Archive for academia

Summer teaching

Tomorrow I meet the students in my Advanced Professional Communications class for the first time, out at Kwantlen Polytechnic University‘s Surrey campus. What a splendid gig I have!

“Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence”

From Emory University professor Scott Lilienfeld’s recent paper on “microaggressions”:

The microaggression concept has recently galvanized public discussion and spread to numerous college campuses and businesses. I argue that the microaggression research program (MRP) rests on five core premises, namely, that microaggressions (1) are operationalized with sufficient clarity and consensus to afford rigorous scientific investigation; (2) are interpreted negatively by most or all minority group members; (3) reflect implicitly prejudicial and implicitly aggressive motives; (4) can be validly assessed using only respondents’ subjective reports; and (5) exert an adverse impact on recipients’ mental health. A review of the literature reveals negligible support for all five suppositions. … Although the MRP has been fruitful in drawing the field’s attention to subtle forms of prejudice, it is far too underdeveloped on the conceptual and methodological fronts to warrant real-world application. I … call for a moratorium on microaggression training programs and publicly distributed microaggression lists pending research to address the MRP’s scientific limitations.

Columbia University professor Musa Al-Gharbi’s response to Lilienfeld’s paper provides some edifying context.

This is a very contentious topic on campuses, as you can imagine. This New York times story from last fall gives you a good picture.

h/t to C on clarissasblog

“If you are pro Black, pro Hispanic, or pro Asian, why don’t you say so … ?”

After we got back in touch with each other in 2009, Lorraine sent me the correspondence below – between me and a ‘literary agent’ – which she had kept after leaving Prometheus Books decades before.

Lorraine wrote me: “In one of my periodic cleaning binges, lo — my Prometheus ‘DO YOU BELIEVE THIS’ file re-emerged this week, after a disappearance of nigh onto twenty years! The attached provided me with a cascading set of giggles.  I hope you will still find the exchange as amusing as I did.” I did, and do. Thank you, Lorraine.

(I’ve obscured my antagonist’s information.)

Note #1 to my students: The approach I chose here is generally not recommended for your own workplace correspondence. Please stay courteous! Your goal, almost always, is to foster and maintain relationships.

Note #2 to my students: You also might want to avoid misspelling *your own job title* in workplace correspondence. I was the senior “Acquisitions” editor for a year before I remembered that “acquisitions” has a “c” in it. (That was around the same time I was shocked to see that “smooth” wasn’t spelled “smoothe.”)

PS – The “LMP” is The Literary Marketplace guide.

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Teaching

Early this morning I guest-lectured, via Skype, in Professor Frank Grasso‘s class on parapsychology at Brooklyn College, CUNY. The students were wonderful. I arrived prepared! Such a beautiful day.

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Salut, Mayhew

I have been writing and publishing very little lately; profound family events seem to have taken most of my words away.

In a weird way, my friend Jonathan Mayhew has kind of stepped in, writing so much and so brilliantly that I would not have wanted to be writing anyway. No writer charms me so often or so well.

One of Jonathan’s current projects is a book on the pedagogy of poetry. He’s writing it on a private blog to which I’ve been invited. Ideally I will be providing helpful feedback, but until now mostly I have just been … amazed.

Saving the nautilus

My sister Jenny Basil, a renowned professor of biology at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College, is over the moon because of this news: The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending that the chambered nautilus, pictured below, be placed on the international endangered species list.

The chambered nautilus, with its beautifully intricate shell and exquisite coloring is traded in large quantities, mostly as jewelry and shell products. The United States has long been concerned about the impact that this trade may have on the seven species in the nautilus family , as have some ambitious young conservationists (learn more here and here). Nautiluses are slow to reproduce, leaving them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. The United States, Fiji, India and Palau have put forward a proposal to include the nautilus family in Appendix II to ensure its survival in the wild.

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Truly happy news.

Photo from the Flickr stream of Klaus Steifel shared under Creative Commons licensing.

Aeon: Intellectual Culture

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My new favourite place to go very morning is Aeon, a marvellous multimedia site devoted to intellectual culture: “big ideas, serious enquiry, a humane worldview and good writing.”

From the About page:

Aeon has four channels…. Most weekdays, it publishes Essays – longform explorations of deep issues written by serious and creative thinkers.

From Monday to Friday, it also publishes Opinions – short provocations, maintaining Aeon’s high argumentative standards but in a more nimble and immediate form.

Aeon’s Video channel streams a mixture of curated short documentaries and original Aeon content, including a series of interviews with experts at the forefront of thought.

Finally, Aeon’s Conversations channel invites the reader in to put their own arguments and points of view. With Conversations, old-style web comments give way to a new form of collective inquiry.

This morning I read a lively, lucid opinion piece by Cory Powell arguing that Galileo’s reputation might be more hyperbole than truth – the author chooses “is” for “might be,” no surprise. (Hint: Kepler was the real giant of science who explained heliocentrism and the laws of planetary motion.)  A 4-minute animation directed by Sharron Mirsky showed me how to enjoy a blackout. Reading an essay by Frank Furede called “The Ages of Distraction,” I learned that moralists and philosophers have complaining about how distracted humans are for hundreds of years:

Attention was promoted as a moral accomplishment that was essential to the cultivation of a sound character. The philosopher Thomas Reid, the foremost exponent of 18th-century Scottish ‘common sense’, argued in his Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind (1788) that ‘there are moral rules respecting the attention’ which are ‘no less evident than mathematical axioms’. The moral rules of attention required cultivation and training and it was the job of educators to ensure that the young were protected from acquiring the ‘habits of inattention’. Inattention was increasingly perceived as an obstacle to the socialisation of young people.

Countering the habit of inattention among children and young people became the central concern of pedagogy in the 18th century. Educators have always been preoccupied with gaining children’s attention but in the 18th century this concern acquired an unprecedented importance. Attention was seen as important for the nourishment of the reasoning mind as well as for spiritual and moral development. Advice books directed at parents, such as Maria Edgeworth’s Practical Education (1798), insisted that the cultivation of concentration and attention required effort and skill.

After reading this wonderful essay, I quickly zipped over to The Drudge Report, alas, to see what crazy things were happening all over the world – well, mostly all over the United States. Shame on me!

Returning to Aeon I got caught up with a high-toned and truly friendly discussion that addressed the question, “Can a mystical tradition within a religion be said to express its true spirit.”

As an author, editor, and publisher, I could not be more impressed and gratified by this initiative. Salut to co-founders Brigid and Paul Hains.

cross-posted at NoContest.CA

This morning there’s a really good opinion piece, “Why mothers of tweens – not newborns – are the most depressed,” by Suniya Luthar and Lucia Ciciliola, who explain:

That tweens roll their eyes at their parents is not news. What is new is evidence, in our study, that these behaviours can be deeply hurtful to mothers. Women who saw their children as rude and rejecting were among those who felt most distressed.

A central take-home message from our findings is that the big ‘separation’ from offspring, the one that really hurts, comes not when children leave the nest literally, but when they do this psychologically – in their complex strivings to become grown-ups, in their tweens. …

And all this comes at a time when many mothers first experience the signs of approaching middle age, with declines in physical and cognitive abilities, and increased awareness of mortality. It also is a period when, according to studies other than our own, marital satisfaction is the lowest and strife the highest.

It’s no wonder that middle-school mothers are so stressed.

Aeon has a lively twitter feed.