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Don’t Ban Laptops in the Classroom

“I get it,” the professor for my short-story course said, going over the syllabus on the first day of class. She was referring to her cellphone policy, which is basically a have-some-sort-of-decorum-I-beg-you rule. She asks us to be polite and use our good judgement.

“This is second nature to you guys,” she said, holding an invisible phone in her hand. “When I was in college, I would daydream about that guy I’d been seeing,” picture him, “and I’d tune out the lecture to wonder if h…

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Why Freud Still Haunts Us

SigmundFor those of us prone to commemorations, it is a rich season. The beginning of the Great War 100 years ago, 70 years since the Normandy invasion, and the 50th anniversary of several major events in the American struggle for civil rights. September 23 marks 75 years since the death of Sigmund Freud.

Should we care? In many respects, Freud seems to be from another world. We know so much more now. Psychotropic medications are big business and are prescribed to ever-growing numbers of the “worried…

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What’s Not to Like About ‘Like’? Lots

Students clearly tend to like “like.” But can they be weaned? First, though, let’s check in with a few grown-ups.

John McWhorter, in a New York Times article (“Like, Degrading the Language? No Way”), argues that the word “often functions to acknowledge objection while underlining one’s own point. … What’s actually happening is that casual American speech is, in its ‘like’ fetish, more polite than it was before.”

Tina Fey, on the other hand, thinks the fetish a bad thing, at least if the fetishis…

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Confessions of a Gen-Ed Junkie

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I like teaching gen ed. I like it a lot. In fact, I like it more than my major classes. OK, so if my dean calls, I’m going to say I didn’t really mean that. But honestly—just between me and you, Chronicle readers—I do.

Here’s why:

1. I’ve always been a jumper.

No, I don’t mean that I’m suicidal. Not anymore, anyway. Back when I was in grad school, though, I found myself going nuts. You want me to write a dissertation on Victorian literature? Just Vic…

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History, Hashtags, and the Truth About Slavery

When we sat down last week to read The Economist’s dismaying—and subsequently retracted—review of Edward E. Baptist’s new history of American slavery, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, we experienced a strong sense of déjà vu.

The anonymous Economist reviewer objected to Baptist’s portrayal of slavery as a brutal system of “calibrated pain” that provided the foundation for the rise of American capitalism, concluding, “Mr. Baptist has not writte…

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Eroding Colleges’ Reputation? There’s an App for That

In a month when news from academia includes the story of an Idaho State professor literally shooting himself in the foot with a concealed handgun, it takes a lot to win the prize for dumbest move. But, to give credit where credit is due, Goucher College managed to pull it off.

One of the unwritten rules among college administrators is, Don’t publicly criticize the bad decisions of other colleges. Partly that results from allegiance to an increasingly embattled profession, and partly, no doubt,…

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When BS Is a Virtue

In my classroom, we talk in an unstructured way about big themes—love, justice, beauty, the meaning of life—mostly without citing any evidence in support of our claims (certainly not scientific evidence), and almost always without coming to any conclusions. We usually do have a text in front of us, but I am hoping that it will lead us to a lively, freewheeling discussion about things we all care about—not unlike “a conversation at a bar,” as a student recently said to me, describing the class.

I…

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In Defense of Theory

Is gender theory relevant to undergraduate students? Skeptics have long dismissed theory’s intellectual import largely on the basis of style. In the 90s, Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, and Homi Bhabha were scrutinized for their “pretentiously opaque” prose, “bad writing,” and “indecipherable jargon” respectively. Of course not all scholars are equally subject to these sorts of critiques. As Butler noted in her response, “The targets … have been restricted to scholars on the left whose work f…

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How Syllabi Can Help Combat Sexual Assault

While we deal with students primarily in the classroom, we are not insensitive to their larger struggles. As a new academic year approaches, one scourge in particular stands out: the epidemic of sexual violence on campus.  Is there anything professors can do to complement the work done by counseling centers? There is—and it involves adding only one paragraph to your syllabi.

The campus sexual-assault bill this past summer, plus the many media exposés about the campus rape crisis, have raised awa…

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Needed: a Revolution in Musical Training

There may have been a time when it made sense to encourage college freshmen to follow their career dreams, no matter what supply and demand suggested. But when the national infrastructure is decaying, the national debt approaching the GDP, and the indebtedness of our college graduates aggregating to more than $1-trillion, that time has clearly passed.

From what I’ve read, we need more general medical practitioners; more nurses; more scientists, engineers, and teachers of those subjects; and more…