Archive for the ‘Education and Language’ Category

Grow a Thick Skin   2 comments

One of my favorite scenes comes from Aaron Sorkin‘s The American President (1995).  After environmental lobbyist Syndey Ellen Wade, sitting in the West Wing of the White House, condemns the environmental policies of President Andrew Shepherd as weak, she discovers, to her dismay, that his standing behind her.  Then Shepherd invites Wade into the Oval Office.  She begins to apologize.  Then the President asks her,

Are you under the impression that I’m angry with you?

He is not angry with her.  He has a thick skin.

I have noticed that thin skins seem increasingly commonplace across the spectrum.  One may find thin-skinned people in positions of obscurity, in high offices, and in positions in-between at concentrations either greater or more obvious than in olden times in my memory.

Thin-skinned people have always been with us.  Why not?  Human psychology offers many constant factors.  I have offended people by politely disagreeing with them.  I did so in Sunday School in Sumner, Georgia, in the autumn of 1991, for example.  Those who took offense were to my right.  They probably spent much of their time upset, given their low threshold for taking offense.  I have also offended people to my right by dispassionately reciting facts of ancient comparative religion without offering any subjective content.  Those offended students were listening more to what they thought I was saying, not what I was saying.  On the other hand, years ago, when I went through a similar litany of objectively accurate information about ancient comparative religion in an article I wrote for an online publication considerably to my right, I seemed to have caused no offense.  The editor read what I wrote, after all.  It passed a fact-check.

I have also offended people to my left by using pronouns such as “he,” “his,” “her,” and “she.”  People need to get over taking offense at accurate pronouns.  Besides, I respect the difference between the singular and the plural.  In my lexicon, “they,” “them,” their” and “themselves” are always plural.  One can speak and write inclusively in singular language, as well as in plural language, while respecting the distinction between the singular and the plural.  One can, for example, use “one,” “one’s,”, and “oneself” in the singular.

Topics that expose one’s thin skin need not be political, religious, or gender-related.  All of them are psychological, however.  Some of them pertain to entertainment.  I state without apology that modern Star Trek, beginning with Discovery and extending through Picard, so far, is a steaming pile of garbage.  I make no secret of this opinion on this weblog.  This opinion offends some people.  Why not?  Increasingly, I hear Robert Meyer Burnett (one of my favorite people, with whom I agree frequently and disagree strongly much of the rest of the time) repeat on YouTube that not liking a movie, series, or episode someone else likes is acceptable.  Of course it is.  Why would it not be?  Obviously, many people have thin skins about their entertainment.  Burnett should not have to keep repeating that liking or disliking something is okay.

The following thought is accurate and not original.  Identity is frequently a cause of a thin skin.  To be precise, insecurity in one’s identity is often a cause of a thin skin.  I despise 2017f Star Trek.  This opinion has no bearing on my ego, however.  If John Doe thinks that Star Trek:  Picard is a work of compelling storytelling, he may watch that series all he wants, in my absence.  His opinion has no effect on me.

Life is too short to go through it with a thin skin.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 21, 2020 COMMON ERA

Feast of Mark Hopkins (June 14)   Leave a comment

Above:  Mark Hopkins Stamp

Image in the Public Domain

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MARK HOPKINS (FEBRUARY 4, 1802-JUNE 17, 1887)

U.S. Congregationalist Minister, Theologian, Educator, and Physician

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The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.

–James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831-September 19, 1881), President of the United States of America (March 4-September 19, 1881)

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Mark Hopkins comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

Hopkins came from a devout Congregationalist family, which shaped his destiny.  He, a son of Archibald Hopkins (1766-1839) and Mary Curtis Hopkins (1772-1868), debuted in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on February 4, 1802.  A great-uncle was Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), a prominent Congregationalist minister, theologian, and abolitionist.  Our saint, who graduated from Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1824, worked as a tutor at Williams College (1825-1827) prior to matriculating at Berkshire Medical College, Pittsfield, Massachusetts (Class of 1830).  The our saint returned to Williams College as Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy (1830-1887).  He also served as the president of the college (1836-1872).  Hopkins, a skilled practitioner of the Socratic Method, became an ordained minister in 1833.  He chose to remain at Williams College; our saint declined a host of offers from churches, universities, colleges, and seminaries elsewhere.  Hopkins also found time to serve as the President of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from 1857 to 1887.

Hopkins married Mary Hubbell (1813-1898).  The couple had ten children.

Hopkins produced a range of published works of theology.  His theology anticipated Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species (1859), which was unoriginal.  (Ask Alfred Russel Wallace.)  Our saint’s On the Argument from Nature for the Divine Existence (1833), rooted in Aristolelian philosophy and the theology of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1768), argued that evolution is a driving force within nature and is consistent with the existence of God.

Hopkins, Renaissance man and Christian apologist, died in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on June 17, 1887.  He was 85 years old.

Hopkins, as an educator, intrigues me.  I have much experience in postsecondary education.  I have been around long enough to witness changes in the student body.  Nothing is new under the sun, of course.  However, I recognize that some negative patterns have become more prominent lately.  Increasingly, students do not know how to take notes and/or do not want to take their own notes.  No, more pupils expect their professors and instructors to give them notes, preferably in the form of overly verbose and poorly-designed PowerPoint slides.  Attention spans have become shorter.  Socrates did not need billboards and PowerPoint slides.  Neither did Mark Hopkins.  He had what he needed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANNA ROSA GATTORNO, FOUNDRESS OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE DAUGHTERS OF SAINT ANNE, MOTHER OF MARY IMMACULATE

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXIS TOTH, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA CATALINA TROIANI, FOUNDRESS OF THE FRANCISCAN MISSIONARIES OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS WILLIBALD OF EICHSTATT AND LULLUS OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT WALBURGA OF HEIDENHELM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; SAINTS PETRONAX OF MONTE CASSINO, WINNEBALD OF HEIDENHELM, WIGBERT OF FRITZLAR, AND STURMIUS OF FULDA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS; AND SAINT SEBALDUS OF VINCENZA, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT AND MISSIONARY

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O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Mark Hopkins and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

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University Students with Misplaced Senses of Entitlement   Leave a comment

I have read students’ evaluations of me; fall semester evaluations became available to read today.  The consensus was that I was an awful teacher.

The real story is in the comments about why I was allegedly so bad.  I did not teach a textbook.  I assigned the free textbook for the course, but I never referred to pages.  I did not type out notes and post them to D2L (Distance Learning).  I did not use PowerPoint.  I did not spoon-feed the students.  No, I expected them to take their own notes.  I did not create “study guides.”  (Don’t we call those notes?)  Also, I refused to post test questions prior to tests.  (How dare I not help them cheat?)

I have not been inside a high school classroom in years, but I can gain an understanding of what is happening in many of those classrooms by observing and listening to students fresh from high school.  I realize how much the quality of student’s writing has declined, even in the last few years.  I notice how they expect me to teach them and to what they feel entitled.  Many of them feel entitled to receive ready-made notes and to see test questions in advance, apparently.  I see blank expressions on their faces when I say “style manual.”

I, as a mere mortal, understand that I am imperfect and do not know everything.  I know that I can improve in various tasks and learn more.  Expecting students to take their own notes and making them see test questions for the first time on a test day are not faults, however.  I also recall that the teachers, instructors, and professors who taught me the most were the most demanding ones.

Many of these students were graduates from one of the two high schools in Oconee County, Georgia.  Oconee County authorities enjoy bragging about how high their schools’ test scores are.  High test scores do not necessarily translate into academic preparation, though.  And, given how commonplace teaching to the standardized tests has become, results I have witnesses in university classrooms do not surprise me.

When I was a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, I admired Dr. Timothy Teeter’s favorite mug.  It read, “READ, DAMMIT.”  I hope to find one like it eventually, for there must be one for sale somewhere.    I like the sentiment and attitude.  More students need to read and take more academic initiative, not be so passive. The more they put into their educations, the more they will get out of them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

2020: Best Wishes   2 comments

Above:  The Middle Oconee River at Ben Burton Park, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, December 8, 2019

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I find myself at the convergence of turning points as 2019 comes to an end.  On the personal front, I deal with two deaths.  Professionally, I look to the future with a combination of confidence, hope, and uncertainty.  The result will be better than what it will replace, I affirm.  However, I do not know what will happen between now and then.  How long should I remain in Athens-Clarke County?  What I do not know outweighs what I understand.  I know, however, that I must not make rash decisions, especially while I grieve and adapt to my “new normal.”

Experience is a fine teacher.  A wise pupil heeds it.  One lesson experience teaches me is that a grudge is a burden one should never impose on oneself, regardless of how righteous one’s indignation may be.  I acknowledge objective reality.  (Why should I not?) I know that a particular professor at The University of Georgia (UGA) fired a torpedo into the bow of my doctoral program and sank it like the Lusitania.  I also understand that my anger over that example of academic abuse burned out years ago.  Whenever I walk on the UGA campus, I feel simultaneously at home, in a familiar place, yet on virgin territory different from a place I have ever been.  The area does look different than it used to, due mainly to construction on campus.  It is a place I want to call home again.  A relationship, however, has more than one party.

My congregation, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, keeps providing incentives to remain in town.  I am active in the parish, in which I have found my niches.  The emotional and spiritual support members of the congregation have been providing to me since Bonny’s death has become a source of much gratitude.  I can never repay them.  Perhaps I will have opportunities to “pay it forward” in time, not that I seek grief for anyone.

Praying for one’s needs is not sinful, but being selfish in prayer is.  With that in mind, I issue the following prayer:

May God’s best for each person be that person’s reality.  May you, O reader, receive all the help you need and provide all the aid you should.  May the light of God shine in your life, attract others to God, and strengthen the faith of many.  May 2020, by these standards, be a better year for you than 2019 has been.  May it be a better year for all countries, nation-states, peoples, and refugees.  May 2020 be a better year for the planet.  Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Really?   2 comments

I teach challenging courses.  This is appropriate, for I teach at a university.

I have noticed steeply declining grades and quality of writing during the last few years.  I should not have to define words such as “partisan” and “meddling.”  This is interesting, given that most of my students are recent graduates of local high schools with high scores on standardized tests.  I know that the way to such high scores is to teach the tests.

Many of my students blame me for their poor academic performance.  They wish that I would send them notes via email.  They pine for PowerPoint.  Some of them wish I would teach a textbook.  (I assign a free textbook and recommend it as a reference for them, though.)  Some students even ask if they may see the test questions before the test or if they may photograph tests.  I refuse, of course.

To those who blame me for their substandard academic performance and wonder how to succeed, I say, ask the pupils who earn grades such as 88 and 94 on tests.  I say to study well and often.  I say to read a dictionary.  I say to learn proper English.  I say to accept responsibility for one’s own education.  I ask, where do you think you are, your old high school?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 7, 2019 COMMON ERA

Posted November 7, 2019 by neatnik2009 in University of North Georgia

Fourteen Years in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  Clayton Street at College Avenue, Athens, Georgia, May 17, 2008

Photographer = Richard Chambers

Image in the Public Domain

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For a long period of time during my youth, I moved with my family an average of every two years.  My father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Given my background, with its mobility, living in one place (Athens-Clarke County) as long as I have has astonished me.  I have put down roots.

I moved to Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, on Tuesday, August 9, 2005, shortly prior to the beginning of the Fall Semester at The University of Georgia (UGA).  My doctoral program in history died prematurely and ingloriously in December 2006.  That affiliation with UGA ended in bitterness and tears, but my affiliation with St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church has been constant since late 2005.  The number of my responsibilities in the parish has increased overall, and I have accepted these tasks gladly.

We do not know what the future holds or should have in store for us, but I do know the following:

  1. I like Athens-Clarke County very much.  It is one of the few places in which I do not feel like a marginal figure, an outcast.
  2. UGA creates the intellectual and cultural environment that makes me feel welcome.
  3. I want to continue to live here for a long time.
  4. I may leave it one day, to pursue an opportunity.
  5. I continue to hope for a professional, long-term relationship with UGA.  I realize that, although my previous applications have not been successful, I cannot succeed if I do not try.  I am persistent.
  6. UGA is a place where I should have a place to make my full-time professional contribution of society joyfully.   If that place is not UGA, it will probably be another college or university.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2019 COMMON ERA

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Objective Reality   Leave a comment

I live in a polarized, postmodern society in which many people want to have not only their opinions but their own facts, also.  This is shameful.  As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, people are entitled to their opinions, not their own facts.  I, as a student of history, rely upon a body of objective evidence.  History, strictly speaking, is the interpretation of that evidence.  Interpretations vary, but the evidence remains.  To quote John Adams,

Facts are stubborn things.

Consider a recent news story from Boca Raton, Florida, O reader.

William Latson, the Principal of Spanish River Community High School, had an exchange with a parent in April 2018.  The topic of the exchange was the state mandate (dating to 1994) to teach about the Holocaust in Tenth Grade world history classes.  Latson told her that, at his high school, that one-day lesson was optional because some parents did not want their offspring to participate.  The anonymous mother replied,

The Holocaust is a factual, historical event.  It is not a right or a belief.

Latson answered her,

Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently.  I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.

Latson has apologized and visited Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Holocaust was real.  The Third Reich documented it thoroughly.  Survivors told their stories.  Soldiers who liberated death camps saw the evidence.

The Holocaust should fill every human being with moral revulsion.

The unwillingness to admit something documented so thoroughly speaks ill of those who either deny or minimize the Holocaust.

One of the main ideas in the study of history is that we do not have to respect every opinion.  We have no obligation to respect any opinion that depends on fallacies.  Whenever I can contradict someone’s opinion solely by reciting accurate, objective information, I encounter an opinion for which I properly have scorn.  Holocaust deniers and minimizers exist; the Internet amplifies their opinions, unfortunately.  I heap scorn upon them and their counterfactual and anti-Semitic opinions, as I should.

We cannot repeat the past, for time does not play on a loop.  We must, however, be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past in different circumstances.  The first step is learning the proper lessons from the past.  We cannot do that as long as we confuse the categories of the objective and the subjective.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2019 COMMON ERA

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