Monday, March 28, 2011

teaching gender

There are lots of ways to show students that gender is a culturally created category, not a biological imperative. One way is to discuss the different agents that enculturate us into our gender roles. If gender is so natural, then why do we have to be taught, from birth, by our families, peers, media, schools, etc., how we are supposed to think/act/be?

After talking about these agents of socialization, I like to show a series of videos that show people playing with gender roles. When students see these unexpected messages coming from the usual media sources, it makes it very obvious that normally we are bombarded by the same message, day after day.

Here are some interesting options:

Girls on Film has re-makes of movie scenes where women play male characters. The Star Trek scene is pretty good. The scene from The Town makes the point better, I think, but is too raunchy for my students' ears. (I'm still trying to live down the great whitewashed willie debacle). What we really need, though, are Boys on Film. Imagine re-making movie scenes where men play female characters. I think it would make it very clear that women, increasingly, can stretch gender roles, but men cannot.

Kaltura's gendered advertising remixer allows you to play the video from a boy or girl's toy ad, while playing the audio from an ad aimed at the other gender. The contrast is pretty striking.

There are a couple wonderful YouTube videos that create gendered messages through music in a way unintended by the original artist. I love the all-female Cornell a capella students group version of Dr. Dre's "Bitches ain't shit." (I've never heard the original of that song, but let me tell you, the title is one of the least offensive lines.) Watching young, affluent women, dressed in country-club style (with tennis rackets), singing a song like that is both hilarious and a fascinating play on gender. Unfortunately, I've never had the guts to show it to a class, because the lyrics are so horrific.

A cuter, and much more class-safe option is the gay remix of Taylor Swift's You Belong with Me. In this video, the "tomboy" girl is a man, in love with his neighbor. It's a very sweet little song/story. But, it still gets the point across, and makes you think about the lyrics and gender roles portrayed in a different way.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

weekly accountability: March 27-April 2

My goal last week was to survive. I'm not dead yet, so success!

I finished a poster for the SAAs, and I got part of my paper done. I also dealt with the flood of advising that comes through my office at this time of the semester. That's a separate post.

This week, I'll be in Sacramento, and I'm really looking forward to the break! Hope to see you all there!

Friday, March 25, 2011

another family friendly victory

Tiny U is on a roll!!

I'd never heard the term "fill fund", but that's what we call money to replace faculty members who take leave. When a colleague takes maternity or paternity leave, or invokes family or medical leave of any sort, the university policy states that the department must find a way to fulfill their duties. In practice, this means a colleague taking on one or more extra courses, sometimes for most of the semester. Since we're a small university, and far from the madding crowd (read: middle of freakin' nowhere), we don't have graduate students or redundancy in our faculty. In most cases, there isn't anyone in the department who can take on another faculty member's classes with ease. For example, if Crazy Colleague were to be institutionalized, I'd have to take over her upper-division classes on ethnographic fieldwork and women in East Asian society. Uh, sure.

In the past, this has led to resentment, even under the best of circumstances. Nobody wants to teach 16 credits at one time (says the woman teaching 16 credits at one time). Since women who take maternity leave are often untenured, there is always the concern that their colleagues will still feel resentful when the tenure case comes up for a vote.

Enter our Dean, whose name will always be spoken with reverence in my household. She created the "fill fund", which will pay people to take over their colleague's classes. In some cases, we may even be able to pay a grad student from some other university to drive three hours to Tiny U and teach the course. This is a huge victory! Alas, our Dean is joining our sainted Department Chair, and leaving Tiny U for greener pastures.

I'm sending out more job applications.

One last note: this is another example of how family-friendly culture trumps family-unfriendly policy. The fill fund is entirely within the discretion of the Dean's budget. Without changing one letter of U policy, she made a huge improvement in our maternity/paternity/family/medical leave practice. Good on her!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

getting my Irish on, again

One last Irish post. In previous years, my Cultural Anthropology class was covering the topic of religion around St. Patrick's day. There is a traditional prayer attributed to St. Patrick (called St. Patrick's breastplate, or the Lorica, or the deer prayer) that is a wonderful example of syncretism. The prayer is in the form of a traditional druidic incantation for protection, but with overt Christian symbolism. The modern versions are translations, obviously, but they include clear references to pagan magic, and the invocation (literally) of God as a protector: "I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three."

In fact, the legend of the prayer is that St. Patrick used it to turn himself and his companions into deer, so they would not be killed by the druids who were seeking them out. Honestly, men who become deer through invocation of the power of the moon, stars, sun, ocean, and rocks? How much more pagan can you get? Except it's not.

I like to use this example of syncretism, because textbook examples often portray this process as something "primitive". Students get the idea that somehow only very ignorant or religiously backward people engage in syncretism. (Yes, I know, the very idea is non-anthropological, but not all students recognize that.) This example from the early church resonates more with students, and makes it clear that this is a wide-spread phenomenon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

the great whitewashed willie debacle

I grew up (more or less) in this region of the country. I know my people, and we're prudes.

But, I grew up, gained wisdom (or maybe just got jaded), and, frankly, reached an age where nekkid bodies in a non-erotic context just aren't all that, well, erotic.

My students, not so much.

My first inkling of the problem was when I showed the classic movie Onka's Big Moka. Apparently, several of the young women in the class were mortified by visible male genitalia, and complained (to another professor) that they couldn't "ignore" it because the subtitles were right at crotch level. I went back and watched parts of the video again, since I hadn't noticed full frontal nudity. It's there, but with dark lighting, it wasn't noticeable (to me).

I edited a couple of lesson plans to avoid offending anyone, but this week I showed another classic movie, Masai Women. I love this movie, which is a perfect example of the intersection of gender, kinship, marriage patterns, and aging. But, I'd forgotten that the last part of the movie focuses on a warrior initiation ceremony, where young men are dancing, covered in a slurry of white chalk, and naked below the waist. In other words, there was a whole wall of whitewashed willies bouncing up and down for a good five minutes.


I expect the complaints to begin immediately.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

teaching with the Irish

After my St. Patrick's day post, I was thinking about how frequently I use Irish examples in my classes.

In my Cultural Anthropology class, I talk about Irish immigration to the U.S. during the last half of the 19th century. I show students some contemporary images that portrayed the Irish as inferior (like these), and I read quotes from leaders of American society that portray this influx of new people as the end of American civilization.

First, we talk about parallels between the portrayal of immigration in the 19th century, and the portrayal of immigration in the 21st (and why). Then, we talk about how the Irish were seen as a separate race, with significant physical differences from the Anglo-Saxons who dominated U.S. culture at the time. I show them that the Irish were considered intellectually unsuited to most professional pursuits, but they were thought to be naturally talented athletes and entertainers. Many vaudeville acts were Irish, and the Irish dominated certain competitive sports, like boxing (hence Notre Dame's Fighting Irish mascot, with his hands raised for a match.) I help my students make the connection between these ideas about the Irish, and similar ideas about other ethnic groups, and how the lack of access to higher education and wealth can create this self-fulfilling stereotype.

At the end, I return to the quotes that predicted an end to U.S. culture if we allow the Irish to immigrate in such large numbers. The major point I make to my students is that, although these quotes sound ridiculous to us, the writers were right. That is to say,if we could disinter those distinguished gentlemen and show them the modern U.S., they would be appalled by some of the changes that have occurred, largely as a result of Irish immigration. Catholicism is the largest single denomination in the country. Irish ancestry is more common than any other, except German. We celebrate St. Patrick's day, for heaven's sake! From the perspective of the Victorian WASP, U.S. culture did "degenerate". We don't see it that way, though, because we're the decedents of those immigrants, and we know that the changes that occurred in this country have led to the powerful, rich, and free nation that we know and love.

I end the lecture by predicting that our grandchild will have similar attitudes toward today's immigrants. They'll read our vitriolic rants about immigration, and say "hey, they were crazy back then." Then, they'll head out to celebrate Chinese New Year with the traditional mariachi band.

Monday, March 21, 2011

archaeology with a bang

OK, so there's no significant academic content to this post, but there's something oddly cathartic about watching archaeologists blow things up.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

weekly accountability: March 20-26

Spring Break is over. I am in mourning.

I'm mostly caught up with my grading, just one more exam and some extra credit to go. I'm making progress on the SAA papers. I might just make it through this semester with sanity intact. (or not.) Except for one mysterious midnight fever episode (possibly related to whatever they fed Pumpkin at daycare, which came out as a giant neon-green diaper blowout), the kids were healthy, and I was able to go to work each day.

This week, I'm just keepin' on keepin' on. How about you?

Friday, March 18, 2011

leprechaun invasion (or, we're all Irish now)

This post started as a rant over at our family blog (where we post cute kid pictures and stories for the grandparents), but acquired some (minimal) anthropological content, so I decided to post it here. Sorry for the digression from my normal topics.

Bunny is in preschool this year, so I've been exposed to the public school party-line for the first time since my own childhood. I was struck by this year's St. Patrick's day celebration, or, as every preschooler I've met this year calls it, "Leprechaun Day". Last month, the kids were making hearts and valentines and lists of people they love. This month, Bunny brought home a string of leprechauns and shamrocks. When asked if she knew who St. Patrick was, she hazarded, "a leprechaun?"

In case you, too, were taught to celebrate "Leprechaun Day" in school, the original Feast of St. Patrick is in honor of the apostle to the Irish, a 5th century bishop who is credited with converting most of the island and kicking out the pagans. He is associated with the shamrock, which he used as a symbol to teach about the trinity (the three in one, the one in three). There are no leprechauns in his hagiography, however. In Ireland, St. Patrick is celebrated as one of the two patron saints of the country, and his feast day is largely a religious holiday.

When large numbers of Irish came to the United States (along with many of my ancestors), St. Patrick's feast day was transformed into an expression of Irish (and Irish-American) culture and pride. Parades, "Oh, Danny Boy", the wearing of the green, and other manifestations of the St. Patrick's day that we know and love are Irish-American inventions. They stem from wide-spread anger among Irish-Americans about being forced from their country of origin, and at the treatment they received here. While many Irish-Americans assimilated quickly, and others were haunted by the horrors of the past (think A Long Day's Journey Into Night, and, well, just about anything else Eugene O'Neill ever wrote), many Irish-Americans held tight to their ethnic and religious pride.

I grew up in a time and place where St. Patrick's day mattered. People knew and cared about whether they should wear green or orange on St. Patrick's day. But the patterns of celebration have changed, both with the generations and with geography. When I was in college, St. Patrick's day still had a strong current of Irish-Catholic pride (not surprising, given the region had a strong Irish-Catholic population), but was opening to others. I remember a particular St. Patrick's day that I spent with my Irish-Catholic friends, and our good friend from Hawaii, of 100% Japanese descent. (We declared her to be Hawai'irish for the day.)*

From what I see now, St. Patrick's day has been, not so much secularized as popularized, or perhaps democratized. My daughter is being taught about "Leprechaun Day", but the words "Patrick" and "Ireland" are not mentioned at all. What has caused the change? Fewer people are Catholic these days, and more American Catholics are Latino or from another ethnic background that has no particular tie to St. Patrick. Furthermore, my experience with teaching Cultural Anthropology suggests most college-age white Americans have little attachment to Old World ethnic identities. Most of my students self-report their ethnicity as "American", suggesting most Euro-Americans are no longer tied to Irish, Polish, Italian, etc., classifications. We're not located in one of the mixed mega-cities of the West, but rather in an area where there still are ethnically-focused neighborhoods and towns, so I suspect this trend is widespread in the U.S.

But if Irish ethnic identification and Catholic religious observance are both falling, then why is St. Patrick's day bigger than ever? One factor is obvious: if Valentine's day is a "Hallmark holiday", then St. Patrick's day is a "Budweiser holiday". With fewer associations to only one religious and ethnic group, it can be marketed as a major drinking opportunity for people throughout the country. Market forces can drive major alcohol manufacturers to push the holiday, but why should elementary schools jump on that bandwagon?

The schools are using St. Patrick's day (and other secularized religious holidays, like St. Valentine's Day and Halloween) in place of the official religious celebrations that most countries celebrate. I teach my cultural anthropology students that religious celebrations help to forge group identity and create social cohesion by creating a shared symbolism (shamrocks, valentine's hearts, etc.), as well as shared mythology and stories (all the damn leprechaun books). Religious celebrations create a liturgical calendar to help a society organize and make meaning of time. Since we are, technically, a nation that separated church and state**, we cannot celebrate "real" religious holidays, so our children are given these secularized, democratized versions instead. I find it a fascination example of the ways religious observation can be changed to fit the needs of the society.

*As a total aside: That was the one and only time I ever saw a John Wayne movie, (The Quiet Man, in honor of the day.) I have since wondered if the movie was really as funny as I remember it, or if it was just our state of inebriation.

**I recognize that all of these "secularized" holidays are from the Christian tradition. Even with the overtly Christian spiritual elements removed, I'm not sure how "non-religious" it is celebrate saints' days and high feasts of the Catholic church, often in ways that hark back to the European pagan antecedents of these holidays. That just goes to show how impossible it is to treat religion as a completely separate social institution.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

elephants among us

Another interesting example of human/animal relationships:

Archaeologists are to dig up the garden of a Ceredigion pub in the search for a legendary Victorian circus elephant.

The Tregaron Elephant has long had its place in local folklore - a beast that died while on tour rumoured to be buried behind the town's Talbot Hotel....
The elephant was said to have fallen ill after drinking contaminated water in the town in 1848.

Dr Jemma Bezant of the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology is heading it up. She said: "This story belongs to the community of Tregaron and the project will involve local people in gathering local evidence and histories as well as providing the opportunity to engage in some pilot archaeological excavation.

John Watkin, part-owner of The Talbot, said the legend was "very important" to local people....Local poet Iorwerth Glyndwr is said to have written an "englyn" - a short Welsh poem - on the death, which read: "Oh vain man, neither you nor I can avoid death. The grave is the end of us all."

I'm most interested in the relationship people in Ceredigion had with the elephant after it died. It's celebrated in local history (and traditional poetry), and becomes part of the identity of the town. 160 years later, they're still talking about "the time the elephant died at the hotel."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

more on race

Here's some more detail on one of the activities I use to teach race. It's called "Race is in the cards", and it comes from Strategies in Teaching Anthropology (Graber 2000).

I made "decks" of cards, four cards to a deck. On each card, I drew a stick figure. In each deck, two of the figures are short, and two are tall. In each deck, two of the figures have curly hair, and two have straight. In each deck, two of the figures are drawn with an orange crayon (technically, the crayon was named "mac n' cheese"), and two are drawn in purple ("purple mountain majesty").

Here's the difference: In one deck (marked "c", for concordant), the traits are correlated. That is, the curly-haired figures are all short and orange, while the straight-haired figures are all tall and purple. In the other deck (marked "d" for discordant), the traits are not correlated. So, there is one figure with curly hair and a short, orange body, while another figure with curly hair is purple and tall, etc., etc. The students are given the two decks, and asked to create "races" from them. In one case, this is easy. In the other, it's hard, because any choice they make will be arbitrary. The idea is to convince students that dividing discordant physical variation is arbitrary, and based on social rules, not biological ones.

This exercise only works for about half the students, even though we talk through it in great detail. The other half write the damnedest things when asked to reflect on the exercise. I get some truly bizarre answers (like, "this exercise shows the racial prejudices of our country." Yes, that's so true. When, oh when, will we ever see a mac n' cheese colored president?!) Most of the students who "go wrong", though, seem to have gotten caught up by the color issue. They assume that color is the only way to divide figures into races (that's what we do, right?), and therefore, they don't really get what I'm trying to say, other than "gee, the different races are more diverse in deck "d" than in deck "c"."

I've decided to change this exercise next year, and use plain black stick figures on a white background. The third variable be something unrelated to color, like squiggly bellies, or something. I hope that will help get the point across more effectively.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

another year, another race failure

Every year, I spend a significant amount of time talking about race in my introductory classes (both BioAnth and Cultural). The focus is different in each, but I get up in front of the class and do a song and dance. I have them read multiple articles and the textbook, and I do a couple in-class activities where they look at human biodiversity in a hands-on manner. The major point I try to get across is that any division of human diversity into racial categories is arbitrary. Since different cultures make different arbitrary choices about the physical characteristics that define racial groups, clearly race is a socially-defined characteristic.

It's such a simple concept, but every year I fail to get this point across to at least half the class. It's not that they disagree with me. I would be disappointed, but not a failure, if half the students said "Yeah, whatever. You can say it's arbitrary, but look how skin color correlates with certain facial features and hair texture, etc., so no matter what you say, I'm going to believe there are significant physical differences between the races, and those are scientifically viable."

What students actually say is whatever their kindergarten teacher taught them along the lines of "we're all the same under the skin", or (cringe-worthy) "I don't see color and physical differences." But when asked "why do anthropologists say race is a socially defined characteristic?" half of the students give answers that show they have absolutely no understanding of my argument, whatsoever. They say things like "because we base racial categories on language, customs, dress, and other social traits." (Uh, we do? What country are you living in?) Or they repeat their elementary school lessons about égalité and fraternité in such a way that shows they have no comprehension of the biological differences or similarities between populations. Clearly, they think that's what I want to hear,a chorus of Kumbaya around the anthropological campfire.

I believe this to be one of the most critical topics that anthropologists can teach to the world, but I'm utterly failing to get through. Any ideas? Anyone else finding a way to teach this concept?

(Obviously, I'm in the middle of grading assignments about race. Depressing.)

Monday, March 14, 2011


Here's a funny list of the rubber stamps every professor needs while grading freshmen comp papers. I thought of a few I'd like for intro to anthro classes:

You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Yes, I'm sure living in a tribal society sounds lovely and idyllic to a pampered, white, middle-class child of 21st century America, but I prefer to have dentists and avoid marriage at 15, thanks.

Please look up the definition of "cultural naïveté".

The vast majority of undergraduate essays are improved by removing the first sentence.

Why would I have asked the question, if the answer were that simple?

Yes, I'm grading right now. Why do you ask?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

weekly accountability: March 6-12

Pumpkin was home with croup at the beginning of the week, after being sick all weekend. Monday we could handle it, although the hand-off between Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's 9:15-10:20 class, and my 10:30-11:35 class was a bit tight. Tuesday I teach from 8-2, and I had office hours I could not cancel that afternoon, since I was giving an exam Thursday. So, I did what any bad mother would do, and loaded Pumpkin up with ibuprofen and sent him to daycare, praying we wouldn't get a call because his fever came back. He was fussy and overtired all week, but he was able to stay in daycare. (guilt, guilt)

I made a dent in my grading pile this week, and I taught all my classes, and I have declared victory.

But now it's Spring Break, baby! I haven't been this excited about spring break since I was an undergrad. I'm going to get completely caught up with my (embarrassingly large piles of) grading. I'm going to write both of my SAA papers. I'm going to write a couple small grant proposals. And, I'm going to have some honest-to-God downtime. I am going to take a long hot bath some afternoon while the kids are at daycare (assuming the croup-y cough that Bunny has developed doesn't keep her home.) I'm going to enjoy some creative hobbies. I'm going to have fun!

Yay, Spring Break!!!!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Torres Straights repatriation

I thought this was an interesting story about the repatriation of Torres Straights remains from the London Museum of Natural History. It seems a remarkably positive solution for both sides:

The institution said that, after 18 months of discussion with the [Torres Straight Islander] community and the Australian Government, a compromise route had been found.

All will work together to agree how responsibility for the remains will be transferred and how they will be cared for and accessed for future study on their return.

"I would like to think we can grow this relationship with the Natural History Museum," said [Torres Straight islander spokesman] Mr David.

"Without making any commitments, what I can say is that in the process of dealing with repatriation I have learnt that there may well be developments in the scientific field that will assist all of us - perhaps, more so my people than anyone else."

To strengthen ties and build confidence, the London institution has offered a placement to a Torres Strait Islander to help it understand better the culture of indigenous peoples and to share with them the insights and benefits that come from the study of ancient remains.

Of course, as Dr. Mr. Palimpsest pointed out, negotiations may have been easier between the Torres Straight islanders and the museum in London, than they would have been between the islanders and the Australian government. I don't know enough about the history of colonial contact on the Torres Islands, but proximity probably counts for something, and not necessarily positively.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

update on family friendly policies

I mentioned in an earlier post that Tiny U implemented a new policy to keep families from accompanying faculty who are teaching Summer Programs off campus (like Study Abroad, fieldschools, etc.) I wrote a memo of (respectful) protest, and got most of the faculty who had led summer programs in the last decade to sign it.

The response was both good and...less good. On the good side: family members can now accompany faculty on summer programs, as long as a) their presence is disclosed; b) they don't cost the university any money; c) they sign a legal waiver; and d)there are contingency plans in place for any personal problems that may crop up.

Mission Accomplished!!

Before I put on the flight suit and bound across the flight deck to declare victory, however, I want to mention the less good aspects of the situation.

I had a meeting with the Academic Vice President (AVP), and her responses to this issue makes it clear that she's willing to work with us (yay!) but she doesn't really "get it". For example, she expressed concern that if an accompanying child was hospitalized, then the faculty member may not be willing to move on to the next leg of a study abroad trip. I responded that it wouldn't matter if my children accompanied me to the field or not; if one of my kids was hospitalized, even back in Tiny Town, I'd be on the next flight home. Her response? "I'm nervous about letting you take our students abroad, if you tell me that your first priority would be to your own kids, and you'd just abandon the students and run straight home."

Here's the thing: My students are a great responsibility, and I take that seriously, but my children are my life. They will always come first. If that's a problem, then I shouldn't be teaching at all, end of story. In fact, no parent should be teaching, and particularly no mothers without stay-at-home spouses. Are we honestly saying that no woman with kids should be allowed in the workplace? I didn't think so!

There were some additional tidbits during the conversation that concerned me. For example, the AVP expressing some concern that faculty would have to choose between the health and welfare of their own children and of the students. It's an argument against parents, made by someone who has never been a parent. First of all, there's nothing to choose. Of course I would pick my children, if I had to make some kind of Sophie's Choice on a study abroad trip (at which point, we would all have a lot more things to worry about than whether or not an unpaid spouse is in tow!) But that idea is ludicrous. Short of landing in the middle of complete chaos, there are backup plans and safety nets for all of our study abroad programs. Nobody expresses concern that the faculty member would have to make a difficult choice between her own health and welfare and those of her students. Why would a parent's choice be so much more problematic?

Annoyances aside, this was a substantial victory for family-friendly policy at Tiny U. I'm thrilled.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

call and response lectures

I've mentioned before that my own education was entirely at large, state schools. Here at Tiny U, a premium is put on small classes and lots of student-teacher interaction. At first, I didn't know how to teach except by lecturing. I still feel more comfortable with structured discussions than with free-ranging talks in my upper-division seminars. In intro courses with 60-70 people, I try to include a lot of in-class activities, but I still need to lecture. (Actually, one of my colleagues teaches such courses without ever lecturing, and I have no idea how she manages it. I'll have to sit in on one of her courses some day.)

In an attempt to make my classes more interactive, I've moved toward a style of lecture that I (inaccurately) name "call and response". This type of lecture works well for me, because it has a great deal of structure (so I feel comfortable, and know that I'll cover the material), but it allows students more of a role in the class. Here's an example from one of my recent Intro to Cultural Anth classes:

Me: This week's topic is gender. First, can someone tell me what is the difference between sex and gender? [I write "sex" and "gender" on the board]

Student 1: Um, sex is what you're born with, and gender is your self-identification?

Me: OK, sex is what you're born with. [I write "born with" on the board next to "sex"] In what way? Could someone expand on that?

You get the idea. I extract a definition that I'm happy with, then go on to define some more complex vocabulary, and to discuss gender roles, giving examples that are not from their books. After that, I open it up again:

Me: How do we learn what gender roles our culture expects of us?

Student 1: From our parents? [I write "parents" on the board]

Student 2: From schools? [ditto]

etc., etc.

Me: What about in other cultures? In the ethnographies we've read, Nisa and Guests of the Sheik, how were children and adults taught about their appropriate gender roles?

I like to finish each section of lecture with a more open-ended question, one that isn't merely students providing examples or definitions in support of my lecture goals. For example, when we talked about sexuality, I asked them what they thought about the relative importance of genetics and environment for determining sexual orientation. We had a good discussion, and one that brought in a lot of the examples from their textbook and from lecture.

This lecture style keeps more of the students more involved. On the other hand, it decreases the amount of material I can cover. If I wasn't under significant pressure to move away from a lecture format, I probably wouldn't make this change. I'm not sure it improves the learning, or if so it only affects some of the students. Given the requirements of this university, though, it seems like a nice compromise with which I'm very comfortable.

Monday, March 7, 2011

cuba libre, anyone?

I may be working in the wrong region.

Seriously, though, this article raised a lot of ethical questions. Who is running and funding this excavation, and where are the artifacts going? Why does a liquor company believe they are getting the cannons from this ship, and what role should advertising deals play in archaeology?

On the other hand, at this point in winter, I'd be willing to sell my professional soul for a trip to the Caribbean. No more than two more months of snow to go... bleh

Sunday, March 6, 2011

weekly accountability: March 6-12

Only one preschool late start this week, and nobody was ill, so I managed to make a dent in my pile of grading, despite taking on a new class this week. I'm still behind, but I see the end of the tunnel.

Unfortunately, Pumpkin has croup, or something croup-like. Hopefully, it will be mild, and this isn't the beginning of another wave of illness to sweep through our family. My students were giving presentations on various regions of Latin America this week, and all I could think was "let's go!" I am so over winter.

2 weeks to spring break. If nothing else, I can get my SAA paper done!

Friday, March 4, 2011


This article discusses on-going research on prehistoric caribou hunting in the Great Lakes area. I'll admit to some skepticism that we can learn more from the "virtual caribou" than we would from a good topographic map and common sense. (Aren't they just looking for natural bottlenecks and drive points?) But, I was struck by the mention of rock piles and other features that mark formal drives. I'm familiar with drive features on the Great Plains, or the "desert kites" of the eastern deserts of the Levant. I associated these features with wide open environments, and assumed they were most effective there. Now it appears that association may just be a preservation/recognition bias. Drive features are more visible in open landscapes with few people, and are less likely to have been destroyed. Now, as researchers look at the preserved landscapes under Lake Huron, they're finding drive features there, as well.

It made me wonder where else we should expect drive features. What about the area around Cahokia, for example? There are pits at Cahokia with huge numbers of deer, all apparently hunted at more or less the same time. Were there drives along the Mississippi? Can deer be driven in that way? What about woodland bison? Unfortunately, a few rock cairns are unlikely to be recognized beneath modern St. Louis, if they survived at all.

Where else might we expect drives?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

inspiration and perspiration

I really enjoyed this post, over at Daily Science Professor, about student approaches to exam preparation. It reminded me of something that I forget from time to time, although I often say it to my colleagues: Academics are (by and large) at a disadvantage as teachers because we were all good students.

None of us got where we are without having an uncommon level of devotion to our studies. I know some academics who only had this devotion to their own field, but as undergrads, most of us worked very hard in all classes, because we were good students and would have been embarrassed to fail, or even to be average. This causes two problems in our teaching:

1) We have a hard time understanding that some students don't care about their grades. Seriously, my first semester teaching I cringed every time I assigned a sub-B grade. I thought the poor student would be devastated! To my surprise, some students were thrilled to get Cs. This attitude is hard for me to understand, and I had to re-think my approach to the classroom, to draw in students who don't care about getting As.

2) We figured out the "tricks" to being a good student so long ago that we don't consciously know what they are. Therefore, we have trouble teaching them to our students. That's why I think the DPS post is so good - it's a reminder of the basics, which many of us don't remember learning. For example, it never occurs to me that students believe they are failing at a subject because they aren't "smart", when the truth is they need to work harder. Edison was right: success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I remember learning that from a high school math teacher, the first person who told me that there is no such thing as a "math brain".* My failure or success as a math student would hinge on my willingness to put in the work. I already knew I could be successful at every other subject, if I put in the effort. Not all of our students, however, do know that, and it's critical that we explain both the necessity and the rewards of hard work.

*I won't go into the topic of gender bias in math instruction, and whether or not I would have been told I didn't have a "math brain", if I'd been male. That's a topic for a different post, or possibly a different blog.