The Sectarian Review Podcast

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http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

Well this may be it.

I’ve found myself less and less interested in writing for this medium lately. And a quick perusal of this blog will demonstrate that.

It should also reveal that I’ve been aiming my non-teaching efforts toward podcasting instead. There is something truly rewarding about having live conversations with people about the broad range of topics I’ve tried to cover in the blog. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to check it out. Here’s the link to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SectarianReview/

Also, I’ve created a dedicated website to the podcast where you can learn more about it and link to all the episodes.

If you do, please let me know what you’re thinking. What makes that thing so much fun is the dialogue with our listeners. Here’s the link to the site:

http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

If you’ve been reading this blog, thanks so much. I hope you’ll listen to Sectarian Review and talk back!

Be well.

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Sectarian Review: A Call For Contributors

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Mark Greif recently published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that considered the importance of Partisan Review in American intellectual life:

(http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-Wrong-With-Public/189921/).

What Greif identified as important about PR, its intellectual cultural contribution, many listeners of the Christian Humanist network of podcasts desire to experience in our own historical moment. This is why we listen.

As a sometimes-contributor to The Christian Humanist Podcast, (http://www.christianhumanist.org/) I’ve found great satisfaction and excitement in engaging with my co-hosts and listeners in conversation about the life of the mind in all its complexity and variousness. So when Farmer, Grubbs, and Gilmour offered me the chance to begin my own podcast, I was honored, and would now like to take them up on their kind offer. I had initially intended to begin this project  last year, but unforeseen circumstances drew my time and attention and I had to hold off (long story short, I will be starting a new job as Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College this Fall). Now seems the time to begin this project.

I have no interest in hosting, as Michial puts it, The Danny Show. My own intellectual inspiration largely springs from New York Intellectuals like Lionel Trilling, who was a central figure in the Partisan Review crowd, and he worked within that larger, vibrant intellectual community. So the idea I have is to imagine Partisan Review in the CHP network. Nathan Gilmour suggested the name Sectarian Review, and this is what I’ve gone with.

The idea is to have a large pool of scholars from a variety of disciplines contribute regularly or semi-regularly and to aim for an episode once a month (at least at first). Topics are solicited, and might include subjects such as: the role of the artist in society, Disney and Culture, The Christian Imagination, political commitment in the age of Twitter, etc… In short, whatever strikes the contributors as worthy of discussion.

In the tradition of PR, I welcome contributors from across disciplines. Economists, rhetoricians, sociologists, historians, philosophers, literary scholars, mathematicians, musicologists, and gender studies, as well as professionals from law, clergy, and medicine would bring a diversity of intellectual perspectives that would, I believe, prove to be an enlightening hour of conversation. (I’m sure I left disciplines out of the above list, so please forgive me and take it as a sign of my openness to a variety of perspectives).

If you are interested in participating, please feel invited to contact me at danny.p.anderson@gmail.com

I look forward to developing something great with you.

Danny Anderson

Teaching Conversation with Kifi

My best teaching has always sprung from a spirit of creativity. And creative teaching means taking risks and wildly experimenting. Sometimes my little experiments succeed and become regular classroom practices, and sometimes they crash and burn. Swings and misses, strikes and gutters. That’s my motto.This past semester, I had a success that both helped my students and drove home an important aspect of teaching and learning for me.

I’ve long used discussion posts on in-house online learning platforms in my classes. I value the act of expanding the classroom space beyond the constraints of our 50 minute hour, and these posts have been one way in which to accomplish that.

I’ve also long been underwhelmed by results. I feel like students benefit from regularly writing, but I also feel as though it becomes a rote activity that sometimes doesn’t encourage the kind of dialectical process I want to see my students engage in.

This past semester, I stumbled across a social bookmarking website that perhaps offers an antidote to these monological failings.

Kifi (www.kifi.com) came to my attention through a Facebook ad and I was initially intrigued by its uses as a bookmarking site to rival my Pocket account. I have the tendency to throw everything that interests me into my bookmarking service and then God sort it out later. Over time, this has become a burden when it comes time for retrieval. Kifi allows users to create discreet, topical libraries for their “keeps” and I welcomed this with great enthusiasm.

As I played around a little, some of the platform’s other features began to strike me as potentially valuable teaching tools, and I soon saw the potential to improve on my traditional discussion board posts. What follows is by no means an exhaustive how-to. Go to Kifi’s own website for that, please (here). I just want to talk about how the service encouraged an ongoing dialogue between readers, writers, and their ideas.

Kifi allows users to share online articles with other people through its browser extensions. In addition to this, the browser extension opens up an on-screen space in which to comment directly on the article in question, and even provides the means to quote specific passages of interest. This all has the feel of a Facebook conversation, but one targeted to users with specific, detailed interest in the article at hand. Trolling and hyperbolic posturing are therefore reduced.

Having asked my students to join the experiment with me, I quickly incorporated Kifi into our research process. Here’s how it worked:

My students’ semester-long research projects were focused on controversies within higher education (of their own choosing). This is, of course, an interest I share, so when I found an article that struck me as useful for a particular student or group of students, I would:

  • send them the article through Kifi.
  • use the “look here,” quotation feature to draw their attention to specific passages of interest
  • explain how I think the article contributed to their projects
Students were then able to respond to my comments and our conversations were recorded in the Kifi interface.

To say I was pleased with the results is an understatement. Students who participated in my experiment maintained an amazing amount of engagement with their projects, and I can only attribute this to the ongoing conversation, the dialogue, that Kifi facilitated. I should also mention that Kifi also has smartphone apps that allow for use in the classroom as well. As I develop this tool for my classes, this versatility is welcome.

I have no financial stake in this company or this product (it is a free service at this point), but I have had the opportunity to speak with some of its developers and it is clear to me that they are interested in Kifi’s potential as a classroom tool, among its other uses.

Kifi has been a great find, but there has been a deeper lesson in this for me as a teacher. I always know that conversation is a vital element of learning, but this experiment has tangibly demonstrated it for me. If we are to be worthy of all our whining about disengaged students, it is our responsibility to find ways to engage them in conversations larger than themselves. Making use of resources like this is how I attempt to do so.

I will heartily continue this experiment in the classroom, and, in addition, I welcome any reader of this blog to connect with me through Kifi and continue our own conversation. My Kifi link is https://www.kifi.com/danny-anderson

On Being a Marxist Professor

The semester has reached the point at which energy reserves are low and no amount of fracking will replenish them.

Thanksgiving is a full month away, and classrooms are filled with tired people staring at one another. When faced with such a dilemma, a teacher has only two choices. Cancel class or hurl a great ball of chaos at his students. Enter Groucho Marx.

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

English: Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx, cropped from group photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes his daemonic, chaotic energy is just the thing I need to push through the prison walls of my ivory tower. Case in point.

Today, I decided to drive my students just a bit crazy. In the midst of yet another revision of their visual analysis papers, they showed up to a classroom in which the theme song to Mission: Impossible was blaring. As soon as class started I ran around the room, frantically passing this assignment sheet out:

2014-10-22 10.07.23

Now panicky themselves, my students leaped from their seats, and shouted to each other as if my classroom was the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

They ran out of my room and returned 15 minutes later. Out of breath? Sure. But re-engaged with their own educations.

Chaos is beautiful.

Pick Your Poison: Grade Inflation or Administrative Bloat

I typically avoid current controversies. I ran across the phrase “Silence like an interruption” in a Cynthia Ozick book and I’ve adopted it as protection against cultural stupidity. But an article posted by Libby Nelson on VOX today irritated me enough to break Ozick’s rule.

The article, “What Wellesley learned when it stopped giving out so many A’s,” details the findings of a study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The authors of the study suggest that the problem of grade inflation (which is certainly an issue worth considering) can be objectively solved by administrative fiat and uses Wellesley as a case study. Appalled that in 2000, the average grade was an A-, Wellesley apparently dictated that all 100-200 level classes have an average grade of no higher than a B+.

I’m sure that this made someone feel very effective and powerful in their pursuit of institutional excellence.

The entire study fills me with personal and professional angst, but let me just touch on a couple of points.

First, the experiment seems to be based solely upon the fact that in 1960 the average grade in college was a C and now it is an A or a B. This reeks of an Andy Rooney “Back In My Day” argument and no apparent attempt has been made to look into WHY this might be the case. The administrative strategy suggests that because this happened, students are being coddled. Left unasked is the question of how much pedagogical practices might have contributed to this shift. Let me be clear: grade inflation is certainly a problem worthy of our attention, but I think it is such a problem that it requires our FULL attention. Let’s not be lazy with our inquiry here.

Second, one of the findings VOX highlights is that professors who follow orders and actually give lower grades get lower “ratings” from students. This makes so much sense that it seems obvious, but how much subsequent pressure is now on said professors to improve their teaching, which will then lead to the higher grades that got them in trouble in the first place? This seems to me like an academic version of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:

“Dr. Yossarian, we value teaching at this institution, and that means helping students succeed. We expect you to help your students succeed, and if they do, we will assume that you are a poor teacher.”

Finally, the authors of the original study (Kristin F. Butcher, Patrick J. McEwan, and Akila Weerapana) show how black students bear the institutional brunt of this initiative. According to Nelson:

“The researchers put the best possible interpretation on this, suggesting that a more even grading policy among different departments at the college will do a better job of demonstrating which students need help. But grading is an imperfect, subjective science, and the burden appears to have fallen more on black students than on others.”

In other words, the researchers report: “gosh, that’s weird.”

The lack of clarity about this disturbing aspect of the policy opens the door to yet another administrative policy down the road. Oh boy. All in the name of returning to the glory days of 1960, where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

 

 

 

Professor Anderson’s Goals

Copied from my Introduction to Literature syllabus.
Kafka at the age of five

Kafka at the age of five (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to make you miserable.

I’m sort of exaggerating about that, but not really. If the humanities, particularly literature, are to claim any purpose in college, part of that purpose must be to unsettle you, and this requires a bit of misery. Fortunately then, we have Kafka to start us off this semester.

Anyone attending college today has probably been victimized by a happy lie. The lie suggests that you students are powerful beings who only need the magical institutional credential of the college diploma to take the world by storm. In this environment, the courses you take are procedural rungs on the triumphant ladder of progress and achievement. You believe you can fly and we can provide the jetpack. Just Do It, and we’ll give you a fancy piece of paper that proves you did (frame not included).

Even in this course. The objectives outlined above are very good. They give us specific skills to focus on and those skills will unquestionably help you in your economic, post-college lives. And they will help me to assign a grade to your efforts. This, along with some elaborate fonts, boosts the credibility of the wall decoration you get for your four years of effort.

The problem is that none of this really has much to do with education.

Education is not a product you purchase and consume. You are not a blank slate waiting for me to write something marketable on you.

On the contrary, Education is something that consumes you.

Education is growth, and like all growth (think of your shins at night when you were a teenager) it is painful and requires struggle. At its most basic level, education is the twofold act of acknowledging a shortcoming in one’s self and working to improve in that area. This is simple, but, if taken seriously, brutal.

This course on twentieth-century and contemporary literature is an opportunity then. Think of it as a speed bump in the soul-killing progressive-triumphalist superhighway (you may not be able to exit – we’ll read Sartre at the end of the semester – but you might be able to slow down sometimes). Here is a too-rare chance for us (and I purposefully include myself here) to unsettle things that are settled and stale. This literature will not be easy to face because it very often undermines our heroic views of ourselves and our society. This brutality is exactly its value.

I do not wish to change your mind or your worldview. And I certainly don’t want to empower you. I hope to challenge you to confront your mind and your worldview in an effort to perfect them.

This is a burden I look forward to helping you with, but, like all real education, it is ultimately yours alone.

My office hours are listed above.

Final Paper (A Parody)

Final Paper

Have you ever thought about starting your paper with a rhetorical question? It is said that this is a great way to get attention to your topic. Dictionary.com defines attention as “the act or faculty of attending, especially by directing the mind to an object.” Albert Einstein once stated brilliantly “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking” (Brainyquote.com). This is a good quote to use in a paper because it talks about reading and it is a source from a credable person and the paper needs sources because of the assignment. As you already can see, I already have two cites in the paper already and I only need one more to get it to three. It is therefore undeniable that since the dawn of time, writing papers is a thing that is essential to getting the attention of readers. I shall prove that writing good is an incredibly important part of finishing an assignment in which there is a word count minimum that needs sources.

Einstein_tongue