Overcoming the “College Students As Children” Mindset

In 2007 I began working for a nearby community college, my third such institution in Kentucky. In Kentucky, the community college system operates by a set of guiding principles and policies yet each institution also operates as a sort of franchise. The best way I can describe this is the application process. A person must apply to each particular community college for employment. Just because you have been employed part-time at one college for seven years does not mean you will be automatically hired by the second college. They don’t share employment records, in practice. If you ask nicely, the HR staff might do you a favor and place a call on your behalf to request your employment records to ease your portion of the hiring process. Each institution has their own rules pertaining to sexual harassment training, technology training, and whether or not one must also achieve a certain number of hours in professional development. I often found myself driving an hour-and-half to one campus to attend a mandatory PD session on a Monday night. Tuesday night, I would drive an hour to the other campus for yet another mandatory PD session.

Community colleges hire scads of adjunct faculty. Adjunct faculty typically begin with no teaching experience and copious amounts of work experience. The idea is between communicating textbook theories and private sector practice students will benefit. However, the community college teaching experience can be very daunting to those not prepared for non-traditional students. Non-traditional students is basically a safe way of categorizing all students who did not come to college directly out of high school. So, think about what that entails for a moment.

students who did not come to college directly out of high school.

Where were they, these people who did not come to college right out of high school? The question and potential answers are interesting to contemplate. The question itself forces us to challenge our biases and prejudices, too, our preconceived notions of people. From my own experience I can say my adult students, i.e. people, have had a variety of life experiences. A few examples:

  • Jail or prison.
  • Armed forces.
  • Traveled the world.
  • Deckhand on towboats.
  • Welders.
  • Machine tool operators.
  • Route sales.
  • Drug rehab
  • Homeless
  • Gas station owner
  • New immigrant to the United States

My mother has taught every grade from preschool to high school, including Special Education. Her mother was a career educator in Nebraska. My aunt taught school. My uncle taught in the university system in Arizona for over a decade. I’ve been teaching in higher education since 1994. One trait I can admit to is that after a few years ago did I see my students as adults. Educators have built this very draconian mindset into their teaching model I feel is really a detriment to learning and education. When we stand behind our lectern, or as I do, pace in front of the course my sentiment is that we educators place ourselves as the “superior” position in the classroom. I argue this is potentially is a bad idea. Here is why.

During professional development sessions I sit upfront. Not dead-center, but I want to be part of the discussion. Plus, being up front helps me focus, helps me stay on topic, stay awake. Model good behavior for my students, right? Why should I tell them to sit up front and then when the tables are turned I go sit in the back and dig out my cellphone and see what’s happening on Twitter? Not that I am perfect; I will differ the front row to others if the PD is one I have been through before. Sometimes, that happens.

In one community college PD session a few years ago the topic of cellphones hit the floor. A mature woman sitting behind me, who I’m sure has probably passed away as of this writing as I am sure she began teaching somewhere around the invention of chalk, piped up with her cellphone policy. “I give them one warning and then I talk them away. By the end of the night I have 3 or 5 cellphones on my desk.” There were murmurs of agreement throughout the room. Sitting in the front row I dropped and shook my head.

“Can I say something?” I turned so I could face the room. “No one is touching is my phone. Here is why. I have a babysitter at home right now, watching my kids. My wife is pregnant and is due soon. My kid is in the hospital with pneumonia and I want to know if her condition changes. Are all of those things happening to me right now? No. But having been in a classroom for a few years those things are legit reasons to have a phone out. Our students are adults. This is a community college, with a wide range of people taking classes, people with all sorts of life circumstances. I’m not sure we have the right to judge for another what is appropriate or not, and certainly no one is taking my phone away from me. My policy on cellphones has always been,

We are all adults. Just be an adult with your cellphone use. I don’t care if it is out, just please set it for silent or vibrate. Not our of respect for just me, but all the people in the room you are going to irritate. And, you might think about this: one day, you could be teaching a class or workshop. What behavior is going to piss you off that you don’t want? Then, don’t you do it, either.”

People presume either far too much, or perhaps, not enough. People tend to think in the moment. “What right does he have to tell me to silence my phone?” People, it’s not about this moment. It’s about all the moments after this moment, and your future moments to come.” Once I explain this to my class and see the vast majority of my audience have that “light bulb” moment everyone is on my side.

The vast majority. I did have one case I will never forget. One semester a young female student had a front row seat in my Wednesday night geography class, a front row seat on those nights when she graced us with her presence. During one class as I am talking about something geographical the young lady’s phone rings. She answers the phone and proceeds to have a conversation, a conversation like one might have in a bus station or airport seating area, as if nothing else is going on around her.

“Hey! What are you doing?!” I exclaim, incredulous, stopping in mid-sentence during my lecture so the train-wreck of colliding thoughts and circumstances in my brain could have a moment to sort out details.
She looked up at me from her desk. “I’m on the phone,” she said, casually, softly as if I was interrupting her.
“Clearly! Get out!” I demanded. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m on the phone talking to my mother. We’re planning a cruise.”
“Great! Go outside and plan your cruise in the hallway! Oh, my god.”
She drops her head slightly and speaks to her phone. “Hang on a second. I’ve got to go talk in the hallway.” She gathers all of her belongings and leaves for the night, actually. The class is giggling, most everyone is just as agog as I at the audacity of our class member.

Later in the semester, the student would miss two class nights for the very same cruise she had tried to use class time to plan. Then, she wanted and exception for the homework and assignments she missed due to the cruise. Mind you, this was a spring semester course. Spring semesters usually include a mandated week-long holiday of decadence and debauchery we call, “Spring Break.” Did the student plan her cruise for Spring Break? Nooooo. Her cruise occurred the week after our return from Spring Break. Thankfully, these folks are not the rule of behavior. So, even if you, as an educator, hip your audience to adult codes of conduct, you will have one or two feckless individuals who believe themselves immune to adult decorum, much like Donald J. Trump.

I’ve been working on removing students from my teaching vocabulary. Every time I want to use “students” in a sentence, I simply replace “students” with “people.” Now, this can be a little awkward as I discovered the other morning when I referred to my class as “you people.” I stopped for a moment and apologized. “Oh, ugh. That sounded really derogatory. I’m sorry about that.” And then I went on talking about technology and cartography. Beginning a comment like, “You students need to consider …” turned into “You people…” This modification is a work in progress, I admit. My rationale for doing so is the changing circumstances and life experiences of people in my classes. I have a retired Army fellow and a former Navy intelligence officer in my cartography course. I’ve had a former Marine sniper and a respected business owner in class. A number of my students have participated through their churches on mission trips to Honduras, South Africa, Nicaragua, and Kenya. Some of my so-called students are younger than I yet probably have as much or more life experience than I do, honestly.

Our academic environment is convulsing into the 21st century. Higher education for all the lip-service given to being progressive and evolving and adapting to new technologies, is having an extremely hard time dumping the historical mindsets of 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Mindsets that impose the same set of rules and conditions pertaining to adults coming right from high school onto adults coming right from Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, Germany, or from a girls-only school in South Africa.

Our universities do not exist in the climate of the 1950s any longer. College and university shootings are now occurring with almost the same prevalence as primary and secondary school shootings. I personally have had to file two reports against students for threatening me which had the effect of banning them from two college campuses. If they were simply just pissed off they really didn’t consider the consequences their threats might continue to have on their own life as now they will have a really hard time getting an education without literally moving to a new geography. While I have been threatened, as have others, I do not advocate for increased guns on campus, either. That is just a really bad and irresponsible idea, for the record.

This semester was removed from her classroom by police. Not because of anything she had done but because of someone who was threatening her. The faculty person teaching the class became enraged, literally enraged, the police should interrupt his course to remove a student. As a faculty peer, I don’t think we get to make that call, any more. In this time we live, it’s not about your class, not about your dislike of law enforcement. In this time we live, it’s about your safety, the safety of that particular student, and the safety of everyone else on campus, really. When a person threatens someone, everyone around that person becomes a potential victim.

When I was threatened, my initial reaction was to shrug my shoulders and blow it off. The person who communicated a threat had been made against me was a local park ranger taking a night class in the room beside mine. He pulled me out of class to let me know. I turned and went back into my classroom, a little stunned. I looked at the people in the room getting notebooks and pens out and shuffling papers and realized, this threat isn’t just about me. This nutjob knows where I am every Wednesday night. All he has to do is show up, kill me…and then all these witnesses. And then I called the police. The fellow teaching on the other side of me was teaching Criminal Justice and was a current city detective. I went over and spoke with him. He said, “Well, if I were you, I’d start carrying [a gun].” I grew up around weapons, have fired everything from a .22’s to .45’s, revolvers to automatics, shotguns, to AR-15s. I’ve reloaded ammo for .44s and shotguns. In spite of my experience, I really don’t want to carry a weapon. And, the reality is, my personal safety is not the entire issue. There are plenty of lives in a classroom deserving a safe learning experience. When a person threatens an authority figure, like a teacher, everyone between the target and the perpetrator is a potential victim.

This is the life we have, for better or for worse. It’s not Obama’s fault. Putting a Republican in office is not going to automatically encourage angelic behaviors in mentally disturbed people. You’re more likely to get a Uber ride from a unicorn than altering the behavior of mentally deficient people. In fact, one could argue putting a Republican in office is more likely to increase outbursts from the mentally deficient, especially since the GOP has been stalwart against helping veterans and improving health care, which included mental health and then advocating more liberal gun laws.

I’m not sure we, as faculty, get to make that call, to tell the police, “No, you have to wait outside until I’m done talking before you can interview this student.” That student is an adult, by definition. Just like that teacher in my early anecdote is not going to take my cellphone from me, an adult, I don’t think a faculty person gets to make a choice relating to another adult’s safety simply because he or she is a professor. Not in this day and age.

More mundane topics pertaining to adults controlling the behaviors of other adults again concerns cellphone use. I told my students in my cartography course, “I don’t care if your phones are out. I’m not going to presume you are SnapChatting or playing Funny Crows. In fact, I’m going to give you reasons to keep your phones handy. First, your smartphone makes a brilliant digital voice recorder. You can record a bunch of lectures using your phone and then, when convenient, go back and listen to them. Second, you can take pictures of whiteboard notes. Snap a pic before the professor erases them. I will even give you an app that helps with this. Install Microsoft’s Lens app. It has a specific function for snapping pics of whiteboards and can even rectify an image if you take a pic from an angle. Use your phone to look up unfamiliar words; use Wikipedia to look up other information. Oh, and this advice only applies in this room while I am in it. I’m fairly certain for the most part my peers do not approve of my advice. However, I will tell you this. If you say, “I need voice recording due to my hearing loss,” I’m fairly certain professors have no option but to allow it. But, expect a hassle.”

I sat in a peer’s office recently and related all of this. “I would stop teaching if I saw someone was recording me,” was the reply. “Why?” I inquired. “Because I don’t want people recording my stumbles, uhs, uhms. I’d sound like an idiot.” I’m not a big fan of those reactions. We all have those reactions. We all suffer from those moments we never catch until after the fact, after we’ve heard or seen ourselves on audio or video. Uh that’s not uhm a good err excuse for not wanting to uh prevent a student uh uh from improving their notes and uh their content. “We work in a technology field. We have to demonstrate technology and also set a good model for technology use. We also coach other adults in the use of technology. If we treat people like children, don’t get upset when they act like children. Set the bar for adult behavior and for the most part you get that back.”

If we treat people like children, don’t get upset when they act like children. Set the bar for adult behavior and for the most part you get that back.

Professors keep throwing up obstacles to technology, to learning, and have an initial negative reaction to anything new or different. Funny, considering higher education is supposed to be riding the crest of the Wave of Change. Change is hard and as professors we are supposed to be the Vanguards of Change , the Advocates and Champions of Change.

Higher education has so many hurdles to overcome. Higher education is the Millennium Falcon navigating the asteroid field in ESB, being chased by GOP TIE-fighters and bombers. And, just when HE has caught its breath, realizes it has settled in the belly of yet another Tea Party beast and is now being pursued by yet another destructive adversary. There are proactive and preventative measures we can take to help navigate the treacherous zones promulgated by recalcitrant, unimaginative bureaucrats. We have to be willing to overcome complacency and detrimental mindsets, though.


Staying Enthusiastic As Higher Education Sickens

I know. My post’s title is morbid, especially coming on the heels of my previous post about the passing of my director and mentor. He would have appreciated the irony. During what would result in Dr. Wesler’s last semester teaching Kit co-taught a course with the dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts entitled, “The Archaeology of Death.” Kit began the semester strong in spite of losing a kidney and his bladder. Some class periods were handled by the dean while Kit was in Nashville undergoing chemo and radiation. As the semester progressed so did his cancer, this robust enthusiastic archaeologist who immersed himself in bones and dirt like a kid to ice cream was using a walker to move between his office and his Archaeology of Death class. Kit was literally taking care of business until the moment of his death.

Finding motivation to write, the desire, is like venturing out on a bitterly cold ice-covered January morning, doddering and tottering through snow and ice, wondering when your feet will lose their will and slide away, and then deciding, to hell with this and you go back inside and watch Netflix with the dogs and nap. There are good things out there, beyond the white snow and ice-covered streets, and the notion settles to go do something productive.

Is Higher Education really ill? Is it really sickening? Yes, I really do believe in some regions, in some states, Higher Education is certainly not feeling well. Illinois is having true problems. All of Illinois public universities could literally lock their doors at some point this spring and turn students away. From this article from NWITimes.com {link} Illinois Republicans are seeking to fund universities at 80% of FY2015 levels. I read that as a 20% budget cut. Budgets for community colleges would be funded at 90% of FY2015. Eastern Illinois University is owed $49M and is looking to lay people off {link}. Western Illinois University could layoff 42 people for the remainder of the academic year due to $7.5M owed to the school by the state {link}. In the Illinois governor’s budget to the Illinois General Assembly, SIU‘s budget was cut 30% {link}.

From a sense of sustenance, yes, Higher Education is being starved. In an atmosphere of scarcity people begin to turn on their own neighbors, their own institution, on their own administrators, on their own colleagues. Staying enthusiastic when Republicans attack education is rough.

Democrats are not attacking education. Maybe one or two misguided Democrats are, but by-and-large Democrats recognize the value education brings to society. Republicans, inexplicably, turn on the hand that has fed them, feeds them, actually, and seek to undermine the strongest of economic fabrics the United States offers. I was raised by educated Republicans. Hell, I realized last year I’m a registered Republican in my county of residence. When I registered in the 1980’s as a Republican I saw eye-to-eye with their ideology. Today, I can barely look a Republican in the eye. Many are educated, have 4-year degrees, Master’s Degrees, and Ph.Ds yet vote against the very institutions responsible for their education. It’s like slapping your mother in the face after she worked hard to raise you all those years.

I don’t want to turn this into an extended castigation of Republicans. Maybe I’ll save diatribe for later. In Kentucky, the Democrats in their stupefying apathy stayed home from the gubernatorial election last fall and allowed a Tea Party darling, Matt Bevin, to be elected as the 2nd Republican governor of Kentucky in forty years. Bevin has wasted no time in setting the clock back for Kentucky residents, mandating the demolition of Kentucky’s health care exchange, revoking voters rights of felons, and now is demanding a 9% across the board cut in Higher Education in Kentucky {Chicago Tribune}.

We are not touching things that touch the people of Kentucky,” Bevin had told reporters during a preview of his speech to a joint session of the state legislature. The address was televised statewide Tuesday [1-26-2015] night.

Yet, Bevin charges forward to eliminate Kynect and his new budget proposal cuts 4.5% from higher education in Kentucky for FY16-17. From my perspective, I see 18 students every Tuesday and Thursday morning, have a few dozen in my online classes, see several dozen of students walking the halls of my building, hundreds of students walking across campus, and I’m pretty sure budget cuts are touching those people, those students. So, bullshit, Matt Bevin. I call bullshit on your empty, thoughtless rhetoric and your short-sighted goals which will manifest in long-term economic damage to Kentucky.

No doubt colleges and universities suffer from budget bloat to some extent and make ridiculous purchasing choices. I have been employed in higher education since 1996 and while I have seen my share of bizarre budgeting choices at my university I know many people at other institutions have seen similar crazy budgeting choices. I know for a fact universities need to be better stewards of public money. If you’re shaking your head in agreement I also have to add a corollary comment. State governing bodies of public higher education tend to be staffed by bureaucrats who have little experience in higher education with the exception these board members tend to have college degrees, e.g. law degrees. The these boards, like the Council on Post-secondary Education (CPE) in Kentucky mandate policies which are not reality-based. In the mid-2000’s, our CPE promoted a 20-b-y20 program; 20% growth in enrollment for each public school by 2020. If anyone had actually bothered to examine Kentucky demographics they would have realized this goal was impossible since high school enrollment and graduation rates were expected to decline. The mandate also included a clause that enrollment gains could not factor in out-of-state students, meaning enrollment growth had to come from Kentucky’s population for the growth to count. Governing higher education bodies then implement nonsense unrealistic policies which yet have essentially the force of law.

My point in this example is to provide anecdotal evidence illustrating universities sometimes have onerous burdens placed upon them by governing bodies which create financial waste. To grow by 20% requires marketing, branding, advertising, recruitment, travel, visiting schools, attending conferences, and putting representatives of the university wherever potential students might be. People get hired; not faculty by the way. Communication officers, retention officers, marketing personnel, recruitment staff, professional lobbyists. Many of these people are not familiar with the university, not graduates nor even current students, who have no idea what programs are being taught, who cannot speak intelligently about good programs, and couldn’t tell you precisely what building homes a department.

Recently, Douglas Anderson in the Chronicle of Higher Education contributed an excellent essay highlighting better than myself. Here is one of the more poignant comments from Anderson:

the actual problems in educating our young people and older students have deepened, while the number of people hired — not to teach but to hold meetings to solve problems — has increased significantly. Every new problem creates a new job for an administrative fixer.” (“Clear the Way for More Good Teachers.” CHE. January 3rd, 2016)

I encourage everyone to read Douglas’ comments and concerns, and I agree with his solution. In the early 2000s, my university put faculty on the road (“Road Scholars”) to visit local middle and high schools in our service region. Over time, the university restricted travel funds for helping faculty travel yet they hired full-time staff who they then put on the road to visit schools. I would ask, Who is better to talk about Earth Science, Engineering, or Computer Science degree programs? A recruiter with a degree in marketing? Or, the faculty member who actually teaches the course and knows the degree program inside and out? If the university is paying for three positions at $30,000 per position, plus insurance and benefits, the total expense of those three people is well over $100,000. I’m curious; were our travel expenses of faculty visits to schools close to this cost? What is the value of putting a faculty person in a high school classroom versus someone hired to display a Powerpoint slideshow and array pamphlets attractively on a table?

Higher Education really does need to engage in some serious introspection and evaluation. Universities have been operating under a model 400+ years old. The tenure model is ridiculous, ineffective at best and destructive, at worst. As I pointed out above, tenure evaluations should include in-class observations by unbiased faculty peers and opportunities for professional staff to include input. Otherwise, the tenure evaluation process is fundamentally flawed. One proposal I have follows this format: a new faculty hire is given yearly contract for the first 3-4 years. The probationary time period gives everyone a chance to evaluate each other with work towards tenure. At the end of the 4th year, probationary tenure can be applied for. If successful, the candidate is given a 2-, 3-, or 4-yr contract (I’m open to negotiating), at the expiration of which the faculty person can be awarded full tenure. Just an idea.

I’ve written about this before but universities need to look inside themselves to find help for problems and to hunt down inefficiencies. Universities are full of people who are trained and educated to do precisely this, yet too many universities seek outside consultants for advice. I know why this is; it’s easier to blame a consultant for job loss, easier to shift blame, or shirk responsibility onto some 3rd party actor. People have fragile egos. We have friends we’ve known for years whose position was once a hot-seat of productivity and now is barely occupied or needed as the environment has changed over two decades.

Look, we are trying to effectively teach, conduct good research, and chief among all, educate our future peers and move our society forward by providing sound education to our population. This is nothing personal but you have a choice: either work to be progressive in your field and teaching, or seek employment elsewhere.”

Higher Education cannot sit and rest on laurels while the private sector evolves faster than MRSA, tuberculosis, or Ebola. Higher Education needs to constantly be in a process of self-evaluation, self-modulation, frequently reflective, perpetually solution-seeking, while using resources throughout the institution to improve the institution. Faculty and staff need to be both recognized for their potential to serve and solve problems and also recognize adaptation is necessary for Higher Education to remain healthy and vital. Higher Education is the “research and development” branch of our United States society, the source of our intellectual capacity, and fundamental fabric to our continued economic well-being. Starving Higher Education weakens our economic fabric and nothing good can come from budget cuts.


Tribute to Dr. Kit Wesler, Archaeologist, Mentor, Trekkie

Cancer added my boss, Dr. Kit Wesler, to its constantly growing list of victims Monday, January 4th, 2015. As a few people angrily commented during Friday’s Celebration of Life tribute ceremony: “This is the 21st century; why are we still fighting cancer?” Be this situation as it may, and while I do have some very unsophisticated thoughts to address comments like these, Kit still passed away, and the science community is lessened by his passing.

WeslerOne of my on-again, off-again readers of this blog was my boss. Dr. Wesler was the director of the research center where I provide hardware, software, and technical support, host technical workshops, and engage in training Secondary teachers on occasion. Kit did not edit me, but Kit had such a varied background as many academicians do, his comments had an accuracy and precision which often tempered or guided many of my own thoughts.

51N8U7DMp0L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Kit was immanently knowledgeable in his own field of archaeology, specializing in Mississippian cultures, Native American cultures, with a special interest in documenting the Caribbean slave trade. In spite being an atheist, Dr. Wesler had a fascination with world religions. During a 2014 sabbatical, he studied religious sites throughout Italy, Greece, and Portugal. In previous years, he visited eastern Turkey to examine 1st century Christian religious sites. Kit was vigilant in his observations. He noted not only the site and excavation techniques but also any and all technologies employed in site management and data collection. If a group was using some sort of technology, Kit was right there to determine what the tech was, how the tech is being used, do you find it useful? What did you use before? What would make this tech better? Always asking questions.

When Kit returned from a 2013 European archaeology conference, he was all jazzed up. “We have to be doing this stuff! Archaeology in the United States is being left in the dust by the techniques being used in Europe.” During this particular conference, many archaeology agencies in Europe were showcasing considerable amounts of technology. Drones, for example, were being used to help map dig sites and evaluate the extent of archaeological sites. LiDAR was being discussed, and many agencies were utilizing GRASS and Quantum-GIS (QGIS) as their GIS software (as opposed to ESRI’s ArcGIS).

About the same year, Kit and I set up the Terrain Modeling Laboratory within our Department of Geosciences. We bought a data projector, a 3D printer, a 3D scanner, and a large scaffold for mounting doo-dads. The dean of our college added a stream table. The notion behind the Terrain Modeling Lab was to develop ways of replicating cultural environments to aid in educating our students in these environments in a virtual way. The addition of the 3D equipment was to fulfill the desire to develop collections of artifact replicas which could be boxed and delivered to schools to assist in teaching social studies and science courses.

But, these was his more recent goals. About 2005 or so, Dr. Wesler had become mesmerized by Linden Labs “SecondLife.” If you aren’t familiar with SecondLife, think of the video game, “The Sims,” where players build their own virtual neighborhoods, do things to earn in-game currency, and essentially life a virtual life. SecondLife is pretty much like this. Players can download developer tools, build their own virtual landscape to their own specifications, in an open Internet-based online environment. Kit dreamed of developing a virtual landscape which rendered as accurately as possible life 1,000 years ago along the Mississippi River, from as far north as Cahokia Mounds (in Illinois, near St. Louis), to as far south as Memphis.

One of my graduate school peers, a Ms. Brown, set the tone for his technological interests. While in graduate school in the mid-1990s, Ms. Brown developed a 3-D model of pottery shards for Wickliffe Mounds, Kentucky. Using Arcview GIS and the 3D Analyst extension, she rendered Wickliffe Mounds as a terrain model. Now, Wickliffe Mounds is not a very big place, covering perhaps 3 acres or so, more or less, but this rendering of GPS points with depths of shards left an immense impact on Dr. Wesler. Other graduate students would follow suit, using GIS and viewshed analysis to study the Civil War battlefield at Fort Donelson, Tennessee and assist in helping another archaeologist transcribe 18th century journal notations into map locations in a hunt for an early frontier fort.

About 2012, Kit bought a Parrot 2.0 drone for himself. Then, he bought one for archaeology. In 2014, he partnered with our local wildlife biologist to use his superior drone to fly a nearby archaeological site in preparations for a new dig.

For someone so fascinated with ancient history, for the most part, Kit had no problems diving into modern technology to figure out ways to manage, improve, assess, analyze, or interpret archaeological data. He took database classes to create database products to manage our local collections, as well.

All of those traits would be plenty for a great colleague, someone who appreciates and supports technology. However, his interests carried over into pop culture, too.

1001762_10200784773995359_424052072_nDr. Wesler was a huge Trekkie. In 2013, I ran across Cubify, a new 3D printer company, hawking personalized Star Trek figures. Send them a series of 3 head-shots and they would print you a personalized head atop a Star Trek figure. Kit ordered two figures, one in his likeness, the other in his wife’s. When the figures arrived, he called me to his office. I thought I was in trouble, as I am at times, as I don’t watch my mouth as I should. When I arrived, the figures were out on his desk, his face beaming with the exuberance of a 9-year old boy who just mastered a new level. “They even got [my wife’s] hair right!” Evidently, he ran these figures across campus the very same day as many attendees at his tribute recalled Kit bursting into their office with his figures. And, if you knew Kit, he doesn’t burst into anything. It’s a rare and unique day when Kit got excited, like when his Star Trek figures arrived, or if someone touched is red toolbox.

Advisory: Never touch an archaeologist’s toolbox without permission.

Kit was a devotee of George R. R. Martin, having read all of the currently available books. He gave me his hardcover books a couple years ago as he had recently received a nicely-bound set as a gift. Kit was also a published fantasy author himself, was very interested in writing fantasy, and an owner of a very collection of Robert E. Howard’s writings, and an insatiable reader of non-fiction, crime noir, and fantasy and science fiction. He and I would discuss authors like Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick, and discuss popular takes on science fiction reboots. He, for instance, thought J.J. Abrams re-imagining of Star Trek was fine. I, on the other hand, thought it was pure dreck; I’m not a fan of time-travels/time-warps to drive plots. But, because he was so well-read, always offered careful and poignant insight and had well-reasoned arguments for the sentiments he held.

Kit’s death to struck me like Luke Skywalker catching sight of Vader striking down Obi-Wan, perhaps like Obi-Wan watching Qui-Gon Jin be killed by Darth Maul. That is, the loss of a friend and mentor to a greater power, cancer. Kit probably wouldn’t exactly appreciate my analogy. He was, after all, a Trekkie and never cared much for the Star Wars Universe. Cast in that vein, Kit’s death is like that at the end of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, then, Spock dying in the di-lithium crystal chamber to my Scotty. Yet, these are fictional characters and while we cherish these characters whose adventures have spanned decades, they are not real, not are their exploits real. Kit had real exploits. He worked in Africa, in Kenya, researching and writing about the leaders of the Zulu Nation. He spent many years in Jamaica, seeking to identify and restore important sites of the slave trade, in part so Humankind will never forget Man’s inhumanity to Man. He traveled throughout the United States, China, and Europe engaging with other educated people both to learn and collaborate.

Regardless of one’s field or discipline, everyone deserves a Dr. Wesler-type mentor. Someone patient, with a vision, knowledgeable, who can make good decisions from taking in the viewpoints of others, yet someone who advocates for progressive positions in order to strengthen scholarship and advance the discussion of important topics. Kit’s leadership was fundamental to directing many of my efforts to re-organized our research center in order to increase our visibility, promote our message and opportunities, and engage our university’s service region. Kit also felt a little out-of-his element in his position however his vision and perspective provided opportunities for flexibility, to be nimble, something Higher Education always espouses to desire yet literally struggles to adequately achieve. His approach allowed a freedom of expression and movement instilling a comfort level in those around him encouraging dialogue, consensus, and eventually an action plan.

Many of us need people in our lives to help rein us in, to help keep us focused, to help separate our mental wheat from mental chaff, so to speak.

To say I will miss our daily conversations is an understatement.


Dr. Kit Wesler (left) examining a local archaeological site in western Kentucky with fellow archaeologist Dr. Anthony Ortmann. (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Sees Its Shadow, Predicts Four More Years of Empire)

Read this knowing there are a bunch of spoilers ahead. Of course, the Internet is now full of tidbits, like Daniel Craig as a stormtrooper and Simon Pegg in an uncredited role as an alien. Unless one walks away from the Internet for a month, a spoiler is bound to cross your path. And, a recent study indicates spoilers don’t really change a viewer’s opinion. Thanks for reading!

Comic Shop Stories

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Disney Pictures and LucasFilm. Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and Lupita Nyong’o. Directed by JJ. Abrams. Rated PG-13. Running time: 2hrs 16 minutes.

I got to see the first showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in my small town movie theatre last Thursday night thanks to a ticket provided by a friend. I was going to hold out, honestly; I grew up with the original, un-enhanced Star Wars: A New Hope. A New Hope was truly epic in scale and scope and established the baseline against which all science fiction sagas will be forever judged. Judged by my generation, anyway, the Children of the 1960’s and 1970’s. People born after 1990, or thereabouts, raised with computer-generated imagery (CGI) simply cannot appreciate all of the ground-breaking cinematography and visual effects whose genesis was the telling of Star Wars.


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Politics are Comical; Comics are Political

Controversy can work in positive ways by drawing attention to a situation or circumstance thereby enticing people to begin discussions. A recent Fox News segment castigated Marvel Entertainment and the creative team behind Captain America. Already raked over the coals for transitioning Captain America from a White male to a younger Black male, Marvel allowed the new Sam Wilson Captain America to jump into the deep end of the culture pool by going after a militia group.

The Fox News Collective has never been known to have their heads screwed on straight, and yet again by opening their mouths place their ignorance on full display for the world to consider.

Comic books and politics are inseparable. This is not a debatable point. All one needs do is a few minutes of internet research and the connection between should crystallize. In this post from another blog, I provide a few nuggets any interested person might use to solidify any doubt they might have about whether or not comics has anything to do with politics or culture, in general.

Comic Shop Stories

I listen to Geeks Guide to the Galaxypodcast weekly. On a recent drive to Hopkinsville, Kentucky I listened to Episode 173, “Queers Destroy Horror.” Gay and lesbian guests discussed topics surrounding LGBTQ characters in horror fiction and movies, the premise of the show title being that somehow being queer detracts from horror, or from science fiction, or from fantasy, and that being queer means never being accepted in the “mainstream” SF/F/H culture. The queer crowd embraces this sentiment then mocks it, both recognizing some people hold the work of queers as unworthy, yet realizing many mainstream writers are queer, so the title is also an “in your face, mainstream bigots!” admonishment.

One of the guests made a comment I’m going to paraphrase. She said something to the effect of, “I get emails frequently telling to stop injecting politics and social commentary and themes into my writing. Or, readers will…

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Sam Wilson:Captain America Antagonizes Fox & Friends

If Tucker Carlson, et al., at Fox & Friends were miffed at Marvel two weeks ago as Sam Wilson prepared to distribute a thorough beat-down of a paramilitary group Carlson described as “good American Conservatives,” they are going to lose their shit this week. I will go out on a limb and prognosticate the outrage within the Fox News Channel offices will not be limited to Tucker becoming so flummoxed he is unable to get his bow tie straight. I’d like to see Sean Hannity rub his two neurons together to form a salient thought and pontificate his views of Captain America, and how comic books are simply yet another example of how liberals have undermined the conservative foundations our forefathers fought so hard to establish. My clairvoyance also yielded a vision of Bill O’Reilly in the furious throes of penning a new book. See, Bill has killed Jesus, killed Lincoln, killed Reagan, so to continue the theme Bill must now kill Steve Rogers. I wonder if Bill when he gets to writing his own memoirs will call the resulting book, “Killing Myself.”

Issue #1 of Sam Wilson: Captain America gave Fox & Friends considerable fuel to stoke their furnace of burning ignorance. Sam Wilson as Captain America stood up for Marriage Equality, Voters Rights, Civil Rights, and a slew of other concerns facing Americans in a graphic montage depicting scenes from his life as Falcon into the present day experience as the new Captain America. Issue #1 has Sam Wilson faced with declining popularity, accusations of being anti-American and hating the Constitution.

Captain America then learns of a paramilitary group established in the American Southwest tormenting people crossing the Sonoran Desert. Going by the name “Sons of the Serpent” and led by a fellow calling himself the “Supreme Serpent” the group is clearly a contrivance of author Nick Spencer created as an analogy to the militia groups purporting to guard the U.S.-Mexican border. Just as Captain America is preparing to deliver some simple ass-kicking, though, a S.H.I.E.L.D. quinjet lands, dispersing Steve Rogers and S.H.I.E.L.D. troops. Readers are left hanging, thinking Sam is probably going to be arrested.

Issue #2 picks up with Sam and Steve in an uneasy stand-off, as Steve requests Sam stand down. Sam is clearly irritated:

Really? This is where we are? A terrorist group attacks border-crossers, and I’m the one you have a problem with?

The next six pages are simply fantastic, as Steve makes clear the true intentions of his arrival – to arrest the Sons of the Serpent. The Sons of the Serpent then turn on S.H.I.E.L.D., blowing up their quinjet. The true nature of Sons of the Serpent becomes evident, a group similar to other present-day militia groups who believe the U.S. government is being run by another, shadow government bent on implementing a series of new social, economic and political reforms known as the New World Order, and being run out of the United Nations. Sam and Steve then team-up, much like the old days in Harlem, and kick some Serpent-tail.

The scenes written by Nick Spencer and depicted by Daniel Acuna are really going to turn infuriate the talking heads within Fox News Channel offices. If you live in New York City within a few blocks of 1211 Avenue of the Americas, and listen closely – I know; it’s NYC. It’s noisy – you could make out the popping noise of heads exploding. The Marvel offices are at 135 W 50th, just a few blocks away. I wonder if those folks should have a lunch together, maybe, and talk. They probably eat at the same places – oh, wait – the regular people who work at Fox News probably could sit side-by-side with the creative teams at Marvel. I seriously doubt none of the on-air personalities would stoop so low as to eat with the bourgeois.

Many popular culture essayists and bloggers have picked up on the controversial story arc Nick Spencer is delivering. The reviews don’t seem to be mixed; either people love the new arc, or they make comments about Nick Spencer petty attempts to incorporate his liberal political views into Captain America, and how they wish he wouldn’t because it debases the Captain America, debases Marvel, and makes the comic book genre look bad.

I got news for you, True Believers, it is Captain America!. By definition, you must expect government and politics and popular culture to play a persistent role in each and every story arc. If you want safe, apolitical pure fantasy story arcs, then petition Dark Horse or Boom! Studios to develop Captain Kangaroo or Captain Crunch comic.

Furthermore, comics were born from politics, from social strife and injustice. Comics were propaganda in the late 1930’s, through the 1940’s. In the 1950’s, superheroes fought Communist villains. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, superheroes always stood up to government oppression, drugs use, tended towards pacifism with anti-war messages, and social justice. People who criticize Sam Wilson:Captain America have simply not been paying attention, have simply been skimming, and are guilty of under-appreciating the social commentary infused in many comic book titles over the decades. Chiefly at Marvel, Captain America and The Falcon were bastions of liberal ideals of social justice, safe-guarding and protecting the innocent, regardless of creed, color, race, or national origin.

captain-america-idiotsI honestly do not know if Fox & Friends will continue their superficial and ignorant tirade surrounding Captain America. I can’t see how they can pass up some of the dialogue Spencer has developed. Fox & Friends love to have their buttons pushed. Tucker described the Sons of the Serpent as simple folk just taking the law into their own hands because the federal government won’t, and these are simply good Conservatives using the freedoms conveyed onto them by the Constitution of the U.S. to protect themselves and their interests

Steve Rogers recognizes them as “idiots.” I can’t really say I’m dying to watch the war between Marvel and FoxNews ignite, but I sort of waiting for such a thing to happen.

sam-wilson-redneckLike in the 1950s with the genesis of the Comic Code Authority, neither media nor government appreciate dissenting views seeking to undermine or challenge the perspective of those who process information and regurgitate disinformation like a Mother Bird feeding her children. I cannot see Fox News Channel sitting idly by while members of their viewing audience are vilified as terrorists, developed into a cast of characters both former and current Captain Americas beat into the Sonoran Desert dust.

Will Marvel create a media arm of HYDRA? Called The Founding Fathers Foundation, led by a Rupert Murdoch-style character cut from the same cloth as Kingpin, HYDRA would open another front, twisting the minds and perceptions of Americans and its neighbors while using the military arm of HYDRA to engage in directed attacks, killings, and acts of espionage with the ultimate goal of controlling not only the U.S. government and global assets, but also the United Nations.

One commentator I ran across (I should have bookmarked his page; apologies) wrote a piece I fundamentally disagreed with but he did have an idea rhyming with mine. While he vehemently opposed the new story arc in SW:CA as being a silly platform for Nick Spencer to air his politics, the author did share a notion of mine. Captain America and The Winter Soldier should be more engaged in local, regional, and global military actions. I completely agree with this sentiment.

wpid-wp-1446303439889.jpgMarvel needs to stop placing no-, or low-powered characters in ludicrous story arcs. The current Winter Soldier book is pure abomination, the best example of a complete shit book,. I would rather buy the new comic featuring rabbits trying to save Christmas by selling meth so they can buy toys to make up for the ones Santa won’t deliver because Santa died from a heroin overdose than buy Winter Soldier. What this other commentator says is a valid point: Use Captain America and Winter Soldier in stories depicting actions against HYDRA-infected extremist groups. Bring in other characters in support, like War Machine (James Rhodes), Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Black Panther. The opportunity to create some fantastic stories is going untapped by Marvel, and being tapped by other publishers, like Image, Boom!Studios, and Dynamite.

In closing, I think Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuna are on the proper path of bringing considerable relevance back to Marvel stories, reminiscent of the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s. I appreciate their work, and am grateful Marvel has released the book to retailers. Additionally, I recommend Marvel continues to push these commentaries and keep conversations moving forward, keeping with the true tradition of comics as mirrors of social concerns and related policies. PAX.


Thanks to Derek Leslie (@sithspit) and Garrick Crump (@gscomics1) for helping push the message forward.

Thanks to recent email subscribers Philip Parton, A. Wallace, and G. Xalaris.

Thanks to recent WordPress followers Dorris Keevan-Franks, Kosmogonic, and Ice-dammed Lakes And All That.

Fox News Takes On Captain America; Suffers Ass-Whooping

Sam Wilson ain’t Capt’n ‘murica, folks, and neither is Steve Rogers.

I grew up collecting comics. I’ll probably stop collecting comics when I die, maybe sooner. Or later. I haven’t decided yet. As I approach my half-century mark in years alive I figure I have some time to think about my hobbies.

Mainstream publishers, Marvel and DC Comics, spent too many years, about a score, being running one gimmick after another. Marvel killed Captain America. DC Comics committed some egregious story-lines, like the Death of Superman. I have to admit I did enjoy the breaking of Batman’s back in Batman: Knightfall. In misguided efforts to increase readership, these two leaders in comic book publishing took some massive course changes to pull in new readers.

Comics have always been a social thermometer, though. Even from their inception in the early 1930’s comics were created and designed not only to entertain but also to engage readers with social commentary, to promote nationalism, to support social causes, to identify evil or dangerous activities and act as a counterpoint to cultural responses.

One of my favorite books I try to collect as I can are old issues of Captain America and The Falcon from the late 1970s and 1980s. These books are simply brilliant and pure. Starting with issue 134, Captain America and The Falcon form a great alliance and friendship. Steve and Sam live in New York, share an apartment, and are often not in costume. The seem to lead normal lives when not fighting crime. They have girlfriends, try to get their rent paid on-time, grouse about doing grocery shopping, and who’s night it is to have the apartment in order to entertain their lady-friends.

Too often in comics today, we never seen superheroes doing anything other than being in costume – all the freaking time. One of the traits publishers have corrupted is the humanity of superheroes, sort of, and normal people able to relate to them. Dr. Bruce Banner carries this gamma-powered curse in his genes and lashes out uncontrollably when angry. Peter Parker is a high school/college student caught in the pathos of a young person raised by his aunt and uncle. Tony Stark is a recovering alcoholic with a heart condition. Today, pretty much all superheroes have incredible strength, fly, never take damage, share similar abilities. For instance, if Hulk punches Daredevil, there is good chance Matt Murdock will require a new comic book, this one based beyond-the-grave. And we rarely get to see their “normal” lives, instead they wear their costume on nearly every panel while being swept up in fantastical stories, like Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier. Exceptions to my comment do exist; Ms. Marvel is one of the best Marvel titles going particularly because of G. Willow Wilson keeping the story grounded in the life of a 14-year old Pakistani girl. Captain Marvel recently had a few issues pertaining to the death of Carol Danver’s mother from cancer. So, I am not without noticing some Marvel titles are doing good things.

My point is comics from Marvel (for the most part) and DC Comics have really strayed from their purer days. The new Hawkeye book from Jeff Lemire is a possible exception, and I really like Moon Knight. Marc Specter gets his face punched in regularly. I’m waiting to see where Mark Waid takes the new Daredevil series which should be hitting store shelves soon. Green Arrow is a good DC Comics title, Constantine, and Wonder Woman is positively stellar.

However, comics are not as socially biting as they once were; they lack the continual infusion of societal themes Congress found so irritating. In the 1950s, comics were seen as subversive, brainwashing youth towards socialism and corrupting our social fabric, and undermining the role and influence of the federal government. Comics were often biting commentary of ground-level problems in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our cities, and often national security.

This is precisely where comics need to live, in my opinion.

cap-am-the-falcon-power-to-the-peopleCaptain America and the Falcon stood up for New York, and especially Harlem. In a 3-chapter story arc (#143), Captain America and Falcon stand against the People’s Militia, essentially a racist group trying to burn down Harlem. The People’s Militia essentially a tool of Captain America’s old nemesis, Red Skull. Hydra and Red Skull become recurring villains for the next few issues as they try to undermine the creation of a new team, Femme Force (featuring Sharon Carter), try to destroy Las Vegas, and partner with Batroc in kidnapping teenagers from the streets. Some of these stories were written by Stan Lee himself, penciled by John Romita. Later, the social themes continue with scripts from Gary Friedrich and pencils by John Romita. In my opinion, these are some of Marvel’s best comic work, both in terms of the classic comic book art and in terms of being culturally relevant.

Marvel may be dipping back into the past and channeling the best of Lee, Romita, and Friedrich with a new book, Sam Wilson: Captain America. Marvel may have a winning book on their hands, with Nick Spencer writing and Daniel Acuna’s art. Why would I suspect success with this book? Simple: FoxNews decided to call out Marvel this week due to Captain America standing up to the racist, misanthropic, and xenophobic vigilante group, Sons of the Serpent. Just FoxNews hating on Captain America might be enough to drive interest and readership.

Wearing some odd mashup of a martial arts gi and Aztec warrior apparel, the Sons of the Serpent, a guy calling himself “Supreme Serpent” challenges immigrants wandering through the desert Southwest, threatening them with arrest and a dusty ass-kicking. Precisely what these destitute, impoverish people need, a good ass-kicking to inspire and motivate them.

In an image montage leading up to Captain’s appearance, Sam Wilson as Captain America stands in support of marriage equality as a member of a gay pride parade. We see protesters denouncing Sam Wilson’s Captain America as being a traitor, as being a fraud. I know, for instance, a fair portion of the comic audience is not happy with all of the changes in the Marvel Universe; a Hispanic Spider-Man, a female Thor, and now a Black Captain America. If you want to read a bit of how the Conservatives feel about Sam Wilson as Captain America, check out this diatribe from The Right Scoop. In case you prefer not to add traffic to that site, here is a taste of what you would miss:

Liberals can’t stand the idea of illegals being deported or a big wall being built to keep them from coming in. So they portray conservatives like Trump, Cruz, and others as right-wing terrorists and illegal immigration as something to be defended.

Geez, it’s getting harder and harder to give anything Marvel comics does the time of day. Heck, this season of Agents of Shield has an openly gay character who just finds out he has to go back in the ‘closet’ because of his newfound super powers.

But it’s the same in DC comics, as they are putting more gay openly gay characters in their most of their series like Arrow and Gotham.

The liberal agenda never quits which is why we need candidates who will stand up and strongly defend conservative values in a coherent way.

Read more, if you dare: The Right Scoop

Enter the intellectual giants at FoxNews “Fox and Friends” {like these, who needs enemies?}. The voice-over commentator states, “Rather than going after tradition foes like Hydra, Captain America goes after Conservatives.”

Tucker Carlson, appearing on Fox & Friends, then chastises Marvel and the new Sam Wilson: Captain America.

So many problems with their infantile psuedo-analysis, and yes, I do mean “false” analysis. Less than one minute into the segment above, anyone familiar with Captain America will detect how wrong their analysis becomes. Hell, even watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier is almost enough to expose Fox and Friends feeble-minded attempts of analysis. They do a fantastic job, though, of communicating their complete ineptitude about the comic book milieu, in particular showcasing gaping chasms in their knowledge of Captain America’s canon.

Fox & Friends pundits clearly have zero comprehension of the ideology of Hydra. The Sons of the Serpent, if not a branch of Hydra, are certainly acting in the spirit of Hydra. To use a more appropriate analogy, Sons of the Serpent are to Hydra as Al-Qaeda is to the Islamic State. In other words, they are nearly the same thing, the only difference is scale and scope. Anyone watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier must come away with the idea Hydra is fascist organization fixated on idealistic views of controlling both the United States and the world. Many of the views espoused by Hydra in the movie, submission to government authority, control of the media and speech, black government, and targeted killings are all aspects of portions of past, current, and future Conservative ideology of controlling people and populations. Simply look at the Patriot Act, warrant-less wire-tapping, Citizen United, Guantanamo Bay and the suspension of due process, rendition, and drone strikes – all policies implemented during the Bush-Cheney years.

In CA:TWS, Alexander Pierce lays out the plans to Project: Insight to Nick Fury. Project: Insight‘s primary agenda is the targeted killing of upwards of 20 million people in partial fulfillment of ensuring global peace, presumably. HYDRA had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. at its inception and has been working for decades to twist S.H.I.E.L.D. towards becoming the world’s executive authority.

Fox & Friends tries to cast Sons of the Serpent as mere Conservatives. From the Fox & Friends perspective, I can understand their position. Sons of the Serpent are Conservatives in the same vein as The Minutemen Project, the supporters of Cliven Bundy, and the Oath Keepers, groups of predominantly white fellows who appear at social protests, heaving armed and outfitted under the auspices of maintain order and enforcing laws. None of these groups are anything other than high-profile militia groups who have corrupted the interpretation of the Second Amendment. Sure, this is my opinion, but I’m not alone in this interpretation.

Tucker Carlson, who probably has as much experience in comic books as I do in algebraic combinatorics, makes this comment about the new issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America:

“The [Supreme Serpent] is an American who has misgivings about unlimited illegal immigration and the costs associated with it,” Carlson explained. “And that, according to the comic book, is evil.”

Tucker clearly thinks Sons of the Serpent are simple folk, dressed in black t-shirts, toting automatic weapons, and donning white hoods to hide their identities, harassing non-white people in clear contradiction to the underlying philosophy of the United States, a philosophy so highly touted the words were cast in bronze and attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty. I think it would be interesting to learn in a few issues the man behind the Supreme Serpent mask is himself an undocumented immigrant, using border politics to covertly hide other nefarious activities, e.g. Timothy McVeigh, and attempting to overthrow the U.S. government, using the assets of both HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Clayton Morris relishes the era when Captain America “used to punch Hitler in the face.”

The token female on the panel, Heather Childers, suggests Marvel should do a comic book on the opposite of this premise, with a story on

the people who are working the border to keep us safe…Keep politics out of comic books, that’s what I say.”

Fox & Friends has no problem bringing a militant, violent, and vigilante tone to this segment. Tucker waxes compassionately on the “Sons of the Serpent,” who, more to the point, are thugs confronting desperate people in the desert. Here is another quote Conservatives might want to look into; running contrary to their belief system:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The passage above is part of the inscription at the feet of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. I ask then, does not one of the fundamental characteristics underpinning our American society rest, nearly literally, on the words of Emma Lazarus? And, if so, can any of the groups mentioned above, either real or fictional, be truly cast as simple Americans “trying to keep us safe?”

In issues stretching from about #140 through #149 Captain America and the Falcon battle the People’s Militia, Tucker Carlson would probably describe as a “group of concerned Conservatives simply trying to make Harlem safer and gentrify the neighborhood,” who is reality is a group of racist white people trying to drive people of color from their homes. In later issues, S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to form a league of women heroes, Femme Force. However, in what might be seen as sexist today, the women who are supposed to form this feminist group keep getting assaulted by Red Skull, Batroc, et al., and require frequent rescuing from Captain and Falcon. At least Stan Lee was heading in the right direction. And, there are a few all-female Defenders issues floating around.

FoxNews/Fox & Friends has no idea of what they speak, bottom-line. As with all of their punditry, they are mere narcissists inanely soaking in the glow of studio lights. Captain America is not a spineless, unquestioning, super-patriot fascist Fox & Friends bloviators believe him to be. Steve Rogers/Captain America, if anything, is probably more libertarian leaning, supporting people’s rights and unalienable freedoms. Steve would fight for social injustice, would most likely have stood at Ferguson, worked towards minimizing poverty, drug abuse, fair housing, and against the unparalleled wealth of Wall Street. Steve would have supported Marriage Equality, and voters rights. Rogers, while not completely supportive of illegal immigration, would not have tolerated vigilante groups like Sons of the Serpent or Oath Keepers. Like Snowden and Assange, Rogers would not have tolerated a clandestine government, secretly meddling in the lives of U.S. citizens, meddling in the affairs of foreign governments, nor would have been a supporter of the Patriot Act nor Citizens United.

Dear Ms. Childers: Comic books have always been political. Try reading one. The best comic books have always been in lockstep with the social order and political atmosphere of whatever era that comic was published. Comics were born from the ashes of World War I, grew-up during World War II, and matured throughout the Cold War, Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement. Please, before speaking, I beg you, do some homework.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment. If it’s polite enough, I may let it pass my censors ;)


Small Schools Can Make A Big Difference

You probably have never heard of Julius Rosenwald. Even if you grew up in Chicago the name, “Julius Rosenwald,” may not mean a thing, may ring no memory bells. However, if you have ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago you have him to thank. He was one of the important benefactors who helped create the museum. Maybe he rings a bell, now.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Sears, and when I was young, I was more familiar with “Sears, Roebuck, and Company.” Driving into downtown Kansas City, Missouri one passed a giant warehouse facility with “Sears, Roebuck, and Co.” in enormous letters painted near the roof line and visible for what seemed to me to miles. For some unclear reason I always admired that building. Julius Rosenwald fell into the “Company” portion of “Sears, Roebuck, and Company,” being part-owner of the retail giant from 1895 to 1903. In 1903, due to failing health of Roebuck, Rosenwald and Sears bought Roebuck’s remaining shares of the company. Rosenwald soon after became the company’s president, turning the company around, and setting the stage for Sears to become one of the world’s largest retail chains.

Rosenwald was a philanthropist and used the wealth amassed over his life to assist groups throughout not only Chicago but across the United States, in particular the American South, with a specific focus on the plight of African-Americans in the South. Rosenwald was not alone in his concern, nor did his concern arise from his own recognition of the social conditions prevalent in the Deep South. Paul J. Sachs was the primary driver of Rosenwald’s education in the analysis of social issues both in Chicago and especially in the Black community of the South. You should recognize the surname “Sachs;” the name features prominently in today’s financial world: Goldman Sachs, a world-leading investment management company. Given the animus directed at Wall Street over the last few years discovering Sachs and Rosenwald were actually important philanthropists might come across as a little incongruous.

From “A Light In The Darkness – African-Americans and the YMCA 1852-1946” (link; 1994; Mjagkij) the author details a speech made by Rosenwald to a group of African-Americans in 1911:

I also belong to a race that suffers and has suffered for centuries…You would also probably be surprised to know that there are clubs…,in the city of Chicago, representing what you might call the best type of citizenship…that would not admit a Jew.” (75)

From the same work:

I could not help but think why on earth do people want to spend their time and money on Africans, eight thousand miles away, when we have millions of that race who are our citizens, who are anxious to learn, and I have no doubt would be glad to take advantage of any missionary work which might be available…and that the time and money would, in my mind, bring far greater results…to our own citizens, both black and white. (76)

Interesting how those themes in 1911 reverberate well into the 21st century. And how many people continue to fight, argue, and out-right oppose progress more than a century after Rosenwald spoke those words. Sad.

How, then, do small schools and Rosenwald connect?

A Rosenwald School in Pikeville, TN

In the South, from Maryland to Oklahoma, over 5,000 one- and two-room school houses were built exclusively for the education of African-Americans. Even in the early 20th century, society leaders recognized Blacks were not being educated the same as Whites and were not reaching the same levels of education. Whites tended to leave school after the 8th grade while Blacks tended to leave school after the 5th grade. The reasons for this 3-year gap in education attainment are way outside the scope of this post. But, the primary issue was to close the education gap, and by closing this gap, create a more educated populace, overall. The person responsible for funding these small school houses was Julius Rosenwald. The African-American community, essentially locked-out of most of the lucrative economic sectors had little access to funding necessary to build their own schools. Rosenwald stepped in and funded out of his own pocket the creation of what would later come to be known as Rosenwald Schools.

These schools became a huge catalyst for change and educational attainment among Southern Blacks. In the inter-war era between World War 1 and World War 2, the educational gap between Blacks and Whites narrowed from 3 years to 1 year. (“‘Rosenwald’ Schools, Built A Century Ago, May Still Have Lessons To Teach; nprED; 10-17-2015)

Dan Aaronson and a team of economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago collaborated on a study of these schools. Were these schools successful? If so, what elements made them so? Can we draw any lessons from the past and find applicability in today’s educational environment?

Aaronson and fellow researchers gather as much data as they could lay their hands on, Medicare records, military enlistment records, census and social security data. What they discovered was pretty eye-opening.

“First and foremost, they got more education,” says Aaronson. But that’s only the beginning. Students who went to Rosenwald schools had higher IQ scores than kids who didn’t. They made more money later in life. They were more likely to travel to the North as part of the Great Migration. They lived a little bit longer. The women delayed marriage and had fewer kids. And crime rates in the area of the schools went down. (Aaronson; nprED; 10-17-2015)

Clearly, these schools were successful. Attendees of these schools had higher levels of personal growth and achievement. Made more money. Lived longer, had fewer children, and crime rates diminished. Now, what elements contributed to the success of the schools? Aaronson’s interview doesn’t address that question. We can speculate. In fact, I’m going to speculate because this interview satisfies my own confirmation bias about a particular aspect of education I enjoy grousing about: school size and classroom size.


I’m not a big fan of these giant schools which I feel like are nothing much more than well-appointed prisons for small people, paid for by well-meaning parents and people of the community and local school districts who unwittingly are preparing their children for future incarceration. “Get used to these brick walls and regimented schedules, kiddos; you’ll be seeing a lot more of this when you become an adult. However, at that point you’ll get free health care, the food tends to remain about the same.” However, almost every study available in our current age of Humanity demonstrates incontrovertibly cramming hundreds if not thousands of people together in a closed environment is about the worst way to manage people and their behaviors.

I like change; I think change is good. I don’t think change from small neighborhood schools to huge mega-schools is the change U.S. society really needs and most evidence supports my contention. Building modern small schools, with internet/computer labs, biology and manufacturing (industrial education) labs is the change in my opinion that would benefit people and our society, not cramming thousands of children under a single roof.

My proposal consists of a return to much smaller neighborhood schools. Reduce class sizes to some manageable number, like 15 students. Make sure each primary teacher has one teacher assistance or aide. This requirement could be fulfilled by teacher education programs. Teacher education programs typically mandate student-teachers have some number of real contact hours, from 160 to 200 hours depending on the state. Any person thinking they would like to pursue a degree in education should immediately be assigned to a nearby school and assigned a teacher. Assigning a person to an education environment as early as possible will separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, helping reduce the number of students who resign from education programs in favor of other majors, while also exposing student-teachers to the complete rigor of the educational environment. No sense waiting 4-1/2 years only to figure out teaching is not something a person really has the backbone for.

My proposal would not require building new facilities. Communities could use renovate abandoned buildings or even use empty retails spaces for classroom space. Meals might actually be healthier given on-site kitchen facilities. Again, using community colleges or local universities as support, feeding children could be a good opportunity for students in Nutrition or Food Management programs to develop food service and management skills while in college.

These local schools would be closer to home, perhaps. Busing kids an hour or so away from their neighborhood I just can’t see as being a good idea. Yes, I understand in some cases, like in Kansas City, Missouri, for instance, an example of desegregation gone amok, busing children to different schools to increase diversity may seem like a good idea. Don’t get me wrong – I want diversity in schools – but, I also want children to be somewhat near their home territory. A school nearby, closer to home, would create a less stressful environment in my opinion.

Smaller classes also have the benefit of reducing a number of other environmental factors. More adult oversight and less competition for attention would lead to less bullying, fewer negative behaviors, and more individual attention. Students could be allowed to help each other, engage in more thoughtful, team-oriented activities, and allow faculty to spend less time on correcting behavior thereby allowing more time to provide better and more robust educational content.

When all of these elements, plus others I have not mentioned and may be ignorant of, are introduced we should anticipate a number of societal improvements, some of which were mentioned in the NPR article. We could anticipate higher test scores, higher levels of overall achievement, higher levels of success later in life, higher incomes, perhaps less crime, and lower birth rates.

I had this thought the other day,

We built the Saturn V rocket and essentially built the Space Age based on education many people received in very small, cozy, and stimulating educational environments. Some of the scientists may have had experience in one- or two-room school houses. Some of them may have been self-taught, to some extent. Yet, somehow we have adopted the idea that these mega-schools which have become so popular are the wave of the future and are examples of success. But, are they? Are they really? Aren’t we really just replicating the penitentiary system with brighter colored walls and mascot-themed hallways?”

Like I said earlier, I’m all for change. I think the change we getting is not the change we need, and we are only now recognizing the Shopping Center/Penitentiary Model of School Design is not the way to go. Smaller schools, like those in other highly-developed countries, can contribute more significantly to our U.S. society. Small schools can make a big difference. PAX

My Comments On Geography-themed Writing Assignments


Below, I have provided the word-for-word Announcement I posted to Canvas today to convey some thoughts to my 100-level World Geography class. I post my Announcements here, on my blog, to see if people agree with me, to and show an example of an Announcement, as I am frequently looking for good examples of communicating with students. I’m not saying my example is wonderful. I’m just offering it up to the good folks on the Interwebz.

The responses I read for the Chapter 5 Writing Assignment were overall really good. Most everyone did a fine job of not only discussing particular concerns and issues but also picked out specific countries which exemplified the issues addressed. Seeing data, specific countries mentioned, like Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica, plus statistics related to a concern like education rates or poverty rates are really important details to see in reports. Please keep up that level of writing.

I spent Monday through Wednesday at a state-wide geospatial conference in Owensboro. I had the opportunity to listen to various speakers discuss qualities and traits of new hires, employees, and good attributes on resumes. 100% of employers said reading and writing skills are fundamental. Writing reports for supervisors, clients, or government agencies is a common practice. People need to know how to write and communicate effectively. I translate these comments into, “Do not use txt msg, slang, or other informal language when writing for academia or for any task related to employment.” When faculty harp and badger students about writing, we are really coaching you into developing good habits so you will be an exemplary person in your workplace. When you get that first great job, you’ll be faced with a number of stressful circumstances and learning how to write well should not be one of those things to worry about. So, really practice writing and communication skills.

The other qualities employers were looking for, in addition to writing skills, were HTML, Javascript, and Python programming experience (OK – not everyone may need those particular skills). Or, at least the ability to write code, and be able to break problems down into workable components, and work towards a solution. Sound familiar? If you have seen “The Martian,” the current movie starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney, and astronaut/botanist stranded on Mars, Watney uses a similar process to help him survive. The novel upon which the movie is based, contains far more problems than the movie requiring solutions. The lesson here is being able to critically think about a problem, break down the problem into manageable bits, then solve each bit using skills you possess. Then, maybe…hopefully, you will have solved the major issue.

Don’t think about where your were (academically), don’t even really think too much about where you are (academically); instead, think about where you want to be, research and plan for that eventuality.

Lastly, when you begin college, your graduation is 3-4 years away, perhaps longer. How many iPhone generations is that? How many Android phone generations is that? How many times is Facebook going to change its user agreement? Is SnapChat still going to be around? Will Tumblr replace Instagram? I have no idea, really. Whatever the answers are, the reality is you need to be skilled, knowledgeable, creative, and nimble enough to be able to adapt to circumstances 4-5 years away, when you graduate.

Oh, and one more thought. If you made it this far, these comments may not apply to you. But, feel free to read them, anyway. “Africa” is not a country. “The Caribbean” is not a country, either. Neither is “Asia.” Please, do not talk about “South America” as if this continent is a country. Pay attention to your writing. Read aloud your words if you need to. Too many students are writing as if Africa is country like Germany, or Canada. There is no president of Africa, or of the Caribbean, or of South America. These are continents and regions, and in some sense, realms.


Open Source GIS and Mapping Tools to Help You Get Started

I’ve been an ESRI ArcGIS user since the days of Arc/INFO Ver. 5.0. Having used “command line GIS” since 1991 the rise of open source GIS solutions intrigues me. Trying new products and new software and learning new terminology and getting familiar with many different data formats are valuable jobs skills for me. However, being an educator I’m obligated to expose my students to as many different new technologies, data formats, and methods for addressing projects as I’m able, given time and circumstances.

Today, I had an opportunity to witness a professor from the University of Kentucky demonstrate some open source GIS and mapping tools. Before I relay some of the details I took-away from the presentation nI want to address some criticisms applied to both off-the-shelf (OTS) software and free and open source software (FOSS). There are two camps, one camp fervent supporters of FOSS, the other camp who placidly supports OTS. Both sides offer good reasons why their respective sides should exist and are better, yet many of the arguments for and against the respective software realms can be applied to each side.

Perhaps the biggest complaint is bugginess, software bugs, glitches, and unworkable code. People on both sides of the aisle agree on one thing: the other side of the aisle has more problems than their side. Every large software company has glitchy software, Microsoft, Apple, ESRI, Oracle. No matter where one looks, software companies always release buggy and unstable software. Until computers are smart enough to write their own bug-free, we will always have software with buggy code.

Now, does OTS have a development advantage over FOSS? My opinion is, Yes, OTS software has a few development advantages over FOSS. OTS software is developed by companies who want to make a profit. Companies developing terrible software won’t last. Thus, companies are motivated by at least profit to ensure their products are more-or-less reliable and answer to their customers. OTS software rides on reputations of corporate branding, programmers, and reputations. OTS software also tends to have development teams who track code changes and follow standard coding policies and protocols. I don’t mean to say OTS is superior or immune to having issues and problems, however, OTS does tend to have a more consistent development environment over FOSS.

FOSS has the advantage of being free. Free is a pretty decent advantage over OTS software. Development can be spotty, though. Support and getting questions answered can be spotty. The Internet is a great help with sites like GitHub providing some ad hoc support to users of all types. FOSS can be just as buggy as OTS; sometimes more so. FOSS may not be user-friendly, not as much so as OTS. FOSS may be more in-step with current technology. FOSS development teams can be more nimble to changes in technology; OTS tends to lag technology advances as software releases follow the quarterly business cycle, or perhaps twice-per-year updates. FOSS can be more nimble, able to embed new functionality and technology months in advance of OTS software but sometimes support wanes, and sometimes support disappears.

Corporations and businesses don’t like to support the unknown. They want comfort, tried-and-tested software, sometimes even in spite of known performance problems. They know what they are going to get. With FOSS, what they get can be sort of unknown. With OTS, a company has a point of contact to which they can complain, seek help, or perhaps even bring someone on-site to help solve problems. FOSS tends not to offer any of those options. Some companies pick up FOSS, train employees, and provide support to others but this is different from being able to call a support line to the same company that both developed and sold the product.

An anecdote. The wife of a former student of mine is working on her Ph.D in Environment Science from a prestigious school in the South. Part of her work involves using image processing software in the analysis of the Pantanal region in Brazil, the world’s largest wetland. She was using OTS image processing software and due to the nature of her research she had to become intimately aware of algorithms used by this specialized software package. However, even though the software developer kept detailed records they were not able to come up with documentation for specific functions. Poorly documented software code forced the Ph.D student into developing her own software tools so she knew absolutely how her data was being processed.

Another anecdote. Today, the presentation covering the FOSS GIS implementation was delayed about fifteen minutes. Why? The FOSS GIS kept crashing every time the presenter attempted to read a simple database attribute table, a very mundane task.

I don’t have any easy answers or solutions. My recommendation would be to first, evaluate your project. If the project can handle being developed using FOSS, then perhaps implementing the project using FOSS is a good idea. If the project needs to comply with certain state or federal policies, or the corporation business model dictates the use of OTS, or the work environment necessitate having a back-office software support system, then OTS might be the best bet.

OK – now that my rambling is out-of-the-way, what FOSS tools for GIS and mapping can I pass along?

qgis-icon_21QGIS is a free and open source GIS package available for PC, Mac, and Linux. I’ve used QGIS a little bit. The GIS implementation is different somewhat from ArcGIS. Getting used to changes in terminology and nomenclature can be a little off-putting. I have not used many of the cartography tools. QGIS has numerous developers, integrates many new technologies, and offers many plug-ins to help expand functionality.

leaflet.jsOnce QGIS has been installed, a user may want to enhance functionality by pushing content to the Internet. Leaflet is a Javascript library built to help users push interactive geospatial content onto the Internet.

mapbox-logoMapBox is one of the fastest growing map companies proudly basing their efforts on open source tools and code. MapBox is free to learn, with some API’s exposedMapShaper.org and an environment to immediately building apps.

logos_full_cartodb_lightCartoDB provides a platform for extracting information from location data. CartoDB provides visualization and analysis tools for data located both “in the cloud” and in a local environment.

The next tool mentioned was Data-Driven Documents (D3). Like Leaflet, D3 is a Javascript library created to assist in the analysis of documents, documents containing data, numbers. The Javascript libraries can build charts and graphs while providing slick animations and “slippy” graphics to help bring data alive on a web page.

Since learning about Leaflet.js, I’m going to pass along some derivative web sites offering some of the same functionality. Dropchop.org and Turf.js are both sites deriving from mapbox.com. Dropchop is still an a project in its infancy, but good source material can be found on GitHub. Turf.js a collection of Javascript libraries ready-to-use, much like Leaflet.js.

Having a Code Editor handy can help improve writing code, make code-writing easier. Maybe not easier but at least easier to read and make code easier to manipulate. I know, right? You’re sitting there thinking, Code? Yuck… Well, the GIS world for as far as we have evolved from the days of command line has yet to abandon command line entirely, and at least for the foreseeable future writing code for mapping will persist. A few code editors were mentioned during today’s presentation. In no particular order: Sublime Text, Atom, and Bracket were all mentioned. I tend to use notepad++ for coding but I’m always open to try something new.

Finally, a couple of other GIS-related web sites mentioned were MapShaper.org and SimpleStatistics.org. MapShaper allows users to drag-and-drop an ESRI shapefile, a TOPOJSON, or GEOJSON file onto a webpage and have that spatial data rendered on a map. SimpleStatistics, like Leaflet.js, is a collection of Javascript libraries for providing a means of statistically analyzing data on a webpage.


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