For all the students in the world....

As a quick reference for all those students out there, be they age 6 and in elementary school or age 26 and in grad school. Here is a list of things that, as a teacher, I don't care about:

1. Your grade
I don't care what your grade is. I likely don't even KNOW what your grade is unless I calculate it up in my gradebook. I don't ever think about your grade at all. Ever. I know that YOU think your grade is of utmost importance, and that is truly sad. The only thing that is important to me is that you are learning and hopefully thinking creatively and integrating the material into your life. If you get an A in my class, and you don't learn anything, I failed and you failed.

2. Tests
I don't care what is on the test. I spend hours trying to find a way to NOT have tests in my class, and simply haven't got a more standardized way of assigning grades to students. Again, as I feel grades are worthless, I generally feel that tests are worthless, which is why I avoid multiple-choice and true-false tests. The test, ideally, should be an opportunity for you to display to me how this class has changed the way you think about the subject, and how it has shaped how you will deal with the subject in the future. If you spend your time worried about what is on the test and how you will perform on the test, you will be actively preventing your own learning.

Now, contrast that with the following things that, as a teacher, I find of utmost importance:

1. The readings
I take hours to read and re-read everything that I assign to my class, and make sure that it is understandable, incredible, mind-altering, and worthwhile. No, not every reading is going to change your life, but every single reading has something very important to say about this subject. If you simply read every page I assigned in this course and thought about what the authors were trying to say, you'd be at least 75% of the way toward accomplishing the goals I have for you. The readings are required because you need to have this background for me to really teach you the important topics of this course. Every time you skip a reading, you're actively depriving yourself of an education.

2. The class discussions
Actually sitting down and talking about the concepts of the course, especially with a teacher there to help facilitate the discussion, is essential. By discussing the topics in class, you get to try out new ideas and work together to creatively discover the subject. A good class discussion is simply the most fun, rewarding, and educational experience you can have in school, which is why it is so sad that they rarely occur. If you are sitting quietly at your desk passively taking in information, you simply aren't getting the most out of this class.

So, how sad is it that the viewpoints of teachers and students are so very opposite in their emphasis? Everything that my students value is worthless to me, and everything I value is worthless to them. I feel like we really need to start very early in this country and train our kids that education is about learning, not performance, and that the winners are those who learn, not those with the top grades....

Winter Cleaning

I have trimmed my journal significantly. There was some good stuff in there, but none of it was really who I am at this time, so I got rid of it.

How many cans must I stack up
To wash you out of my mind,
Out of my consciousness?

Fifteen albums that always stay with you....

The "Rules": Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what albums my friends choose.

I'm not tagging. You don't have to either. (Re-posted from Tyree.)

In chronological order:

Styx - Kilroy Was Here The first album I ever actually requested for myself. This marked the beginning of listening to my own music rather than just whatever my parents had on the radio. I also suspect that it primed me for liking prog rock and concept albums.

Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime The single best concept album of all time. I saw the video for Eyes of a Stranger on MTV (yes, children, this was back when they played videos) and went out and bought every Queensryche album I could. This was my first "favorite band".

Megadeth - Holy Wars I listened to a metal countdown show on the radio in my room and heard the first nasty, crunchy, melodic guitar lick of Holy Wars and knew that this was metal genius. At 17 years old, this was the hardest, fastest, most awesome stuff that ever existed. Now, after the years of Metallica selling out, I'll fight anyone who thinks Metallica is better than Megadeth.

Ministry - Psalm 69 In my last year of high school, I began looking for some music that was as fast and rough as possible, and Ministry fit the bill nicely. This album is just full of screaming anthemic noise that appeals to the 18 year old brain. Also, on a side note, over a decade later, in my office at work, my boss, who was in his 60's, walked into my office just in time to hear the prelude to Just One Fix (a weird, distorted voice advising you to "Never trust a junkie!") and looked at me like I was playing devil music. Good times.

Alice in Chains - Dirt While Nirvana hit it big a couple years earlier, what I think of as good grunge didn't start hitting until my freshman year in college (Nirvana sucks, people, and Kurt Cobain, like many cultural icons, was a poser who didn't deserve his fame). I could easily have put Pearl Jam's Ten here, or Soundgarden's Superunknown, or, if I wanted to be interesting, I could put The Chronic by Dr. Dre, but the soundtrack to my freshman year dorm room was most often Alice in Chains. This album is so good, and it amazes me that people don't give AiC the credit for being such a talented band, and somehow think Nirvana was great. Hell, the Foo Fighters are better than Nirvana, so we should know that Cobain was holding Grohl back the whole time anyway.

Nine Inch Nails - Broken Wish was in rotation on MTV during my first year in college as well, and it's such a great screaming orgasm of a song that I had to get the album. While NiN is pretty hit or miss for me, when Reznor does it right, it's pretty damn awesome. Like Ministry, it showed me that there were musical styles descended from punk that didn't have to tread the metal line.

Pantera - Cowboys From Hell This was the soundtrack for my summer following my freshman year. Working at a lumber yard in sweltering heat, the pure aggression of Pantera made it all worthwhile.

Tori Amos - Under the Pink And....we take a right turn... I bought this album on a whim because a friend recommended it, and it never occurred to me that so much emotion could be housed in a little slip of a girl sitting at a piano. The aggression is all there, and these songs will still get you to the emotional heights that any speed lick on a guitar can generate. Put simply, Tori Amos is metal. Later, other grrl power artists like Ani DiFranco showed me that this wasn't a fluke.

Bjoork - Post I came back from my work co-op with IBM and found that some of the pop music that the kids were listening to was still pretty good. This album really showed me what could be done by a certifiably crazy lady with amazing pipes.

The Cure - Wish As I returned to KSU, I began playing poker with the Daxes (if you don't know, it's hard to explain). I could easily pick Squirrel Nut Zippers, Son Volt, or Live as memories of this time, but the greatest impact on my life was opening my eyes to The Cure. Wish is such a gut-wrenching album, and it's exactly what I want from the most depressing band in the business.

Fuel - Sunburn Broke up with a long-term girlfriend and met another girl who immediately crushed my heart. For whatever reason this was at the same time that Shimmer was on the radio, and for me it always brings back the bittersweet memories of that time. Fuel catches a lot of shit, but I still think this album is solid. It's possible my emotional reaction is why.

The Mike Hosty Trio - Volume Memories of working at The Gatekeeper, where the CD changer was full of awesome music that I'd never heard before. First and foremost, this CD changer introduced me to my current favorite band on the planet, the Mike Hosty Duo (Chris Weiser has since moved on to other pursuits). This is just good music. I've taken most of my friends to Hosty shows, and nobody, regardless of musical preference, has failed to have a great time.

Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom Another regular in rotation from The Gatekeeper. Soul Coughing also reminds me of the struggle to open Patch and Crow's Nest, as Conner and I are both big fans. Despite this being a huge low point in my life, I still love the music, and Conner and I are still on speaking terms. :)

Brand New - Deja Entendu Driving down Anderson Avenue one sunny afternoon, and Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades came on 91.9. It just blew me away that there were emo bands that were actually worth listening to. This album really got me into emo and screamo, and got me back into punk after many years absence.

Brother Ali - The Undisputed Truth Discovered Brother Ali through a review in the Onion's A.V. Club, and thought it might be interesting to see what a white albino Muslim from the mean streets of Minneapolis had to say. It turns out that the man is an absolute dynamo on the mike, with monster rhythms and complicated rhyme structures. It also happens that he's got such tremendous courage and soul to sing so plainly about his life and what he's been through without the usual braggadocio. He's gotten me through some of the trials and tribulations of grad school. "If we were put here to carry a great weight, the very things we hate are here to build those muscles."

A Quiz for the Unemployed

I've actually stopped arguing online about unemployment, because it is obvious that the economy is pretty bad right now, and even skilled positions are difficult to come by. If you are in the construction or manufacturing industries, it's even worse. As such, if you are currently unemployed or underemployed, this will simply be another bit of salt in your wounds. I do not intend this to make you feel worse about a terrible situation, so stop reading now.

However, it has been really nagging at me how many people out there simply refuse to make themselves employable, and then blame businesses and managers for their failures. I have composed a simple quiz I'd love to give everyone who is unemployed:

1. In what field is your bachelor's degree?

The VAST majority of people I have argued with about this do not have one. They instead got into dream jobs that paid really good money to those who had high school diplomas. When the economy crashes, those are the first people you dump, because they're the easiest to replace. Those who DO have a degree are often sporting degrees in English, History, or Art, and are absolutely incensed that they can't get hired for positions that require understanding of accounting, business practices, or basic engineering principles. If your degree is all you have, it needs to be worth something.

2. What experience do you have? In what jobs? In what fields?

Those who get past stage one usually fall flat here. You have a degree in Computer Science, but your experience is working as a sales guy at Gamestop because it got you games for cheap and you could bum pot off your boss? Congratulations, you aren't qualified to be a programmer. You have a degree in economics but you never bothered to get an internship during college, so you're looking for a job with NO real world experience? You're going to be waiting a while.

3. What jobs that pay a decent wage have you applied for, despite being overqualified?

This one pretty much cleans up the remainder. You are unemployed. That means you need to find a way to make enough money to live. I don't give a shit if during an up economy you were able to demand $30 an hour to work on a production line at GM. Now you need to be willing to work as a pizza delivery driver for minimum wage plus good tips. Why? Because doing so will provide for you and your family while you look for the good job. What I keep hearing from people who have been long-term unemployed is "I used to make $X, and I'm not going to take a lesser job just because I can't find one that pays me more than I'm worth."

4. Finally, what offers do you have available if you were willing to move?

This one is huge here in Michigan. I know of people in Chicago who are actually trading up jobs for better salary and benefits. I have friends in Iowa who are currently hiring and looking for good employees. But all the people here in Michigan are out of work, running out of unemployment, and completely unwilling to move to improve their lives. If their excuses made sense, like "kids in this school district who have a stable life" or "older relatives who are sick", I get it, but the ones I hear are "I have always lived here, and I like it here. Why should I have to move because I live in a shithole?"

It's pretty simple. If you have a college degree in a good field, you are willing to swallow your pride and take lesser positions to become experienced, you are willing to take jobs that pay in order to make ends meet, and you are willing to move in order to find better opportunities, you likely aren't out of a job right now. If you are, you'll be the first hired when the economy starts looking up. Most of the people I run into who are unemployed and bitching have none of the above, and seem to think it's the job of businesses to hire unqualified, ungrateful, unmotivated employees as a community service.

Here's a case study for you:
I went to college and got a degree in Computer Science. I did this because the pay was worth it. I WANTED a degree in History, but I also understood that I could be a big fan of history, studying it on my own time, and still make real money. I worked at a 1.5 year work co-op with IBM to gain real world experience during college. I worked as a systems administrator on campus during my final few college years. In short, I made myself valuable and employable. I did this KNOWING what I was doing.

I was especially lucky, because I got out of college when the bubble was still growing, and I made good money, far more than I was worth. And I really didn't like it. It was stressful, and I was often unable to take vacations or even spend the money I was making. It occurred to me that I really needed to change jobs. During this time, the bubble burst, and I started to also realize that what I had been doing was never going to pay like it used to. So I made a hard decision. I dropped my income and went back to school to get an MBA and hopefully get away from computers. To do so, I moved back to Kansas, and I took a job making a fraction of my previous salary. I understood that what I was doing was necessary to make me able to work where I wanted.

During my MBA, I realized that what I really wanted was to finish a PhD and be a college professor in Business. I chose Business because professors in that discipline make easily double the amount made in other departments on campus. I really WANTED to go into Psychology, but doing so would mean I'd spend the rest of my life making shit wages. I made a choice. To follow this choice, I had to move again, to a city in which I knew almost no one, and to a school I'd never attended. I would also cut my salary down to around $17,000 per year as a graduate student for 5 years. I'm 2 years along in this process, and I've never been happier.

I made specific choices and sacrifices in my life. I did so because I understand what employers want, and what they value. I studied markets and salaries to find out where the good money was and where it wasn't. I made smart decisions, and as a result, I've never been unemployed. I have, however, worked tirelessly to make my life better, and I am a great, smart, worthwhile employee everywhere I work. Every time someone who made poor choices claims that it should be the job of business to reward them for making bad decisions, it makes me sick.

Because C.S. Lewis said it better than I ever could...

Came across this again today when reading the appendix to the Screwtape Letters, out of a toast that C.S. Lewis wrote. The toast is written from the point of view of Screwtape, an older demon, as an address to a grouping of younger demons giving them advice on how to best prepare the souls of mankind for damnation:


Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won't. It will never occur to them that Democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether "democratic behaviour" means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word Democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I'm as good as you.

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don't mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: "Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I -- it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here's a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs -- thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox -- he's one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were the right sort of chaps they'd be like me. They've no business to be different. It's undemocratic."

Now this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to the humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it - make it respectable and even laudable - by the incantatory use of the word democratic.


In that promising land the spirit of I’m as good as you has already begun something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system. How far its operations there have gone at the present moment, I should not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done on various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is not impossible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coaeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON THE MAT.

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.


Put simply, this is a very good assessment of how I see the world. It serves both as motivation for me to live up to my potential and attempt to be a better person, and a constant reminder that "equal opportunity for everyone" does not, and should not, mean "everyone is equal."