Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Talking occupations with my 4-year-old son

This is a short video of my conversation with my four-year-old son about occupations. He would like to be a teacher, thinks only boys are firefighters, doesn't want to be an "Army guy," and doesn't know what a plumber is. Don't worry, I'll explain that women fight fires too!

It's interesting to think about how children form their ideas about different occupations. My son responded positively to the question about being a garbage collector--I wonder if and when his views will change, considering it's a job that is ranked low in terms of prestige.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Broke and Famous

In the future there will be two categories of people: broke and famous.
79% of the population will be broke, 21% will be famous.
But that’s okay because everybody will have the chance to be famous.
Everyone will be monitored 24/7/365 and every action recorded permanently.
That’s how they will decide who gets to be famous.
It will have the intended benefit of ending crime.
(People will stop committing crime once they realize they will be caught and punished immediately. Even white-collar crime will be punished.)
The streets will also be totally clean because littering will bring immediate punishment.
At first people will bemoan the end of privacy but complaints will stop after people see how nice it is when there is no crime and the streets are clean. Plus there is the chance of being famous.
And it should be said that it won’t be horrible to be broke.
Basically the conditions will be tolerable enough so that nobody minds too much.
Everyone will be able to pay their rent and have enough to eat.
How we gonna eat? Just watch The Jetsons.
They will also require immunizations for everybody, free of charge.
Plus they are going to turn January into Equality Month. Everybody will have exactly the same amount of possessions and money for one month. It will take a lot of maneuvering but they can figure out how to do it.
So everyone will get to taste equality for 31 days.
Why January? Gotta start the New Year out right, right?
People will be rewarded with lots of cash if they demonstrate proficiency in another language.
They finally figured out that two languages are better than one.
Only one news channel will exist and it will be called HOTT News.
All the anchors and reporters and pundits and sportscasters and meteorologists will be models.
There won’t be any hate on HOTT News because it will replace all the other news channels that will lose ratings when they run out of ways to hate. (It turns out that hate has an expiration date.)
People will embrace the change because HOTT News is gonna make tolerance sexy.
Music will be pretty good too because they will ban lyrics.
So there won’t be any violent and misogynist songs.
Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of good music. It’s amazing what they can do with JAZZ.
(If you’re wondering what happens if people listen to songs with lyrics they already have, the answer is they will be punished immediately. Don’t worry, HOTT news will make censorship sexy.)
So there will be broke and famous people, no crime, clean streets, free immunizations, rent and food paid for, more multilingualism, censorship, and tolerance. It won’t be a perfect situation but it will be good enough. They finally figured out that if conditions are good enough and if beautiful people say everything is gonna be alright and people stand a decent chance of being famous then people will shut up.
The end.

Author's note: my attempt to use creative writing to glimpse the future.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm HOTT. Except I'm Not.

I got an e-mail yesterday informing me I'm included in an article on a website called It's a list of the best and worst professors in the U.S. The list is compiled based on reviews from It's not news to anyone that isn't scientific. We know that it's basically a haphazard sample of student opinions. That doesn't mean that the comments are worthless, but it does mean that they aren't representative of the population of students who have taken a professor's classes. I'm on the list of "best professors"--I suppose that's better than being on the list of worst professors. The author of the article boils down my ratings by saying "most of the students say he is 'amazing', 'interesting' and 'HOTT.' For the record, only one student said I'm HOTT. I'm not sure what the extra T means, but I assume it's good. I'm flattered that someone thinks I'm HOTT, but I assure you that I'm not. (Today I look like I'm going to a casting call for a Dockers commercial. Only I wouldn't be hired, because I'm short). I don't think I'm unattractive, I'm only saying that at least 99 out of 100 people in a room wouldn't describe me as HOTT (or HOT).

The writer goes on to say "Beyond being easy on the eyes, it seems that Niagara students also enjoy the ease of his classes and the entertainment value of his lectures." The author correctly points out that most of my reviews come from students in SOC 101. This is no small point. I teach several classes: Social Psychology, Race & Ethnicity, Research Methods, and Introduction to Sociology. The way I teach SOC 101 is very different from how I teach upper-level courses. I do see how my Intro class is perceived as easy (although it might be "easy" because I teach it well--just a thought). However, I certainly don't love being reduced to someone who is "easy on the eyes" and "easy." I doubt that's how a representative sample of my students would describe me.

There are worst things in the world than being characterized as a "talented teacher" who is "totally cute" (those are other phrases in the article). If I may say so, I do think I'm a talented teacher. "Totally cute" is a long stretch. I guess I can't pick and choose adjectives. And I'm not mad at the writer--she's only working with the "data" from Furthermore, I sent my picture to a writer for when she was writing a similar story earlier this year. I figured "why not." As long as she was writing a story, I might as well send a picture. So I sent a picture of me with my son Troy, who inspires me in life.

So I write this not out of frustration or because I'm upset. I write it to reflect on what it means to supposedly be one of the best professors in the nation. And to emphasize what we already know: that a haphazard sample of comments should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Come find me at a conference (or do a Google image search) and you'll agree that I'm not HOTT.

Ultimately, I think this post reflects my concern about not being taken seriously. Who wants to be labeled an "easy professor" who is "entertaining" and "totally cute"? Even if I am entertaining, or cute (debatable), there's more to me than that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Private Lives of Students

We don't always know what's happening in the lives of our students. Sometimes we forget that their lives are complicated. They're not just our students. They deal with family problems, they have jobs, they have social lives and social problems. They deal with stress, just as we do. Often our students show up in class with the appearance of being bored, or tired, or disengaged. Sometimes they really are just tired. Hell, sometimes they're hungover. But in some cases there's more to the story. Much more. I think it's important to remember that students deal with a lot of different feelings and emotions, so we shouldn't take it personally when they are tired or disengaged in class. It's hard not to be offended if someone is "out of it" during class. We might rush to judgment and get upset when they aren't involved in class discussions and don't seem singularly focused on the class content.

So where is all this coming from?

On a few occasions this semester, students have confided in me about personal problems they've experienced. A few students have shared very personal information with me to explain why they've missed class or will miss an exam. I'm not trying to be mysterious here; it's just that I would never violate their privacy or their confidence. So let's just say I've learned that some of my students are going through (and have gone through) some very difficult situations. They are the kinds of things I would have had enormous trouble dealing with as a 20-year-old (or as a 30-year-old, for that matter). I admire these students for coping with significant challenges in their lives. I worry about them because it would be hard to get through such difficult situations. And it puts into perspective what goes on in the lives of students. More happens to them than we might think. As said, sometimes a tired student is just tired. Sometimes a student really is just bored. Sometimes they drank too much the night before. But a lot of times, there's more to the story. So I err on the side of reserving judgment. I err on the side of not assuming. I have come to understand that a lot goes on in the lives of students, and it's impossible for many of them to come to class with a clear mind and clear head. For my part, I try to be compassionate and sympathetic (AND FLEXIBLE) when it comes to extending deadlines for assignments or rescheduling exams (not in case of hangovers, obviously). In short, I don't automatically give a student a hard time if they show up late or if they are disengaged in class. I try instead to be understanding and helpful. In short, I try to be supportive.