Sunday, September 30, 2007

Food for thought (and discussion!)

While prepping for the museum studies graduate seminar I begin teaching tomorrow at Progressive Ketchup Factory University*, I came across this paragraph written by Duncan F. Cameron in 1971. It's from an essay on whether museums should be temples or forums, but it certainly can be discussed outside the context of the essay itself. I'm interested in your thoughts on it.

We are quite prepared to debate the virtues or evils of new birthcontrol methods, the fluoridation of water, test-tube babies, or the exploration of space, but it never occurs to us to put in jail the research scientists who created the very thing that we are prepared to argue about and which we oppose. In the arts and humanities this is not the case. The artist or scholar who criticizes our society and offends our sensitivities or our values is, in effect, regarded as an enemy of society even before we have allowed time for his work or his statements to be judged and considered.**

*You may find the name PKFU puzzling, but it actually makes sense if you know the place, and hey, it makes me laugh.

**Duncan F. Cameron, "The Museum, a Temple or the Forum." Curator: The Museum Journal 1971 and UNESCO's Journal of World History 1972. Rpt. in Gail Anderson, ed. Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Conemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004. p. 69.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bicycling with First-Year Students

One activity I've never done but that has been recommended to me many a time is to set up a folding chair inside one of my university's many bike traffic circles during the first week of class. Apparently, it's quite a spectacle. To paraphrase an old friend: Everyone loves a bike wreck.

Except me. Because, you see, I am for the most part a bicycle commuter.* And it's really, really annoying when 30,000 students descend on campus at once, most of them on bikes, with 25% of them probably not having ridden a bike since, oh, age 10. It has to be positively terrifying for new faculty who are rejoining the bike culture for the first time since childhood. I often think, "What the hell kind of admissions standards do they have here, really?)

As a public service, I'm sharing my commandments of bicycling. They appear in no particular order of rantiness.

1. Thou shalt yield to bicycles already in the bike circle.

2. Thou shalt always wear a helmet. It will makest thee look dorky, but scars and brain damage makest thee look even dorkier.

3. Thou shalt not ride two (or three!) abreast in the bike lane, and especially not during rush times between classes.

4. Thou shalt not text message while bicycling.

5. Thou shalt only use hands-free cell phone devices while bicycling.

6. Thou shalt keep thy iPod volume low enough to hear bicyclists who call out "on your left!" in order to pass safely.

7. Thou shalt call out "on your left!" while passing another bicyclist.

8. Thou shalt not ride to the far left the bike lane at really lame-o slow speeds. Similarly--because I knowest tis thee who does this--thou shalt not weave back and forth slowly across the bike lane.

9. Thou shalt not run down pedestrians.** Thou shalt in particular yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Thou art allowed, however, to scowl at pedestrians who act stupidly by, say, stepping off the curb without looking both ways or who saunter casually and diagonally while crossing the street.

10. Thou shalt not ride a noisy bike. Get thee some bike lube and WD-40.

11. Thou shalt not ride thy bike on that particular main drag through downtown for those particular few blocks. Seriously, there are way too many cars, and it's one of the few places in town without a bike lane. It's just not safe, and it pisses me off when I'm in my car.

What are your bicycling pet peeves?

* How bike-friendly is my town? I ride two miles each way to work and on each trip I'm actually on a public street for less than 2 blocks. And there's never any traffic there. That's two miles of bike lanes and university roads with almost no vehicle traffic. And oh? I'm on university property for about 1.75 of those 2 miles. It's an enormous campus.

** A friend of mine was recently hit by a bicyclist while walking across the campus quad, on the grass. Top 12.5% of high school graduates, indeed. . .

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An academic concentration in homemaking. . . a B.A. or BS?

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Over at the USA Today blogs, professor of women's studies and religion Mary Zeiss Stange reminds us that last spring, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas announced it was offering a new concentration to accompany its Bachelor of Arts degree in humanities: homemaking. The concentration is open only to women.

Stange provides us with some excellent context on the new program, both in terms of the larger academic field of consumer sciences and in Southwestern's ways of approaching women's issues (which include, apparently, firing women faculty teaching in "men's" fields like theology).

Among the points made by Stange and those she cites:

  • Finally, an academic institution is recognizing that homemaking is as challenging as other professions for which there are academic degrees.

  • At other institutions, consumer sciences departments train people in nutrition and related disciplines to work outside the home.

  • "If women's role as nurturer and housekeeper is written into the divinely ordained scheme of things, why should something so very natural need to be taught to them? Shouldn't these skills be innate?"

  • Is it logical to learn how about nutrition and textiles from faculty who typically have M.Div. degrees? As one student newspaper writer from Baylor quipped: "It isn't logical for someone with a master's of divinity to teach you how to make a bundt cake. ... I'd say the same thing if Emeril started teaching classes on systematic theology."

  • Even Jesus himself acknowledges that women have a place outside the home, and that homemaking can be all-absorbing in ways that aren't healthy.

At the blog Sexuality and Religion: What's the Connection?, minister and sexologist Debra W. Haffner comments that

Unfortunately what [a wife who pursues this concentration] won't be prepared for is EMPLOYMENT outside of the home...nor will her male partner be allowed to take classes so that he learns any of the above. The spokesperson for the seminary on the Today Show this morning said that part of the reason for the program is to reduce the number of divorces among Southern Baptists.

It is true that the Bible belt has the highest percentages of divorces; it's here in the liberal Northeast that it's the lowest. Like the teenage abstinence pledging programs created by the Southern Baptists, I'm guessing that this one isn't going to achieve its goal either. But it is going to leave a lot of women unprepared for the day that their husbands leave them, come out, or die.

Surely Godly women need to be better prepared for the 21st century.

On ParentDish, Susan Wagner kicked off an interesting discussion of homemaking, womanhood, men's responsibilities in the home, and grout bleaching with her post "Get college credit for loading the dishwasher (but only if you're a girl)." Go check out the post and the comments.

If you're curious, you can see brief descriptions of the homemaking classes by visiting the course catalog and scrolling down to "Homemaking Division."

What I find most fascinating is something to which Stange briefly alludes, specifically, that many of the skills to be taught in the homemaking concentration at Southwestern are usually taught as sciences. And that's because, taught thoroughly and critically, many of the areas covered are sciences and social sciences: hygiene, nutrition, child development, textiles. The design courses would typically fall under the auspices of art departments or divisions. So. . . why is this a concentration in the humanities?

I think I know why. In this country, degrees in the sciences typically are perceived as more challenging, prestigious, and, well, downright useful than degrees in the humanities. By placing a homemaking concentration in the humanities, the seminary marginalizes its importance. Homemaking, to them, is not a science. It's something to be learned alongside, strangely, the four courses of Greek or Latin required for Southwestern's B.A. in humanities. (It's a relief to know that a Southwestern humanities major with the homemaking concentration will be able to pick up the phone and converse with fellow alumnae in a dead language--perhaps a useful code in which to complain about their Godly husbands?)

The "home economics lite" nature of the concentration also bothers me. Compare their concentration with any other modern university's requirements--for example, compare these nutrition or textiles and clothing degrees (majors or minors) with Southwestern's course descriptions for their "nutrition," "meal preparation," and "clothing construction" courses--and you'll see the Southwestern program is a farce.

(If you're interested in the history of home economics in higher education, you'll find Maresi Nerad's book The Academic Kitchen to be an excellent read. The book chronicles UC Berkeley's attempts to corral women students and faculty interested in science within home economics. Throughout the book, Nerad suggests that there were actually two forces behind the development of a department of home economics at Berkeley: men who wanted to keep women in their place, and women who wanted to pursue a science degree at a time when that exact degree might be their ticket to better employment, as well as to women's greater presence in the university.)

Even though many of its stated institutional values conflict with my own, I'm not going to use this space to criticize Southwestern's core beliefs about women's roles in the modern world. After all, my own alma mater, also a small college, has its own (very different) history of promoting activism and service to larger causes, a tradition of which I'm quite proud. But those of us on the more progressive side of the political spectrum do have the right--and responsibility--to bring to light any institution of education's attempts to create a program that, as Haffner points out, may divide up gender responsibilities so rigidly that women graduates of the program may be unprepared for life outside of the household, or even for really running the household should something, God forbid, happen to their male partners. Why doesn't the homemaking sequence cover, for example, investment theory or family finances?

And what does the course description for "Value of a Child"--"a study of the spiritual, physical, emotional and cognitive development of a child"--really mean? Are we to believe all of these topics are really to be covered in three credit hours? Is the program aiming to prepare these women more for modern motherhood--with today's apparently rising rates of autism, infertility, divorce, mental illness, and countless other serious medical and political issues--or for being wives and servants? (And all this at a cost of more than $63,000 over four years.)

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for a good, interdisciplinary humanities degree--I have four of them, as I love me some critical analysis, diversity of perspectives, and great literature--but this degree strikes me as neither belonging in the humanities nor, for the women who take the homemaking concentration, very humane.

Actual e-mail sent this week to staff at my previous job

I've highlighted my favorite parts. Suddenly my new working environment--a very cold, ugly, windowless basement--doesn't seem so bad.

Hello All –

We will be having [the building] bombed to remove the fleas this Wednesday at 3:30. We have been informed by Facilities that we only need to close the SOUTH side of [the building, where trillwing worked]. This process will take approximately four hours, so please do not plan on returning to your work station that day. We will still be answering the phones and helping clients in the best way we can during this time. We will forward our front line to a line in [building] North.

[Jane] will be buying large garbage bags to cover computer equipment, printers, etc.

Please make sure all food and food-related items are removed from the building. These include: food in the refrigerator, silverware, snacks on shelves, in your cubbies, candy, snacks in the front lobby, food containers, plates and bowls, coffee grinders, napkins, Kleenex, sponges, and paper towels.

Please make sure the following are also covered: toasters, water coolers, phones, plants, photos, and things where fleas won’t live but you don’t want ruined by the spray/chemicals.

You will be responsible for wiping down your area the next morning.

If you have questions, please contact me.



If I still worked in that office, the rapid beep-boop-beep sounds you would hear would be me calling OSHA.

Week o' workshops

From Monday through Wednesday, I gave 12 hours of workshops on teaching and/or technology. That's nine separate presentations/events, and only two of the workshops were repeated, each once.

Funny, I thought I gave up teaching.

But no. . .next week I start teaching a graduate seminar on museum history and theory at a university down the road, as well as two sections of Seminar on College Teaching, with 20 students each and nearly 30 on the waitlist.

Plus there's other professional stuff brewing. . .

Hence the light blogging lately. Sorry 'bout that.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


If you haven't yet reached your cuteness quotient for the day, this video should put you over the top:

One proud Munny*

I just managed, for the first time ever, to get Lucas to say his own name.

His pronunciation?


We've got some work to do. . .

*"Munny" is what Lucas calls me. Mama + Bunny = Munnyjavascript:void(0)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Petition against Lawrence Summers speaking to UC Regents succeeds--with some backlash

(cross-posted at BlogHer)

Last week, on my personal blog I shared a petition asking the University of California Regents to rescind their invitation to former Harvard president Lawrence Summers to speak. An excerpt from the petition:

The Regents represent the leadership and public face of the University of California. Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the University community and to the people of California. It is our fervent hope that the Regents will rescind this invitation and seek advice elsewhere.

Some background

Summers, you may recall, gave a speech in 2005 in which he claimed that men and women differed innately in certain aptitudes, including those for math and science.

At the time of the speech, bloggers were more critical of those who criticized Summers than they were of Summers's remarks. One famous departure from this trend was Michael Bérubé's must-read post, "Women barred from Harvard presidency by 'genetic predisposition,' study finds." Bérubé noted, tongue firmly in cheek,

“Traditionally, presidents of Harvard have been men,” said Harvard geneticist Charles Kinbote, the study’s designer and principal investigator. “Now, after almost 400 years, we know why. To coin a phrase, it’s in the genes.”

According to Kinbote, the presidency of Harvard University requires a unique array of talents and dispositions which, statistically, only a small handful of women possess. “For one thing,” noted Kinbote, “it has long been one of the president’s tasks to deny tenure to promising female scholars-- personally, without stated cause, and after a department, a college, and a battery of external referees has approved her. My study shows that the X chromosome contains material that, in combination with another X chromosome, inhibits a person’s ability to do this.”

Men are also more adept than women at mentally rotating three-dimensional shapes on aptitude tests, Kinbote added. “You’d be surprised how often a university president needs to do this, and at Harvard the pressure is especially intense.” Kinbote estimated that the president of Harvard spends roughly one-quarter of the working day mentally rotating complex, hypothetical three-dimensional shapes, “and that’s not even counting all the time he needs to try to figure out why women aren’t as skilled at abstract mathematical thought.”

The X chromosome also seems to play a role in suppressing the ability to make fatuous remarks in public forums.

Beverly Marshall Saling pointed out that conservatives supported Summers' views, and added:

Now the Seattle Times tells me that conservatives themselves are also vastly underrepresented on our nation's campuses.

I eagerly await President Summers' assertion that this may be due to conservatives' lesser aptitude for advanced academic work.

Yes, the sarcasm was flying fast, but there wasn't, at least on the progressive side, much substantive discussion in the blogosphere. Perhaps progressive bloggers saw Summers's claim as so fatuous that they didn't want to dignify it with a response.

Still, shortly after the Summers speech, blogger Jen Sorenson captured many women's fears that science would indeed, as Summers claimed, prove that women were less intellectually capable than men in many arenas. But she concluded her post not with fear but with a call to action:

We know there are women who shine just as bright as men in the fields of math and science. Why can’t we work on finding ways to encourage other girls and women to pursue these disciplines (girls’ math clubs, for example, that value exploration rather than competition), rather than trying to show that women as a group might be less genetically predisposed to succeed in these areas?

Indeed, scholars of feminist science studies and historians of women in science have been trying to explain these patterns of discrimination for years. However, the work of such scholars is seen, by groups within the academy and outside it seen as marginal and too politicized. As if there is any apolitical scholarship. . .

Back to the present

Last week's petition received 150-300 signatures (depending on who's doing the reporting) from women faculty and others at the University of California, and the Regents selected a different speaker. The rescinded invitation has since generated a small backlash; you can find a representative sample of academics' comments in the discussion on the Chronicle of Higher Education's news blog's announcement of the change of speakers.

Back at my own blog, Inquisitive Observer was kind enough to leave a comment on my post. I thought his or her comments were interesting enough to bring to my readers' attention, both because they illustrate many of the arguments of those with whom I disagree on issues of women and people of color in science and because I wanted to add my own thoughts.

IQ wrote,

I’m curious, can you point me to the evidence which shows equal distributions for men and women concerning “overall IQ, mathematical ability, [and] scientific ability?”

I didn’t think so.

No, but my concern isn't Summers's comments about IQ and measured ability. There certainly are plenty of data to support the assertion that men perform at higher levels than women in certain mathematical and scientific tests.

That's not my quibble. I take bigger issues with Summers's claims as to the causes of those differences. Summers said, for example, of employers looking for leaders in their companies and fields:

They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect-and this is harder to measure-but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women.

Are married women really choosing in droves not to work? No. Married women are working all the time, in the ways our culture wants them to work: as traditional wives and mothers who do all the housework and much of the childcare. Women certainly are prepared to work long hours, but traditionally men have not been willing to shoulder a fair portion of the childcare and housework, so women, concerned for their children's health and safety, undertake this important and unpaid work. Many women, however, would indeed prefer to have those high-paying jobs in scientific and other prestigious fields. Men in science and academia who marry have far more success than women in these same fields who marry. Studies have shown again and again that there is a marriage benefit for men working in high-prestige fields and a marriage penalty for women in these same fields. Why do you think it has been made illegal in many states to ask about marital and parental status? Exactly because of this discrimination.

Summers does say we may as a society need to start making value judgements as to whether such situations are fair. But he also says the data are incontrovertible: women who attend Harvard Business School drop out of the full-time workforce in large numbers. His implication is that women are innately unable (he says perhaps unwilling, but definitely implies unable) to perform and succeed in such work.

Summers and those who agree with him look at those women and place the agency for their dropping out of the workforce on them. I say we need to take a harder look at workplace culture, whose structures serve as barriers to women's success in many high-prestige fields. Is it fair to merely measure women's "failures" instead of catalog the injustices of the workplace?

Summers also said,

It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.

That list is ridiculous. First of all, while I have benefited all my life from doing well on an IQ test (it landed me into 12 years of enriched gifted classes, which alowed me to get into a terrific college and then into grad school), I hardly think the IQ is a reliable measure of intelligence. Maybe of one kind of intelligence, but even that can be influenced by culture. I mean, by the time I was six years old (the age when I took the test), I already learned from our culture that there were serious differences between boys' and girls' interests--interests that I believe firmly are culturally formed and shaped in terms of class as well as gender. One question, for example, on the IQ test I took at age six included a man carrying a briefcase through what appeared to be some chaparral. I remember saying something about the place of the sun in the sky and the way his shadow fell, but another just as correct answer might have been that he was a businessman walking out in undeveloped semi-arid land Either of these answers might be difficult for children of the inner city to answer because (a) it's not always safe to play out on the streets, so they may not get to spend as much time investigating sun and shadow as I did, (b) their parents spend longer hours working than my schoolteacher parents did, so they didn't get such lessons about sun and shadow reinforced at home, nor did they get to take camping trips, as I did, where we'd practice telling the time of day by the shadows cast by trees and people, and (c) if they're like I was, they had no concept of "businessman" and thus wouldn't necessarily understand the odd context in which the figure was placed. Similarly, if middle-class girls traditionally are encouraged to play inside and middle-class boys outside, boys would perform better on such a question because they're outside observing the comings and goings of the sun and the suit-clad neighbors.

This is but one example. No test is completely impartial, and I think the IQ test is especially at fault. Today, infant and toddler studies are popular. These may be less prone to bias because infants don't have as much cultural conditioning, but drawing conclusions based on tests of undeveloped brains worries me, too.

Let me provide another example from my life, this time from my formal education. My high school physics class consisted of 35 to 40 students, only two of whom were white males. The rest of us were women and/or people of color. (In fact, there were only four white people in the class--two girls, two boys, and all of us from privileged backgrounds.) When we uniformly performed poorly on a test, the instructor threw the exams through the air at us, told us we'd all be sleeping on park benches one day, and locked himself in his lab room. In his mind, our failure to perform well on his exam was innate--we couldn't learn physics now, and (to his mind) we didn't have have the brainpower or proper interest in the subject. Therefore, we would never succeed. Of course it wasn't his fault that none of us scored above a C-. When my father, also a teacher, called the physics teacher to ask about his behavior, the Mr. Physics told my father that I should be glad I was in his 6th-period class instead of his 7th-period class because that class--also (I know because I had friends in it) a class comprising largely students of color--was "braindead." Nice.

This behavior was reinforced at the school's Open House, when Mr. Physics ignored me and my parents in favor of talking at length with parents of white boys who were doing well in his class.

My point is that there are structural problems that keep women and people of color from learning science. This is but one example from my not-very-science-filled life. I'm sure my many readers who are women of science would be happy to share many more examples with you from their own lives.

I had similar experiences in math class, though not as egregious. Math was to be taught one way and one way only--largely abstractly, sans context. And so I failed math in high school. But when I took a similar math class in college, taught by a female professor to a largely female class, almost every problem was contextualized, and those of us who in the past failed math found ourselves not only succeeding at math but excited about it. My experiences in high school had convinced me I was, for all intents and purposes, innumerate. But I learned otherwise in college science and math courses that focused on concrete rather than abstract cases. My point is that the way that science and math are taught in our schools is not advantageous for a large percentage of learners, many of whom are otherwise high-achieving young women who decide to study, say, literature (as I did), even though jobs in those fields are not as prestigious or remunerative.

Back to IQ's comment:

The point Mr. Summers was making dealt with distribution and standard deviation. On these points, which seem to be the basis for your objection, the data support his conclusions. As I hope you’re well aware, average IQ tends to be about the same between men and women, but men’s scores tend to be more dispersed, with a larger proportion being at both the higher and lower ends of the distribution (the tails), i.e. there is, in fact, “relatively clear evidence” that men and women differ for attributes such as “overall IQ, mathematical ability, [and] scientific ability.”

If you read the entire speech he gave, and if you have any understanding of mathematics, statistics, and science, then it’s difficult to make a strong case that what he said is worthy of such harsh criticism.

But even as Summers acknowledges the possibility that culture influences people's relative success in prestigious disciplines, there's no real accounting for culture in Summers's arguments. For example, if women are increasingly LESS represented in computer science (a trend the NSF has noted over the past decade), then does that mean women are biologically becoming less capable of doing computer science? I think not. There's something in the culture of computer science that makes it unattractive.

My dissertation concerned women scientists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These women worked at a time when people--mostly men--were pointing out that women were intellectually and physically unsuited for such task--and these "scientists" used women's lack of participation in the sciences as evidence of their lack of fitness.

I see Summers falling into the same tradition of dismissing the lack of participation by women and people of color in [insert name of field here] as biologically based, when in fact time has shown again and again that if given the resources and opportunities to learn and succeed, women and people of color do learn and do become successful.

BTW, if you want to see a very clear well-researched, historical, institutional example of how women have been marginalized within the sciences, read Maresi Nerad's excellent book The Academic Kitchen about the entrance of women students and faculty into Berkeley.

IQ again:

I’m not saying he is correct in all his arguments, but the statements he makes are nuanced and well thought out, and he was open to quality debate on the matter.

But he wasn't engaging in debate. He was giving a speech. It's a different context--and Summers is apparently blind to contexts, or he wouldn't have attempted to make such remarks at a conference about diversity in science and engineering.

We can summarize Summers's argument with this quote from his address:

[T]here are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.

In my experience--both as as a historian of women and science in the U.S., and a woman interested in science who was discouraged repeatedly from pursuing science--Summers has this formula completely backward.

Recent debates in the blogosphere: Are we talking about what matters most to women?

There's been lively discussion beyond the Chronicle blog. My searches, however, have turned up relatively little commentary by women bloggers--it's mostly men who are leveling charges against UC Davis (full disclosure: my employer and the university where I earned my Ph.D.) of being concerned with, in the expressions of many male bloggers, race and gender and nothing else. Of course, that's ridiculous--as someone who works at UC Davis, I can assure you that the concern for race and gender is quite low if you consider the amount of money spent at the university on women's programs versus programs in the sciences.

Still, there are apparently women who are willing to write about the controversy. Cassandra is disappointed with the petition:

UC Davis has chosen to send a strong message about its priorities; indeed, it has chosen to send a strong message about what the University of California at Davis is "about": preventing a preferred set of cultural principles from being challenged by the 'wrong sort' of academic inquiry.

I can definitely see where arguments like Cassandra's come from, and I do wince at the implication that academic debate has been quenched because that's the last thing I want to see. If anything, the Regents' change of speaker has prompted some lively academic debate.

In addition, none of the editorials I saw railing against Summers' ouster from the podium at Regents' dinner mentioned the larger issues plaguing women faculty at the University of California. The patterns have been so bad that the state Senate has for several years held hearings on the university's hiring patterns. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend one of these hearings. A report from summarizes the committee's findings:

The audit demonstrated that the University of California had utterly failed to hire women into tenured and tenure-track positions in proportion to their availability in the relevant labor pools.

My point is this: We need less to be talking about whether or not Lawrence Summers experienced censorship by a liberal faction of women academics and more about why there are so few tenure-track women academics at the University of California.

Even more importantly, we need to ask why it matters that there are fewer women in the academic sciences. (As usual, feminist scientist and blogger Zuska has a good explanation.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Holy f---. . . I need your advice (AGAIN)

I just wandered out into the garage to do a load of laundry. Turning on the garage light, I startled a very cute and healthy-looking but still very large rat in the rafters. He ran into a hole in the wall near the ceiling.

I've been hearing squeaking and scratching in the eaves/attic crawl space. I was really hoping for bats.

But no. The garage is a collection of messy piles of boxes--largely of paper and clothes. Do you see where I'm going with this? Maybe there's a family of rats. Which means I'll need to clean out my garage to find any nests.

This also means the landlord will place traps.

Which means dead rotting rats.

Which means I'll have to clean them up.

Or there will be poison.

With a toddler and a dog around. Oy.

Anyone ever used live traps on rats? We have lots and lots of fallow fields around here where I could release them far from town. Advice, please!!!!!

If you believe you're never mistaken, kindly take your meds

. . .so that you don't ruin the afternoon for the rest of us.

In brief:

Came out of the post office this afternoon and climbed into my car. As I'm turning on the car, angry white man pounds on my roof with a thick marker.

AWM: "You wanna get out and take a look at what you did to my car?"

Me, thinking: WTF?!?

Me, speaking and rolling down window a couple inches: Oh, I'm sorry. Did my door hit your car? I don't think it did.

AWM, angrily: I felt it from inside my car!

(I look through my window at his gray Honda. I don't see any marks or dings, and he's not pointing to any. Throwing caution to the wind, I open my door. I open it more. I open it all the way. There's a good three inches between the edge of my car door and his car.)

Me: Look, it doesn't even touch your car, even when fully open.

Him: I felt it from inside my car!

(I close my door and roll up the window, then lock the door. Thinking: Whatever.)

Him, still screaming: I felt it from inside my car!

(I drive out of the PO lot and down the street, checking repeatedly in my rearview window to see if he's following me. I was headed to pick up Lucas from daycare and HELL NO I'm not going to have any crazy white man following me. To be safe, I pull into the lot of the police station a couple blocks away and wait for a few minutes. When there's no sign of AWM, I continue on my way.)

I stay paranoid all afternoon and evening. Angry White Men are my least favorite brand of crazy.

Friday, September 14, 2007

UC Regents invite Lawrence Summers to speak. WTF?!?

Just received this petition, and thought I'd share it. If you're with the UC, I encourage you to sign it:


It has come to our attention that Dr. Lawrence Summers has been invited to address the upcoming meeting of the University of California’s Board of Regents on September 19, 2007, at the Sheraton Grand Hotel inSacramento. We the undersigned faculty of University of California believe this invitation is not only misguided but inappropriate at a time when the University is searching for a new president and continues to build and diversify its community.

Dr. Summers, who resigned as president of Harvard in 2006, gained notoriety from his poor relationships with both women and underrepresented minority faculty at Harvard University. In 2002, Summers created controversy by attacking the scholarship and teaching of noted African American Studies Professor Cornel West, a conflict that contributed to Dr. West’s decision to leave the Harvard faculty. In January 2005, in a much-publicized speech to the National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER) Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce, Dr. Summers ascribed the under-representation of women in science, math and engineering to, among other things, the “relatively clear evidence” that men and women differ for attributes such as “overall IQ, mathematical ability, [and] scientific ability.” Perhaps most importantly, theBoston Globe (January 17, 2005) noted that Dr. Summers’ actions as Harvard University president had matched his controversial words. From the time of his appointment in 2001 until his NBER speech, the number of women offered tenure in the arts and science faculty at Harvard had declined dramatically, reaching a nadir in 2004, just prior to Summers' speech, when only four of 32 tenure offers were made to women.

The Regents represent the leadership and public face of the University of California. Inviting a keynote speaker who has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia conveys the wrong message to the University community and to the people of California. It is our fervent hope that the Regents will rescind this invitation and seek advice elsewhere.

We urge those who share the University of California's long history of commitment to enhancing diversity and fighting prejudice to make their views known to the Regents and to the citizens of California.

Please join us by signing the petition.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Difficult teaching: addressing race, class, gender, and sexuality

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

When I'm not busy blogging, I consult with higher ed faculty on how to improve their teaching. During a recent consultation, a faculty member who teaches what is largely acknowledged by students as the driest required class in her discipline asked me how she might "spice up" her 2-hour classes. She had been receiving what were, for her, low ratings in the end-of-course evaluations. We talked about her lecturing practices, about her visual aids, and about how she incorporated student contributions into her class meetings.

My observation was that she wasn't involving students enough in her classes. She wasn't allowing their voices to emerge sufficiently, nor encouraging them to interact with their peers. As I listened to her talk about her course, I realized she had largely forgotten to include actual people in her lectures--both the people listening to her lecture as well as the people behind the subject about which she was teaching. I encouraged her to anchor the course material more concretely in her students' lives.

There is, of course, in making the work of people more visible within one's discipline. It opens up questions about culture, and culture is messy. Plus some disciplines in higher education--as well as subjects in K-12 classes--just don't have time for culture.

But it's a huge mistake to leave culture out of class discussions.

That doesn't mean it's easy to talk about culture and cultural differences. It can be especially hard for students to step back and take a hard look at their own cultural assumptions, their own ignorance of others' traditions.

Take Dr. Crazy's class as one example. She recently blogged about one student's comment that a man kissing another man is "gross." Dr. Crazy explains in the post how she handled the situation:

I responded with a bunch of questions for the class as a whole to think about for next time - questions about the construction of masculinity in relation to notions about who gets to function in culture as an object of desire, questions about whether students would be similarly bothered by the sight of two women kissing - and if not, why not - questions about why homosexuality or homoerotic representation might pose a threat to heteronormative, patriarchal culture.

I don't know whether what I did was enough.

Dr. Crazy also asked for reader feedback. Go share your thoughts!

One of my big regrets as a teacher is a similar missed "teachable moment." I was working as an outreach educator for a science center; I brought science kits to K-6 classrooms and led students through some terrific hands-on lessons. On one particular day just before President's Day weekend, as I set up the different activity stations, a 2nd-grade teacher was reading to her students about George Washington. The picture book she was reading alluded to Washington's slave ownership.

The teacher paused for a moment and said, "Yes, George Washington owned slaves. Most people were really mean to their slaves, but George Washington was nice to his slaves."

My jaw dropped and my blood pressure rose. WTF?!?

At the time, I felt it wasn't my place to say anything. After all, how does one talk to 2nd-graders about the racist, inhumane practices of one of the country's founders? That's not my area of expertise. But today I wish I remembered that teacher's name so that I could send her a note explaining that slavery is, by its very nature, not "nice," and offering her some alternative ways of presenting that information that make clear Washington's culpability while still allowing the students to admire him for other accomplishments.

HappyChyck asked her students to write down any questions they may have about her English classes. While many of them were mundane questions about the workings of the course or the teacher's personality, a few stood out to me as really important questions, so go check out the list. Chief among these are "Is this class spontaneous?" and "What is the hardest thing you will teach?" and "How can you like teaching?"

To me, these three questions are related. IMHO, class should be spontaneous--yes, you usually need some kind of lesson plan, or at least a vague outline in your head of your objectives and what you'll cover in an hour of class--but you also need to leave room for discussions, in Dr. Crazy's example, of the gross things students say. Being spontaneous, of course, is hard--as is (for most teachers) talking about race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and all manner of differences. But these are specifically the things that can invigorate student learning because these are the kinds of things many of today's students are passionate about--they're the concerns they live with every day. They're the reasons, in short, that I like teaching, and I know of countless instructors who have talked to me about how exhilarating they find these difficult discussions, even as they worry, as did Dr. Crazy, that they've somehow said a wrong thing or two.

Or take, for example, a current (and perennial) issue in educational news: the way students dress. In France in recent years, Muslim students' headscarves came under fire. Today in the U.S., it's the way some (largely) urban African-American male students dress. How do we address such controversies in the classroom? How do we historicize them and make them teachable moments without making students who dress in such ways feel either directly criticized or unquestioningly accepted? (After all, isn't that the goal of most teaching, at least in the humanities? To make students comfortable with expressing their opinions and cultural assumptions while still asking them to question their own assumptions?)

I found Tom Kim's post in which he shared the wisdom of teaching guru Parker Palmer particularly useful in thinking about difficult teaching:

Good teaching is an act of generosity, a whim of the wanton muse, a craft that may grow with practice, and always risky business. It is, to speak plainly, a maddening mystery. [...]

Good teaching cannot be equated with technique. It comes from the integrity of the teacher, from his or her relation to subject and students, from the capricious chemistry of it all. [...]

Too many educators respond to the mystery either by privatizing teaching or promoting a technical “fix.” [...] Mystery is a primal and powerful human experience that can neither be ignored nor reduced to formula. To learn from mystery, we must enter with all our faculties alert, ready to laugh as well as groan, able to “live the question” rather than demand a final answer. When we enter into mystery this way, we will find the mystery entering us, and our lives are challenged and changed.

Good teachers dwell in the mystery of good teaching until it dwells in them. As they explore it alone and with others, the insight and energy of mystery begins to inform and animate their work. They discover and develop methods of teaching that emerge from their own integrity — but they never reduce their teaching to technique.

Powerful words, and right on when we're talking about teaching about culture. There are so many good ways--and so many terrible ways as well--in which to address difference.

How do you deal with the complexities that culture brings to the classroom? And how do you embrace the difficulty of teaching without letting it defeat you?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A geologist tells her story

Not the most exciting video ever, but I love the look on Dawn Sumner's face during the last minute of this video, when she talks about the warm atmosphere and diverse faculty of my her institution's geology department.

Anyone else want to tell their story? Let's start a movement!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

News and notes: 2 years old, fire, The Twitch

Today Lucas turned 2. I wish I could wax nostalgic about his crazy growth and development or write something really profound, but I'm too tired from last night's epic cupcake baking and tonight's little birthday party with a few of our friends. Perhaps in the coming days I'll feel more inspired. I've spent much of the day thrilled to be a parent, and I think Mr. Trillwing feels much the same way.

All day we had filtered sunlight. Filtered through what, you ask? Smoke. Check out these amazing (and frightening) photos and maps of the Moonlight Fire. Seriously, scary stuff. The sunlight was orangey all day. I don't even want to think about the air quality. (And yet I just checked, and the local air quality management district declares the air quality to be "Good." WTF?! The air is orange.)

I'm twitchy. That is, my legs twitch--a lot--in my sleep, apparently all through the night. Poor Mr. Trillwing is sleep-deprived as a result, which can make him very, very cranky. I dropped a note to Dr. Wonderful, and she said it may actually be--I kid you not--restless legs syndrome, that "disease" everyone makes fun of as totally fabricated by the pharmaceutical companies. That's what I get for deriding it. Remind me to be far less arrogant about cancer and heart disease, OK?

Dr. Wonderful also mentioned that the twitching is probably just a mild (and benign!) form of myoclonus. Yeah, that's one word you don't want to enter into Dr. Google, and especially not into Dr. Wikipedia. Of course, as I'm typing this, I'm feeling twitching muscles in my arms, shoulders, and legs. Fuuuuuuuccccckk.

OK, enough paranoid hypochondriac keyword searches for one evening. I'll get a good night's sleep (starting right now) and call tomorrow to set up an appointment with Dr. Wonderful. (Seriously, I'm not that worried, as I have a history of having scary symptoms that end up being benign. It's meant a whole lot of fun tests, my favorite being the one where a neurology technician attached nodes to my scalp with Elmer's glue. The other option was inserting needles into the scalp. Who the hell would choose needles over glue?)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Dissonance and idiocy

Just wanted to share a few screenshots from my meanderings around teh intertubes.

First, take a good look at the title of this web page (at upper left) and then browse the ads at right:

Worried about your TAs' stress level? Get a defibrillator!

Second, some advertising-inflicted cultural dissonance from a site selling Muslim toys.

Finally, a bit of advice to phishers: If you're going to try to scam me out of my PayPal login and password, don't redirect me to a site with "pirates" in the URL.

Almost 2

Lucas and I went down to the LBC to visit my family this weekend. They threw him a little pre-birthday party:

He turns 2 on Wednesday. I'll be attempting cupcakes for the first time. Wish me luck, and leave cupcake-makin' tips or ideas in the comments!

Mon fils

Lucas is acquiring words willy-nilly these days, but I'm a bit confused because, well, half of them sound French.

Some examples from today, presented phonetically (P), transcribed into (my sad little high school/college) French (F), and then, in English, what I think he means (E):

P: Seh ball?
F: C'est balle?
E: Is that a ball?

Munny (c'est moi!) asks, "Would you like to watch Sesame Street?"
Lucas responds:
P: Whee.
F: Oui.
E: Yes.

P: Seh forkh-ah!
F: C'est forchette!
E: Fork!

P: Boom?
F: Boom?
E: Boom? (meaning: Shall we glide down the wooden stairs on our butts?)

Et vous? Boomez-vous récemment?

Moi? Mais oui!