You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.
23 August 2004


I tend to use green.

Posted in IvoryTower on 23 August 2004 at 12:18 pm by Nate
20 August 2004

Whoa. Baguettes and pi

Last shorty item for the day.

The power of statistical aggregation and estimation.  Find the value of pi by tossing baguettes out the window.

Posted in IvoryTower on 20 August 2004 at 12:48 am by Nate
25 July 2004

APSA and blogging

Damnit, I knew I should have gone to APSA (American Political Science Association) this year.  There’s a whole panel on political blogging.

Thanks to Crooked Timber for pointing it out.

Posted in IvoryTower on 25 July 2004 at 12:22 pm by Nate
8 June 2004


Hugo’s got a posting about plagiarism in one of his classes.

Mercifully, my own experiences with it have been few.

I always find it amazing that students think we teachers won’t figure
out that they’ve plagiarized.  Usually, it’s pretty damn
obvious.  I had one case where the student wrote two paragraphs in
barely standard, badly constructed prose, shifted for two paragraphs to
a Freudian psycho-sexual analysis way beyond anything presented in
class, in complicated prose, and then back to the student’s badly
mangled own work.

I don’t feel quite so bad about giving the F in that case.  If
you’re stupid enough to submit an assignment as above, you probably
shouldn’t pass the class to begin with.

Posted in IvoryTower on 8 June 2004 at 3:01 pm by Nate
5 June 2004

What I wish my students knew

Jon Stewart gave the commencement address at William and Mary (which I found via Jay). 

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re
in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I
imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed
to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory
psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to
do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate,
yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core
curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and
the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here,
especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So
if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So
don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is
defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer
be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of
decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite
strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a
different story.

Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

I wish that I could convey this to my students.  No amount of
demonstration or explanations seems to convince them otherwise than
that they will be tested and graded on life itself.

Posted in IvoryTower on 5 June 2004 at 7:01 pm by Nate
9 May 2004

Adjunct faculty

There’s an article in today’s Globe’s Ideas section about the end of Invisible Adjunct (whom you can link to in my blogroll to the right).

I have to admit that I have some fear about this being the end result
of my own PhD.  What if I get stuck in the interminable temporary
lecturer slot for a few years?  I like academia (at least parts ot
it) quite a bit, but I’m not willing to give my life for it….

I’d probably go into political consulting, or beef up my quantitative
skills, or find a way to do more full-time writing, in some sort of
journalistic mode or something.

What would you do (if you’re an academic)?  What’s your secret career desire if the professor thing didn’t work out?

Posted in IvoryTower on 9 May 2004 at 12:05 pm by Nate
6 March 2004

More student concerns

A friend asked this recently, and I thought I’d put it out the blogosphere as to what you all would do.

A female minority student told me that she was intimidated in my
class because of (a) all the white males in it, (b) all the white
students in general in the class, and (c) the lack of respect the
former groups, particularly the white males, are expressing in their
comments and behavior toward others in the class and that she wanted me
to do something about it. What exactly I am not sure — maybe express
that we need to elevate the level of respect toward each other and try
to keep the side jokes to a minimum. I’m not really sure what to do
with this one because I want to take her seriously and respond in a way
that communicates I heard her concern, but I’m not sure what to do.

Any ideas?

Posted in IvoryTower on 6 March 2004 at 12:53 pm by Nate
29 February 2004

“Brown” student

So I had this interaction with a student the other day that was kind of weird.  Let me set it up for  you.

Last week (about 10 days ago) was the first time I had all of my
official new students in my sections.  So I had a list of names
and people with those names showed up for 90 minutes in my
presence.  There were 30 of them, and I got to know them pretty
much if they piped up and spoke a few times.

This is pretty normal — when I get 30 or 50 new people in my life, I
tend to remember the ones in my line of vision or who make themselves
noticed by talking.  I get to know all of the students after a
couple of weeks, after I’ve had a chance to figure out section dynamics
a bit.

So this student came up to me after class the other day, asking some
advising questions (I’m also an undergraduate adviser in the
department).  I worked at answering them, and then, as they had
some relevance for the course I am teaching in, I asked her, “Who is
your teaching assistant?”

“You are,” she replied.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I didn’t remember you for sure, and I
didn’t want to make a mistake in assuming you were one of my students.”

“I’m not surprised that you forgot me.  I’m brown, after all.”

I should interject here that the student in question has the complexion
of someone whose ethnic background is Latin American.  Her name is
also a fairly common Hispanic first name for women, and her surname is
definitely Latino.  Most of which doesn’t register for me,
especially in the deparate attempt of the first weeks of class to just
names with faces; I’m just trying to figure out who a student is, not
the whole back story.

“What do you mean?” I asked, somewhat taken aback to be accused of racial discrimination so brazenly.

“I’ve just had other TFs who can’t remember who I am because I’m
brown.  There was one who remembered everyone in the class except
me.  There was one black girl, and he remembered her name. 
He remembered the names of all the Asian people….”

“Well,” I noted, “it’s probably more that you didn’t speak up much in
class the one time we’ve met so far.  I just got 30 of you, and I
haven’t memorized all of your faces and names yet, but I do tend to
remember the students who participate in our discussions.  As for
being brown, I’m from California and have taught for a number of years
there, where I had plenty of brown students, and yellow students, and
white students, and black students, so I doubt it had anything to do
with your being brown.  Probably that you didn’t speak up much.”

“I guess so.  It’s just that I’ve had TFs who didn’t remember me because I’m brown.”

And then we went on to discuss her advising question.

A few notes here.  I find the blindness to her own
discriminatory biases kind of surprising.  She seems to imply that
Asian students, for example, are all the same, as a way of highlighting
the overt discrimination that she encountered — if they are all the
same or look it or something, and the teacher remembers their names,
then it must really be discrimination that the one brown person didn’t
get noticed.  Also, she seems to assume that I am just some
brown-haired white guy, without knowing the larger facts of my life,
i.e., that I also belong to a minority group.  If we wanted to
play the victimology game here, I’ve got more claim in that regard than
she does, even if I am a white guy.  But I’m not interested in
that game, because it’s not productive to my life as an individual
trying to grow into a certain sort of fullness and I don’t think it’s
the basis of an effective, engaged politics.

I mentioned this to my advisor afterward, and her reaction was more
indignant than mine.  “I would have told her, ‘You don’t want to
go there,'” she said.  And part of me wanted to do that.  But
I’m not senior faculty with tenure, first off.  Second, I wanted
my student to understand that my non-recognition of who she was was
predicated on her less-than-stellar academic performance than anything
else.  There were better alternative explanations than that I
discriminated against her because of her ethnicity.

Now, this student has prejudiced me against her in a worse way. 
I’m aware that she tends to leap toward certain explanations, and that
her style tends to the combative, prejudicial, and negatively assumptive.  Which
leaves a bad taste in my mouth in dealing with her. But I will also
probably target my teaching to take out those foundations from under
her and get her thinking rather than emotionally reacting.

I’d be interested to hear how others would have reacted.

Posted in IvoryTower on 29 February 2004 at 11:34 am by Nate
4 November 2003

West Wing paper

…is done!

if you want to read it, it’s available here.

Posted in IvoryTower on 4 November 2003 at 10:33 am by Nate
25 August 2003

Blogging in the College Classroom

I’m serving as the teaching assistant for an International Law class
this spring.  My advisor teaches it, and I have done this
particular class twice before.

I’d like to add a blogging component to the class this time around, and
I’ve been searching out sites that talk about blogging in the classroom
and how one can effectively use it as a component of learning.  I
should be clear — I do not want to supplant traditional discussion
sections with a web-based “bulletin board.”  But I want the online
content to be vital and continuing for the students.  In other
words, they shouldn’t post or contribute because they have to.  I want them to want to, just like we bloggers want to do this.

I know some of you readers out there might have some ideas about
this.  Can you drop me a comment or an e-mail with your
suggestions or websites on how to do this effectively?

Posted in IvoryTower on 25 August 2003 at 1:41 pm by Nate