Yelp with Care, Candy from the mouth of babes, Chris Cornell, & other random thoughts today

Academic standing posted at Angelo State yesterday. Like anyone else tasked with talking to students who earn their way onto academic suspension, I was yelled at, hung up on, and, I’m sure, called all kinds of mean, nasty, and ugly things behind my back. At least no parents have called me yet this semester. I try my best to be calm and understanding with students. They are, I silently tell myself, still 18 and 19 years old and being suspended is an ominous and an outward (and kind of aggressive but well-earned) condemnation of their academic behavior. To paraphrase a Keb Mo’ song: everyone likes to party, but no one likes to clean. Behavior has consequences for the students, and if they party too much, someone has to clean up the mess. At ASU, we’ve simply decided there’s a point at which we can’t keep taking a student’s money if he can’t pass any classes. There’s something flat-out dirty about letting a student rack up thousands and thousands of dollars in debt when she can’t pass classes. For some of our students, though, being suspended seems like the end of the road. When they call, if they don’t hang up on me first, we discuss options. There are, after all, plenty of other jobs in the sea, other universities to attend, and plenty of people live worthwhile and happy lives without a college degree. Sometimes, I tell them, relationships don’t work. This is one of them, but the world is a big place full of opportunity if we can learn from our mistakes and fall forward. We’ll still be here, I say as nicely as possible, if you ever get ready to read those books and do that math.

Day two after academic standing is usually less about anger and more about deal making. Everyone in this world, including college students, wants justice until they decide they really want mercy.

Fortunately, the internet is always around to provide relief in between sob stories. A few random thoughts about some stuff I read today:

  1. Be careful what you Yelp. I’m sure you’ve seen the article about the Yale Dean whose insensitive Yelp reviews have left her boss “grieving” and “unable to envision a way forward.” First off–grieving? Geez. How about mad? Angry? Disappointed? Don’t get me wrong, I fully support Dr. Chu’s First Amendment right to be as insulting and insensitive as she wants. If I were a betting man, I would guess Dr. Chu will send us a press release apologizing and telling the world she was trying to be humorous. Heck, if that excuse is good enough for the president, should be good enough for a Dean from Yale. First Amendment or not, though, words have consequences and if you work in a profession entrusted with educating young minds, you don’t get to tweet racist, classist, and other stereotypical comments that insult the very students you are supposed to educate. Simply put, as college leaders we have to be better than that and I get so frustrated with colleagues who can’t, or won’t, recognize that everything we write (including things like this blog) reflects on the university where we work. That doesn’t mean we can’t write about complex and difficult subjects. I have every right in the world to blog about Donald Trump, Fox News, Barack Obama, race, abortion, Elvis-sightings and any number of other controversial issues, but I have a responsibility to do so with a keen eye on the public nature of the writing and with a clear sense that our role as educators is to conduct ourselves in a manner that represents the values of truth, intelligence, and ideas. I might think Donald Trump is a horrible president and I might think he’s dumb as a box of rocks, but I can’t tweet that Trump should hang or call him a moron without offering some intelligent reasons why. Our job, in the classroom and in public forums, is to model behavior. You might think Seth Abramson is a crazy person, but he’s not threatening the president, and, by all accounts, he keeps his political thoughts out of the classroom. Most importantly, he believes in something and he’s developing an argument, not posting threatening tweets or insulting Yelp reviews. I would never accept an essay from a student that posited simplistic and immature ideas. I demand they make an assertion, develop, and defend with evidence. Most importantly, I tell them we need to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold everyone else. That goes especially for those of us in academia. So. I’m not grieving for Dr. Chu. I’m upset that she’s not savvy enough to recognize that calling people white trash and morons in Yelp reviews is inappropriate and makes the rest of us hard working college professors look like elitist, uncaring dorks.
  2. If you missed out on Girl Scout cookies this year, I think you can blame the person in this mug shot. A friend of ours sent us the link. Forget the story, though. Read the comments on twitter. Sometimes my faith in humanity is restored when people get clever without being mean and degrading. She stole 6,000 boxes of girl scout cookies. The jokes almost write themselves.
  3. I was never a huge Audioslave or Soundgarden fan, but I hate that we’ve lost another huge voice from the music world of my youth. Chris Cornell helped define the grunge movement and tapped into an angst those of us in the mid-80s felt about the world. Musically, those bands fought against the increasingly global record chains and fused punk, rock, and any other kind of music they wanted into songs filled with emotion and rage against the man. Indie music lovers of the world need to thank them everyday. They fought the good fight. Eddie Veder and Kurt Cobain sang with a raw emotion, but for my money Cornell was the guy with a voice. Don’t believe me? Take a listen to his rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and you decide.





Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Listen to Country Music and other random thoughts today

Some days the easiest blog is one that requires the least amount of thinking.

  1. Michael J. Petrilli over at Education Next writes in “Common Confusion” about the disconnect in parent’s ideas beliefs about their children’s academic performance and the reality of college-readiness. He argues that we must do a better job of providing realistic and honest feedback about academic performance. Too often, students go through school being told they are doing fine by teachers and getting good grades on report cards. While standardized tests could provide a wake-up call, too many parents dismiss those reports as unfair, arguing little Johnny isn’t a good test taker. Even more important, there’s no real information those mandated tests that tie the score to long-term academic performance, even though those scores often provide us with a pretty solid sense about how a student will do in the future. I can’t really argue with Petrilli’s idea that we need to be more open and honest about the gap between college aspirations and college readiness. We can start by reminding everyone, parents included, that a C equals average and average doesn’t equal failure. Most of us have strengths and most of us have some areas where we’re average. Being okay isn’t the end of the world. For most teachers, though, handing out Cs (or Ds and Fs) often leads to angry phone calls from parents that are often not worth the hassle of handing out failing grades. What I do like about Petrilli’s argument is the idea that defining the gap between college aspirations and college readiness might (and that’s a big might) spur parents to push for resources that will help unprepared students close the gap. However, I think Petrilli falls into the same trap that too many of us slide into, though, by ignoring that no matter what we do every child doesn’t need to go to college. Perhaps, instead of only identifying the gap between college aspirations and college readiness we should also use those standardized tests to reshape some aspirations and encourage kids from an early age to focus on skilled trades, military, or entrepreneurial opportunities that don’t need a college degree.
  2.  For a mere $425, you can buy jeans caked in fake dirt from Nordstrom’s. At the risk of sounding reductionist and immature, that’s the dumbest damn thing I’ve heard all day (and I work with college freshman). For my money (or someone else’s because I like to get my jeans dirty the old fashioned way), this is a bit like buying a Cadillac truck. If you want a truck, buy something you’re going to use. What’s next, a hammer pre-nicked, sold with fake bruised thumbnails and a list of cuss words to read in public? Of course, the jokes probably on all of us folks giving Nordstrom’s free publicity.
  3. Phillip Levine’s “Only a Misunderstanding of What College Really Costs Could Have Produced New York’s Flawed Plan for Free Tuition” is so much cleaner than my blog from the other day about the flaws in free tuition. The reality is that while college is expensive, actual tuition costs at many universities across the country aren’t nearly as exorbitant as most people think. Like the gap between college aspiration and college readiness, we have a perception gap for college students. College isn’t necessarily a place to go party, live on your own for 4 years, and rack up college debt. If you can’t afford $425 jeans with fake caked mud, don’t buy them. If you can’t afford $48,000 a year in tuition, pick a different college, live at home, and work part time to pay your bills. I understand the desire to move off, live on your own, and party with your dorm mates. Those are all valuable experiences, but flying to Paris and staying in a 5-star hotel is a valuable experience, too. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford such extravagance. Pick a college within your means (like Angelo State!). You’ll get a great education at an affordable price that ends with a college degree. Isn’t the degree the point anyway?
  4. Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to listen to Country Music, unless you want them to learn all about how much fun it is to smoke pot. You read it right: Rock and roll might want your kids to rebel and fight the man, but Willie wants them to get rolled and stoned. Far be it from me to point out the contradictory nature of a genre that pretends to focus on family values and patriotic fervor (unless your an all woman band who offers political commentary). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since so much of contemporary country music is really pop-light anyway. Either way, mom and dad, dust off those Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Brahms albums. Those guys might have been radical, but at least they didn’t ruin any songs with bad lyrics or drug-references.

Shuffling My Way Out of the Musical Story

Of all the things for which I’m proud of my kids, their taste in music is at the top of the list. Both boys might be interested in a Beyonce or Rihanna, but only if they don’t have to listen to either one sing. I’m equally happy that they both are as baffled by Justin Beiber’s popularity as I am.

It’s true that they might listen to some  tunes with a little more bass than I might like, but for the most part I can count on them to hook me up with some Mumford and Sons, Black Keys, or Blue October when we are riding around together. My older son even spent a little bit of time last night looking for a little Van Morrison. We can always jam to that little band from LaGrange.

As you might imagine, the love-fest doesn’t always go both ways. My wife and I, eclectic music lovers ourselves, are just as likely to listen to classic country as we are rock and roll. I’m a jazz fan, also. Some nights are just made for Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Sonny Rollins, or the Bird. I can’t drink enough to enjoy rap or heavy metal (and I’m fairly certain they would say the same about jazz.)


Click to see scene from High Fidelity.

My wife and I are from the age of cassette tapes. It was, we might call it, the mix-tape era. Late nights sitting by the radio, hitting record, pause, record, trying  for that special set of songs that might speak to a particular mood. Or a particular girl or boy. Once I got a little older with some disposable income and a car, I made it my mission to have a tape from every letter in the alphabet and a stereo with dual cassette players.

As we head toward Valentine’s Day, in some ways I miss that era. While we certainly had favorite songs, listening for that song required a commitment to the whole album. Sure, you could lift the needle and try to find track 5 but you risked scratching the end of song 4. You might, if you had time, fast forward the tape, guessing at the time so you didn’t  have to rewind. Of course, the more you moved back and forth, the more likely the spool got loose. Nothing hurt worse than pulling Prince’s Purple Rain out of the cassette player inch by inch while the machine tried to eat the tape.

I don’t blame Steve Jobs, not entirely. The Ipod has revolutionized music. When I was a kid, I knew I liked rock and roll. My wife loved country. Those choices defined a part of us. Today, my kids like everything. They buy songs not albums and they create playlists when they are feeling productive and let Genius do it for them when they are lazy. They get to skip the bad songs and their Ipods are, in essence, simply a “Best of”compilation. They are a little but country and a little bit rock and roll, but they are also a whole lot of everything else.

And that’s kind of a shame. Great albums, like books of poetry, should tell a story. Certainly, we can pull individual songs or poems and enjoy them out of context, but there’s also something about knowing how the song after speaks to (or against) the previous song. We might hear a plaintive cry for revolution, followed by a sigh of discontent at failure. An well-made album speaks across a range of emotions, coupling the music with the album cover and liner notes, to capture a moment in time. They also have hidden gems that don’t get radio play, but reveal emotions or musical rifts that don’t appeal to the general population. How many of us have favorite songs that no one else has ever heard?

Now days, we listen to the songs out of context, relying on the crazy algorithm of “shuffle.” George Jones might sing about roses followed by Guns and Roses. It’s discordant in a way that might reflect the eclectic state of music, but rarely captures a consistent emotion. In some ways, we might be more efficient and we have fewer bad songs, but when every song we own is the “best” song, we miss out on some intangible comparison. It’s those “bad” songs, the unpopular ones that fill the necessary space on the album that creates the rest of the story. In some ways, it’s like starting a novel, but stopping after the first chapter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no musical snob. I’m as comfortable with a little Warrant (“Cherry Pie) as I am U2 (“A Street with No Name”). I can sing along with Billy Idol or chill with some Miles Davis. But I find myself missing the days when I suffered through one bad song so I could get to the next one. That anticipation, the comparison, created some context that I think we miss listening to music today. I have nearly 3,000 songs in my library (my son has almost 5,000) and I realize, as I listen to them shuffle around (Elvis followed by the Beastie Boys–talk about a culture shift) that I’m missing something. I’ve taken the storytelling away from John Mellencamp and turned it over to some mysterious electronic system disconnected from the larger story.

I have, in essence, shuffled myself out of the musical story.


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 > 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.)

Scott Adams' Blog

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.)