Archive for the ‘Education and Language’ Category

Facilitating Academic Dishonesty   Leave a comment

ChatGTP and Other Ills of Education

ChatGTP is a major topic in the news.  This AI writes documents, including essays and articles.  I, as a former classroom instructor who assigned written assignments, am alarmed.  My alarm increases as I read that the creators of ChatGTP are only now developing a watermark for such documents, and that a third party wrote the code for the ChatGTP detector.  Why did the creators of ChatGTP not think about the potential of academic dishonesty sooner?

I understand why some colleges, universities, and school systems have banned ChatGTP on their computers while I realize that this measure is of limited effect.  They cannot ban ChatGTP from students’ computers.

Regardless of what some people–including certain students–have said and thought about me, I am not naïve.  I understand that many students lack compunction regarding academic dishonesty.  I recall, for example, one student who asked if I would share the test bank with the class before the test.  (I said no, of course.)  I remember one college student telling me that he did not think that plagiarism exists.  (It does, of course.)  I understand that students who cheat on assignments cheat themselves, too.  But they want the easy way out.

One factor that makes ChatGTP appealing to many students is that they do not know how to write well.  For example, students may graduate from high school without mastered composition, grammar, and usage.  So, when they matriculate at a college or university and receive writing assignments, they are ill-prepared or unprepared.  Composing and revising even a five-page-long essay or report may seem like writing an epic novel to such pupils.  I know whereof I write; I have experience teaching such students.  I recall their comments about having to “write a lot.”  By “a lot,” they meant twenty-eight to thirty-six pages, spread across four assignments, during a semester.  I also remember the professionally worded paragraph this attitude inspired me to include in my syllabi.  I thought of this as the “cut-the-crap clause” on good days.  And the quality of the students’ writing, with few exceptions, deteriorated alarmingly over the course of more than a decade.  Along the way, I issued duly harsh penalties for plagiarism–earning a zero on the assignment and a failing grade in the course.

Finally, I gave up on writing assignments and gave Scantron tests instead.  Even then, most students I taught were ill-prepared.  I taught at the University of North Georgia, not the Middle School of North Georgia or the High School of North Georgia.  I refused to dumb down the courses and to share my test banks with pupils before tests.

Without denying that ChatGTP has legitimate and honest applications, I decry the potential for facilitating academic dishonesty.  Conducting one’s research, drafting a text, and revising that text require one to think critically about the material and to hone one’s writing skills.  Thinking skills and writing skills are low priorities in schools which focus on standardized testing.  Thinking skills and writing skills are crucial in a free society, too.  ChatGTP does more harm than good.




Two Spaces   Leave a comment


Back in the Jurassic Age (the early 1990s), when I took a typing course (using typewriters) at my high school, I learned to skip two spaces after a period.  The muscle memory of this in my fingers has remained.  Until I changed a setting in my copy of Microsoft Word, every instance of two spaces between sentences showed as an error.

When did the second space become incorrect?

Standards for when to hyphenate compound adjectives have also changed within my memory.

Nevertheless, I remain adamant, for example, that “_____ American” is a noun and that “_____-American” is an adjective, regardless of what the Seventeenth Edition of The Chicago Manual of Style claims.

I own a copy of each edition of the Turabian style manual, starting with the Third Edition and going through the Ninth Edition.  Ghosts of previous editions haunt my mind, as in the case of the citation idem (“the same”), omitted a few editions ago.  I still use idem, though.

I also recall when twelve-pitch font (Times New Roman, usually), was normative.  Yet now a blank Microsoft Word document’s default setting is eleven-pitch Calibri font.  I use various fonts, with twelve-pitch as the standard for the body of the text.

Call me a rebel if you like, O reader.  I will accept the label as a compliment.




Posted September 30, 2022 by neatnik2009 in Language

Told “Untold” Stories   Leave a comment

I am an unapologetic pedant.   I value accuracy in language.

Today’s pedantic rant concerns told “untold” stories.  Sometimes I see titles of clickbait on the Internet.  The title may mention the “untold truth” or the “untold story” of something or someone.  On other occasions, I read titles of books and notice the subtitle, which begins The Untold Story of.

By definition, these are not untold stories if someone is telling them or has told them.




Posted August 29, 2022 by neatnik2009 in Language

The Moral Dimension of Vaccine Mandates   3 comments

When I was a wee lad, my parents had to prove my status regarding certain vaccines before they could enroll me in public schools.

When I was applying to colleges and universities for my undergraduate and graduate degree programs, I had to do the same before I could enroll.  If I needed a booster, I got one.  If I had not received a given vaccine, I got one.

When I was a freshman at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, I told the germane officials that I tested a false positive for tuberculosis.  I told the truth.  Said officials, not convinced, sent me to the Tift County Health Department for a chest x-ray.  They the college sent me to my county health department once a month for a few months.  A nurse drew a sample of my blood and gave me a bottle of pills.  I finally proved that I was not going to give anyone tuberculosis.

These were well-reasoned and proper policies.

I, as a Christian who takes the Bible seriously, cannot escape mutuality, a principle encoded into the Law of Moses, the messages of the Hebrew prophets, and the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  We are all, in the eyes of God, dependent upon, responsible for, and responsible to each other.  We belong to God and each other.  Whatever one does or does not do, affects others.

Without romanticizing the United States homefront during World War II, I note that sharing sacrifices and hardships was the consensus position.  That is not the consensus during this COVID-19 pandemic, sadly.  When I read stories about delusional and/or selfish people who refuse to get vaccinated, I read stories about public menaces.  When I read stories about unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in hospitals harassing doctors and nurses, I shake my head.  When I read stories about the families of such patients threatening the lives of medical professionals, I wonder what the hell is wrong with these people.  When I read stories of people with conditions other than COVID-19 who have died because they had to wait for room in overwhelmed hospitals, I wonder what will convince some people to get vaccinated.  The stubbornly unvaccinated and those who enable them have blood on their hands.

So, yes, I support vaccine mandates in the public and private sectors.  Yes, I favor making the unvaccinated pay higher insurance premiums.

The current economic problems are tied to the ongoing pandemic.  Do not blame any politicians, except those who enable the stubbornly unvaccinated.  Mainly, blame the stubbornly unvaccinated.

Strictly enforced vaccine mandates are morally defensible.  They are consistent with mutuality.  Nobody has the moral right to be a modern-day counterpart of Typhoid Mary.




Settling Into My New Life in Americus, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  My Writing Desk, Americus, Georgia

I have blacked out October 12-14, the three grimmest anniversaries I observe.

Photographer in this post = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


I moved from Athens, Georgia, to Americus, Georgia, last Monday, October 11.  I have spent the last few days unpacking, setting up, and settling in.  I have completed many tasks.  I have learned that I must wait on some tasks longer than I would like because these tasks must follow other tasks, which require me to wait on others to do something.

Other people are frequently the greatest obstacles to my efficiency and productivity.  They are not necessarily malicious.  They are usually merely slow.

Above:  My Office, Americus, Georgia, October 15, 2021

I have, however, set up tangibly and physically.  I have emptied all boxes and put away their contents.  I have hung my clothes in my new closet.  And my office, containing most of my books, takes up the dining room and parlor in my mother’s house.  The space, occupied, is not crowded and cluttered.

Above:  The Bookcase for Translations of and Commentaries on the Old and New Testaments

Bonny is always with me, hence the prominence of her photograph and the photograph of her grave marker.

I have also started the process of transferring my membership to Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus.  I have left Saint Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, to which I belonged for slightly over sixteen years.  Parting gifts–books–have begun to arrive.  Half of the expected Biblical commentaries have arrived.

Above:  Woodrow Wilson’s A History of the American People (1902), on My Writing Desk

The set = a gift from Saint Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

I have known since immediately after Bonny’s death (October 14, 2019) that I probably needed to leave Athens.  This truth set in with greater potency the longer I remained in Athens.  Finally, with the space prepared in Americus, I scheduled my move.

Above:  The Bookcase for Translations and Commentaries on the Bible, Plus French and English Books

My Roman Catholic tendencies and past associating with Roman Catholics are evident.  Notice the Roman translations of the Bible, for example.  Also notice the “Bible Einstein Award,” which the Newman Center at Valdosta State University gave me in 1995.  (The Roman Catholics asked questions, and I knew the answers.)

Leaving Athens and Saint Gregory the Great Church was difficult and emotionally challenging.  Yet I knew that going was the correct course of action.  The time had come.

Above:  A Bookcase Containing an Ecclectic Selection of Volumes

I grew up moving frequently.  For a time, I moved every two years, on average.  I learned that home is where I live.  I never grew up in Americus, but it has become my home.

Above:  My Computer and Writing Desks

I anticipate the positive developments that will ensue.




The Irresponsibility of the Georgia Board of Regents   Leave a comment

The Georgia Board of Regents, which controls the University System of Georgia, mandates neither masks nor COVID-19 vaccinations during this pandemic.

This is irresponsible.  I read news stories about K-12 teachers and students in the state dying of COVID-19.  I also live within walking distance of the main campus of The University of Georgia.  I drive through campus and see crowds of students walking.  I see relatively few of them wearing masks.

By the way, I work, albeit remotely, for The University of Georgia, so I may be biting the hand that feeds me by writing and publishing this post.  So be it.  “I gotta be me,” as the saying goes.  I insist on taking a stand.

The Fall Semester began last week.  Already, to my knowledge, four faculty members at three institutions of the University System of Georgia have resigned abruptly.  They have (a) had the financial ability to quit their jobs, and (b) have valued their health.  Perhaps the most famous case was that of an 88-year-old part-time psychology.  He had come out of retirement to share his talents with the university community.  Dr. Bernstein had a justifiable rule:  No masks, no class.  One young woman refused to wear a mask properly.  When Dr. Bernstein realized she would not wear the mask properly in class, he abruptly resumed his retirement.  He cut that class session short and left.  He was correct.  The combination of age and an underlying health condition made Dr. Bernstein more susceptible than some to COVID-19.

Mark my words:  If the Board of Regents does not alter its policy soon, it will have to contend with more professors choosing their lives over their courses.  I pity those faculty members for whom the choice is between financial ruin and potentially contracting COVID-19.

I also wish Dr. Bernstein a longer and healthy life.

Furthermore, I remember when I was applying for admission to institutions of the University System of Georgia.  I recall having to document that I had received certain vaccinations.  I also remember having to get certain vaccinations.

That made sense.

The University System of Georgia should add COVID-19 to the list of diseases against which to be vaccinated.  It should also mandate wearing masks in classrooms.  It should do so immediately.




Exiting Quagmires   2 comments


I hold myself to high standards.  For example, I strive to avoid engaging in rhetorical sniping.  I also seek to avoid falling into a double standard.  When, for example, someone with whom I usually agree fouls up, I admit it.  If someone with whom I rarely agree fouls up, I admit that, too.  I do not feel obligated to commit every thought I have to a weblog, but I am intellectually honest.  I try to be fair.

I also strive to honor the slogan of the great Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Reason before passion.

Anyone who knows much about the late Canadian Prime Minister understands that he had plenty of reason in politics and passion in his private life.  That is another topic, though.

I pray for more reason and less passion in politics.  The world would be better off if people were more rational.

Speaking of reason:

I do not believe for a New York minute that, if Donald Trump had presided over the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the result would have been much different.  The timing would have been slightly earlier, but the terrible news unfolding would have been about the same.  I would not have excoriated him for it either.

I try to be consistent in my approach.

As I have written at this weblog, I reject all political cults of personality and no mere mortal is beyond reproach.  Sniping and emoting aside, President Biden deserves criticism for the mechanics of the U.S. withdrawal.  Yet he also deserves much credit for telling the blunt truth:  the United States military does not exist to engage in nation-building.

I have a long-standing opinion regarding attempts to “fix” foreign nations:  it is a foolish endeavor.  I came to this opinion in the middle 1990s, when I was an undergraduate at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia.  President Clinton had recently reinstalled the exiled Haitian President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  I became interested in the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934), its causes, and its aftermath.  So, I researched and wrote a paper for a course.  I noted that Haiti was stable while the U.S. military occupied the country, and that Haiti fell apart after the U.S. withdrawal.

Regardless of the country and the timeframe, a simple principle holds:  The people of a country are ultimately responsible for that country.  Foreigners can help that country, but they can never fix it.

I draw an applicable lesson from another failed bipartisan U.S. experiment, South Vietnam:  A corrupt government that does not command popular loyalty may have a large, well-armed army, but that army is no match for a force that commands popular loyalty.  Of the two choices, the corrupt government may be less odious to Westerners.  That corrupt government may be less odious, objectively.  But that corrupt government will ultimately fall to its terrible opponents.

I, being trained in historical methodology, ponder current events in Afghanistan through the lens of centuries of events.  Afghanistan has earned its nickname, the “graveyard of empires.”  The historical short term of U.S. foreign policy toward Afghanistan reaches back more than forty years.  I realize that this is not how most Americans think about the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.  I recall Gore Vidal‘s wonderful term,

United States of Amnesia.

Somebody needs to have a historical memory, though.

President Biden finally pulled the bandage off, so to speak.  Somebody had to do it.  One of his three immediate predecessors should have done it.  One may legitimately–without sniping or engaging in partisan hackery–criticize how he did it.  But somebody had to pull the bandage off.  Somebody had to exit the quagmire.  This was a thankless and unpleasant task.

Sometimes the choices are all thankless and unpleasant.




Confessions of a Detail-Oriented Geek and Pedant   3 comments

I am a geek and a pedant.

I have been a geek since early childhood.  I have also been detail-oriented and pedantic for as long as I can remember.  I have become more pedantic as I have aged.  I have, for example, developed the nearly-irresistible urge to hurl a copy of any edition of The Elements of Style (Strunk and White) at anyone who says,

The fact that….

And don’t get me started on ‘impact” (as a verb), “impacted,” and “impacting,” in the absence of physical contact.  The only people who have impacted me have punched me.  That was a long time ago, fortunately.  Many people have affected and influenced me, though.

Beginning a thought with, “so,” also annoys me.  Properly, “so” continues a thought.

One of my grandmothers taught English for nearly four decades.  She has continued to influence me beyond her grave.

I, as a geek, enjoy learning more about the topics of my geekiness.  Some of these topics are science fiction-related.  The Internet is replete with science fiction podcasts, most of which are not worth my time.  My two major complaints are:

  1. The hosts swear too much, and
  2. The hosts do not do their homework.

I may learn that I know more about the topic of the podcast episode in question than the hosts.  Then I know that continuing to listen to that podcast constitutes a waste of my time.  I can easily look up when an episode or serial aired in first run, for example.  I can also check to see who played which role.  Yet many podcast hosts do not bother to look up such details before recording.   Speaking out of one’s knowledge is superior to speaking out of one’s ignorance.  Podcasts in which the hosts say,

I don’t know,

too many times do not hold my attention.

I used to listen to a certain podcast about Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine.  I stopped listening to one episode about a minute after it started.  One host asked the other one if the main aliens were the Bajorans or the Pajorans.  (The answer is the Bajorans.)  Finding the answer to that question prior to recording was easy, but one of the hosts did not make the minimal effort to do so.

I do not object to an occasional, well-placed curse word.  Sometimes such language is appropriate and accurate.  However, when profanity becomes verbal wallpaper, the laziness of frequent cursing becomes evident.  And my mother raised me better than to swear as often as many people do.

My background as an educator informs my procedural bias for checking facts.  I know the importance of speaking as accurately as possible as often as possible.  I grasp why keeping one’s facts straight and one’s chronology in order is vital.  I bring this mindset to my hobbies, predictably.




Academic Freedom, Part I   3 comments


Academic freedom is precious.  It is also essential.  The advocacy for academic freedom is a core principle for me.  I strive to speak out for it and to practice it consistently, regardless of whether any given threat to it comes from the Right or the Left.  I aspire to avoid hypocrisy as much as possible.

For years, for example, I have cringed at calls for “safe spaces,” in practical terms, spaces in which to hide from theories and perspectives one does not like.  These kinds of “safe spaces” epitomize a misplaced sense of entitlement run amok.  One purpose of education–higher education, in particular–is to broaden the intellectual horizons of students.  Educators should, of course, teach their assigned subjects; staying on topic is crucial, too.  “Coloring inside the lines,” so to speak does not constitute bowing to censorship and does not indicate any threat to academic freedom.

Many conservatives pretend that liberals (with whom I usually sympathize) have a monopoly on seeking “safe spaces” away from certain perspectives.  Evidence indicates, however, that many conservatives seek “safe spaces” of their own.  This week, in Idaho, the controversial theory du jour is Critical Race Theory.  Moving to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory–even in public colleges and universities in Idaho–constitutes an assault on academic freedom.  Critical Race Theory is germane to certain academic disciplines.  Those whose disciplines include Critical Race Theory should have the right to bring it up when it is applicable.

My experience as a classroom instructor informs my perspective.  The prospect of some authority from on high legally forbidding me to teach a part of my discipline appalls me.  Even the threat of such a law or policy appalls me, regardless of the ideological roots of that prohibition.

Whether a person, institution, or government respects academic freedom is easy to determine.  One needs simply to observe actions and policies.  Deeds reveal creeds.

I have granted my students the right to disagree with me in subjective matters.  Objective reality is what it is.  Therefore, I have marked off for getting facts wrong.  I have also marked off for making incoherent arguments not rooted in facts presented.  That has been fair.  “Back up your arguments,” I have told pupils.  “Think critically,” I have instructed them.  I have returned papers bearing high grades–“A’s”–and comments about why interpretations were wrong.  That was fair, too.  When students fulfilled the terms of the assignment, they earned high grades.  And their interpretations were wrong.  Those interpretations did not affect their grades, nor should they have.  Certain students have expressed surprise at this combination of grade and comments.  These students have also tended to give me favorable evaluations.

In another case, I was grading final essays one semester.  I had specified that the minimum length was to be eight full pages.  One student submitted only four pages.  I read his essay closely.  He backed up his argument with evidence.  His interpretation was rubbish, but he backed everything up with facts.  I assigned his essay a grade of 50.  When the student asked me why, I explained that he had submitted half of an essay, so 50 was the maximum possible grade.  (This was consistent with the terms of my syllabus.  Regardless of content, 50 was the maximum possible grade for a four-page-long essay.)  I told him that, If he had submitted at least eight pages in which he had argued as well as he did in four pages, I would have given him an “A” on the essay.  (I would have.)  Anyhow, he earned an “A” in the course.   He seemed satisfied with my explanation.

I strive to avoid hypocrisy regarding academic freedom.  More people, institutions, and governments, should do the same.  They ought to respect academic freedom.




Day of Intercession and Thanksgiving for the Missionary Work of the Church (November 29)   Leave a comment

Above:  A Globe

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


The Day of Intercession and Thanksgiving for the Missionary Work of the Church comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Church of England.

A cliché tells us that the church is always one generation away from extinction.  Some clichés are accurate.  This one hits home with much force when, in much of the world, “none” is the fastest-growing religious affiliation.  A complicating factor is the contrast between mainliners (such as yours truly, comfortably to the left of the theological center, overall) and the Global South, with its style of Christianity on the fundamentalist-Evangelical spectrum.  If being a Christian requires me to shut down my intellect, reject science and history, and turn into a homophobe, I do not want to be a Christian.  However, that is not true Christianity.  But how many people see that negative face of the church and turn away from the church and Christianity completely?  This concerns me.  Some of find much to admire about the Enlightenment.  Call me a radical if you wish, O reader.  Here I stand.  I can and will do no other.

Historically, organized Christianity has been its own worst enemy.  For example, many churches have identified with the kingdom, empire, or state so much as to become an arm thereof.  So, for example, when certain western kingdoms and republics became global empires, missionaries from those countries were frequently indistinguishable from imperial agents.  The predictable indigenous, nationalistic wave of resistance to the colonial masters often had an anti-Christian character.  Yet, in places where missionaries successfully indigenized the churches, Christianity did not seem alien and foreign.

I have always been a Christian.  My family has been Christian for countless generations.  Somewhere, long ago, in the mists of time, that chain of faith began with a missionary.

Missionaries perform invaluable work.  And not all of them travel to far-flung places.  I try to function as a missionary where and when I am, in person and at a keyboard.  And I am most like one of those Hobbits who remained in Hobbiton all the time.  Perhaps you, O reader, do not consider yourself a missionary or an evangelist.  Maybe you are one anyway.

Tactics matter.  The first rule is not to be obnoxious or to place the other person on the defense immediately.  I recall a story I heard from an exchange student from Nepal in the middle 1990s.

Lax (as she encouraged people to call her) was a Tibetan Buddhist.  (“Lax” was one syllable of her polysyllabic name.)  She was also a student at Valdosta State University.  Lax told me that, one day, another student told her that she would go to Hell if she did not convert to Christianity.  That was a terrible opening line.  It placed Lax (a sweet person, by the way) on the defense immediately.  Also, if I understand Tibetan Buddhism accurately, the threat of going to Hell made no sense to Lax. (According to what I have read in reference works, not having broken the cycle of reincarnation is Hell in Tibetan Buddhism.)  Christianity made about as little sense to Lax as Tibetan Buddhism did (and still does) to me.

I thank God for missionaries who have used–and use–effective, culturally-sensitive techniques.  Using such techniques creates an opening for potentially successful evangelism.  Such work is essential, whether far away, very near, or in the middle.

One obstacle organized Christianity faces is the impression that Christians are judgmental.  This impression exists because many Christians are judgmental.  I know some, O reader.  Maybe you do, too.  I know some Christians who were pleasant, kind people until they had a conversion experience.  Perhaps you do, too.  In reality, if we mere mortals are honest with ourselves, we will admit to ourselves that we need divine mercy as much (at least) as do all other people.  So, what right do we have to be judgmental jerks?  We have no such right, of course.  Another cliché is accurate and applicable here, too:  many recent converts frequently embarrass long-term adherents.

May the missionary work of the Church thrive and expand.  May the love of God define it.  And may missionaries heed the advice of St. Francis of Assisi (1181/1182-1226).  May they preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary.









Almighty God, who called your Church to witness

that you were in Christ reconciling men to yourself:

help us so to proclaim the good news of your love,

that all who hear it may be reconciled to you;

through him who died for us and rose again

and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 49:1-6

Psalm 97 or 100 or 2 or 46 or 47 or 67 or 87 or 96 or 117

Ephesians 2:13-22

Matthew 28:16-20

The Alternative Service Book 1980 (1980), 907-908