Friday, January 30, 2009

Usable Information for Intro Profs

So, if like me you have to find some way to cover all the sub-disciplines at an introductory level, you are no doubt challenged at keeping up with any and all "new developments". If your Sunday morning reading includes the New York Times, then you probably saw the extended article in the Magazine on female sexuality. If you had that first cup of coffee in you, perhaps some of the arguments and the ways of presenting them gave you pause. Kool-aid drinkers thought it was just fine.

Anyway, thanks to Neuroanthropology you can read an in-depth discussion of the article with some great follow up points. Check it out. Very, very useful stuff.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Barry White, BOI (Born on the Island--Galveston, that is). Thanks for Love Unlimited.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another Semester Begins and There is Work to Do

I would like to be in a place where I could continue some of the blog posts that I have started but are in the "draft posts" category: there is the promised second post in the ongoing Teaching Africa series and then one I have playing around with about Robert Mugabe. But I can't get my mind out of the pedagogy of teaching and the daily interaction with my students. I feel a bit insular and island-like lately. Daily demands pull me in and the "out" looks very disturbing right now; the politics of the world and my nation seem overwhelming and, perhaps, a bit too real.

I have 4 classroom classes: three Culturals and one Archy. Two Distance Learning: one Cultural and one brand-new Archy. And I am back teaching for the Aggies down in Galveston; that one special challenge with 120 students who are all (the whole campus population) just back from a Fall semester in College Station--home of all the main Aggies, while the small Galveston campus was resurrected from the ravages of Ike. All in all, I have expended a lot of personal energy trying to make a very disparate set of connections with my students: virtual connections, small class connections, large class connections. I have spent long stretches of time in my car driving the long haul to Galveston, pondering the skill set required. I feel as drained as when I did field work and each potential conversation and interaction was a walk out a limb without needed corrective lenses.

But I have learned some things. I have students who really do believe that "the pyramids were built by aliens", that anthropology is about the study of dinosaurs, that dogs have language, that Latinos are more fertile than other people, and that most students don't seem to know the same types of things, by that, I think I mean that I can't tell that they have experienced a common High School experience with a common set of learned content.

They have read nothing and have little knowledge of very basic and fundamental content. It truly does frighten me to think that so many professors are using technology to distance themselves from this knowledge. Better to turn off the lights and cue up the power points; divide them in groups and give the "innovative projects" to work collaboratively on; or better yet build a wiki with no knowledge of what is and is not valid Internet source material: these all examples of activities I have witnessed first-hand.

No easy answers here. It just takes hard work and the desire to connect. Soon, we will be going with the flow and life will get easier. Then I will be able to look outward, again.

Now see, this is the sort of thing I am talking about. How are clickers going to help students learn reasoning skills? How, for that matter, are group projects going to solve that if the instructor is not an integral part of the process? Have you watched them in groups? How can these projects be designed if we don't understand where they are coming from? Particularly if we don't realize that they have had a very individual road of it throughout their high school years. If you want to engage with "their" (monolithic category alert!) understanding of technology than realize that large numbers of them have accessed only the most salacious and titillating aspects of the internet world--it is, after all, way cool to look at sites about alien pyramid building and conclude indigenous people...just, so couldn't do that. They aren't tabula rasa, they need to be retaught and we need to engage with them to figure out how to do that. How about if we put down the clickers and do so---hey, maybe not in the hundreds...maybe we need SMALL CLASSES and active involvement!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Question of the Day

Just doing the same old, same old in lecture today. Add/drops are over. So I thought I would start the real stuff. Easy stuff. Sub-disciplines of Anthropology. Biological anthropology. Hand raised. "Are Hispanics more fertile than other people?" *blink* "I mean, I am one and we have a lot of babies."

This is my life.

Savage Minds, citing yours truly, says they need to be more relevant for the new year.

Ya think?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'm Back

It has been a couple of weeks of forced isolation for me. And I have noticed that isolation does not make for good blog posting. During the times I have to shut down and get to work, I notice I do just that. Shut down. I suppose anyone who has ever written a dissertation has done that. At some point, one emerges from one's cave and looks around bleary-eyed and tries to figure out what the rest of the world was up to.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday who has just finished up his graduate course work and was ready to begin his journey toward "the dissertation" (cue the ominous music). We compared notes on how that leaves you feeling terribly isolated, having lost out on the gossip of life. Sort of like when George Bush, Senior stared dumbfounded at the electronic price scanners at the grocery store, having missed life as the rest of us experience it. Although, one suspects any "Bush" has not experienced life as the collective "we" know it.

In my case, nothing so dramatic. I spent days in isolation building a new Distantly Learning course. Right or wrong, good or evil, Hamas or Zionism, I have put my Introduction to Archaeology course online. It debuted this week with 27 students. Their first exercise, to get them accustomed to the course, etc, etc. was to post to the Discussion Board about their trash. They seem to be enjoying, themselves and I must admit, its kind of amusing to read their posts. They seem to feel a great deal of guilt about their lack of recycling and over consumption of plastic water bottles.

Global warming, going "Green", and destroying the planet are such easy moral issues, aren't they? Its good to know that while we were denied communitas by a fumbled oath and an awkward speech at the Presidential Inauguration, we can all join in with a pure "tsk tsk" at our own water-bourne frailties.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Guest Rant: Archaeology Lists and Bias

Today we have a special treat. Bob Muckle of the Society for Anthropology in the Community College sent out a wonderful rant on their listserve. I asked his permission to post it here. He mentioned something about wanting to correct misspellings and grammar errors but I don't think anyone should let such trivial concerns get in they way of a good rant. Enjoy. (The picture accessory was inspired by subsequent discussion.)

Bob begins now, in blue:

Reviews of 2008 archaeology stories continue, leading to this little bit of a rant. If you aren't interested in archaeology in popular culture, or what I have to say no matter the topic, delete now.

A few weeks ago National Geographic listed the top ten 'most-viewed' archaeology stories. It includes reports on Inka trepanation, the apparent lost city of Paititi in Peru, yet another Egyptian pyramid, a shield that might have belonged to Alexander the Great, a mystery pyramid in Mexico, a warrior tomb in Egypt, the use of Stonehenge as a burial ground, how the ancient Maya caused climate change, how the Great pyramid of Giza may have been built, and the apparent portal to the Maya underworld.

Not unexpectedly, as almost all lists of top discoveries in archaeology are apt to do, they describe stories that tend to appeal to the public's imagination of the things archaeologists do, with a clear bias towards pyramids, well-known civilizations, historical figures, and human biological remains.

Its kind of like watching television news in my opinion. You know..., its only news if there are good visuals. Whenever a really big archaeological news story appears that my students want to talk about, I usually end up telling them something like there are far more significant archaeology projects going on all over the world, but without bodies and weapons and jewellry, and a project director who doesn't know how or doesn't want to play the media, they just don't get the attention outside of academia. And sometimes I can even use those stories to launch into an example of what the scientific significance of discovery reported in the popular media is likely to be as compared to some of the other under-reported projects going on almost in their own backyards.

This morning I was somewhat surprised when I happened upon a story of the six most important archaeological discoveries in China during 2008, as reported in China's People's Daily Online (not that I am a regular reader of Chinese propaganda; nor do I actually have the ability to read any Chinese language). The story was in English. It read, in part "Focus is placed on the scientific value and historical and cultural messages that come with the discovery, as well as on if new concepts and methodologies of archaeological excavation were used." "Wow, that is so unusual to be actually considering scientific significance when reporting on archaeology in the popular media" I thought. But when I looked at the list of six top discoveries, I found that three of the six are burial grounds.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that archaeologists can learn an tremendous amount from human biological remains, and I've excavated and analyzed some myself. I surmise, however, that less than one percent of all archaeology field projects involve the discovery and/or recovery of bodies.

I think that as the media itself is increasingly driving archaeological research, especially that which focuses on things that make good television, archaeologists are going be faced with increasing challenges connvicning people of the value of lithic waste flakes, potsherds, and rusty bits of metal.

Mike Pavlik continued:
I agree - I would further venture that it is a primary responsibility of the intro level instructor to teach that value. Any one who completes a 100 level archy. course should be able to tell you why say, mesoamerican caves with teocinte & pod corn husks are more important, or at least equal to, the temple of the Moon.
(The reponder hasn't, yet, given permission to post his name. I will update as necessary.)
UPDATED to add Mike's name. Thanks, Mike.
BTW. Image Google "archaeology"--first hit is the picture at the top--enough said?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Drive-By Updating: Rick Warren in Africa

While I continue prepping for the semester, check out this Daily Beast blog post which echoes and expands on my earlier post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Update of Update....Whopper Virgins are....boring.....

Working hard on the beginning of semester meetings and chores, but thanks to the World's Hottest Poli Sci Prof, you can follow this link to an interesting post on the failure of the Whopper Virgins the conclusion. I thought the comments were interesting.

Back later...the semester calls................

Friday, January 9, 2009

Update: Expansion of Use of Anthropologists at Air University

Inside Higher Education reports that in a bid to create a more "Cross-Culturally Competent Air Force", according to their SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation report. Their intent is to start a sort of clearing-house training center headed by a psychologist (!) to reinforce efforts to create culture-based content courses for all their educational branches from their Community College operations on up. Here is a sample of their intent:

The university is responding to the Pentagon’s call that culture matters. As for the hoped-for impact of educational change on the overall military – “That’s a set of outcomes that the Southern Association does not ask us,” says Brian R. Selmeski, director of cross-cultural competence at the Air Force Culture and Language Center, created at Air University in 2006.

He adds, however: “It is the fundamental reason, I think, why most of us in the center are here and doing what we’re doing.”

The Air Force Culture and Language Center is intended to be, in the chief academic officer’s words, a “catalyst” for the infusion of cross-cultural education across the university’s many schools and colleges, which include, as a sampling, the Community College of the Air Force, for enlisted airmen, the Noncommissioned Officer Academies, and the Air War College, which educates senior officers. Air University’s proposed quality enhancement plan – in shorthand, QEP — is due to SACS this month, with on-site assessment of the plan scheduled for spring.

The proposal is built upon a number of student learning outcomes that, now in draft form, include the acquisition of “foundational knowledge of culture-general ideas and principles.” The focus of the QEP is on general knowledge of culture. For example, students would learn about the concept of kinship, and that it plays out in different ways in different regions.

The draft learning outcomes also include a focus on demonstrating “skills necessary to work effectively in cross-cultural contexts,” “positive attitudes toward cultural differences that predispose learners to effective learning and action,” and, finally, “the ability to apply culture-general learning effectively in specific cultural contexts.” The center’s next hire will be a psychologist who will serve as assessment chair for the effort, Selmeski says.

“The idea is rather than finding anthropologists and co-locating them with military units to assist” — which describes a controversial initiative known as the Human Terrain System — “our focus is to get all of our airmen, all of our students, to be able to be sensitive to these cross-cultural concepts and be able to use them wherever they’re deployed,” explains Bruce T. Murphy, chief academic officer of Air University. “Rather than focus on a particular region, rather than focus on a particular language, what are the five or six or seven or whatever it is, basic questions that everybody has to be able to ask before they go into a region, to do their own operational missions but do them with cultural sensitivity?

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rock of Love Bus: *shudder*: Any Teachable Moments?

My daughter and I are half way through our dvr'd recording of the first episode of the third episode of Rock of Love: entitled, Rock of Love Bus (cause its set on a bus, actually more than one bus). I have blogged before about my discussions of the show with my students--since it was the most watched cable show at the time. We learned a lot from our discussions. Really.

This season its tough to watch. My daughter and I had to take a break without getting much meaning or humor from it. Our only observation so far is that of the 20 selected contestants we are unable to identify one that does not have breast implants. Which is interesting since the previous two seasons "winners" both were the only women without them. They have been labeled by the press as the most "sensible". Don't ask me.....maybe my students will be able to sort it out when they return.

In the meantime we can go for the easy Teachable Moment...its an example for a discussion of cultural relativism? (she said lamely). Compare it to the Maya as discussed in this month's Archaeology magazine:

Beauty was a way to display social, if not moral, value among the Maya. The wealth they invested and pain they endured to create bodies that reflected their social beliefs make our modern-day obsession with beauty seem less excessive.

Sorry, no. Gotta argue that having seen half of the first episode, we could give the Maya a run for their money. Although, I must agree it is definitely displaying "social, if not moral, value.". Okay, okay. I'll lose the judgement and get back to careful soon as I recover.
Oh, I forgot to mention: My daughter and I are working on the theory that this particular selection of contestants may have shifted the balance of power in the series. It would appear that Bret is now the biggest 'ho of the bunch. Roll on.

Material Culture Alert!

Good news. This will be the last year you have to look at these doofy glasses at Times Square. Next year there will be a whole new commodity to consume.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gaza: A Frightening Anthropological Analogy

We all know the drubbing that British Social Anthropology took for writing the tribal story of Africa whilst the British Empire hacked its way through the continent. This American anthropologist doesn't plan on following in their footsteps.

Sunday mornings is my time for catching up on the world's events. I have been watching the live blog of the Israeli attack on Gaza at The Guardian (would Max Gluckman approve?). They have been updating regularly as events unfold. I have given up on the American coverage having watched the American morning T.V. news shows. I was appalled at the coverage. I think the high point was when Wolf Blitzer spent most of his time trying to pin Queen Noor into some sort of statement denouncing Muslim extremists as she was lamenting the humanitarian crises in Gaza. Hey, Wolf, there are children dying. Anyway, When there is coverage--and there is precious little of that--it is completely lacking in any objectivity or any actual discussion of the full totality of the situation. I heard next to no discussion of the Israel blockade of Gaza since their nominal pull-out some 3 years ago (and preceding the election of Hamas.) One of the leading watchdogs of the press by the press, Editor and Publisher, gives a good summary of the pro-Israel American press coverage.

How could an 18 year old student get an objective understanding of the problem based on this coverage? Is presenting a discussion of these issues not, exactly, what we should be doing as Anthropologists? And yet, our blogs rarely cover these issues--the notable exception being Open Anthropology, wait he is a Canadian. You know, as a discipline, we have no functioning voice in the American dialogue.

Fortunately, there is a wonderful piece, Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza, by Glenn Greenwald at Salon, giving all of us who struggle with undergraduate teaching the Teachable Moments in the unfolding disaster. Sample this argument:

If you see Palestinians as something less than civilized human
beings: as "barbarians" -- just as if you see Americans as
infidels warring with God or Jews as sub-human rats -- then it naturally follows
that civilian deaths are irrelevant, perhaps even something to cheer.

And he continues his argument:
Why should a superior, civilized, peaceful society allow the welfare of
violent, hateful barbarians to interfere with its objectives? How can the
deaths or suffering of thousands of barbarians ever be weighed against the death
of even a single civilized person?
So many of these conflicts -- one might
say almost all of them -- end up shaped by the same virtually universal
deficiency: excessive tribalistic identification (i.e.: the
group with which I was trained to identify is right and good and just and my
group's enemy is bad and wrong and violent), which causes people to view the
world only from the perspective of their side, to believe that X is good when
they do it and evil when it's done to them. X can be torture, or the
killing of civilians in order to "send a message" (i.e., Terrorism), or
invading and occupying other people's land, or using massive lethal force
against defenseless populations, or seeing one's own side as composed of real
humans and the other side as sub-human, evil barbarians.

He ends his piece with the language of our discipline and a conclusion we can all agree with:

It's much easier to undervalue the suffering imposed on The Other when you don't have to see it.

Its an interesting thought, isn't it? The idea that we may never solve the violence unleashed in this world without the ability to see the full humanity of all the world's people. Wonder where that idea came from? Perhaps, Mr. Greenwald took an anthropology class. I hope. I just wish an anthropologist had written it. Perhaps, they are all too busy working at "anthropologizing" the U.S. military.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Out with the Old and in with the New

On our traditional day of reflection and hang-over recovery, I hope everyone has a chance to head on over to Neuroanthropology for the wonderfully comprehensive and entertaining "Best of Anthro 2008".
We have all done very well. Carry on.