Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

Sweet Charity

I often post about the fashions, recipes, books, and locations that I love, but today I’d like to share with you some of the causes that I love. 
It’s very important to me to recognize how fortunate I am, and that giving even just a small amount of money or time adds up to make a difference.
Here are some causes that I love:
Food on Foot is a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless and hungry in Los Angeles. They not only provide nutritious meals, they offer clothing, blankets, and employment assistance. They are a unique organization in that they also inspire/require hard work, self-reflection, and random acts of kindness. They’re not about just giving food to those without it; they instead look to help those who are struggling to get on their feet and become productive members of society. I’ve been a member since August of 2011, and I wrote about my first experience with them here, back when this blog went by a different name. 
It really is an inspiring and unique organization.

I was introduced to Xela Aid by one of my mentors in grad school (now my boss!). Xela Aid works with a village in Guatemala, to help the people of the village break through the cycle of poverty by providing health care and education opportunities, among other things. I have gone on volunteer trips twice, and plan to go again next summer. It truly is a life changing experience, and you can read a little bit about my experience here. 
Kiva works on the concept of a microfinance– or lending to low-income people or those without access to banking.  When you give money to Kiva, you’re technically an investor, since those who receive the loans pay them back. You could keep the returned cash, or (preferably) reinvest it in another cause. You get updates about the person you are investing in, and you can see how your loan, no matter how small, helps him or her to climb out of poverty and become financially independent. Many of the loans go to impoverished nations and to small businesses; for example, I just reinvested my balance to a Georgian woman who is starting a bakery; before that a woman in Ghana who makes Kenkey borrowed money for dough, and before that, I lent to a Ugandan woman who was opening a pub. It is so easy to give to, and I really love the idea of supporting women in their business ventures around the world.
If you’re interested, here’s an invite code– they say you and I will both get an extra $25 to invest!
Now, this cause isn’t about helping the less fortunate; in fact, most of their listeners are fairly comfortable Los Angelinos. KCRW is one of our NPR affiliates, and I really love NPR. It’s important to me that we have quality journalism, and I especially love what KCRW does for the community. Their music programming is excellent–as in not just good, but seriously influential and eclectic, and just wonderful. Even if you’re not in the Los Angeles area, you can listen online. I promise that it makes for great office music. 
Also, the local reporting on KCRW is unparalleled. And the book clubs, film screenings, art walks, and concerts that they produce are so cool that I almost feel unworthy. That station is where I turn to for all things news and culture, and it’s listener supported. 
I love it so much that I accidentally made two ongoing donations during a pledge drive!
I’d love to hear about the organizations that you are involved with, or how you like to give back, in your community or internationally!

I May Be A Geek, But I Am Definitely Not A Loner

Back in December I discovered Coursera, a website that partners with major universities around the world to produce MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses. I was so excited by the course offerings that I ended up enrolling in several, and possibly over committing myself to these lectures and readings for the next couple of months. It’s okay though, because all of the courses are free, and I don’t have any real need for a completion certificate, other than to maybe post it on the refrigerator door.

The courses are much more like auditing a large lecture at any university. Some of the lectures are recorded from actual class meetings at that campus, and some are recorded separately for the MOOC.

Right now I am enrolled in three courses– Science From Super Heroes to Global Warming from UC Irvine, Introduction to Philosophy from University of Edinburgh, and The Modern and The Post- Modern from Wesleyan University. The first two seem so far to be freshmen level or 100 level courses, and the one about Modern/Post-Modern just began this week, so I don’t have much of an impression just yet. I was especially interested in these introductory level courses though, for several reasons: one being that I thought it would be fun to go back and brush up on and revisit concepts I learned over a decade ago, but also because I happen to teach introductory level courses at a four year university. These courses are the equivalent of what my English 101 students are attending before and after my class, so I thought it would be interesting to see what they cover and how they are taught.

So tonight as I was listening to the lecture for the science class, which actually happens to focus more on scientific thinking, sort of a critical thinking in the sciences type of class, the professor emphasized the importance of the scientific community in understanding science. He asked the students (this one was taped form an actual lecture) about pop culture representations of scientists, and the class described the classic mad scientist who works alone in his basement laboratory.

 The professor went on to describe how this is the exact opposite of an actual scientist, explaining that real scientists collaborate, peer review, meet for conferences, talk over a beer, and consider themselves part of a community. The loner mad scientist is simply not the way that scientific discovery happens.

Funny– I have that Same. Exact. Discussion with my writing students, except that we substitute “mad scientist” for “brooding writer who cranks out novels overnight and would be gravely insulted if anyone read a word of his/her masterpiece before it was finished.” 
Writers, we discuss, are normal, often sociable people who share their work with one another and give and receive suggestions. They bounce ideas off of one another, often talking over a beer. They feel self-conscious about sharing unfinished work, but know that no writer is just struck by divine inspiration and gets it right in one try. That brooding loner writer is simply not the one who gets published. 

The first lecture of this Intro to Philosophy class is also emphasizing conversation and community. And it got me thinking– we, myself, these other professors, and every other professor who brings this up in classes, feel the need to spend time convincing our students that those in our field actually have people to talk to, actually have lives, and have to be good “team players” to cut it in the field. We spend this time trying to debunk these deep seated myths that those who excel in academia must have lonely, unfulfilled lives, and it’s left me wondering why we have these myths to begin with.

For one, we do have this cultural emphasis on the individual, that those who achieve greatness did so completely by their own talent, intelligence, skill, and nothing else. We don’t like it when a Nobel Prize is split between people because there needs to be one individual winner. We also like to think this way because  it is easier to think they have some gift that we don’t, and so we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves for not achieving the same thing. They are just different from the rest of us, and there is nothing we can do about that. In many cases, because they are so inherently different, they must not lead lives that resemble our own. In fact, they must live in our worst nightmare: loneliness.

And that leads into the anti-intellectualism that is so pervasive in our culture. On the school yard, mediocrity and conformity are the way to avoid a wedgie, and even into adulthood, intellectuals still sometimes have to make apologies for who they are. Think about the last time you maybe had to down play your interest in a subject that others might not find “cool.” Think about why “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular comedies. As a culture, we like to distance ourselves from and laugh at intellectuals, not because they are rude or particularly funny. It is because they make us feel bad about ourselves.

So I suppose it isn’t a surprise that in first year college courses, instructors feel the need to break these widespread stereotypes, to show that not only do intellectuals play well with others, but that one must be able to do so in order to succeed.

I hope that this emphasis on collaboration and the overall “coolness” of excelling in academic endeavors becomes more of the cultural norm, and less of a pathetic cry from professors that “We have friends, really, we do!”

How You Should NOT Rate Your Professor

Today marked the first day of teaching for me for the Spring semester.

All weekend I could not drum up enthusiasm for another 16 weeks of teaching, but when I walked into the first class this morning, full of cheerfully anxious students, all of that apathy melted away and I was once again excited to teach. Each section had students eagerly asking questions, grinning at the textbook selection, and exchanging email addresses with one another– the kind of first day I live for.

During my office hours I took an obligatory first day of school self portrait. Today’s is on the right; the one on the left is me, 5 1/2 years ago, as a grad student about to teach my first ever class.

I swear I am not wearing the same thing. Also, I feel like I make the strangest faces in self-portraits. I never know if I should smile, look serious, make duck lips…

 

So I was feeling all jazzed about a successful first day, and then I made the mistake of looking at Ratemyprofessor.com.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I was riding that high and wanted to read the praise from my former students, as the reviews are usually complimentary. But then I saw the newest one, one that is so odd and so unsettling that I can’t get it out of my head.

Now, I know that disgruntled students unhappy with a low grade often take it out on an instructor, so I want to point out that this was from a remedial class where the students did not receive grades– only pass or fail, with most of my students passing.

Anyway, this is what the review says:

“decent professor but very annoying. she isn’t horrible but she isn’t great, and she is definitely NOT hot. Take her if all else fails”


Soooo… the part about being annoying doesn’t bother me that much, but the student never says WHY. Notice how the review is very non-committal: decent  but annoying; isn’t horrible but isn’t great. 

What is this student’s point and his/her motivation?

I understand the students who write comments like This professor doesn’t explain anything and is super hard or this was my favorite professor ever! because those have, like, a point. They’re communicating to future students what they need to know. So the whole not-bad-not-good-meh  stance confuses me. Why take the time and effort to even voice an opinion if you don’t actually have one?

Ah, but he or she clearly does, as I am sure you have noticed:  “[A]nd she is definitely NOT hot.”  Ummmm WTF? If you’re unfamiliar with ratemyprofessor.com, students have the option to add a little chili pepper next to a professor’s name to denote that he/she is “hot.” A previous student had done so, so my guess is that this comment is in response to that.

But why? Why is this the only definitive statement the commentor cares to make? Is this student a male who was feeling grossly disappointed after expecting someone “hot” from previous reviews? A female who feels threatened and wants to cut me down by attacking my looks? A student who thinks that I think I am “hot” and wants me to see that that is definitely not the case? And still…why?

I want to emphasize here that the chili pepper question for professor rankings really, really bothers me. It creeps me out to no end to read that 18 year olds have pegged me as “hot.” No. Ew.

It’s not only creepy, but incredibly demeaning. In academia, one busts his/her intellectual ass for several years, only to have a public ranking system list you as “hot or not” in an intellectual field? Really?!

And  regardless of my disgust at this “hotness” ranking, and lack of desire to be called “hot” by students, the fact that an anonymous person took the time out of his or her day JUST to declare online that I am NOT hot is incredibly disturbing. Here’s what I keep asking myself:

1. Is that really ALL that he or she got out of a 16 week semester of my class?

2. Did this student spend those weeks analyzing my imperfections to come to this conclusion that he/she needed to share with the world? I get that students are looking at me in class, but how do I not feel extra self-conscious after this?

3. Again, what is this student’s motivation? Is he or she that angry with me or my looks that he/she felt the need to post this? Is this student just boiling with negativity and  also criticizing others behind the mask of anonymity? Does this person need psychiatric help for deeper issues?

I don’t know what to make of the ratemyprofessor.com post, but I do know that I am sickened by the growing trend of cowards who post anonymous, hurtful comments around the internet. I am sad for people who feel that they can only feel better about themselves by doing so, and I hope that they someday get the professional help that they surely need.

And unfortunately for them, I still love teaching.

How You Should NOT Rate Your Professor

Today marked the first day of teaching for me for the Spring semester.

 All weekend I could not drum up enthusiasm for another 16 weeks of teaching, but when I walked into the first class this morning, full of cheerfully anxious students, all of that apathy melted away and I was once again excited to teach. Each section had students eagerly asking questions, grinning at the textbook selection, and exchanging email addresses with one another– the kind of first day I live for.

During my office hours I took an obligatory first day of school self portrait. Today’s is on the right; the one on the left is me, 5 1/2 years ago, as a grad student about to teach my first ever class.

I swear I am not wearing the same thing. Also, I feel like I make the strangest faces in self-portraits. I never know if I should smile, look serious, make duck lips…


So I was feeling all jazzed about a successful first day, and then I made the mistake of looking at Ratemyprofessor.com.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I was riding that high and wanted to read the praise from my former students, as the reviews are usually complimentary. But then I saw the newest one, one that is so odd and so unsettling that I can’t get it out of my head.

Now, I know that disgruntled students unhappy with a low grade often take it out on an instructor, so I want to point out that this was from a remedial class where the students did not receive grades– only pass or fail, with most of my students passing.

Anyway, this is what the review says:

“decent professor but very annoying. she isn’t horrible but she isn’t great, and she is definitely NOT hot. Take her if all else fails”

Soooo… the part about being annoying doesn’t bother me that much, but the student never says WHY. Notice how the review is very non-committal: decent  but annoying; isn’t horrible but isn’t great. 
What is this student’s point and his/her motivation?

 I understand the students who write comments like This professor doesn’t explain anything and is super hard or this was my favorite professor ever! because those have, like, a point. They’re communicating to future students what they need to know. So the whole not-bad-not-good-meh  stance confuses me. Why take the time and effort to even voice an opinion if you don’t actually have one?

Ah, but he or she clearly does, as I am sure you have noticed:  “[A]nd she is definitely NOT hot.”  Ummmm WTF? If you’re unfamiliar with ratemyprofessor.com, students have the option to add a little chili pepper next to a professor’s name to denote that he/she is “hot.” A previous student had done so, so my guess is that this comment is in response to that.

But why? Why is this the only definitive statement the commentor cares to make? Is this student a male who was feeling grossly disappointed after expecting someone “hot” from previous reviews? A female who feels threatened and wants to cut me down by attacking my looks? A student who thinks that I think I am “hot” and wants me to see that that is definitely not the case? And still…why?

I want to emphasize here that the chili pepper question for professor rankings really, really bothers me. It creeps me out to no end to read that 18 year olds have pegged me as “hot.” No. Ew.
 It’s not only creepy, but incredibly demeaning. In academia, one busts his/her intellectual ass for several years, only to have a public ranking system list you as “hot or not” in an intellectual field? Really?!

And  regardless of my disgust at this “hotness” ranking, and lack of desire to be called “hot” by students, the fact that an anonymous person took the time out of his or her day JUST to declare online that I am NOT hot is incredibly disturbing. Here’s what I keep asking myself:
1. Is that really ALL that he or she got out of a 16 week semester of my class?
2. Did this student spend those weeks analyzing my imperfections to come to this conclusion that he/she needed to share with the world? I get that students are looking at me in class, but how do I not feel extra self-conscious after this?
3. Again, what is this student’s motivation? Is he or she that angry with me or my looks that he/she felt the need to post this? Is this student just boiling with negativity and  also criticizing others behind the mask of anonymity? Does this person need psychiatric help for deeper issues?

I don’t know what to make of the ratemyprofessor.com post, but I do know that I am sickened by the growing trend of cowards who post anonymous, hurtful comments around the internet. I am sad for people who feel that they can only feel better about themselves by doing so, and I hope that they someday get the professional help that they surely need.

And unfortunately for them, I still love teaching.

Finding Inspiration in Some Unlikely Places.

So, since 2011 has “been so crazy” for uh, 3 months now, I suppose I should be writing something about now, right?

Those who know me know that my voice is sometimes, well, loud. I like to think that it just carries because loudness sounds more intentional, and I don’t usually intend for people across the room to hear me. Once in a while I embarrass myself this way, but for the most part I find it to be a quality of mine that I don’t mind so much.

But if you were to pin a voice to my writing, I’d say that lately it’s become barely above a whisper. And I am not just talking about a lack of blogging; by my writerly voice I think that I mean the confidence to actually sit down and write something, maybe the hesitation to make an idea more permanent, maybe a fear of committing to something by writing it, because don’t I often judge others by what they write, and do I really want to be that indulgent, because at the end of the day who really cares about what I have to say?

But yesterday I had my students write their responses to quotes from writers, and this one really resonated with both them and me:

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing
guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity
is self-doubt.

–Sylvia Plath

Leave it to the crazy chick with daddy issues to say something I actually like.

And so yeah, fucking write already, Rachel. Things in your life are worth blogging about.

For instance:
In January/ February I took a sailing class in Newport. We learned to sail little boats that look like this:

I’m not gonna lie: it was challenging and at times terrifying. With those little boats, it is only you and another classmate maneuvering that boat through the bay, while the instructor cruises around in a small motor boat, yelling orders through a bullhorn. Those little boats can capsize easily, and while I have always been a good swimmer, the thought of falling in the bay terrified me. Every time we docked at the end of class, my hands were still shaking so much that it was difficult to de-rig the boat! But it was such a great experience, and I plan on taking the class again this Summer, when I have more time (and the water is warmer in case I go for an unplanned swim).

I’ve also been making cheese! I had one wheel of cheddar that turned out to be a huge disappointment, but I have some gouda that I have been snacking on this week, and I am really proud of my goat cheese. Oh, and I am aging a wheel of Parmesan that looks and smells delicious!
Here’s some goat cheese I made with herbs de Provence:

Expect many more blogs about cheese.

Recently I was out hiking in Joshua Tree (love love love) and I couldn’t get over how happy the Joshua trees make me. I mean really, how can you not look at them and think they are doing some funky dance that you want to join in on?

I found this picture on the internets, and see! Look how happy they look!

Yes,I amuse myself by making up wacky dance moves out in the middle of the desert, and I am proud of it!