Pay attention if you’re a college student — avoid debt as much as possible.
Originally posted on Finding My College:
Recent volatility in the stock market is a reminder that people handle risks differently. Some people wouldn’t dream of investing in equities and subjecting their capital to potential principal loss. Others are high flyers, routinely putting markers down on stocks with high potential on the upside as well as the downside. Others run scared at the first sign of trouble. Others stay the course, grounded in a long-term perspective (or inertia is some cases).
Beyond our individual investment philosophies and strategies, there are many decisions in life that test our appetite for risk. Indeed, most potential courses of action entail some level of risk. Sometimes we try our best to assess those risks objectively (as objectively as possible, that is, given our seemingly inescapable biases and preconceptions), and sometimes we rationalize them away. It occurred to me that my concern with student debt is fundamentally a concern about our risk…
View original 502 more words
I had a great time the first week of October workshopping poetry and creative non-fiction with other writers at the St. Augustine Writer’s Conference hosted by Connie May Fowler. The best things I heard there, in no particular order:
- Sascha Feinstein (poetry and creative non-fiction workshop leader) described people he’d met who so were completely committed to their art they believed that their artworks were their children. His response: “No, your children are your children.” His poetry and creative non-fiction were great to listen to. I was in his workshop, and it was run very well. We all helped one another.
- Laura van den Berg read half of a short story, which was cruel — it was such a good story that we all wanted the rest of it.
- Loved the poetry of Parneshia Jones and was encouraged by her presentation as editor of Northwestern University Press: it’s good to hear that there are people in the industry trying to treat their authors ethically.
- Connie May Fowler‘s reading selection from her forthcoming autobiography was lyrical and beautiful. What I think I loved the most was when she told the group that she didn’t take being a writer for granted — that it was a privilege to be able to write and to publish.
- And one unnamed participant’s description of how she started writing will stick with me for the rest of my life, for better or for worse. When she was working in finance she would have one male client call and ask her to “talk dirty” to him on the phone. She couldn’t because she was in an office with an open door policy. But she did start writing stories for him. And from what I understand, the male caller is a frequent figure on cable news. Now everyone at the workshop will be scanning cable news channels for the guy.
Now I’ve been teaching poetry since 2008 at the graduate and undergraduate level, and I first published poetry around the early 1990s and then the early 2000s. Once I started graduate school I didn’t have time for writing and publishing poetry, but I also ran a writer’s group in the Orlando area in the mid 1990s for a few years. So I’ve been giving and receiving feedback on poetry for a good twenty years now, and this latest round of receiving feedback has prompted some ideas on the feedback process itself. Some of this thinking works itself out into a taxonomy of feedback of sorts, or a list of different kinds of feedback given.
- But first, feedback is great. I started writing poems again around November of last year, and I knew they needed editing, but I didn’t feel like I had the distance from them that I needed to edit them. After the workshop, I think I know how to edit my poems now.
- So the first type of feedback is feedback that confirms what you already know. If there were two weak lines in a poem, I knew they were there, and my colleagues at the workshop focused on those. If there was a slide toward sentimental language, I was aware of that, and they pointed it out, though we may disagree about where it works and where it doesn’t. This kind of feedback tells me two things: first, trust my judgment about the weak spots in my poems, and second, that the people giving feedback are good readers.
- But at the same time, I wasn’t aware of some verbal ticks I’d acquired, like the habit of repeating some phrases from one line to the next. That may not be bad in every instance, but I need to watch how often it occurs. What I’ve been able to do for the first time since November is write sonnets — I never felt until then that I could write even a passable one, though I’ve written in other formal verse forms and in free verse — but I see now where I was succumbing to form at times rather than making it work for the poem. So the second kind of feedback is feedback about your blind spots. This is perhaps the best kind of feedback a writer can get.
- Feedback that is, essentially, “I don’t get it.” I don’t know what to do with this feedback. Some of the best works of literature I’ve ever read I didn’t understand fully the first time I read them. I’d even extend this claim to song lyrics. What’s going on here is a negotiation, maybe even a dance of sorts, between the reader and the writer in which the writer makes the work intriguing enough to get the reader to want to do the work necessary to understand it. What makes a work worth the effort is very much a subjective judgment on the part of the reader. Does it give pleasure? Does it address themes important to the reader? But at the same time, there has to be content for the reader to grasp before he or she will want to look more. It’s a difficult negotiation, and we should keep in mind that not all literature is written for the purpose of discursive understanding. Some is written for emotional and, especially in the case of poetry, aural effects. Sometimes the purpose of a work of literature is to communicate a mood or feeling rather than an idea, so readers seeking only ideas will remain frustrated.
- You have to have thick skin. Sascha Feinstein started our workshops with these instructions: sit and listen to everyone’s feedback without responding, and then you get to respond in the last fifteen minutes of your part of the session. I think that’s good advice. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to just shut up and listen to feedback about your own work without feeling the need to defend it. It’s part of realizing that your writing isn’t your baby, something I learned the hard way while freelance writing for three years after graduating from college –before I started my grad program. Almost everything is subject to revision.
- Now overall — in terms of all of my past experience giving and receiving feedback over the last twenty years — I’ve found that there are two types of personal responses writers will give to one another. Some writers see the talent of other writers as an asset to them. Other writers see the talent or education of their colleagues as a threat or a liability to them, as if the extension of recognition to someone else takes away from them, or at least might. If you’re in a workshopping situation, just ignore the latter types and try to be one of the former types. Everyone who attempts to create anything can succumb to professional jealousy. You will at times. Some people may do what they do so well you will be tempted to quit. So to avoid professional jealousy, or at least being too easily threatened, you need to develop a sense of what you can do and what you can uniquely contribute. While you can’t do what other writers can do, others may not be able to do what you can do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen two writers say to one another in the same workshop session, “I wish I could write something like that.”
Anyway — the St. Augustine Writer’s Conference was a great experience for me. I’d encourage anyone who wants to develop as a writer to try it at least once. It’s worth it just for the time spent in St. Augustine, but it’s a great workshop too. The months of October to February are probably the best time to visit Florida.
Photograph © 2014 James Rovira: Vilano Beach Marshes, October 2014.
…and other interesting facts from a new biography of our premier founding father, George Washington. Okay, it wasn’t smoked: it was used to make rope, clothing, paper, etc. And GW was the nation’s richest President in terms of total net worth (over $500 million in today’s dollars) as well as an agricultural innovator. What I’m really doing here is advertising a new book by historian Edward Larson that may actually contribute something new to our understanding of colonial America and one of its most important figures. Washington’s life is an interesting study: he was one of those admired even by his enemies.
Yes, it’s true: US students who have a conversational knowledge of German have been invited to attend German universities for free. I would like to encourage all US students to take them up on this offer. Germany has some of the best universities in the world, and being centrally located in Europe, any student attending universities in Germany will have relatively easy access to Europe’s most significant cities. What an adventure.
Germany is able to make this offer because German universities are made up of, for the most part, libraries and classrooms, and because Germany doesn’t use federal tax money in the form of financial aid to support farm teams for professional sports that already generate billions of dollars a year in revenue (as if they couldn’t fund their own farm teams), and because Germany isn’t embroiled in massively unnecessary overseas wars, and because the German government isn’t spending more on their military than the next eight nations combined.
But none of that is the real issue. The real issue with higher education in the United States is that it’s being turned more and more into a profit center and less and less into an educational center. The ultimate goal for higher ed. is to spend as little as possible on it while charging the same tuition and fees. Yes, that’s it. That is why there’s a lot of nonsense rhetoric about a higher ed “crisis” (the only crisis is that it’s being defunded), and why there’s a big push for computers to educate our students rather than teachers, and why over 70% of our college classes are being taught by adjuncts, and why non-profit educational institutions with occasionally bad spending habits are being demonized while for-profit educational institutions engaged in massively fraudulent practices are being defended, and on and on.
Here’s the big picture: US big business wants to take as much of your tax money from you as possible while giving back to you as little as possible in return, and it is willing to sacrifice America’s intellectual capital — and its future — in order to do so. It is willing to sacrifice its own country, you, and your children in order to make a little bit more money.
That is what the “higher ed crisis” is all about. That and nothing else. The “crisis” in US higher ed. is only about the full transformation of US higher ed. into a profit center rather than an educational center. It starts with tuition being turned into a profit center in the form of student loans, and it continues into daily operations being turned into profit centers in the form of contractors, testing centers, educational technology, and the elimination of full time instructional staff.
So I’ve just given you the magic key to all of this rhetoric of “change” and “innovation” in higher ed: when someone says they are educational innovators, you need to hear this: “I want to take more of your money while giving you less in return.” When you hear people talk about a crisis in higher ed., you need to hear this: “I want to take more of your money while giving you less in return.” When you hear the words “MOOCs should be offered for college credit,” you need to hear this: “I want to take more of your money while giving you less in return.”
And when you hear the word “socialism,” you need to hear this: “I’m going to convince you that spending your tax money to benefit you is ‘socialism’ while spending your tax money on my personal profit is ‘capitalism.’ I’m going to do this because I think you’re stupid enough to believe that.”
Are you? I hope not. Vote Republican in the next election, though, and you’ll be saying nothing else.
Let me put it another way: you’re already paying more than enough in taxes for you and your children to have free quality education through four years of college. But the part of your tax money that should be earmarked for education is being spent instead on bank profits, college sports, massively inflated administration, massive profits for for-profit educational institutions that don’t really educate their students, and — get this — on industry lobbyists who use the profits made from your tax money to keep you from receiving any benefit from it.
So when a politician says there isn’t money in the budget for education, ask them what they’re spending these billions of dollars of revenue on instead. A $1 trillion plane that doesn’t work (i.e., defense contractor profits)? Another unnecessary foreign war (i.e., defense contractor profits)? A ten year road project (i.e., payback for graft)? Ask where the money is going, and ask in detail. You’re a voter. You’re a US citizen. It’s your money. You have the right.
Defund for-profit colleges. Defund unnecessary wars. Spend American tax dollars on American citizens or, in other words, spend your money on you and your children. Tax money is your money. Don’t forget that. It is yours. Invest in America’s future by investing in education, our only source of intellectual capital, and invest in education by investing in teachers. Machines don’t educate people. Only people do.
Anyone who tells you anything else is, literally, selling something.
If you’re serious about pursuing this option, you may want to check out Rebecca Schuman’s blog on Slate to learn a little bit about how German universities are run.