The penultimate week of classes at Truman State passed with a significant amount of chaos stemming from the system outage that I wrote about last week. IT actually restored services pretty quickly, all things considered, but the outage came at a particularly bad point in the semester calendar and thus landed like a bomb among already deeply stressed students and ambiguous messaging from administration about expectations for extensions and reduced workload made things significantly worse.
I scaled back expectations for a couple of my classes to account for the lack of access to resources and functionally waived late penalties between now and the end of the semester. I understand that not everyone has these options, but I have been leaning into flexibility and optionality in my courses by default over the past few years, which helped make these changes without compromising any of my learning outcomes. Moreover, while I have been second-guessing my specifications grading system in that it requires a significant amount of work for me to help students meet the higher standards in their writing, it has come in handy here because some number of students have already completed their major assignments for the course.
Perhaps most surreal for me is that at a time when so many people seemed to be panicking, I felt the most relaxed. When students asked how they should submit work, I told them to wait until Blackboard was back. Several times I joked I might just pretend that my email is still out even once it comes back. My consistent message to my students echoed what I said when COVID hit: we’re all in this together and I’ll do everything in my power to help you succeed in my course.
The week reminded me of a story my mother told me about an experience as a student teacher. The primary teacher was struggling to manage a particularly rambunctious class that pulled out the straws they were using to shoot spitwads when they were introduced to my mother. The teacher was furious. My mom laughed, and went on to have a great relationship with the class. Expectations and standards are not bad and there is plenty of reason to stress, but sometimes the most important thing you can do is to laugh at the absurdity.
This week’s varia:
- A statuette of the Buddha carved from Anatolian stone been found at a Sanctuary of Isis in Berenike, Egypt. We have other textual evidence for these trade connections, but seeing its material culture is always exciting.
- Neville Morley writes about his research trajectory through the lens of the Oxford vs Cambridge rivalry at a time when every university had a unique tradition for how to do ancient history, and how a globalized academic world has flattened and erased a lot of these differences.
- At his blog, Bret Devereaux has a good primer on academic ranks and some of the sleights of hand that universities use to obscure who does what work. In my experience there is even more fuzziness to these terms and I know of a few more people who moved from teaching stream to tenure stream than Bret does, but the broad strokes of what he writes in terms of categories and consequences is spot on.
- Texas is pushing the ten commandments into school classrooms as early as next fall. This is the latest effort to push a watered-down version of generic Christianity into the world that should worry not just non-Christians, but also the devout because such symbols can be weaponized against people of different denominations just as easily as they can be used to proselytize to the non-believers. As Kevin Kruse, the author of One Nation Under God pointed out on Twitter, similar attempts in the 1950s received the most pushback from Christians who had no interest in the state getting decide for their children what type of Christian they should be. One of the groups in Texas already raising concerns is the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission.
- Graduate student workers at the University of Minnesota voted to unionize, with more than 2500 out of 4,165 workers voting and only 72 rejecting the measure. Graduate employee unions can be fraught given the revolving door of members and frequent uncertainty about who is eligible—when I was at Mizzou I couldn’t participate in the drive because it happened the year when I was on fellowship and thus paid through financial aid and didn’t receive a w2, which was part of the argument to administration, even though I was just as negatively affected by the administration’s decision to cancel our expected health insurance with less than 24-hour’s notice—but this is a field that desperately needs overhaul around both working conditions and pay. Meanwhile, Michigan GEO Union is striking for better conditions and being met with a university negotiating in bad faith.
- In the Washington Post, David Perry reviews Short Changed: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students. Consider this added to my to-read list.
- Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman whose accusations led to the brutal lynching of Emmett Till in 1955, has died. The last time I taught US History she had just returned to the news with a Grand Jury investigation and the discovery of an unserved arrest warrant. Moments like are a powerful reminder that 1955 isn’t all that long ago, historically speaking.
- Today in “there are too many guns,” a man in Texas executed five people in a neighbor’s house after they asked him to stop shooting his AR-15 in the middle of the night because their baby was trying to sleep.
- The Washington Post has a story about a county board of commissioners in Michigan that saw its new Board of Commissioners dismantle its structures from the inside, including targeting the county’s vision statement “you belong,” which they claim “has been used to promote the divisive Marxist ideology of the race, equity movement.” Centered in their crosshairs is the new health officer Adeline Hambley who they needed to manufacture a reason to fire.
- Florida’s Surgeon General, Joseph Ladapo, altered the findings on a COVID-19 study to show that the vaccines posed a health risk to young men.
- The current Roberts Supreme Court is in a race to strip legal protections from millions of Americans. The other horse in this race are the revelations about how deeply it is compromised, from the Clarence Thomas reports to Gorsuch’s sale of a ranch, to Roberts’ wife receiving a handsome salary to serve as a recruiter for law firms with business before the court, to Alito’s rants, to a story this week about omissions in the Senate report that cleared Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. But Roberts is refusing either to testify before Congress or to adopt a formal code of conduct. To his credit, every justice is doing their part to avoid more formal oversight—which is as good a reason as any to need it in my book. But, sure, it’s politically-motivated attacks that are discrediting the Court.
- Montana follows in the path of Tennessee and voted to expel their only transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr for breaching decorum (read: representing positions they disagree with). In Nebraska, a democratic lawmaker is being investigated on an ethics complaint regarding an act that would prohibit puberty blockers because she has a trans son. Great. Now do wealthy lawmakers and tax cuts, Republican lawmakers and gun control, and evangelical lawmakers and putting prayer in schools.
- The FBI has arrested thirty people who applied for work at Rentahitman.com, including a member of Tennessee Air National Guard. The story turns more than a little disturbing at the price ($5,000 dollars) he accepted the job for and the lengths he seemed willing to go. But I also can’t help but see this as a worrying sign about economic instability.
- There are allegations against the West Virginia State Police Academy, including video tapes in the women’s locker room and a hostile, sexist environment that also led to improper relationships and assaults.
- In San Francisco, a former fire commissioner was beaten with a metal rod by a homeless person, leading to charges against the person. And then video footage started to come out that seems to show the man using bear spray on homeless people while they sleep.
- This week in the ongoing tragi-comedy that is monarchy, The Proclaimers have been removed from King Charles III’s coronation playlist because the Scottish brothers have expressed Republican political views.
Album of the week: Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World (1989)
Currently Reading: Robert Graves, I, Claudius