Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sic 'Em Bearwagon (Not a burn on Baylor)

Like many other sports enthusiast, I cannot stand bandwagon fans. The word "fan" is obviously derived from the word "fanatic" which suggests the seemingly impulsive and yet insatiable desire to pursue unwaveringly an insistent associative ideal. You hear the term "fanatic(al)" when people refer to the militant or combative aspects of religion from time to time. It's usually when some sort of hostile intent is especially evident like when a human bomb kills a lot of people. Arguably, fanaticism can be a dangerous thing. Even in the glorious world of sports you see things go too far. Pranks are one thing even in horrible taste but when a man is damn near beaten to death at a Dodgers/Giants game we need to seriously re-evaluate whether what we're cheering for is really worth this price or not. I've had to endure the association of bad sportsmanship at Texas Tech. By the way, EVERY school has their demons including Texas A&M, UT, and Baylor. I'll not abide anyone saying differently. Over the top "classless" fans are everywhere so we need to be able to own up and tell the damn difference. Be proud but not gullible or stupid. To be a part of something greater than ourselves is incredible but it's also supposed to be somewhat humbling. Guess we dropped the ball on that one. I offer this preface simply to get a grip on fan hood before we discuss the woodwork wiggling antithesis of the actual, legitimate fan.

I acknowledge that "bandwagoning" is a difficult thing to avoid at times. It's our nature to desire being accepted and supported and going against the current with rows of the outspoken doesn't exactly bathe us in the warm, glowing embrace of the winning whatever. However, it's pretty cowardly to jump on the tail end of something having not been through the disheartening trenches of the dark days or even the beginning of any turning point. I've been a Texas Rangers fan since I was a young boy. Along with many of my friends, I've grown up with a number of Yankee and Red Sox fans despite living in Central Texas. (I once shouted at a guy wearing a ton of Red Sox stuff at Rangers/As game: "You forget what game you were at jackass?!" My friend Ryan got mad at me. I still think it was somewhat funny but he was probably right) It was curious two seasons ago how suddenly there were Rangers fan everywhere. I can't help but wonder where they all were before we started making trips not only to the playoffs but to the World Series. I also wonder now where have all the Cowboy (fans) gone? I really hate that stupid song by the way. Our 'Boys have had a rough go of it the past several years and I notice a lot of negative talk, fewer banners, fewer shirts, and just general malaise at the topic.I'll admit, I've faltered like anyone at frustrations and losses yet I wash the beer, blood, and tears out of my apparel and return ready to cheer even louder. I've had fun little exchanges with students too about college teams. There was one occasion when Tech lost to Texas and one of my students decided it was a good idea to give me shit about it. He sat there with a smug grin on his face so I smiled back and asked him where he went to school. He answered "MCC." I then provoked him with "So you don't go to UT. Have you applied there?" "No." "Has anyone from your family ever gone there?" "Uhh.." "Have you ever set foot on the campus?" "Well..I've been to Austin.." (His smug smile has disappeared by now.) "So let me get this straight: I've received two degrees from my university, never missed a home game while also attending away games, I continue to support my Alma mater as I actually have one, I have Tech apparel and memorabilia all over my home and office...and you bought a hat. Yeah, you can't say a damn thing to me." It's easy to root for a team that generally wins all of the time.

It's interesting how these associations can bring out the worst in us. Bandwagoning doesn't even have to be the "fear-of-being-left-behind" congregating of fact it can be quite the opposite. Whether you like him or not, Tim Tebow is an interesting person. An underdog story with Christian undertones coming nearly to fruition is going to draw attention to be sure. However, it's not the support you hear about when conversing about the unconventional NFL quarterback. There are plenty of people (whom I've encountered anyway) who simply say that they dislike (or even hate in some cases...funny to hate someone whom you've never met) without rational means as to why. You can't dislike someone without reason. If you don't like the way they play or perform, that's one thing, but to espouse vicious venom of a personal stranger in the public eye is suspicious and certainly irresponsible. It sounds more like there's the fear of being outspoken and damn it we all want so badly to be accepted so by all means hate, hate, hate. In this case it's the disdain that brings us closer together. There has to be a better way. Whether it's sports, politics, or whatever "hating" someone or a team simply because you want to be in a supportive environment isn't going to cut it and honestly makes you look pretty insecure.
One of the most recent bandwagon trends I've seen is Baylor Football. For years and years the turnout at Floyd Casey Stadium was minimal at best which saw fewer spectators at the half when it became apparent that the Bears would not win the game. Now however crowds are coming in droves, I consider myself a supporter of Baylor due to the fact that I live in Waco and enjoy the opportunity to cheer for a home team. I feel like my "fan-hood" is justified in that I've lived in Waco most of my life and have always supported Baylor, even as a Red Raider, which includes time during their "suck" years. That being said, you won't see me posting "hate" on Facebook or rending my garments or wailing, etc. if Baylor happens to lose a game...even a big one. On the other side of things you won't see me adding "III" to the end of my Facebook name nor will I be buying any Superman socks. I do believe there is a difference between supportive association and "everyone else is doing this so I need to as well." While originality is being hurled out the window bandwagoners are all too happy to lick the balls of willing assimilation. I will state firmly that Robert Griffin, the Baylor quarterback, did in fact deserve the Heisman trophy. It brings (finally) more positive notoriety to Waco and establishes credibility for Baylor Football. There...that's done. What's next? Believe it or not I have more important things to than follow trends.

Granted, there are plenty of people who cheer temporarily for a person or team because of their immediate surroundings and it's fun. I think that's benign and not at all what I'm referring to. It's those who are vocal and zealous about their associations that I'm focusing on.

A true fan never expects to win, they only hope for victory. The "fan" who leaves at the half, hangs the one shirt in the closet, and bitches on Facebook when a team loses a game, even a big one, should do us a favor and "cheer" for someone else. A true fan will sit drenched in raining misery and stand up .Victories are sweeter and loses are bearable because we endured it ALL together. Now get off that f-ing wagon and walk. It'll be difficult and take a lot longer but it's worth it. We're a little farther back but we're still behind you.

(An update on my Face`book from June 13, 2011: "Saw the biggest "bandwagon van" ever this morning on the way to work. The rear glass contained Miami Heat, LA Lakers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees (what??) UT Longhorns, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Manchester United, and New England Patriots stickers. Toolbag. If that was your van then I'm sorry...that you're a toolbag.")

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thank You for Your Courteousness Towards Others During the Movie

First of all, from where the hell does the theater base this presumption given the movie hasn’t started yet. I’d bet all of the money in my pockets that there’s always someone, whom once has read that, is determined to be a complete ass. I like most people have had to endure the most annoying of comments, sounds, cell phone screen and ringtones, and on one very special occasion a fight with drunken morons. I’ll save that story for another time though many of you may have heard it already. It’s increasingly strange though that out of an entire theater, the only people who decide to talk are always sitting right next to me or behind me. I swear there’s some kind of polarity that attracts them to me. Whispering is annoying enough but outright talking is flat out telling everyone else that they don’t care if they’re there or not. My absolute favorite is the jackass who decides to say what he thinks is a funny comment out loud. It’s incredibly satisfying when no one laughs. It’s a bonus that after a brief silence you hear someone mutter something like “douche.” If people laugh following that well then it’s just the cherry on top. Yes, I understand that irony and the soup├žon of hypocrisy. There’s a scene from the first episode of the first season of Californication where David Ducovny’s character beats the absolutely hell out of someone who won’t stop talking out loud on his phone during a movie. Thanks, David. Fictitious though it may be I was still able to live vicariously through that as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
The sad thing is that when you politely ask someone to lower their voice they get indignant about it. There was one such case when a “couple” sitting behind a group near me was having fun chatting out loud about what they thought was going to happen next. A member of the group turned around and asked far more nicely than was necessary given it was 30 minutes into the movie and the talking had not broken for a moment for them to please not talk so loudly. The response was a much louder “WHAT’D YOU SAY TO ME MOTHER $%#$@%?!I really wish the polite fellow had yelled it again. Being reasonable suddenly has no place in a venue where people gather to watch and listen to something. I’ve heard additional stories from friends and family who have worked at movie theaters. Some teenagers have been very upset that their sexual acts were interrupted. After all, they did pay for the ticket. Maybe they should go home and make a movie of their own. I’m also pretty shocked at some of the movies parents bring their kids to. Guess we shouldn’t be too surprised though as parental strategies these days are about as effective as getting bread out of a toaster with a screwdriver. Kids are a fast way to ruin a movie. They ask a lot of questions. Their interrogatives are also frequently inane and irrelevant. Yes, I know they’re kids but can’t they be at home asking why Uncle Jim spends so much time “paying bills” with mommy? These kids have more important things to pay attention to rather than trying to figure out why all that spaghetti sauce keeps coming out where that guy’s head used to be (true story).
You’re what’s ruining America, movie-talkers and enablers. By and large I’m fairly certain that all movie-talkers are communists. Can’t you just stay at home and stream the damn movie that someone posted on the Internet from their camera phone?
Presumption aside, I really think that the preceding slide before all the commercials we don’t give a damn about begins should be changed to “We reserve the right to beat the hell out of you with a large stick should you talk, text, or are otherwise distracting during the movie. If you have a problem with this policy you may either shove it up your ass or haters may exit to the left.” They’re more than welcome to thank the audience after the movie has concluded provided no one was distracting in any way. Just seems to make more sense to me. Wouldn’t be any shortage of people who would want that job. Hell, I’d moonlight as the Movie Stick Punisher. I think I’d be quite good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Emotional Intelligence: Rolling Out the Red Carpet

While conversing with friends, we talk about a wide variety of topics that could certainly go in any direction. I find that I enjoy communicating with friends who are "colleagues" which includes educators of any stripe. We talk a lot about teaching philosophies including how to engage students on a more personal and professional level. When I say personal level, I mean drawing about what's called immediacy and rapport. Students have reported that one of their biggest issues in their classes isn't the work load, the length of the lecture, or the difficulty of the tests and while these issues certainly do come up, the most common complaint is from the perception that their teachers don't really give a damn about their success. Right now the college that I teach at, McLennan Community College, is undergoing re-accreditation and is subsequently evaluating a lot of our approaches in the area of student retention including a practice called "emotional intelligence." While I disagree with the direction we're taking in this area, I do agree this is an area worthy of our attention. Students in college have to deal with a lot and while many of them didn't learn effective strategies for discipline in high school, they may not have had those values instilled in them at home...a source of the overall problem. To assume that we can immediately or ever over time educate students on how to care about school is a little naive. Showing students that you care about their success and well-being is step one in my opinion. Implicitly, or better yet, explicitly telling students you want them to succeed can go a long way in motivating them. Sometimes all a person needs, in many contexts, is just to know that someone is in your corner. Many students have never even had a modicum of this sensation. Emotional intelligence strategies for me include immediately telling students I want to see them improve and succeed and that I will help them as far as they're willing to help themselves. Students need to be challenged, but in conjunction with someone guiding them with encouragement. It's easy to get worn down by students who don't seem to care at all, but by altering our perception we might be able to at the very least stave off further or future apathy.
My mentor and division chair in grad school had a similar philosophy which is where much of mine originated. Though he was young, brilliant, and well-credentialed, he treated us as equally. He communicated with us as though we were capable of the same quality of research and publishing that he himself was capable of. That level of confidence inspired us to give everything we possibly could. Why don't we try and relate to our students in the same way? We can keep the bar high but with inspiration and a more hands-on endeavor students will try all the more hard to clear that bar.
Returning to my original point, a conversation with a colleague who teaches at North Lake in Dallas, TX revealed that one of his institution colleagues would roll out a red carpet into his classroom on the first day of class where students would walk on it upon entering the room. He would later explain that everyone in his class was "a star on his red carpet." While some of his more jaded and cynical students would scoff at this, there was no doubt that many were actually flattered by that sentiment. I myself admire that gesture. Students need to be told that what they're doing is a big deal...because it is. It's not mere flattery or enthusiasm. College isn't supposed to be just what comes next nor is it a simple conduit to the professional world. College is a statement: I want to learn, to better myself, and hopefully contribute to the world in a positive way.
At the end of the semester I tell my students a Latin phrase: "Quo vadimus?" which translates to "Where are we going?" I tell them to never reach point where they stop asking "what's next?" They need to always put themselves in a place where they are learning, teaching, or hopefully both. Once that ceases, so basically does their life. Students will have the momentum to do this if it begins with at least one teacher who emphatically declares, "I give a damn about you and your future." This is what they need. This is what's going to help keep the world turning and the future laden with possibilities.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Social Construction (Part 1)

(I may add to this post later)

Many of us get it into our heads that there is a strict, non-obtrusive way of doing things. Where does this come from? Perhaps intuition, parental dictation, peer influence and pressure, divine intervention...the list certainly could go on. In actuality, much of the way in which we behave comes from societal pressure. My students in my Interpersonal Class have heard my thoughts on this and many agree according to their reflection papers. I am not delusional by the way as many of them write that the agree because they figure that they'll get more points if I hear what I what to hear (read what I want to read). However, some part of me hopes that they do take it to heart...that they don't have to adhere to popular culture to be happy. It might not be for ten years after college partying ways have waned to some decree but hey, better late than never. The simple true is that many people behave, react, engage, emulate, and perpetuate certain behaviorisms because they believe it will bring them social acceptance. Unfortunately, they're least for now. One of my final lectures in my Interpersonal Communications class is entitled "Growing Up Masculine, Growing Up Feminine" based on an article rooted in research and written by renowned gender communication specialist Julia T. Wood. Five themes of masculinity and femininity are offered reflecting on how modern assertions explicitly state what makes a man and a woman. While the article stresses caution against such paradigms, I indulge some unfettered passion in order to convince my students that these themes are absolute bullshit.

For the purpose of time and because, once again, I am under the poetic and exhaustive influence of alcohol, I will break this rant into two parts beginning with masculinity.
All hail the great men of modern society who drink, screw, and make others to seem inferior by comparison. I am of course being intentionally sarcastic speaking as someone who can drink a lot, has enjoyed a number of sexual occasions, and has made something of himself in the professional realm. Make no mistake, this is not vanity. Vanity is not self-propelled...its inception comes from trying to impress other people. By no means am I trying to impress you, I am simply making a point. Many men see it as their purpose in life to be the envy of all other men. Certainly this will bring about disappointment as there will always be at least one other person in your immediate surroundings who is better or more "laudable" in a particular category. Men have been convinced since they were boys that in order to be "successful" that cannot only be good at what they do, they must be the best. Therefore, for many men success becomes a comparison issue. If someone else is "above you" or "on top" you are less-than and thus weak. "Weakness" represents the worst fear of masculinity whether it is exuding ANY types of femininity, not being successful, not being aggressive and taking what "yours," not being sexual, and not being self-reliant. If any of these things is self-propelled, that is a virtue a man believes necessary for his survival and the survival of those whom he cares about, then so be it. All power, glory, etc. However, if any of these things is the result of a socially-constructed unspoken mandate of what masculinity is supposed to be, then he has mis-stepped. The idea that a man has to be an aggressive, high-paid, sexuality explicit cowboy is not only lunacy, it's dangerous. There are a number of men, some of whom are people I know, who consider themselves not worthy of attention (especially from women) and have to endure lowered self-esteem. The irony is that men who behave in the way described, often times are doing so in order to compensate for lower self-esteem. I always chuckle a little when some remarks "He must be making up for something" when a guy in a big truck revs his engine. It's true he is making up for something, but I don't think it has anything to do with his physiology. A guy who insists on driving a big truck which in practicality would result in metallurgy or lumber work, needs for people to give him attention. It's the same reason why frat guys wear pink's not people they think they look good in that color, it's because they feel the need to prove something. In this case, they're trying to prove their comfort in their sexuality and "masculinity." A real man has nothing to prove. A real man doesn't need the validity from popular culture. A real man is the unsung figure that does what is best for him, his family, and his friends...and that's the water's edge. Masculinity is self-propelled and does not have a socially constructed factor. 

Both men and women spend so much time (often with futility) to impress everyone else. We all spend a lot of time and effort trying to prove to others that we are worthy when most of them are not paying attention because they're trying to do the same thing. I, for one, do not want to look back on my efforts and chalk them up to frivolity.

In my humble opinion, the virtues to which a man should adhere are strength, integrity, respect, and honor. These are the values that my father instilled in me. They are the values that I will instill in my sons assuming I am lucky enough to have them. If you want the expanded version of my opinions in this matter, I welcome you to take my Interpersonal Communications class (but you'll have to wait until the end of the semester for this particular part). I will welcome your agreement as well as your dissent. Keep in mind I've prepared for it....make sure you do too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Song Stuck In Your Head Syndrome (Condition not yet recognized in the DSM)

We've all been there before and probably many, many times. For seeminly no reason at all we get a song in our head that just won't leave. Sometimes it happens after having just heard a song and other times it just appears without reason or provocation. Technically speaking though, it isn't the song that's in our head, it's just one part. Often times it's the most annoying part and if it isn't it will be soon. This event can go one of two ways: either it's a song you hate and its repetition in your mind causes you further irritation (like scratching a rash) and frustration, or it's a song you like and will inevitably hate now because you're "hearing" it far more than is desired. Right now "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" by Cage the Elephant is being ruined for me. My mind seems intent on torturing me as somehow everytime I go to sleep (assuming I'm able to do so) with a song in my head, it's waiting for me with a big FU the moment I wake up. Talking, watching movies, and trying to play other music somehow doesn't hinder it. I'm stuck in a static state of suck. Alliterations kick ass.

"You know at this point it doesn't matter because it keeps running inside my head and the only way I'm gonna get it out is if I blow it out...WITH A BULLET!!!" - Carl, Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Is Starting To Sound Like A Country Song (Student Excuses)

Anyone who has been in education is all too familiar with the variety of student excuses. They tend to evolve in their availability. Students in high school for example don't have as much to work with as many have not emancipated themselves from parental control and oversight. In college however all bets are off. Students are able to explore the vast recesses of their mind but regrettably in the wrong fashion. The art of excuse-making has come a long way from "my dog ate my homework." Some of them are getting downright damn creative. You almost want to give credit for effort. The student condition leads them to believe that if they mix together a concoction of common logic (an incidence that isn't too far-fetched which usually involving a vehicle), perceived credibility of limited availability of knowledge (setting the information in a way where the teacher can in no way prove the reason for the excuse didn't happen in the manner described) and of course at least a couple fingers worth of emotion (attempt at guilt and sympathy while turning up the effort with vocal quality and facial expressions). This is what Aristotle would call the perfect blend to maximize persuasion. In this case, to persuade (manipulate) their instructor into a cooperative mindset. The cause might be a missed class, a late assignment, a forgotten test...who knows. The palpable irony however is that if a student put half of the energy into their work that they did into their excuses, they would have As, and I wouldn't feel like I'm developing an ulcer.
It's no coincidence that excuses come in droves only when presentations are supposed to be given and on test days. Due to successes in their art form in high school college students especially expect their teachers to simple allow them to make up tests and presentations at the student's convenience at no penalty. Some college educators allow this. Enablers. Pawns in the every growing instant gratification, entitlement paradigm. Admittedly, I try to give the benefit of the doubt when I can. There are some cases though when the series of events (sometimes over the semester, sometimes all at once) reaches a point that's just ri-damn-diculous. Honestly, sometimes it sounds like a country song which might include the following: dog died, wife left me for the local carney, friends gave up beer, house burned down, truck exploded, lost job, got another job but that building burned down too, van I was living in blew into the river and sank, got herpes from a prostitute, was cleaning my gun and it went off into a convenience store clerk, and how I'm sitting in a cell singing the country blues. Now granted, the excuses I hear aren't quite this bad but you'd be surprised at how close it gets at times.
The 2nd and 3rd most common excuses are the ones that are hard to have them account for: family issues and care problems. I always feel like a jackass when I request evidence of a family member passing but students aren't above figuratively killing a relative in order to get a few extra days for last minute panic studying or paper writing. No kidding, one semester while teaching at Texas Tech, one of my students had the same grandmother die twice (he edited the date on the funeral program). Oops. When it comes to vehicles, if I had a dollar for every student that got a flat tire whether it was it upon discovery that morning or on the way to school, I could retire right now.
The number one excuse is the most readily available: "I'm sick." Students figure that they're covered if they simply send their instructor an email citing whatever is going around at the time: allergies, flu, cold, or the "just not feeling well." It's evidently become fairly easy for students to create doctor's notes so now I need to require a number I can call to ensure that the student actually made a trip to the doctor's office. All this energy, for both me and the student, could be so incredibly better used elsewhere.
Despite how old this can get, it is still fun sometimes to watch students come up with something new. :-D Now if you'll excuse me, there's an Alan Jackson song playing in the distance somewhere, I smell smoke, and I'm not feeling well. :-p

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Generation: "Who Gives A Damn"

I'm growing more and more concerned about the seeming downslide in generational characteristics. Whereas at one point it took decades of time and circumstance to shape the general way we could look at a generation's characteristics, the technological age has bred one distinguishable mindset: who gives a damn. Generation NeXt, as the most recent genegration has been named, is the result of being born into a world of the technological availability of distance and complacency. It's quickly discovered that a person barely has to move at all in order to attain information, play a game, watch a movie, communicate with others, or ironically even physical exert themselves. Smart phones, the Nintendo Wii, Netflix, HBO on Demand, computers and the Internet have drawn many to the idea that little effort, if any, is required in order to get through life. This is contingent however on it's availability which is in no short supply. Parents are more than happy to provide their children with these "distractions" because in essence it takes pressure off of them as well. You don't have to spend as much time being a parent if you plop your kid in front of a TV or computer. Am I suggesting that parents who allow their kids to utilize technology are evil? No, certainly not. The idea however, is to REGULATE the extent and amount. Five-year-olds do not need cell phones. Think of how irradiated they will be before they're eighteen.  The earlier members of the current generation are exposed to the technological availablility of complacency, the harder it will be for them to seperate themselves from it for even a moment. If doesn't seem to matter how many times I tell my students to stop texting in class, they still continue in ferocious obsession. When they're instructed to stop or be dropped from the class, I get looks as though I just killed their puppy. I heard a radio show yesterday morning that talked about a study that was done on young teenagers with regard to technology. All technology other than a land-line phone was taken away from the study group for a few days. The reaction was similar to the withdrawal that drug-addicts experience when they stop using, cold turkey. This suggests a SERIOUS dependency problem.
Technology, while a pervasive and useful tool in networking and communication is producing, in general, a disassocitive society. I think there is a direct coorelation with a breakdown in face-to-face communication, writing skills, discipline, work ethic, and interpersonal relationships. These issues in turn keep the youth dropping out of school, losing jobs, having failed relationships all in which might cause depression and further tangible isolation. Invariably, it leads to the mindset "who gives a damn." The generation of entitlement has given way to a generation of laziness and complacency. The idea that it's too hard because it requires effort so screw it. I'm not suggesting that everyone adheres to such a mindset, but I see it grow with every semester. My colleages and I generally agree that with each passing year, students grow more distant, are less prepared, communicate less, and give up more. This correlates with the growing dropout numbers.
I don't think that technology serves as the single source for modern apathy but I do feel as though it is a substantial part. We've lost a lot of the human face and the human voice in our interactions because of this. Conversations, date proposals, break-ups, and brief bits of information are utilized through phones as opposed to doing what is difficult and looking the figure in the eye. Easy has become practice, and its seeming practicality has become cowardice.