Archive for the 'American history' Category

June 29th 2014
Blast from the past: Evel (whooo!) Knievel!

Posted under American history & art & childhood & fluff & weirdness

I’m having serious (and completely drug-free) flashbacks to my 1970s childhood courtesy of this advertisement, which I found at AdViews in the Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections:

“You can see that they’re build solid, flashy, and hip.” Continue Reading »

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June 26th 2014
An elementary explanation for how ed tech widens, rather than narrows, the achievement gap

Posted under American history & bad language & childhood & class & students & technoskepticism

Are the Lords of MOOC Creation listening?  I doubt it, but let’s review this article at Slate by Annie Murphy Paul anyway:

Why would improved access to the Internet harm the academic performance of poor students in particular? Vigdor and his colleagues speculate that “this may occur because student computer use is more effectively monitored and channeled toward productive ends in more affluent homes.” This is, in fact, exactly the dynamic Susan Neuman and Donna Celano saw playing out in the libraries they monitored. At the [affluent neighborhood] Chestnut Hill library, they found, young visitors to the computer area were almost always accompanied by a parent or grandparent. Adults positioned themselves close to the children and close to the screen, offering a stream of questions and suggestions. Kids were steered away from games and toward educational programs emphasizing letters, numbers, and shapes. When the children became confused or frustrated, the grown-ups guided them to a solution.

The [impoverished neighborhood] Badlands library boasted computers and software identical to Chestnut Hill’s, but here, children manipulated the computers on their own, while accompanying adults watched silently or remained in other areas of the library altogether. Lacking the “scaffolding” provided by the Chestnut Hill parents, the Badlands kids clicked around frenetically, rarely staying with one program for long. Older children figured out how to use the programs as games; younger children became discouraged and banged on the keyboard or wandered away.

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June 20th 2014
Twitter-friendly explanation of the gunfight at the Mass. Ave. corral

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1In case you’ve missed the Jill Lepore-Clayton Christiansen Harvard University faculty feud, here’s a brief recap:

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June 19th 2014
Behind these times: on professional standards and not losing your marbles.

Posted under American history & class & Gender & jobs & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

John Judis has published an interesting intellectual biography of recently deceased historian Martin J. Sklar (1935-2014), whom I had never heard of until I saw this article.  (It turns out that there are some very good reasons for this–read on.)  Judis’s essay focuses on Sklar’s conversion from committed socialism to being a huge fan of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.  It’s weird–you can read the whole thing if you want, but it was the details of Sklar’s professional credentials and ambitions that interested me.  He started as a precocious sixteen-year old college freshman in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin, and took his B.A. and M.A. there.  However, he got stalled.  Really stalled.

If Sklar’s career had proceeded along the same path as some of his fellow graduate students, he probably would have ended up like [Walter] LaFeber as a renowned professor at an Ivy League university. But Sklar had difficulty finishing what he was writing, and he was also pulled to and fro by the impassioned politics of the times. After he got his MA at Wisconsin, he moved to New York to work on Studies on the Left. Then he became a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester. He could have easily converted his research on Wilson into a Ph.D. thesis, but he got involved in student politics and embarked on a reconceptualization of the history of American capitalism, based on a study of the 1920s. Some of this research ended up in an incredibly difficult but original essay in Radical America, but much of it resided in a larger manuscript that sat unpublished in a file cabinet, as did other writings. Sklar would sometimes extract these writings and read from them in order to make a point, but would then stash them back away. Sklar left Rochester and graduate school in 1969 to get a job at Northern Illinois University’s left-leaning history department, which included his friend Parrini. In spite of the enthusiastic support of his colleagues and students, he was denied tenure by the administration in 1976 because he had not finished his dissertation.

He went to work for In These Times until 1979.  Then, sometime in the 1980s (?)–Judis doesn’t say exactly when– Continue Reading »

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June 16th 2014
What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

Posted under American history & book reviews & jobs & publication & students & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

It turns out that Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.  Christopher Ketcham assembles a very damning dossier demonstrating that it’s serial, not incidental, plagiarism that he has committed.

It doesn’t exactly surprise me, given his logorhheac output, which is a typical tell in the case of other plagiarists (Stephen Ambrose, for example.)  It’s disappointing, however, because for the past several years, I have assigned chapters from his 2003 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning in my survey class, which I’ve organized around a consideration of warfare in early America.  It’s also embarrassing for me as a professor, doubly embarrassing because not only have I assigned portions of this book for a decade to students who flunked my classes when they plagiarized, but also because the news of his plagiarism in this book is more than a decade old!

The horror, the horror~!  (See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness–I’m not plagiarizing Conrad, I’m evoking him here): Continue Reading »

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June 11th 2014
Returning POWs, eighteenth-century style

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & O Canada & race

The recent redemption of captive Bowe Bergdahl has interested me–not the political pissing match, which seems as drearily predictable as the plot of a Harlequin Romance.  The details coming out about his experiences as a prisoner of war are what I want to know more about.  The news that he has trouble speaking English now is especially fascinating to me.  It called to my mind this passage from A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. [Susanna] Johnson, Containing an Account of her Four Years of Suffering with the Indians and French.  First published in 1796, it told of her family’s experiences from 1754-58 as prisoners during the Seven Years War after they were captured in a raid on Fort Number Four in what’s now Charlestown, New Hampshire.  Johnson relates this about the return of her son Sylvanus, whom she last saw at age six or seven.  He was eleven before she saw him again:

In the October following [1758], I had the happiness to embrace my son Sylvanus; he had been above three years with the Indians, followed them in all their hunting excursions and learnt too many of their habits; to civilize him, and learn him his native language was a severe task, (136).

Little Sylvanus Johnson has been on my mind recently, because I wrote an essay last summer about child war captives in early America, and I focused on his experiences in one portion of the essay.  In successive editions of her narrative, Susanna Johnson either gives us more details about Sylvanus’s condition, or she embroiders the story.  From the 1814 third edition published after her death in 1810:

In October, 1758, I was informed that my son Sylvanus was at Northampton [Massachusetts], sick of a scald.*  I hastened to the place, and found him in a deplorable situation; he was brought there by Major Putnam, afterwards Gen. Putnam, with Mrs. How and her family, who had returned from captivity.**  The town of Northampton had taken the charge of him; his situation was miserable; when I found him, he had no recollection of me, but, after some conversation, he had some confused ideas of me, but no remembrance of his father.  It was four years since I had seen him; he was then eleven years old.  During his absence, he had entirely forgotten the English language, spoke a little broken French, but was perfect in Indian.  He had been with the savages three years, and one year with the French.  But his habits were somewhat Indian; he had been with them in their hunting excursions, and suffered numerous hardships; he could brandish a tomahawk or bend the bow; but these habits wore off by degrees, (130).

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June 7th 2014
Education round-up: the suck it up edition

Posted under American history & jobs & local news & students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

cowgirlbroncobestedFriendly greeting!  Comments on the local weather, and humorous story about my weekend plans.  Here we go:

  • Denver second grade teacher Austen Kassinger says that struggle is inherent to learning, and that parents need to push their children to achieve by owning that struggle.  After spending an entire evening working through five long-division problems in fourth grade, her mother told her to figure it out:  “No, she did not think the assignment was unfair. No, she would not write a note to Mrs. Hall. And no, I absolutely could not stay home from school. Thus went her long-standing policy for schoolwork: If my sisters or I didn’t understand something, it was our job, not hers, to talk to the teacher. . . .I wonder what would have happened if my mother had taken the approach of the comedian Louis C.K., whose tweets about his children’s homework recently went viral: ‘Yet again I must tell my kid ‘don’t answer it. It’s a bad question.’ ’ ‘Who is writi[n]g these? And why?” “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!’ My mother could have said some version of those things in response to my meltdown, but she didn’t. She chose not to blame the question, or the teacher, or the test. And because of her steady insistence that if I took ownership of my learning, I could master any subject, I recovered from long division and went on to take AP calculus, multivariable calculus and linear algebra — in high school.”
  • This is the chief complaint I hear from K-12 teachers:  lack of parental support for their work, or even resentment that parents undermine the standards they have set for their students.  Yes, the same parents who make sure their children get to soccer and football practices and games on time, and force their entire families to eat crappy food and live in the backs of their minivans and SUVs to do so.  I just don’t understand the priorities of my fellow Americans.  At all.
  • Dartmouth digital humanist Mary Flanagan writes about the power and the overwhelming distraction of laptops and other personal digital devices in class.  She has encouraged the use of digital technologies in her classes to good effect, “[b]ut most days, there will come a time where faculty or guest speakers actually speak, or dialogue happens or provocative points are raised. It is then that students with technology-control issues immediately check out and check into Facebook or online games or shoe shopping. Unless they are directly involved in a hands-on activity for which they will be accountable in public by the end of class, it is much easier to give in to the presence of technology and lose the experience of direct engagement.”
  • Do you ban the use of tablets, laptops, and/or phones in your classes?  I have a blanket statement on my syllabus about not using digital devices to distracting ends in class, but I haven’t banned them outright.  A few of my students every semester buy e-books and use their Kindles or tablets in class to access them as well as PDFs of assigned articles and primary sources.  This year, several students have used their phones for this purpose as well.  As for laptops, it’s only a few students at my university who use them in class, and my experience is that it’s both some of the high performers and some of the low performers who use laptops in class.  That is, they work well for very organized and dedicated students, and they serve as vehicles for distraction for others.  I have been of the opinion that it’s up to students to pay attention, or not–remembering full well all of the means by which I used to distract myself in college classes nearly 30 years ago.  Also, if students are distracted by someone else’s laptop or tablet, it’s up to them to find a seat in which they can learn.  But now I’m starting to think that digital distraction may play a role in the poor performance of my two most recent classes, and that I may need to start banning laptops.

Continue Reading »

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June 2nd 2014
Feminist lives: Stephanie M. H. Camp, Maya Angelou, and Sandra Bem

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & unhappy endings & women's history

Last week, Kate Raphael of Pacifica’s Women’s Magazine (KFPA 94.1) contacted me to see if I would let her interview me about Stephanie Camp and the importance of her scholarship.  Kate put together a series of commemorations of the lives of feminist women who have died recently–Maya Angelou, Sandra Bem, and Stephanie.  The show also features a lengthy interview with Stacy Russo, who edited Life as Activism: June Jordan’s essays in the Progressive.  Russo shares her memory of Jordan as a teacher as well as reviews the importance of her work.

You can hear the results here.  Women’s Magazine’s blog is here.  I hope you’re enjoying June.

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May 29th 2014
Brisk winds from the archives, or, a publicly engaged historian at work on Roe, Brown, and the Christian right

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & race & wankers & women's history

impeachearlwarren

Drop whatever you’re doing now and go read Randall Balmer’s excellent article on “The Real Origins of the Religious Right.”  Subtitle:  “They’ll tell you it was abortion.  Sorry, the historical record is clear:  it was segregation.”  Balmer, who has just published Redeemer:  The Life of Jimmy Carter, recounts what he found in the archives while researching that book.  If it really was Roe that radicalized the Christian right, then what the hell were all of those “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper stickers and billboards about in the 1950s, 60s and 70s? (Isn’t that a nice touch with the stars and bars over there on the left?  Very subtle.)

That’s right, friends:  it was Brown v. Board of Education, not Roe:

This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.

Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

Continue Reading »

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May 27th 2014
The “high cost of higher ed” is in fact not going to college (and in not going to class)

Posted under American history & jobs & local news & students & unhappy endings

What am I missing

What am I missing?

David Leonhardt asks “Is College Worth It?,” and finds that the pay gap between college grads and people without college is at an all-time high.  Fortunately, he sings one of my favorite songs here too:

[The] public discussion today — for which we in the news media deserve some responsibility — often focuses on the undeniable fact that a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success. But of course it doesn’t. Nothing guarantees success, especially after 15 years of disappointing economic growth and rising inequality.

When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.

The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.

Longtime readers will recall my frustration with the “high cost of higher education” media conversation, mostly because I think it’s dominated by people who are choosing to pay for private, selective educations for their children, not by people who patronize our fine state colleges and universities, which have in fact kept the price of their educations artificially low by shifting a majority of their faculty from tenured or tenure-track positions to adjunct casual labor.  Also, where’s the accountability for school performance by students in these conversations?  Are students with 3.0 averages or higher suffering from unemployment at the same rate as students who didn’t work as hard in college?  We don’t know, because no one ever holds alumni responsible for any part of their achievement (or lack thereof).

This article comes just a week after I submitted my final grades for the two classes I taught in the spring semester, an upper-level course aimed at History and other Liberal Arts majors, and a lower-level survey course.  Continue Reading »

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