Saying goodbye to Reading Rainbow

August 28, 2009

The news on the radio this morning told me that today is the final day for Reading Rainbow. This makes me incredibly sad. It is the 3rd longest running show on PBS, after only Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. I am only 3 years older than this show, so it has effectively been around for my entire life. I found myself spontaneously singing the theme song just this past weekend when I spotted a butterfly in the yard. In elementary school, when we were waiting for our parents to come pick us up, tapes of Reading Rainbow episodes were among the few approved things we could watch once outside time was over. (Episodes of Square One were also approved. Man, now I miss Mathnet.)

I loved Reading Rainbow. I loved the illustrations from the books. I loved hearing the new stories and seeing them present ones I’d already read. I loved Levar Burton and the strangeness of seeing him in both that show and Star Trek, which was, of course, another childhood television mainstay. But the show has been on for 26 years now, so I think I could more happily let it go, if it weren’t for this explanation of why the show is ending:

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Office hours

September 28, 2008

As so often, I’m headed to office hours to get help with my B521 homework. When I show up, the room is packed; there’s my professor, his two assistants, and two other students presumably looking for help.   “Lindsey! Come in; sit down. Would you like a piece of pizza?”

Score. I go inside and wedge myself into the one available chair. The chair next to me is occupied by a fresh, hot cheese pizza, which looks delicious, but I figure I’d better try and get my homework taken care of first. I pop open my laptop and peer at my half-written, half-working code, which is done up in white and green on an attractive blue background. The credit for those pretty colors is due, of course, to my programmable text editor — and to the wizards, now sitting across from me, who have patiently helped me customize it to the point where it now handles just about every programming-related task for me.  Except think.  And convert carbohydrates to ATP.  Speaking of which.

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David Foster Wallace on suicide and the moral life

September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace’s postmodernism was always about morality.

Whatever anybody said, all the Great Big American Novelists of our lifetimes have shared that itch. But for Wallace it must have been a fever. Morality was never below the surface of his art — even though the art was usually so dazzling that some people couldn’t see anything else.

To cheer me up after his wretched, untimely death, here is some advice he gave about literal and figurative suicide, from his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon.

The full speech doesn’t betray Wallace’s trademark floridity, the habit that’s going to be talked up in all this morning’s papers. Instead, it’s flat almost to the point of crassness. It’s a slap in the jaw. It’s worth a full read.

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Teach for America or The Collapse of the “Public” in Public Education

July 26, 2008

(After much lurking in the shadows and posting the occasional odd comment such as this one or that one, I have decided to make my initial post as a full-fledged contributor to Geek Buffet. I promise that others won’t be on such serious topics as this one. Enjoy!)

The Background Story: I was at a small departmental gathering last night and – after much food and drink – the topic of conversation turned to Teach for America, since our host’s daughter is going through their training program as we speak for a Denver teaching position in the fall. Not being one to hold back his opinions, I made several disparaging remarks about Teach for America, including that it A) encourages people to see teaching as an altruistic resumé-builder that a privileged recent college grad could do rather than as a serious profession that must be done by our best and brightest, B) has a low rate of participants who continue in the field as teachers, C) doesn’t sufficiently train their participants to deal with the tough educational environment of poor rural and urban public schools and D) is a stop-gap feel-good solution for a much wider educational equality problem of income tax disparities between districts. These opinions reflect both research published in various educational journals and in the Education training I received at Grinnell College, particularly from Drs. Jean Ketter and Kara Lycke.

Needless to say, the whole room eagerly jumped down my throat to stop my heart. The counter-arguments were admittedly valid: Teach for America does convince our best and brightest that teaching is a serious profession, many folks who wouldn’t end up teaching suddenly become inspired and go on further in the field, the teachers-to-be get 5-6 weeks of intense training and then have to apply for positions at individual schools on their own, and, the real heart-string-puller, these inner-city kids need enthusiastic warm bodies in their classrooms NOW. It turned out to be a complicated and heated subject of conversation as liberals circled the wagons against a radical lefty (me) who believes that Teach for America should be helping to overhaul the whole public education system in this country for the better, not support the continuous, monotonous moralizing discourse of American poverty and education that has ensnared plans for real reform. Let me explain my wacky position.

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The Importance of Wonder in Science

June 4, 2008

There was a great op-ed in the NYTimes this past Sunday called “Put A Little Science in Your Life“. The author, Brian Greene, is a professor of physics, and he makes a compelling argument that we could be doing a little better in teaching science. Specifically, teaching it in a way that helps the students retain their natural sense of wonder at all this neat stuff, rather than boiling it all down to some really dry numbers and making sure you follow the exact proper procedure for everything. Is there really a reason that science can only be interesting during elementary school and then not again until you reach high level independent research?

Some excerpts, although of course you should go read the whole thing:

When we consider the ubiquity of cellphones, iPods, personal computers and the Internet, it’s easy to see how science (and the technology to which it leads) is woven into the fabric of our day-to-day activities. When we benefit from CT scanners, M.R.I. devices, pacemakers and arterial stents, we can immediately appreciate how science affects the quality of our lives. When we assess the state of the world, and identify looming challenges like climate change, global pandemics, security threats and diminishing resources, we don’t hesitate in turning to science to gauge the problems and find solutions.

And when we look at the wealth of opportunities hovering on the horizon — stem cells, genomic sequencing, personalized medicine, longevity research, nanoscience, brain-machine interface, quantum computers, space technology — we realize how crucial it is to cultivate a general public that can engage with scientific issues; there’s simply no other way that as a society we will be prepared to make informed decisions on a range of issues that will shape the future.

These are the standard — and enormously important — reasons many would give in explaining why science matters.

But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

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Sleight of hand and misdirection

May 21, 2008

I keep meaning to write something substantive here, but I’ve been distracted by the conversation going on over at Mike’s academic blog, Ad Nauseam, specifically on the post “Finding the countercanon.” Originally, Mike posed his problem and request this way:

Back to my problem: as a product of my time and place I know the canon as it is espoused by my university, and I know the canon as it is espoused by my authors. (Woolf and Rushdie are graciously forthright about the books they think people should be reading.) But I don’t know, and I don’t know how to know, the canons that boom outside the walls of my little University, the list of 100 Essential Books They Won’t Teach You In College.

But then in the comments, other interesting questions related to his desire to learn about non-English-department-approved literature comes up:

So few of the students who go through intro lit classes will pick up a book after they graduate. Lit profs have only the 14 or 15 weeks it takes to satisfy a gen ed requirement to give students a map of the literary library, so that students who don’t have your natural drive for reading will at least get a sense of what’s out there, and feel that at least one author connected with them and represents something like their inner & outer lives.

This is part of why my own canoniphilia distresses me: I’m already at a demographic remove from the great majority of American students; if my syllabi are demographically identical, then I have that much less of a chance of breaking through to the infrequent or non-reader.

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Revisited: Religion in the local public schools

April 8, 2008

In a strange return to one of the very first posts here at Geek Buffet (now more than a whole year ago!), I heard a startling local news blurb on my way home this afternoon. The saga of Mr. Escamilla and Enloe High School is apparently still dragging on. After his suspension from teaching, Mr. Escamilla did not have his contract renewed at Enloe, and was instead transferred to an alternative school starting in May 2007.

He also got a very poor 12-page review put into his file evaluating his teaching that year. According to the website he has set up to chronicle his interpretation of events, it was the first negative review he had ever gotten in all his years of teaching. He appealed these decisions multiple times, and seems to have raised such a furor that the school board felt the need to defend their decisions, so they released supporting evidence from his personnel record in October. In November, he sued. Yesterday, the case was finally settled.

The local newspaper report is rather vague on the details, though:

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Blogroll Additions: Many, Many Grinnell Blogs

March 19, 2008

The first blogroll addition was our friend Mike S.’s grad school blog, Ad Nauseam, on which he ponders issues of grad school life and being part of the academy in general. Though he himself is a literature person, and does indeed post on literature-specific issues, he also explores things like how an almost-done PhD TA is supposed to address professors, the role of academic blogging vs. peer-reviewed article publishing, and the point of theoretical work within the context of various field, just to point to a few of his recent post topics. Academics, go forth and read!

The second blogroll addition is where the “many, many Grinnell blogs” comes in, as Geek Buffet’s intrepid poetloverrebelspy/Hilary has started a blog to compile all the other blogs by past and present Grinnellians of all sorts, Grinnell Bloggers. One of our previous blogroll updates got a comment requesting such a thing, so here ya go! It’s quite an impressive list. Thanks, Hilary!

Is it safe to teach in Japan anymore?

November 7, 2007

That was the question the mother of a son about my age asked me this weekend. Her son has been going to school and then teaching English in China for the past couple of years, but he’s thinking maybe he wants to go to Japan next. Why would his mother think it less safe to teach in Japan than China?

Because last week NOVA, one of Japan’s largest private language school franchises, shut down due to financial crisis. This made big headlines around the world because many of the company’s foreign teachers found themselves stranded in Japan, having not been paid for a month or more. Some foreign embassies wound up offering aid to stranded teachers. A quick recap of the company’s collapse:

The firm, which mainly offers English classes, has more than 800 schools and 400,000 students across Japan.

But in June, it was ordered to suspend part of its operations, after a court ruled it had misled customers in advertisements about some services.

Since then, student enrolment has fallen sharply and Nova has accumulated debts of up to JPY50bn ($437m, £213m).

Its 2,000 Japanese staff have not been paid since July and some 4,000 non-Japanese instructors have not been paid their salary for October, union officials said.

Nova has now closed all its schools, Kyodo news agency said.

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Introducing Classics to the Romper Room Set

June 27, 2007

We recently received a graphic novel version of Beowulf. We’re debating which section it should go in because, well, some of the panels are pretty… graphic. The first time I picked it up, and opened it, I turned to a page of someone (I assume Beowulf himself) emerging from a pool of blood. I wasn’t surprised though, because it’s Beowulf. It’s not a story about sunshine and lollipops.

Now, graphic novelizations of the classics are nothing new–we had them back when we called them comic books. Children’s sections are filled with retellings of the classics at a child’s reading comprehension level. Personally, I don’t think any version of Beowulf worth its salt would be age-appropriate fro the under 13 crowd.

But this brings up the larger question–should we be “dumbing down” the classics at all?

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