Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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

Thank a Teacher   Leave a comment

Wanda Vickers was an excellent teacher at Berrien High School, Nashville, Georgia.  She was also a strict grader.  The education I received in her English class during my senior year of high school was rigorous.  During one academic year she taught me how to write a term paper properly and prepared me for a variety of other written assignments I had to complete in college.  I realized this after the fact, of course.  When I started my freshman year at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, I learned how prepared I was, thanks to Mrs. Vickers, mainly.  I thanked her in person then I had the opportunity to do so.

Teachers influence their pupils positively in many ways.  Much of the time the positive effects pertain not only to the curriculum.  If you, O reader, are or have been a teacher, thank you.  If you, O reader, can think of any teachers who have influenced your life positively and can thank them, please do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Plural, the Possessive, and Contractions   Leave a comment

With Ruminations About Students, Technology, and Pre-College Education

The atrocious writing of many college students alarms me.  I wonder how they got into college without knowing, for example, that “it’s” is not the same as “its.”  “Its'” is not “its” either.  I know whereof I write, after years of teaching U.S. History survey courses (mostly the first part, through 1877) at a public university in Georgia.  To be fair, many students also write beautifully and understand English usage and grammar well.  This post is not about them and their delightful essays, however.

Many students seem confused about how to make a singular word plural.  Consider, O reader, the word “colonist.”  I am tired of reading essays and quiz answers in which pupils use it as if it is plural.  As they should have learned in elementary school, “colonists” is plural and “colonist” is singular.”  The way to make many words plural is to add an “s” to the end.

Many students confuse the plural and possessive forms of words.  Some of them labor under the delusion that “colonist’s” is plural, not singular possessive.   Alas, they are not alone.  One needs to go no further than the comments sections of websites to find examples of mangling the English language.  An example off the Internet is present in every weekly sales paper for a small chain of grocery stores in an around Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live.  The sales papers indicate the stores “with deli’s.”  You, O reader, can probably think of local examples easily too.

As a matter of fact, one should use an apostrophe to create the plural forms sometimes, as in letters.  For example, I might calculate the percentage of students I assigned A’s at the end of last semester.  I would have “as” without the apostrophe.   The problem regarding apostrophes is using them when one should not.

I do not know what is so confusing for so many people regarding “it’s” and “its.”  “It’s” is the contraction for “it is.”  “Its” is a singular possessive pronoun.  This is simple, is it not?  It should be.

Although I teach history, I also have to teach some English usage and grammar, unfortunately.  I make students write essays, not take tests.  Each student has about a month to write 8-10 pages on a prompt he or she selects from a list of three or four options.  I also provide the pupils with detailed instructions and writing guidelines.  When I add the book report to the list of writing assignments, I assign each student to write 28-36 pages during the course of the semester.  This is hardly draconian, except on yours truly, for I have to read all of this writing.  (Do the math.)  Yet some pupils, as they write in course evaluations, consider 28-36 pages to be “a lot of writing.”  The length of the writing assignments (28-36 pages spread across four papers in one semester) is not excessive, but the accumulation of their bad writing and their complaining is.

I refrain from criticizing teachers who have preceded me in these pupils’ lives.  Not only do I lack sufficient information to arrive at a conclusion, but I also understand that teachers have inattentive students.  Many factors can cause students not to pay attention.  Life at home might be troublesome.  A pupil might be hungry.  One might be fatigued.  A student might have an especially short attention span.  Or one might simply not care.  Regardless of the reason or set of reasons applicable in any given case, a reality teachers know well is that what they taught and what certain students learned bear little or no similarity to each other.  Communication is, by definition, an interactive process.  Whenever Person #1 sends a message to Person #2, who receives it and understands it as Person #1 intended, Person #1 has communicated with Person #2.  A number of factors might garble the message, even if Person #1 has sent it as best as possible.

I do not blame teachers overall.  Yes, some teachers are better at their jobs than others are, but teachers deserve much more credit than they receive.  We, as a society, require that they do more than they ought to have to do.  Parents and guardians, for example, have much responsibility; we should not shift any of that to teachers.  Yet we do.    Not only do I blame many parents and guardians, especially those who do not accept their share of responsibility and make like needlessly difficult for educators, but I also assign blame to inattentive and lazy students who rely too much on technology.  “Technology” is a blanket term for tools, from the wheel to smart phones.  Technology is not the problem.  It is, after all, neutral; how one uses it is good or bad.  I know from one-on-one discussions with certain students that they rely on their computers (word processing programs, to be precise) with regard to writing.  These pupils have not, therefore, internalized English usage and grammar as well as they should have.  These students’ writing would be superior without computers; they would know how to write in a literate manner without word processing programs.  The fault lies with these pupils.

The technology, in fact, can be overwhelmingly positive.  I recall the electronic typewriter I used during my undergraduate years.  I remember being grateful when the professor required end notes, not footnotes.  I also recall having to retype pages because of a few mistakes.  Word processing programs are godsends in my life.  I do not, however, mistake the spell check function for proofreading.  Many students do.

I harbor concerns for college students who write poorly, as evident in their difficulties relating to the plural, the possessive, and contractions.  Many of them will apply for employment that will require them to write in an official capacity.  For some the application and interview process will entail going to a room and writing on paper.  Or perhaps they will, as part of the process, have to write a statement on the application itself.  There is also the matter of the cover letter, assuming that the employer in question reads it.  The process will expose these applicants’ inadequate language skills, unless they improve those skills in the meantime.

I recall having excellent teachers as well as parents who valued my education.  I also remember being an attentive student.  The factors of school, home, and pupil are essential in education.  They are crucial to one knowing the difference between lessons and lesson’s.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Posted July 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education, Language

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The Definite Article   Leave a comment

Above:  The

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One should use the definite article (the) cautiously.  I argue this point, for I prefer to speak and write accurately.  I also like for others to do the same.  The misuse of “the” renders one’s argument objectively false by overstating one’s case.  Such shoddy discourse annoys me.

As I have noticed, many college students have been (and are) overly found of “the.”  During my years of teaching U.S. history survey courses in college, I have emphasized the fact that many colonists in what became the United States remained loyal to the British Empire during the American Revolutionary period.  In stating this plainly I have manifested fidelity to objective reality.  I have also instructed pupils both orally and in writing not to write of “the colonists” as if all colonists were of one political mind and warned these students.  Nevertheless, many students have not heeded my instructions to write of the past accurately in their essays.  I have graded those essays accordingly.

Another fault of misusing “the” is applying it in the spirit of invective.

The ______s insert negative stereotype here.

Infamously, for example, the Gospel of John mentions “the Jews” (in most English-language translations), although the Greek word is actually a geographical term sometimes.  Whether the term should be “the Jews” or “the Judeans” in English in any given verse, the issue of invective remains.  In the case of the Gospel of John, how can one avoid reading those passages without considering the millennia of Christian anti-Semitism inspired partially by the invective in that text?

In 2017 we continue to have problems with invective, often expressed with the misuse of the definite article.  Human nature is constant, after all.  One might engage in partisan invective, for example.  Or one might be a racist or some other variety of bigot, perhaps with regard to religion.  Or maybe one might be merely an unrepentant ethnocentrist and Nativist.  Either way, one engages in stereotyping, thereby overlooking the diversity inherent in any population.  One therefore engages in the sin of judging others.  One also makes objectively false statements.

Shall we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and to think, speak, and write objectively correctly?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Folly and Immorality of Campus Carry   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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On July 1, in the State of Georgia, the new “campus carry” law will go into effect.

As long as this law (as well as the previous, vetoed version) has been on the legislative table, it has concerned me.  I, as a classroom instructor on a university campus, have become jaded about postsecondary students overall over the years.  This fact, added to my negative view of human nature (depravity as objective reality, not an article of faith), has caused me to conclude that this law is a recipe for very bad–even lethal–results.

The version of the law that passed the General Assembly and received Governor Nathan Deal’s signature does include certain exemptions, such as residence halls, sports venues, day care centers, and offices.  But what constitutes an office?  This matter is not always clear for certain employees of the University System of Georgia.  Another exemption is any classroom in which, at the time, a dual-enrolled high school student is present.  Yet, if a high school student not dual-enrolled is present in that classroom, that space is not exempt from the “campus carry” law.  Furthermore, any common space–such as a dining hall or a lobby–is a space in which someone with a concealed gun permit may legally carry a concealed gun, even if a high school student is present.  Regarding sports venues, guns are forbidden there, but, as of today, there will no University System of Georgia policy allowing the posting of signage indicating this.  Drunken tailgaters outside the sports venues will have the right of carry guns, however.

This morning I attended a town hall meeting led by the university chief of police.  He, for professional reasons, did not express his opinion.  He read the text of the law and of the statement from the office of the Chancellor of the University System.  He also went over established questions and answers.  Many of the answers were indefinite, indicating that the University System had yet to provide guidance regarding that particular circumstance.  Then the chief answered new questions.  As I listened intently, I became more concerned.  Professors and staff members asked about their particular and practical circumstances, ranging from chemistry labs to testing centers to the blurring of the lines between common space and office space in the library.  The chief had no answer other than the University System had yet to provide guidance.  After the meeting I heard some professors indicate that they were going on the job market.

The chief will lead more campus town hall meetings–later this month and again in August, as the University System offers more guidance.

Those who voted for this law and the governor who signed it did not think through the plethora of details sufficiently.  They created a huge mess, one that is leading campus police departments to develop programs to train faculty and staff to talk down armed and emotionally disturbed students.

I am cautious by nature.  For this reason I tend not to make wild predictions or embrace conspiracy theories.  I do make two predictions, however:

  1. Lawsuits will ensue as the University System offers guidance, faculty and staff members follow it, and individuals carrying concealed guns object to the rules, claiming that these rules violate the law.  The United States does have a litigious society, after all.
  2. More than one person will die or suffer injury because of this law.

Legislators and the Governor will be morally responsible for those deaths and injuries.

The gun culture is alive and well in the State of Georgia.  For example, we have a law permitting people to carry weapons onto church property unless the church forbids it.  Fortunately, the Episcopal Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta have such a ban.  I reject the idea that the answer to the problem of gun violence is more guns.  Adding guns to the equation makes as much sense to me as pouring gasoline on a fire and mistaking the gasoline for flame retardant.

May God deliver us from ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted June 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education, Political Statements

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Course Evaluations and Classroom Technology   Leave a comment

Especially Regarding PowerPoint

Spring Semester ended recently.  Nine days ago the contents of my students’ evaluations of me and of my course became available to me.  I, as a classroom instructor, was understandably curious about their ratings and comments.  Over the years I have found them to be (A) generally quite different from the depiction of me at ratemyprofessor.com and (B) occasionally helpful, occupying the category of constructive criticism.

Usually, though, I have found these course evaluations to be mostly useless.  For example, I copied the course objectives verbatim from the university and pasted them into my syllabi, yet some students thought I had not stated the course objectives clearly in those documents.  Also, I critiqued drafts of essays whenever students asked me to do so, but one pupil criticized me for having no involvement in assignments outside of the classroom.  Furthermore, I organized the material (as many students acknowledged) yet some accused me of being disorganized in my teaching.

My interpretation of the last criticism is that those who wrote it really meant that they would have preferred for me to have used PowerPoint in the classroom.  But, as one student told me, he was grateful that I did not use that technology.  He had become accustomed to copying PowerPoint slides for other courses and had found that procedure mind-numbing.  He enjoyed my emphasis on analyzing the material, he said.

Technology is useful is my lessons.  I enjoy being able,  for example, to show my students the full text of the Stamp Act (1765) and to use a website to adjust historical dollar amounts for inflation.  However, PowerPoint is useless in my classroom.  I recall that almost every PowerPoint presentation to which someone has subjected me has entailed he or she reading the slides.  PowerPoint is a useful tool in certain settings and for some subjects, but I avoid the technology.

Besides, my teaching style is not amenable to reading from a script, notes, or PowerPoint slides.  No, my instructional style is more discussion-based.  I master the germane material, follow skeletal notes that function mostly to remind me to cover certain topics, and use my memory.  I speak authoritatively and from my knowledge.

This style, I know, is foreign to many students, spoon-fed notes (often via PowerPoint) for years. I want them to think critically, however.  I know that this exceeds the capacity of many of my pupils.  This is not entirely their fault, but I must raise the bar, I know.  I realize that I will do them no favors by not raising the bar.

I found no constructive criticism in the course evaluations this time.  I did, however, learn how oblivious some of my students were to objective reality and how dependent upon PowerPoint they were.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted May 24, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education

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