Archive for February, 2013

February 11th 2013
Defending the liberal arts against the ignorance caucus

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & the body & women's history

Many of you probably heard about North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s attack on liberal arts education on the Bill Bennett Old-Timey 180-Minute Hate Radio Program.  He argued that the state should invest its money in fields like “mechanics” instead of liberal arts degrees, because vocational training will help North Carolinians get jobs.  (Is he unfamiliar with his state’s community colleges, which offer a range of Vo-Tech programs?  I guess so.)

Have you ever heard of that old story about Winston Churchill refusing to engage in a battle of wits against an unarmed man?  McCrory’s comments were more of the seat-of-the-pants playing-to-the base pulled-out-of-his-a$$ kind, and far from a well-crafted policy paper or legislative proposal, but historian Lisa Levenstein of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, has published a vigorous response arguing for the value of the liberal arts, and even for the value of women’s studies programs in an op-ed at News-Record.com:

Today’s labor force also depends on work by women, who now comprise about half of all U.S. workers. Yet McCrory exhibited particular disdain for courses in “gender studies,” suggesting that this discipline has nothing useful to contribute to the challenges confronting North Carolinians. At UNCG, teachers and students in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program explore pressing issues ranging from breast cancer to homelessness. They create strategies to eradicate domestic violence and analyze how women’s labor force participation fosters global economic development.

Graduates of the program have built meaningful careers as counselors, sign language interpreters, teachers and advocates for the mentally ill, positions that not only contribute to the economy but also foster the well-being of our communities. These students are workers, parents and engaged citizens, and they make our lives better. Continue Reading »

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February 10th 2013
No wonder Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique

Posted under American history & captivity & class & Gender & weirdness & women's history

As most of you probably know, this year is The Feminine Mystique‘s fiftieth anniversary. For those of you who wonder why she wrote it, here’s a two-minute and 46-second explanation.

It’s worth seeing the whole video to get to the woman in diamonds and furs peeling potatoes at the end. Can you guess what’s on her head? (I kind of felt for the daschund in the jeweled toque.) The Pathé Fashion Archive is full of fascinating little timewasters–enjoy!

17 Comments »

February 9th 2013
New ideas for running “team family” like a business! (Not.)

Posted under American history & childhood & jobs

Stressed out by your chaotic home life?  Why not “run your family like a business?”

Like many parents, the Starrs were trapped between the smooth-running household they aspired to have and the exhausting, earsplitting one they actually lived in. “I was trying the whole ‘love them and everything will work out’ philosophy,” she said, “but it wasn’t working. ‘For the love of God,’ I finally said, ‘I can’t take this any more.’ ”

What the Starrs did next was surprising. Instead of consulting relatives or friends, they looked to David’s workplace. They turned to a cutting-edge program called agile development that has rapidly spread from manufacturers in Japan to startups in Silicon Valley. It’s a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams, hold daily progress sessions and weekly reviews.

As David explained, “Having weekly family meetings increased communication, improved productivity, lowered stress and made everyone much happier to be part of the family team.”

When my wife and I adopted the agile blueprint in our own home, weekly family meetings with our then-5-year-old twin daughters quickly became the centerpiece around which we organized our family. The meetings transformed our relationships with our kids—and each other. And they took up less than 20 minutes a week.

What kind of disorganization and anomie are people living in these days that having a weekly family meeting seems like some kind of brilliant breakthrough?  (And, wow:  I guess the author of this article should get Dad of the Year for spending 20 minutes a week talking to his twins.)  Don’t miss the part in the article when the author discusses writing a “family mission statement.”  Hint:  these mission statements are just as full of business-speak flatulence as most business mission statements.

I don’t mean to brag, but we have a nightly family meeting we like to call dinner.  Continue Reading »

19 Comments »

February 8th 2013
Forward my mail to Potemkin Village, please.

Posted under jobs & unhappy endings & wankers

What would a modern public university look like if it hired only tenure-track faculty and compensated them adequately for their expertise and service instead of setting up Potemkin Villages designed to foster the illusion that they care about good teaching?

  • We could probably do away with those “Centers for Teaching and Learning,” which appear to me to be “Centers for Teaching an Overburdened and Adjunctified Faculty How to Do More with Less, Now Featuring Online Ed Coaching!”  If large public universities cared about teaching, they’d hire more, you know, actual classroom educators, support their research and teaching, and reduce all class sizes to no more than 40 students.  But instead, they create things like “Centers for Teaching and Learning,” which mostly serve to send out a bunch of crappy emails inviting faculty to crappy lunches to talk about teaching.  Or, they send out emails featuring the “teaching tip of the week,” which usually involves high-caliber evidence-based pedagogical secrets like, “spend some time on your first day of class letting students introduce themselves,” or “hand out index cards on which students can write down their preferred name or nickname, their major, and what they want to learn in your class.”  Of course, the reason universities do this is that “Centers for Teaching and Learning” are a lot cheaper than actually teaching or fostering learning.
  • I’m not sayin’.  I’m just sayin’.
  • Related thought:  how about we support the people doing the teaching and service at public universities instead of creating awards for teaching and service which merely suggest that the university cares about teaching and service?  Continue Reading »

34 Comments »

February 7th 2013
Game Change

Posted under American history & class & European history & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history

I finally had an opportunity to see Game Change, HBO’s fictionalized account of the John McCain campaign for president in in 2008 and his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.  It was really good!  Although I was certainly not a McCain/Palin voter, even I was drawn into the drama of the campaign as Palin was selected and tested in various venues.  And although it was certainly very critical of Palin’s preparedness for the job of Vice President, it was also sympathetic to her in that she realizes that she’s out of her depth.  It portrays her as a very good small-town or small-state politician who knows she’s no policy wonk but who recognizes very quickly that she’s nevertheless the star of the 2008 campaign.

The movie does a smart job of invoking the particularly eventful campaign year of 2008, leading the viewer to understand why Palin was ever considered in the first place, and why she emerged victorious over other potential running mates.  (Hint:  her extreme abortion politics, which are not shared by the vast majority of prominent Republican women pols, were decisive–at least according to the script, which was based on the book by the same name by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.)

Game Change called to mind Tina Brown’s portrayal of Diana in her recent biography, The Diana Chronicles, in which a political naif is selected to play a starring role on the national and global stage.  Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

February 5th 2013
Life, death, and early America

Posted under American history & class & European history & students & the body & unhappy endings

Richard III’s skeleton, showing a massive skull fracture and evidence of corpse desecration.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find the story about the discovery and identification of Richard III’s remains just about the coolest historical and biomedical discovery since Thomas Jefferson’s DNA was found in Hemings family descendants back in the last century.  It’s a terrific example as to how the historical and archaeological records are still viable and valuable in investigations like this.  I’m sure my students in Life and Death in Early America will want to talk about this when we meet for class this week!

Speaking of death and early America:  The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture’s newsletter, Uncommon Sense, has published an online memorial to Alfred F. Young that includes links to reflections on his life and work from thirty different historians, including yours truly and several of this blog’s readers and commenters.  Continue Reading »

5 Comments »

February 3rd 2013
Intimate body care: never a highly paid occupation

Posted under American history & class & European history & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & the body & women's history

NPR featured a story tonight about how poorly compensated home health care work is.  Currently, they are not entitled either to the minimum wage nor to overtime pay.  Most make between $8-10/hr., while the company that employs them pockets the $18/hr. payment from Medicare. Spokespersons for the home health-care industry were permitted to whinge and whine about the terrible hardship that a minimum wage and overtime requirements would put on their businesses.

The tone of the story tilted towards compassion for the workers and their clients, but they story’s historical perspective looked back only 40 years when I think a critical component of this story is the longue durée of this kind of low wage work, work that now (as in the past going back at least 500 years) is performed overwhelmingly by working-class women, and in the Americas for the most part, by black and brown-skinned working-class women.

Intimate body care has never been a well-compensated occupation.  Continue Reading »

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