I'm in the middle of a book about data gathering that's quite interesting (I'll write a review of it in the coming days), so I decided to do a little investigation myself. On Google Trends, I researched how often the word "literature" has been searched in the last decade:
What we see is a remarkably consistent trend in which "literature" searches plummet every July. This is almost certainly due to students being on summer vacation and literature probably being the furthest thing from their minds. I say it's time to break this trend. As July arrives this weekend, make it a point to look up topics related to literature this month. Find new books, check out new developments in the field, or learn something about an author, genre, or time period over your summer vacation. Make July a month to focus on literature!
I have never created or used a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other kind of social media account. Though I understand the intended reason for people's interest in such things, I have never understood the practical interest in them. I see absolutely no value in sharing every detail about myself or hearing endless inane details about other people. I know it seems like a great idea--to be constantly connected to all your favorite people and information all the time--but it sounds exhausting, and frankly, not that interesting. I'm not an old fuddy-duddy who longs for a Luddite era of rotary phones and letter writing with USPS postage. I just don't believe everything is so important that it must be posted, sent, liked, commented upon, or hashtagged right at this very moment. But that's me.
The obsession with social media and addiction to smartphones is a touchy subject, especially in today's classrooms (where I'm constantly telling students to put away their devices), and it's only going to become more complicated as technology rapidly advances. But what is happening to our young people when they make such platforms part of not only their everyday lives, but as part of their existential being? And what does what they post or follow say about their outlook on life?
The new book The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas explores these ideas and much more. Through extensive interviews with hundreds of college students, Freitas lets us hear from them directly. They discuss what and why they post, the delicate politics of "liking" a photo, how their friendships change, what it's like to be addicted and then to quit, and much more. And all of it made me thank the Lord above that I'm not 19 again. The stress that students put themselves under by participating in such ridiculousness is almost incomprehensible. Interviewees admit that they know involvement in social media can have disastrous consequences, yet they can't pull themselves away from it. They know it tends to make them more depressed, and they know what they see online is almost always completely fake (or at least incomplete), yet they devote countless hours to curating and polishing a profile that hopes to garner a glimmer of esteem that they clearly lack without it. It's ironic that we admire people for "being real," comfortable with themselves (their looks, their beliefs, their attitudes) and unashamed of living honestly. But we voluntarily immerse ourselves in a world in which truth is long gone and appearance is all that matters.
The book focuses on happiness because students admit in their interviews that they feel tremendous pressure to promote versions of themselves online as being successful and happy. They hide the darker sides of life. The consequence of this is that when everyone online looks like their life is fantastic every single day, viewers tend to think their own lives aren't as great. So they worry about what this may mean for their personhood and they dive into the vicious circle of posting an enhanced version of themselves that others may enjoy viewing. This ultimately leads young people to having a complete misunderstanding of reality and a constant battle with themselves about who they really are. It's quite a sad state of affairs.
Though I talk to my own students about some of these ideas, I've never heard them all in one place, as in Freitas's book. It's almost overwhelming to read the levels of insecurity today's students have brought upon themselves. If you are a teacher or a parent, or are in any way interested in what technology can do to individuals and social structures, check out The Happiness Effect. And, yes, reading an actual paper book instead of a screen can be enjoyable.
I'm as anti-smoking as the next guy, but this seems to be pushing it. From Grammarly this week...
I'm certainly not the hippest guy in the room when in comes to social media language, so perhaps I'm behind on this one, but I heard a word on the radio today that perked by linguistic ears. I caught this dialogue: "Did he 'at' anybody on that tweet? Or did he just post it? It would be awesome if he 'atted' someone specifically."
The word "at," a common preposition, is now a verb? And it can have a tense?
Obviously the English language is always changing, and I'm no stranger to words transitioning to other parts of speech. (I once wrote a whole research paper in an Advanced Grammar course on the versatility of the verb "to get" in becoming a noun in recent decades--yeah, English people are supercool.) Of course, perhaps the most famous example in the last ten years was when "Facebook," a clear proper noun, took no time at all to become a verb--"Facebook me!"
This use of "at" may be old news for today's tweeters, but I feel like I really learned something this morning. Are there any other changes in parts of speech that are becoming prevalent in our linguistic usage? Let me know!
Tomorrow, June 20, is the birthday of one of America's less famous, but incredibly talented and intelligent, southern authors. Born in 1858, Charles Chesnutt was part white and part African-American who spent most of his youth in North Carolina. Even though he later moved and lived the rest of his adulthood in the north, his novels and short stories about life in the post-Civil War south show the complicated nature of prejudice and evolving social and political conditions for black citizens in a part of the country that had fought to be free and just yet remained anything but.
He often wrote about the topic of "passing," the attempt of many light-skinned blacks to live as white, and his book The House Behind the Cedars (1900) shows how dangerous relationships can become amid societal expectations. His last novel (1905), The Colonel's Dream is a story of the violence and oppression that continued through Reconstruction, and it reminds us that politics and laws often have little effect on personal feelings and cultural values--people are who they are, regardless of what attempts for change are imposed on them. But I tend to like his short stories best. Take a look at "The Wife of His Youth" and others in his collection for some excellent depictions of literary realism and social commentary. His essays on race relations are also interesting, as he spent part of his career as a journalist and court reporter in Ohio, and seemed to find a middle ground between the perspectives of other influential black voices of the time, W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.
Take some time this summer to pick up an author whom you may not recognize. Charles Chesnutt is a good one to start with.
Watching the U.S. Open coverage this morning, I saw this piece about how property owners at Erin Hills in Wisconsin have worked with the local Amish community to trade resources and labor for a mutually beneficial relationship. This is a great lesson in subjective value and freedom of exchange. No government officials are intervening, no one is forcing anyone to participate, and no one is setting "fair" wages or prices. Just groups of people choosing to work together...you know, like free human beings. Enjoy.
Here's something strange I've noticed over the years in teaching research writing classes. There have been quite a few times in which students will offer a proposal or a first draft of a project that ignores some pretty obvious counter-arguments or opposing sources, clearly indicating that the student either has been too lazy to look at alternative views or knows of contradictory information and is choosing to ignore it. So, before they turn in their final draft and get a low score for their insufficient research, I'll offer to help. One tactic I've developed is to provide an opportunity to point the student toward new materials. When marking their pre-writing, I might say, "You are missing an important part of this argument. I have several sources and counter-positions I can send you if you are interested in looking at both sides of the topic and strengthening this project. Let me know if you want them." And I do this for any topic and for any student, regardless of my personal feelings about particular issues. Students never know what I truly believe because I offer opposition to everything.
Anyone who cares at all about learning should want such assistance. Particularly those people working in the science fields should want the help, since their entire methodology of study is to actively seek opposing, contradictory, or non-confirming evidence. Anyone who is truly embracing what college should be about should jump at such an offer. So what happens?
Not once has a student ever responded with an email saying, "Thanks, Dr. Spivey! I am very interested in learning more about this topic. I'd be happy to read some materials from the other side. I look forward to seeing what you have." As a consequence, I absolutely destroy their final draft. And when they complain, I simply remind them how I gave them the chance to improve, and they chose ignorance and stubbornness. They don't usually fight me after that.
When we wonder why our country seems so divided, people don't want to listen to each other, and problems don't get solved, this is a main reason. Citizens in general choose to remain oblivious to new information, and our students, those who should be wanting to learn as much as they can about the world, would prefer to cover their eyes and ears and stick to ideologies instead of evidence and critical thinking.
For more on the phenomenon of "active information avoidance," take a listen to this recent edition of the You Are Not So Smart podcast to learn how people choose not to learn when given the opportunity.
While tonight's Game 5 of the NBA Finals is deservedly getting all of the headlines today, this is also a big week for those of us who are golf fans--it's U.S. Open time, which begins on Thursday. At this morning's press conference, the English language was a point of discussion for the tenth-ranked player in the world, and recent Arizona State University grad, Spaniard Jon Rahm. Rahm has not only adapted nicely to the professional game in his first season on tour, he has also developed an excellent grasp of English in just a few short years. He wisely figured out that if you want to be successful not only in America but around the world, becoming proficient in English is absolutely vital. Learning a new language is a common struggle for many of today's immigrant and first-generation college students. Rahm tells us how he did it:
REPORTER: This is not a U.S. Open question, per se, but is it true that when you first came over here to ASU, you didn't speak much English? How did you get so good at English so quickly?
JON RAHM: Well, I didn't know much English. I did make some extra effort in Spain to learn English, but my level wasn't good enough to be able to live a life in English. It was hard. When people talked to me it was a long process for me to translate that sentence from English to Spanish, understand it, think what I wanted to say and translate it from Spanish to English. It was at least a 10 to 15 second process where I just felt really awkward. A lot of times I responded yes or no when the question was nothing related to yes or no. And it really was a struggle.
I mean I'll never forget my first class, I went to micro economic principles, the class had about 365 students, the teacher was speaking with a microphone, I could not understand a single word. The first month, yeah, it was a little bit uphill.
Funny enough I was in business communications and I changed to just communications, as ironic as it may sound. One of my first classes was public speaking, and that helped me out a lot. All I had to do was just speak in public. It was a little harder for me, but I've never been shy to speak in public. So having to practice and all the reading I had to do in communications and all the writing helped me out to develop my English. And again, as weird and funny as it may sound, one of my teammates really got me into rap music, and memorizing those lyrics helped out with enunciation and pronunciation. Having to be able to say those words at a fast pace helped me out a lot. I'm not kidding.
Speak, write, and listen to music--pretty good advice for developing your English skills.
Last year was one of the weaker years in film that I can remember, as indicated by the fact that I haven't written a movie review in forever. There just weren't that many I felt the urgency to see in the theater. Now that all of the Best Picture nominees have been released on DVD, I was able to watch the last of them this week. While the disastrous Moonlight won top honors, here's how the list should've been, from best to worst.
1. Hidden Figures--though it's not a perfect film, I enjoyed watching it much more than the other nominees...great cast, great message, great historical story.
2. Arrival--a tad slow at times, but it's a smart movie with an original premise and an knockout performance by Amy Adams.
3. Hell or High Water--a terrible message (we are supposed to be cheering for financially irresponsible people), but the characters are unique, the performances are top notch, and it looks great on screen.
4. Hacksaw Ridge--this film has tons of flaws, but at least it looks like big movie...second half is incredibly powerful, and it has a message everyone can support.
5. Manchester by the Sea--great performances from the leads, but there isn't much of story...nothing is really resolved, and it features the most annoying performance of the year (Lucas Hedges).
6. Lion--amazing story, but it's just so slow that it's difficult to stick with.
7. La La Land--earned a deserving Oscar for directing, but the performances and story fall flat with me...I don't care about what happens to either of those people, and it simply doesn't hold up to classic musicals of the past.
8. Fences--way too long and way too much talking...even the great lead performances could not save this from looking and sounding like a stage play instead of a feature film.
9. Moonlight--incredibly slow and perpetuates all of the worst stereotypes of the black community: poverty, drug use, homophobia, and violence...not anywhere near as good as everyone said and will quickly become one of the least remembered Best Picture winners.
Iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last October (see my post in the October archives), and now his acceptance speech has been released by the Nobel Foundation. In his talk, Dylan discusses his musical inspirations, namely Buddy Holly, but what's more interesting is his memories of great literature that taught him "a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by." This is exactly what English teachers should be doing each day in class. He goes into detail about three of the most important works in all of literary history, Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey. While Dylan never gives a clear answer as to how closely song lyrics should be equated with other literary forms, he deftly describes how language, theme, and narrative affect all of us all of the time. Take a listen, or if you'd rather read the lecture, check here.
I've written on this site before about the evolving use of punctuation in texting, and that odd progression seems unavoidable. However, something I notice with alarming regularity is the use of exclamation points in students' academic essays. I know they are trying to emphasize a point or manufacture some semblance of "voice," but it's quite off-putting, and I'm always amazed previous teachers haven't weaned them off such a bad habit. I've always been of the F. Scott Fitzgerald mindset that using exclamations is "like laughing at your own joke." Or, take the advice of crime novelist Elmore Leonard: "limit yourself to just two or three exclamation points per 100,000 words of prose writing." That's about 400 pages, by the way. Instead, spend more time choosing the right words to elicit the tone you desire.
I bring this up because there was a quick piece on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday about those ghastly exclamation points that I thought was entertaining. It's always good to see grammar discussed on network television. Take a look...
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week reminded me of the ridiculous nature of student evaluations. I haven't looked at one in five years. For classes that require it, I perfunctorily hand them out and submit them to administrators, like a good soldier. But I have no interest in what they say. Here's why.
Asking a young and inexperienced person to judge the job of someone with much more education and practice is one of the more futile things we do in education. Why would we ask a novice violinist to evaluate a composer's score? Why would we ask a seven-year-old to offer "feedback" on parenting skills? While some basic information may be elicited by such queries, there is no nuance to the commentary or broader context to what "good" or "bad" may be. Student evaluations are an exercise in the appearance of due diligence, to be able to say we heard from all parties and have a reasonable glimpse into the environment of a classroom. This is almost always an enormous waste of time and completely unhelpful. When I was in college, I always bubbled a straight line down the page, without reading the descriptions, of the circles marked "3--average" regardless of the teacher or my grade. I did not care at all about my teachers, and I couldn't comprehend why they would possibly care what I had to say. And I was an excellent student who was actually preparing to become a teacher. If any student's feedback would have been useful, it would have been mine. But it didn't bring anything out of me, other than rage for keeping me in class on the final day ten minutes longer than I wanted to be there. Evaluating a teacher didn't make any sense then, and it still doesn't today.
If you are (or were) like me, you probably have read comments such as "The professor does a great job of providing all the information we need and is detailed in his explanations of projects," as well as "The professor is vague about course requirements and assignments are confusing." These contradictory statements are likely to occur in the same class. The same is often true for "The professor challenges us and makes me want to learn more," along with "The professor is too hard and makes me want to drop the class." Again, usually found in the same course. And with near certainty, the former in each example is often written by A/B students and the latter by D/F students.
One semester as an adjunct, after receiving a few harsh reviews for being too tough (read: actually having standards and expecting students to follow directions) and having a chat with my department chair about improving my rapport with classes, I decided to try an experiment. The next semester, I was completely relaxed in all my courses. I never rebuked students for late work, I never challenged students' ideas in class discussions (no matter how illogical or uninformed), and I never put red pen corrections on student papers. I smiled and joked and created a casual and welcoming environment. Every day was positive and upbeat, and every graded paper was full of encouraging language. At the end of the semester, I felt like I hadn't taught very well, but I believed students would have much kinder responses due to the changes I made.
The result? I had exactly the same number of positive reviews and critical reviews as I had with my previous, more disciplined, style of teaching. So what does this tell us? Students will write whatever they want, regardless of the teacher. If they do well, they will likely be positive. If they get a bad grade, they will likely blame the professor. So I went back to my old way of teaching, realizing that if students don't like me, at least I'm going to push them to learn and maintain high standards while I have them. And if I get fired for doing what is right, no problem. Thankfully, it's never come to that.
I believe my job as a teacher is to do whatever possible to help students not only to grasp the information they need from the course, but more importantly, to inspire them to perform at their highest potential, to reach beyond what they thought they could do and achieve a standard of performance that makes them, and me, proud of what we've done together. If students don't recognize that in my day-to-day interactions with them, they likely won't until they've long left school, encountered the difficulties of the real world, and realized how much I was helping them all those years ago. That epiphany cannot be found on a bubble sheet. And if that epiphany is never reached, then whatever they write in an evaluation probably won't be worth much anyway.
On this date, May 31, poet Walt Whitman was born in 1819 on Long Island, New York. It's odd to think that American literature didn't really exist in any meaningful way until the mid-1800s, but Whitman was perhaps the most important voice for ushering in a truly American style of writing.
His iconic book of poems, and the only one he ever produced, Leaves of Grass, has become one of the most published and purchased works of poetry in history. His language was that of the common man, signaling a break from the formality of previous poetry that still largely borrowed from the English (along with some Italian and French) traditions. His "Song of Myself" rooted his ethos in the American soil and his free-verse sounded a voice of the people, not of an aristocracy or Church--his government and religion were found in "democratic vistas" of the American landscape and within the souls of the nation's disparate people. Though he saw our country at its lowest point as a volunteer medical worker during the Civil War, he wrote about the unifying spirit of freedom that could rescue anyone willing to look inside themselves and across the faces of our citizenry. And he believed exploring ourselves and our natural environments was a way to touch the hand of God.
When we think of who defines most American poetry, some may note Emily Dickinson or others Robert Frost. But it was Whitman's style and vision that changed literature forever and became the influence of countless authors to follow. English professor Thomas C. Foster writes, "There would be an American poetry without Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. It just wouldn't be the one we have." Kick off your summer and celebrate our nation's father of poetry by picking up some of Whitman's writing today.
One of my favorite courses in graduate school was on adaptation theory of literature. It provided an interesting investigation into how literary works get adapted, specifically what techniques are adjusted based on medium and how works evolve over time based on interpretation. The excellent 2002 film Adaptation humorously demonstrates some of the problems that can occur.
Our final project in the course required us to analyze a text that had undergone three levels of (re)creation. I selected Stephen King's 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which became the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, which was turned into a 2009 episode of Family Guy, called "Three Kings." Adaptations rely upon the new artist's vision of the work, as well as the culture in which the new vision is emerging. And what can be read on a page is often very different than what can be seen on a screen or heard through music or speech. The text can change dramatically, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but it's always interesting to explore. For you teachers out there, consider having your literature students work on a similar three-stage adaptation study in your courses next year.
I write all this in light of this week's video on the Lessons from the Screenplay channel on YouTube, which examines one of the best films of last year, Arrival. The video describes the process of turning Ted Chiang's 32-page, 1998 short story into a screenplay and eventually into a visually entrancing and deeply philosophical sci-fi film. Enjoy!
Read. Think. Speak. From Professor Jordan Peterson at a recent Q & A at Harvard...
Last Wednesday, I warned that the movement of public university campuses to employ students as social justice arbiters (as at the University of Arizona) would be underway shortly. Over the weekend, UCLA decided to take the baton.
UCLA is now hiring student "advocates" who will "educate" their fellow students on "systems of oppression" and other social justice silliness. What the university means by "educate" and what qualifies nineteen-year-olds to be doing such educating, one can only guess. As if students don't have a hard enough time trying to navigate this nonsense from their activist professors, now they must face their friends each day and wonder whom they might offend next.
Keep watching for this new campus conspiracy. It won't be long before it arrives at your local public university too.
How come there was never a Sports Literature course when I was in high school?
From Bleacher Report today...
When I was a kid, one of the worst things to be called was a "tattletale." It was a sign that you were thin-skinned, that you couldn't take care of yourself, and that you would run to an adult whenever you were uncomfortable. It was almost an unforgivable weakness, and it hindered your chances of making friends. At one major university, turning into a tattletale is no longer something to be avoided; now it's a job opportunity.
As if we don't need more reasons to avoid sending our kids to public universities, the University of Arizona has begun a program of secret policing of their student body...by other students. For those that don't have a decent grasp on history, you would do well to Google the word "Stasi" and see how dangerous this new campus program is.
The Stasi were the East German secret police, often undercover civilians, whose job was to report their fellow citizens to the leaders in the Socialist Party. This system of informants was extremely successful for decades, and aided in some of the most repressive political regimes the world has ever known.
At the U of A, students are being hired, at a rate of $10 per hour for 15 hours per week, to report "bias incidents" and "microaggressions" perpetrated by their classmates. Their job will be to maintain close contact with administrators in an effort to foster a more "multicultural" environment and, of course, promote "social justice" on campus. Those buzzwords, as always, lack clear definition, as does how exactly such "incidents" will be defined and what punishments may be dispensed.
Encouraging students to spy on one another, hoping to "catch" a classmate saying something inappropriate is an incredible misuse of taxpayer money and encourages not the free thinking atmosphere of a liberal arts education, but a totalitarian state where ratting out others is held as a virtue. Instead of teaching students to approach those who happen to be disrespectful with something polite--"Excuse me, but what you're saying is inappropriate, and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't use that term. If you disagree, let me by you a slice of pizza and we can chat about it."--we are simply nurturing the next generation of ignorant activists, those who would rather cover their ears and shout instead of engaging and conversing like adults.
This week's development at U of A is just the first of these kinds of programs, I assure you. Do your family a favor and send your kids to schools that promote free speech, listening, and learning. History has already shown us what thought police and tattletale citizens can do to a culture. Make the change for yourself by avoiding public colleges like U of A.
I'm still too attached to paper pages and well-worn covers, but I can see the landscape shifting. Many people today, particularly young people, don't read hard copies of books anymore. And while it will take me a long time to adapt to that mode of consumption, I respect how technology is improving to provide opportunities for readers on their individual mobile devices.
The New York Times posted a review of several new apps over the weekend that may be helpful for experiencing both classic literature and new releases. By purchasing one chapter at a time (a model Charles Dickens made famous 150 years ago), readers can choose for themselves which texts and how much they want to consume. By presenting novels as episodes (similar to television), here's hoping that we create a new generation of addicted readers who binge-read as much as they binge-watch on Netflix or other streaming services.
While I may not be quite ready for it, the world clearly is. So try out some of the new apps, and get reading this summer!
Here on English Champion I've written about a few documentaries that I believe are vital for students to watch, particularly Poverty, Inc. and Fantastic Lies. After finally getting a chance to see The Red Pill on Kanopy Streaming this week, this film is now added to the list.
When a feminist filmmaker decides to break away from her ideology and investigate an opposing view, she discovers something interesting--other people have a voice too. She learns of startling statistics and inequality in our laws, and she hears from men who have faced a lifetime of degradation, insults, and silencing. But this isn't just a film about gender issues. In fact, I think the more important message of this documentary is about free speech.
If you decide to watch, notice how calm and measured and factual the male interviewees are, and contrast them with the behavior of hysterical and vulgar and ignorant feminist supporters. One side simply wants to voice some concerns and engage in meaningful and constructive conversation, while the other terrorizes with obscenities any view with which they disagree.
This is a hard film to watch, due to the language and subject matter. And it is especially hard to watch for anyone who refuses to listen to others. The Red Pill offers an excellent lesson in humility and open-mindedness. And it bravely recognizes that no group has a monopoly on suffering and discrimination. Everyone is oppressed, and everyone has advantages. It's how we decide to act that matters. This film has actually been shut down in various locations by, in a cruel twist of irony, those desiring a voice on social issues. This is what social justice warriors hath wrought. Educate yourself and our students, and let's all learn to listen to others more respectfully. Here's a trailer...
When I was a kid, I had visions of becoming both John Elway and Steve Largent. Perhaps I wanted to be the first pro football player to throw touchdown passes to myself, I don't know. But growing up in the 1980s, I recognized how movie heroes presented a variety of options. You could be Marty McFly or Ferris Bueller or Daniel Larusso, but they were too young to be truly heroic. You could be Han Solo or Kyle Reese or Peter Venkman, but the sci-fi element always seemed a bit out of reach. Axel Foley, John McClane, and Pete "Maverick" Mitchell were supercool, but it's hard to imagine yourself with the charisma of those guys. But Henry Jones, Jr. seemed to be everything. He was tough, he was smart, he didn't rely on superpowers, he went on adventures, and he always got the girl, though he could've done without Karen Allen. Anyway, being a world-traveling archaeologist became a legitimate career option for many youngsters all those decades ago. But it isn't so easy being Indiana. The funny crew over Cracked tell you what it takes in this new video. Enjoy!
Like many across the country this weekend, I attended a graduation ceremony. While I was sitting there, watching students walk across the stage, face beaming, ready to dive into the next chapter of their lives, I noticed a trend in the majors with which these students were graduating.
In Business Administration, 70% of the graduates were males.
In Psychology, 80% of the graduates were females.
In Education, 75% of the graduates were female, and of those in the Elementary Ed. track, 100% were female.
In all other majors, the genders were roughly even.
Does this tell us something about what types of careers people want? Is it to anyone's surprise that, in general, women tend to be drawn to helping professions as therapists, social workers, counselors, and teachers? And that men tend to be drawn to fields of entrepreneurship, business leadership, investment, and other avenues associated with monetary earnings?
Which of these paths do you think tends to earn the most money?
When we hear the nonsense of the wage gaps and equity in professions, we often blatantly ignore people's individual choices. We must also take into account the lifestyles that each profession requires. People with Psychology and Education degrees often work consistent 8-5ish schedules and earn stable income. It is not strange that women tend to gravitate toward such fields. People who go into business, on the other hand, tend to work longer and more inconsistent hours, have sporadic pay, and are required to take risks, either for themselves or for their companies. Men tend to be more willing to put themselves in those precarious positions in hopes of a reward at a later time. I would never say that either option is better than the other--heck, I'm a guy, and I wanted nothing to do with Business Administration as a student, instead opting for the relative safety of Education--but it's not sexist to notice gender trends and view them as quite logical. People choose what is in their best interest at that moment in time and as they predict their future to unfold. No one is forced into a field they do not want to pursue.
Should we encourage students of either gender to try other subject areas and pursue paths they hadn't previously considered? Absolutely! But let us not claim discrimination or "barriers" or other meaningless assumptions when human nature is at work. And let us not pretend that it's weird that some women don't want to still be at the office staring at investment spreadsheets at 11pm, or that most men don't want to surround themselves with screaming, sticky 6-year-olds all day long. People choose what they choose, and there will be economic consequences for those choices. Some may make a better income, and some may be content in earning less tangible rewards. Some may love working 80 hours a week, while some may prefer to head home at 3pm. There is no right answer, and it is not up to legislators or social justice busybodies to deem what careers individuals should pursue.
Our new graduates should strive to perform to their utmost ability in whatever field they have chosen. And if that comes with higher income, that is great. But if it doesn't, they can be assured that success has many definitions, and they need to only concern themselves with their own.
Here in Phoenix, our Harkins movie theaters were running a Jonathan Demme tribute last week, with $5 screenings of his most famous films. One of my all-time favorites is, of course, The Silence of the Lambs, and even though I've seen it dozens of times and can watch it anytime on dvd at home, I ventured to the theater a few nights ago for an exciting viewing experience.
I was just shy of 13 years old when the movie was released back in February of 1991, so I never saw it in the theater. Only when it came to video (young people, Google VHS tapes) much later, and after my folks gave permission for me to endure the disturbing psychological and criminal elements, did I finally see it on our tiny home television set. What a difference the big screen makes.
Despite the incredible advancements in technology, with beautiful HD-TV and home theater sound on massive living room screens, certain films are just better in the darkness of a traditional theater. The Silence of the Lambs is a tremendous film on any viewing device, but Lecter's face absolutely leaps out off the screen, and the eerie baroque music washes over the audience in a frightening way that just cannot be felt sitting at home.
Even though I can recite nearly every line, I've studied the cinematography, and I've explored the mythology of its archetypes, the film still feels surprising and fresh over 25 years after it first appeared. I was still on the edge of my seat throughout, and I still wanted Starling and Lecter to battle wits long after the lights came up.
We live in an era in which the theater experience is quickly diminishing. Films leave theaters and come to DVD or other streaming services almost immediately, and many people feel like their home set-up is preferable to fighting the crowds and costs of a night out. But don't give up on the magic of the movies. There are still a few out there that should be seen on the big screen. And if you ever get a chance to see The Silence of the Lambs the way it was originally intended, you definitely should.
Last week, I was finally able to get my hands on the latest book from Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short), and it doesn't disappoint. The Undoing Project is the story of psychologists Daniel Khaneman and Amos Tversky, two men who revolutionized their field, as well as economics, sociology, business, politics, and most other humanistic areas of study. These two great thinkers developed a perspective that claims humans do not behave as rationally as we assume they do. People have varying values and make strange and foolish decisions, those that conflict with self-interest, all the time. Despite our intelligence and progeny of the Enlightenment era, we do not think mathematically or even logically most of the time. Their discovery changed the world forever.
But this book is not just about psychological experiments and research papers, though those are fascinating elements here. The Undoing Project is also about the intellectual love affair between two men of Israeli descent, who worked better together than apart, who thought with one mind and wrote with one voice, and who saw their relationship deteriorate just as it reached its zenith. With their success came the complications of recognition, travel to other countries for lecture, and teaching at various elite American universities. They struggled to maintain their focus on the work and, in true psychoanalytical fashion, allowed their unique personalities to cleave them. As if they couldn't get out of their own way, the two men barely spoke at the end of Tversky's life, who died of cancer in 1996. Khaneman's Nobel Prize for economics was accepted alone and begrudgingly in 2002.
Tversky and Khaneman were soldiers, as all Israeli citizens have been, who fought for their faith and their homeland as young men. They fought for recognition in their field, turning over the psychology establishment and, unwittingly, inventing a new course of study, behavioral economics. And, sadly, like most great duos, they eventually fought with each other. Told with the narrative panache we have come to expect from Lewis's prolific style, Tversky and Khaneman jump off the pages of this book, showing us what all humanities academics and social scientists should aim for: a better understanding of human beings.
This is a great book for students or teachers in any field. And it offers a vigorous insight into the complicated nature of humanity by way of two of its most interesting specimens. Go check it out.
The month of May is upon us, which means school is finishing, the NBA playoffs are full swing, and here in Phoenix, 100-degree temperatures will arrive any day. But get your summer started with a few reminders of May in some classic literature. Take a look at these sometime this month:
F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "May Day"
Charlotte Mew's poem "May 1915"
William Wordsworth's poem "To May"
William Henry Davies's poem "In May"
William Shakespeare's reference to the "merry month of May"
The iconic novel Catch-22 was written by Joseph Heller, who was born today in 1923
Summer is here--get reading!
Dr. Spivey is a college English professor and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.