Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Peter Kaufman

Peter Kaufman passed away yesterday. There's a nice article about Peter on the New Paltz website. I love the picture of him playing the drums.

Peter was kind to me from the day I met him. He was ahead of me in grad school at Stony Brook University in the mid 90s. You know grad school. Some people pay attention to you, others don't. Peter paid attention and was happy to lend advice and guidance. I remember when Peter was working on an article about C. Wright Mills and the sociological imagination. I was like, "Who's this dude writing about Big Macs and Air Jordans? You can do that in Sociology???" It was one of many times I was inspired by his creativity.

He loved Mills. Years later, Peter came to me with an idea he had to write about the appendix to the The Sociological Imagination. Following his lead, we dug into the appendix to write an article in Teaching Sociology. I have a memory of talking to Peter by phone while I was in my basement, trying not to wake up my first born from a nap. I remember taking notes, using the washing machine as a desk. I look at the article and see Peter's ideas and clever writing jump off the page. 

I loved working with him. We corresponded mostly by email, with him being in New Paltz and me in Buffalo. We scheduled phone calls. I cherish those phone calls. We'd talk for an hour plus about life and sociology. Mostly sociology. Damn, we were on the same wavelength. Just this year we put our heads together to write "It’s About Power, Not Privilege" for Everyday Sociology Blog, and a 100 word short story (known as a drabble) that was just published in So Fi Zine. It's called "A Manmade's Tale," which you can find here on page 14. Peter came up with the title. It was so fun working out ideas with Peter by phone, by text, by email. 

Then there was the time Peter bailed me out. I was over my head. I had been working on fictional stories and felt strongly they had sociological value. I lined up a book chapter to showcase the stories. And then I was stuck. All I had were the stories. I asked Peter to help me. Peter had a way of calming me down. For him, the task was clear. "We need to make an argument," he said. And boom, Peter structured an argument about writing fictional stories as a method of doing sociology. The way his brain worked.....oh, man, I'm so lucky to have seen him operate. 

So kind, so genuine. Peter was the real deal. A kind person, through and through, someone who truly cared about people. And he loved teaching. I implore folks to read Teaching with Compassion, the book he co-authored with Janine Schipper. It's awesome, and gives readers a good sense of how much he respected students, and how much he cared about their learning. 

I'll have more to say about Peter soon. I plan to pay tribute to the body of work he compiled as a blogger at Everyday Sociology. One exceptional post after another, dating back to July 2011. One of his first posts was "You Might be a Marxist" (yes, he channeled Jeff Foxworthy) and it's one of my all-time favorites. I love using it to help teach SOC 101 students about why Marx is indeed relevant. I could go on and on about Peter. And I will again soon. For now, let's watch him play drums in his band Questionable Authorities. Here they are with a Violent Femmes cover, "Blister in the Sun".

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Must Watch Video on Corporate Welfare

Definitely worth your time to watch this 21 minute discussion about Amazon on Democracy Now!

#ExtractionEconomy (Very interesting listening to New York State Assembly member Ron Kim talk about this.)

Further reading: "Amazon Doesn’t Just Want to Dominate the Market—It Wants to Become the Market" by Stacy Mitchell

Further reading: "New York Should Say No to Amazon" by Ron Kim

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Always Be Annotating (Your Syllabus)

I'm working on my course syllabi for next semester. I usually don't work on spring semester courses until late December, once the fall semester ends. But, being on sabbatical right now, I can prep ahead.

When it's time to refresh a course I've already taught, the first thing I do is review a hard copy of the syllabus from the last time I taught the course. I'm always happy to see how much I've marked up the syllabus. It's not rocket science, as they say. Simple notes like "this worked well," "this ended up taking two sessions," "change this up," "they liked this reading," etc. Sometimes I write "this could have gone better (see notes)" which directs me to my hard copy of the class notes with ideas of how the session can be improved. We know how badly it feels when a class session doesn't go the way we hoped. Sometimes we don't have to scrap the session. It can be a matter of minor adjustments. So I try to leave myself notes for ways to make a session better the next time. Same goes for paper assignments and other course requirements. Leave yourself notes after students submit papers and you've graded them. Were you happy with the paper length? Did you include a rubric (if so, was it effective)? Did you give students precise instructions? And so on.

The next thing I do is check a document in my electronic course folder. The document name is "New course ideas". I can work with these ideas to replace things that didn't work well in the previous semester. 

Then, I check my email file for the course. That's the way I bookmark articles and videos. I have email files for all my courses. So when a friend or student sends something (or I send myself something) that I don't have time to read, watch, or process, I put it in the relevant course folder. That way I keep course materials fresh and interesting for myself and students.

Okay, time to get back to revising my syllabi.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Sun Deprived

I miss the sun.

A weather person on the local TV news in Buffalo made a graphic showing there were 4 days of sun in October. October is usually beautiful here in the 716 but the last many weeks have been filled with gloom and rain. The first two days of November have given us more rain. It looked for a moment as if the sun was ready to make an appearance when I was doing some drive-thru banking this morning. The mere thought of sun made me blast the song playing on my radio, windows down.

I'm still waiting for the sun to shine. Meanwhile, I'll rely on music to break the doldrums. Here's the song I tried to share with my fellow motorists. It's "Talking Straight" by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

"I'm hopeless/No embrace/I wanna know/I wanna know where the silence comes from/Where space originates"....