Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too many students; too little trash

Whew! How many of those of us who teach anthropology are back teaching anthropology? We are packed to the gills with students. If they could have suspended them from the ceiling, I believe they would have. I think every class we have must be full. I know mine are. 39 students in my Intro to Archaeology class (yes, that is 3 over our limit which at 36 is waaaaay too big) and I haven't got a seat left. I do one of those dorky trash sorting exercises in the first week of classes. I am supposed to do it tomorrow. But I don't have enough simulated trash to go around. Its midnight here in H-town. Surely, there is an all-night simulated trash for simulated archaeology sorting and making inferences about material culture store open somewhere?

BTW, yours truly was called by Herr President of Campus sometime last week--the days have all run together. You are now blogging with the Honors Coordinator for our Campus. Yep. I was stupid enough to sign on for that. 7 14 hour days later and I can't help but wonder what I was thinking.

There seems to be an interesting discussion going on at my past award-winning post (that always cracks me up) on teaching pedagogy. I assume the comments are showing up under Discursion. Have a look. I think I won't have a chance until I am done with the whole trash issue.

Carry on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Private Thoughts and Public Labels: From Potatoes to Gender

Houston lost a daughter. Austin gained a Longhorn. Mom still has the hedgehog; you saw that one coming didn't you?

On the road from Austin home to Houston, I passed (again) the sign for Old Potato Road, and had the same thought: is the potato old or is it the road?

Its all about the label, isn't it?

Just after Old Potato Road, NPR had a story about the controversy over Castor Semena, the South African track runner who improved a little too much, too fast sparking a flurry of rather tacky speculation about her gender; although why an improvement of 8 seconds in a year should translate into a gender identity issue is beyond me: only men can improve by leaps and bounds? Or: we are stunned; stunned, shocked, and appalled to discover that she was in fact, a man, all along even though we did not contemplate that when she was slower

But she looks muscular, has narrow hips and a deep voice. Exactly what is a woman supposed to look like?

Anyway, when classes start next week, I suppose we all have the ideal label--Castor Semena--for discussing the complexities of gender identification. Teachable Moment alert.

Juxtapose thoughts about Castor Semena with the news about the swimsuit model killed by the reality star and stuffed into a suitcase. Turns out she could only be identified by the serial number on her breast implants. What is a woman supposed to look like? Too many thoughts for me.

Cue Tammy Wynette: sometimes its hard to be a woman

...especially driving through a Texas night having said goodbye to a daughter.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Teaching Naked: Another one of those nothing new here movements

That got your attention didn't it. Do not picture your colleagues in this role. Not attractive. Nope.

The pedagogy debate rages on. Those of you paying attention to the Comments section will notice that the previous "lecture" versus Web 2.0 discussion (that award winning one) has become re-activated. Thanks to Informalethnographer (I don't know how he wants me to link him up and I will edit this if/when he lets me know). We have this piece from the July 20th Chronicle of Higher Education, When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom: Teaching Naked Effort Strips Computers from the Classroom The idea is that we should use our classrooms for engaging discussions. Well, duh.

The piece starts with an indictment of Power point lectures, arguing that studies show students find it "dull". But then I notice the piece goes a bit wobbly about half way through; changing up its arguments and the conclusions it draws from what students are saying, arguing for hiving off the boring lectures into podcasts to be viewed by students before coming to class. Oh...they are so doing that. Not. And, hey, logic-wise, I have a question: will podcasting make these boring lectures less boring?

How about if the whole class is a combination of lecture and interactive discussions. This isn't new.

Bottom line: students want human engagement. Small classes and caring profs give them that. How hard is that? I have been doing for over 20 years.

Why make them watch these ghastly boring podcasts from hell with no interaction and maybe not quite current. How about if we just be real old-fashioned and have them do the assigned readings before class? After all, reading is FUNdamental. Remember? Then we can lecture, discuss, lecture, discuss. Imagine that.

Two observations:

Power Point. Its a crutch for faculty, as well. World's Most Beautiful Sociology Prof and I laughed our butts off (Damn, *whips head around* sorry still there) when new faculty couldn't do lecture because "computer in class was down". Class dismissed for her. Me and WMBSP would, simply, carry on. But....we know our stuff. Cue: smug.

Student Laptops: A have had several students tell me that they purposely leave them at home because the temptation to Facebook is simply too strong and they know they need to focus. Many do support a ban.

Hey, let's all skip and go naked. And could you pedagogy people stop acting like you have some new and innovative technique that is going to transform the world? The ridiculous "aren't I cool" self-promotion is wearing thin.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Teachable Moments Clips: Fun with Animals

Since we are, probably, all gearing up for another year, I thought I would share some of the useful clips I have found for Cultural classes. I think we would all agree that it takes some creativity to do an online Cultural class and I have worked rather hard at finding intro stuff that can generate new ways of thinking without overly-exoticizing or "tribalizing". I rather love this one on cowness (the meaning and consequent treatment thereof), I have it embedded in a wider discussion on ways of getting your groceries but do with it what you will:

How Americans treat their cattle: A Maasai perspective

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Patrice Lumumba

I am just speechless. How many moral laws were broken when Hillary Clinton opened her mouth and had the audacity to lecture the Congo on the instances of rape and sexual violence brought about by a war which, in many respects, we began and continue to fund?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Congo: The Advance Hillary Guard. Let's paint it unhealed, victimized, and plummeting and spiking

Hillary has made it to Congo (left Angola, not yet in Nigeria) and the main stream press paved the way. I noticed that last week (August 4) the New York Times had an article up on the phenomenon of male rape in Congo, "Symbol of Unhealed Congo: Male Rape Victims". Like all Africanists, I sighed as I saw it. One more story about those savage Africans. It just hurts. How to begin to explain why, how to bring up objections and explanations, re-framing and re-humanizing. Re-humanizing. De-dehumanizing.

How nice to feel I am not alone in my rants.

African Politics Portal is the first up with a great piece questioning the alarmist, unfounded sensationalism of the article which is, after all, based on the experiences of 4 men without much genuine exploration of the prevalence and meaning.

But follow African Politics Portal's links to a great blog Wrongingrights and your justifiable indignation will ratchet up a few notches--at least mine did. The piece is entitled "In Which the New York Times Both Sets 'Em Up and Knocks 'Em Down" and reveals the original title of the NYTimes article (since changed) was "Congo Plummets Into Rape and Murder."

I urge you to click on through to the blog. The Lucky Charms grading system for the article is breathtakingly awesome. I award it 50 billion green clovers and 1 perfect pink heart--cause you gotta have heart to keep up the good fight.

Following Hillary: Today: Angola.....Texas Tea, Black Gold...but what happens to the hillbillies?

Hillary Clinton has finished up in Angola and is moving on to Nigeria. Do I have that right? Can't say I follow her every move. I just assumed that because of the oil connection. Obama to Ghana=good political move, up with democracy; Hillary to Angola=oil, Hillary to Nigeria=oil. How do they say it? Oh....."enormous economic opportunity"....for whom?

First thing you know old Jeb's a millionaire. Kinfolk say Jeb move away from there. Its the standard problem of any oil-producing nation a lot of money from the crude but how to distribute it? And lets face it, all we want is for the oil to keep coming and we will do some pretty nasty things to keep it so. We are Mr. Drysdale, after all...just keep the hillbillies happy..or maybe, Drysdale's asshole son Milby who tries to screw them out of every last cent while Papa runs after him trying to undo the damage but allowing it to occur from the get go. Guess that makes Hillary the Miss Hathaway in this piece but somehow I just don't see it.

Funny how those pop cultural image resonate. Oil will transform Africa pulling them out of their hillbilly status. But, of course, the story is with those hillbillies back home. The Clampetts "get out" but those back home in unidentified hillbillyland, presumably remain in poverty and the gap widens.

There is a nice summary of the probles in a very simple, very readable book on oil in Africa, entitled Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil, written by John Ghazvinian. The book was released in 2007 and a Time article from that time sums up the issues for those of who don't have the time to become economists and Africanists. I read Ghazvinian's book when it came out and although it wasn't anything new to me, I thought it was a good overview.

For those of you who want more depth Africa Focus has a great new Bulletin just posted today on the situation in Angola; wealth flowing in to the hands of a few and the masses of its population not only marginalized but also displaced to serve the needs of Texas Tea. You can find the beginning of the Africa Focus Angola piece here. Enjoy. And share with your students.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New SACC website up!

The Society for Anthropology in the Community College (SACC) has rolled out its new website at:

Go have a look, you will find all the usual background info, as well as a blog and under "Teaching Anthropology" some sample syllabi and a list of Archaeology Resources compiled by Guest Blogger and Neanderthal Admirer, Bob Muckle.

(Hope the Twitter issues are, finally, resolved. Testing, testing...)

Update: Ooo...posted too soon. Bob promises an updating of said list as soon as we are all forced (kicking and screaming--my words not his) back to our offices for another year....another semester....another rodeo.

Update 2: Correction: Bob did not promise to update the list. Bob only stated he would add it to his to-do list. Heaven forbid I be guilty of mis-quoting. Although, I am reluctant to let him off the hook on a mere technicality.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Ghastly" Cahokia

I see Salon has an article/book review up on Cahokia citing 'Timothy Pauketat's cautious but mesmerizing new book, "Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi"'

Its got all the most lurid details and a nifty title:

Sacrificial virgins of the Mississippi

Women don't get no respect, can't even capitalize "virgin". Guess I better go read the article because I can't for the life of me figure out how you can determine virginity from a skeleton. Damn hard thing to do with a live woman despite what the world's people may or may not believe. Not that I am any expert, although, I did play the part one Halloween...many years ago.

Updated Feminist Rant: I'm back (not quite but a little in the Jack Nicholson way). Did you see that shit? Was I right or what? Careful discussion of the framing of "native" Americans but a perfect willingness to play fast and loose with gender stereotyping. Just slip that label "virgin" right into the title with no evidence or reason to do so. Not cool, dude.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Achieving the Dream: A North American Development Project

I have been wanting to write a blog post on this whole "Achieving the Dream" initiative for a long time. Its a huge topic and it keeps getting bigger. Unfortunately, although I have been tracking this initiative for several years now, I can't quite figure our what is up with it. It all sounds really nice but the creep factor is pretty high for me: little hairs go up on the back of my neck when I read between the lines. Almost everything about it from the intent to the results on the ground reads as a top-down development project, you know the stuff we anthropologists like to critique the hell out of.

I am trying to condense, here. In essence, the Sallie Mae people ended up making so much money from repaid student loans that the were left with a pile of money to do stuff with. This money started the Lumina Foundation which underwrites the Achieving the Dream movement. (And, yes, the Gates Foundation has jumped aboard.)

Check out this passage from the Lumina Foundation web site under the "Our Work" tab:

Education is the foundation for individual opportunity, economic vitality and social stability. Lumina Foundation's goal is to raise the proportion of the U.S. adult population who earn high-quality college degrees to 60 percent by the year 2025, an increase of 23 million graduates above current rates.

This is the benchmark we must achieve to compete with top performing countries. To accomplish this goal, the United States will need to graduate nearly 800,000 more students each year from now through 2025. Raising college-attainment levels is crucial to maintaining an educated workforce, especially because America's most-educated population faces retirement age. According to data prepared for the Making Opportunity Affordable initiative PDF, the United States is likely to face an unprecedented shortage of college-educated workers by 2025.

To achieve this ambitious goal of increasing postsecondary degree attainment, Lumina Foundation, in partnership with other stakeholders, is focusing on three main milestones of progress:

■Student preparedness. K-12 education systems must prepare students for college success by ensuring that students: academically prepared, have knowledge about the going-to-college process and have access to financial aid information.
■Student success. Student success depends on a high-quality learning environment where programs, policies and practices improve the likelihood that students will attain their educational goals with the skills and credentials for the needs of an evolving workforce.
■College productivity. Postsecondary institutions must embrace a college productivity agenda, thereby changing the structure and delivery of higher education so that they are better equipped to increase the number of students through the educational pipeline.

You will notice that the rhetoric is being parroted by Obama, down to the dotted i's and crossed to-a-t's.

In 2004 the Lumina Foundation gave birth to the Achieving the Dream movement. Now, we are going to drop down to my level. At my college, this has meant we apply for money to fund initiatives to improve "student success". From what I have seen the money only lasts for a start-up period and then the college assumes the cost for continuing the project/program. The big caveat is the "Culture of Evidence" angle. All initiatives must be quantifiable in the world of education statistics--and, yes, I am going to say it. Those educational people have no idea how to collect social science date, let alone analyze it. But they do know how to increase bureaucracy, create their own jobs, and spend money.

Right now, for example, we have a mandatory orientation being tested. All neww students must come onto campus to watch a 40 minute Powerpoint, take a tour, and attend a "resource fair" (a bunch of table set up by the various campus offices). Some how this is supposed to improve student retention by making connections. I suppose the selection bias will weed out the less committed and, in that, it might work in a twisted kind of way. Maybe we can then have a special initiative to seek out and recruit those students who fled because of a low tolerance for bullshit.

In order to show success, we have to meet and exceed expectations for recruitment and retention. And what do you think that means for us faculty?

I have a couple thousand critiques of this stuff. Too much for one post. For now, I will confine myself to giving a shout out to the scope of all this. Go Google "Achieving the Dream" and look at the pages and pages of schools on-board. And while you are at it, try to find one piece of obective analysis and critique of these goals and methods. Just one. Try it.

So, who is making money off this stuff? Because I would bet my windowed office that somebody is.

Corporate imperialism?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Mombasa?

I was up on campus today and the World's Hottest Poli Sci Prof and I were talking about the latest Obama's birthday news: his Kenyan birth certificate. In my usual offhand fashion, I was laughing about it: "What kind of self-respecting pregnant white woman would be hanging out in Mombasa, anyway and at a government hospital? My gosh, the malaria rates on the coast? Hello, Nairobi was built in the high lands and all British government offices transferred up country back in the early 1900's, to save the woman and children from that shit."

Funny how the mind runs on. We were about to dismiss it, with that old caveat, why bother to look for logic in crazy but then I was reminded of that article/book chapter (?) written by the Comaroffs--had to be years and years ago--analyzing the meanings of a madman they had seen. He had quite a "look" Anybody remember that one? I recall some of the look he was rocking had to do with bits of flair reflecting the South African Railway. Any more detail would require me to find the piece. Anyway, that memory had me pondering the meaning of Mombasa.

If you are making up a version of reality, why that version of reality?

I guess its not a hard one. You couldn't think of a part of Kenya more "Arab", more "Muslim", and more "exotic". A set of associations most likely to channel the evil Hussein-centric view of Obama. Both Nairobi and the area of his father's family (actually, closer to Uganda than Nairobi) are more "British" and more "Christian" in their associations.

Cute that the myth developers, picked the government hospital for his birth, that so-called Ocean Provincial Hospital. There was/is a private hospital, the Mombasa Hospital run, originally, by the Holy Ghost Fathers, I believe. If we are making up stories, at least have her go to the more likely option: the place a "white woman" might, actually, have gone. But then the goal is not to invoke her whiteness in the attack on Obama, is it? Better to surpress that visual. At least they gave her a hospital. Very few Africans get that luxury.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Congratulations Hawaii. Perhaps we should all take a moment to remember Ann Dunham, mother and anthropologist. I think I would have enjoyed having a beer with her.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Time Team America: Teachable Archy Moments

PBS has a new (for me) archaeology show called Time Team America. It premiered July 8 and has a new episode up this Wednesday. It has a great support site and easy access to the televised episodes. Here is the blurb:

TIME TEAM AMERICA is a new science-reality series from PBS that sends archaeologists on a race against time to excavate historic sites around the nation. The team has 72 hours to uncover the buried secrets of their assigned digs using the latest technology, decades of expertise and their own sharp wits. Host Colin Campbell guides each expedition as viewers peer over the shoulders of diggers, scientists and historians at work. You never know what they'll dig up next!

I watched the one on the Fremont culture: Range Creek, Utah and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now feel free to tell me everything that was wrong with it. I was so blown away by the beautiful scenery and my hiking lust, I probably wasn't properly critically focused.

Check it out here:

The site has support info and videos that could be very useful in intro classes. Check them out. Here is the info which and videos which pop up under field school and you will find one on CRM and historic/prehistoric, as well. And there is a whole lot more.

Call it Archy porn.

Thank the World's Hottest Poli Sci Prof for the heads up.

"Uncle": Now Posting and Tweeting as Pamthropologist

Bowing to pressure, I am now attempting to provide blog updates through Twitter. I hope this works because I am lacking the time for technical difficulties. Heck, I still have visible speaker wires in my living room, dust bunnies under the bed, and a lack of attractive foliage in my front yard.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Welcome to My World

Enough said?

Now does everyone understand why I rant so much. Any and all expressions of pity, outrage, disgust, and disbelief are most welcome.

(Thanks to the World's Most Beautiful Sociology Professor for her iphone and WTF moment. Just when you think it can't get any worse, huh?)