I’m really enjoying seeing how my students are responding to Hamlet.

As part of a class assignment, one student took some friends to see the Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park all-female production of Hamlet. One of her friends is from Vietnam, and my student was very proud that she could answer his questions about what was going on. Many students, even the English majors, confess that in high school they never tried to read Shakespeare’s language, but instead depended totally on…

The sped-up culture that delivers that novel to your doorstep overnight is the same culture that deprives you of the time to read it.

This ambiguity—fiction as virtue and vice—sheds light on a larger truth about all the components of Amazon’s administration of literary life just enumerated: as state of the art as they may be, they are to some degree self-contradictory, or at least conflicted. For instance, if what fiction most essentially is for us is a volume of commodified time, one of the most notorious facts of contemporary literary life is that…

Why I Left Academe to Become a Science Communicator: The pursuit of academic research was too narrow for me.

From explaining the effectiveness of social distancing for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to communicating earthquake preparedness plans to the public, scicomm efforts are vital for helping turn research into action. Yet despite scicomm’s importance, it remains a hugely overlooked, underdeveloped and unknown area in academia. Academics are trained to communicate with other academics, and jargon-filled research papers prevent broad audiences from engaging with and understanding impactful scientific discoveries.

Media Bias Chart 8.0 (Left vs. Right; Fact vs. Propaganda; Complex vs. Clickbait; Idle Chatter vs. Original Reporting) Version 8.0

From AdFontes Media. If you never disagree with the slant of your news source, then you probably aren’t reading a balanced news source; you’re just reading a source aligned with your bias. A truly informed person will consult credible sources (above the green line) on both the left and right. Know where your biases are, and make an effort to read credible, fact-based news and analysis that presents views that…

Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Elizabethan Theater

Somewhere during my education I picked upon the meme that “Shakespeare’s contemporaries referred to ‘hearing’ a play, not ‘seeing’ a play,” and I regularly trot it out to emphasize how growing up in an auditory culture meant that the average Elizabethan probably got a lot more out of casually attending a Shakespeare play than the average student gets from studying an annotated script. Practically speaking, I encourage students to listen…

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A friend asks: “Would it be bad form to point out the typos in my class materials?” My answer: Probably yes.

After I posted my grades for this term, I made a dumb typo in this celebratory meme, and a friend pointed out the error on social media. Another friend, who is just starting a new grad program, asked: Curious, would it be bad form to point out the typos in my class materials? I’d say that correcting an instructor’s proofreading errors is probably not the best way to start an…

‘Belonging Is Stronger Than Facts’: The Age of Misinformation

As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who put truth-seeking above all else, we are social animals wired for survival. In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information, true or not, that lets us see the world as a conflict putting our righteous ingroup against a nefarious outgroup. […] Framing everything as…

Ice Cream and Sharks

Scene: writing classroom.   Me: (setting up a lesson about correlation vs causation) What would you say if I told you that ice cream attracts sharks?   Student: I’d say you’re an idiot.   Class: (chortles and gasps)   Student: (looks worried)   Me: Don’t worry, this is definitely the highlight of my teaching day. Please tell me *why* you’d call me an idiot.   (The student went on to…

Bottled Authors: the predigital dream of the audiobook

There was no way to preserve sounds before the nineteenth century. Speeches, songs, and soliloquies all vanished moments after leaving the lips. That situation changed in 1877, when Thomas Edison began working on a machine that could mechanically reproduce the human voice. Edison’s team successfully assembled a device on which Edison recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a nursery rhyme that would become the first words ever spoken by the phonograph.2 Depending on how you define the term, Edison’s inaugural recording of verse might be considered the world’s first audiobook.. –Matthew Rubery, Cabinet Magazine

No, Dr. Seuss is not being “banned” or “censored” — but Dr. Seuss Enterprises is voluntarily retiring six books that contain racist stereotypes

It’s nothing new that Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel used racist stereotypes, particularly in his wartime political cartoons. I’m seeing social media chatter from people who a few days ago were up in arms about the gender of a potato (which was overblown, manufactured hype) and who are now leaping to the defense of Dr. Seuss, who is (according to the memes) being “banned” or “cancelled.” In fact, it was the…

The Value of Truth: We are living through an epistemological crisis.

In the jargon of academia, the study of what we can know, and how we can know it, is called “epistemology.” During the 1980s, philosopher Richard Rorty declared it dead and bid it good riddance. To Rorty and many other thinkers of that era, the idea that we even needed a theory of knowledge at all rested on outmoded, Cartesian assumptions that the mind was an innocent mirror of nature;…

Making Connections in Virtual One-Shots

I often invite my colleague Kelly Clever to give the “library session” to my freshman writing students. Of course there’s only so much anyone can accomplish in a single session, but my students often credit her for helping them make the leap from a general idea to a well-formed research question. Maybe they end up changing their topic a few weeks later, but the good experiences they have during the…

A Career-Aligned Major Isn’t Enough

I’ve taken over teaching the English department’s relatively new career focus sequence, so I’m more than usually invested in these ideas. It’s time for faculty and administrators to be blunt: postgraduation success, more than ever, requires a demanding curriculum that includes extensive writing, facility with data and statistics, and extensive opportunities for collaboration and critical thinking. What the pandemic should have taught us is that we need to double down…

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers: Four Moves

The confirmation bias describes the very human tendency to reject evidence that challenges our worldview, and to seek out — and often cling to — evidence that supports it. If we believe black cats are bad luck, we remember every time a bad thing happened to us after we saw a black cat. If someone we love tells us we will catch a cold if we go outside with wet…

A practical application of close reading skills: Nazi-spotting

Whenever I teach a literature class, I put a lot of energy into helping students understand the difference between the plot summary and personal engagement (“The character I could most relate to in this story was…”) they got praised for doing in high school, and the more advanced literary close reading skills I ask them to do in my literature class. I’ve had some success drawing on the pre-existing skills…

The belief that if people only were better educated, they’d engage

  A few hours after the horrifying attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, I received a text from a friend noting, with distress, the picture of Republican senator Josh Hawley pumping his fist in support of the mob just a few hours before the attacks. “But Hawley went to Stanford,” they wrote. “He was a history major! Shouldn’t he know better than to encourage this?” That is a…

Thomas Jefferson on “newspapers without government” vs “government without newspapers”

Those darn founders with their darned respect for the free press. So biased! I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their…