Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Rant

(I realize I probably shouldn't be posting this on a public site, but . . . fuck it.)

I am persnickety. I believe that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing not just well, but also correctly. I follow the rules. I dot my "i"s and cross my "t"s. I fold my socks. (Once said socks are in my overcrowded sock drawer, however, I have no control over them and they tend to go a little wild.)

I am who I am, although I certainly was not born this way. I've always had persnickety tendencies. But I've had people in my life---teachers, particularly---who nurtured those tendencies, who pushed me to go past "good enough" and attempt to reach, if not perfection, at least "outstanding." To find ways to color within the lines, but in unique, insightful, intelligent, and creative ways.

And I've found that being persnickety has its rewards. Indeed, it is perhaps the only surefire way to ensure job security (well, other than having compromising pictures of your boss) and a great way to advance quickly in whatever your chosen field. People may not like the persnickety---I know that I can sometimes be . . . difficult . . . in social situations (although, really, mixing wines in your glass? Were you raised in a barn?)---but they respect it and trust it.

I have 33 years of experience that tells me that being attentive to detail, being precise in your work, finding ways to be unique and creative and smart while staying inside the lines---being persnickety---are important.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to convey any of this to my students. I do warn them at the beginning of the term that I'm persnickety. I lay out the rules in excruciating detail: fonts and font size, page and word limits, heading information, deadlines, and so forth. I remind them ad nauseaam of the rules. I also am entirely transparent about the consequences of not following the rules. And I warn them that I used to be an editor and a student and therefore not only am highly attentive to details in their work but also know all the tricks they use to get around the rules.

I know that I'm probably a lot more picky than most teaching assistants, and likely more picky than most professors, although I think many of the professors are just beat down from argumentative students and have given up. But in any case, I have rules about assignments and attendance and performance. And I think, at least, that I make these rules very clear.

My students, however, do not seem to hold much value in being persnickety. I had two students this week get rather angry because they suffered the consequences of not following the rules for an assignment. (One student, in his defense, did later apologize for being rude.) One of those students told me that I was "stifling his creativity." The other just accused me of being unreasonable. During the past few weeks, I've had other students seem shocked that I had marked them late for class (even though I've told them since the beginning that I mark latecomers and I consider any time after the start of class to be late) and that I was enforcing the rules for assignments (they didn't bother to argue that they had followed the rules or that they didn't understand the rules---just that I shouldn't actually enforce the rules).

Am I unreasonable? I really don't know. Has being persnickety lost its value?

I realize, of course, that civilization will not come to an end because a student goes two lines over the page limit for an assignment. But then where do we draw the line? Because I've also learned from experience that some students will always try to push the line. I don't know if they think that the rules don't apply to them, if they just aren't paying attention, or if they've just gotten so used to teachers who don't enforce the rules---or cave in when the students complain. Probably a combination of all of the above.

I'm not sure what my point in all this was, other than to vent a bit and wonder if I'm an unreasonable relic of a time past.

Perhaps I'm struggling with a bigger issue: the role of higher education. I like to think that we are, first, preparing the students to be adults in the world, and second, preparing them for their desired professions. And, for me, that preparation is less about the content of the courses and more about the skills they take from the process of learning the content: the ability to think critically, to express themselves articulately, and to act responsibly. Most of these student will never need to know the capitals of Africa or the stages of postcolonial transition. But they do need the skills they gain through the act of learning those details.

Do I have it all wrong? What is the role of higher education? Does it even have a role anymore, or is it an outdated means of forcing students through a socially determined liminal state? Is content more important than skills?

I am persnickety. I will never stop wanting the world to be orderly. But should I stop trying to make my students persnickety too?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am awesome!

But, then, not so much.

So I was feeling pretty darn great about myself this past week. First, I finally got a research grant. Mind you, it's the least prestigious grant of the grants for which I applied. But I got a grant! So I get to go back to Malawi and finish my research and write my dissertation and be done with grad school. Yay!

And on Monday, I set a sub-10-minute pace on my run. So it was a 9:59-minute mile. That's sub-10. And its a big improvement from the 12:30 pace I was doing just 8 weeks ago. So again, Yay!

But then I went to the doctor yesterday and was bummed to find out that I haven't lost nearly as much weight as I thought I had (only 9 lbs). Then I had lab work done this morning as part of my medical clearance for the aforementioned grant. And I found out that I have high cholesterol!

Admittedly, although I've been very faithful with exercising this year, I have not been as great about food. I've all but given up soda (I think I've had maybe 3 sodas since Christmas), and I've been limiting myself to one snack a day and trying to eat healthy snacks (almonds, Luna bars, fruit). But I don't count calories at meals, and my lunches frequently include a side of french fries. And my good intentions have a way of falling apart on the weekends.

Still, I was rather shocked to find out that I have high cholesterol. I eat loads of veggies, whole grains, fruit. I don't eat any meat, and I've cut way back on cheese. I've always been fat, but I've generally been healthy---low cholesterol, good blood pressure, normal blood sugar. And because I have a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, I do watch those numbers carefully.

So, not feeling quite so awesome anymore.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Spring Break

I had two goals for Spring Break:

1. Write---and finish---one of my prelim papers.
2. Paint my bedroom.

Guess which one got done.

I did get about five pages of the prelim paper written, although I've already decided to cut a big chunk of that because that section isn't working. But the weather was so nice and I really needed a break and . . . Whatever. I was lazy. I'm having a hard time caring about finishing the prelims and reaching doctoral candidacy when I don't know if I'll being going any further than that. And I don't see the point in being able to say that I'm ABD. To me, that's worse than just getting the master's because ABD says that I was this close to finishing the doctorate and just couldn't cut it.

I need grad school to be over.

In any case, I did work on the prelim paper. But I did a few other things that weren't on the list. Like starting my summer herb garden:

Chives, Rosemary, and Thyme. I still need to get sage and basil.

I also went for a hike with Rowen:

With much help from C. and J., I painted the bedroom:

I'm a little obsessive with the blue tape.

After photos TK. But you can see the color---sage---in the sample on the wall.

And I baked my first cheesecake---a yummy lemon one---which I forgot to take a picture of before C., J., and I devoured it.

I'm not looking forward to going back to classes this week. I have a huge take-home exam due on Tuesday, which I haven't even started to work on, and a conference paper to give on Thursday, which I still need to revise and cut by at least two pages. And we only have about five weeks left in the term, which is both exciting (summer vacay!) and terrifying (I have a paper, a group project, two prelims, and a whole lot of grading to do in five weeks! And I don't have summer plans!).