Category Archives: Education

NEWSFLASH: “Professor Deeply Hurt by Student’s Evaluation”

As another academic year winds down across the US at colleges and universities, this classic piece from The Onion merits a full reprint (rather than, say, just a tweet). There’s so much material in this and countless other satires in the The Onion that rings incredibly true to real life. This one especially has a lot to unpack. The position titles, book and award names alone are hilarious and priceless for pointing out the often hollow tendency in academia to name drop and for academics to garner prestige based on associations and networking. Reading this I wonder if Professor Rotherberg’s self-assessment isn’t spot on: “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.” Funny stuff.

Professor Deeply Hurt by Student’s Evaluation

Leon Rothberg, Ph.D., a 58-year-old professor of English Literature at Ohio State University, was shocked and saddened Monday after receiving a sub-par mid-semester evaluation from freshman student Chad Berner. The circles labeled 4 and 5 on the Scan-Tron form were predominantly filled in, placing Rothberg’s teaching skill in the “below average” to “poor” range.

Leon Rothberg

Rothberg, though hurt by evaluations that pointed out the little globule of spit that sometimes forms between his lips, was most upset at being called “totally lame” in one freshman’s write-in comments.

Although the evaluation has deeply hurt Rothberg’s feelings, Berner defended his judgment at a press conference yesterday.

“That class is totally boring,” said Berner, one of 342 students in Rothberg’s introductory English 161 class. “When I go, I have to read the school paper to keep from falling asleep. One of my brothers does a comic strip called ‘The Booze Brothers.’ It’s awesome.”

The poor rating has left Rothberg, a Rhodes Scholar, distraught and doubting his ability to teach effectively at the university level.

“Maybe I’m just no good at this job,” said Rothberg, recipient of the 1993 Jean-Foucault Lacan award from the University of Chicago for his paper on public/private feminist deconstructive discourse in the early narratives of Catherine of Siena. “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.”

In the wake of the evaluation, Rothberg is considering canceling his fall sabbatical to the University of Geneva, where he is slated to serve as a Henri Bynum-Derridas Visiting Scholar. Instead, Rothberg may take a rudimentary public speaking course as well as offer his services to students like Berner, should they desire personal tutoring.

“The needs of my first-year students come well before any prestigious personal awards offered to me by international academic assemblies,” Rothberg said. “After all, I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of knowledge, and to imparting it to those who are coming after me. I know that’s why these students are here, so I owe it to them.”

Though Rothberg, noted author of The Violent Body: Marxist Roots of Postmodern Homoerotic Mysticism and the Feminine Form in St. Augustine’s Confessions, has attempted to contact Berner numerous times by telephone, Berner has not returned his calls, leading Rothberg to believe that Berner is serious in his condemnation of the professor.

“I’m always stoned when he calls, so I let the answering machine pick it up,” said Berner, who maintains a steady 2.3 GPA. “My roommate just got this new bong that totally kicks ass. We call it Sky Lab.”

Those close to Rothberg agree that the negative evaluation is difficult to overcome.

“Richard is trying to keep a stiff upper lip around his colleagues, but I know he’s taking it very hard,” said Susan Feinstein-Rothberg, a fellow English professor and Rothberg’s wife of 29 years. “He knows that students like Chad deserve better.”

When told of Rothberg’s thoughts of quitting, Berner became angry.

“He’d better finish up the class,” Berner said. “I need those three humanities credits to be eligible to apply to the business school next year.”

The English Department administration at Ohio State is taking a hard look at Rothberg’s performance in the wake of Berner’s poor evaluation.

“Students and the enormous revenue they bring in to our institution are a more valued commodity to us than faculty,” Dean James Hewitt said. “Although Rothberg is a distinguished, tenured professor with countless academic credentials and knowledge of 21 modern and ancient languages, there is absolutely no excuse for his boring Chad with his lectures. Chad must be entertained at all costs.”

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Not exactly the SATs

I’m pretty dumb.  Yeah, I’m smarter than most folks, but still dumb.  My faith in my abilities was further diminished when I came across this the other day: the entrance exam for Harvard from 1869.  I’m pretty sure Peashoot would do well on the languages and a certain someone would own the math, but I’ll admit I’d bomb on the History and Geography portions and they are my purported “strength”.  That does it.  I’m starting over and will enroll in 1st Grade next fall.  Here it is:

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/education/harvardexam.pdf

Anthony Zito, RIP

Last week, Anthony Zito died.  He served as a professor of law for over twenty years at my alma mater.  Although I never took one of his courses, he had a profound impact on my education.  Upon arriving at Marshall, he championed a vigorous core curriculum mandating a minimum of four semesters of legal writing, whereas most law schools required only one.  I spent two years refining the art of written analysis and persuasion; it has served me well in my profession.  As a result of his lobbying, Marshall currently ranks sixth in the nation in this indispensible skill and I am a better advocate.  Thank you, Professor Zito.

E. Gene Smith

This obituary appeared in the New York Times, finally, on 28 December 2010. E. Gene Smith was not just an extraordinary scholar; he was, by all accounts I have read and heard (I never met the man, though I know folks who knew him well), he was also an extraordinarily generous and kind human being. I personally cannot claim that without Mr. Smith’s lifelong efforts to preserve Tibetan literature I would not be able to do what I do today, as, for example, most Tibetologists in the western world today rightfully claim (see, e.g., David Germano’s remarks in this obit). But a handful of my teachers over the years, at least one of which has played a significant role in my professional career to this day, are enormously indebted to the labors of Mr. Smith. So I’m a generation or two removed from E. Gene Smith in terms of my professional pursuits. All the same, I am awestruck by his vision, his achievements, and his magnanimity. This obit is clearly superficial in its coverage of E. Gene Smith’s life and work. Yet, I think anyone who reads just these few paragraphs about the man will be moved.

NB: Click on the image to read the piece; you should have a magnifying glass option to enlarge once it appears in a new window.

Today in History

One of the seminal events of American history occurred today in 1846: the begining of the Mexican-American War.  The War, overlooked in contemporary classrooms, dramatically altered the American landscape by adding California, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Nevada to the Union’s territory (they became states later) and annexing portions of Colorado and Wyoming as well.  Because of the growing discontent with Mexico, America sought a quick settlement to the “Oregon Question” and thus a northern border with Canada was established by treaty with Britain; the intended side-effect of this pact virtually eliminated the English desire to claim California for the Crown.  In addition to establishing the current borders of the country, it also fueled mistrust between North and South.  Many Northerners sought greater expansion into the Oregon Territory to compliment the growth of “free” states while the South saw the acquisition of the Mexican territories as fuel for the addition of “slave” states.

Future players in the Civil War featured prominently in this conflict as well: Congressman Abraham Lincoln was an opponent of the war and his later day counterpart, Jefferson Davis, established himself as a vociferous proponent.  Generals Grant, Lee, Meade and Jackson served as comrades and could hardly predict their later adversarial roles.  A relatively swift campaign, the American Army marched into Mexico City a few years later after the Nation’s first amphibious assault — hence the “From the Halls of Montezuma…” line in the Marines fight song. 

Ironically, amongst the Mexican casus belli was illegal immigration: of Americans into Texas.  Texas had already fought its war of independence from Mexico and much of Europe and the United States recognized it as a sovereign entity.  Resolutions favoring Texas statehood were perpetually introduced in Congress, but had yet to pass.  Texans deeply desired statehood so they encouraged immigration to their new Republic.  The Mexican government, which viewed Texas the way Lincoln viewed South Carolina, Virginia et. al during the Civil War, deemed the “illegal” immigration a threat to their country and warned the United States that annexation (or statehood) of Texas meant war.  Border skirmishes erupted near the Rio Grande.  When the Americans sought to purchase what eventually became the western US from Mexico — and said offer was rebuffed — the Texas skirmishes protracted into a larger war.

In terms of objectives met, the war was enormously successful for the United States.  With the Gadsen Purchase a few years later, wherein America acquired additional Mexican territory, the continental borders of the country were set.  James K. Polk presided over the war and probably would have easily won a second term, but he walked away from the Presidency having fulfilled his greatest ambition.  The war sowed seeds Americans would reap for decades: slavery, the Indian Wars (who turned from opposing Mexico to the US) and, of course, our relationship with our southern neighbor.

Education, Comic Book Style

When it comes to learning and pedagogy, creativity and entertainment are critical qualities. Formal academic writing has its place and is necessary, of course, to carefully present and parse through challenging ethical issues, historical processes, theoretical and methodological models, and a whole host of numeric/physical/biochemical/etc matters that I can hardly dream up.  But not everybody has the interest or the time to wade through the technical mumbo jumbo of numerous university disciplines, or even one in any great depth. But in my experience, many people enjoy knowing (and often aspire to know) something about many different things, whether they are historical, philosophical, biochemical, literary, or what have you. This is not just a leisurely pursuit for all people, though it certainly can be for an entire lifetime. For those fortunate folks who get to attend college, especially in a Liberal Arts tradition, there’s a demand placed on them to know a wide variety of things, across the disciplines, and while not with the greatest depth in the disciplines outside of one’s major, precision and synthesis are expected with whatever they learn. It’s in times like these, as well as in times throughout one’s long lifetime when interests are casually pursued hither and thither, that I find the factors of creativity and entertainment particularly sine qua non to learning and pedagogy. Without uniqueness and pleasure bona fide learning, especially in an area outside of one’s workaday life, is tough to enroot. Perhaps one of Peashoot’s (three) readers will recall that Claude Lévi-Strauss, renown Belgian-born-French anthropologist and father of Structuralism, passed away last year at the grand old age of 100 years. If you are like me, the death of Lévi-Strauss brought back waves of memories of being in graduate school, curiously racing through Tristes Tropiques, Structural Anthropology (I & II), The Raw and the Cooked, The Jealous Potter, and an assortment of essays in an effort to get a handle on the system of thought known as “Structuralism” and how it might be useful to read and analyze mythologies. Well, even though the nuances of structuralism might have never left your brain, and whether or not you’ve been pleased for years that Post-Structuralism, Deconstructionism, Xism, Yism, and Zism have moved us beyond Lévi-Strauss for all intents and purposes, the Financial Times published a tremendously creative and entertaining comic about Claude Lévi-Strauss and Structuralism last week that I want to share with you. It’s a really terrific way to learn, especially if one is not interested in wading through many publications but wants to get a clear and accurate take on the basics of this influential thinker’s ideas. This is heads and tails above anything Cliff Notes (or Spark Notes, which is what I’ve come to learn is the youngsters’ crutch these days) puts out.