Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Random Bits of Advice

As a professor, I've gotten used to students coming by the office for advice on a miscellany of issues, from what classes to take to whether parents are being unreasonable for filing divorce papers in the middle of the semester; from what graduate schools to consider to how best to tell the parental units of a non-mainstream sexual orientation; from how to deal with a failing grade to how to deal with a failing relationship. I'm not entirely sure how or why I've become Mother Confessor / Dear Abby, but I do know what the students tell me: that I'm a good listener and that I give great advice. For that, I thank my father.

It's easy to give good advice when in my life I had a father who had given me excellent advice. When I wonder what I should do, the voice I hear is Dad's -- even though he's been gone since 2004. Raised in a house with three older sisters meant that there was a great deal of aggravation for the younger me. I could depend on Dad to be there to advise and to point out the humor of the situation. Years later, I found out that one of his favorite stories was about one of those frustrating times. I was about 7 and deeply exasperated with one of my siblings. He said, with all kindness intended, "You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your family." He laughed whenever he recalled the reply of that 7-year-old: "Yeah, but you sure can try to pick them off!" As I got older, and began to understand the undercurrents and complexities of our family dynamics, his bits of advice were better taken.

He was more than my support system in trying times, he was a fount of great wisdom in all aspects of life. I turned to him for guidance on all sorts of things -- from how to change a tire in the rain by myself to how to deal with relationship issues. I will admit, as is the case with most adolescents and young adults, I would on occasion ignore his exemplary advice -- even saying such things as "I need to learn from my own mistakes", which is a mistake in and of itself -- but in the end, I found that his advice was most excellent.

Thus, as I listen to my students' and friends' tales of dissatisfaction with life, I channel my father. Sometimes, people just want to know that they're on the right track. Other times, they need a gentle devil's advocate to ease them back into rationality. Most just need a touchstone to help them on their way through life. Often, that touchstone is found in the advice-seeker's own words, it just needs to be refined into a simple statement. This is where Dad's best quality, which he then taught to me, was of great assistance: listening. Sometimes, listening is all that is needed. I've had a number of students thank me for my great counsel even when I've said nothing at all; they had managed to work it all out on their own just saying what they needed to out loud. Other times, listening allows me to get to the core of the problem, and from there the advice suggests itself.

Recently, a student came to me for dating advice. After listening to her complaints about the imperfect men in her life and their sometimes unreasonable expectations of her, I gave her a rule that has held me in good stead for decades: 'If you truly love someone, you'd be willing to change everything about yourself for that person; if they truly love you, they'd never ask you to.' She stopped for a moment, thought about that, and told me that I was brilliant. No, I told her, my father had given me that bit of wisdom when I was 15 and it took me a while to realize that it was sound advice, but following it led me to my wonderful husband. "Your father must have been a very smart guy" was her response.

Yes, he was.

Soon it will be another Father's Day without him, and I miss him -- and his advice -- dearly, but I have a hoard of his suggestions, opinions, and recommendations to draw upon whenever I'm stuck for what to do or say. For me, the abbreviation is WWDS -- What Would Dad Say?

Got any wisdom from you father you'd like to share? I'm listening.
Image Source: Quotesbuddy.com

Monday, April 25, 2011

Big Random Words

I like big words and I cannot lie.

La Professora is known to use what I call "S.A.T. words" in lecture because the dumbing down of a college education has been more than just an oxymoron. In my classroom, the expectation is that the students will either already have a working college-level vocabulary or will use those bits of technology they lug to class to look up something useful such as the meaning of a word they don't know, rather than finding out that their BFF's latest MyFace status is "functionally drunk".

Likewise, my love for big words encompasses small words with big meanings. If you can easily spot the nuances between "You cannot go" and "You can not go", or between "You like him more than I" and "You like him more than me", then you too must have a love for small words with big meanings. Unfortunately, those who know the difference are becoming rare.

The push to national standards in writing has left this country with students who studied for "The Test" and who have no real skills when it comes to the English language. I've met students in other countries whose vocabulary in English -- a foreign language to them -- puts the OMGing students here to shame. We are left with American students who cannot differentiate between "then" and "than", let alone between "effect" and "affect".

However, it is not just the national standards and the teaching to the test that are to blame. Technology has its own share of the culpability for the limiting of our national lexicon. Once upon a time, the telephone was cursed for ending the skills of letter writing; emails, it was said, would bring that back to the fore. It was not to be. Texting is now the mode of communication favored by the young and some of the not-so-young, and "text-speak" has become the mode of information dissemination -- a form that is bemoaned by instructors around the world, regardless of primary language.

English is such a rich language with a myriad of ways to communicate the hardest of concepts with the simplest of words, or the simplest of notions in the complexest of political double-speak. Yet our students limit themselves to endless rounds of "like" and "y'know?".

This nescience is due, in part, to the lack of any real reading. Students marvel at the fact that La Professora can devour a novel at a rate of between 60 to 90 pages an hour. What could explain the marveling is a poll done in 2007 that found that 1 in 4 Americans -- 25% for those not so mathematically inclined -- did not read a single book within the previous year. The average number of books read by the other 75% was seven. No wonder Borders Bookstore is going out of business.

La Professora's first semester teaching at the alma mater was the first encounter with the limited vocabulary of the students. Off a group of them went to grumble to the chair of the department that the instructor was using "Big Words" in the research methods course. The chair was laughing when he told me that the exemplar the students had given him in their complaint was "parsimonious". This was the beginning of the expectation that students in all my courses will expand their vocabulary.

So it was, during an average day of teaching 2 semesters ago, that a student raised his hand and asked the question: "Where did you learn all those Big Words?!" I modestly responded that "I read". There was a moment of silence, and then the student asked, "What's the name of the book." Before I could recover from the fact that he had assumed that I had read only one book, another student blurted out, "Dude! It's called The Dictionary!"

I like big words, but never realized that "knowledge" had become one of them.

Image Sources:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Random Nature

It has been a while since La Professora has blogged. I could blame the fact that I was teaching and grading for 8 courses until last week, or I could blame the fact that I'm still trying to get a house unpacked and organized after moving in some 9+ months ago, but the truth is La Professora is a lazy being. It takes a lot to get La Professora worked up enough to want to drop all the personal and professional obligations, but the earthquake and resultant tsunami earlier this month was enough to get me to at least share some of the impressive images that came out of Japan since then.

First, a video, well worth the watch, of the waters rushing in on the tsunami wave:

Then there are photos that seem incredible even after having watched the video:
First, a couple of photos of the damage caused by the earthquake,

then the damage caused by the tsunami.

The video and photos say pretty much everything.

Mother Nature is not some kindly old lady who bakes cookies.
She's a terrorist, striking when we least expect it.

Image Sources:
Broken road 1: http://kiwinewsonline.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Cracked-road-from-Japan-quake-as-shown-on-Japanese-TV.jpg
Broken road 2: http://www.cbsnews.com/i/tim/2011/03/11/quake_620x350.jpg
Before and After: http://www.dhyra.com/2011/03/before-after-satellite-images-of-japan.html
Car on building: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/51650000/jpg/_51650114_jex_984236_de27-1.jpg
Car on building 2: http://www.gimpchat.com/files/196_car-roof-japan-equake-tsunami.jpg
Car on Nose: http://media.naplesnews.com/media/img/photos/2011/03/13/tsunami_15_t607.jpg
shipping containers: http://www.poynter.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Japan-Quake-2011-C.jpg
Airplane: http://www.defencetalk.com/pictures/data/4808/medium/F-16-fighter-tsunami-japan-01.JPG