Mid-November Assessment

This continues to be an intense semester. My health is suffering (although, not drastically), and I constantly feel like I’m forgetting something, or that my fly is open — I know there’s SOMETHING!

Last week was very difficult. On Monday, at Fresno State, there was a diverted tragedy, as one of the freshman football players sent out a message on social media that a hot blonde would be getting a head shot by 3pm, that afternoon. I first heard about it when a fellow lecturer came into our shared office and said that students were telling him about the posts and the internet “buzz.” A few minutes later, in my class, I found that almost every student in my class (that was scheduled to conclude at 2) already knew about the threat. The campus finally sent out an alert, during that class, and I decided to let my students go a few minutes early, so we could all get off campus by 3. On Wednesday, at UC Merced, a freshman attacked 2 fellow students, a contract employee, and an advisor with a knife. He was shot and killed by campus police. These two events, so close to my heart. My personal ties to Fresno State go back almost 10 years to the time I returned to complete my BAs in History and Anthropology and stayed around to pick up an MA in History. My mother used to take continuing education classes, as far back as 1967, and my step-father earned his BA from Fresno State College, in 1956 (the year I was born). I may not consider myself a died-in-the-wool bulldog, but that doesn’t negate my association to the school — first hand as a student, grad student, teaching assistant, and now lecturer. UC Merced is probably one of the campuses to which my heart is most closely attached, and I have found myself in tears, several times, thinking about the tragedies in COB, on Scholar’s Lane and on the Bridge. I posted the following on Facebook shortly after the incident:

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To some, this makes no sense. Those of us from the campus understand the importance of “our bridge.” It may appear to be just a bridge over an irrigation canal that runs through campus, but in reality, that bridge is THE bridge between worlds.

A day or two before the beginning of each Fall semester incoming freshmen and transfer students gather on the “lower” side of the bridge, along with the Chancellor, Rufus Bobcat, faculty and staff, and upper class men and women. Everything on that side of the bridge is support — dorms, the health center, the dining commons, the gym, and the visitor’s center — while everything on the other side of the bridge (what can be seen in this photo) is the academic side of the campus — the library, labs, classrooms, lecture halls, and faculty offices. On the signal from Chancellor Leland, the new “Bobcats” make their way across the bridge to the academic side and walk through the “Beginnings” statue (what we all lovingly refer to as the metal vagina). Two to five years later, for commencement, graduates walk back through Beginnings, cross the bridge (going the other way), and wind their way down to the soccer pitch to receive their diplomas (or, in reality, an empty folder into which they can place their diploma when it arrives in 2-3 months).

It was on this bridge that the perpetrator of this horrible series of events was shot and died. For those of us who are part of the campus community, this stain on our bridge — a structure that most of us have to cross at least twice each time we’re on campus — is permanent. Few of us will look at the bridge without remembering the events of this week. May we never go through anything like this, again. May we reclaim “our bridge” and let it, again, symbolize the bookends of our academic journey. The bridge is now a reminder of the death of one of our own; a young man that we failed. He saw no way other than to strike out at his fellow students and faculty and staff. I’m sure he brought many of his demons with him, but it breaks my heart that we, as a community, were not able to help him grow beyond them.

So, maybe our bridge is now also a reminder of our failures, as well as our successes. When we cross that bridge in May, and many of our fellow Bobcats celebrate our collective and individual successes, perhaps, we’ll take a moment (in sadness, not anger) to remember our mistakes and failures, as well.

Two campuses to which I’m closely associated, attacked by their own students, in one week — yes, I take it very personally.

As for the rest of the semester, it’s been interesting (so far).

This is the first time I’ve taught an online class, and I’m adjusting. The upper division Applied Anthropology class has proven to be an interesting experience. I’m always fascinated by how much I learn when I teach a new class — even one like this. In this instance, however, most of what I learned was about how to teach that particular class, and the changes I will make for next time around (I can see a weekend rewriting and revising that syllabus, in the near future).

My US History classes have been quite disappointing. Both at Fresno State and Fresno City, the grades have been the lowest I’ve ever seen for these classes. The average score for the midterm ranged from a low of 41% to a whopping high of 47%. Additionally, I have tightened up the citation requirement, which has resulted in lower grades on the papers. Regardless, it is becoming increasingly clear that most students are not purchasing or using the books for the class. So, next term, as an experiment, I will be switching my US classes at both campuses to the on-line system provided by Globalyceum. This puts the textbook, additional visual essays, and all assignments on-line, allowing me to force them to not only do the reading, but to demonstrate an understanding of the material in a step-by-step fashion. This eliminates the need for me to grade midterms and finals (just their papers), and provides me with a wide array of tools that can be used on-line or in-class to try to be more effective. There’s a lot of prep to set up the class shells, and tweak the sections, but, I think in the long run, a) they’ll learn more, b) I’ll provide better assessment and feedback, and c) I’ll have less hand-grading to do while retaining the same amount of critical thinking and writing. We shall see.

My World History class is an anomaly. It’s basically a 4 week class — 4 Saturdays, 4 Tuesdays, and 3 Thursdays. Each class is 4.5-5 hours long, and it is brutal. Loathe as I am to turn down any class offered at Fresno City College, I don’t think I’ll ever agree to another of these compressed classes, again (possibly the 4 week session in summer session, but never another one of these short classes during the regular term). It’s rough on the students. It’s rough on me. I don’t know that they’re actually learning anything. Between my lectures, films, small group discussions, and other activities, I know they don’t have the time to internalize any of the information. I tried to explain, last night, that my goals for the class were for them to a) gain a better understanding of the various religious traditions, b) to employ cultural relativity when viewing the rest of the world, and c) to at least have an inkling of how the ancient world developed. Beyond that, I don’t know what they’ll be able to retain.

Next semester, I may be adding two additional upper division Anthropology classes to my cv. Ethnic Relations and Culture and the History and Theory of Anthropology. The first (which looks like it is scheduled) is very exciting for me, as it will allow me to really tackle race and ethnicity in a global context with my students. I’m reviewing books and films, now (between everything else). I can’t wait to sit down with upper division Anthro majors and watch them try to get their heads around these topics. Likewise, the second class (which is not finalized, yet, so it might not happen) is one for which I have been a teaching assistant, and one that, when done well, can be a great foundation for Anthropology majors hoping to go on to graduate school or just hoping to get a more theoretical base from which to approach their work. I hope I get that assignment because it will provide some depth for my cv, at the same time, I think I can do a good job for my students. Watch this space.

As for my research and my dissertation: I think I’m on-track. I have sent four chapters to my primary advisor for review (I’m scared to death to hear back from her, on those), and I’m writing the most important chapter on weekends and evenings. Over the course of the next six weeks, I hope to finish most (if not all) of the research for that chapter, draw a circle around what I think is most important, frame it theoretically, and write it up. If all goes as planned, by the time next semester starts, I’ll have a document called my dissertation (for my advisors to tear apart). it’s time to get this finished and enter the next phase.

There are just a couple of other (somewhat) interesting points:

I’ve been asked to speak, as part of a speaker’s forum, at Porterville College on Feb 5 (that’s a Friday). This is almost strange for me because I have such a history with that town and college. I actually finished high school at Porterville High School — if my meaning finished, I mean I ditched class for two years so I could party with my friends and barely graduate with a low D average — and my earliest college units (all for music and theatre) were earned at Porterville College. Within six weeks of graduation, I left Porterville for Los Angeles, only returning 5 years later (almost to the day) to be program director at K-100, the local FM station. I spent just one year, there, that time, When I left, in 1979, I never looked back — having returned only a couple of times to “cruise” and see how the town had changed (not much) and for one unsuccessful job interview at Porterville College. But, all my encounters with Porterville have always been a bit strange, so this may turn out to be another great story to add to that chapter of my non-existent biography.

I’ve also been invited to speak (sometime next semester) on a panel at the Delano campus of Bakersfield College (part of the same district as Porterville). Again, watch this space, as more details unfold, I’ll pass them on.

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