A confession…

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The best teachers and professors resemble parental figures: They provide their students with emotional mentorship.

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This intelligent, accurate, and clear description of how college classes actually run and what purposes they actually serve has no place in US discourse about higher ed. What we need instead are seven more businessmen who have never spent a day in the classroom pontificating about how they’re going to transform education by making a lot of money for themselves using this hot new online technology and completely disenfranchising teachers. And don’t forget — they’re going to be making these profits from your tax money.

The best teachers and professors resemble parental figures: They provide their students with emotional mentorship..

Finishing the Work…

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Sandbox and PailA friend of mine from grad school posted this photo to Facebook with a comment about how disturbing children’s books were. I decided that they weren’t nearly disturbing enough. Not yet. . .






Wait, is that Tommy? Way over there?
And isn't that the rest of him sitting right here?
I see Tommy's arm over there by the pail,
and is that his head peeking out of the kale?
Perhaps Tommy's been very rudely defaced, 
But it's still really fun to dig around in this place.
Look! There's an eye! Look! There's an ear!
I wonder if his nose will slyly appear?
It's like digging for gold, this searching for Tommy,
Because now I just found a piece of his mommy.

© James Rovira 2014
Written April 2014.

My Fisher King (for Robin Williams)

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ScreenShotFisherKingI wanted to write this tribute to Robin Williams as a poem, but I’m not quite up to it right now. What I’m going to present instead is my personal history with Robin Williams.

Of course I’ve never met him, and never knew him, but I still grew up with him. My parents and I watched Happy Days when it was first being aired. We saw the goofy Mork episode where he first made his appearance, and then when I was a bit older, he made us all laugh with his own show with the same character.

But he’s been seemingly ever present in my life from then to now. Dead Poets Society confirmed for me my choice to major in English in college. Yes, I thought that essay was BS too. And yes, I said to myself “rip it out” right before Williams voiced that line. When, a little bit later, life was going rough with me, and I was facing the prospect of loss — a real, significant loss — I watched The Fisher King. It told me it was okay to grieve. And it told me that it was okay to grieve so much that you’re a little bit unhinged, even. When my family needed to draw itself together we found ourselves watching Hook quite a bit. And not long before my wife and I divorced, she rented Mrs. Doubtfire and we watched it with the kids over and over again. Again, it told us that we could still be alright, even still be a family. And some years after that I was able to watch What Dreams May Come and understand.

When I started teaching History of the English Language Robin Williams was there with his Scottish Airport routine.  And just last week my second wife borrowed season 1 of Mork and Mindy from the local library, giving my youngest children their first exposure to Robin Williams. When he sat on his head on the couch my kids all laughed. Uproariously. Just as two generations of my kids did when they watched Aladdin.

Actors, celebrities, musicians… as we experience them, they are all objects. They’re physical things. Controlled projections of an image. It’s easy to forget that they’re human beings, that they live and feel. But I’ve seen Robin Williams so often in so much for so long that I can’t help but feel that some of him has become perceptible behind all of the parts, the standup, the warp-speed silliness. Bitterness and kind sensitivity were like an alternating current projecting from his one big power source: pain. I think for whatever reason it finally caught up with him. Maybe it was residual from his open heart surgery in 2009, or the medication he took for awhile in order to be able to sleep after his surgery. I think he’s been in pain his whole life, though. I think his previous drug use may not have been an attempt to be cool, or to seek pleasure or new experiences, but a form of self-medication, a way to escape his pain. Either way, I do know that in so many ways his work was about pain and loss, and that more than anything else he seemed to want to laugh it away from us, or to comfort us with kindness and understanding, so that in all of his roles he was either a clown or Patch Adams. But in all of it, he was a wounded Fisher King, or maybe the fool who brought the Fisher King his grail: I don’t know about your quest. I just know that you were thirsty. And I don’t know what finally drove him to end his life. None of us can really know. I think, though, that I’m not alone in feeling that I wish I could have given back to him what he gave to me for so long, especially right at the moment he needed it most.

I will miss you, Robin Williams.

Technology and Higher Ed, Part 2

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158399022Summing it up more simply:

When I was sixteen I took karate lessons with my friend Marty. Shōrin-ryū at the local Y. The first thing we asked our instructor was, When will we receive training with weapons? (Why did we ask this question? Because we were sixteen.) Our instructor told us that he didn’t train students to use weapons until they were at least a brown belt (one stage before black) because weapons are an extension of our bodies. We can’t learn to use weapons properly until we learn to use our bodies properly.

Similarly, technology is an extension of our minds. All the tech in the world won’t make us smarter if we haven’t developed our minds. Without that mental development, we’ll just be idiots with fancy toys, and God knows the world has enough of those already.

And considering the fact that “traditional education” using “outmoded methods” invented the computer, the cellphone, and put astronauts on the moon, I think it’s safe to say that educational tech is irrelevant to educational effectiveness. Yes, students need to learn how to use workplace tech. No, educational tech is not a magic bullet that will suddenly transform colleges into centers of effective learning (most of them actually are already).

I would like to encourage students getting ready to start a new school year to focus primarily on developing the most advanced technology that we all have: that highly complex processor wet-wired between your ears. Read a lot and read increasingly complex texts. Learn how to write well. Take the most advanced math that you can. No matter what your major, try to get in at least a year of calculus before you finish college, preferably one semester before you finish high school. If you develop yourself in these ways, your tech will be an extension of your highly developed mind enabling you to do things better and faster. If you don’t, your tech will do your thinking for you, and the only possibilities that you’ll ever be able to consider will be determined by the programming parameters of your equipment.


An Academic Critique Of The Film “Guardians Of The Galaxy” « terribleminds: chuck wendig

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The best possible review of Guardians of the Galaxy. My only regret is that I didn’t write it.

An Academic Critique Of The Film “Guardians Of The Galaxy” « terribleminds: chuck wendig.

Students Build an Electric Car With Better Range Than a Tesla | Autopia | WIRED

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Ah, very cool. It’s not a car anyone would actually drive (no air conditioning, for example), but I like that solar panels are built in to the car to increase range.

Students Build an Electric Car With Better Range Than a Tesla | Autopia | WIRED.