Notice anything about this photo? Go ahead, I'll give you a minute. This is the starting lineup for the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. If you notice a "lack of diversity," you may also be interested to know that only one out of 50 nominees to even be on the ballot was Caucasian American, Cleveland's Kevin Love. With tens of millions of white fans across the country filling stadiums and buying jerseys, how can that be? And I thought America's entertainment industries were horrifically racist, run by stodgy, old, white billionaires who don't care about promoting talented black performers. What is going on here?
With all of the controversy over this year's Oscar ceremony (which I satirized in a column last week), even renowned intellectuals are getting in the mix. One of the most respected American economists, Thomas Sowell, wrote in his article this week that the Oscars are not representative of the population at large, but simply a representation of people's cultural and career choices.
As Sowell explains (and he happens to be black himself, by the way), to assume that there will be equal representation in each facet of our lives is not only illogical, but impossible. Nowhere in history has such a thing occurred. By such lunacy, we would expect more black hockey players in the NHL, more white R&B Grammy winners (which there has never been one by the way), more women running crab boats in the Bering Sea, or more men running daycare centers. All for the sake of "diversity." People are influenced by the culture around them, their innate talents, and their subsequent individual decisions.
Why are there so many more superstar black athletes than superstar black actors? Choices. Somewhere along the way, those folks decided they had more fun, made more money, or had more talent in sports than in other fields like acting. Why did Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and P Diddy become zillionaire record producers instead of NFL linebackers? Choices. Why do so many more women become third-grade teachers than men? Choices. When I was first hired as a public school teacher, the gym teacher, the head janitor, and I were the only men in the entire building. My principal, vice principal, and every other teacher of every other grade were female. Was my school sexist against men? No, those results came about because of individual career choices people made.
Should we have more white NBA All-Stars for the sake of diversity? Heck no! That would be an insult to those players for being included when they may not have deserved it, and a clear repudiation of black players' talent and the meritocracy of the NBA. Should we forcefully include more minorities into Oscar categories? If so, we must keep in mind that doing so would detract from the greatness of Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. And if you're comfortable doing that, be my guest.
For celebrities (Will Smith and his wife have been the most visible) to complain about some malevolent undercurrent of discrimination in a nation that has provided them with more fame and fortune than any of us mortals will ever experience is not just laughable, it's offensive. Economics continues to show that racism is bad for business. Last I checked, Will and Jada Smith and others boycotting the ceremony aren't exactly having a hard time making their car payments. As comedian Steve Martin famously said, "Be so good they can't ignore you." And remember that silly awards don't mean that much anyway. Take the advice of this actor: "Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings, and emotions."
Who said that? Will Smith.
In my many composition courses over the years, one of the most consistent problems with student writing is the use of logical fallacies and improper argumentation. And these problems don't just exist in student essays; they litter the Internet as well. When researching problems, developing solutions, and formulating positions, employing valid argumentation techniques is vital for helping your readers sufficiently understand what you mean.
The latest episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast addresses logical fallacies in all their forms--even fallacy fallacies. Yep, you read that correctly. If you are in need of a refresher on how to properly argue or want to figure out why website commenters are the way they are, do yourself a favor and take a listen.
The podcast is about 30 minutes long once you fast-forward through commercials. Enjoy!
Academia is a deep well for mocking opportunities, and The Onion has always been one of the nation's funniest publications for poking fun at life. The Chronicle of Higher Education has compiled a list of the best Onion stories over the years to finish your week with a smile. Number 11 might be my favorite. Take a look at their list of articles...
Eagles legend and solo artist Glenn Frey passed away on Monday at the age of 67. As one of the most successful recording artists in music history, his singing and songwriting provided the soundtrack of not just one generation, but many more. The Eagles are one of my favorite bands (sorry, Jeff Lebowski) and are one of the standard-bearers for my love of ‘70s folk/rock.
While Frey had a successful solo career as well, his work was respectable but was always too definitively ‘80s for my taste with heavy saxophones and synthesizers. “You Belong to the City” and “The One You Love” are solid songs, but Frey will always be an Eagle to me.
Frey often split singing duties with Don Henley, so I've selected songs here that are distinctly Frey. Many might instantly think of "Take it Easy" or "Peaceful, Easy Feeling," but I think there a few a bit better. These are the five best Eagles songs, sung by Glenn Frey:
New Kid in Town A song that starts with a country twang but evolves with a bluesy bridge and ends as pure pop, it’s a great story of how people don’t appreciate what they’ve got. And even if they do, it’s often only for a little while. Best lyric: You're walking away and they're talking behind you / They will never forget you 'til somebody new comes along
After the Thrill is Gone This song gets neglected way too much. Its guitar riff has a hint of Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” but is a little more pop-friendly. Getting older and reflecting on life is a common theme for the Eagles, and few songs do it better than this one. Don Henley picks up the chorus here, but Frey leads the way. Best lyric: Time passes and you must move on / Half the distance takes you twice as long
A great bluegrassy, CCR-style song about a guy who is about to get dumped, but leaves the girl instead. What could be a sad day turns into a “vict’ry song,” and Frey’s upbeat mix of anger and joy makes it soar. Best lyric: Just remember this, my girl, when you look up in the sky / You can see the stars and still not see the light
One of the Eagles’ most country songs, Frey sings the ballad of a girl who always thought she knew what she wanted, but now lives in regret and deception. Best lyric: Ain't it funny how your new life didn't change things / You're still the same old girl you used to be
Tequila Sunrise My favorite Eagles song for its simplicity and imagery, it compares musicians to cowboys who travel for work and get used by people along the way. Though Frey doesn’t do anything special with his voice here, he always makes it sound like a bleary-eyed morning anyway. Best lyric: Take another shot of courage / Wonder why the right words never come / You just get numb
After the release of this year's Oscar nominees the other day, much has been made about the whiteness of those being recognized. With virtually no minorities present in major categories, some have decided to boycott the ceremony, hoping to bring further awareness to Hollywood's lack of diversity in its most prestigious films.
I could not agree more. And I believe we must go further. Not only are minorities underrepresented, but so are left-handed people. This is completely unfair to all the hardworking filmmakers who deserve to be recognized, as well as to the many left-handed moviegoers who want to see themselves represented both on the screen and in the production process.
In the acting and directing categories, 25 nominees overall, only one--Jennifer Lawrence--is left-handed. Since over 10% of the general population is left-handed, including yours truly, this 4% representation is unacceptable. And with only one of 25, I'm catching a strong whiff of tokenism with Ms. Lawrence. I can hear the deniers now: "It's not on purpose. Hey, some of my best friends are left-handed!" Even one of film's most famous southpaws, Best Supporting Actor front-runner Sylvester Stallone, is actually right-handed. If that isn't a blatant case of "right-washing," I don't know what is. It's bad enough that we are discriminated against in virtually all facets of life, and we are statistically less educated, less wealthy, and even less healthy than our right-handed counterparts. But we are also snubbed in our place of entertainment.
Movies should do more to represent all of America, not just the right-privileged. This has gone on too long. We even have a left-handed president, for crying out loud! When will Hollywood realize this is the 21st century? We lefties must stand together in this struggle. Boycott the awards and forward this hashtag. After all, that is where real change comes from.
Outside of misplaced commas, perhaps the most common grammar error my students make is pronoun-antecedent disagreement. Students forget that pronouns that refer back to a previous noun in a sentence need to match as either singular or plural. For example, "The student needs to do his or her homework." Or, "The students need to do their homework." Using they, their, or them as singular pronouns is a common slip in speaking, but it has become more common in writing also. Even smart, professional people make this mistake. An example I use in class is when President Obama once made a speech during the flu outbreak early in his tenure, and he said, "If your child is sick, keep them home from school." Wrong, right? Yes, and I mark it on students' papers every time I see it.
But that rule may be changing. The singular use of "they" is now accepted in the Washington Post style guide, and it was even recently named Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. (I can't imagine the Vegas-style mayhem that must occur at those meetings.) However, the reason the plural pronoun is evolving into a singular catch-all is not just for ease of use; it is also to address the emerging gender neutrality of language.
I think I will continue to mark this inconsistency as incorrect, as one English teacher recommends, unless students are obviously attempting to neutralize gender. Otherwise, they simply don't have any idea what noun they are referring to. My red pen will remain active on this one for a while, I believe. But language is always changing, and we'll have to see what other rules evolve. Read more about this development here.
Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight has written extensively that “Winning favors the team making the fewest mistakes” (see The Power of Negative Thinking). That concept was front and center in Monday night’s college football championship game, won by Alabama. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney mentioned at halftime the “one mistake” that really hurt his team early in the game (quarterback Deshaun Watson’s interception). Clemson safety Jayron Kearse said after the loss, “We made mistakes and they capitalized on our mistakes. That was it.”
Everyone thinks “wanting it more” is the key to success. But everyone wants to be successful, particularly at the highest levels. Some might say that “hard work” makes the difference. But everyone is working hard, to some degree or another. Many say that preparation—as in “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”—determines winners and losers. But everyone is preparing, as exemplified by endless practice sessions. I think Knight is right. And his advice isn’t just for athletics.
Mistakes in the classroom often separate top students from struggling ones. Grammar errors. Missed due dates. Incomplete work. Inaccurate citations. Flawed organization. These are all mistakes that can spell doom in an English class. Yes, “wanting” a good grade, “hard work,” and good “preparation” are important and do often lead to classroom success. But we can do those three things all we want, and if we can’t spell or use punctuation or follow directions or turn in work on time, they don’t matter one bit. Reduce mistakes and your grades will skyrocket.
This concept of reducing mistakes can even make the difference in life. Don’t commit crimes. Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink and drive. Don't drop out of school. Don't buy things you can't afford. Don’t date/marry stupid people. These are pretty basic mistakes to avoid, yet so many people’s lives are made more difficult because of them. We will all face challenges—illness, loss of loved ones, unemployment, even bad luck—but reducing simple problems are things we can control. Living a successful life is actually quite easy if you don’t make mistakes.
As you begin a new semester, remember this simple tip: success in life favors the athletes, students, and citizens that make the fewest mistakes.
This is the question posed yesterday in a column over at Inside Higher Ed by contributor John Warner. What if, all of sudden, those countless college classes that are usually filled by part-time faculty were left teacherless? What if adjuncts just stopped accepting those positions? Warner examines a few likely consequences, such as the complete cancellation of those courses, or perhaps load adjustments by full-timers. But he also wonders why colleges can't simply pay adjuncts a "living wage."
To my delight, Warner employs an all-too-common technique here that I spend hours each semester trying to drill out of my students in composition classes. He never defines his terms. What exactly is a "living wage?" Is a living wage the same for a 28-year-old, single male as it is for a 45-year-old, married woman with three children? Is it the same for a teacher living in San Diego as it is for one living in Des Moines? Is it the same for someone who cobbles together seven courses for an equivalent to a full-time schedule as it is for someone who already has a full-time job elsewhere and chooses to teach a night class for enjoyment? And who gets to determine this magical number of a "living wage?" He simply uses a phrase we are all supposed to agree with rather than taking the time to truly explore what his message means.
I like Warner's premise, that if suddenly there were no adjuncts then universities would finally have to acknowledge the terrible situation they have created. But pandering to the economically ignorant by using self-righteous phrases like "living wage" isn't the answer.
My solution is simple, yet probably more principled, which is why it will never happen. Until we reduce salaries for administrators, schools will never have the budgetary flexibility to hire more faculty (or reduce student tuition, for that matter). Universities need to get back to placing the focus on students first, followed by those that have the most direct contact and influence over students' education, teachers.
At many small institutions across the country, college presidents make in excess of $200,000 per year, with larger universities often paying nearly one million dollars. Vice presidents, provosts, and anyone else with fancy titles also earn in the hundreds of thousands. I'm not saying such employees are not valuable; everyone on a campus has an important job to do. But think of how many teachers could be hired if administrators took salaries in the $50,000 range, like most standard faculty do. If a college has a leadership staff of four that collectively earns $600,000 per year, and they reduced that total to $200,000 by making $50,000 each, a school could hire ten general education faculty at $40k apiece, which would cover many of the typical adjunct courses. TEN. Ten new leaders to help students stay committed to their majors. Ten new advisers to help students prepare for the workforce. Ten new voices on campus to start academic clubs and host events. Ten new scholars to guide engaging classes and develop exciting research. Ten new employees now earning Mr. Warner's "living wage."
As I said, this would require universities to return to student-first principles, and I won't hold my breath. So here's the lesson of the day, dear students. When deciding on a college to attend, look into how much the administrators make to see where the school's priorities are. And always define your terms in your essays.
My Ph.D. is in English, broadly, but in Literary Criticism more specifically. This means I spend a lot of time reading texts and employing different methods for interpreting them. One of the primary methods of contemporary literary criticism is based upon Marxist theory. I tend to employ (and refute) the economic angle of this perspective, but Marxist theory is also applied to the culture at large. Cultural Marxism, as it is known, takes the fundamentals of Marxist ideas--power dynamics, most notably--and applies them to all aspects of human interaction. There are some interesting social views and some clever literary exercises that can emerge, but like most Marxist-related ideas, it can also be disastrous in its inconsistent and illogical positions. College students should be aware of its prevalence in literary studies and in broader social spaces. For those interested in the foundation, and flaws, of such a worldview, here is a short video from yesterday that explains, courtesy of the economics site Mises.org.
As the new semester approaches, some of you may be concerned about your upcoming English class. But there's no need to worry, because I'm going to give you the key to success. And it's super easy.
There are two things that usually ruin students' grades in my composition courses. If you can take care of these two things, you will almost be guaranteed a decent grade. Your teacher's job is to teach you a few important ideas that make the course what it is: these are called objectives. These are what the school expects students to be able to do by the end of the semester, so these are what teachers teach. Your teacher's job is to guide you through those objectives and assess your performance on them. How you perform eventually becomes your grade in the class. However, in many classes, performance on the objectives is not what ends up determining some of your grade. This is because there are a few things that may comprise your grade that are not part of the course objectives. These are things your teachers expect you to do on your own or should have already learned. And it is often these, not the course objectives, that determine your ultimate success. Here they are.
By the time you reach college, your teachers will likely no longer have grammar as part of their course objectives. They may have some basic, catch-all phrase in their course outcomes, such as "Students will demonstrate proper mechanics...," but most teachers won't spend any time actually teaching those mechanics. I actually got in trouble by my department chair for helping students with their grammar. He said that teaching grammar is not a course objective for the composition class was teaching, so I had to stop. Even though I was trying to help students with their troubled grammar, the school expects you to have a relatively firm grasp of it already. Therefore, if you do not have a decent understanding of the rules of written language, it doesn't matter how well you complete the other course objectives--performing research, developing arguments, employing proper styles and structures--if you don't know the basic communication skills of writing. If your teacher (or other readers) cannot read your work and understand it at its most basic, communicative level, you will not succeed in the class. Take care of your grammar, and your teacher will take care of you.
2. Basic life skills
It's almost embarrassing that this is the other key to success in your English class, because this should be what all adults already take care of in their normal lives. But it's incredible how many English students struggle in classes because of nothing related to actual English study. What do I mean by life skills? Being punctual to class and present every day. Turning in work when it's due. Following instructions. That's about it. These are the skills parents (should) teach their children during the elementary years; however, these are the same skills that doom many college adults today. I've had plenty of students over the years who dropped full grades over the course of the semester because they constantly submitted projects late, or they skipped too many classes, or they didn't follow the basic directions for an assignment. When a teacher asks you to write an essay of 1000-1200 words, and you turn in a paper that's 850 words, be prepared to get a low grade. When a teacher tells you to follow a particular format (MLA, APA, etc.) and you turn in work that makes a mess of spacing, headings, and margins, be prepared to get a low grade. When a teacher tells you explicitly what should go in each paragraph and what ideas need to be covered in the paper, and your assignment doesn't resemble what the teacher has been giving you in class, be prepared to get a low grade. Simply doing what is asked of you will get you far in school. I often have class reminders not only in the syllabus, but I write them on the front board and also make many verbal announcements. I'm stunned at how many students feel it's okay to email me later that night and ask, "What is due in class tomorrow?" When a teacher gives you the same instruction in three clear ways and you still can't follow along, your teacher has zero sympathy for you. Get organized, pay attention, be responsible. Don't lose points on assignments, or even fail a whole class, because you didn't follow the basics of the course.
That's it. That's all it takes. Clean grammar. Personal responsibility. I guarantee that if you do those two things, you are almost certain never to get below a C in an English course. Your teacher just wants to see if you are listening to instructions and showing effort toward succeeding. These are areas your teacher can't teach you. Your teacher isn't your mother, constantly checking to see if you woke up on time or did all your homework. You are responsible for you. Your teacher will teach you the hard stuff of the course--that's his/her job. It's up to you to handle the basics.
Nothing tells parents, "Your child will get an excellent education at our university" like gigantic grammar mistakes. After just posting on this topic a few weeks ago, I was saddened to see this billboard online over the weekend:
What may be just as alarming is that the billboard gives the impression, by using quotes, that the folks at Forbes actually wrote this phrase. They did not; USD was simply on a list. This quote actually comes from a USD administrator who happens to be in charge of--in a fantastic twist of irony--marketing and university relations! That means this gentleman probably headed up the idea to post a massive sign with a semi-plagiarized quote--of himself!--that is also misspelled. That's got to be some kind of record for ridiculousness. One final note, this employee makes $154,000 per year. And students and parents wonder why college tuition is so high these days.
We've made it! Exactly one year ago, I saw a post over at Indiewire about director Steven Soderbergh keeping track of everything he watched and read over the course of the year. I decided to give it a try, and I enjoyed myself a great deal.
Writing down every book and film held me accountable to do something related to literature/film/writing (nearly) every single day, and it inspired me to try out different genres to which I don't normally devote much time. I was able to expand my knowledge and my interests through this experiment, and I look forward to exploring them much further, even though I may not write everything down. In total, I tackled 86 books and 192 films over the course of the year. Whew!
I strongly suggest trying the challenge, if for nothing else than to see in black and white what you devote your time to. It's a chance to learn about yourself, as much as new books or films. For the last time, here is my list for the month of December:
12/1 Birdman (r)
12/2 Dallas Buyers Club (r)
12/3 Jonas Salk, A Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs
12/6 Animal Kingdom
12/7 Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings edited by Robert Ellsberg
12/8 McFarland, USA
12/9 Conversations with Flannery O’Connor edited by Rosemary Magee
12/10 Last Action Hero (r)
12/11 The Full Monty (r)
12/14 End of Discussion by Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson
12/15 Alfie (1966)
12/16 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (r)
12/18 Believe Me
12/20 Lessons Learned: Reflections of a University President by William G. Bowen
12/21 Star Wars: The Force Awakens
12/23 It’s a Wonderful Life (r)
12/24 Elf (r)
12/26 House and Philosophy: Everybody Lies edited by Henry Jacoby
12/29 The Big Short
12/30 Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer
Dr. Spivey is a college English professor and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.