Banned Books Week

I read banned books. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Huckleberry Finn, from Song of Solomon to The Things They Carried, I find something valuable in wresting with ideas and depictions that other people find dangerous.

Library systems across the country have been asked to remove more books from circulation than ever before. Are some books too dangerous for young people to read? At what point should people be free to read whatever they want?

Posted in Books, Education, Ethics | 13 Comments

Seeking Organizational Advice

Next week, I plan to order 15 new podcasting mics for students in the podcasting course to use. This will address the biggest criticism of the course from last year: that I had way too few mics to accommodate the students who needed to use them. The new mics will bring the total available to 20.

What will be the best way to manage access to this equipment? The sign-out/sign-in system I’ve used has not been efficient. Imposing deadlines on groups so that other groups have access hasn’t worked, either. Your input here will shape how this gets done in the not-too-distant future.

Posted in Education, Social Media | 13 Comments

One Sentence Conundrums

Respond to a couple of these. Consider applying them to contemporary events.

Can a person make a conscious decision to deal with problems by relegating them to the subconscious?

When leaders say equitable, do they really mean redistribution of wealth?

Do you agree with the premise that the best way to prepare people for a specific profession lies in educating them broadly?

How can a show of force actually induce a meaningful peace?

How should institutions balance morality and efficacy?

Which seems more true: that discussions of controversial subjects should be avoided, or that most things worth discussing involve controversy?

Posted in Education, Ethics, Politics | 7 Comments

Rah, Rah, Sis-Boom-Bah

Most MSMS students have friends back home who will miss class time for pep rallies today. MSMS cannot field a football team for obvious reasons. We don’t have enough students to field a competitive team. Students do not have enough time to practice or work on strength and conditioning. Participating in too many team sports cuts against the history and culture of the school.

The list could go on.

I did not play football past seventh grade. I chose to attend LSMSA in part because I wanted to focus on academics more than athletics. But my sons played the game, if you count being a kicker as being a football player, and they loved it.

Do MSMS students miss the spectacle of football? Is there something we can or should do to replace it here, given the mission and history of the school?

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the greatest poem ever written about football, James Wright’s 1963 classic, “Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.”

Posted in MSMS Stuff, Sports | 28 Comments

The First Fortnight

Now that MSMS has been in session a couple of weeks, it might be a good idea to reflect on things that really worked well during this orientation and indoctrination period, and which things still need improvement. Praise and criticize constructively. Reflect on both the academic and residence life aspects of our program. Note as well that admin read suggestions from last year and incorporated them into this year’s orientation.

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 28 Comments

Welcome to the 2022-23 Blog

This morning’s New York Times dished up a piece on how employers monitor the productivity of their employees. Amazon, if you didn’t know, is one of the most notorious punishers of idleness in any workplace. Other firms count the number of keystrokes per hour. One medical outfit compares the number of scans reviewed by radiologists and rewards those who complete the highest number.

Such employers argue that by improving efficiency, they improve their bottom line, which in turn will enrich employees and shareholders alike. However, I wonder if it’s that simple? Might there be such a thing as productive idleness? What would that look like? Does it seem noxious to equate what we’re worth with what we produce–or is that really just good business?

By the way, if your response to these questions marks your first time on the blog, here are some ground rules and other information:

  1. Your first blog entry won’t appear until I approve it; I only approve posts with email addresses issued by the school. I also encourage you to make your username the same as your real name, as I believe this encourages civility.
  2. Speaking of civility, make sure you conduct arguments in a civil tone.
  3. Speaking of arguments, please argue. Blogs where everyone agrees are boring.
  4. Post often! You can earn up to 25% the total number of quiz points per quarter.
  5. Point grabbing at the end of the quarter is discouraged. You can only post twice the final week of the quarter.
Posted in Ethics | 28 Comments

Housekeeping

One of the things I like to ask students at the end of the school year involves a bit of self-reflection: are you the same person in May that you were in August? If you haven’t changed, I’m not sure whether to admire your backbone or deride your stubbornness–or bemoan my failures as well as the school’s. Knowledge changes people, and if you haven’t changed, I fear that you might not have learned.

This isn’t to say that I want the devoutly religious to become atheists, for Republicans to become Democrats, for Democrats to become Libertarians, for biologists to become chemists. Rather, I hope that learning more prepares your against your vocation so that you can enter it with your eyes wide open. Keep an open mind as a student. You’ll spend more waking hours as an adult at your place of work than at your home. You better love what you do.

Have you changed? Have you learned? Let me know by Wednesday at 4:00, which is when the blog closes for the summer.

Posted in Education | 25 Comments

Too Tired to Think

You probably already know that autocracies are on the rise. Whether you’re looking at Putin’s rise to power in Russia, Erdogan’s control in Turkey, or the return of the Marcos family to the political world of the Philippines, leaders who subvert the democratic process–and their cabals–have seized power in more and more countries across the globe. They rise on the crest of waves of popular discontent because they find simple, often brutal “solutions” to problems. Once they get elected, they kill or arrest dissidents, shut down the free press, and spread conspiracy theories that help them consolidate power.

I don’t pretend to know any more about politics than politicians pretend to know about teaching English. Yet it seems to me that the rise of autocracy corresponds proportionally to reliance on social media for news. It seems odd to frame American politics from 2000-2008 as a kinder, gentler arena for thoughts. Yet that era was the last before social media and smart phones ruined our minds–and the last where local newspapers served as primary news sources. Since 2004, more than 2000 newspapers have gone belly up.

We take our phones everywhere. People text in church. I’ve heard video games being played in bathroom stalls on more than one occasion. Many prom dresses and accessories have been purchased during class. Most insidiously of all, I see parents handing their toddlers phones in buggies at the checkout line at stores. Constant contact with these devices means that we never stop working, we never stop playing, never stop accessing new information. Another result: we are always tired.

We haven’t adapted to the potential advantages of smart phones and social media by allowing ourselves time away from them. We think more quickly–and with less regard for the consequences of our actions.

What does this have to do with autocracy? Everything. Without time to process information intellectually, we fall back on the vicissitudes of emotion, which makes us easy pickins’ for those who manipulate our fears.

Want to make the world a better place? Put down your devices. Read a magazine or a newspaper. Give yourself time to think.

Posted in Ethics, Politics | 21 Comments

Energy Wherever You Are

Russia recently fired a shot that landed outside the border of Ukraine: pipes carrying gas to Poland and Bulgaria, two of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, have been shut off for refusal to remit payment in rubles. Leaders of other European countries who have sent weapons and support to Ukraine fear that they’ll be affected next.

I have no idea how long the economies of European countries could stand up without energy that’s currently supplied by Russia’s kleptocrats. I hope we don’t have to find out, as the consequences for the American economy would be profound as well.

Russia’s decision to shut off the pipes suggests that sanctions against Russia have begun to pinch. The decision also indicates a broadening of the Ukrainian conflict. No modern economy can survive without energy. When food can’t be refrigerated, when there’s no HVAC functioning in high rises and hospitals, when people can’t commute to work, will they get desperate enough to want to fight?

Russia has engaged the rest of the world in a high-stakes game of chicken. Either live with Russian autocrats who quash free speech and invade other countries to extend their realm influence, or be prepared to deal with less access to energy.

When OPEC tightened the supply of oil provided to the United States in the 1970s, we responded with regulations that demanded greater fuel efficiency in cars, we eased environmental controls over drilling, and we began to fund alternative energy R&D more aggressively. However, when the OPEC crisis ended, two of those three responses fell by the wayside.

Wouldn’t America be a better place now if we had access to more sustainable energy sources? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have our economy held hostage by reliance on energy from kleptocrats? Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn at least one lesson from history?

Posted in Ethics, National Politics | 20 Comments

Victimless Crimes?

An acquaintance of mine buried his son today. No official cause of death has been released to verified media, but if social media is accurate, then this young man died because he took oxycontin that had been laced with fentanyl. He was 21 years old. My heart breaks for his family. If you’re a student of mine, I beg you: don’t use illegal drugs.

My acquaintance’s son should not have taken an illegal drug. One could argue that the young man was the criminal as well as the victim. However, if you count him as a criminal, then he should not be the only one who pays for his crime. Each person who played a role in this tragedy, from the people who manufactured the drug to the network of people who worked together to deliver it to him, has his blood on their hands.

Cases like this justify the hesitance of cultural conservatives to treat drug crimes as victimless crimes or as worthy of lower levels of prosecution because they are “nonviolent.” Nobody wants addicts to rot in jail for decades for misdemeanor possession charges, or to be denied adequate treatment while incarcerated. Whether you’re talking about a drug lord who cuts fentanyl into cocaine to maximize profit, or a junkie who shoplifts to offset the cost of his habit, you’re talking about people who make life more dangerous and expensive for the rest of us.

Of course, lots of uncaught “criminals” make life expensive for the rest of us: people who don’t pay their taxes, or purchase automobile insurance, or make sure that their children are properly vaccinated before sending them to school, offer case studies in selfishness.

But drug crimes, because their tentacles reach so far into so many facets of so many lives, seem particularly sensitive. What policies should the state adopt that would address these problems in a just and compassionate manner? How should the state balance treatment and punishment?

What must we do to prevent more graveside services like the one today?

Posted in Ethics, Politics | 21 Comments