mythology, Christian doctrine, and horticultural archetypes. The author holds up the details of the natural world as preferable to the "silent shadows and dreams" of spiritual speculations (line 18). We should look for paradise within the material order, he says, not hope for ethereal deliverance. This raises the question of death; our supposedly paradisaic order is notable for its impermanence. Stevens' answer to the problem of death is to embrace it as "the mother of beauty" (line 63); as the fulfillment of life and the only imperishable quality in nature, death defines existence.

Williams' "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" also addresses the relationship between nature and death. It captures the sorrow of a woman (the poet's mother, according to the notes in the textbook) who has recently lost her husband. This widow observes the freshness of spring from a new perspective; she sees the beauty around her but can only think of her despair. I see in this poem, therefore, a modernist's parody on Romanticism. Yes, the poet says, the world is lovely--but the burdens of existence mock any attempt to idealize it. The widow is drawn to the blooms of spring, but she also desires "to sink into the marsh near them" (line 28).

Elinor Wylie uses "Let No Charitable Hope" to express an equally austere but much more tranquil outlook. Like the previous two authors, she rejects attempts to idealize the world, but she would rather resign herself to quiet enjoyment of what may be enjoyed than rhapsodize on death or pain. Yes, she says, life is difficult--but life is not to be feared any more than it is to be spiritualized.

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8 February 2005 - Tuesday

MCP: Frost and Sandburg

This semester, my routine work in Modern and Contemporary Poetry consists of written responses to assigned readings. I am expected to turn in evidence of interaction with the texts, presenting at least three responsive ideas with every report. These responses may take a variety of forms. I decided yesterday that it would be interesting to try blogging them.

First, I completed the reading assignment:

Robert Frost:
"Mending Wall"
"Acquainted with the Night"
"Two Tramps in Mud Time"
"Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same"

Carl Sandburg:
"The Harbor"
"Cool Tombs"

Here are my reflections:

In "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things," Frost describes the burnt shell of a country house. The wreck is now home to the birds of the forest, who see nothing sad in the remains of human civilization. Despite the irrelevance of human sorrow to these creatures, Frost writes, "one had to be versed in country things not to believe the phoebes wept." These words seem to express a human desire to be significant. We would like to attribute a general design and connectedness to the events of life. Whether Frost belittles this desire or joins in it is not entirely clear to me. Should we resist being "versed in country things"--holding out hope that the phoebes do weep for us? Should we resign ourselves to the impermanence of life? Should we simply appreciate the bittersweetness of a world resilient enough not to care much about us?

'Two Tramps in Mud Time," also the work of Frost, presents another scene from country life. In this poem, the narrator describes the approach of two strangers "out of the mud" as he splits wood in his own yard. These "hulking tramps," it seems, come from the lumber camps; they want to be hired to do the work the narrator is doing for himself. Such work is rightfully theirs, they think, but the narrator loves doing it himself. "My object in living," he explains, "is to unite my avocation and my vocation as my two eyes make one in sight." In the poem, beautiful descriptions of the narrator's natural setting associate his work with peacefulness, but the approach of the strangers seems dark and disturbing somehow. There seems to be something wrong--something dirty and mechanical--about work performed only for the sake of gain.

Carl Sandburg's "Grass" is the work I found the most striking. It is very terse and harsh. In the poem, the grass speaks: "Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo . . . at Gettysburg . . . at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work." The publication date, 1918, is of obvious significance to the rhetorical force of the work. Less clear is what reaction the author would prefer the audience to have. Should time's effectiveness in healing the world's wounds be a source of comfort? Should the ease of forgetting the wartime dead be a source of remorse? Does the poem present restrained, sardonic rage? I would like to think that this last suggestion is the best. The image of humanity being shoveled by the ton into the ground, where the guilt of war can be conveniently hidden, provokes a harsh response. For me, this poem is a source of wrath, not nostalgia.

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5 February 2005 - Saturday

Aim high

I can dream, can't I?

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Being an historical ham

JSTOR is teh r0x0rz.

I am taking advantage of my AHA membership to search for American Historical Review articles relevant to a paper I hope to write on my own. The results are mainly book reviews, of course, but that suits my needs perfectly at this point.

Sitting comfortably in my apartment on campus, I can access crisp full-page scans of AHR issues. Every time I print a page, the printout comes with exact documentation information in the heading ("JSTOR: American Historical Review: Vol. 100, No. 4, p. 1294"). Microfiche is so twentieth-century.

It's a great time to be an undergraduate. Especially if one is at a small engineering school in East Texas.

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15 January 2005 - Saturday

The question of an independent newspaper

I have avoided dealing with this here, for the same reasons that I avoid dealing with many of these little campus imbroglios. However, since part of this story has reached the blogosphere already, with questionable information and vitriolic personal attacks, I think I should respond. I have not made a thorough investigation of the affair, but I am party to a good deal of information without being personally involved in any way. I am avoiding the use of names, however, both to protect the innocent and to dampen personal grievance as details emerge.

Recently, I learned that a group of LeTourneau students was working on an idea for an "independent" student newspaper. (There is an official student newspaper on campus; it was of unbelievably low quality last year but improved significantly under new management this fall.) This independent newspaper would operate as a nonprofit entity, but would support itself with advertisements placed by local companies. Advertisers, printing facilities, and an initial staff of student writers and editors had already been secured. Students working on the project were in a state of great anticipation. The first issue was scheduled to be published yesterday.

This week, however, I heard that plans for the newspaper had been scrubbed, upon a threat from the president of the university. I was told that a personal telephone call had come from the president to the editor of the newspaper. He had threatened expulsion and legal action against all involved. It was unclear how the president had learned of the project.

Students connected with the publication were stunned. Some had anticipated a negative response from the administration, but none had expected such a harsh preemptive move. None could see grounds for either dismissal or a lawsuit, but the mere threat was (of course) all that was required to end the project.

Word of this quashing spread quickly. Many students (current and former) expressed extreme displeasure; a professor mentioned the controversy to me with wry amusement. By Friday, the administration was issuing denials in several different directions. I received a personal email from the university chaplain, denying that the president or "anyone from the Administration" had issued any threat against this publication. A friend of mine received similar assurance, in person, from the vice president for student affairs.

At this point, then, it appears that someone is lying or has lied. While it is possible that honest miscommunication is involved, this would not account for the nature of the dispute. Because the students' accusation is specific, and the administration's denial is categorical, there must be a factual lie somewhere in the mix. Either the newspaper editor is lying about receiving the threat; or the university administration is lying about making the threat; or the president is lying to his subordinates about making the threat; or the person who telephoned the newspaper editor was lying about being the university president.

At this point, I have no reason to believe that any individual I know personally is lying. It is inconsistent with the character of most of them to lie to me about this sort of thing, and I judge it unlikely that the others would find a lie to be in their best interests. The indignation of the students I have spoken with is genuine, and the absolute nature of the administration's denial would make a lie on its part fairly easy to expose. The editor seems to have put a fair amount of effort into the legitimacy and success of the publication, and the vehemence of the university's denials could be counterproductive to the actual suppression of the newspaper. (Unless the newspaper is actually dead, the administration's denials amount nearly to an imprimatur.)

Procedurally, I think it highly unlikely that the president of the university would make a personal telephone call to a student to make such a threat; disciplinary action is arranged by the vice president for student affairs. Therefore, I suspect either that this telephone call did not take place or that it was a prank by someone posing as the president. Although I am not well acquainted with the editor of the newspaper, I am inclined to trust that he received the telephone call, so my theory at this time is that he (along with the rest of us) is the victim of a hoax.

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12 January 2005 - Wednesday

Further adventures

World Literature: Enlightenment through Twentieth Century is a Watson class. It is small, and most of the students in it are very intelligent and entertaining people. Unfortunately, it will (per Watson's wont) involve a group presentation; I will have to be in a group of four people, which I find prohibitively large. Nevertheless, I'm sure this will be one of my favorite courses this semester . . . which is to say, it is one of my English courses this semester.

Organizational Culture is a one-hour honors seminar. This one should be highly entertaining. Mrs. Mays is a very good classroom teacher. In a few minutes she was able to establish a convivial atmosphere in a class with a remarkably diverse set of personalities.

The only class left to explore is Solganick's honors course. The Amusing Use and Abuse of Comedy: Is Comedy Divine? will debut tomorrow night in a three-hour evening block.

By the way, if my demeanor has offended anyone in the last couple of days (if I've ignored you, barked at you, etc.), I apologize. I am not feeling very well, and the malady is making me moody from time to time.

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11 January 2005 - Tuesday

And they're off!

Unfortunately, I began the first week of classes on a sleep deficit. A case of insomnia hit Sunday night, and I was unable to make up the difference on Monday. Sadly, my next opportunity to catch up on sleep will be Friday afternoon.

The first day of classes found me in Human Resource Management at 9:30. I judge HRM unlikely to mean much to me academically, but it could make corporate life easier, if I ever have the misfortune to blunder into the "real" world.

In the afternoon, International Business was highly amusing. Dr. Castro was in fine form, beginning with his suggestion that we dub everybody in the class Juan 1, Juan 2, Juan 3, and so forth, for the sake of simplicity. As usual, he gave us a syllabus with an elephantine and often erroneous semester schedule attached. Fortunately, this is my third Castro class, and I have learned to be flexible.

The day officially ended with Modern and Contemporary Poetry. This class will be a great deal of fun, if only because the textbook is the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Unfortunately, some members of the class seem to have signed up for this senior-level course because they, as engineers, needed the lit credit. Once again I have underestimated them. We'll see what happens.

I ended the evening by sitting in on Historiography. I didn't want Johnson and Hummel to think they'd gotten rid of me, after all. It was highly entertaining to observe the class from the perspective of a student who had already taken it.

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4 January 2005 - Tuesday

Breaking free from the bloc

A friend and I recently had a conversation about my plans for graduate school. I outlined some of what I will need in order to qualify for a doctorate in history. She warned me that I should be careful -- I could suffer burnout, "or worse."

Burnout does not particularly worry me. I am far less likely to burn out in academia than in (for example) retail work, judging by my experiences so far. However much I seem to punish myself in school, it is far more attractive to me than the alternatives.

"Or worse," I found out, meant becoming a liberal.

Where I come from, turning into a liberal (culturally, politically, or theologically) is about as desirable as (and possibly tantamount to) signing a membership card for the CPUSA.

Nervermind that, these days, "they" are supposed to include everybody from devout Muslims to totalitarian atheists to libertarian agnostics to mainline Protestants to journalists (the lot of 'em) to Republican diplomats who opposed the invasion of Iraq. It's still us versus "them" collectively -- red states versus blue.

Anyway, I tried to point out that evangelicals have done well for themselves at some of the most prestigious schools in the world. I also pointed out that some intellectuals who are liberal by the standards of American evangelicals (I gave the example of C. S. Lewis) are highly regarded by the evangelical community.

I am beginning to detest the "conservative" versus "liberal," "us" versus "them" dichotomy. First, it glosses over the true philosophical divisions involved: we often misapprehend entirely the motivations and convictions of our ideological opponents.* Second, it politicizes things that should not be politicized: we tend to substitute bullying for valid argument. Third, it makes us paranoid: we trust no one except those who already agree with us on particulars. (And when I say "we" are vulnerable to these problems, I mean everyone who adopts the mentality, whether characterized as conservative or liberal.)

The common perception among the evangelical Christians I know is that the world's universities are run by the enemies of the evangelical faith and of healthy values in general. But if this is so, I maintain, evangelicals can only exacerbate the problem by being scared of it.

Unless we can make an honest effort to understand the ideas of those who disagree with us, in order to develop and maintain respectful dialogue, we will remain intellectually crippled. Whether or not those who disagree with us are willing to make the same concession, we must make it if we are to make any progress at all. We must also foster freedom of thought within our own community; we cannot afford to push aside brothers and sisters who question. A good start would be recognizing that it is possible for people of similar ideals to disagree about methods.

I like the academy. There are very few places I would rather be than university (and most of those other places are found near universities). I love what the academic world stands for. I especially love what the liberal arts stand for, even when I disagree with ideas that are commonly held within the liberal arts community.

And I, as a member of that community, plan to influence your children. You'll enjoy it all much more if you try to work with me than if you worry about how dangerous it might be.

*For one example of how conservative Christians can misinterpret opposing thought, click here.

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22 September 2004 - Wednesday

Isolating the problem

A conversation overheard this morning:

JOCK: "I've got too much work! I gotta write a ten-page paper by three o'clock."

COACH: "Ah. And you've had this for what, six weeks?"

JOCK: "Like, two or three days."

COACH: "What course?"

JOCK: "History."

COACH: "Oh. Who teaches it?"

JOCK: "I dunno."

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7 March 2004 - Sunday

Academic mechaieh

How I have missed such days!

I am sitting in the university library, gazing through its huge bay windows. The sun is casting a golden light across the grass outside. I can see a blue kite whirling in the air above the engineering building across the road. Occasionally a jogger goes by.

Two anonymous students behind me in the library are hunched over a homework assignment, conversing in low tones. Martinez is sitting to my right, reading his Circuits I textbook. To my left, Gallagher is reading his "Bible of programming" for what seems to be a Data Structures assignment. Further to the left, Wheeler is proofreading Martinez' paper for Theology of Cults.

Meanwhile, I have been searching academic databases for articles pertaining to the sociology of first century Jerusalem. So far the fruits of this search have been disappointing. The search itself, however, has reminded me of the reasons I became a history major in the first place. The glories of the liberal arts are passing in front of my eyes. As synopses and abstracts slide by, I dip my fingers into their richness to sample the many flavors of the humanities. OCLC is an exotic bazaar and EBSCOhost a farmer's market to me. I wrap myself in the titles of scholarly papers as if they were colorful silk scarves. I chuckle at articles like "The bitch had it coming to her: rhetoric and interpretation in Ezekiel 16"; I thrill to titles like "Moving to 'our' common ground - a critical examination of community cohesion discourse in twenty-first century Britain"; and I gaze in wonder at the like of "Modern and ancient olive stands near Sagalassos (south-west Turkey) and reconstruction of the ancient agricultural landscape in two valleys."

So far I have found no relevant articles in my periodical search, but I did file three interlibrary loan requests earlier this afternoon. Two of the books I ordered deal with the structure of ancient cities; the third examines New Testament views of Jerusalem. These books, however, are merely the souvenirs of the journey I have taken.

It all comes back to me now.

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