An ode to old people in grocery stores… apparently world wide

Dear old people in the grocery stores …. I realize that you have to get your groceries just like the rest of us, but apparently in your advanced years, you seem to have forgotten some basic public space etiquette. Please, let me remind you of a few small details.

1. You seem likely to be retired … why the hell are you going to the grocery store at peak shopping hours for non-retired people? Seriously — there is no need for you to invade en masse on weekends. This is why the senior buses always go on like a Tuesday through Thursday during the day. Keep this in mind.

2. The old people speed contradiction needs to be solved. That is, you walk down the aisles (usually in the middle of the aisle and look put out when someone politely excuses themselves around you) at less than a snail’s pace. Clearly, you are not in a hurry or it’s hard to read/ decide… whatever… the point is you’re freaking slow as you toddle around the store. However, when it comes to the checkout line, you suddenly are in the biggest hurry on the face of the planet.

3. If there are a lot of folks in the store and the check out lines are long, bitching from the back of the line to the person checking out is NOT, I repeat NOT going to get the line moving faster.

4. Just because you’re old, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to wait your turn. So, don’t look all put out when you try to cut in front of me and I politely remind you that you’re behind me. I’m only polite once and it’s only because I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt for being bloody blind or senile to have missed me standing there.

5. You may have lived this long, but you’re really taking undue risks with you life by invading my personal space in the line. In particular, there are two offenses that old people in lines seem to be most likely to commit. The first one is bashing you with their grocery cart while you’re standing waiting in line. This is inexcusable and should get you told off immediately (I particularly like telling people off in German, it’s so much easier to sound all pissed off…and yes, I do mean when I’m in Germany I like that). The second one is standing too close (ewwwww) and then coughing your old person nasty ass cough in my hair. Really????? I’d turn around, but I wouldn’t want to get that sputtering nastiness in my face as you’re like a foot from my head and clearly not covering your mouth.

In short — you’re old, but you’re not excused from being socially appropriate. Remember, we get to pick, run, and regulate your nursing homes…

 

Oh yeah — and if you were actually expecting an ode with its three parts, lyrical nature, and communication of love or affection — you’re out of luck too :)

American Higher Education: Failing, Entitlement

American higher education is on life support and not doing particularly well. We have a growing consensus emerging from industry and academia alike arguing that the institutions are not serving the needs of students. And clearly from my own experience as well as the experiences shared with me by so many in the last six or seven months it’s not serving the needs of the instructors (permanent, tenured, non-tenured, and contingent) either. There are certainly lots of reasons — a 2010 study of Ivy League Universities found our approach to tenure, reliance on part-time instructors, and crazy bureaucracies suck the life and quality out of higher education.

For me, there are two factors that we don’t talk about in an organized way that are just sucking the life and soul out of higher education — student entitlement and an over-reliance on contingent faculty. Now, before anyone gets their shorts in a wad — I believe that contingent faculty (i.e., adjunct and fixed-term contract folks) do their level best but I just don’t think they are likely to have the same opportunities to develop and execute as effective of a class as a full-time faculty member does. So my adjunct friends, just cool your jets :). However, because of the instability and poor pay, contingent faculty, that need the job, don’t have a chance to be at their best as faculty members. The adjunct issue is something I’ll talk more about later — but it’s complicated by an emergent and cancerous student culture where students think that it’s alright to ‘get faculty in trouble’ if something happens in a class they don’t like. For me, the basis of this cancer is a culture of entitlement amongst Gen Y’ers or Millenneals that is substantially different from any cultural attitude we have seen. That’s why I want to focus on this element.

Student Entitlement is Killing the Passion for Teaching

Most of us in education know exactly what I mean when I talk about ‘entitlement’, but let’s be specific about it …. Anderson, Halberstadt, and Aitken (2013) define entitlement as an exaggerated or unrealistic belief in what a person thinks s/he deserves. And is it any wonder that our students have it? We’ve cultivated a fake “self-esteem” generation where American students are the most self-confident in the world, yet know very little. For too long, there’s been a focus on being nicey-nice, not upsetting overly aggressive parents at the elementary and secondary levels of education, and now as a result of a generation of self-esteem it’s ruining the college experience as well.

So, instead of preparing our students for the real world by focusing on critical thinking, information vital to their majors, and being tough on them we have to cope with students ill-prepared for higher education and ill-prepared for life. Yet, many of these same students think they’re awesome and when you suggest their work is not they don’t know what to do with the information other than to evaluate the instructor as being wrong. And why wouldn’t they? Most people in their lives have said they poop roses. So, not only do we have to manage students but we’re increasingly having to manage their parents as well — one of the reasons many of us went into higher education and not primary/ secondary education … we didn’t want to deal with parents. But guess what? Lawn mower parents don’t turn off when the kid turns 18. Increasingly, these parents are petitioning faculty directly for improved grades for their kids, complaining to administrations if something happens in the classroom they don’t like, and forcing their kids to sign away their right to confidentiality with their faculty. Their argument — “I’m paying, it’s my right”. Well — while that might be the case that they can wield the financial mace against their children, they do more emotional and developmental damage than they can even imagine.

Let me offer a few examples from my own experience….

  • Before class one day, students and I were chatting about normal kinds of stuff and one of the students said something kind of sarcastic about “giving” everyone good grades because they deserved it and I had an equally sarcastic response — no big thing. One of the girls in class says (not being sarcastic), “That’s not nice — you’re paid to be nice to us.”… my response, “Oh sweetie, you clearly misunderstand — I’m not paid to be nice to you, I’m paid to educate you.” Snickers from the rest of class aside, this seems to be an operating assumption — we’re there to make them feel good and extol their virtues.
  • I had an advisee who had ‘failed to prioritize’ his school work, was a good kid, and we were devising a strategy for getting through the “problem” semester and looking forward. And then I got an email from his Mom asking my advise on whether she should lodge a complaint about a professor who had the audacity to fail him because he hadn’t been in class saying, “This isn’t the real world, doesn’t this seem overly harsh”. I then spent a considerable amount of time/ space explaining why (1) her complaint would be inappropriate, (2) why it is better for him to learn this lesson now when it’s just an “F” rather than in the real world where he’d lose his job, and (3) that it’s important for him to grow and develop as a person and make strategic decisions for himself. To her credit, this mother took it well and ultimately agreed. Yet for the next year, I received periodic emails and consultations on how to manage her child. My basic response was always something along the lines of, “He’s doing fine — I have him in two classes and his good practices in my classes seem consistent with the rest of his performance.” The kid was great to work with, his mother sucked time away from my research, my instruction, and frankly other students.
  • I had a student — nice kid, but decided to stop coming to class and didn’t turn a single assignment in all semester. Yet, about two-thirds of the way through the semester realized he was in academic trouble and came to me. So, my theory is that I usually give students enough rope to hang themselves. Sometimes they surprise me, but usually not. I made a deal with him for putting all of his eggs in his final project — if he did that well then his grade would be based on the project (which was the lion’s share of the course grade anyhow), he could pass the class. However, I also told him that he had to be in class each day. Fast forward to the end of the semester where the student hadn’t come to class and didn’t submit his final project and not surprisingly his grade was an F. Then, what I loved most was that around New Year’s he emailed me his project (grades were submitted before Christmas) and I said ‘sorry’. The next day his Mom emailed me and asked why I couldn’t make an exception — seriously…. At that point I explained the situation, appealed to fairness, and then said hell no.

Parents are damaging their kids

I may bitch and complain about the entitlement culture, but let’s face it — it’s their parents’ fault. Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers have royally screwed up when it comes to raising their kids. This generation of students are mostly nice, interested in issues of social equality, and care about the environment and all of those kinds of things. Unfortunately, they’re also ill-equipped to deal with the real world. Their parents have largely sanitized everything in their environment — removing struggle, failure, and connecting good performance with being a good person. The result is that we have a generation with high self-esteem, but not healthy self-esteem. What I mean by this is that our Millinneals are often unable to critically evaluate situations on their own, worry that failure at a task means they’re not a good person, and cannot take constructive criticism.

Let me give you an example… I had the opportunity to work closely with a fantastic student who I’m convinced is really going to change the world. She cares about people, cares about the underprivileged, and is working very hard to serve her community. We were working on a project and she emailed me a draft of her work and it was just terrible. We’d been working together for a while and so I gave her an  honest assessment with a lot of areas for improvement. She revised it and then didn’t really make any changes. My second round of feedback was more direct about the poor quality of the work and that until it was re-written I didn’t want to see it again. Well, she came to me and was crushed because she thought that it meant that I didn’t like her anymore. When she said that to me, I must have looked at her like she was completely daft but then had to explain the difference between finding her work bad and finding her a bad person. Yet, as I worked more closely with more folks from her generation, I’ve found that they have been told they poop roses so much and their parents, coaches, and earlier teachers have all told them they’ve done a good job (regardless of whether that’s actually true) and therefore they’re a good person. Now, they get to adulthood and they don’t know how to cognitively process getting negative feedback about their work without internalizing it as meaning that they’re a bad person. This became something I’d talk about with students on the first day of class and periodically throughout the class so that we could focus on improving their knowledge and skills.

Yet, this is the negative psychological side of this entitlement culture — we all complain about the parts that we see and are annoying that suck the fun and interest out of our jobs, but I also don’t think we often realize that there are also negative psychological consequences for this generation and the happy clappy everyone gets a prize because you all are awesome approach to life.

So, our institutions of higher education are screwed because they’re placating a bunch of over-indulged parents who think their kids can do no wrong and we’re raising a generation of kids who frankly don’t have the coping skills to deal with being adults. Awesome. In the mean time, those of us in higher education are finding fewer and fewer full-time positions as universities staff on the cheap, those with more marketable skills are probably looking outside of academia, but our job is fundamentally becoming worse and worse. And if you don’t think that ultimately affects the quality of education, think again. Yet, it’s sometimes hard to be sympathetic to our students when they and their parents are abusively emailing instructors demanding their grades be changed, complaining to administrations, and increasingly suing (or threatening to sue) universities over grading and faculty issues.

Shutdown Reality Check from China

Dear Americans:

Today, in quite a rational and well-reasoned statement China argued that other nations would be wise to “de-Americanize” their investments … that is (at least in part) the US dollar is held as a reserve currency for many nations around the world and many nations invest in the US financial system because of its stability.

Why did China urge this? Because our embarrassing internal politics is costing them and all of the other countries that we do business with money, the politics of “no”, the childish bullshit surrounding a MINORITY in the government holding up Obamacare 43 times, and frankly citizens lack of intelligent and thoughtful discourse/demanding better from our politicians suggests we’re no longer responsible enough to be a financial grounding for the world. We’re basically the petulant 13 year old who’s too big to spank but not yet too old to kick out of the house.

I know a lot of you are not comfortable with controversy and politics on social media nor in person, but guess what? It’s time to put on your big boy/girl underwear, learn something about what’s really going on, and be a part of the political process. Bitching and moaning no longer suffices, choosing to surround yourselves with like-minded people (from both ends of the political spectrum) is a cop out, and engage each other, read some real news (and not news entertainment), and start being responsible citizens. That… or just don’t vote and let everyone else who does actually pay attention discuss it and vote.

Folks — we get the government we deserve. The buck stops with the citizens and not with Congress. And now back to living in a country where the social good outweighs selfish individual concern… you all can return to your regularly scheduled reality TV show.

Signed,
A very cranky and embarrassed me.

How do you people not get the diplomacy game?!

I’ve been watching the events unfolding with Syria, the US, Russia, the UK, etc. etc. etc. like most people with interest, concern, and a bit of a dubious ‘what the hell?’ kind of initial reaction…. that is up until the moment that President Obama sent the request for action to a Congress that has held absolutely EVERYTHING up for the last 4+ years. At that point, the situation was clarified. Yet, I’m befuddled as to how so many people in the US — including folks that usually understand this kind of thing — still don’t get what all of this is about.

For example, a friend of mine (like many commentators) saw President Obama’s message last night and reacts like this:

So, the POTUS translation is: “Alright, fine, we’ll play with the Russians, but I don’t buy that it’s going to work, so heads up, we’re probably going to end up striking anyway. It’ll probably cause a big mess, and I dunno what we’re going to do with that, but it is what it is.” Did I miss anything?

In short… the answer is yes, my friend and many others are missing a whole lot.

The President’s speech was designed to hold Russia’s feet to the fire, maintain pressure on Assad, and keep pushing forward a diplomatic and non-military resolution to the problem. It’s simple leveraging in negotiations. So, let’s look at this from both historic and persuasive perspectives….

If you study the old days of diplomacy this is how the ‘leveraging’ game is played. Without the credible threat of force (and ‘credible threat’ being the operative word), there’s very little to leverage to make sure that countries/ leaders follow through on their word. Of course it’s chest beating and posturing, but it’s an important message to communicate. Hell, in the old days (from the Greeks on through the 17th’ish century), the troops would often be paraded out and the negotiation took place on the battlefield and then everyone went home. 

It’s a much more effective strategy to prevent war than the Teddy Roosevelt’s approach of speaking softly but carrying a big stick… instead it’s more of a speak loudly and have a really big ass stick and the perceived reluctant willingness to use it. 

So, yes, many people are missing the point of the President’s speech last night as well as his interview the night before that. It’s a question of objective… if the objective is to actually go to war, you just start the strikes once there’s evidence of naughtiness because… well… you can. If, however, the objective is to minimize the likelihood of armed conflict while simultaneously preventing future harm (i.e., the weapons were already used and we can never likely “prove” it was Assad that ordered it), then you come out with a strong statement but then turn it over to Congress under the pretense of the rule of law, you have your chief foreign diplomat beating the war drum, and then you go to a conference of foreign leaders and create a situation where the ally of the enemy is pushed into stepping up in order to avoid an even greater potential international conflict. In so doing, the naughty boy realizes he’s shit out of luck and pays lip service to compliance, but absent the threat of force and follow through, you risk losing the long game. The president has already demonstrated he’s willing to use military force when he views it as necessary (e.g., controversial drone strikes, Libya, Somali pirates, oh yeah and Bin Laden), so the threat has to be viewed as credible.

But the communication of a cautious optimism with the underlying threat still there pushes Putin/Russia to pressure Syria, pressures Syria to comply, and falls in line with how the diplomacy of conflict prevention has been done for thousands of years. Oh yeah, and remember the strategy works uniquely because Russia is the agent of action — that is, without Russia exerting its “friendly” pressure on Syria to act, this probably doesn’t work… Assad has no way to maintain face and international credibility (in his own world). Yet, with the pressure coming from Russia, not only does Russia get the opportunity to look like the peace broker but it’s done in a way that gives Syria a reasonable way to comply with international demands AND maintain their own efficacy. Wait, now why did Obama send the military strike action to Congress again ahead of the G20 Summit? ;)

The strategy is sound, interesting, and with a history of willingness to use airstrikes creates just enough fear to motivate behavioral change but not so much that the target of the message goes into a fear control process (see EPPM from Kim Witte) where Assad doubles down because there’s no “winning” scenario for him. So bottom line, from both history of conflict AND a fear-based persuasion perspectives, Obama’s strategy and message are based in sense with a clear objective of AVOIDING bombing. For now, the strategy is working… with a rational actor (i.e., Assad — he’s not stupid nor does he want to be deposed… he’s too familiar with the West and likes the material trappings of it) interested in maintaining his own power, the strategy should work.

If that was the design from the start, then Obama’s a fucking awesome game player in international diplomacy… if it’s just luck that it’s worked out this way, then groovy… I’m glad that luck happens and it’s clear that he’s rolling with this strategy now.

In the mean time people…seriously… put the critical thinking caps on and try to see a big picture (i.e., this is why understanding history and actually knowing stuff is really useful… it keeps Chicken Little from thinking the sky is falling).

 

Women are people too, Andy Murray IS the 1st in 77 years….

Dear overzealous feminists (male and female) whose knickers have been in a wad for DAYS now about Virginia Wade’s 1977 Wimbledon win being somehow irrelevant in the promotion of the Andy Murray winning Wimbledon story: VirginiaWadeWomenPplToo

Perhaps American coverage has forgotten the qualifier “of winning the Men’s Championship at Wimbledon” (I don’t know for sure since I don’t live there), I can assure you is what the British have been explicitly talking about for weeks because they also had the English women’s player to promote — Laura Robson.

However, the qualifier itself is completely UNNECESSARY to anyone who knows ANYTHING about the tournament. The qualifier of “Men’s” is implied for one simple reason — the tournament’s actual name is the “Wimbledon Championships(as in plural) because there are multiple events occurring at the same time. That means that to refer to Andy Murray as being the first Wimbledon Champion in 77 years MEANS EXACTLY for the Men’s event. Since Virginia Wade doesn’t have dangly bits, she was never entered in the same event tournament as Murray competes in; therefore, it’s actually impossible for anyone to be forgetting her and talking about Murray’s win.

It is just as silly as being worked up into righteous indignation and passing stupid memes throughout social media because everyone is ignoring poor Jamie Murray — the last Brit to win the Mixed Doubles event in 2007, Virginia Wade who also won the Women’s Doubles event in 1970, or even Jonathon Murray (wow… Murray = a British tennis name :) ) the 2012 British winner of the Men’s Doublesevent. Oh the tragedy… no one is talking about these Wimbledon championships yet these are championships all won by British tennis players more recently than 1936. Why? Oh yeah — because they’re different events.

So, before you post another meme or bitch and complain some more, please understand the definition of terms and quit being so damn fast to jump to conclusions — it’s annoying because it’s just an incorrect argument.  Let me reiterate your argument/ complaint is just WRONG since Wimbledon has multiple tournaments EVERY YEAR????? (I thought I would repeat for those who are a little slow on the uptake).

Here’s the bigger picture — if you actually care about issues of gender equality there are plenty of things to be upset about all around the world with issues related to gender equity for men and women alike. Yet, what seems clear in the social media world’s indignation of the Murray coverage (aside from it being from a bunch of people who clearly don’t know anything about professional tennis), is that people have rushed to judgment without actually understanding the issue. Shockingly, this is largely the source of legitimate complaint about gender inequality — that others judge people based on gender identity. Ironic that … almost as ironic as the people who don’t believe the government should make stricter gun control laws, yet who would force a woman to have an invasive ultrasound before an abortion. Yes, I am comparing your hypocrisy to the very people you SHOULD be railing against because it’s the same stupid logic.

Maybe you’re not forcing women to undergo unnecessary medical procedures, but aside from misplacing your indignation you also make it harder for people to credibly argue about gender equity issues (especially in sports) because the more you cry wolf, the less likely people are to actually listen when it matters. In the end, this means your advocacy is not only likely to fail on this, but to have knock on effects of derailing many important gender equity conversations.

So, by all means rant and rave, just do it about issues that are #1 real issues and #2 actually matter.

Quintessential Americanism (defined)

A few weeks ago I watched The Newsroom pilot for the first time and the title character is asked an utterly American question, ‘Why do you think America is the greatest country?’ — his response — ‘It’s not’ and in true Aaron Sorkin form offered a whole lot of information to support the argument. I had a small home cheering moment, but the thing that bugs me are exactly these silly assumptions — #1 that the US is still a great country and #2 that we’re the best in the world. Unfortunately, neither assumption is true — we lag in most measurable categories including education, health care, vacation/leisure time, our economy has shifted from a balanced economy to one that has gutted manufacturing and shifted ‘working class’ jobs to a model of inequality focused on poorly paid service sector, even higher education is showing evidence of not being worth the cost. Essentially, we are living in an age of rising inequality in the US.

Yet in the face of this stark reality, Americans remain bizarrely convinced of our overall infallibility and greatness.

Thus….

Quintessential Americanism… defined

So, what do I mean by Quintessential Americanism — very simply, “A blanket refusal to change your opinion, even when confronted with direct evidence to the contrary…”

Why did this come up, in particular right now? Well, my Mom had lunch the other day with two of her friends from high school (they do this for each other’s birthdays and major holidays… it’s very sweet and they have a good time) and is updating them on what I’m doing, etc. since I’m in Germany. At this point in the conversation one of my Mom’s friends says that Germany’s on the brink of economic collapse, unemployment is dire here, oh my goodness, yadda yadda yadda. My Mom tries to respond with the stuff she and I’ve been talking about (e.g., quality of life, economic growth projections, the very low unemployment here … that kind of thing) but her friend will have none of it because Fox News said…

Obviously, Americans aren’t the only ones who are dogmatic — frankly all societies have quirky stupidity, but we seem to revel in our own ignorance and arrogance combined — that’s the heart of this ‘quintessential Americanism’ — we’re confident and we don’t have a good reason to be. FFS … opinions and facts should not be confused… the latter should inform the former — not the other way around.

Why is it so hard for Americans to not only be informed but also be open to new information? Of course, all peoples’ have blind spots and annoying belief structures (that’s the nature of the social animal); however, Americans are increasingly less informed, more dogmatic, and more rigid in our ways of thinking. We’ve been indoctrinated since really the McCarthy witch hunt for Commies and more recently with the GW Bush Administration to believe that if someone criticizes Uh-Mer-Ika or Uh-Mer-Ikans they’re not a patriot because those in power have a much easier time maintaining order and control when people are not engaged nor informed about basic social, economic, and political issues. There is no GOOD reason that the US can’t and shouldn’t be the country we once were (economically at least… I do think we have ups and downs in our social and political system over the years), but there are a whole lot of bad reasons — the ignorance of average Americans, our poor education system, our systematic disenfranchisement of the poor and working class, our shift away from a balanced economy, a media that simply doesn’t work, and an ethic in the US that would silence anyone who would have the audacity to suggest we could do better.

When I posted a quick frustrated comment about this on Facebook yesterday, someone I would have thought would have better sense responds to me with the following:

 i wonder if anyone has attempted studies to test that claim. a cursory google search yields nothing, but it seems like it’s taken for gospel among so many people that i can’t help but wonder. 

It seems it’s basically the liberal side of the house’s answer to “the average gun and freedom loving American,” except it’s “the average American moron who can’t think for his or her self.” both have this weird privilege of being viewed as hard fact despite their near-caricature status. Maybe it’s b/c i’ve never lived in middle america but I can’t think of a place I’ve lived where I could say anywhere near the majority of people I was around fit either description.

This is someone, who should frankly know better than to claim a “uh, I couldn’t find anything and therefore, it’s probably wrong” kind of response; unfortunately, this is also a person who represents a very typical American response to critique of the US/policy/Americans — they’re quick to dismiss and not really that interested in engagement.

But leaving the hard evidence aside for a moment (oh, don’t worry, I’ll come back to it :) ) — what’s made me come to this conclusion? Is it because I’m a liberal who sheepishly follows talking points set out by the oh-so-coordinated ‘liberal agenda’ people? LMAO… not so much. I have literally lived from coast to coast in the US and north to south — mostly living and being around working class folks. Add in 15 years of teaching at a range of institutions of higher education from flagship state institutions, to small/local state institutions, to city-run colleges, and private colleges I have a pretty good sample of the general knowledge base of average 18 to now about 35 year olds (geez I’m getting old) that I have taught and/or coached. And then, I have the nearly innumerable random “pub” conversations about life and people with folks from all walks of life. I’m pretty confident in my understanding of different demographics in the US (and that doesn’t even count the actual research I’ve done on American demographics, attitudes, and belief structures). I’ve lived with someone from a different country (who comes from a working class background and can compare his blue collar parents with my blue collar parents) since 2006, traveled and talked with lots of folks (sustained and policy-based conversations) from lots of places, and now, I’ve had a chance to spend about 3 months immersed in a seriously working class/ struggling part of the UK and 5 months mostly in rural Germany (nice thing about not working, you get to know the community and locals) and outside of the ‘academic’ knowledge, my personal knowledge seems to verify it. Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t/ shouldn’t to most folks… only tells me that from a variety of sources, I can feel comfortable with my conclusions.

But what about the hard evidence? Are Americans really less informed than people in other countries about politics, policy, social issues, etc.?

In two words — hell yes!

A quick peak at the evidence and keep in mind, while I haven’t done an exhaustive search, I’ve also NEVER run across ANY hard evidence to the contrary….

And how about outcomes or consequences of Quintessential Americanism? There are tons; however, I’ll give four examples…

American ignorance is dangerous — mostly to ourselves, but not exclusively to ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if being patriotic meant actually wanting to critically examine the US, without the veil of “taking our country back” or any of the other crazy bullshit that people articulate? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elevate the level of conversation so that we could examine what’s working and the vast amount of stuff that isn’t? But we’re not there yet.

Instead, we continue to dumb down everything. Awesome job you quintessential Americans!