The Defining Science Fiction Books of 1950s

•April 6, 2013 • 2 Comments

Awesome post for any sci-fi lover to read!

Auxiliary Memory

1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s

In 1963, when I was 12, science fiction began imprinting on my brain, so that science fiction from the 1950s is how I define the genre.  All science fiction novels I’ve read in the succeeding fifty years are measured against those stories I  first discovered in my early teens.  That’s why I so completely understand the statement, “the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12.”  Younger generations of science fiction fans have since imprinted on science fiction via television shows like Star Trek, or movies like Star Wars, and even later forms of the genre that I don’t even understand like comics and video games.  Science fiction is very hard to pigeon-hole because its so radically different from generation to generation.  For me, science fiction is defined by certain books I first read in 1963, 1964 and 1965, and most of those were…

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Get a Job

•April 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

In Senior Seminar, we’ve been devoting more time to the big question of “What do I do next?”

Despite some jitters, I think my plan is still solid. I am trying to make myself valuable to two departments (English and Communications, Media, and Theater Arts) with the ultimate goal of teaching writing in the Electronic Media and Film Studies discipline. I will take media studies electives as I pursue my written communication degree. At some point, I really need to address that question of the PhD. Everyone keeps telling me that I have time, that I don’t have to answer that question now. It’s hard to leave it at that for now, though. I finally have concrete goals in terms of what I want to do for the rest of my life. I almost can’t not try to answer that question now.

I thought this decision-making thing was supposed to get easier.

Decisions, Decisions

•April 1, 2013 • 1 Comment

It’s about that time of the semester: in Senior Seminar, we’re talking about the fact we’re about to graduate, grad school, and PhDs. We also discussed the joys of being an adjunct and making no money, and we asked our professor questions about what we can expect in terms of looking for a job, what it’s like to be faculty, etc.

One of my big questions is the to PhD or not to PhD question. I have one friend/mentor/colleague telling me that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, that jobs are scarce, and so forth. However, I ran into a former professor last week, Dr. Aldridge, who was one of my instructors 20 years ago at my first (and less than stellar) attempt at college. I have found that I respect his opinion quite a bit because he and I had a long talk last November about where I was 20 years ago versus where I am now. He didn’t remember me from before — not surprising, because I was almost never in class and pretty unremarkable and unmotivated. Instead of finding me a disappointment before, he seems absolutely pleased that I’ve come back, turned things around, and found what I love.

Though I haven’t been in any of Dr. Aldridge’s classes since then, it’s kind of become important to me to make him proud of me. I told him about recently accepting a GAship in the English department, and I found out that he and I have that in common — he was a literature major as well as a media studies major. He got his Masters in literature, then a PhD in media studies — a very similar path to the one I’ve been contemplating. I told Dr. Aldridge this, as well as what my colleague said about not being able to get a job even though he had a PhD.

What Dr. Aldridge said sounded so simple and right at the time: “But you can’t get a job without one.” It made so much sense…

…until I came to class and all the scary adjunct talk started. I mean, I don’t suffer from any delusions that I don’t need to pay my dues and start at the bottom or anything. I’m prepared for that. What I’m afraid of is being stuck there. I’m in my early 40s. It’s not like I have a lot of time.

The discussion is set to continue today, so expect another post on this very topic.

 

An Ethical Dilemma

•March 25, 2013 • 1 Comment

Last week in Senior Seminar, the subject of teaching ethics and morals in the classroom became a topic of conversation. This stemmed out of a discussion about teaching students to be “global citizens.” The discussion has been rattling around in my head since then. I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions. I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing you can come to a conclusion about.

There are a couple of things I’m certain of, though. First, a lot of people don’t know how to draw the line between ethics and morals. It doesn’t help that the first two definitions I found on Merriam-Webster.com contain the word “moral.”  It’s clear that we need two separate concepts — one that deals with day-to-day social sensitivity and appropriateness in terms of how we deal with others, and one that applies to choices we make for ourselves. Maybe it’s time to throw out the words “morals” and “ethics” and create new ones for the sake of specificity.

In terms of what we’ve been calling “ethics,” I associate a few concepts that I don’t consider morals. For example, your rights end where someone else begins, and just because you decide something is right for you, it doesn’t give you the right to decide that other people should have to do it your way, too. The decisions you make for yourself, however, are what I think of as morals — doing what you think is “right” . You can, for example, decide that abortion or gun ownership is not for you, yet accept that someone else’s decision in these areas do nothing to affect you personally.

I am not asking for a war about guns or abortion. What I am saying is that people on both sides of the political spectrum have that one Really Big Issue that they just can’t let go of, and a little tolerance and minding of one’s own business would go a long way. That  is a kind of lesson that I believe we can pass along in terms of ethics and dealing with people from other cultures, or even people from our own culture who are different from ourselves.

Some of my classmates were saying that it’s impossible to teach ethics in the classroom. Being a disciple of Roddenberry, I can’t help but ask what’s so hard about it. Gene did it every week through the television, and the message that we should all accept each other’s differences resonated with the audience. Because of this, Star Trek has endured for almost fifty years. Within the classroom context, we have a chance to more directly pass this same message on. Too the question of “Whose ethics do we teach,” I answer, “Everybody’s.” We can’t teach people what, specifically, to think, but we can give them the tools they need to question what they see, hear, and believe, and figure out where that fits within this world citizenship.

Lost in Translation

•March 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

No, I’m not here to talk to you about my favorite Bill Murray film. We’ve been looking at poetry and cultural context in Senior Seminar, and recent assignments have included “Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee and “Lost Sister” by Cathy Song. Both deal with the issue of being an Asian immigrant in the U.S., but despite their similarities, they each tell very different stories.

Both poems deal with alienation from one’s own native culture as well as from American culture. “Persimmons” deals with forgetting one language while trying to learn another, and with remaining quiet while others make incorrect assumptions about your culture. The latter is best exemplified by the teacher serving unripe persimmon to the class without knowing what the taste and texture of ripe persimmon — the “Chinese apple” — is really supposed to be like. “Lost Sister” expresses these issues by banished by one’s home culture for leaving for another land and what’s supposed to be a better opportunity.

One of the bigger differences between the two poems seems to be one of economics, though this may have a deeper root in the difference between the male and female experience. In “Persimmons,” Lee describes a close connection with his father and there are no apparent  signs of poverty. Whether this is because the family was doing well to begin with or because things got better once the Lee family got here is not evident. In Song’s case, poverty is an obvious thread throughout. She begins by talking about jade and how first daughters are given this name — jade is valuable, after all — yet having to stretch the rice supply to feed the family while still in China and living in inner city tenements once in America. Furthermore, it seems that the women experience the burden of more alienation from their home culture. The man’s place is clearly privileged, and women are expected to keep their place, as evidenced by the bound feet Song speaks of. The idea of women being equal to men in America is discussed as though it’s contamination; it’s compared to plagues of locusts and jade green is said to be “diluted” with the blue of the Pacific.

Sometimes in class, I often think about the fact that it would be helpful to know more about a culture before reading its literature; however, I think much can be gleaned about a culture from its literature if one devotes sufficient attention to detail and — more importantly — tries to absorb what is read with an attitude that is free of judgment. It is reasonable that we only have our own culture to compare things to, and that’s handy for noticing differences between ourselves and others. However, I think it’s wise to be mindful of assigning values like “right” and “wrong” just because what we read is the same or different from our own experience. The struggle for female equality in the US provides a useful lens for reading “Lost Sister” and “Persimmons” together, but we must not judge the people they tell us about as being “behind” somehow, because we’re still struggling ourselves.

Teaching How to Think Instead of What to Think

•March 11, 2013 • 1 Comment

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Since yesterday’s post, I’ve continued to think about the whole relationship between reading well and writing well hand how it all works together. This time, my mind wandered to the topic that sparked that classroom conversation in the first place: teaching literary criticism to students. (Or, rather, the insanity of not teaching literary criticism to students and expecting them to figure out how to do it to our satisfaction.) The above graphic pretty much says it all in terms of what I think of high school lit classes. When I was in high school, I sat through way too many classes calling themselves “Advanced English” in which we were spoon-fed and told what the passages of what we were reading meant. All too often, we were told there was so much subtext under the most innocuous of things like blue curtains. All too often, the question on my mind was, “Why do we have to over-complicate this?” It seemed to me that most English teachers were never happy unless they turned the smallest detail into a Whole Big Thing.

How well I did in these classes depended on the teacher. Sometimes I would be encouraged by someone who liked that I thought different thoughts, and I got an A. I would be appreciated for my thoughtful and often irreverent take on things. One teacher called me an iconoclast and I wore it like a badge of honor — once I’d looked it up and found out what it meant.  On the other hand, if I got a C or worse in the class, I was being taught by someone who disliked the way I deviated from her little script. Eventually I would push back the only way I knew how: I wouldn’t do the work at all. I was labeled lazy, irresponsible, and mouthy by the teacher. My poor mother probably had no choice but to believe her because I offered up little in my defense. I wasn’t the adult in the situation. I didn’t believe I had any power.

I am fortunate that I knew better than to believe that the interpretation and criticism of a text was not necessarily always the teacher’s way. Sometimes the curtains really are just blue. But what about the poor kids who bought into it because the teacher is the authority in the room and, therefore, he or she must always be right? What about the kids who don’t entertain the idea that there just might be another way to think about what they just read because it doesn’t even occur to them?

What about the kids who don’t even think about what they read at all?

Don’t misunderstand me. Modeling the behavior you are trying to teach is perfectly valid, even if that behavior is a thought process. When learning a new skill, the student should see what it looks like. But the student eventually needs to try it on his or her own. It isn’t fair to keep leading students to one and only one conclusion. The breakdown occurs either when the teacher’s own thinking is inflexible, or when a well-meaning teacher accepts that the students understand what they’re supposed to do because they’re nodding back at her, deer-in-headlights stares notwithstanding.

It isn’t enough to simply ask, “What do you think?” when asking students to dissect a piece of writing in front of them. “Why?” “So what?” and “Prove it!” are the critical questions that I often found lacking in high school classroom discussions. These questions actually boomerang back to writing. “Why?” “So what?” and “Prove it!” are precisely what we’re asking for when we ask students to explain a topic, incorporate evidence, and convince us why it’s important when we ask them to write papers in just about any discipline in college. Perhaps I’m fortunate that my mother pursued her college education while I was in elementary school; her instructors were asking her “Why?” “So what?” and “Prove it!” on a daily basis, so it’s reasonable to assume that she made sure I was asking them, too, as she helped me navigate my own homework. She modeled the behavior through our discussions as she proofread my assignments, but in the end, the burden was on me to explain myself. She was teaching me how to think without telling me what to think.

In retrospect, I can’t help think about how different my academic career might have been different had I been armed with that little bit of knowledge during parent-teacher conferences.

The “Grammando” Takes On Social Media

•March 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Before we paused for midwinter break, we were having an interesting discussion in my Senior Seminar class about how the act of reading makes one a better writer. I was glad we had that discussion, because while it seemed so obvious, I never thought of it that way before. More accurately —  I write well, and I think often about writing well; however, reading is so second-nature to me, I don’t think about it. Therefore, even though there is reciprocity between reading and writing in that in order to do one well you need to be able to do the other well, too, I never consciously made the connection.

I see people’s writing all the time. Sometimes it’s in the line of work. Sometimes it’s just noticing other pepole’s Facebook posts. I have a reputation of being a grammar Nazi amongst my social media friends — or “grammando,” in compliance with the movement to be more politically correct —  because within my own Facebook feed, I frequently repost memes from sites like Grammarly or I’ll post comments when I see bad syntax or spelling on infographics and memes others post. The latter was particularly true during election season; I didn’t make too many friends pointing out that one particular major party had a higher incidence of incomprehensibility over the other. I won’t name names here, but I’ll give you a hint: the responsible party has also been generating the strongest sentiments of anti-intellectualism. Go figure.

My Facebook friends sometimes tag me in their posts in order to preemptively apologize for their mistakes. I think some of them really think my head’s going to explode if I see a Shatner comma. Am I really that bad? I wonder. Okay, maybe I am. When we joked about having our intellectual revolution in class, I was the one advocating a mandatory spelling test before anyone would be allowed to join. But I don’t exactly red-pen my friends’ Facebook posts, despite the fact that it pains me to occasionally see nice people be completely incomprehensible. It hurts me when I have no idea what you just said. Throw in netspeak abbreviations and shortcuts. Shake well. Okay, maybe my head really will explode.

That said, all this time, I’ve been wondering what it is that I’ve internalized that other people haven’t. I honestly thought that my knowledge of how to properly use a semicolon or my willingness to look up a word I wasn’t certain how to spell was just a result of actually paying attention in school. I thought it was because I believed my teachers and my mother when they said, “This is important. You want to sound intelligent.”  Maybe that did have something to do with it, but now I’m inclined to agree that it probably has more to do with something I just did for fun: reading. In the case of writing, practice alone doesn’t make perfect. I am now aware of the viewpoint that one needs to see examples of writing done well (or at least well enough) over and over again.

I will let this percolate and revisit it later. I feel like I have a lot more to say on this subject, but I need to kick it around some more before I can properly articulate what I think.

Hey. Epiphanies are hard. Don’t judge me.

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