In Defense of Christians

summit of leaders from churches across the Middle East began today (Sept 9) in Washington, with representatives from  Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic, Chaldean, Antiochian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Assyrian Church of the East, and more. It continues Sept 10-11.

The format of the opening prayer service was apparently one which was last done by St John Paul II in 1987, and had never been done in the United States. It was based on 3rd and 4th century customs, and in several languages.

The messages were simple, and clear:  history divides us but faith [and desperation?] unites us; we must fight the most difficult way: with love; when in doubt, follow the Golden Rule.  The homily was one from St John Chrysostrum: you are the salt of the earth and St Matthew calls you to work for the whole world.

John Ashcroft (member of Assemblies of God) keynoted, mostly of the importance of doing the right thing for the right reason.  But he also made an interesting distinction: we know governments don’t provide us with rights; God does.  But He endows mankind with Liberty, not democracy – a distinction Ashcroft said we too often forget in American foreign policy.   Cardinal Leonardo Sandri insisted that “clash of civilizations” was not true and must not be allowed to become true.

The reception after included tables with people “selling” their concerns – Canadian Assyrian College Students; a Middle East Christian satellite television station; several relief agencies; etc. Talking with them was, as you imagine, interesting.

At a Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq, in late 2012, Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda asked the visiting Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to say a few words.  Cardinal McCarrick told the overflowing congregation  that they were truly the church of the martyrs, and that they were not forgotten.  Cardinal McCarrick was clearly correct about the first part.  Now, it seems, is when we find out whether he was correct about the latter.

Justices Scalia, Ginsburg Concur – Against 2-Year Law School

Last year, President Obama supported the idea of two-year law school programs.  This past May, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia railed against two-year law school programs (compared to the traditional three years). He argued that two years is not sufficient for training for the profession of law, but treats law school instead like a trade school.  

This week, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seconded Scalia’s motion, using essentially the same language:  

Two years—it does reduce the respect, the notion that law is a learned profession. You should know a little about legal history, you should know about jurisprudence. [Two years] makes it more of a craft like the training you need to be a good plumber.

Not sure why she thought to make a crack against plumbers.  Time and US News and World Report say the average plumber makes about $50,000 per year – not much less than a local prosecutor or public interest lawyer. Moreover, Time notes that a good plumber in Cincinnati with seven years experience can make $100,000 or more.  

In any case this gives us a chance to mention the Notorious R.B.G. tumblr.  Just because we can.

American Univ advises returning students about Ebola and a global university

As students return to their universities this month, and as many leave the bubble of high school for the first time, health officials are offering lessons about globalization and public health.  

American University explains that it has students from around the world and scholars that travel the world, including West Africa.  It offers a basic explanation that Ebola is difficult to transmit, and a link to the relevant CDC web page.

American University’s Associate Professor Susan Shepler spent this summer in Ebola-affected Sierra Leone and Liberia.  A scholar on youth and conflict, she offers some advice about Ebola.

What do students want?

With back-to-school timeliness, Slate posts an excerpt from the new book by William Deresiewicz, asking What do students want?  He concludes that they want a mommy and daddy.  Well, not exactly. More precisely, he offers that students “crave” mentorship, validation, and connection from “parental figures other than their parents.”  Elaborating:

…there are two things, above all, that students want from their pro­fessors. Not, as people commonly believe, to entertain them in class and hand out easy A’s. That’s what they retreat to, once they see that nothing better is on offer. What they really want is that their teach­ers challenge them and that they care about them. They don’t want fun and games; they want the real thing.

(Whether this is because they have become to used to such excellent parenting, or because they have missed out on it, is not clear in the excerpt. But the question gives me an excuse to point you to today’s “Zits” comic in the Washington Post.)

Further down, he outlines the ideal relationship between student and mentor: timeless coffees in the lounge, or sunny spring mornings on the leafy quad, like the student isn’t working two jobs, volunteering somewhere, and playing a club sport.  But I have had those meetings with students – where they are not meetings but conversations; or where the student is talking, exploring, discovering on her own and she just needed a safe place to do it; or where you help a student think more deeply about what’s behind door number 1, but introduce that there are doors number 2-11 they also might consider.  They really are great moments, for which the student undertook decades of debt, and for which you earn slightly above the poverty level.

But I have to take considerable issue with one point:  his giant slap at adjunct faculty.

Between the long-term trend toward the use of adjuncts and other part-time faculty and the recent rush to online instruction, we seem to be deciding that we can do without teachers in college altogether, at least in any meaningful sense.

I’m not a teacher, in any meaningful sense?  This weekend alone – when I am not being paid by any university – I wrote a letter of recommendation for a Marshall Scholarship, another for an internship, and had a conversation with a third about his study abroad options.  From my house, on my dime, on a weekend, during the summer.  I do it happily, knowing and liking these students, and indebted to others who have done the same for me.

And that’s apart from the teaching slap.  I love teaching, and work hard at it, and so do all the other adjuncts I know.  My teaching evaluations for more than a decade have been consistently very good or excellent.  That doesn’t make me special – it makes me usual: a  2013 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at Northwestern University and concluded:

We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and less-qualified students.  (story in the Chronicle, here)

A Harvard study in 2010 had similar findings.

Based on the excerpt, and other things of his I’ve read, I bet Deresiewicz’s book is great.  The article is about students and student-teacher relationships.  Students want respect and interest and commitment, and they deserve it, and they get it from great teachers – whether they are adjuncts or not.


Betamax or VHS: Getting the Internet of Things to Work Together

You know how your phone works on wifi, everywhere?  You don’t care what kind of wireless router Starbucks or the airport or your office has, or who their ISP is.  And those places don’t care if you have an iPhone or Android, or who your carrier is.  Imagine if you could only call other people that had an iPhone, or only people on Verizon?

WiFi works with everyone because of an 1997 agreement, or standard, called IEEE 802.11.  All the relevant parties agreed to make their stuff work with each other.  Now, as we move toward an Internet of Things, they will be many more players.  Will they lay nicely together?  IEEE Spectrum investigates.