Category Archives: Education

Kent State and 75 Minutes That Changed My Life

Kent-State-Massacre

I was nine when Kent State happened. I was a very current events-minded kid and read about it in the paper and saw the news. But I didn’t really understand it all.

So I absorbed the narrative around me: buncha damned hippie punks got what they deserved.

The event was never a big deal in my life. I grew up “knowing” what I’d heard.

Then, in college, I had a Sociology prof who, we learned, had gone to Kent. In fact, he’d been on the organizing committee for the rally and had graduated the year before. He had first-hand knowledge of basically everything. We talked him into taking a day and doing a presentation for us.

This was a Tuesday/Thursday class, an hour and 15 minutes. Most students preferred the shorter (50-minute) MWFs, but this one could have held our attention for days. None of us wanted to leave. Everybody wanted to know more.

That 75 minutes changed my life. My time in school had already made clear the world wasn’t always what I’d thought it was. But … armed National Guardsmen opening fire into a crowd of unarmed undergrads. Kids who were a lot like us. Kids heartbroken and outraged that other kids a lot like us were coming home in body bags.

A lot of the Kent State story hadn’t made it through Davidson County, NC’s hillbilly filters. The protesters were nowhere near the Guardsmen and posed no danger. The soldiers weren’t under attack. And if they were, why did they shoot in the opposite direction from where they said they thought they heard gunfire?

Two of the four dead weren’t even part of the protest.

The other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC battalion. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 265 feet (81 m) away, and their average distance from the guardsmen was 345 feet (105 m).

Scheuer’s normal path to class took her directly through the area of the protest but that day she’d gone out of her way to avoid it.

I’m not here to belabor you with all the details of the tragedy. If you’d like to know more start here. I just want to mark the occasion – it was 50 years ago today – by remarking on how very wrong we sometimes get the current events and history of the world we live in. And on how very many people there are out there willing to mislead us.

A curious mind. A willingness to think critically. A good-faith acceptance of your own fallibility. The world will fail you, but these three friends never will.

 

Would there be high school walkouts today if Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a black High School?

Is the right to protest itself a function of privilege?

These kids raise good questions. Would there be massive high school walkouts across the country today if Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS was a predominately black inner-city school in Philly? In a neighborhood where there’s nothing special at all about gun violence? Read more

Overthinking: rock music, pop culture, Donald Trump and America’s desperate race to the bottom

Donald Trump isn’t an anomaly. He isn’t an outlier. He isn’t a blip on the radar of history. He’s the very embodiment of the black, ignorant American soul.

Music

[Apologies in advance. These issues may seem unrelated to some of you, but the dots connect perfectly in my head. I’ll let you know when the big leap is about to happen.]

Jim and I have been chatting offline. I hope you’ve been reading his recent work, especially the McDonaldization series and his outstanding tribute to Tom Petty, which goes way past Petty’s career and into some deeper questions about the genre we know as “Rock.” He concluded a recent email with this: Read more

Its time to rid the English language of it’s outdated grammar and punctuation rules

Grammar nazis may not like it, but many of our language rules are artifacts of ancient languages that no longer serve a meaningful purpose.

I’ve been a writer since the ’70s. I’ve written poetry, fiction, academic, business, political and entertainment pieces. I’ve written for print, broadcast, online, social and mobile. I’ve been responsible for ~2,300 posts at S&R alone (although not all of those were writing – there has been some photography along the way, as well).

I have an undergrad minor in English, an MA in English and a PhD in Communications. I’ve studied lit – lots of lit – composition, creative writing and historical linguistics.

I’ve taught writing at the undergrad and graduate levels – English, comp, marketing and business, you name it.

Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to become an expert at a given thing, and my best guess is that I’ve probably spent twice that amount of time writing.

My point? I know a bit about writing and the English language. Not everything by a long shot, but I do feel I have, at the least, a moderately educated opinion. I’m not a lock-down grammarian like some I know, but I have an ear for things and a deeply informed understanding of what works, what’s efficient, what’s fluid, and what the rules are.

And I stand before you today to offer a modest proposal: Resolved – that we keepers of the sanctity of the language need to let go of some of our most deeply cherished pet peeves. You probably have some peeves of your own and when people violate them it drives you buggy. We all do. But let’s breathe deeply for a moment and ponder the actual value these technicalities have in our lives.

I don’t have time to address all the cases I can think of, but let me use three examples to illustrate my point:

  • there/their/they’re
  • its/it’s
  • you’re/your

Specifically, I propose that the three former cases be replaced by “ther,” to be used interchangeably in all instances. Also, that we kill off “it’s” and use “its” in all instances. Finally, I don’t care how we spell it – I’m good with “yor” – but we need to stop making a big deal about that last one, as well.

Why? You know how your mom would occasionally misspeak and you’d call her on it and she’d say “you know what I meant”? Right. You might write “the dog chased it’s ball,” and I might correct you, but I know what you meant. And that’s the purpose of language: to convey meaning and information, not technicalia arising from ancient rules in proto-languages nobody has ever heard of.

In short: language serves us, not the other way around.

Some linguistic history explains what I’m on about. Sorta.

English, and most of the languages spoken in the Western world today, evolved from a couple branches on the Indo-European tree. German and English, for instance, derived from Old High Germanic, while Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese come to us courtesy of ancient Latin. Along the way English got hijacked by French (courtesy of William the Conqueror), which explains why we have so much Romantic influence on modern English.

Those ancient forebears of our current languages were highly inflected. That is, you’d have root forms of words and a number of endings for tense, singular/plural and the like. If you had all the forms correct, word order probably didn’t matter. In Latin, for instance, you can jumble the words up but the sentence is still comprehensible.

We still have remnants of this functionality in English today. Think about how we conjugate verbs. I run, you ran. I think, you think, he thinks. Arise, arose, arisen. See what I mean?

The thing is, modern English isn’t an inflected language, it’s a synthetic one. This means that while we may still have inflections, our ability to understand meaning relies instead on context and word order. If I write “John run to the house,” you’d know I was saying “John ran to he house” (a lot of people speak this way as it is).

Have a look at this and see if you can sort it out.

Everything direct winter way the to superlative its the good the far was going going authorities darkness before it nothing foolishness belief degree so the us spring only being the before or was age like epoch hope despair all we of epoch of of season was of the for direct the worst for was it light incredulity short of was period it was times comparison its of season it the us period we had was of Heaven it were was of best it in it the we the of we had the some of was were of the present wisdom it all on other in it of evil times insisted was the was age noisiest the it received that.

Literature students might recognize the opening sentence of Tale of Two Cities, but if you didn’t know the passage enough to maybe tweak on a couple specific words, you’d be lost.

The upshot is that our language today incorporates all kinds of artifacts from earlier incarnations of English when the forms were necessary to convey meaning clearly. Now, though, they’re useless appendages we have evolved beyond beyond which we have evolved. These sentences are perfectly comprehensible:

  • Bob and Sally picked up they’re new puppy this morning.
  • The puppy pounced on it’s new toy.
  • The man your looking for is standing over their.
  • Its a beautiful morning, isnt it?
  • Ther goes the smartest kid on campus.

It isn’t like we don’t do this sort of thing every day already. For instance, in this sentence:

Bob and Sally tried to teach the puppy not to bark.

Did you see that last word and get confused about whether it meant the outer layer of a tree trunk?

Is “read” present tense or plural and how do you know?

The tailor is hairy but the furrier is furrier.

Hopefully you get the idea by now. If not, I can go on all day. English is probably the biggest mutt of a language in the world, and many of our forms, usage strictures, punctuation and spelling rules serve no practical purpose.

Beyond, perhaps, allowing that the actual value of an English teacher is nothing more than grammar nazi, or perhaps as a marker of social status?

Think about. Let me know what you conclude.

Happy 4th of July: what does “freedom” mean to you?

America is a great idea, but it’s hard to love these days.

At some point tonight millions and millions of us will find ourselves sitting in a stadium or a park or maybe on a city rooftop or a grassy hill in the country, staring at the sky, celebrating our country’s anniversary by watching the annual fireworks show. I won’t lie – I love fireworks. They’re spectacular to watch, but beyond that I’m fascinated by how they work. How do you get one to look like a flower? How do you get multiple colors in one burst? I assume I could learn these things if I spent the time, but regardless, it’s a pretty cool exercise in artistry.

But I don’t love everything about fireworks shows. If you’re at an official civic event you’ll certainly get to hear Lee Greenwood belting out his famous “God Bless the USA.” This is a massively famous and popular song, having reached #7 on the Billboard Country charts. It’s sold over a million copies and there’s no telling how much it has earned Greenwood in royalties.

It’s also perhaps the greatest lie ever set to music. Bear with me.

America is a wonderful idea. Read more

The only way to defeat Trump and his supporters

It’s about tribalism. You cannot work with Trumpists. Period. You must defeat them and then fix the problems that handed them control.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. – Jonathan Swift

Since the moment of Campaign 2016 when it became clear that Donald Trump actually had a chance, a lot of people have done a lot of thinking and pontificating and punditofying and writing and hand-wringing about the reasons for his viability. On one end of the spectrum: Donald gave the drooling, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, ignorant, anti-intellectual, hillbillies a cynical, smirking, dog-whistling charlatan they could line up behind. On the other, we’ve had all manner of thoughtful, complex analyses about how economic anxiety (and utter despair) fueled the rise of a non-partisan populist backlash against a political establishment that has spent decades betraying those it represents.

Both versions are compelling because each was built on a measure of observable truth. Read more

Introducing the American Civic Debate Union: first event addresses the Electoral College

American Civic Debate Union logoWe need a new American consensus driven by a commitment to knowledge, reason and good faith engagement with those whose views differ from our own.

For decades I have toyed with the idea that we could use a civic forum for popular debate, an organization that would make it possible for communities to discuss the issues of the day in ways that would spark thought and reflection, perhaps enabling better decision-making come Election Day. This idea has grown stronger over the past 20 years, as the combined corrosive mechanisms of partisan tribalism, cable media and, worst of all, the Internet and social media seemed to find new and better ways of tearing society apart, making us dumber and more hateful in the process.

I broached the idea recently with friends and colleagues and their response convinced me that now was the time to give it a try. So I have founded what I’m ambitiously calling the American Civic Debate Union. Our first event will be held next Sunday here in Denver, and it will feature me squaring off with my good friend Dr. Frank Venturo over the question of whether the US ought to do something, once and for all, about the Electoral College. If so, what? Read more

Rural elites: I've had it with the arrogance of ignorance (and its promoters)

ignorance-is-powerThe only thing worse than the willfully ignorant is the legion of apologists enabling them.

Since the election – before, really – we’ve heard a lot of talk about how all those urban liberal elites need to stop being so arrogant and start listening to very real concerns of real Americans in rural flyover values America.

We have more recently begun to see some informed pushback against this silliness self-serving rhetorical engineering masquerading as good-faith socio-political analysis. Now we’ve hit the daily double, though.

First, our friend Otherwise passed along a righteous rant from a very frustrated Melinda Byerley, CMO of TimeShare. Have a quick look. Read more

The Tiffany Martínez case and journalistic malpractice in the first degree

Journalism RIP: gone and apparently forgotten

Tiffany Martinez journalism malpracticeHere’s a sampling of the Google News headlines this morning for a search on [tiffany martinez]:

  • Professor Leaves Racist Note on Student’s Paper – Yahoo News-22 hours ago
  • The broader implications of unfairly accusing a Latina student of plagiarism – Inside Higher Ed-Nov 1, 2016
  • Professor accuses Latina student of plagiarism for using the word hence – The Grio-Oct 29, 2016
  • Latina accused of plagiarizing after using ‘hence’ in essay – New York Post-Oct 30, 2016
  • Latina college student is accused of plagiarism because she used the word ‘hence’ in an essay – Daily Mail-Oct 29, 2016
  • Latina College Student Used ‘Hence’ In Paper, Is Accused Of Plagiarism – Highly Cited-Huffington Post-Oct 28, 2016
  • A Professor Circled “Hence” On A Latina Student’s Paper And Wrote “This Is Not Your Word” – BuzzFeed News-Oct 28, 2016
  • Student accused of plagiarism by professor for using the word ‘Hence’ – Gistmaster (blog)-8 hours ago

Notice anything? Read more

The Tiffany Martínez case: her post is long on emotional appeal and short on details

The trending case of a Suffolk University student accused of cheating in front of her class raises more questions than her manipulative story answers…

Tiffany Martínez, Suffolk University

Tiffany Martínez, Suffolk University

On Thursday, a Suffolk University student named Tiffany Martínez posted a blog in which she described how her professor had attacked her in front of a class for using language that was “not her own.”

This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this? 

Martínez is right to be sensitive to the issues of bias she points out.  Read more

Resolved: that future presidential debates ought to use the Lincoln-Douglas format

Partisan discourse can’t sink much lower. Now is the time to resurrect a format that was made for political debates.

The third and final “debate” between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now mercifully in the rearview mirror, but like a direct hit from an aggrieved skunk, it might take weeks for the stink to fully die down. This trifecta of vitriolic spew has held a mirror up before the face of the American system of political discourse, and what we’re seeing is utterly wretched.

And for what? What have we learned? Did the debates make us smarter? Did it leave us more capable of rendering an informed decision? Did it shed light on the election and the best interests of the Republic?

The sad truth is that the truth is pretty sad. These charades, these lowest common denominator spectacles, these premeditated travesties of dishonesty and rhetorical misdirection, we call them debates but they are no such thing. A real debate between candidates would be a wonderful thing, though. Read more

It's World Teachers Day: who changed your life?

It’s World Teachers Day. And I’m a little distressed by how little mention I have seen of it flying around on my Facebook feed. But then, what do I expect?

CATEGORY: EducationOnce upon a time we celebrated teachers for their wisdom and commitment to making their communities better places. Now, in addition, we celebrate them for their superhuman perseverance in the face of utterly overwhelming odds. Some of the stories I’ve heard from teachers border on the harrowing. And I’m just talking about what they’re expected to do in the classroom. Never mind what those who work in de facto war zones face.

It is hard to be truly dedicated to something that your society is at best indifferent, and at worst is actively hostile toward. Read more

Democracy in America: a bad idea

It’s now clear that democracy, as practiced in an anti-intellectual society like ours, doesn’t work. Let’s give elitism (properly understood) a try.

Democracy+ElitismMany of you probably read Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece back in April. If not, you should do so as soon as possible – it’s among the most important and insightful political essays we have seen in a generation and will reward your time. I won’t even try to summarize his message, because no paraphrase I could provide would do it justice. Short version: the US is in trouble, and democracy is perhaps the reason.

Sullivan got me to thinking, in some depth, about where I am politically and how I got here. More importantly, where do I go now? Read more

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