Archive for the ‘Magna Carta’ Category

Letter From New York 05 09 2016 Thoughts on the last day of teaching…

May 9, 2016

For the first time in a week, the sun is out and the day feels spring like.  Sunlight glitters off the Hudson River as the train I’m riding heads south to the city.  I have a couple of meetings this afternoon and tomorrow and then will head back north after the last one is completed. 

Hudson River from Train

Today, I gave the final to my class.  Once they’re graded and handed in, I am finished unless I am asked back in the fall.

It was genuinely hard for me to see my students go.  I will honestly miss them, even the reluctant ones among them.

They are all interesting characters and I worry about them because most of them are graduating and their academic skills are less, for the most part, of what I would expect of students finishing their second year of college.

They range in age from twenty to forty.  One is a mother who missed a couple of classes because she went to her own daughter’s graduation.  Another is a vet, who is back after years of service, a man of thirty something who carries weight in his soul.

They follow Facebook and spurn Twitter.  Instagram and Snapchat are their social media of choice.

No one remembers anything.  They turn to their phones for the answers for anything and everything.  As has been posited, if you can Google, why remember it?

Today was the first time they were not nose to nose with their phones.  Their phones rarely leave their hands and if they have left it behind someplace, they are a shot out the door to retrieve it.

One of my tasks was to teach them to be better, smarter consumers of media.  I challenged them to go a day without media.  The one who came closest, went out to a farm and stayed there and even he couldn’t make it the full twenty-four hours.

The rest of them barely made it more than a few minutes.  All have a better understanding of how pervasive contemporary media is.

Anxiety is apparent when they are separated from their phones, even for relatively short periods of time.  When I threatened to remove a phone from one my students as she wouldn’t stop playing with it, I was greeted by genuine terror in her face.

Most of them suffer a higher degree of nomophobia [anxiety of being separated from your smartphone] than I had expected.  The older they were, the less it was, the younger they were, the higher the degree.  It was both fascinating and a little unsettling to observe.

Many of them write as if they were texting and some, to my great concern, have almost no skill in writing at all.  I mean zip.  And while they have more than moderate intelligence, they lack the skills to communicate their intelligence in writing.  One of the smartest people in my class in native intelligence is incapable of getting his thoughts on paper.  How can I not worry about him?

Most of them have an appalling lack of historical knowledge in general.  They live in an ever constant present, skimming the waves of history, passing over it rather than through it.  And what happened centuries ago is something which seems irrelevant to them.  As I’ve mentioned, if they need to know about an event, they can Google it.  [A disturbing tendency I have found in myself.]

Major device for connecting to the internet?  The phone, of course.  Most video viewing done?  On the phone.  Music consumption?  On the phone.  Everything is on the phone.

I am convinced they came away with a better understanding of how to approach and interpret media as they experience it and I am glad I have helped make them, please dear God, better consumers of media, less open to manipulation, more discerning, more interpretive because they really weren’t when they came into class.

I am afraid that is the case of many students today, at every level.

Letter From New York 06 18 15 From Waterloo to refugees to Laudato si…

June 18, 2015

Sitting at the dining room table at my cottage, I am looking out toward the creek, seeing a grey and moody day outside. It is almost chill and I’m wearing a fleece jacket to ward off the cool. I am in a slightly cranky mood from both the grey and that I am being told I must have flood insurance by the company which just bought my mortgage from the last owners of it who had bought it from someone else. In the fourteen and a half years I have been here, I have never had to have flood insurance before.

Part of me shrugs and goes: just one more thing to deal with and I will. My neighbors to the south of me have had some flooding issues but I am much, much higher than they are. We’ll see. But while I fight it, I guess I am going to have to get it and figure it out from there.

In the meantime, the British Royals have had a busy week. First there was the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta and then it’s been Ascot this week and then today we have the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in which Wellington defeated Napoleon once and for all. It was a ghastly, bloody battle in which a full quarter of the combatants were killed.

Many wrote accounts of the battle after it was over. The victors hardly felt jubilant in the wake of the destruction. But it did change history. Since then, the British and French have been allies, not enemies and have not fought each other. Napoleon was ushered into exile and his dreams of European hegemony faded. It ushered in the British Century and the great days of the British Empire.

Today there was a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to mark the Anniversary, attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

In South Carolina, there is mourning for nine individuals killed at a historic black church in Charleston by a young white man. The suspect, Dylann Roof, has been apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina. It is being labeled a hate crime. It is alleged that Roof entered the church during its Wednesday night Bible Study, stayed for an hour and then began shooting.

Obama expressed sadness and outrage and called for a national reckoning on guns, not that I think that will happen. One of the people killed was the Pastor; Obama knew him.

Laudato Si, Praise be to You, the Pope’s Encyclical, a letter of teaching, was published today and challenged the world to clean up its filth. Controversial even before its official release due to a leak, it is stirring up conversation about man’s relationship with the planet. Conservatives are not happy about it and some have been basically telling the Pope to mind his own business. But he considers this his business and he is going to have his word heard. Addressed not just to Catholics but also to every living human on the planet, Francis took a bold step that will probably only make him more popular to most while infuriating those who disagree with the stances he has taken.

It is the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, a time of fasting, praying and spiritual rejuvenation for Muslims.   It moves with the lunar calendar.

Today there are more displaced people than ever in the world, over sixty million. Over 11 million are from Syria alone, some outside the country and some within the country. If all of them were in the same country together, it would be the 24th largest country in the world.

Lester Holt is now the permanent anchor of the Nightly News on NBC, the first African American to hold such a post. Brian Williams is not coming back to the chair he vacated when suspended in February, at least not for a while. He is going to ratings challenged MSNBC to deliver breaking news. It’s a lot like being tossed out of the Major Leagues in baseball and sent back down to the Minors.

And, apparently, he is getting a lot less money.

Outside, it is still grey, moody and gloomy. I am playing jazz on Pandora to lighten my mood. Soon, my friend Susan will be here and we’re going to Local 111 over in Philmont for dinner and a catch-up.