Tag Archives: Higher Education

Apparently, Movie Bad Guys Traded Black Hats for Caps and Gowns

1 Feb

I am a big fan of movie previews. In fact, I consider it to be one of the best parts of the picture show experience. They are entertaining and provide an idea of what is coming next. Some people do not understand it, but I like to get to the movie early to see them. When I see people arrive after they have started, I wonder how they could do that. They might as well not even bought a ticket.

I write all of that to write this. Recently, there was a movie preview that ruined the whole thing. I could not enjoy the movie because the preview stayed on my mind. It was infuriating.

The preview started with a voice that I recognized but could not quite place. Turns out, it was the guy who played the judge on Night Court. When he appeared on the screen, I knew what was coming next.

In A Matter of Faith, he plays a Biology professor who is explaining the theory of evolution. A coed becomes enamored with his teaching ability and his ideas. Her father is not amused because she is hearing something other than the Biblical creation. A struggle between the father and the university follows.

This follows a movie called God’s Not Dead where a college professor tells a class that God does not exist. Then, a student fights for God’s existence.

This is not a post about religion and religious beliefs. I do not care what people think about God, evolution, creation or anything else. However, I care about another central aspect of both films. I am tired of college professors being shown as the bad guys. It is an attack on education, knowledge, critical thinking and my profession.

This stuff should have gone out with the 1920s.Scientist

I have taken a ton of college courses. This has included histories of different religions, philosophy and  biology. At no time has a professor stood up and announced that God does not exist.

On top of that, I have worked with many professors, and I have not heard about any of them saying that God does not exist.

Are students exposed to different ideas in college? Yes. That is the whole point of college. While most people may think that it is a training school to get a job, it is actually a place to get a wider view of the world. It is a place designed to broaden the minds and horizons of young adults and prepare them to be well-rounded. For that to happen, they are introduced to concepts that mommy and daddy may not have told them.

This whole notion that college professors are godless intellectuals who are trying to drive religion from the minds of youth is getting old.

When I talk to my students about the Scopes Trial, I explain to them that education prepares them to think for themselves. It provides them with the ability to make up their minds about all sorts of issues. They can believe what they want, but they cannot fully comprehend or defend their beliefs if they do not know and understand the other side.

It is ignorant to continue the line that college professors are evil. However, it is more ignorant to believe something at face value without exploring it and other ways of thinking.

Annual Activities Report, or There is a Lot to this Higher Education Stuff

1 Jun

Teaching in higher education is a great job. I get to talk about history and, hopefully, fill the minds of students with information that they need to know. It is great to have a student come up after class and ask a question. It is great when they show interest in what we are talking about. There is great satisfaction in being a teacher.History Teacher

However, higher education is about more than teaching. We are expected to serve the university as members of various committees. We are expected to take part in scholarly activities outside of the classroom. We are expected to serve the surrounding community.

At the end of each academic year, we turn in an Annual Activities Report to our dean. It is a way for the administration to know that we are doing our jobs. I just finished my report and realized that it has been a very busy year.

In the Fall of 2013, I taught four classes and one directed study. Three of the classes were surveys over the first part of American history, and one was the history of Latin America. Enrolled in those courses, were 132 students. I also taught four classes in the Spring of 2014. Three were surveys over the second part of American history, and one was the Expansion of the United States, my specialty. Those classes had 118 students. In addition, I was an advisor to 18 students in the Fall and 12 students in the Spring.

In October of 2013, I attended the conference of the Western History Association in Tucson, Arizona. It was an awesome experience. I was also able to raise $15,000 for faculty development.

Did I mention committees? During this academic year, I have served on the Faculty Senate, the GEC (General Education Core) Committee, the Athletic Committee and the Athletic Compliance Committee. Those last two are part of my duties as Faculty Athletic Representative.

As Faculty Athletic Representative, I have also attended meetings of G-MAC, the conference that we are moving into. That is part of our move to Division II of the NCAA. There are several sports on campus, and I have been to games of  baseball, soccer, softball and football.

Oh yeah, I am also the Pi Gamma Mu sponsor, which is the national honor society for the Social Sciences. We also have Phi Alpha Theta, the national honor society for History.

It seems as if there is always something to do on campus, but there are also plenty of things going on around town. I have spoken to the members of the First Presbyterian Church and been interviewed by three of Nashville’s television stations. Also, I have been interviewed by The Nashville Business Journal, The Tennessean, The Lebanon Democrat and The Wilson Post. I also wrote an article for Lebanon Living magazine.

Community service? There is a lot there, as well. I am a member of the board of directors for the James E. Ward Agriculture and Community Center, Fiddler’s Grove Historic Village and the Buchanan Historic Home. I am also on the Lebanon Regional Planning Commission and am a member of the Rotary Club.

When I entered higher education, I knew that I would be teaching history. This other stuff came as a surprise. The other surprise? I like doing all of this stuff.

What the GEC? A Liberal Arts Education

4 Apr

Last night, I spent some extra hours on campus proctoring the GEC Exit Exam. It is a test that we give to our graduating seniors to see if they learned what we taught them in the General Education Core (GEC). As I read from a canned speech, we have taught them “a particular set of skills.” I really wanted to say that in a Liam Neeson voice.Liam Neeson

After reading the canned script, I told them what I really wanted to say. We are a Liberal Arts university and want them to leave with a well-rounded education. While being trained for a job is important, we believe that being exposed to different theories and ideas is what higher education is all about.

That is why the GEC is filled with History classes that cover Benjamin Harrison’s presidency and the Ming Dynasty. That is why it is filled with English classes where they read Shakespeare and Twain. Students often wonder why they have to take those classes and end their careers taking this GEC test. It is because we want them to know more than how to do their jobs. We want them to know about the world.

Sometimes, I fear that universities are becoming trade schools rather than bastions of higher education. Think about those words for a second. Higher education. It is great to get training to be successful in a profession. However, it is greater to be taught to think on a higher plane. That is what higher education and Liberal Arts is all about. It is about helping people to be open-minded toward ideas that are different from their own.

Open-mindedness is something that we are missing in the modern world. Heck, it may have always been missing. This makes me think about the politics of the realm in which we live. People are not willing to understand the arguments of the other side. I am not just talking about people who are conservative. I think people who have a liberal mindset are just as close-minded. Neither side is willing to concede that the other side may have some valid arguments and concerns. Let us just shut them off and yell at them.

Truly open-minded people listen to the other side. They may not agree, but, at least, they make an attempt to understand it. To me, that is what a Liberal Arts education is all about. It exposes people to different ideas and helps them understand that there things out there other than what their parents, their preachers and their teachers have told them.

It is a big world, and we need to do everything we can to understand it.

Today, I taught History to a room full of freshmen. Many of them did not seem very interested. By the time they get to the GEC Exit Exam, I hope they have realized that History, English, Philosophy, Sociology and all the other stuff were not wastes of time. They were essential to help them become something more than a job-holder. They made them an educated person.

 

The Traditions of This Time of Year

4 Dec

December has arrived, and that means we have entered a time of year filled with traditions. For many, that means getting ready for Christmas and all of the trappings that go with it. For those of us in higher education, it means something different. This is the time of year that brings End of Semester traditions. There are many, but these are just a few.Panic

This is the time of year when students:

Ask if extra credit is going to be offered.

Want to know their average going into the Final.

Try to turn in an assignment that was due a couple of months ago.

Wonder why they have been given a zero for something they didn’t turn in.

Question the grade scale even when that grade scale was explained to them on the first day.

Ask if they can take the Final early.

Say that they have another Final scheduled at the same time, which is impossible.

Want to know if they can do an extra assignment to improve their grade.

The list could go on and on, but you get the point. This is the time of year when people panic about their grade and scramble to do something about it. Unfortunately, this is the time of year when it is too late for that. There was an entire semester to get things done.

I tell all of my classes that if you do what I say and do what is in the syllabus, then you will pass the class. I guess that doesn’t sink in until this time of year.

2,996? Really?

25 Oct

The other night, Necole was telling me how proud she is that I am a teacher and talked about all of the people I have influenced through the years. Sometimes, we teachers need such encouragement. During the daily grind, our motivation tends to get overwhelmed by grading papers and seeing people nod off in class.

As she talked about all of the people I have taught, I began to wonder something. How many students have ventured into my classes? It would be easy to figure out. Just go back and count. I started teaching in the summer of 2001, when my university needed someone to cover a night class that had three students. Since that summer, I have taught history to 2,996 people.2996

Honestly, many of them have faded from my memory. Others I can still visualize sitting in the room. Some were great students who excelled. Others only showed up half of the time and did not stay in school very long. Sometimes, I wonder where they are and what they are doing. Do they have families? Do they have good jobs? Have their lives gone according to plan? Do they remember anything that they heard in my class? Did I really influence some of them?

Those are questions for which I have few answers, but there are some things for which I am certain.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher. Sometimes, I feel like an old Rock band playing the same songs over and over. The stories I tell can get monotonous. However, those bands probably like the songs and know that each audience may be hearing them for the first time. I like the stories I tell and get satisfaction in knowing that the students have never heard many of them.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher because I like the subject. The people. The events. They all interest me. If nothing else happens, then I want the students to realize that the people actually lived. They are not characters in a book. They were happy and mad. They fell in and out of love. They were people just like us. They lived. They died. Somewhere along the way, they made it into my history class.

Certainly, teachers age while the students never do. I started teaching when I was 32 years old. That wasn’t much older than the students. I even had one student who went to high school with my older brother. Back then, I connect through popular culture. We listened to some of the same music and grew up with similar experiences. We could remember many of the same major events.

However, students cycle out, and a new group comes in. Every year, I get older, but the students always stayed in the same age group. They grew up with different experiences and remembering different events. The fall of 2001 was my first full semester, and I can remember being in class on 9/11. The freshmen I am now teaching were just starting elementary school that year.

In essence, I could have been considered part of the same generation with my early students, but I am in a different one from my current students. That’s a big difference. Sometimes, being around a lot of young people makes teachers feel young. At other times, it makes us feel old. In other words, it makes us feel like part of history.

I am not sure what I meant to write in this post, but it is hard to believe that I have taught 2,996 people. It’s also hard to realize that some of them may be out there retelling some of the things I told them, but I hope they are. I hope I have had some influence.

And It Begins Again

14 Jan

Tomorrow is the first day of the Spring semester as the cycle of higher academics begins again. The students have been moving into the residence halls over the weekend and will show up for classes in varying ways. Most of the new students will dress their best to make a good impression while most of the old timers will dress for comfort.

Thankfully, I've never seen a student wear one of these.

Thankfully, I’ve never seen a student wear one of these.

Some students will arrive to class early to get a good seat and make sure they don’t miss anything. Some will arrive a few minutes before class with a drink bottle in their hand. Others will come in a few minutes late. Either the new schedule got to them, or they didn’t time their drive correctly.

Bumper to Bumber, Baby

Bumper to Bumber, Baby

No matter how they get to class or how they are dressed, the students will be introduced to what the faculty members have been working on. Tomorrow is an important day. It is Syllabus Day and should be celebrated throughout the land. This is the document that lays out the semester and what is going to happen within the class.

The syllabus has all kinds of information. Required reading. Attendance policy. Class rules. However, the students are always ready to skip over to the assignment page. I can almost hear the wheels turning as they look at the page length of papers and the number of tests they will have to take. There are a lot of percentages on there that tell the students how important each item is. Here’s a hint. THEY ARE ALL IMPORTANT!!!

I'm not kidding.

I’m not kidding.

Between classes is also an exciting time. New students are looking for rooms, and old students are hanging out with old friends. Some of them drop by the offices of their teachers to talk about anything other than academics. The time between classes is always. It’s amazing how quiet the hallways get when classes are in session.

The beginning of the semester is an exciting time. Everything is new, and the day-to-day grind hasn’t hit yet. Students are going to hear things that they have never heard before, and teachers are preparing to go over information that they know by heart. Good teachers introduce new scholarship into their classes, but the basics usually remain the same.

This week, I will talk about the post-Civil War period, the Renaissance and the United States of the 1940s. Along the way, I will do what I always do – teach History.

Alice Cooper Was Wrong…

27 Aug

School’s not out forever. That thought hit me today as I realized that classes start tomorrow. I am not sure what it means when Alice Cooper and higher education enter my mind at the same time.

Hey Kenney Chesney, this is what a Rock Star looks like.

Maybe I think of Alice because this is what a few students look like on the first day of class. They are wide-eyed and yelling internally because they really don’t know what to expect. Guess what. Teachers don’t know what to expect, either. We see the wily old veterans in the upper classes, but each freshman class brings it own set of personalities.

We tried to get both sides, the freshmen and the faculty, in the swing of things on Friday. Each year, the new students are given a story to read. Then, they are broken into groups to discuss the story with a pair of teachers. This exercise has many goals, but one is to ease the students into the correct mindset before the real action begins. It’s like a scrimmage.

My group had a few talkers, but the discussion was limited. Finally, I asked them if they liked the story. They could say anything. Yes. No. Kinda. It sucked. I didn’t care. I just wanted them to say something. After a long moment of silence, a kid spoke up.

“I didn’t like it much”

“Why did you not like it?”

“The story was ok. I just don’t like being told that I have to read something. I would rather read what I want.”

“You realize that there will be a lot of people telling you what to read over the next four years.”

“I was hoping the teachers would let us choose our own books.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen very much.”

After that exchange, no one else said anything, the discussion session ended, and the students went to their next stops.

Tomorrow, their stops will be in their classes, and the first day of class is always interesting. Students will be wandering aimlessly in the hallways looking for their rooms. I learned a long time ago that the first day of class should begin about five minutes late to give everyone a chance to get there.

Students will also be wearing their good clothes. This is the day to wear your new stuff and make a good first impression. Before long, they will show up in what they slept in.

The first day is also syllabus day, and teachers explain what is expected in each class. This is also when students learn that they will not be reading book of their choice.

Tomorrow is also convocation day. This is a welcoming ceremony to officially start the new year. The powers-that-be will dress up in their gowns, speeches will be made, and the choir will sing. It will end with the singing of the Alma Mater. They will pass out the words for the benefit of the freshman, and I am thankful for that. After graduating from the university twice and working there for over a decade, I still don’t know the words to the song. I wonder if Alice Cooper does.

Your Assignment…Should You Choose to Accept

27 Jan

This semester I have the good fortune of teaching my favorite class, a history of the American West. This is my major area of study, and I get a kick out of talking about all of the things I have researched and written about. However, it needs to be fun for the students as well. I believe that many historians do a wonderful job of making an interesting topic as boring as possible, and I attempt the opposite. History is fun for me, and I want the students to have the same experience.

Several years ago, I developed something that the students call the “Movie Assignment”. They watch a movie based within the time period we are discussing and compare it to actual events. The scenery and action of the films provide them with a visual clue of what may have been like, and the story often gives them an idea of life itself. Obviously, not all movies are appropriate for this type of activity. Pearl Harbor may have been the dumbest plot ever written. Therefore, World War II class did not get the option to watch it. They got movies with deeper meanings and more of a foundation in reality.

In the American West, students have the pleasure of watching films from my favorite genre. Except, there is a different aspect to the assignment. Western settings have long been used to offer more contemporary lessons. Think of it as the Mt. Olympus of the United States. It is the place with myths are made, and flawed heroes face decisions with no correct answers. To get the students on the right path, I recently assigned each of them a movie to watch. We haven’t discussed what they should look for because I want them to watch the movies for enjoyment first. This post lists the movies and why I chose them. If you get the chance to watch them, then perhaps these are things you can look for.

1. Rango– I know, it’s a cartoon. However, it pays homage to westerns throughout the decades. Watching closely, you can pick up small details that bring to mind the great western movies and western actors. Besides, how can a movie be bad when “The Man With No Name” shows up as the Spirit of the West. I only that the original “Man With No Name” could have been used to voice the character.

2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – “This is the West, sir. When legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One of the great lines in western history and an statement that describes how difficult it is for historians to dig through the legend to get to the fact. This film is filled with symbolism, as each character represents an aspect of the “taming of the frontier” experience.

3. Fort Apache – The second John Ford/John Wayne movie on the list (TMWSLV was the first), this is one of the first movies to show Native Americans in a positive light. It takes real battles of the Indian Wars and combines them into a fictional one. In the process, it shows the misguided policies of the United States toward native peoples. This could be relavent for a lot of times in history – Indian Wars, Vietnam War, Gulf War.

4. The Searchers – The third John Ford/ John Wayne installment (I promise that they don’t make up the entire list) is an epic about a man searching for his niece, who was kidnapped by Indians. It shows his maniacal racism toward these people and how it increases throughout the film. Most of the underlying currents were missed by the audiences of the time, but they come to light as the years pass.

5. The Magnificent Seven – A remake of the Japanese film, The Seven Samurai, this movie was had a compliation cast of stars in an action packed adventure. However, many don’t realize that the original Japanese film was a western placed in a different time and place. So, a western copied a foreign film that copied a western storyline. This shows that the themes of the western genre are actually universal.

6. Dances With Wolves – The Kevin Costner movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture. did you know it’s more popular “remake” lost the same award? Avatar has made more money than any movie in history, but it should be renamed to Dances With Aliens. It’s the same storyline. Watch them back to back and see what I mean. This shows that the western never disappeared. It simply got better graphics and tuend into Sci-Fi. For example, Gene Roddenberry was a writer for Wagon Train when he pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the stars”. And , can’t you picture the black-hatted darth vader as a cattle baron building his empire on the backs of settlers (before the later movies became some convuluted political statement)? Also, when Luke returns to find his uncle’s homestead burning, it reflects Ethan Edwards returning to find his brother’s homestead burning in The Searchers.

7. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid – Sam Peckipah uses this movie to depict his idea of the destruction of the American west. Look at all of the western character actors that are killed or shown in stages of degeneration. Peckinpah’s version of western history is inaccurate, but his portrayal of the disappearing frontier is poignant. Plus, Slim Pickens dies with Bob Dylan singing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. The best dying scene ever.

8. The Outlaw Josey Wales – There should be a law that says everyone has to watch this movie once a year. Josey sees his life ripped apart by the ravages of war. In response, he becomes a gunfighter to reap revenge on those who killed his family. Along the way, he picks up a surrogate family of people who have seen their lives destroyed by violence and hardship. It turns out that the “loner” isn’t alone after all. Filmed in the mid-1970s, the Civil War and its aftermath can easily be seen as the Vietnam War.

9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – An attempt to depict the plight of Native Americans as they saw their lifestyle and land taken away. It is a noble attempt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of inaccuracies. The Native American story needs to be told and can be told in an accurate and informative way. This movie, in an attempt to tell the other side of the story, goes to far the other direction. As in all conflicts and clashes of cultures, there are good and bad people on both sides. Portraying that inaccurately takes the meaning away from all of them. On top of that, the portrayal of the Battle of Little Big Horn is shameful.

10. High Noon – This movie is not exciting at all. And, I cringed each time I see the sheriff ask for help. However, there is a reason he does. This movie places real life events in another setting as the sheriff represents those victimized by the House on Un-American Activities Committee that was led by Joseph McCarthy. Audiences of the time would never watcha movie about a supposed communist, but they would watch a movie about a sheriff in trouble.

11. Jeremiah Johnson – Based on an actual mountain man, Robert Redford shows the harshness of life as a Rocky Mountains trapper. There are accuracies and inaccuracies, but the overall story is true to the experience. The scenery is fantastic and the dialogue is witty and appropriate. Under the current, you find the story of a man who tries to run away from civilization only to find that it is never far away.

12. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – A western about the Civil War in New Mexico that was filmed in Europe. What else can I say? When it came out, many movie critics panned it because everyone knows that the Civil War took place in the east. Wrong. It is based on a reall mission to capture what is now New Mexico. This movie shows how westerns influenced film makers in other countries and how they, in turn, influenced the genre and the view on the region’s history. Also, the musical score is the best of any western ever. And, an American didn’t compose it. Weird for those people who believe the west is all about independence and the American ideal. It wasn’t about that at all.

So, there is the list for my students. Can you think of any other movies I should have used instead? Do you think my students will stumble upon this in their research. If they ever get away from Wikipedia that is.

Syllabus, Syllabus

9 Jan

“From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room….” Wait, that is the beginning of that other boring document by William Faulkner called “Absalom, Absalom”. The boring document I am blogging about is called “Syllabus, Syllabus”, in my opinion the worst chore for a member of a university faculty. And, it gets worse every semester.

When I began teaching a decade ago, I had no idea how to put together a syllabus. I had received a few in my student days but never realized what was in them. I paid attention to the assignments and the days they were due. Simple, right? Well, it is not as simple from the other end. My first syllabi were straight copies from another teacher. They had worked well for him through the years, and he figured they would work for me as well. And, they did. I looked at one a few hours ago and was stunned by its simplicity.

Contact information at the top.

A sentence about the course content.

An attendance statement (He didn’t count off for missing classes, and I have followed his example. However, he NEVER wanted anyone to show up late. At class time, he locked the door. Unfortunately, I can’t do that.)

A detailed description of the assignments and when they were due.

A grade scale.

That’s it. The syllabus took up 1 1/2 pages and provided everyone with the information they needed. Now, it isn’t that simple because the university has several items that they force us to put in. Most of it is federally regulated. Another example of the federal government getting out of control. I know the day will never come when the government decides to stay out of our daily lives, but one can hope.

That’s problem enough. However, the biggest problem is that federal guidelines and the university response to them changes all the time. In our meetings last week, we were told to put certain items in our syllabi that were completely different from what they told us last semester. Personally, I blame Franklin Roosevelt because he started these government shenanigans. At any rate, I just finished a couple of syllabi and thought some of you might get some blog-reading entertainment out of it.

The first part is simple and straightforward. At least, I think it is. To make sure that it is, I go over it with the class.

Name of the course. (It’s hard to believe how many people walk out during this part when they realize they are in the wrong place. A few more just stay to the end, so they won’t look stupid. That would probably be my choice. Even worse, last semester I had a kid come to class on the wrong day after we had been going for a month.. He sat through the whole thing and even asked a question.)

My office location. (It’s across the hall. I tell them that, and they still can’t find it. Hell, just ask someone where the office with the whores on the walls is.)

Course description. (By now, one person has gone to sleep)

Book for the course. (In one of my classes I use “Devil in the White City”. A few years ago the bookstore lady told me that a couple of African-American students said they were not reading a racist book. They thought “white city” meant white-ruled society, and they were being called “the devil”. It’s actually about the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the serial killer that stalks its visitors.)

Attendance. (There is a four-paragraph official statement that we have to include. Simply, it says you have to go to class. After that, I put my own mark on it in all capital letters. DO NOT ENTER THIS CLASS LATE!!! It doesn’t work.

My tardiness. (If I am fifteen minutes late, then class is cancelled. I’ve never done it, but I had a teacher do it once. At fifteen minutes we stormed out of the room, and one of the kids ran over him on the stairs. The teacher was pissed off. But, you know what they say. It’s better to be pissed off than pissed on. Unless, you are into that kind of thing.)

Cell phone policy. (Teachers hate cell phones more than anything. Students always stick it between their legs and text. They think we can’t see. I always say that I don’t know what they are doing with their hand moving in their lap, but they probably shouldn’t be doing it in class.)

Conversing. (That’s a fancy word for talking and bothering me in class.)

Computer/iPad policy. (Last year, the university started giving iPads to incoming Freshmen. We also brag about being Tennessee’s first wireless campus. iPad + wireless campus = Angry Birds and Facebook in my class. I don’t allow them to be out.)

Learning disabilities statement. (This is one of the federal mandates, and I know that it is important. We have a paragraph informing students that if they have a disability, then they need to talk to our services coordinator. If I needed to talk to her, then I would. However, many people don’t and wait until the end of the semester to say something. That causes some real issues.)

Cheating policy. (This is a huge problem in higher education that all universities are trying to combat. We have developed a tracking system to find habitual offenders. Cheating comes in several forms. Plagiarism is easy to spot. The difficulty is discovering cheating on tests. There are some imaginative ways out there. If people put as much effort into studying as they do cheating techniques, then they might not need to cheat. We also have an honor code, and students have to sign a book in symbolism. It looks like the Hogwarts Book of Magic. I don’t think it works.)

Grade scale. (This is where I would really pay attention if I was a student. These are the numbers that measure your success. However, I am shocked at the end of the semester when students ask why they got a B or something. They have seen their grades and can average them as well as I can. But, they never understand what happened.)

Assignments. (Now, this is where my ears would perk up. I lay out everything in detail. What to do. How to type. Font. Double-spaced. Margins. Everything. I always have people use bigger font to take up more pages. There is always one person that single-spaces. Then, someone else will quadruple-space. I spend all my time grading those kinds of issues. On the first day of class, I say that if you follow my instructions you will pass. Many are snoring by this time.)

Chain of command. (Another statement forced on us by the school. We have to write the chain of command for student complaints. From me, to my dean, to the VP of academic affairs, and all the way to the president. I have one going up the chain now because he thinks he is supposed to get an A for being him.)

Due dates. (Another instance where I would listen. They are given the dates that tests will take place and assignments are due. I take no assignments late. This is 2012, but I know the Mayan prophecies are wrong. The end of the world will not be December 21 because it always happens on assignment day. Computers crash. Printers run out of ink. Grandmothers die. People go to the hospital. Traffic jams are everywhere. Pestilence has spread across the land. Barbarians are at the gates. It is the end of the world.)

And, that is the end of this blog. I hope “Syllabus, Syllabus” was more exciting than “Absalom, Absalom”.

A Historian’s Office

6 Jan

Two days of constant meetings have melted my mind, and the only sounds I can hear over the drone of voices are my brain cells screaming as they leap to their deaths. As I sit in my office in an attempt to recover, I  can’t think of anything clever or interesting to write about. Therefore, I am going to take the easy way out and describe what I see – my office.

My office has turned into a popular hangout on campus, and I sometimes describe it as the El Paso train station. People are always coming and going. Students and teachers drop by to visit on a regular basis, and they often comment on the things I have scattered about. Of course, that is once they get past the darkness of it all. I keep all lights off except for one desk lamp. I have been accused of being a vampire; of trying to be mysterious; and of being a cave-dweller. I usually reply that I do my best work in the dark, but the truth is that the bigger lights hurt my eyes. Whatever the complaints and smart comments, people must like my office because someone is always in it.

With that in mind, I am going to attempt this blog experiment to test my descriptive skills. I am going to sit at my desk and describe the things I can see. We will do this in categories.

Category 1 – Wall Hangings

As I look to my left, there are four things hanging on the wall.

1. An old print of a cattle drive that I stole out of one of the classrooms. The teacher in that room is a Native American, so I figured he didn’t want cowboys in there anyway. Two cowboys are riding hard to stop a stampede that began with a lightning storm.

2. A photograph of Ulysses S. Grant. It is an iconic photo of the general as he leans against a tree. The best part is his original signature that is matted underneath.

3. A collection of Confederate money. There are six Confederate bills – One, Two, Five, Ten, Twenty, Fifty – matted and framed. There are a lot of Sons of Confederate Veterans members around here who wish the money was still good.

4. A photograph of Adolph Hitler and a Nazi arm band. It is a typical picture of the tyrant in civilian clothes. Like the photo of Grant, the most interesting part of this item is the document included with his original signature. I explain to everyone that I am not a Nazi. I simply think it is a remarkable piece of history.

Now, I move to the wall in front of me.

1. Above the door, there hangs a panoramic of the Tennessee Maneuvers. When the U.S. entered World War II, the military believed that troops needed to be seasoned with war games before going to Europe. Tennessee is geographically similar to where they were going, and the area was selected for that purpose. My university was chosen as the headquarters, as troops fought battles; liberated cities; and built bridges across rivers.

2. A plaque given to me after serving as honorary coach for our men’s basketball team. It was a resounding victory.

3. A plaque given to me in recognition for serving on the community council of a local bank.

4. A plaque given to me as the “Most Outstanding Faculty Member” for last year. I was proud of this because I beat my mentor before he retired. He had won the award a million years in a row.

5. A certificate honoring me as a Colonel Aide de Camp for the governor of Tennessee. They pass these things out like candy. It is the same certificate given to Harlan Sanders in Kentucky. He wasn’t a real colonel. He was  a fake one like me.

6. A drawing of the old county courthouse. It was consistently voted the ugliest courthouse in Tennessee and was demolished before I was born.

I hope this is not getting monotonous. On to the wall on my right.

1. My favorite plaque. It reads, “On This Site In 1897 Nothing Happened”. I got it at the Longwood Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. Some of you may know it better as the home of the king of Mississippi in “True Blood”.

2. A license of prostitution given to Rosita del Oro in 1876. This probably attracts the males to my office because it is included with a photograph of a nude woman playing a harp.

3. The next item covers a lot of the wall. I took a lot of pictures of the Dumas Brothel when I researched it in Butte, Montana. Upon my return, I had a local artist paint a few of the photographs. This one depicts the interior of a crib, a one room shack that prostitutes would work out of. A woman is sitting by the window in an attempt to draw customers. I will blog more later about the women of the cribs.

Finally, the wall behind me.

1. Another painting of the Dumas depicts the outside of the building. It is a two-story brick building that the artist placed in a Victorian setting. I am not real happy about the woman in the window. She looks a lot like Morticia Addams.

Category 2 – Filing Cabinet Decor

1. A magnetic fish with legs and Darwin written inside of it. I picked it up in Santa Fe and have to hide it when my parents come around.

2. A sticker of George Washington with a dialogue bubble that says, “I grew hemp.” I believe he was the largest producer in the colonies.

3. A magnetic voodoo doll that I bought in New Orleans. I haven’t tried it out yet, but people better watch out.

4. A bumper sticker with an alien on it that says, “You Don’t Scare Me. I’m A Teacher!” It came from the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico, one of the greatest museums ever.

5. On top of the cabinet sits an original World War I German helmet – the kind with the spike on top. They would jab it into the ground and use it as a cooking pot. They used it as another got of pot as well. You can use your imagination.

Category 3 – Bookshelf Without Books

Top shelf first.

1. A miniature of the Roman Coliseum. I got it in Rome.

2. A candle from the San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona. An ex-girlfriend got it for me, and I finally visited the site last year.

3. A model of the Mayflower, the boat filled with pilgrims searching for religious freedom. Ugh. The real story of the Mayflower is a lot more interesting.

4. Two bobbleheads. One is a sheik wearing sunglasses. The other is a Muslim woman wearing an abaya. This is not an attempt at a political or religious statement. They were given to me by an ex-girlfriend who moved to the UAE. They sold them. She bought them. I displayed them.

Next shelf.

1. A textbook on Western Civilization. This is very outdated.

2. A book called, “Pauline’s: Memories of the Madam on Clay Street”. It was given to me by the university president and chronicles the life of a madam in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

3. Another book titled, “Life of Tom Horn”. He was a prominent figure in the cattle wars of Wyoming. Bad ending, they hung him.

4. And another book called, “Intimate Papers of Colonel House”. I have not read this. It is an old book gifted to me by a professor who passed away.

5. A little set of nuns and priests playing poker. This is from the same ex-girlfriend who gave the candle to me. These little guys came from Italy. I wouldn’t want to sit across the table from any one of them.

5. Along side those things is my Masters thesis about prostitution in mining camps of the American West. I don’t have much to say about this, except that I finished it.

The bottom shelf (I know. Thank God!)

1. A replica of a statue on campus. It was built to honor the laborers who built my building during the Great Depression. It is meant to symbolize the New Deal and other aspects of the era. Unfortunately, it is out of proportion and looks like a midget.

2. A brick from this building that was dislodged during renovation. It was originally laid in 1936 and looks like it.

3. A beer stein decorated with John Wayne pictures. I can’t help it. John Wayne is my all time favorite actor. Inside the stein, I placed glass sunflowers that a weird female student once gave me. Don’t ask.

I suppose this should end, but I can’t describe a historian’s office without listing a few books. We all have to have books. So, I will name the first book I see on each shelf.

Category 4 – Books

1. “Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West” by Anne Seagraves

2. “The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico” by Andrew L. Knaut

3. “Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government” by Catherine Allgor

4. “Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, and Other Stories of the World’s Greatest Unexplained Phenomenon” by M.V. Ingram

5. “Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People” by Jon Butler

6. “Mining Town: The Photographic Record of T.N. Barnard and Nellie Stockbridge from the Couer d’Alenes” by Patricia Hart and Ivar Nelson

Thankfully, that’s it. Oh, you may be wondering about my desk. Classes haven’t started yet, so there is nothing on it except sunglasses and a lamp.