Rock and Roll St. Charles

whiskey-war-festival-posterBefore starting grad school in August of last year, I was living in St. Louis, Missouri and working at a local school district as a teaching assistant. In my free time, I was playing electric/upright bass in a blues/folk/rock band called Whiskey War Mountain Rebellion. I have been playing bass for thirteen years and have played in many groups, but WWMR was able to gain a bit of traction in the St. Louis area in part because of a festival we put on last year in St. Charles (an outlying suburb of St. Louis) called the Whiskey War Festival. We were able to get a few hundred audience members and about fifteen bands to come out to play our festival. It was a great experience all around, even though it was literally 99 degrees outside. Although my graduate studies necessitated a move to Indianapolis, my fellow bandmates pushed forward and have put together an impressive lineup for a full day of music festivities. I was able to get back to the area and will be playing with three different groups at this year’s Whiskey War Festival, which will be happening tomorrow, June 29th from Noon to Midnight. All times are Central.

The Riverfront Times wrote a nice article about our festival that you can read here. If you’re in the St. Louis/St. Charles area, consider coming out for a day of fun. Seeing that I just turned in a rough draft of my first chapter of my Master’s thesis, the festival will act as a nice celebration and a time to be with friends and family before I head back to Indianapolis to continue writing the thesis, of which I will write more about soon.


The St. Louis Art Museum and Virtual Tours

The St. Louis Art Museum. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The St. Louis Art Museum. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

On Saturday, June 29, the St. Louis Art Museum will be opening a new addition to its building. This wing will host a wide range of contemporary art, which in turn allows for a larger number of older paintings to go display in the main building. I’m not exactly the biggest art museum person around, but I am eager to get a chance to visit the new wing as soon as possible. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently published a virtual tour of the new wing that I’m a little too obsessed with right now.

I asked my friends on Facebook two questions about this virtual tour:

1. Does the virtual tour replace the experience of going to an Art Museum in person?

2. After looking at the virtual tour, are you more or less inclined to take time and possibly spend money to visit the Art Museum?

The fact that anybody can explore the contents of the new wing online for free is an ambitious gamble by the St. Louis Art Museum. There will undoubtedly be some people who decide not to go to the Art Museum in person because they can view it online, but in my case, seeing the virtual tour has increased my desire to see the new wing in person. The question of whether or not to put museum contents online reflects a larger debate on whether or not art should be freely posted online. For example, musicians have debated the merits of putting their music online for free (or asking for donations) for years. There are some who say no, while others say bands “shouldn’t give away all their music, but that some free downloading is okay.” Likewise, I’ve had professors who have completely railed on GoogleBooks for what they believed to be gross copyright violations for putting books online, even if it was only a small portion of the book. Concerns have also emerged in response to the creation of the Digital Public Library of America, which is putting the collections of partner libraries all over the country online, free of charge. All of these debates reflect the larger question of how best to promote artistic creations to as wide an audience as possible (and for some, making a few bucks too).

As I learn more about open access and observe more public institutions like art museums and libraries putting their content online, concerns about people having too much free access to online content or never leaving their desks to patronize libraries and museums in person are no longer a big concern with me. Putting content online for free is merely one way of establishing a relationship between artist and patron, and I think digital technology has allowed for patrons to make more informed decisions about the types of art they want to patronize. Although he was referring to concerns about the Digital Public Library of America, I think DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen has made an eloquent argument in support of the personal, physical experience of observing art and information in person and how digital technology enhances–not detracts–that experience. To wit:

I believe that public and academic libraries will begin to understand how the DPLA instead strengthens and complements what they do. Public libraries have been, and always will be, centers of their communities, and will continue to be the place to go for high-circulating recent books, Internet access, public readings, and many other elements that the DPLA cannot and will not replace. Academic libraries are structured to support the scholarly research modes and fields of specific institutions, with collecting strategies and services to match. Both kinds of libraries will benefit greatly by what the DPLA will add to our landscape of knowledge. The DPLA will provide is a single place to discover and explore our country’s libraries, archives, and museums—a portal—and so will bring entirely new audiences to formerly scattered collections… For public libraries, the DPLA will provide a national-scale, free extension of their local holdings, and give them a place to store and garner audiences for their community’s history and content. For academic libraries, the DPLA can be used to suggest research materials and collections beyond a home institution, to create virtual exhibits and collections from federated sites, and to enhance the scholarship of students and faculty… I would hate for the launch of the DPLA to be used as an excuse to lower funding to essential physical libraries in times of austerity.

You can check out the virtual tour of the St. Louis Art Museum East Wing here.

What Credentials Do I Need to be Taken Seriously?

About a year ago, I wrote an essay for my friend Joshua Hedlund’s blog PostLibertarian. Although my essay briefly discussed libertarianism, I was more interested in the contested nature of the terms “liberal” and  “conservative” within a political context and how those terms have changed in meaning throughout American history. At the time of that post, I had recently graduated from undergrad and was a teaching assistant for a school in St. Charles, Missouri. I was still hesitant about starting my own blog, but was asked to write a bit about my observations on the 2012 Presidential election, to which I happily accepted. Was it the best essay I’ve ever written? Probably not. Do I agree with everything I wrote at that time? Probably not. Nevertheless, I worked hard researching and writing that essay, and I think there are points worth discussing in it.

Well, I got an email from WordPress today saying that I had received a “pingback” from the essay. Somebody at an online political discussion forum cited my work to make some sort of argument about George Washington and liberalism. I’m not really sure what the exact argument was about, but the citation reinforces the fact that what you publish online is very public and easily searchable on Google, Bing, etc. For that reason, I take great pains to make sure my content is as clear and articulate as possible, because I know many critical eyes are looking at my work.

I had a major LOL moment, however, because “a proud adherent of the Constitution” (whatever that means) named “Jimmyb” from Texas responded to the original poster who cited my work with the following:

Why do you insist on making a fool of yourself? You are out of your league, and The Google will not alleviate lack of knowledge on the subject… Spare me your quote by a recent undergraduate with a degree in history and music performance [ME!]. As I said, you cannot learn this on The Google. How embarrassing. If you have to Google your replies for this discussion, you have no business being involved.  

Rather than addressing the content of my essay, “Jimmyb” dismisses my essay and the person who cited it because it came from Google and from someone who recently graduated college, apparently. Such a tactic is often referred to as a genetic logical fallacy, which involves judging something as good or bad based on where or who it came from. Second, I find it quite ironic that an anonymous poster at an online discussion forum can claim to have this wide knowledge of constitutional history while making potshots at people who put their name on their work. Finally, “Jimmyb” misunderstands my argument and takes it out of context, so at this point it is worthless to engage in any further discussion on that front, especially with someone who wants to post things anonymously.

The main point I wanted to bring up, however, is that “Jimmyb’s” comments do challenge us to question the value of blogs in fostering constructive discussion and making sound arguments about history. I am reminded of some comments my friend Bob Pollack made at his blog Yesterday…and Today after one of his blog posts was cited in a New York Times article on Julia Dent Grant a few months ago. He stated the following about blogs:

The problem with most newspaper articles and blogposts (yes, this blog included) is that there are usually no source footnotes and no peer review. In the case of the Disunion series, I don’t know who is reviewing or approving the articles the Times is running. Regarding sources, the articles are not footnoted, although they do list source references at the end of the article. This, of course, is only somewhat useful in identifying the source of specific information related in the article.    

John Fea, a history professor who also blogs at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, has also engaged in a similar discussion, asking his readers whether he should be considered an “Academic Blogger” or a “Blogger Who Is an Academic.” To wit:

At what point does “academic blogging” cease being academic blogging and become something else? On one hand, The Way of Improvement Leads Home has been successful because I have credentials as an academic historian. On the other hand, I write about a lot of things for which I do not have any specialized training.  For example, my thoughts on politics are often tempered by a kind of caution and prudence that comes with being a historian (or at least I like to think they are), but in the end I am expressing my opinions just like everyone else. 

In my opinion, the essay I wrote a year ago and my blog today are not academic resources. This website is a personal blog that discusses academic content, but I am not an academic blogger. I have credentials as a trained historian and certified teacher (although that wasn’t good enough for “Jimmyb”), but much of what I write here consists of opinions and questions I have about history. That said, I have learned a lot from reading other people’s blogs, and I don’t hesitate to cite the work of other bloggers on this website (although I have yet to cite a blog post on an academic research paper. I’ve seen academic papers that have done so, however, and there are Chicago guidelines for properly citing blog posts).

“Jimmyb,” dismisses those who use Google for scholarly content, but the fact of the matter is that the younger generations are going to Google first–not scholarly books–when engaging in research for history projects, whether we like it or not. How do we use Google as a source of empowerment? Does all scholarly content need to come from a .edu or .gov website, or can a site provide useable content for scholarly projects? What about Wikipedia? Does the author of this content need to have certain academic credentials to be cited by others online, or can anyone’s work be cited? For me, good content trumps the medium in which the content is produced. Of course books are important for our scholarly endeavors, and as Bob mentioned, scholarly books often benefit from the peer review process. But it seems to me that if somebody has good content to share online, we should take that content seriously and focus our criticisms on the content of that work rather than the credentials of the person writing the content. There are instances in which credentials may play a role in historical debate, but content is more important. I have no problem if somebody thinks my essay on liberalism and conservatism is wrong, but I’d rather have my content criticized rather than my credentials (or lack thereof).

By the way, if anyone wants to read about the changing linguistic nature of “liberalism” and “conservatism” from somebody with fancy Harvard credentials, I point you to Jonathan Hansen’s 2003 work The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Debating American Identity, 1890-1920.


Assessing my First Online Course

"I got two degrees in Awesomeness and Bad-assery online! Email me to learn more!" Photo Credit:
“I got two degrees in Awesomeness and Bad-assery online! Drop me a line to learn more today!” Photo Credit:

My summer online course on the history of libraries has concluded, and I think everything went pretty good for the most part. This was the first online course I’ve ever taken, so it was a new and exciting experience for me. As I gradually worked my way through the weekly assignments, I took notes on what worked, what didn’t, and spent a lot of time thinking about the future of online courses in education, especially with regards to history classes. There is no coherent flow to these forthcoming thoughts, but they are thoughts that I think are worthy of further discussion, and I welcome any additional comments from readers.

Course design is key: The way an online class is designed is key, obviously. Everything from font size to working links to clearly written instructions are necessary to ensure that students have a clear grasp of what is going on in the e-class. My online course was designed fairly well. It was easy to understand what was expected of me as a student and the content was split into coherent units that made sense. The assignments were challenging, but not overwhelming, which was good for me as I continue my internship at the Indiana State House and begin writing my thesis in my free time.

What are the best methods for fostering online classroom discussion?: For each weekly assignment, students were required to post their work to a discussion board and provide two responses to the work of other students in the classroom. This method is most likely very similar to the types of discussion forums that are created for other online courses, but overall I felt pretty underwhelmed by a lot of the classroom discussion. I’ve read about and heard from others on the positive benefits of online discussion, especially for those who don’t speak in class often. Online discussion provides these people an opportunity to share their thoughts and content without the pressures of being in a traditional classroom setting, which can be pretty overwhelming for some. I’ve never had these sorts of problems, but I’ve made plenty of terrible classroom comments that probably would have been better left unsaid, so I can understand if someone has a little more control over their voice than me 🙂 However, I value personal interactions highly and I tend to think that even if I say something that is completely wrong, having a good discussion allows us all to learn and try again. I love asking questions, and am not hesitant to admit that I really know very little about anything at the end of the day.

The big problem with online discussions can be summarized in a short example: Assignment X is due on Friday and the two peer responses are due on Monday. All students get done on Friday, but nobody (including myself) starts commenting on each others work until Monday night. Some discussions continue beyond Monday night, and I had a particularly good one with another student on the importance of historians studying change over time. Yet most discussions abruptly ended after Monday night as students moved on to the next assignment. Even worse, there were at least two instances in which I wrote detailed comments to other members in the class on their work without any sort of response whatsoever. This behavior is not only wrong but downright rude, in my opinion. If student A asked student B a question in a traditional classroom during discussion time and student B refused to answer, other students and the teacher would rightly question why B refused to answer, and there could be further consequences for B’s actions. If it’s wrong for B to refuse to answer in the brick and mortar classroom, then it should be wrong in an online setting too. I hope those people had points taken off or something to that effect.

I think Twitter could really come in handy for promoting better online classroom discussions. In my digital history class last semester I learned about the awesomeness of Twitter, and I continue to tweet to the #iupuidh hashtag when interesting articles pop up. Twitter allowed for the sharing of relevant articles between my classmates and me and allowed us to learn more about history and the digital humanities outside the classroom. I would recommend to future online instructors that they seriously consider using Twitter as an avenue for enhancing classroom discussion.

Should online courses cost the same as traditional courses?: I don’t really know, but I don’t think so. At IUPUI online courses cost the same as traditional courses, and I paid a hefty sum to take this online course. While there are costs involved with hosting content online, hiring competent teachers to control and teach this content, and providing maintenance to keep the site running, I have a hard time justifying paying the same amount of money as a traditional course for an online course in which you never personally interact with your teacher or the vast majority of your classmates. Although I have my doubts about the effectiveness Georgia Tech’s new online master’s degree program for computer science students, I can appreciate that the entire degree will cost around $7,000 as opposed to the $40,000 it costs for non-Georgia residents to attend the program in person. Georgia Tech realizes that online courses and traditional courses are not the same and that they shouldn’t be priced the same either. Online students don’t utilize campus housing, dormitories, or student facilities, nor do they get involved with campus activities such as intramurals or Greek life. To ask them to help pay for the maintenance of those things seems wrong to me. Nor do I think the credit hour cost should remain the same. Which gets me to my next question…

What am I paying for with an online course?: Generally speaking, when a person pays for a traditional course, they are paying for access to a classroom, a teacher, and the knowledge that is shared within those walls. Under most circumstances, people that don’t pay are not allowed access to that classroom. Digital technology has changed this, and with regards to my online course, anyone in the world could get online and access the very same information we learned for free. So it seems to me that I am no longer paying for access to classrooms, teachers, or knowledge, because those things are now free. What I am really paying for is the piece of paper that says that I successfully completed this course. Anyone can take the online course, but since I paid money, I get a certificate at the end. There may not be anything wrong with this model–and I certainly support the sharing of free knowledge–but again, I have a tough time agreeing with the idea that online courses should cost the same as traditional courses.

What sorts of classes would benefit the most from an online format?:  Not all classes and subjects are the same, and I think schools need to take time to determine if there are subjects of study that are more appropriate than others for online instruction. A online computer science master’s degree may make a lot of sense, but an online music, history, or teaching degree may not make as much sense. But even if we acknowledge that an entire online degree may be problematic, is there still room for some online instruction in most degree programs? I think there is.

What do you think? Your comments would be greatly appreciated.


A New Website on the Public Library Commission of Indiana

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.


Thoughts on Philanthropy and Open Access in Public Libraries (Part 2)

open_access-logoPart 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.

Thoughts on Philanthropy and Open Access in Public Libraries (Part 1)

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

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…

News and Notes: June 9, 2013

The Bust of Richard Owen. The best looking bust at the Indiana State House, in my opinion. Picture credit: Historic Indianapolis
The Bust of Richard Owen. The best looking bust at the Indiana State House, in my opinion. Picture credit: Historic Indianapolis

It’s Sunday. The government is watching you and me. But this sounds like fun:

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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…

Reasons for Not Teaching in Higher Education

Photo Credit: Paul Rehg,
Photo Credit: Paul Rehg,

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?

Some Additional Thoughts on the Death of Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius. Photo Credit: Manfred Becker.
Jaco Pastorius. Photo Credit: Manfred Becker.

(Note: Part one of my analysis of Jaco is here).

I would surmise that one of the reasons 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 tried to 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 served 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.


[Update, 12/22/15: In the time since I wrote this post it has been the most popular thing I have ever written on this website, by far. I wrote it not because I’m an expert music historian but simply because I’m a Jaco fan who wanted to know more about the circumstances of his death and share my findings with others. While some comments have been respectful expressions of sadness or reminisces about Jaco’s life and the astounding influence of his music, I receive far more comments on a regular basis from people calling for Luc Havan’s death and/or criticizing me for not doing the same in this piece. While I understand the anger and frustration over the injustice of the case, I think it’s a waste of time to go down that path. I’ve decided to shut down the comments for this post indefinitely. Thanks for reading.]