Don’t Be So Cheeky

First year college students routinely receive gobs and bogs of advice. Study hard, sit in the front row, exercise to avoid the freshman 15, go to class. (No, really, go to class. Even the 8:00 ones.)

It has become increasingly clear, though, that we are all falling down on the job with regards to one crucial piece of advice we need to pass along to our students:

Keep your ass in your pants.

Don’t think me a prude or a pervert, but each fall I can identify the first year students by either how low their pants hang or how high they ride. I was reminded of such things a few weeks back when I took my son to his first year orientation. For three very long, excruciating days, we walked campus, attended sessions, and learned about all the cool, groovy things waiting for him in late August. In some ways, what I saw was encouraging. We have clearly entered a post-racial world and fashion, or lack thereof, has now transcended (or descended?) ethnicity: it was a veritable rainbow of backsides.

Notably, as we walked around campus, there was a distinct and fashionable difference between the upper division students I saw and the incoming first year students. I watched young men waddle around campus, struggling to keep their pants perfectly positioned on their backsides aiming for that zero gravitational point. Clearly, we have raised a generation of kids who just don’t care if “I see London, I see France, I see Billy’s underpants.” Let me give you guys a hint–they are called underwear because you wear them under the other clothes you wear.

But at least we were looking at clothes under those shorts. Sure, they all look constipated trying to walk around but at least they have some sense of decorum.

I would have preferred to see little Susie’s underpants but I’m not sure she was wearing any.

I repeat–don’t think me perverse. I realize these are 18 year old women and I’m not prone to oogling women half my age who could be my daughter. I recognize and respect the necessary separation between faculty and students. These young women are coming to campus where they will be cared for and protected by the established leaders on campus. Let me also state for the record that I respect a person’s right to dress anyway he or she wants to dress. I realize clothes are both a personal expression and, often, an opportunity to make a cultural/political statement. I also realize there is an “ick” factor involved in my even mentioning that I see young people’s backsides. But we also must note that flapping butt cheeks are hard to ignore.

Of course, there was a time when such things were exciting. I’m a child of 80s movies. I was raised on gratuitous nudity and I could rationalize the need for Erika Eleniak’s important role in any film. Popping out of the cake half naked was, of course, vital to the plot line in Under Siege. It offered Steven Segal a chance for moral redemption. Plus, it was Erika Eleniak and I was 23 and not old enough to have a daughter her age. (Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy a beautiful body as much as the next guy. I’m older, not dead.)

Understand that I’ve been teaching on a college campus for 20 years and I’ve watched trends come and go. I fully expect students to arrive on campus and announce their independence from high school dress codes. They feel a sense of liberation as they become fully adult without the oppressive school administration and social mores stifling their sense of self and identity. They are truly coming into their own bodies and experiencing a new found joy in expressing themselves as adult, sexualized, and independent entities.

I get it. I think it’s entirely appropriate for them to do so when they go out on Friday night or off to Las Vegas. Feel free to flash your flesh at the lake or the beach or on our sand volleyball courts. In fact, if you are someone who has a backside worth looking at you should be proud and happy. Trust me–the day will come when everyone will notice your backside but their reaction will be just a tad bit different.

But, and I say this as someone tasked by the state to help train students to become fully realized citizens of the state and the world: don’t be so cheeky even now. Take a hint from the upper division students around you. They’ve put their high school letter jackets in the closet, starting wearing sensible shoes, and realized it’s hard to walk across campus in 10 minutes or less when you are constantly stopping to pull your pants up. Or down.

So I encourage you, as you dress for class, make your fashion statement. Assert your independence. Feel free to be your own person.

But, on your way to class this fall, try to keep a little bit of that person hidden.

Worried Love–A Poem

One of the reasons I love teaching at a university is that each year we break for spring. Certainly, by this time the 10 hour days, 6 days a week are catching up to me and my colleagues. Haggard and worn, my favorite memories of spring break involve camping. There’s really nothing like turning off the phone, leaving the tv, and hitting the trails. Better yet: that tired and worn feeling at the end of the day sitting by a fire with a rum and coke. Even though we’re going to miss out this year, I include a poem I wrote a while back after one such trip. I realize it’s pretty presumptuous to post one’s own poetry and I make no claims to it’s quality, but after 93 posts on contemporary topics and a couple of weeks blogging about education and the budget, I don’t really feel like thinking on the Friday before spring break.

Worried Love

My wife hates it when
I hike alone.

Her worry
is both endearing and
annoying. I tell her the
javelinas won’t find me
tasty–I’m too thin and
bony–but she’s not

I quote
Abbey: “get out of the
goddamned contraption . . .”

Before I finish she rolls
her eyes and waves
away my words, telling
me I’m welcome to hike
if I can find Abbey and
take him with me, pointing
to the pamphlets, underlining with
her finger the warning not to
“hike alone.”

She worries about snakes,
quotes statistics about
heat stroke, broken bones.
Bears.Wild pigs.
I smile at her
frustration, the
repetition of this
game we play.

What can I see from a
car? Hoary rosemary
mint looks like thistle at
seventy miles an hour;
mountain oxeye blurs like
black eyed susans.

Early mornings are best.
I leave camp at dawn to
see the sun hit

They open slowly like
my family emerging
from their sleeping
bags. The freshly
opened dayflower,
midnight blue, a splash of
yellow to feed the insect
world. Beardlip
penstemon, hidden in a
crevice, a plant to
sneak up on, quietly,
like chasing a deer
down the trail.

She hears me pack and
knows I’m going,
tells me if
I break a leg,
twist an ankle,
get eaten by a bear,
don’t come
crying to her.

I tell her I
love her too and
pack my stuff for the
morning hike.

“Working” 9-5, What a Way to Make a Living

Is there anything better after a day of meetings than coming back to the room around 8:30 pm and taking offl those shoes you’ve been wearing since 7:30 am? Make a drink. Relax by flipping through the meaningless cable channels. Make another drink. Realize cable tv isn’t what it used to be but knowing you will watch garbage here you wouldn’t be caught dead seeing at home. “Impact Wrestling!” Whoo, whoo!

I’m not arguing that I’m doing hard labor here and I really should have hit the streets to learn more about Indianapolis. There’s supposed to be this great little place about 2 miles from here called the Three Sisters Cafe. I want to walk down there tonight, but yesterday was a full day. I know that the guys working on the street at 7:00 am in the 29 degrees cold have it tougher. I’m not asking anyone to cry me a river. But, still. Sitting around for 8 hours listening to people talk, that’s tough. Networking all day. Being nice, wearing that business meeting smile.   That’s brain tired. Exhausting. Somedays I long to be 13 again so I can just have a meltdown in public and everyone will just explain it away as raging hormones. This is what we sacrifice when we represent a company or univesity. And it’s enough to make one wonder why we try at all.

And last night hitting the bricks wasn’t happening. 8 hours of meetings followed by a banquet honoring four student athletes whose accomplishments make Mother Theresa look like a slacker. (Imagine, then, what us mortals feel like?)

The kid who was a four year starter in cross country, two national championships, a college record, and a neuroscience major. I guess he studied while running all those miles. The woman headed to medical school after various swimming championships, volunteers at schools, raises money for charity, and generally offers hope to those of us who think the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Even so, I don’t like banquets. There’s almost always more speeches than my bladder can handle and I don’t really want to walk out in the middle of a speech. So I sit. And fidget like a 6 year old after drinking a coke. And I wait. When your body hurts, you can eat the pain. When you are tired, you can stand up and get the blood flowing. When your bladder is full, there’s not a lot you can do but pray the speaker talks fast.

But sometimes it’s worth the crossed legs and long sit. A couple of weeks ago at Angelo State, we hosted the Holland Symposium on American Values. Jeffrey Lyons, film critic and journalist, was our key note speaker. Lyons’ father was a journalist in New York who wrote a column for 40 years. 1000 words a day about movers and shakers like Hemingway, DiMaggio, Bogart, etc. Jeffrey pulled those columns together for The Lyons Den: Stories My Father Told Me. Good book. Worth reading.

At a reception the night before the symposium, Angelo State’s Studio One, a group of about 10 students who perform short pieces, did a 20 minute “History of Film.” After the performance, I told the audience that all those critics of higher ed need to come watch things like this. Those kids prove we are doing our job. People worried about our country need to watch those kids. They are the future and it looks pretty good.

Last night was the same way. Sure, there are some awful kids out in the world, just like there are some awful grown ups. And yes–there are bad college students, annoying students, and kids who never learn. But then there are these kids. And the faculty in the room who live, not for their own success, but to revel in the accomplishments of these kids. There was the coach a few years ago who drove down to a ceremony the night before a national championship game. The faculty members who flew home last night to teach classes today. I know you don’t read about them in the paper, but they are out there. Every day.

It’s easy to focus on the negative every day. That’s what we read about in the paper. “If it bleeds, it leads” the old news adage goes. We need to remember somedays what’s not in the newspaper. Kids like these. Sure, the level to which they succeeded is unusual, but it’s not unusual that our universities produced kids who succeeded.

We might all do well to remember that when we finally sit to rest at the end of the day.

MOOCs, SMOOCs: What’s so disruptive about a massive class?

MOOCs (massively open online courses) are taking the educational world by storm. They promise “disruption.” edX offers us “The Future of Online Education for anyone, anywhere, anytime.” Coursera allows us to “Take the World’s Best Courses, Online, For Free.” Udacity is a “totally new kind of learning experience” where we get rid of those boring lectures. Lindsey Burke wants students able to “piece together” courses from MOOCs and traditional schools and have degrees conferred after an independent “assessment by private accrediting companies.”

Supporters of MOOCs want to wrest control of education from the high-priced, flawed business modeled, elitist dominated, bastions of liberalism filled with underworked professors where we charge students increasingly high prices (customers, they might say) but don’t graduate them in sufficient numbers. Tuition is rising while performance is not. (Because spending millions per class and giving it away for free is a great business model. Let’s ask the daily newspapers how that plan works.)

Naturally, the list of schools joining in this parade of “disruptive” pedagogy grows daily. Yesterday, the University of Texas announced they will join edX and become the first public university to bring their “system’s institutional weight” to the project.

Hailed by Governor Rick Perry as a perfect way to make education “accessible and affordable for Texans,” one wonders if Governor Perry noticed that the UT System will invest $10 million in the creation of 4 courses. I’m no math guru, but that’s $2.5 million per course. That better be one helluva a course.

And it’s free. Except to the state taxpayers and the students paying tuition at UT who are paying the professor, buying the cameras, and purchasing the technology.

While the goal of the MOOC movement seems noble, it’s worth noting that we’ve always had massively open courses; we used to call them public libraries. There has never been a restriction on self-teaching. We all know someone who achieved great success without school; people who win Trivial Pursuit even though they dropped out in the 5th grade. These are the people who make the Discovery Channel so popular.

Obviously, it’s the online that seems so important here. As student debt rises and the return on investment seems to shrink, Americans want some sort of Henry Ford model for higher ed to emerge from the scrap heap of innovation. But, we don’t necessarily want a system that makes students feel like a number. As MOOCs develop, they try harder and harder to develop technologies that allow the 100,000 students to interact with each other in smaller and smaller groups. Like a university classroom. They do this because well over 2/3 of MOOC students don’t even make it to mid-term. And they feel disconnected from the class. And they feel alone. And they quit. MOOCs, I’m sure, have noted that the University of Phoenix, a for-profit business whose profit is largely based on government subsidized student loans, has an abysmal graduation rate. Oh, and don’t forget that we have absolutely no idea if the student registered for the MOOC is the student doing the work.

So we come full circle. The high-priced business model that is publicly-financed and supported has no real way to measure performance and isn’t graduating students in sufficient numbers. We can, of course, remedy this problem by creating smaller MOOCs and requiring person to person contact. Perhaps we should set a meeting time and place. Maybe build some buildings. Ask customers to invest a little money into the project to help them feel connected and responsible. We’ll call it a university and let the kids live on campus and attend small classes where students interact and learn from each other. Naw. That’s not disruptive enough.

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

NYT > U.S. > Politics

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Dilbert Daily Strip

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)