Over the past six weeks I’ve been taking an online course on the history of libraries. The final project included a choice between writing a scholarly paper, creating an interactive timeline/infographic, or building a website. I chose the latter and was able to find some great resources at the Indiana State Library that helped provide a focus for my topic, which ended up being the Public Library Commission of Indiana, a government organization that existed from 1899-1925.
While the final product may not look like much to some, it actually involved hours upon hours of research, writing and rewriting drafts, finding suitable pictures/a website template and background, and working with code on WordPress and Google Maps. Writing a “scholarly paper” probably would have actually been easier, most likely, but I like building digital products. I think I’m getting better at this whole digital history thing (whatever that means) and overall, I’m pretty pleased with the final product.
You can check out my website on the Public Library Commission of Indiana here. Any sort of constructive criticism or feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Part 1 is here.
In another article on Bill Gates and philanthropy, Siobhan Stevenson points out that between 1998-2004, the Gates foundation installed 47,200 internet-ready PCs in 11,000 libraries and trained 62,000 librarians in this work across the U.S. Of course, the hardware and software provided to these libraries was made by Microsoft. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, some critics have called out Gates and Microsoft for their vocal opposition to the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) movement, which the Gates foundation has described as “communist” and “un-American.” Gates also wrote an infamous letter in 1976 in which he criticized those who were copying and sharing his Altair BASIC program. Those who believed that “hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share” were wrong, according the Gates.
Richard Stallman has been particularly critical of Gates. In 2003 he argued that the digital divide (the split between those who have access to digital information/technology and those who don’t) was largely due to Gates and “the culture surrounding proprietary software,” including copyright, patenting, and trademarks. By refusing to make Microsoft software free and open access/code, Gates created “artificial obstacles to the sharing of information” that perpetuated the digital divide. In another article, Stallman further explained that “Microsoft’s software is distributed under licenses that keep users divided and helpless. The users are divided because they are forbidden to share copies with anyone else. The users are helpless because they don’t have the source code that programmers can read and change.” For example, libraries wanting to educate their patrons on how to better use computers are forbidden from sharing software with those patrons. With libraries now receiving budget cuts around the country, they are often unable to pay the costs for fixing, upgrading, and sharing Microsoft software. As digital technology takes a more dominant presence in public libraries, the need to understand the debates on copyright, patents, and open access to information becomes heightened.
Access to academic publishing should also be a serious concern to all public librarians. Academic publishing contributes important ideas and knowledge to society, but who has access to this information? The funding for academic publishing endeavors comes mostly from two sources: public tax dollars and private donations to public universities. These published articles are then placed in online databases like JSTOR, EBSCO, and ProQuest. However, in order to access these databases, libraries have to pay steep prices. For example, the Faculty Advisory Council at Harvard University wrote in 2012 that the cost for access to academic journals online was nearing $3.75 million.
While college students are able to access these articles through their university’s subscription to these databases, many public libraries cannot afford these costs. Thus, the general public is blocked out of access to these articles, even though their tax dollars have been used to help fund their creation. Private donations to universities are used to support the academic advancement of those who can afford to attend college only. Scientists, historians, artists, and other academics/students not associated with an academic institution are left behind, unable to access the newest research, ideas, and knowledge in their fields of interest. While public libraries continue to provide open access to print technologies such as books, magazines, journals, etc., (and rightfully so), those wanting to learn about a given topic in their free time on a computer–whether that computer is in the public library, or if a public library’s website is being accessed at home–are limited in what sort of material they will able to find online.
By taking questions of philanthropy and open access seriously, librarians are able to situate themselves in a better position to understand the changing nature of their profession. Philanthropy within the public library setting, according to Siobhan Stevenson, challenges us to “ensure that the community’s needs are the priority, and not those of the philanthropist.”
Regarding open access, Hugh Rundle reminds us that “open access matters because it frees up the spread of ideas and knowledge. When a person looking for answers can’t access the information they need because they don’t have a university card, don’t work in a university and don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, humanity is poorer for it.” By devising ways to enhance access to digital content in public libraries, “librarians can finally forget about selection and concentrate on discovery… collections are there to be used, and your job is to make sure they can be used. That means making information easy to access. It means helping to make it visible. It means assisting people not just to access the information that is available, but to find connections. The future is an exciting place. Let’s go there, but let’s make sure it really is open to everyone.” These poignant remarks remind us why libraries are vitally important to societies around the world and why many of us choose to pursue careers in the field of library science. What are the best methods for inspiring a love for learning in library clients? It is clear to me that finding ways to share and spread information–not locking it up–is one important path towards fostering such a love.
I am taking an online course on the history of libraries this summer. I was recently given an assignment to analyze the changing functions of libraries in the 21st century. I used that assignment to share my thoughts on philanthropy and open access, and I feel like my final written product is appropriate for the theme of this blog. Keep in mind that much of this discussion is me “thinking out loud,” as I am still learning about open access myself. Unfortunately, the main article that I referenced for this assignment is stuck behind a paywall, ironically. So unless you have a pass to a university library/JSTOR, you’re out of luck. Here we go:
A wealthy and popular entrepreneur donates a large sum of money to their favorite charity. An alumnus of a prestigious school contributes funds to have a new dorm room built. Bill Gates donates millions of dollars to a library philanthropy program in 1997. Throughout U.S. history, philanthropy has been an important factor in the making of American culture. In a country that has maintained a lassiez-faire relationship with its government for most of its existence, the donations of America’s elite have contributed to the creation of universities, libraries, bike trails, sports teams, charities, and many other cultural institutions. Generally speaking, such philanthropic endeavors have received praise from the rest of American society, and today the most wealthy are almost expected to give up at least a part of their funds for such projects.
While still acknowledging that much good comes from philanthropy, my experiences in graduate school over the past year have challenged me to look at philanthropy with a more critical eye. In sum, large financial donations by wealthy elites oftentimes reflect the ideas, beliefs, and values of those making the donations, not those receiving the donations. When we hear of philanthropic endeavors, we must always ask ourselves, “what’s in it for those making the donation? How are they benefitting from this?” With regards to philanthropy and libraries, we must always ensure that the central promise of libraries–free and open access for all to the information they want–remains unchanged and untarnished, especially as the advent of new digital technologies challenges all librarians to become literate in new mediums of information sharing.
In her article on library philanthropy [again, paywalled. Sorry], Siobhan Stevenson analyzes the words and actions of Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who contributed his own personal funds to help build libraries throughout the United States and the world around the turn of the twentieth century. She then attempts to use this analysis to compare Carnegie to Microsoft co-creator Bill Gates, who has recently contributed large sums of money to help bring software and internet connectivity to libraries around the world. Stevenson takes what could be considered a “Marxist approach” to Carnegie’s “political economy.” She suggests that Carnegie’s donations reflect a larger effort amongst wealthy industrial capitalists to wield control over the labor class of America (237-240). These wealthy capitalists expressed great concern over who would have the authority to control American society in an age of rapid social and economic change: who would control the government? Who would control the factories? Who would define the parameters of “the labor question”? Who would control the types of information (and access to that information) in these newly built libraries?
Stevenson then points out that “the class battle” extended itself into the press and printed word. Capitalists like Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and the Vanderbilt family took to writing to promote their views on capitol and labor. Labor leaders also took to writing, with roughly seventeen monthly journals, 400 weeklies, and several pro-labor daily publications in circulation by the 1880s (241).
Seen in this light, Carnegie’s speeches at his library dedications take on a deeper meaning, one that reflects the tensions of the debate on industrial capitalism during that time period. By building libraries, Carnegie hoped to increase the sharing of knowledge, information, and literacy throughout America, but only through specifically defined terms set by Carnegie himself. At a library dedication speech in 1889, he explained that the laboring classes could benefit from a better understanding of the “economic laws which hold the capitalist in their relentless grasp.” Furthermore, “in any questions of mechanics or any question of chemistry, any question of furnace practice, you will find the records of the world at your disposal.” Such information, Carnegie believed, was more important than studying “an ignorant past,” i.e. Greek or Latin language or culture, “which are no more practical use than Choctaw” (244-245). Carnegie hoped his libraries would help foster a more informed and literate populace, but the definition of “literacy” became one of understanding economic laws and machinery so as to understand, acknowledge, and comply with Carnegie’s capitalist ideology. It would be very interesting to analyze the library collections of a Carnegie library at the turn of the twentieth century. Did their collections include works from prominent labor leaders? Did these libraries truly create a culture of open access to all information for its clients?
Without explicitly saying so, Stevenson concludes her article by suggesting that the recent philanthropic endeavors of Bill Gates towards public libraries around the world require a more critical analysis and discussion from librarians (252-253). By providing additional funds to install computers and internet connectivity to public libraries around the world, does the Gates foundation actually promote open access in public libraries, or are there ulterior motives at play?
Part 2 comes tomorrow…
It’s Sunday. The government is watching you and me. But this sounds like fun:
— Ian Bogost (@ibogost) June 9, 2013
- Marc-William Palen provides some neat insights into “The Great Civil War Lie.” The lie, of course, is that supporters of the Confederacy attempted to secede from the United States largely because of unfair tariffs waged by the federal government onto Southern businesses, more specifically the Morrill Tariff. At the time, British onlookers of the Civil War were fed a narrative that placed secession after the passage of the Morrill Tariff, but it was actually passed while James Buchanan was President, before secession occurred. Thanks to the blessings of digital technology, we can now see that at least one state that attempted to secede seemed to have something else on their collective minds.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that people need to take ownership of their education. I find this article really refreshing. We hear so much about hard work, but it’s meaningless if we don’t have any dreams and aspirations or if the end goal is to simply pass a test.
- The Common Core standards tests are coming, but “Americans know more about the events in Benghazi than they do about the Common Core.” Yikes.
- Most students who attend community college with the intention of completing a four year degree fail to do so. Roughly 80% in fact. I never attended community college, but I know friends who did and ran into the same problems described in the article.
- I have been reading content on Civil War Memory, Crossroads, and Dead Confederates for years. Leslie Madsen-Brooks has been following those blogs as well, and she creates an excellent bit of scholarship from the content of those websites that challenges historians in many way. In the digital age, who can call themselves a historian, and how do professional historians extend their scholarly endeavors to the broader public? Should historians focus on answering their own questions of the past, or should they be working harder to answer the questions lay audiences ask?
- Can you read this all the way through? Most people won’t.
- Earlier this week I helped lead a tour group through a historic bar crawl of downtown Indianapolis. Indiana Humanities put on the event, and it was a blast. The event sold out and plans are already being discussed for doing it again next year.
- Tomorrow at the Indiana State House I will be playing my first musical gig of the year. One time not very long ago I was playing out almost every weekend with various groups, so it’s a bit weird not playing out live for six months. I’ve been practicing though. Anyway, on June 9, 1913, [I originally wrote June 13. My Bad!] the bust of Col. Richard Owen was dedicated at the State House. Tomorrow we are having a 100th anniversary re-dedication of the bust, and I was asked to play Civil War songs on upright bass. I’ve never done this before, but I think it will go fine. You can read more about the event here.
Until next time…
When I was in undergrad, I was sometimes taught by adjunct faculty. At the time, the personal story of one of my adjunct professors had really intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about it even more recently. For the sake of privacy, I’ll refer to this person as Professor X.
Professor X is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, and X is well respected for his/her playing abilities around the nation. X attended prestigious music schools around the country, including UCLA (and Berkley, I think). Failing to find a job after obtaining a PhD, X worked for several years in construction, playing music on the side and waiting for an opportunity to teach at an academic institution. Around 2009, an adjunct position finally opened at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, leading Professor X to St. Louis to teach. Since X was an adjunct, he/she was forced to find employment at many universities around the area to make ends meet, constantly struggling to find classes to teach and students to work with for private lessons. I honestly don’t know how many schools X taught at, but it was at least four or five, including mine.
For the 2010-2011 academic year, Professor X earned a full time spot at my undergrad institute, which made me very happy at the time, as I felt that the position was well earned. Unfortunately, Professor X later came to the realization that teaching full time was not what he/she wanted to do, and Professor X is now gone. I have no idea where X is now, but I wish him/her the best.
At the time, I believed that X’s status as an adjunct was something of an anomaly. Most academic students who desire to teach at the college level, I believed, were able to do so, even though they may have to move to middle-of-nowhere, USA. Some were forced to be adjuncts, but most eventually got that full time position that they so earnestly desired. If you worked hard, showed a lot of passion, and made a difference in the classroom, things would go your way.
Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out the picture is way more complex than I understood it as a young undergrad. It turns out that many who desire to teach at the college level never get the chance to teach full time, regardless of subject. Professor X’s story is probably really mild compared to others who have tried to break into the field. Some tenured academics like William Pannapacker have even suggested that getting a PhD–especially in the humanities–is a mistake. Another article I recently read presents some facts that I find absolutely shocking. To wit:
- At some Washington DC universities, only 4% of the budget goes towards faculty pay and instruction. At many schools across the country, state support is getting cut, leading to a reliance on private donations and student tuition to meet budgetary requirements. Most of these funds are going towards the salaries of a rising number of administrators, tech support, people involved with athletics, and fundraising staff. Lots of that money also goes towards fancy new stadiums and campus amenities like cafeterias and dorms.
- Most adjuncts make between $2,000-$3,000 per course they teach, without benefits. Many are on food stamps.
- 75% of the faculty workforce in higher ed is composed of adjuncts.
Higher Education, despite what you may hear on daytime television commercials or internet ads, is a business. Whether a public or private institution, it’s a business, and I think we are starting to see how badly we need to restructure things. I am glad to see that more adjuncts are using their voices in protest against this immoral system. Some have also decided to leave for good, and it’s hard to blame them. Consider this letter from Professor M. I am going to quote the letter in full here, but make sure to check the link to see the article, its comments, and a collection of other stories about life as an adjunct. Here we go:
Dear College and University Presidents and Boards:
I can’t claim I did not know what I was getting myself into; I had been an adjunct for over fifteen years when I decided to become one full-time. That was five years ago and as I face one class each per two schools where there used to be three or four, and as my husband and I face foreclosure on our home of ten years, I realize that my assumption that I could become full-time faculty (or at least make a decent living wage) was wrong.
My students like me, my full-time faculty adjunct schedulers like me, the dean likes me when he needs a special favor (like a last minute assignment, or an independent study for the boyfriend of the daughter of a college VP) but no one likes me enough to give me the wage, respect and resources I deserve.
Adjuncts, or contingent faculty, are carrying the education system in this country. The colleges and universities have been surviving and profiting on the backs of people like me for too long. I have decided I am through. I don’t know what that means for me or what will happen, but I can’t do it anymore. Unpaid summers are too long and life is too short. I know I am a good teacher; I also know I can’t give all that I should when I have so much resentment against the institutions.
I have been asked to participate in an accreditation self-study, for free naturally, but I feel no obligation to help them out. Do I care if they lose accreditation? No, they do not care that I lost my home. We are not working together to enrich and enhance our student’s experiences and give them the best education we can – admin wants to bleed me dry for as little as possible and I want them to break their metaphorical arms patting themselves on the back for that new building, office wing, stadium, or at their conferences, or “team building” retreats. I share an office with I don’t know how many people, I can’t afford to attend conferences, I buy my own computers, my own printer ink, my own flash drives, my own gas driving from one campus to another, etc.
I’m done; you win – on to your next victim. You got five full-time years and fifteen part-time, all while someone else paid for my health insurance and a salary I could live off of. Good luck with that accreditation or the next one, your house of cards is wobbling and will topple because you have built no foundation for your institution.
What does it matter, you don’t know my name anyway.
Is this the best we can do at our institutions of higher learning?
I would surmise that one of the reasons that the myth of Jaco Pastorius has grown so large in the music world is because of the nature of his death. Yes, he died young, but he didn’t die because of his drug or alcohol habit; he died at the hands of a 25 year old bouncer who laid out a savage beatdown on him. The story itself is tragic, but what is equally tragic is that it is an unresolved story. Was Jaco on the verge of turning the corner and beginning the process of returning to greatness, or was this untimely end to be expected? It’s something we will never solve.
Reading about the beatdown was as bad as anything I’ve read in a book about the Civil War. Luc Havan, the bouncer who ended Jaco’s life, was trained in martial arts and held a third degree black belt in karate. On the night of this incident, Jaco had tried to the kick in a glass door at Midnight Bottle Club and may have said something derogatory towards Havan, but when Havan started throwing punches, Jaco gave up without any resistance. This is how it went down (from Milkowski, p. 264):
[Jaco's] skull had been fractured; several facial bones were fractured; his right eye was ruptured and dislodged from its socket; and there was massive internal bleeding. The beating was so intense that Jaco’s teeth went through his lips, and Havan’s ring was imprinted on Jaco’s cheek. There was also heavy bleeding from Jaco’s ear, nose, and mouth. [I'll also add that had Jaco lived, he would have permanently lost the use of his right eye and his left arm, according to his doctors.]
In a sworn affidavit, Detective David C. Jones reported the following testimony from Havan:
In a sworn statement by defendant Havan, Pastorius began to kick the front door of the bottle club. Havan opened the door and Pastorius fled. Havan struck Pastorius with his right hand, causing Pastorius to fall and become unconscious. Havan turned from Pastorius and walked away, leaving him unconscious.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Jones called bull:
Doctors said, “Sure, he could have received those injuries in a fall–if he fell five or six or seven times”… Both doctors agreed it was unlikely that Pastorius’s injuries were the result of a fall.
Havan ended up serving only four months in prison for this crime. In a 2006 interview, Havan continued to stick with his “one punch” story, claiming that that lone punch hit Jaco in the left temple (no mention is made of the imprint from Havan’s ring on Jaco’s cheek). Havan stated:
That’s where I admitted to hitting him, and that’s where he got hit. But his major fracture was on the right side when he fell. The other side of his head hit the ledge by the door. A person who wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict but was of average health would have recuperated, because it wasn’t that bad of an injury… But because he was in bad health living on the street and not eating a good diet, it made it worse.
I’ll let you decide whether or not having your eye dislodged out of its socket isn’t “that bad of an injury.”
Havan concluded with this:
[Havan] hasn’t made an attempt to apologize to the family since his time in court, saying he doesn’t want to bother them after his first attempt was rebuffed. “The apology is as much to apologize to them as to make me feel better,” he says. “Dealing with life after being involved with this is as important as their loss.”
I certainly understand the guilt that Havan must feel from this tragedy. The dude is now 50 and he must live with the memories of that night for the rest of his life. Ultimately, he will have to answer for his actions to his maker someday, so in that regard I don’t support heaping more scorn onto Havan. He may be a perfectly normal, law-abiding citizen. Perhaps he now has his own family to raise. I don’t know. However, I can’t help but think that this guy doesn’t get it. He is still trying to absolve himself of this crime, and I find the rationalizations made in this 2006 interview pitiful. Jaco started it, so I finished it. I tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen to me, so I took the problem into my own hands without calling others for help. Jaco died because he was unhealthy; anybody could have recovered from those injuries. I tried making an apology to the Pastorius family after trying to shift the blame for Jaco’s death onto Jaco himself. They didn’t accept my apology, so I’m not going to do anything else to rectify the situation now.
Jaco Pastorius had four kids. Following Havan’s release from jail, Ingrid Pastorius, Jaco’s second wife, remarked that “he served one month for each child he left fatherless.” Was justice served in this instance?
I’d say no way.
As I’ve mentioned before, music is my twin passion with history. I couldn’t live without one or the other. Lately, I’ve been wanting to read more about music, so when I got an Amazon giftcard way back at Christmas time, I promptly bought Bill Milkowski’s work on the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius, Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius. I finished reading it a few months ago, but have just now gotten around to writing about it.
Pastorius (1951-1987) was a world famous bassist who gained prominence in the 1970s and 80s for his work as a member of Weather Report and as a solo artist. He also played with guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Joni Mitchell, and a slew of other artists. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Jaco’s bass playing was revolutionary. He was one of the first electric bassists to play without frets, which gave his bass a warm tone that made it sound almost like an upright bass. He broke all the boundaries of conventional bass playing and turned the instrument into a melodic, expressive instrument that captivated musicians of all types. Furthermore, he played EVERYTHING: Jazz, R&B, Rock, Reggae, you name it. I can’t help but think that if Jaco was around today he’d be playing bass on hip-hop and electronic albums. In sum, his influence is everywhere in the bass and music community.
The quality of this video is not great, but wow, Jaco rips it here. And he moves around like a crazy man.
Oh, and his son is pretty good too. This is long, but a great jam.
There was a dark side to Jaco, however. During his days with Weather Report he began drinking to excess and doing coke. Fans wanting to be seen with the “greatest bass player in the world” would enable such behavior by giving him free drugs and alcohol, which would trigger his bi-polar disorder that was eventually diagnosed in 1982. By the mid-1980s, Jaco was almost completely out of music, living on the streets of New York City and panhandling for money. When Jaco wasn’t sober, he was often violent and/or manipulative. During the dark years he burned his bridge with almost every fellow musician or family member who tried to help him. In the wee hours of September 12, 1987, Jaco, after trying to get into a bar called the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida, was beaten into a coma by a 25 year old bouncer named Luc Havan. After remaining in a coma for several days, Jaco died on September 21 at the age of 35.
When writing a biography, historians employ the use of primary sources such as letters, diaries and interviews to craft a story and provide a context in which to place their subject. Prior to purchasing Jaco, I looked forward to perusing the book for Jaco’s “primary sources” to gain an better understanding of him, in his own words. In this regard, I was disappointed. The book has no footnotes or citations, and Jaco’s own voice is rarely used in the book. Rather, the narrative utilizes hundreds of interviews with Jaco’s contemporaries–fellow musicians, childhood friends, and relatives–to tell the story. Considering the fact that Milkowski is a professional journalist and not a historian, this makes sense.
Upon further review, however, I realized that this book isn’t a biography, and that’s okay. In reality, it’s a book of memories – what contemporaries remembered about Jaco Pastorius. Our memories evolve over time, but they rarely ever advance, and we see that taking place throughout the book. The interviews don’t necessarily reflect “history” or what “actually happened,” and it would be tough to advance the narrative through historical hypothesis, considering the lack of primary sources to verify such memories. Rather, they portray individual reflections on the meaning of Jaco’s life. Milkowski acts as a sort of editor and provides a chronological format to place the interviews within the context of Jaco’s life.
Throughout the book, we see instances in which the memories of Jaco are contested. Milkowski leaves these conflicts unresolved and leaves the reader to his or her devices to make their own conclusions. Several examples stick out to me. On page 60, we see a conflict as to when Jaco began drinking:
According to [Bob] Economou, it was during this tenure with Ira Sullivan [in 1973] that Jaco got his first serious taste of alcohol. “I remember getting really drunk with Jaco at the Lion’s Share a couple of times,” says Bobby. “But when it happened back then, it just seemed to be a lot of fun. It wasn’t the self-abusive thing it became for him later in his life.” And yet, Sullivan remembers Jaco being “straight as an arrow” during their sting together. “He was a nice young man, a family man. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. All he wanted to do was play the bass, and play baseball or basketball or racquetball. He was always full of energy.”
What actually happened? If Jaco did drink, could we agree with Economou that it wasn’t a “self-abusive thing?” How would he know that? Furthermore, if he did start drinking at that time, what were the larger consequences of such actions? It is left to the reader to decide.
On page 247, we see an incident that took place towards the end of Jaco’s life. His friend and fellow musician Bob Herzog died on June 13, 1987, and Jaco was devastated. During the eulogy, Jaco apparently stormed into the church, sopping wet, and ran down the altar. He then moved the pastor aside and began loudly speaking at the podium before moving to the church organ and playing R&B tunes. Quite strange indeed. In response to this bizarre behavior, Herzog’s mother responded with this:
Some people didn’t know what to make of it. They kept coming up to me and say “I’ll get rid of him if you want me to.” But I said, “No, don’t usher him out. He needs to be here just as much as I do.” Jaco really needed to let all that out. Afterwards, I thought about how much it took for him to get up there and say that in front of all these sad people. I saw strength in Jaco that day. It made me think, “Well, this is it. This is the thing that’s going to scare the shit out of him and get him to pull himself together.” I saw a glimmer of hope there.
Yet Othello Molineaux, another close friend of Jaco’s, had this to say:
Before, there was always that hope in Jaco’s eyes because his soul was burning brightly. We’d look into each other’s eyes and there’d be a definite connection, because he was in tune with his higher self, even in those days when he had psychological problems. But that day at the funeral when I looked into his eyes, he was gone. There was no communication… it was like, “Just leave me alone. I’m outta here.” And from that day, I started to grieve. I could not reel him back in. He was off in another world. You couldn’t get to him through his eyes anymore.”
I find these conflicting memories profound. We have one person who sees this incident as a starting point towards personal redemption, “a glimmer of hope,” and we have one person who sees this behavior as the tipping point towards failure and death. Added to this is the fact that these people are reflecting on this incident years later, when the limits of time and hindsight creep into the narrative.
Milkowski’s book was one of few in my life that satisfied both my musical and historical interests. I highly recommend it.
I have been reading a lot of articles and seeing a lot of online chatter lately about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). For those who are unfamiliar with MOOCs, they refer to large online classes that are sometimes composed of thousands of students all over the world who want to learn more about a specific topic online, ranging from the Emancipation Proclamation to gender roles through comic books. I must admit that I have never taken a MOOC (I am plenty busy with my current course load, but I hope to take one someday), but I know that the general idea is for students to watch a professor’s lectures, read the required readings (if there are any), and take the exams (if there are any). At the end, students receive a certificate of completion.
MOOCs have been around since 2008, but have gained serious attention over the past year or so. Companies such as Coursera and university created programs like edX have popularized the MOOC model and have given people all around the world the opportunity to take an online course through some of the most prestigious schools in the world, including Harvard, MIT, and several others. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has lavishly praised the MOOC model, and to a certain degree he is right. Given the appalling rises in college tuition costs and a weak market for college graduates, the idea of “blending in technology to improve education outcomes in measurable ways at lower costs” is a rational starting point for discussing ways to reform college education, in my opinion.
There have been concerns among many college professors and faculty about MOOCs, however. They have suggested that MOOCs hold the possibility of destroying higher education as we know it. Professors at Amherst College showed concern about putting the Amherst brand name on an certificate of achievement for a MOOC administered by edX. Furthermore, since MOOCs are composed of thousands of students, their work is graded by computers, not actual professors, which also concerned Amherst. Even faculty at Harvard University–one of the co-creators of edX–have voiced their concerns about MOOCs and have called for a committee to review the “ethical issues” connected to them. Some professors have expressed their desire to have more oversight into how MOOCs are used at the college level. Many have also expressed concerns about the possibility of MOOCs being used to cut full time professors and/or decrease the hiring of new professors and replacing them with computer lectures.
So far, the best essay that I’ve seen describing the concerns of college professors came in the form of a letter from the philosophy department of San Jose State University to Michael Sandel, who is mentioned in the aforementioned Friedman article. In it, SJSU faculty state the following:
There is no pedagogical problem in our department that JusticeX [another MOOC program] solves, nor do we have a shortage of faculty capable of teaching our equivalent course. We believe that long-term financial considerations motivate the call for massively open online courses (MOOCs) at public universities such as ours. Unfortunately, the move to MOOCs comes at great peril to our university. We regard such courses as a serious compromise of quality of education and, ironically for a social justice course, a case of social injustice.
In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience, we believe that having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of the in-person lecture/discussion. In addition, purchasing a series of lectures does not provide anything over and above assigning a book to read. We do, of course, respect your work in political philosophy; nevertheless, having our students read a variety of texts, perhaps including your own, is far superior to having them listen to your lectures… what kind of message are we sending our students if we tell them that they should best learn what justice is by listening to the reflections of the largely white student population from a privileged institution like Harvard? Our very diverse students gain far more when their own experience is central to the course and when they are learning from our own very diverse faculty, who bring their varied perspectives to the content of courses that bear on social justice.
I recommend reading the letter in its entirety. It is good.
While admitting that my reading on MOOCs has only recently begun, I have observed thus far a great deficiency in this ongoing debate. As we have seen, many professors have been fairly vocal about their opinions on MOOCs as they relate to the teaching profession and, to a limited degree, the students. But where are the students in this discussion? How have MOOCs impacted their education or their job prospects? What does it mean to have a certificate of completion? Have MOOCs made any impact at all? This article shows us that for many students, learning new material isn’t necessarily the primary goal of taking a MOOC, at least those who are most dedicated to the model. It is also telling that the article is geared towards college professors and what they can learn from “Hardcore” MOOC students and not the other way around.
Well, we finally got an article today from a student who has taken a MOOC. What was the author’s conclusion? MOOCs can be rewarding, exciting, and enlightening, but they do not constitute a real college class. Perhaps before we invest large sums of money into MOOCs, we should consider the needs of students and teachers, whose views should be taken into account well before those of an outside third party company. As MOOC instructor Andy Szegedy-Maszak explains, “I’m pretty sure the current obsession with MOOCs will subside, and, I hope, administrators will then realize that such offerings can enhance but cannot substitute for in-person instruction.”
How can we use digital technology and online resources to enhance the classroom experience? The discussion continues…
I must admit that up until today, I’ve never participated in any Memorial Day services. That has changed, thankfully. As mentioned in my last post, I met up with Wisconsin history teacher Chris Lese, several of his co-workers, and about a dozen of his students at the Hartsville Baptist Cemetery in Hartsville, Indiana, for a brief Memorial Day ceremony. I met Chris a few months ago while at the Gettysburg conference back in March, and his talent for teaching history is truly inspiring. He has arranged for his group to take a nine day trek around the country following the paths of two Indiana soldiers during the Civil War. The group started here in Indiana, but are on their way to Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and will be visiting the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields later in their trip.
Hartsville is a very small town, numbering less than 400 people. It is in Southern Indiana and very close to the city of Columbus, which is the birthplace of racecar driver Tony Stewart and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, among other notable people. This was my first time there. While I’m not really cut out for the small-town lifestyle, I thought the area was nice. Anyway, Hartsville was a good place to hold this ceremony because it was the final town in which Union veteran Barton Mitchell lived. Mitchell is famously known as the soldier who found Special Order 191, a series of instructions written by Confederate General Robert E. Lee that were rolled up into three cigars (notice the replica Chris’s students placed on Mitchell’s headstone above) and accidentally discarded on the ground. The orders were eventually sent to General George McClellan and played a role in the Union military’s strategic planning at the Battle of Antietam. The story has been published in a million books, I’m sure, but none do it better than Bruce Catton’s fine work Mr. Lincoln’s Army, in my opinion.
The ceremony was very nice and the turnout was impressive. I’d estimate 50 people were there. A few speeches and prayers were made at the beginning, followed by a recreation of a Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Day ceremony that included the use of a GAR Memorial day booklet from 1895. Towards the end “Taps” was played, followed by a decoration of Mitchell’s grave, as seen above.
When I first arrived in Hartsville, I was given directions to the wrong cemetery. Nonetheless, Hartsville College Cemetery is beautiful.
Several volunteers graciously donated their time to help during the ceremony.
There are other Civil War soldiers at the cemetery whose graves were decorated as well. Lafayette Trisler was 18 years old when he enlisted in the 33rd Indiana Infantry in 1862. Tragically, he died during the war on July 21, 1863. The National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors database states that the 33rd was in Middle Tennessee or Tullhoma from June 23-July 7. They then moved to Guy’s Gap in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, shortly thereafter. Since his regiment wasn’t in battle, I’d assume Trisler died either from disease or a previously acquired battle wound.
I am glad that we as nation continue to observe Memorial Day, but I’ll be even happier when we no longer have to bury soldiers like Lafayette Trisler into the ground at such a young age. It would be great if someday we could observe Memorial Day and say something along the lines of this:
“We are here to honor those who fought and died for our country from 1775-2013. Their sacrifices have given us a loving, peaceful nation today that is no longer in the throes of war and a shining example to the rest of the world. For that, we give our dead our eternal gratitude.”
I can dream.
I’m in St. Louis for a brief visit with my family and a concert. Tonight I am going to the Firebird to see El Ten Eleven, one of my favorite groups in the music scene right now. I have never heard an instrumental group quite like them, nor have I seen such an effective use of looping to create such dynamic soundscapes. It is sort of sounds like heaven to me.
One of my favorite songs is “My Only Swerving,” which you can watch on YouTube below. It is amazing.
I was wanting to go the Indy 500 on Sunday, but changed my mind at the last minute. Maybe next year. I will be back in Indiana for Memorial Day, however, because I’ll be meeting Wisconsin history teacher Chris Lese and his students in Hartsville at the grave of Barton Mitchell, who should be familiar to those who study the Civil War, specifically the battle of Antietam. I am not 100% sure what the group’s plans are for the day, but I look forward to visiting the grave, meeting Chris’s students, and learning more about Memorial Day.
Have a great holiday weekend.