Your Pending Return

Screen fatigue is real, y’all. After six weeks of a four-by-four schedule of remote classes, I have discovered genuine antipathy for looking at screens of any size. I find myself wishing for an old-fashioned landline. I don’t especially care to stream movies I’ve put on the watchlist. I’d as soon go grabbling for alligators as turn on my laptop once I get home.

I’d like to tell you that your physical return to MSMS will result in significantly less screen time. However, social distancing guidelines mean that very few classes will be able to meet with all participants in the same room–only a couple of spaces in Hooper and Shack can accommodate even eleven students at the same time. As a result, we will have to deal with “hybrid” models in which some students are physically present and others Zoom–which in effect means that even those in the room will be watching Zoom to monitor the questions and chats of their colleagues in other places. Social distancing will also mean courses that rely on groupwork–labs, performance classes, robotics classes, etc–will not quite be normal.

This begs a series of questions: because health needs continue to require social distancing, would students be better off at home, both educationally and socially, until the third or fourth quarter? If students do return to campus in October. what should the tipping point be for a resumption of distance learning? Do we send everyone home after ten students test positive? Twenty?

Posted in Education, Ethics | 3 Comments

Double-Barreled Disasters

Fifteen years ago, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the gulf coast from Hancock County, Mississippi, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The two storms caused more than $180 billion worth of damage to human structures. They also decimated what remained of barrier islands and wetlands south of these two states. Since then, environmental groups have poured millions of dollars into improving those crucial natural resources. Their efficacy will be tested later today near Lake Charles, where Hurricane Laura is slated to make landfall.

Like most people, I feel good about money spent improving the environment. But I’m curious: how much good will building up barrier islands and wetlands do if ocean levels outpace such expansion?

If those efforts prove insufficient, what should our next steps be to protect these lands–and New Orleans, the greatest, culturally most significant city in the south? How should we marshal our resources effectively? The answers aren’t simple. Cease and desist with the creation of new housing and developments? That will be a non-starter for those who rely on tourism for their tax base. Try to wean ourselves off fossil fuels? That sounds great to elites, but won’t fly with people whose monthly incomes don’t last as long as their months. What balanced approach can work?

Posted in Environment | 4 Comments

Quarters

This fall marks the first time MSMS has used the quarter system, also known as a four-by-four block. The principle difference between our quarters and a typical high school’s involves the Academic Support Day, which, ideally, allows students the opportunity to confer with teachers, or to take deep dives into specific topics that interest them. Students are in class approximately seven hours per course each week, which means that they are either in Zoom rooms or working on Canvas about 21 hours each week.

This system differs significantly from the college semester model used at the school for the previous three decades. Last year, students usually took 18-21 hours of classes per week, which equates to six or seven classes a semester. No Academic Support Day existed, but faculty returned to campus one night a week for tutorials.

I’m curious: which model, quarter or semester, seems to be a better fit for classes during the pandemic? Do you think the model should change once we return to face-to-face instruction? Seniors, I’ll be especially attentive to your responses.

Posted in Education | 5 Comments

The Tipping Point

We win! Mississippi is first in something!

We lead the nation in positive rate on C-19 tests, which means that we’re actually losers. Surprise.

But there may be more bad news on the way. All of Mississippi’s public school districts will reopen by the end of this month, which means that rates of infection are likely to increase, even with our best efforts. What will be the tipping point for a return to distance learning? Must 20% of the school be infected? Fifteen?

I suspect that our decisions will mirror how we’ve responded to the disease in other ways. Communities that quickly adopted mask mandates will offer more flexible curricula predicated on keeping people healthy. The assumption in these districts will be that parents will be well informed and intentional about the ways their kids get educated, and that students can return to f2f classes once numbers improve. Other districts will not have such resources–or the faith that the parents of students will stay engaged enough to help with teaching their kids.

For students who lack connectivity or familial stability, staying home to try to learn means living, but losing opportunities. Consider the students who turn to school as a source for reliable social structures, meals, and emotional support. Returning to remote learning won’t help them thrive, either. Do those issues transcend the health risks? The economic loss of not having class weigh heavily on us as well. What will happen when parents of grade schoolers cannot go to their jobs?

What happens when the grandparents of face-to-face school students attend school functions and contract C-19?

None of these issues has an easy resolution. I look forward to your assessment of the best path forward.

Posted in Education, Politics | 5 Comments

Blog Rules, 2020-21

Good afternoon! Below, please find information you need about the blog for this school year.

  1. You must be an MSMS student to post.
  2. I must approve your first post. After that, you can post without such approval.
  3. I encourage you to use your name when you post rather than an alias. This is somewhat contentious; if you have a reason for using an alias, please let me know. But I’d prefer to see your name attached to your thoughts.
  4. You may earn 1/4 the total number of quiz points for the quarter when you blog.
  5. Employ civility.
  6. Don’t be a lazy thinker. Engage issues.
  7. I consider it bad form to blog during class.
Posted in Ethics | Leave a comment

Welcome Back. Honestly.

An old tome fell out of the bookshelf while I cruised through titles searching, ironically, for something new to teach this fall: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Sissela Bok. Bok’s premise is that we are all liars. What should matter, she argues, is when we tell the truth. It’s one thing to say you’re having a great day when your day has been mediocre at best. It’s quite another to tell your shareholders that your company expects record earnings during the next quarter so you can sell your stock, secretly, at a profit.

For Bok, “clearly intended lies” own a gravitas that little white lies do not. Yet any form of deception, from changing the subject to deploying vague euphemisms, can have a significant, detrimental impact. The simple solution would be to tell the truth all the time. That may smack of hopeless naivete, but when you act with integrity, everything else is easy. It may also help to distinguish between important facts (specific truths involving person, place, and time) from truths (values we hold dear).

Lying was published in 1978, which means that it does not include any ways to cope with the information overload brought on first by cable news and then by the internet. If you were to add a chapter to her book, how would you equip readers to discern truths in the media on which they rely? Have we gotten to the point where ideology determines both fact and truth?

Posted in Ethics, National Politics, Politics | 3 Comments

No Buts

George Floyd’s murder resulted from a depraved heart and a system that tolerates bad policing. It doesn’t matter if he had been resisting arrest earlier. (He had not.) It doesn’t matter if he had been screaming his favorite N.W.A. lyrics. (He had not.) He had given himself up to law enforcement. No form of violent restraint was necessary.

As the spouse of a prosecuting attorney, I appreciate the fact that law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day. They have to enforce laws nobody likes. They have to deal with drunks and sociopaths, spouse-beaters and spoiled brats. They have to make life-changing judgment calls in a millisecond. Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, had 6 minutes and 46 seconds to reconsider his course of action. He took another two minutes, and it was too late to save Floyd’s life by then.

I cannot turn back the hands of time. I suspect everyone involved in this tragedy wishes that were possible. But I will make this pledge to my students in the hope that the forces that brought the death of George Floyd will be curbed.

  1. I will listen to what you have to say, and find ways to encourage you to think, read, and write analytically and with heart. Start by productively questioning authority.
  2. I will empower you to express yourself with style and efficiency.
  3. I will encourage you to act with integrity, for if you can do that, everything else is easy.

When this chapter of American history gets written, I pray that MSMS students and alumni will be the authors. I also pray that I’ll be on the right side of history. George Floyd’s murderer, and the people who think like him, should not be.

Posted in Education, Ethics, Politics | Leave a comment

Looking Ahead

I realize that this semester isn’t over. We have virtual Honors Convocation on May 14, and virtual graduation nine days later, and something like finals in between. We will also try to bring this year’s juniors and seniors together at some point in July. I’m hoping it will be the tackiest of all tikis!

I suspect that next school year will involve protocols for illness and classroom management that will be quite different from the MSMS norm. How will we deal with health issues and respect the need for students to be in class? How should the school’s sickness policy change? Will students turn in printed papers, quizzes, and tests, or will all submissions be electronic to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission? Will they wear masks to class? How will classes that require physical proximity, like Dramatic Performance or Sculpture, be affected? What steps should we take to prepare for continuous instruction in the event we have to become a virtual school again? How might all these changes prove more challenging for under-represented groups on our campus?

Envisioning the new normal breaks my heart, but only metaphorically. I like physical things. I’ve been conditioned to believe in the importance of handshakes and eye contact. I still have a tough time reading a Zoom class compared to reading a physical class. But a heart that’s broken in metaphor is far better than one that has actually stopped beating.

Posted in Education | 4 Comments

“O”-revoir

Last week’s announcement that MSMS classes would be conducted remotely came as no surprise. Anybody who reads headlines could see it coming. Yet knowing a fact between the ears differs greatly from feeling its greater truths in your heart. That awareness became more profound when I thought about the pending retirement of Dr. Bill Odom from the biology department.

O and I share interests in many things: good coffee, which I have enjoyed stealing from him for 15 years; card games of all sorts; fishing; New Orleans and the New Orleans Saints; finding the best king cakes; playing ultimate frisbee; trying to think about things as students do; attempting to understand the implications of administrative and political decisions on the mission of the school; appreciating the need to have a safe space to vent. We’ll continue sharing these interests, of course. But it’ll be slightly less satisfying doing so over the phone instead of a cup of his coffee.

If you have an Odom anecdote you’d like to share, feel free to do so here. I’ll direct his attention to the page later on.

Posted in Education | 4 Comments

The Real King

If I were to grant you access to my Spotify likes, you’d see a list as esoteric and unpredictable as the wind. Sure, I have some songs on heavy rotation. I can listen to blues and jazz and Americana all day long and be happy. I can listen to Faure and Mozart and Brahms and enjoy every second. The same goes for Stephen Sondheim and Rogers and Hammerstein. I’ll sing along when I can, and hum when I can’t.

I rediscovered an 80s film on Netflix this weekend: Prince’s Purple Rain. The acting is terrible. The plotline is thin.

But the music, y’all, the music. I triple dog dare you to find a musician whose absolute command of craft even approaches Prince’s. He played at least 27 instruments to perfection. He wrote a song a day. He had a vocal range that could make Ms. Barham weep.

Fiona Apple may have just released a tremendous new album. That’s one album.

People from Mississippi may think that Elvis was King. (In that genre of music, I’d vote for Jerry Lee Lewis, but that’s a story for another day.)

People who only listen to the radio may think that Michael Jackson was King. (He was unfit to carry Prince’s guitar case.)

Prince Rogers Nelson was the one and only King.

Posted in Music | 1 Comment