Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

In Praise of Dr. Clyde Willis   Leave a comment

Certain professors have helped me.  At Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, Dr. Clyde Willis was one of them.

I was a Secondary Education major at Valdosta State from 1993 to 1996.  One quarter in 1995, to fill an elective spot on my curriculum checklist, I enrolled in a political science course that, as the quarter progressed, seemed more like a pre-law course.  I persevered as I struggled with much of the assigned reading.  I also figuratively pitched a tent in the professor’s office.  As I worked hard on a paper, a copy of which I still have, I showed Dr. Willis my drafts and fine-tuned the document.  My grade in that course was an “A,” in large part due to Dr. Willis.

I have had other professors who have not been responsive to my targeted queries as I have kept my nose to the grindstone.  Their indifference harmed me academically.  As I have taught undergraduates for years, I have endeavored to be like Dr. Willis–helpful while expecting students to do their due diligence.  I have not always succeeded, but I have tried to do better when I have recognized my shortcomings in this regard.  Over the years many students have commented how willing I have been to assist them by reviewing drafts of essays, for example.  I would have helped more, if more had asked.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 3, 2018 COMMON ERA

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Posted April 3, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Education

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College Students and Deadlines   Leave a comment

Plus a Complaint Regarding a Related Matter

I teach undergraduates at the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia (UNG).  Every semester I deal with students who seem to think that deadlines are friendly suggestions.  This is hardly a new problem.  It is certainly not unique to UNG or the Oconee Campus.  It does seem, however, to be getting worse.  Conversations with other members of the faculty prove that they are dealing with the same problem, and that they think it is getting worse.

Today, although not a teaching day, is certainly a working day for me.  Today is, to be precise, the deadline for Essay #2, due at turnitin.com by 10:00 p.m.  Today is also the last of five days to submit that assignment.  For anyone to receive an extension from me requires a desperate and unavoidable situation.  Experience teaches me to expect at least one student lacking such an emergency to ask for mercy.

I know I missed the deadline,

this student will write.  I will answer,

Yes, you did.

Then I will mete out the academic penalty.  Then some of them will not submit an essay.  That grade is automatically a zero, of course.

Based on my experiences with students and conversations with colleagues, I can only conclude that many students are accustomed to requesting deadline extensions for the flimsiest of reasons and receiving them.  I hear from people close to many local schools that those institutions of education are, for a lack of a more precise term, jokes.  That certainly explains many of the students who crash and burn in my courses.

I have responsibilities to students, just as they have responsibilities to themselves.  I am responsible, for example, for teaching them what they need to know–in this case, the importance of deadlines, which matter in the real world.  As much as I seek to build people up and help them achieve their potential, I understand that I am doing nobody any favors by engaging in proverbial hand-holding and spoon-feeding–certainly not in my capacity as a classroom instructor.  So I do not do that.  Society needs for people at least 18 years old to be functional adults.  College students have the responsibility to be functional adults and good pupils.

I know that I will read complaints about having required students in a history course to have used the Turabian format then having held them accountable for not doing so, despite the fact that I referred pupils to online guides to that format and showed them printed style manuals.  That, however, is a different, but related, matter.  I get the impression that certain students have never had to read and follow instructions or face the consequences.  It is better for them to learn that now than later, in the real world.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 3, 2018 COMMON ERA

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Gratitude for Athens, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Dome of the City Hall, Athens, Georgia, August 5, 2009

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-04138

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Seeking reasons for gratitude to God is a daily activity; it is an easy one, fortunately.

During the last few days I have been thinking deeply about a subset of those reasons; I have been pondering reasons I am blessed to live in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia.  Many such reasons–too many to enumerate in a succinct blog post–have come to mind.

A few follow.

A visit to relatives in Americus, Georgia, followed shortly by a lecture at The University of Georgia (UGA), started me down this path.  Last Tuesday night I attended a lecture by Dr. Richard B. Miller, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Religious Ethics at The University of Chicago Divinity School.  Miller spoke about St. Augustine of Hippo‘s concept of the common good and of its implications for today.  The full explanation of St. Augustine’s definition of sin as disordered love proved especially helpful.  As I listened and learned, I also thought about how fortunate I was to live in the town in which that event happened.  UGA, my relationship with which has been both positive and tumultuous, at different times, since 2005, made that lecture possible.

Indeed, I have may reasons to be grateful for and to UGA.  It creates a wonderful intellectual environment in Athens.  I care nothing about the athletics of a university, for the purpose of such an institution is supposed to be primarily educational, is it not?  The presence of UGA in Athens not only makes Athens what it is, but also makes me feel at home in this town, a colony of members of the intelligentsia.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist parsonages in small towns and communities in southern Georgia.  The intellectual atmosphere (not in the parsonage, of course) was generally lackluster, even anti-intellectual.  (Nevertheless, I do recall that sometimes even my father angrily rebuffed some of my attempts at academic discussions, especially of the Bible.  There was no good reason to fear Higher Criticism.  No philosophical meat grinder will grind up the truth, after all; the truth will break the meat grinder.)  I usually felt like an intellectual outcast and the resident heretic.  (Today I wear the label “heretic” with pride.  As churchy as I am, given the option of avoiding church or facing allegations of heresy in a congregation, I would choose the former.)  Politically and socially most of the neighbors were or seemed to be beyond conservative–reactionary, actually.  Many were openly and unapologetically racist.

Of course I gravitated toward the left side of the spectrum.  I have remained a man of the left, although I have, with greater frequency, found myself in rooms with people to my left–sometimes far to my left.  I have shifted slightly to the right in some ways, and far to the left (relative to my former position) in others.  Overall, I have continued to occupy a center-left position.  (I tend to be center-right in liturgical matters and to the left politically, socially, and theologically.  My unapologetic Western Classicism in music is prominent in my daily life.)  I have ceased to be the resident heretic, for (1) I worship with people, many of whom are to my left, and (2) I worship in a faith community where nobody accuses me of heresy.  Charges of heresy have usually come from the right, not the left, after all.  (This is why most ecclesiastical schisms occur to the right and the majority of church mergers happen on the left.  Tolerance and acceptance are antidotes to Donatism.)

St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church has been my spiritual home since August 2005.  The parish has saved my life (in 2007) and become a means by which I offer gifts and talents to God.  I have, for years, curated a movie series, functioned as the librarian, and taught adult Sunday School, for example.  For nearly a decade I sang in the choir.  (I have many fond memories of that time.)  Although some people roll their eyes when I obsess over the proper arrangement of chairs, hymnals, and prayer books in the worship space, tending to that matter has long been something I have offered to God.  (I have come to long wistfully for pews.)  Also, the music has long been mostly excellent in the parish.  Last Sunday, for example, a string quartet performed at the 10:30 service and accompanied the choir during a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s Ave Verum Corpus.

As much as I enjoy visits to relatives in Americus, Athens is my place.  As much as I visit Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus, occasionally, and find my spot in a pew there comfortably, St. Gregory the Great Church is my place.  As much as I enjoy visiting Americus, I also enjoy returning to Athens.

I am also grateful for friends and acquaintances. all of whose privacy I respect in this post by preserving in this post by naming none of them.  Some of them have saved my life and seen me through difficult times.  I have also performed my sacred duty and helped one friend to the point of self-sacrifice.  If necessary, I would do it again, without hesitation.

I hope to reside in Athens for long time.  The possibility of leaving eventually remains, of course; I admit that doing so might be proper one day.  That hypothetical day is one I hope is far off, if it is extant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF OSCAR ROMERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SAN SALVADOR; AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, APOSTLE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, “FATHER OF MODERN CHURCH MUSIC”

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UGA and Me   22 comments

UGA Chapel

Above:  The Chapel, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

Image Source = Library of Congress

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UGA and Me or:  Time and Grace Heal

Once I had a tee-shirt I acquired at a Lay Ministries Conference in the Diocese of Georgia.  On the front was the shield of The Episcopal Church.  The back of the garment read,

GRACE HAPPENS.

(Grace is certainly preferable to what usually precedes “happens.”)  The shirt became a casualty of too much wearing and washing over the years, unfortunately.

I have experienced abundant grace throughout my life.  Some of that grace has occurred in the context of The University of Georgia (UGA), at which I arrived as a doctoral student in 2005.  Within sixteen months, however, my dreams had turned to ashes, and my major professor (as I write these words, in legal and professional jeopardy for domestic violence recorded on camera) had blackballed me.  I, embittered, dropped out of UGA at the end of 2006.

That bitterness has departed from me, by grace.  I would have been superhuman not to have been very angry at some point, but I would have also been wrong to have remained embittered for a long time.  The burden of the anger became so great that I gave it up to God.

I thank God for removing my bitterness.  Now, as I contemplate the legal and professional predicament into which my former major professor has gotten himself, I feel only sadness and pity for him and his family.  The man does have much to contribute to the academy and the world, after all.  I also pity the defenseless son.  I am morally incapable of rejoicing the in the plight of the professor who harmed me academically.  That fact is to God’s credit, not mine.  Also, just as the professor is responsible for his character, I am responsible for mine.  I seek to be a merely decent human being.

My once-uneasy relationship to UGA has changed.  Reasons for this include grace and the passage of time.  Another reason is the architectural change on campus since my time as a student.  Now I can (and do) go to campus and feel comfortable; my time as a student seems to have been from a previous life.

It was a previous life, in a way.

Perhaps the time to commence a new relationship to UGA is near.  I am open to that possibility.  UGA is, after all, an institution at which I should be able to find a niche into which to fit, given my bookishness and natural ease on a college campus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

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Posted March 20, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, University of Georgia

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Into My Thirteenth Year in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  Nu, the Thirteenth Letter of the Greek Alphabet

Image in the Public Domain

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I have lived in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, for twelve years–much longer than I lived in any other place.  During this time I have experienced great joys as well as the depths of despair.  I have pursued dreams and witnessed the termination of them.  (The death of a dream is the cruelest death one can experience, psychologically.)  I have felt at home in Athens and felt trapped in it as I have sought in vain to get the hell out of Dodge.  Through thick and thin I have remained, fortunately.

Here I have found a place I belong, at least for a while.  Here I have, for the only time so far, found a community in which I do not feel like a politically marginal person.  I have always been an odd duck, relative to the definition of normal.  I have always chafed against the term “abnormal,” for its negative connotations have always been clear to me.  Yet I have not wanted to be “normal” either.  I have simply wanted to be the best version of myself, as God created me to be, without having to cope with bullying, hard stares, and suspicions.  I was acutely aware of my odd duckness as a child.  I could not help but be aware of how much I stuck out like the proverbial odd thumb.  In Athens, however, I have found a community more welcoming to odd ducks.  I have also found, however, places in that community where odd ducks are not welcome.

In fact, I prefer the company of odd ducks.  Being “normal” is so boring and bland.

Conformity is a vice much of the time.  Certainly conformity enforced via bullying is never a virtue.  No, I prefer a high tolerance level (at least) for diversity.  (Aside: Barring extreme cases, when acceptance is not on the table, tolerance is superior to intolerance.  The allegation of being tolerant is not the worst charge one can face.)  We should not accept or tolerate everything in a healthy society, but we should tolerate or accept much in a good society.  Bullying, for example, is a behavior with no moral justification.  Diversity makes life more interesting in positive ways.  If we humans were supposed to be alike, why would God have created us to be so different from each other?  I accept diversity as a gift from God and refuse to do unto others as conformists have done unto me.

I have not changed my theological and political opinions much over the past twelve years.  I have moderated my theology, moving slightly to the right and the center, but I have remained left-of-center.  My politics have, during the last twelve months, shifted to the left.  I was already a man of the left; now I am moving closer to Fabian Socialism.  When I lived in South Georgia, I was frequently the most liberal person in any given room.  If I was not that person, others in any given room certainly made me feel as if I were and made me feel uncomfortable about it.  Immediately, in Athens, I found myself among the more conservative faction, whether at my new parish or in the Department of History of The University of Georgia.  The difference in Athens was that I was in different rooms–rooms filled with people to my left.  I adopted a policy of not looking askance at them, for I knew the feeling of being the object of askance looks.  I continued to practice this policy.  Over the years I have retained my generally liberal support for civil rights–on all bases.  I supported gay rights before I arrived in Athens; I have continued in that opinion.  I have remained a liberal voice.

I have concluded that I am best suited to life in a college town, regardless of whether I work at an institution of higher education.  (I keep my options open.)  Athens, then, has been a fine place for me to be.

As long as I should remain here, may I do so.  Then may I go where I should be next.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/uga-and-me/

In Praise of Books   Leave a comment

Above:  Five of My Books, August 3, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I come from a bookish family.  I recall the old family house in Summerville, Georgia, before my grandmother Taylor died, the structure stood vacant, and vandals burgled it (oddly, without any of the neighbors noticing).  I remember opening closets and finding bookshelves (full of books, of course) built into them.  My love of books is learned.

I, as a one trained in history, harbor strong suspicions of technology without resorting to joining the ranks of Luddites.  Technology provides tools, many of which I find useful.  Other tools, however, do not interest me.  Some of them are counter-productive.  A printed and bound book is, under the proper circumstances, of more value for a longer period of time than any electronic version of a book.  The former certainly requires less technology–such as glasses and a lamp, perhaps–to access it.  Although the Internet is a wonderful resource for reference purposes, when one knows how to use it properly, I prefer reference works when possible.

I notice that many of my students–some of them, by their own admission, not avid readers–seem oblivious to the presence of books as sources for their essays.  It is their loss.  They do not understand the pleasures of holding an old book and smelling the pages or admiring its design.  These students are, to borrow a term, digital natives.  They are not always adept at interpreting information well, analyzing sources properly, and appreciating the riches of well-edited reference works.  I still swear by my sets of Americanas (1962) and Britannicas (1968), encyclopedias more detailed in certain ways than any Internet resources I have found.

Furthermore, despite the digitization of many volumes at websites such as archive.org, an invaluable resource, not everything is there.  And, even when a particular book is there, a hard copy is superior and certainly easier on one’s eyeballs.  The physical book is also tactile; that is a virtue.

Books are superior to the alternatives.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 3, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Unfortunate Triumph of Ignorance and Emotionalism   Leave a comment

Above:  The Beginning of the Declaration of Independence 

Image in the Public Domain

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Or, Why We Should Not Fail to Recognize the Text of the Declaration of Independence, Especially on July 4

In 1988 National Public Radio (NPR) began its annual tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on the air on the morning of each July 4.  For years I, as a student of American history, have anticipated the orchestra of voices, each speaker reading a segment of the complete text of that great document.  This year NPR tweeted the full text of the Declaration of Independence in 113 tweets, giving rise to an unfortunate Twitter storm.  There were bitter complaints that NPR was, among other offenses, calling for the violent overthrow of the federal government and daring to (gasp!) criticize Donald Trump, as if criticizing those in authority is unpatriotic and un-American.  (Tsk:  Dissenters founded this country.)  Many angry Twitter uses had to eat crow the following day.

 A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

–From the Declaration of Independence

This incident leads me to some troubling thoughts.  It confirms me in my low opinion of human nature (trust in the faithfulness of God, as Martin Luther said) and illustrates the fact that one negative use of social media is to expose the degree to which one is an overly emotional and poorly informed person.  People out themselves voluntarily and unwittingly as individuals who should study more deeply, or at all.  I recall hearing that my grandfather Taylor, who died in 1976,  said that it was better to have a reputation as a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  If social media had existed in his time, I am certain, he would have added clauses about posting and sharing.  All of us who are or have been on social media are guilty of some unfortunate acts of posting, sharing, and/or liking, especially with regard to factually inaccurate posts.  I am.  I am also a former used of social media.  It is something best avoided, except for official purposes, at least in my case; I might permit it to take up too much of my time otherwise.

…whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

–From the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is a document of which many Americans have superficial knowledge at best.  Many (including some of my students) conflate it with the Constitution, which, of course, a few years younger.  So if one is already worked up emotionally and coming from a certain defensive political perspective while reading a disembodied criticism of George III (Parliament, actually, British Parliamentary supremacy dates to the Glorious Revolution of 1688), one might interpret it as a criticism of Donald Trump or a call for the overthrow of the government.  (George III, by the way, was a loving husband and a kind father-in-law.)  My knowledge of the document is greater than that of such poorly informed Twitter users, for I teach the document not quite line-by-line in U.S. History I survey courses.  The Declaration of Independence is a foundational document, one that schools should teach well and that inquisitiveness should compel one to explore on one’s own.  I do not blame schools and teachers completely though, for, although I teach the document thoroughly, some of my students still manage to confuse it for the Constitution and Thomas Jefferson for James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.  At some point students are responsible for their own ignorance.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

–From the Declaration of Independence

By the way, is not July 4 a wonderful day to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence?  When one thinks about how much many of the signers of the document sacrificed for idealism and country, one should stand in awe of them.

If NPR retweets the Declaration of Independence again next July 4, it will probably meet with a similar reception, unfortunately.  Ignorance and emotionalism seem never to die.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2017 COMMON ERA