Preparing to Teach “Teaching in the Community College.”

This winter, I am teaching a class on “Teaching in the Community College.” In preparation for this course, I am collecting articles on education from the last couple years that have been influential in the discourse among teachers about what teaching is and the sorts of struggles that teachers are experiencing presently.

I recently re-wrote the description for the course to focus on the problems we’ll be exploring:

“Students who attend community colleges are a diverse population by every measure, including age, socio-economic background, academic preparedness, long-term goals, and more. As community college educators, we often need to make choices that seem to either tailor to some students’ needs while dismissing others, or to pursue all students’ goals in equal measure at the expense of a more mediocre education for all. Is our goal to have the same expectations of our students as would be expected at a more selective four-year school? Or, should we “meet the students where they are” in the pursuit of our students’ growth, no matter where they may be? When teaching underserved students, do we have a moral responsibility to address social inequities, or should the professor avoid politically divisive subjects? To what extent are any of these questions false dichotomies? In this course, we will explore these problems, learn about the community college and its students, and how to be an effective educator in such an environment. Readings will include classical pedagogical theory texts, such as Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Dewey’s Democracy and Education, as well as recent empirically-driven arguments, such as Make it Stick and What the Best College Teachers Do, and contemporary articles from publications like “Inside Higher Ed” and “The Chronicle of Higher Education.””

This post will be one in progress as I add new articles to consider for inclusion in the course.

If you are reading this and have articles you think would be good for the course or interesting to read, please share them in the comments.

Taking a cue from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, I’ll number principal articles with a cardinal number, and articles that respond to principal articles with a decimal of that cardinal number.

1. “I am your professor, not your teacher.”
https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1212-call-and-response

I disagree with the central message of this article, but I am sure it speaks to how many professors think. From the article:

“First, I am your professor, not your teacher. There is a difference. Up to now your instruction has been in the hands of teachers, and a teacher’s job is to make sure that you learn. Teachers are evaluated on the basis of learning outcomes, generally as measured by standardized tests. If you don’t learn, then your teacher is blamed. However, things are very different for a university professor. It is no part of my job to make you learn. At university, learning is your job — and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.”

2. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me.” http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraid

2.1  “I’m a Professor. My colleagues who let their students dictate what they teach are cowards.”
http://www.vox.com/2015/6/10/8753721/college-professor-fear

“I don’t have the luxury of simply changing my syllabus to make my students more              comfortable. You see, I’m also black and a woman.”

2.2  “I was a liberal adjunct professor. My liberal students didn’t scare me at all.”
http://www.vox.com/2015/6/5/8736591/liberal-professor-identity

3. “How a School’s Attendance Number Hides Big Problems.” This article covers chronic absence rates among students. It is geared toward k-12, but this has been a serious problem in my classroom too. The article defines chronic absence as missing more than 10% of classes. I generally teach 30-32 sessions per class, depending on holidays, so chronic absence would be anyone missing more than 3 classes. Right now, about half of one of my classes has missed more than 3 classes. Many have missed quite a few more.

 

4. Homelessness among Community College Students: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/12/07/study-find-homelessness-and-food-insecurity-among-community-college-students?utm_content=buffer93314&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=IHEbuffer

5. Quality over Quantity in Assignments:  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/12/04/writing-study-finds-quality-assignment-and-instruction-not-quantity-matters

 

Tiny Note on Focusing, Wandering, and Wondering

A mind without focus is barely a mind. To have one’s thoughts jump to and fro without purpose is not even to exist. It is the worst way for time to pass. Despite that, we still find our mind succumbing to that condition, and there seems to be little one can do to escape it, except, like a fever, to wait.

Wandering is at least a purpose-driven lack of focus. It is for enjoyment, mental ease, exploration, and play. Those are useful. But there are different qualities of wandering. Wandering is good when we are alert, curious, reflective, and/or inquisitive. It is the sort of wander that inspires wonder. But sometimes we wander because we are distracted, bored, anxious, tired, sick, or frustrated. That sort of wander doesn’t inspire wonder. I find myself in the second type more often than I would like.

Rule of Kamran. Intermission. Reflection on the Project. Habits good and bad.

It has been a few weeks since I posted the last set of rules. Rule sets I and II have been successful: nearly every morning since the first postings, I have been awake sometime between 5:00am and 5:30am, occasionally sleeping in until 6:00am. The coffee is always ready by the time I wake up. So all I need to do is trudge myself to the kitchen to grab coffee and breakfast, turn around, and crawl back into bed. Breakfast and coffee in bed every morning has been a wonderful new tradition in my life. I have then proceeded to study Latin for about one hour every weekday morning, with a couple days of exception. This morning, I have found my mind is wandering too much for effective study (which does not bode well for the rest of today), so I am making the best of it and returning to writing a new entry here. 

I have been excellent at following a few of the preparatory rules, such as emptying and cleaning the coffee filter in the morning, so that I can prepare coffee hassle-free in the evening. Small habit changes like this have proven to be effective in instilling other, more significant good habits into my life. This was the intent: I was working under the Spinozistic concept that I lack free-will, that I am totally governed by passions (to which ‘I’ am the passive effect), that passions and actions operate in a strictly non-free cause and effect relationship, and that knowledge is the most powerful cause that brings me to the good. My knowledge of my own habits, that I am slow until I have coffee, that the thought waking up and then making coffee and waiting for coffee, that the waiting is such a frustrating idea that I simply lie in bed mindlessly surfing the internet on my phone–my knowledge of these things brought me to the knowledge that if the coffee was ready when I woke up, removing the cause of my morning frustration, enabling me to get the coffee and begin that morning–my knowledge of these things effected a more productive morning, with stimulating Latin lessons followed by a strenuous exercise: this is a clear case of my rules project working as intended.

I have not obeyed my Sunday rules very well. There have been three Sundays since my post about the weekend, including the Sunday on which I wrote the post. On the day I wrote the post, I did everything precisely as planned. My week benefited from it. But the second and third Sunday were interrupted with social plans and a trip to Seattle. This disrupted my weekly maintenance. As a result, my apartment is currently a mess, my laundry is off-cycle (forcing me to do laundry during the week, which is exceptionally inconvenient), and my grocery shopping has been limited. With limited grocery shopping, I am spending more money than I should on eating out for lunches and dinners. Nor is it as healthy or as fulfilling as purchasing groceries and preparing my own food.

Of course, being distracted, engaged, and spontaneous with the world is both the necessary condition and worthwhile boon of living in the world with people. I do not live in a monastery. And despite being a relatively solitary person, I treasure my friends and my job, and wish to be a good brother, son, and uncle to my pacific northwest family. So I can be okay with adjusting and adapting to disruptions in my routine: I must embrace that. One challenge is to clearly understand how to adapt to those disruptions to my rules, enjoy them, and get back on track when the disruption has passed: or permanently change my rules if certain long-term life-conditions change. 

Bad Habits that have Abated

Since beginning my rules program, I am much better at using my morning productively. My breakfast+Latin studies are a budding routine/ritual that I hope lasts a long time to come. I have been excellent at getting a morning workout: better than I have been since my Marine Corps days. I feel healthier, stronger, and even younger than I did just two months ago. At first, the new morning exercise exhausted me so much that I frequently felt exhausted, hungry, and distracted throughout the day. But I think that was a sign of my body readjusting, for now I have more energy than I have ever had in my thirties.

I have not wasted nearly as much time on the internet as I was doing before I wrote these first rules. There are exceptions: yesterday, I was in a daze, and realized I was doing nothing in front of my computer for literally hours into the evening. Fortunately, I stopped myself in time to get a good sleep. This is a case where I could write it off as simply needing a break: some time to relax and unwind. But frankly, there are more productive forms of leisure, since there are video games, television shows, movies, and fantasy books that I want to play, watch, or read. When I finish those things, I feel some sense of accomplishment, and they are worthwhile as far as leisurely activities go. The only problem with those things is when I become addicted and it starts cutting into my work or routine. But if I keep those activities moderate, and if I needed rest anyway (a frequent occurence), I might as well use it on something relatively more productive than mindlessly wandering the internet for cat pictures and stupid gossip.

Fortunately, the amount of time I have spent on video games and television shows has been drastically reduced in the past few weeks. I have not exhibited any addictive behavior toward those things, and have played and watch them in moderation.

Persistent Bad Habits:

My mornings are excellent. But as the day wears on, I become less and less focused. Yesterday, for example, I got home with the intent to do laundry, clean my apartment, and grade papers. I accomplished precisely nothing. For some reason, perhaps because of the recent trip and lack of a truly restful weekend, or perhaps because of the 11.5 mile run from that morning (a new record, and frankly, only accomplished because I underestimated how far my route would be).

I still drink a little too much. In the evening, I routinely have two or three glasses of wine. Not awful if done occasionally. But nightly? This is too costly, dulls my mind and judgment, destructive to the long-term health of my mind, and frequently inhibits deep sleep. It is therefore an activity that not only sacrifices the excellence of an evening, but resonates into the quality of the next day. And if the quality of one day is inhibited, the chances that I will resume bad habits and further inhibit future days are further inhibited. I have absolutely no wish to remove alcohol from my life. But except for social outings, this needs to be limited to one glass of wine during the weekend. And beer, despite how much I love thee, needs to be removed entirely except for social outings and the rare exception.

The degree to which I am behind in grading papers, and my incredibly slow progress in completing them, is a disaster. This terrible habit is the thing I need to fix the most. I would be most productive if I sacrificed my morning Latin ritual and exercise routine for the sake of grading papers. But then I will become resentful toward school, and the lack of exercise will make me anxious and unhappy. And I have decided that is not what my solution can be. I need to pursue my own goals and be a good teacher. I cannot sacrifice one for the other.

I want to make leisurely reading a bigger part of my life. My recreational time has been devoted more to electronic entertainment than literary ones. I have decided that perhaps all I need to do is go back to the addictive reading habits of my youth, in which I read fantasy novel after fantasy novel. It has been years since I’ve read any fantasy novel other than the “Game of Thrones” series. Fantasy novels are not, usually, high literature. And certainly, there would be more educational or stimulating things to read. But if I simply admit that, at the end of the day, my mind is too exhausted to concentrate and think, and that if I recognize reading an addictive fantasy novel is at least better for my reading habits and imagination than watching television or playing video games, then it makes sense to replace my more costly electronic habits with cheap literary ones.

Rule of Kamran. Part III. Weekends

Foggy headed today, as I’ve come down with a cold. I can already tell I will need to return to edit this post.

The previous rules are primarily about the default workdays, Monday through Thursday, and sometimes Friday. These cover the general outline for weekends. This is obviously more flexible, as I make time for social plans, etc.

Friday and Saturday: These two days present me with the best opportunity to do my own interesting work, or get caught up with paper grading. Unfortunately, I often feel so exhausted by the work week, that my bad habits rule through these days. Laziness, distractions, and drinking erode my will to work.
1. Set goals. Usually, I do not explicitly write down goals.

2. Get out of the apartment and read. The best and most consistent way I break my bad habits is simply leaving the apartment in the morning with a bag of some books and journals and hunkering down in a big coffee shop with decent food. At the very least, I will complete a couple hours worth of reading and having a god walk.

3. Once a couple hours of reading have been complete, do whatever I feel like doing. If this means more reading/writing, then do that. If I need rest, then rest.

Sunday: Sundays are days for rest and resetting. The most important things to accomplish are:

1. Laundry

2. Purchasing groceries for the week

3. Cleaning the apartment and organizing.

4. Rest and relaxation.

Preparation: It is important to get a good night’s rest without much alcohol so that the day can be appropriately appreciated. I will also need $5 worth of quarters for laundry.

7:30am: By around 7:30, all laundry needs to be ready to go.

7:55am: Bring laundry to the laundry room. Given the size of my apartment building and limited availability of machines, it is critical to be at the laundry room when it opens at 8:00am. If the machines are already filled, laundry can take many additional hours

8:35am: Dressed for the grocery store, move washed clothes to the dryer, and go grocery shopping.

Begin cleaning

9:20am: Collect laundry

Make sure the apartment is neat and clean by the end of the day, since I’m generally a bit more productive when the clutter isn’t distracting me. Rest for the rest of the day. Have no more than one drink, and get to bed by 9:30pm.

This is a day of sabbath. I will not work for school on Sundays. Sundays are my own. If I work, I find that I’m resentful come Monday, and am unproductive then.

Rule of Kamran. Part II. Exercise and Morning Preparation

There are many mentally active people who are not also physically active. But I always have a slight to great feeling of dissatisfaction and laziness when I am not fit.

These rules will be modified from time to time depending on the semester schedule. This schedule assumes the 11:00am start time for all my first classes on Monday through Thursday.

Maintaining a workout habit that last for more than a few consecutive weeks has proven difficult for me, however. Since I began teaching, I will maintain good practices at the beginning of the semester, and sometimes at the end of the semester. But when I start receiving papers to grade, managing gym time becomes increasingly difficult. I begin telling myself that I need to sacrifice a day’s workout in order to grade papers, and then another, and then another. Before I know it, my habit has changed into not going to the gym. When I am working out, I am better at going on Mondays through Wednesdays, and then often drop my good habit by the end of the week and through the weekend. This results in about two workouts per week. This is not satisfying to me.

The purpose of the rule is to have a rational law set down so that when my bad habits and volitions kick in (as they are doing this Thursday morning: I simply want to lay in bed all day), the rule reminds me of what I ought to do, according to my own rule.

Preparation: During the “Coffee” phase of the morning, or before 6:30am, change into athletic clothes. I find that this is the biggest part of the habit-battle. If I manage to change into my athletic clothes, then I almost always go to the gym. Sometimes, I have been in the habit of getting dressed, then surfing the internet or some other distracting and addicting activity, and then realizing it is too late to get a decent workout and get to work on time.

Workout: At 6:45am, march to the gym. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are devoted to strength resistance. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are devoted to long-distance running. Sundays are for rest. On Mondays through Thursdays, or other days on which there is a schedule to maintain, the workout lasts until about 8:15pm. The specifics of each workout are determined outside these rules, since they are very specific and change rapidly from week to week.

Transition to Work: Arrive back at the apartment no later than 8:30am. The next phase is critical. I am tired and have a number of small things to do in order to prepare for work and make it there on time. I historically become easily distracted during this time.

1.Immediately upon entering the apartment, go directly to the kitchen and consume the post-workout meal. Place toast in the toaster.

2. DO NOT turn on the computer or phone. There is nothing important there.

3. Strip and shower. Move quickly. Long restful showers are reserved for the weekend.

4. Dress, pack bags with school supplies. Have a book or other material in an easy to reach pouch in the bag, in order to easily read something on the bus.

5. If it is Monday or Wednesday (long work days), make two sandwiches. If it is Tuesday or Thursday, make one sandwich. Pack the sandwiches in the bag.

6.  Get on the express bus. To catch the express bus, leave at 9:03, 9:12, 9:21, or 9:31. Aim for the 9:12am time.

When I arrive downtown, grab coffee and get to the office. This should provide an hour of prep time for classes. This brings us to the next phase, which involves conduct at school/work.

Rule of Kamran. Part I. Sleep and Coffee.

The “Rule of Kamran” is a set of laws designed by myself for myself, with the goal of addressing the sorts of broken or inconsistent habits that I have.  Its aim is to help me live a more reflective and conscious life.  These rules will come in parts, as I reflect on each set and write them out.

I am happiest and most fulfilled when, in the order of most to least important, my life is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge (both reading and writing), when I have regular contact and stimulating conversations with a variety of friends, and when my physical health and budget are well balanced.

I. Sleep and Coffee
Sleep and coffee are not the goal of any day, to be sure. But most “good days” start with the foundation of a good sleep and a quick start-up in the morning. Though there is no clean beginning of any day, since the actions of previous days and weeks always contribute to the excellence of any particular day, the 24 hour cycle seems to be the most basic “unit” of habit. The cycle of sleep and coffee begins about 24 hours before the day’s actual wake-up time of 5:00am to 5:30am.

1. Each morning, after the coffee has been brewed, empty the filter, wash it out, and set it out to dry. This is to ensure that the filter is ready for use in the evening.
2. Every evening before bed, setup the coffee machine to brew automatically at 5:00am.
3. Drink little: no more than 1 drink on most nights, 2 if they are spread out. Exceptions are made for social events.
4. Be in bed no later than 10pm. Set alarm for 5am.
5. When I wake, poor coffee immediately, eat breakfast in bed, and read either (a) the newspaper, (b) my Latin language book, or (c) something in philosophy, or (d) devoted to some writing.

6. This transitions to the next phase of the day, the morning workout, which begins at 6:45am.
A good rest, a minimal amount of time between wake-up and coffee, and some early mental stimulation are the most satisfying ways to begin the day.

 

What do I think about when I think about God: Preliminary.

What do I think about when I think about God? The absolute, the infinite, and the necessary. Absolutely egalitarian, seeing all things that we see as ephemeral, irrelevant. What matters more are the searches for truth and benevolence: all mistakes, ignorance, and evil intentions are caused more by the absence of knowledge or the limitation of empathy than actual evil.

 

On Snowden and the NSA

I do not think that ‘freedom and privacy’ necessarily trump ‘safety and security’ as a higher political virtue. And the NSA’s practices might very well have halted some attacks on US soil: that’s what the NSA has reported, and the rest of us can merely speculate. But IF you choose freedom and privacy over safety and security, then it seems you ought to hail Snowden as a role-model and hero. But IF you choose safety and security as the higher virtue, you probably ought to condemn him. For my part, if we have to choose (and it seems we must prioritize here) I’d rather live in a free and just society over one that is simply secure and stable, bumps and bruises and all.

I doubt many politicians will present that dichotomy, but the NSA and the Obama administration have apparently chosen safety and security over freedom and privacy. The most morally objectionable thing isn’t the act, but the lie.

 

A Review, and Search. Part One: the Motives and First Self-Chosen Direction

“There is something missing in my life, and it has to do with my need to understand what I must do, not what I must know–except, of course, that a certain amount of knowledge is presupposed in every action. I need to understand my purpose in life, to see what God wants me to do, and this means that I must find a truth which is true for me, that I must find that Idea for which I can live and die.

“…The Idea was what I lacked in order to live a complete human life and not merely knowledge. So I could not base the development of my philosophy of life–yes, on something one calls ‘objective’–on something not my own, but upon something which reaches to the deepest roots of my existence and wherein I am connected into the divine and held fast to it, even though the whole world falls apart. Yes, this is what I lack and this is what I am striving for.” —Soren Kierkegaard, journal entry, August 1, 1835.

Where am I? The void is absolute in its dimensions. An infinite number of potential things and paths of growth. Where is my thread now?

Earth. North America. Chicago. A one-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of a small tower overlooking Lake Michigan and north Chicago. This flesh, reclined in a chair, fingers ponderously moving over a keyboard. A mind, searching, small, fragmented, grasping for memories, grasping for self-understanding. He sees himself as a river, or tree, and he stands in one phase, having grown from the upstream current, having flowed through valleys and forests, and what is to come is unknown. Projected. He strives for the waters to be pure and strong, but he has the habit of allowing pollutions into himself.

Where am I? Trapped here in this growth for 34 years. Watching relationships close, others open. Truth and stimulation is all he craves, all he has ever craved. He is determined to find it again, but not sure how. He has plunged into himself, into his memories, to see what he will see.

A memory: half a lifetime ago, sixteen years old, Eagan, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Friend’s house. Friends present. No parents. They are joking, goofing off. He is quiet, out of place. Trying to joke, but it feels fake. He doesn’t belong here. All life was unsatisfying. Classes were going poorly. Homework was frustrating. The classes occasionally had interesting lessons, skills and stories. The dream of knowledge, as something that can penetrate the depths of ignorance, was exciting. But the work required was something else. No curiosity was helpful here.

A conversation breaks out. It is about right and wrong and the nature of God. He, or I, makes some pronouncement, something apparently heretical, for his friends only entertain his questioning for a few precious moments before condemnations begin. The memory of exactly what the subject was has eroded, but the room, the faces, and the feeling is clear. Those precious moments of stimulated conversation were the most valuable sorts of things he enjoyed. The movement and dancing of the mind around ideas. He went from tired and disengaged to joyful, awake, and thrilled. Adrenaline, from an argument. Then his friends said something like, “That’s just the way it is. God made it that way.” “How do you know that,” he said. “Because the Bible tells me so.” The dance was over. He became detached again. These were his friends, or people like these, for his entire life: no one who could satisfy him.

The promise of knowledge was appealing, but nothing could tempt his mind.

His grades plummeted. His friendships suffered. He was poor around girls, who he didn’t know how to speak to. Alone, failing, he did not know where to go.

All that thrilled him were games. Tabletop war games with two or three friends. The rules and purpose settled his mind. The challenge made him arise. The painting of the models gave him solace, time to think, and something for his hands to excel at. Attempts to do homework generally gave way to picking up a game rule book.

On the battlefield, his soldiers marched forward with discipline, purpose, and an ethical code. Something about that turned his heart.

Another side: his friends believed that Christianity was true, the only truth, and that America was the greatest nation. But they did little for the sake of America, and in their arrogance, taunting, obsession with frivolous things like pop music, cars, fashion, they seemed like they understood little about the good of Christianity, which struck him as a profound, peaceful, and humble religion devoted to truth and meaning. They had running water, nice homes, video game machines, and they took it all for granted, like it was owed them.

But he had been to Iran: he was from Iran. And he saw his family with relatively few luxuries. A house with hardened clay walls. Water that was sufficiently polluted that it must always be boiled. No telephone: one would need to walk into the town’s phone center to make a call. A toilet outhouse that was always infested with cockroaches, where one must squat over a hole in the ground. Schools that were restrictive, police that walked down the street and arrested people if they were dressed inappropriately: a woman without a scarf on her head, or bearing anything above her wrists, or bearing anything at all of her legs: a man, with long hair, with shorts, with American-looking clothes. And yet, these Iranian cousins were every bit as happy as his American friends, if not more so.

He saw how his Iranian cousins were treated, and he knew that he was lucky for being brought up in America, to receive the bounty that America had given him. The schools, the roads, the water, the electricity, the phones, the cars, the plentiful food, the immense freedom. These, he realized, were not free. One cannot take these for granted. These do not come automatically.

America had done something to provide this. He owed something to America.

Another side: a side he has been ashamed of for a long time, and only now, perhaps out of the  need to finally be free, can he admit this, though he knows that many other people have had the courage to admit this at much earlier ages. For all his life, he had heard boys taunting boys about not having balls when they acted like a coward. That having two big testicles was critical to being valued, critical for being a full man. But he was born with only one, and he came to believe this counted against his manhood. That he was somehow less.

So he had something to prove: he had to prove he was a man, and more of a man than even those that taunted him.

Two things followed.

He came to believe that he should serve his country, than he needed purpose and discipline, that he needed to remake himself, that he needed to prove himself to himself. Of the few solutions that occurred to his small mind, enlisting in the military was easily the best choice. He went to the Navy recruiter, who talked about life aboard a ship, which intrigued him. Eight week boot camp, that wasn’t hard. Technical skills would be his reward. Then the Army recruiter, which promised him diversity of opportunity, though, the recruiter confessed, a harder boot camp than the Navy. But he made all sorts of promises about the benefits he would acquire. It wouldn’t be hard, the recruiter said. Then the Air Force recruiter, who could not stop talking about how easy the Air Force was, how many benefits, and how nice the life would be. Our boy walked out annoyed. Then he walked into the Marine Corps office, where the recruiter gave him a nasty look and said, “what do you want?” The boy saw a poster that read, “We won’t promise you a rose garden.” The recruiter made no promises about an easy life or incentive packages. No promises about technical skills. All the recruiter promised was that the Marine Corps would kick the shit out of him for twelve hard weeks until I was a Marine or until I failed.  And then the next four years would still be hard. A Marine has duty. A Marine has an ethical code. A Marine is not simply going to a job. A Marine was something special: his soul was turned into something else. Once a Marine, always a Marine. This filled all his needs. He signed the papers, and requested to be an infantryman, because being an accountant simply wouldn’t do the job. He needed to sleep in mud, carry a machine gun, dig trenches, get rained on, and go on long hard marches. And perhaps fight. Nothing else would redeem him.

Shortly before leaving for boot camp, he had one last set of classes to take, one last choice for an elective. “Introduction to Philosophy.” Plato, Aristotle, Confucius. He knew nothing of these names.  He opened Plato’s Republic, and Socrates asked, “what is justice?” And when Socrates’ friends gave him answers, Socrates did not merely accept or reject. He inquired, explored, with nothing but his own mind. With the power of thought and inquiry, he wrung as much truth as he could, with a question. No resources, no research, no appeal to God, tradition, or family. Just thought. And our boy fell in love.

A few weeks later, he graduated high school. Three days after graduation, he was never so excited to board a plane to San Diego with the ten other Minnesota recruits, and he was never quite the same.

Seven billion homo sapiens lives at the present, more than at any other time. Perhaps Ten billion existed before that, since the time of the first homo sapiens. And hundreds of billions will likely exist in our future. This does not take into consideration the untold trillions of lives in the forms of animals and plants: on Earth. And this Earth is just a pinpoint, the smallest most ephemeral place. Of all the lives this could have had, it happened to be this one. That is where I find myself. So this is what I will seek to understand.

Summer Reading List

The spring 2013 semester is at a close, and I am looking at three months of vacation. But this vacation is of course an opportunity to get back into the life of curiosity-driven reading that I have put off for years. I can of  course read whatever I wish during a school semester, but the amount of time I have for such things is always secondary to reading for the classes I’m teaching. Every summer since 2006 has been a teaching summer. And for the last three years, that has been supplemented by tenure-track work and graduate classes. This summer, there are no obligations other than to myself.

I’m still grading papers, but I’m eager to dive into this list as soon as possible.

Here is the list, which is a work in progress:

Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise. Spinoza’s other great book, of which I’ve only read bits and pieces. I’m doing a reading group this summer with another HWC faculty member. Very much looking forward to reading more from my favorite philosopher.

Steven Nadler’s A Book Forged in Hell. A historical book by the UW-Madison scholar on Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise. 

David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Been slowly reading this since January. Great book that hasn’t received enough of my attention.

Steven Nadler’s The BEst of All Possible Worlds. Another Nadler book, this one about the intellectual community surrounding Leibniz in Paris, 1672. Also the main basis for a new Reacting to the Past game I want to get working on.

Nate Silver The Signal and the Noise. About statistics and their application by the man who most successfully predicted the minutiae of the 2012 presidential election.

David Abrams, Fobbit. A humorous novel about the Iraq war.

Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

Marge Piercy’s He, She, It. Sci-fi novel that I was assigned in a grad class last year that I never actually finished… I’ll finish my assignments eventually 🙂

Shop Craft as Soulcraft. An essay/book reminiscent of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not a novel, making the basic argument that craftsmanship is ultimately more fulfilling than any amount of philosophical speculation. Written by a UChicago PhD philosophy alumn who resigned from the academic life to start his own motorcyle shop.

Janet Browne’s two big biographies of Darwin, Voyaging and The Power of Place.

Re-reading Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and Origin of Species. 

Some more books on the current theory of evolution.

Some more books on education.

Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Because why not.

Hemingway’s Moveable Feast. On the persuasive recommendation from a student.

Yalom’s The Spinoza Problem. A novel based on everyone’s favorite philosopher.

The Philosophical Breakfast Club. 

More…