Be a Hopenhagen Ambassador in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Conference Dec. 12-19

Hopenhagen Ambassador Contest: HuffPost Citizen Journalist Will Win A Trip To Copenhagen

WHAT: Hopenhagen is sending a HuffPost citizen journalist to Copenhagen for the climate conference as the Hopenhagen Ambassador, to represent the global nation of people who are hopeful that leaders will come to an agreement.


THE PRIZ E: The winner will receive a trip to Copenhagen from December 12-19th! This will include airfare, accommodation, press accreditation for the UN conference, Media training with HuffPost Citizen journalism editor Mat t Palevsky, HuffPost blogging privileges, and a flip camera to record events .

But with great privilege comes great responsibility:

The duties of the Hopenhagen Ambassador will include:

Representing the people of Hopenhagen to the media and at official events throughout the week, reporting on events in blogs and videos posts for HuffPost while in Copenhagen, doing celebrity interviews, and spreading the message of hope throughout his or her personal and social networks.

Anyone over 18 can enter the contest — you just need to upload a one minute campaign video for why you should elected ambassador. click here for the full contest rules.

Watch this video for more information on what we’re looking for.

WOW!! Should I go for it?? Should you?? Automatic A if you win!

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved:” some ideas to consider & some questions to ask

Some ideas to consider and some questions to ask when reading Part One of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Thanks goes to Stanford’s Great Works Program and to the observations of UCSC Professor Paul Skenazy.

Basic timeline:  Sethe came to Sweet Home at 13, chose Halle at 14, and was married to Halle for six years bearing two sons and one daughter by the time she is 20 and escapes Sweet Home pregnant with a second daughter in 1855 to live at 124 Bluestone Road outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the beginning of the novel, when Paul D. from Sweet Home turns up 18 years later, Sethe is 38 and her youngest daughter Denver is 18.

1. Consider the epigraphs (read the Wikipedia definition here.) Review the first episode of Beloved carefully, and discuss your reactions to it. What expectations does the opening scene raise for the work to follow

2. Consider the novel’s complex structure. Why does Morrison choose this particular way of telling Sethe’s story? What does the way the story is told suggest about Morrison’s view of the human mind and its workings?

3. Slave narratives, such as Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, are the starting point of the African-American literary tradition. One of the biggest themes in Frederick Douglass’s story is the question of his name, or his identity. How does this issue relate to Beloved? If you are familiar with slave narratives, can you find ways that Morrison refers to, uses, or reworks the slave narrative tradition in Beloved?

4. Morrison makes a point of including traditional, folkloric, non-literary African-American culture in Beloved, some of which is derived from ancient African roots. What is the effect of this inclusion?

5. Among other things, Beloved is a ghost story. What are the special problems for writer and reader in having a ghost featured as a main character?

6. Give some thought to the presence of (and commentary on) white people in the novel. Why does the author make the choices she does in her presentations of whites?

7.  What have you observed about how and where Morrison uses the words “niggers”? Blacks? Negroes?

8. Part 1 is bracketed by two comings and goings: Paul D. and Beloved. What do you make of this? What might bracket Parts 2 and 3?

9. Early in the Part 1, Amy Denver tells Sethe, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts” (page 35 in my edition). How does this foreshadow much of the novel?

10. One site explains Sethe’s “chokecherry tree” this way: “Upon Sethe’s back is a maze of scars, referred to by Paul D as a “chokecherry tree.” It is the remains of an operation schoolteacher performed upon her back in an effort to determine how much she resembled an animal. The tree, which is ever-present but can never be seen, is symbolic of the burden which Sethe carries. It is her past, and it is the prejudice of white men against her. It is a mark made by people who believed her to be an animal.” What do you think of this analysis?

Some ideas to consider and some questions to ask when reading Parts Two and Three of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Choose one question to be an “expert” on and prepare to lead a discussion about it.

SPOILER ALERT!! If you haven’t finished Parts Two and Three, go no further!

According to the website Ohio History Central, Margaret Garner escaped slavery with her husband and children, but a group of slave owners found the family shortly thereafter: “Before the slaveholders captured the runaways, Margaret Garner used a butcher knife to kill her young daughter. Garner also tried to kill her other children, but she was unsuccessful in her attempt. Garner did not want her children returned to a life of slavery. Margaret Garner’s story of her willingness to kill her own child to prevent her from being returned to a life in bondage received national attention. The story of Margaret Garner was the basis of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved by Ohio native Toni Morrison.”

1.    Now that you’ve completed the novel, review the first episode of Beloved carefully, and discuss your reactions to it again. How does it function in relation to book as a whole?

2.    What judgments does Toni Morrison make on Sethe’s killing of her daughter? How does Sethe’s community judge her? How does Paul D. judge her? How does she judge herself? How do you judge her?

3.    Give some thought to the presence of (and commentary on) white people in the novel. Why does the author make the choices she does in her presentations of whites?

4.    Reflect on the detailed attention that Morrison gives to experiences that will certainly claim your attention (and will probably shock and disturb you): Paul D. on the chain gang, locked in the box; Paul’s experience of the bit; the milking of Sethe; School Teacher’s recording of the slaves’ animal characteristics; Sixo’s death. What is the effect of those experiences, on those who live them and on us as readers?

5.    What’s the significance of the number 124? Of the little “i” ?

6.     Toward the end of Part 2, Morrison uses some unusual narrative devices. Take note of who is the narrator of each of the “sections” or chapters in Part 2 and who’s perspective does the narration come from. In the chapter full of short sentences starting with “you” or “I” or “we,” who is speaking? Why do you think Morrison writes in this way?

7.    When you finish the book, note your reaction to the last passage. How do you feel about the ending? Why do you suppose the book concludes (or doesn’t conclude) in this way?

8.    The novel asks many questions, among them, what it means to be a “man,” to be human, and what it means to be “free.” What do you think it takes to be human? What does it mean to be free?

Conceptual Poetry & Flarf: Kenneth Goldsmith explains 2 controversial poetry movements

New in Conceptual Poetry & Flarf : Kenny Goldsmith Strikes Again!

Last June, I attended a Conceptual Poetry Conference at the University of Arizona Tucson. Now, a year later, Kenneth Goldsmith has edited the current issue of Poetry, Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine : Harriet the Blog published by the Poetry Foundation, much of which is also available on-line at Harriet the Blog (Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine : Harriet the Blog ) and written the following essay,

Flarf is Dionysus. Conceptual Writing is Apollo.

An introduction to the 21st Century’s most controversial poetry movements.

In this essay, Goldsmith asks,

With so much available language, does anyone really need to write more? Instead, let’s just process what exists. Language as matter; language as material. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?

Our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers. What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age?

His answer includes:

These two movements, Flarf and Conceptual Writing, each formed over the past five years, are direct investigations to that end. And as different as they are, they have surprisingly come up with a set of similar solutions.

What is conceptual poetry? Goldsmith offers up a primer in this extensive pdf here. In his Poetry essay, he compares and contrasts Flarf with Conceptual Writing:

Yet for as much as the two movements have in common, they are very different. Unlike Conceptual Writing, where procedure may have as much to do with meaning as the form and content, Flarf is quasi-procedural and improvisatory. Many of the poems are “sculpted” from the results of Internet searches, often using words and phrases that the poet has gleaned from poems posted by other poets to the Flarflist e-mail listserv. By contrast Conceptual Writers try to emulate the workings and processes of the machine, feeling that the results will be good if the concept and execution of the poetic machine are good; there is no tolerance for improvisation or spontaneity.

Flarf plays Dionysus to Conceptual Writing’s Apollo. Flarf uses traditional poetic tropes (“taste” and “subjectivity”) and forms (stanza and verse) to turn these conventions inside out. Conceptual Writing rarely “looks” like poetry and uses its own subjectivity to construct a linguistic machine that words may be poured into; it cares little for the outcome. Flarf is hilarious. Conceptual Writing is dry.

During my stay in Tucson and after, I wrote a series of posts about my experiences there and my attempts to understand this kind of poetry better which you can find at the end of this post.

In Tucson, I met many of the poets Goldsmith mentions in his essay and pdf or features in this issue, including LA poet, Vanessa Place who wrote the poem below. (Please note: I am struggling to get the stanza breaks to “stick;” you may choose to read and view the poem Miss Scarlett here.)

Miss Scarlett

by Vanessa Place

Miss Scarlett, effen we kain git de doctah
w’en Miss Melly’s time come, doan you bodder
Ah kin manage. Ah knows all ’bout birthin.
Ain’ mah ma a midwife? Ain’ she raise me
ter be a midwife, too? Jes’ you leave it
ter me. She warn’t dar. Well’m, Dey Cookie say
Miss Meade done got wud early dis mawnin’
dat young Mist’ Phil done been shot an’ Miss Meade
she tuck de cah’ige an’ Ole Talbot an’
Besty an’ dey done gone ter fotch him home.
Cookie say he bad hurt an’ Miss Meade ain’
gwin ter be studyin’ ’bout comin’ up
hyah. Dey ain’ dar, Miss Scarlett. Ah drapped in
ter pass time of de day wid Mammy on
mah way home.
Dey’s doen gone. House all locked up.
Spec dey’s at de horsepittle.
Miss Elsing ober at de horsepittle.
Dey Cookie ’lows a whole lot of wounded
sojers come in on de early train. Cookie fixin’
soup ter tek over dar. She say—Yas’m
Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett! De Yankees
ain’ at Tara, s dey? Gawdlmighty,
Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll dey do ter Maw?
Dey’s fightin’ at Jonesboro, Miss Scarlett!
Dey say our gempumus is gittin’ beat.
Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen ter
Maw an’ Poke? Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen
ter us effen de Yankees gits hyah? Oh,
Gawd—Ah ain’ nebber seed him, Miss Scarlett.
No’m, he ain’ at de horsepittle.
Miss Merriwether
an’ Miss Elsing ain’ dar needer.
A man he tole me de doctah down
by de car shed
wid the wounded
sojers jes’ come in frum Jonesboro, but
Miss Scarlett, Ah wuz sceered ter go down dar ter
de shed—dey’s folkses dyin’ down dar. Ah’s
sceered of daid folkses—Miss Scarlett, fo’ Gawd, Ah
couldn’ sceercely git one of dem ter read
yo’ note. Dey wukin’ in de horsepittle
lak dey all done gone crazy. One doctah
he say ter me, “Damn yo’ hide! Doan you come
roun’ hyah bodderi’ me ’bout babies w’en
we got a mess of men dyin’
hyah. Git some woman ter he’p you.” An’ den
Ah went aroun’ an’ about an’ ask fer news
lak you done tole me an’ dey all say “fightin’
at Jonesboro” an’ Ah—
Is her time nigh, Miss Scarlett?
Is de doctah come?
Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Miss Melly bad off!
Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett—
Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett!
We’s got ter have a doctah.
Miss Scarlett,
Ah doan know nutin’ ‘bout bringin’ babies.

NOTES: Taken from Prissy’s famous scene in the movie version of Gone with the Wind, Place phonetically transcribes the “unreliable” slave’s words, which are then set in Miltonic couplets. Through the simple act of transcription, Place inverts our relationship to Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling and beloved American epic by prioritizing the formal aspects of language over Mitchell’s famous narrative. With this deconstructive move, Place illuminates the many subtexts embedded in the text concerning plays of power, gender, race, and authorship. By ventriloquizing the slave’s voice as well as Mitchell’s, Place also sets into motion a nexus of questions regarding authorship, leading one to wonder: who is pulling whose strings?

Source: Poetry (July/August 2009).


Vanessa Place

Vanessa  PlaceVanessa Place is a writer, lawyer, and co-director of Les Figues Press.

Below are links to posts I wrote about the Conceptual Poetry Symposium in Tucson last June.

Conceptual Poetry Conference: now on-line

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Conceptual Poetry Conference: a poem w/constraint pt 1 (Days 1&2)

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Writing About Imaginative Literature: some conventions, some guidelines, some approaches to writing

Writing about Imaginative Literature
English 1B Alley Ventura College

Topic and Draft Thesis Due: Thurs July 2
4-5 Page Rough Draft Due: Mon. July 6
4-5 Page Draft Due: Tues. July 7
5 Page Revised Draft Due Weds. July 8
5 Page Final Paper Due Th. July 9
+ 1 page process analysis, annotated work cited, drafts, responses

In this paper, you may
–explore any problem or question raised for you as a reader of one or more assigned texts or raised through class discussions or thought papers about a text or its author
–write an interpretive or critical paper on a text or texts to help a reader read more deeply or comprehensively or even with more pleasure.
— advance ideas you have about a text or reflect on an idea advanced by text/s or author/s.

Whatever issue you address or problem you explore, do some reading about the text/s and use some of these ideas in your essay to make sure that your essay is informed in some way by your engagement in a conversation that goes beyond your discussions with colleagues and your teacher to include perspectives available through the wider and more carefully constructed conversations that are represented by the body of published literature about literature.  A good rule of thumb is a citation for every page, so this paper should have five citations.

I am confident you have numerous worthwhile literary questions which you could pursue given the opportunity. To find your topic: Consider our theme of “seeing” in one or more texts we have studied. Look over your reading responses—you could be looking at a rough draft. Review and reflect on what we’ve read to find your topic. Review the questions to ask when reading literature and questions from various critical approaches (handouts). You may use any text or combination of texts which we have studied—after we have studied them: plays, poems, novels, short fiction, and essays. At least one text must be written, but you can, for example, compare the CLU version of Macbeth with the one on the page and one on the screen. Ask: What do you want to understand better for yourself or what would you like to be able to explain to a friend?

Examples of Topics:
➢    Take a formalist approach: discuss symbolism, setting, character development, etc. in any text. Or, for example, look at the color “red” in “Red Convertible” and “Riders.”
➢    Take a biographical approach to interpreting Carver’s work.
➢    Take a psychological approach to True West, “Red Convertible,” or Macbeth.
➢    Take a historical approach to “Brokeback” or “Riders.”
➢    Take a Marxist approach to “Riders,” “Red Convertible” or Carver.
➢    Take a New Historicist approach to “Riders.”
➢    Take a cultural studies approach to any one or two of the texts.
➢    Take a gender studies approach to “Brokeback,” “Yellow Woman,” or “Riders.”
➢    Take a mythological approach to Macbeth, “Riders,” or “Yellow Woman.”
➢    Take a reader-response approach to any one or two texts.
➢    Take a deconstructionist approach to Macbeth, True West or Carver.
➢    Raymond Carver revised “The Bath” radically to become a “A Small Good Thing;” he significantly revised other stories which also appear in Where I’m Calling From. Choose a pair and do close readings to compare and contrast the versions. What does Carver accomplish in his revision?
➢    In many of the Raymond Carver’s stories we read, characters have difficulties communicating. What do you think Carver means by all this interrupted and mis-communication?
➢    Compare and contrast the screenplay, the movie, and the short story “Brokeback Mountain.”
➢    Compare and contrast three interpretations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: page, stage, and screen.

Correctly identify all ideas that are not your own using MLA (parenthetical style), whether they are directly quoted in quotation marks, or summarized or paraphrased in your own words. Every cite in the paper should be included in the work cited; every work consulted should be identified and annotated.

Process analysis paper:
Keep track of your writing and research process as you work on your research paper for your process analysis paper. In it, discuss the process by which you developed your paper: where the topic came from, why it interested you, what you learned and how, what sources you found where—even discuss your dead-ends! Credit those who helped.

Web resources: an excellent step by step process you can follow. The following general guidelines for “Writing About Literature” I downloaded and adapted from

When writing about literature, follow the same basic conventions required of any expository essay:
➢    state a thesis in your introduction (topic, tude, telegraph, tension)
➢    develop that thesis: give supporting reasons and evidence by engaging and citing the text in the body
➢    conclude with a summary of your main points and a restatement of the thesis
➢    cite and document any quotes.

Some conventions in writing about literature of which you should be aware:
➢    In the introduction to your essay, mention the title of the work and the author’s full name (the topic). The title of short works (a story or poem) is set off with quotation marks; the title long works (a play or novel) is underlined or italicized:
story: “The Storm”
poem: “Ballad of Birmingham”
play: Hamlet or Hamlet
novel: The Secret Life of Bees or The Secret Life of Bees
➢    The first time you refer to an author, use his or her full name. Thereafter, use only his or her last name:
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman paints a portrait of a woman losing her mind. In order to make the narrator’s disorientation more vivid, Gilman tells the story from the first person point of view.
➢    Note that a comma or period is placed inside the quotation marks; a semicolon or colon is placed after the quotation marks: (double check this one in your style guide…!)
In “The Storm,” Calixta encounters a former lover.
Kate Chopin is making a controversial point in “The Storm.”
Kate Chopin has created an ambiguous ending for “The Storm”; this leaves the interpretation of the story up to the reader.
Not many events occur in “The Storm”: a thunderstorm, an affair, and a homecoming are the extent of the plot.
➢    Avoid using wordy or grammatically incorrect opening lines:
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart,” he tells a fascinating story.
(In this sentence, “he” doesn’t refer to anyone; and if you use the author’s name, you don’t need “he,” too. Try it this way: In “The Tell-tale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe tells a fascinating story. But there’s still a problem: This opening sentence doesn’t tell your reader what your essay is about. It’s filler, without real content. Get to your point quickly and directly, perhaps like this: Contrary to popular belief, the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” is not insane. He is evil.
➢    Unless you have been asked to write a personal essay, avoid using the first person (“I”) and the second person (“you”) in your essays. Most college essays are supposed to preserve a formal tone, and using “I” and “you” gives the essay too casual a tone. Instead of saying, I think Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane , try Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane . (Note that this makes you sound more authoritative, as well.) And instead of saying If you look closely at Poe’s narrator, you will see that he is evil, rather than insane; try A close reading reveals that Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane.
➢    USE PRESENT TENSE when discussing a published work:
In Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible,” Lyman’s extreme measures to help his brother Henry shows how much he loves and cares for him. (Notice the increased tension by discussing the implications—what his extreme measures mean. It could use more telegraphing of what those extreme measures are).

J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

J.M. Synge’s one act play, “Riders to the Sea,” is considered by many to be the best one act tragedy written in the English language. I know it’s one of my favorite plays for many reasons, but I’m curious why you might think it is considered one of if not the best.

If you’re not familiar with the play, or want to reread it, here’s a link. I strongly recommend reading it aloud; it will only take about 15-20 minutes. Relax and picture the scenes in your mind; you might even look on-line and find images of Galway and the Aran Islands to put you in the mood. Here’s a link about an article which discuses the native language of Ireland: LA Times: Speaking of Riders to the Sea…

Warning: Have plenty of tissue nearby when you read this play.

J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

While you’re reading the play, consider:

1. who was J. M. Synge?
2. where and when has the play been performed?
3. symbols: the colors white and red
4. the symbol of water
5. the passing on of various articles—examples and meaning
6. allusions to fate/who were the 3 fates?
7. allusions to religion and the Bible, especially Revelations
8. when does the play take place and why is this important?
9. the comment of the priest
10. define tragedy—Aristotle’s and contemporary (what’s comedy?)
11. the role of the supernatural
12. pagan beliefs, in particular with relevance to the cake
13. keening and other unknown words and acts
14. the setting in the Aran Islands (Ireland)
15. historical context within which the play takes place
16. what and when was the Irish Literary Revival and who was involved?
17. refer to handout with questions to consider when reading drama

(For my English 1B students, in your reading response, do some research in order to answer and discuss one or more of these questions.)

Your BA Degree–Worth the Cost?

As the 2008-2009 school year winds to a close, I send my congratulations to the graduates. From the issue dated May 2, 2008 OPINION I print this in full without additional commentary since it speaks well enough for itself and I think it is important enough that students should have access to this information.

America’s Most Overrated Product: the BA Degree

Related data: Results of The Chronicle Survey of Undergraduate Admissions Officers

Related articles: View all of the articles from this special issue on Admissions & Student Aid

Supplement in print: Order print copies of this issue

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Discuss any Chronicle article in our forums

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: “I wasn’t a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I’d be the first one in my family to do it. But it’s been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go.”

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it’s not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you’re likely to meet workers who spent years and their family’s life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

Such students are not aberrations. Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.

Perhaps more surprising, even those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that’s terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they’d still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they’re brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.

Also, the past advantage of college graduates in the job market is eroding. Ever more students attend college at the same time as ever more employers are automating and sending offshore ever more professional jobs, and hiring part-time workers. Many college graduates are forced to take some very nonprofessional positions, such as driving a truck or tending bar.

How much do students at four-year institutions actually learn?

Colleges are quick to argue that a college education is more about enlightenment than employment. That may be the biggest deception of all. Often there is a Grand Canyon of difference between the reality and what higher-education institutions, especially research ones, tout in their viewbooks and on their Web sites. Colleges and universities are businesses, and students are a cost item, while research is a profit center. As a result, many institutions tend to educate students in the cheapest way possible: large lecture classes, with necessary small classes staffed by rock-bottom-cost graduate students. At many colleges, only a small percentage of the typical student’s classroom hours will have been spent with fewer than 30 students taught by a professor, according to student-questionnaire data I used for my book How to Get an Ivy League Education at a State University. When students at 115 institutions were asked what percentage of their class time had been spent in classes of fewer than 30 students, the average response was 28 percent.

That’s not to say that professor-taught classes are so worthwhile. The more prestigious the institution, the more likely that faculty members are hired and promoted much more for their research than for their teaching. Professors who bring in big research dollars are almost always rewarded more highly than a fine teacher who doesn’t bring in the research bucks. Ernest L. Boyer, the late president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, used to say that winning the campus teaching award was the kiss of death when it came to tenure. So, no surprise, in the latest annual national survey of freshmen conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, 44.6 percent said they were not satisfied with the quality of instruction they received. Imagine if that many people were dissatisfied with a brand of car: It would quickly go off the market. Colleges should be held to a much higher standard, as a higher education costs so much more, requires years of time, and has so much potential impact on your life. Meanwhile, 43.5 percent of freshmen also reported “frequently” feeling bored in class, the survey found.

College students may be dissatisfied with instruction, but, despite that, do they learn? A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below “proficient” levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.

Unbelievably, according to the Spellings Report, which was released in 2006 by a federal commission that examined the future of American higher education, things are getting even worse: “Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined. … According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. … Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today’s workplaces.”

What must be done to improve undergraduate education?

Colleges should be held at least as accountable as tire companies are. When some Firestone tires were believed to be defective, government investigations, combined with news-media scrutiny, led to higher tire-safety standards. Yet year after year, colleges and universities turn out millions of defective products: students who drop out or graduate with far too little benefit for the time and money spent. Not only do colleges escape punishment, but they are rewarded with taxpayer-financed student grants and loans, which allow them to raise their tuitions even more.

I ask colleges to do no more than tire manufacturers are required to do. To be government-approved, all tires must have — prominently molded into the sidewall — some crucial information, including ratings of tread life, temperature resistance, and traction compared with national benchmarks.

Going significantly beyond the recommendations in the Spellings report, I believe that colleges should be required to prominently report the following data on their Web sites and in recruitment materials:

  • Value added. A national test, which could be developed by the major testing companies, should measure skills important for responsible citizenship and career success. Some of the test should be in career contexts: the ability to draft a persuasive memo, analyze an employer’s financial report, or use online research tools to develop content for a report.
  • Just as the No Child Left Behind Act mandates strict accountability of elementary and secondary schools, all colleges should be required to administer the value-added test I propose to all entering freshmen and to students about to graduate, and to report the mean value added, broken out by precollege SAT scores, race, and gender. That would strongly encourage institutions to improve their undergraduate education and to admit only students likely to derive enough benefit to justify the time, tuition, and opportunity costs. Societal bonus: Employers could request that job applicants submit the test results, leading to more-valid hiring decisions.

  • The average cash, loan, and work-study financial aid for varying levels of family income and assets, broken out by race and gender. And because some colleges use the drug-dealer scam — give the first dose cheap and then jack up the price — they should be required to provide the average not just for the first year, but for each year.
  • Retention data: the percentage of students returning for a second year, broken out by SAT score, race, and gender.
  • Safety data: the percentage of an institution’s students who have been robbed or assaulted on or near the campus.
  • The four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates, broken out by SAT score, race, and gender. That would allow institutions to better document such trends as the plummeting percentage of male graduates in recent years.
  • Employment data for graduates: the percentage of graduates who, within six months of graduation, are in graduate school, unemployed, or employed in a job requiring college-level skills, along with salary data.
  • Results of the most recent student-satisfaction survey, to be conducted by the institutions themselves.
  • The most recent accreditation report. The college could include the executive summary only in its printed recruitment material, but it would have to post the full report on its Web site.
  • Being required to conspicuously provide this information to prospective students and parents would exert long-overdue pressure on colleges to improve the quality of undergraduate education. What should parents and guardians of prospective students do?

  • If your child’s high-school grades and test scores are in the bottom half for his class, resist the attempts of four-year colleges to woo him. Colleges make money whether or not a student learns, whether or not she graduates, and whether or not he finds good employment. Let the buyer beware. Consider an associate-degree program at a community college, or such nondegree options as apprenticeship programs (see, shorter career-preparation programs at community colleges, the military, and on-the-job training, especially at the elbow of a successful small-business owner.
  • If your student is in the top half of her high-school class and is motivated to attend college for reasons other than going to parties and being able to say she went to college, have her apply to perhaps a dozen colleges. Colleges vary less than you might think (at least on factors you can readily discern in the absence of the accountability requirements I advocate above), yet financial-aid awards can vary wildly. It’s often wise to choose the college that requires you to pay the least cash and take out the smallest loan. College is among the few products that don’t necessarily give you what you pay for — price does not indicate quality.
  • If your child is one of the rare breed who knows what he wants to do and isn’t unduly attracted to academics or to the Animal House environment that characterizes many college-living arrangements, then take solace in the fact that countless other people have successfully taken the noncollege road less traveled. Some examples: Maya Angelou, David Ben-Gurion, Richard Branson, Coco Chanel, Walter Cronkite, Michael Dell, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Alex Haley, Ernest Hemingway, Wolfgang Puck, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Ted Turner, Frank Lloyd Wright, and nine U.S. presidents, from Washington to Truman.

College is a wise choice for far fewer people than are currently encouraged to consider it. It’s crucial that they evenhandedly weigh the pros and cons of college versus the aforementioned alternatives. The quality of their lives may depend on that choice.

Marty Nemko is a career counselor based in Oakland, Calif., and has been an education consultant to 15 college presidents. He is author of four books, including The All-in-One College Guide: A Consumer Activist’s Guide to Choosing a College (Barron’s, 2004).
Section: Admissions & Student Aid
Volume 54, Issue 34, Page B17

On the Rewards of Volunteering

From the LA Times: The rewards of Big Sunday

It may not have the production value of ‘Extreme Makeover,’ but the hard work of helping people has its rewards.
By David T. Levinson
May 2, 2008

Bill Clinton wrote a whole book about it. Oprah Winfrey turned it into an eight-week prime-time TV competition. And even President Bush is in on the act, declaring this National Volunteer Week.

Volunteerism — giving and helping and donating time and energy — is all the rage. And that’s a wonderful thing.

I think.

I run a large annual event called Big Sunday, and over the years have worked with thousands of volunteers. Last year, for instance, about 50,000 of them pitched in, helping in all kinds of amazing ways. Certainly my organization has benefited from all this new volunteer chic.

That said, things can get sticky when volunteering becomes the “in” thing to do — like going to Kauai. Suddenly it’s an experience to be marked with photos of houses built or tallies of meals served, and rewarded with a satisfying emotional payoff.

“I want,” one prospective volunteer told me, “to go to a poor person’s house and help at an extreme makeover.” Well, so would I. But “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is a TV show that involves months of preparation and many thousands of dollars, not to mention soaring music, clever editing and close-ups of crying beneficiaries. I can do makeovers, some more extreme than others. And I can always argue why they’re worth doing. But I can’t guarantee the Kodak moment.

The homeless man muttered at his cheeseburger. “What is he trying to tell us?” another volunteer asked hopefully, looking for some deeper truth. But we were in a shelter, not a Robin Williams movie, and the man was only, I think, telling us that he was schizophrenic. It doesn’t mean the burger — or the man — wasn’t worth serving.

A few years back, a volunteer screamed at me because she couldn’t find a nearby parking space. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but the turnout has been much larger than we expected. Would you mind parking a few blocks away?” Yes, actually, she would. “It’s wonderful,” I continued, still trying, “because now we can help so many more kids!” “This is terrible!” she responded, furious, as if she’d pulled up at Mozza and there was no valet. “And I drove all the way from the Valley!”

About this time last year, I got a call from a caseworker at a home for people with AIDS. He’d just heard of Big Sunday and was hoping that, at this crazed eleventh hour, we could muster some people to come by, visit the residents, maybe serve brunch.

So I called some friends — a middle-aged Jewish guy from Hancock Park, an African American schoolteacher, strangers to each other — and asked if they’d help. Sure, they said. Then two women from a church across town e-mailed, apologetic for being so last minute, and they kindly agreed to go too. Great. They divvied up the food buying. Wonderful. This project was so easy.

Until the home’s address didn’t appear on MapQuest. The ragtag quartet eventually found it, but the weekend staffers answering the door knew nothing about any brunch and were suspicious of these so-called volunteers loaded down with eggs and pastry. They talked their way in — only to find indifferent residents. Ever hopeful, they kept calling me to get advice, offer updates or commiserate; my heart sank every time my phone rang. This was not going the way it was supposed to.

But these intrepid volunteers somehow coaxed one resident out of her room. And did, indeed, serve her brunch. I know this because the next day, my schoolteacher friend forwarded me an e-mail from her that said: “I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated you and your friends’ hospitality. I haven’t had that much fun and laughter in a long time. And please let me know if you ever need my help.”

In a big weekend of big numbers and big events, this was the smallest of moments. There are no statistics to mark it. No before-and-after pictures.

Yet it reminded me why I do this. Of course, volunteering is wonderful. And sure, volunteers deserve to get their own special week. But in the end, the reason I love working with volunteers — and continue to year after year — is finding those people who are looking only for what they can give.

David T. Levinson is the founder and executive director of Big Sunday, which is this weekend.Ser

Create Wetlands, Make WATER

NPR’s Morning Edition May 1 2008 story:

Georgia Wetlands Offer Cure for Drought

Listen Now [3 min 47 sec] add to playlist


Kathy Lohr, NPR

In August 2000, Clayton County, Ga., began building a unique water treatment system that includes wetlands and reservoirs. Nearly 10 million gallons of treated wastewater flows through the system before making its way to the county’s reservoirs.


Kathy Lohr, NPR

The water to the wetlands is piped four miles from the treatment plants. Shown here is a gate that regulates water among the two dozen ponds in the preserve. In the distance, water enters the pond.


Kathy Lohr, NPR

Bulldozers move red clay to make way for terraced ponds — the fourth phase of the wetlands. Construction is expected to be completed in 2010.

Morning Edition, May 1, 2008 · For the last couple of years, the Southeastern U.S. has faced one of the most severe droughts on record. In Georgia, you couldn’t water your lawn. You couldn’t wash your car in your driveway. The state even talked about shutting down swimming pools this year, and some worried the area would run out of drinking water.

But one community has not had to worry. Nearly two decades ago, Clayton County began building a unique water treatment system that includes wetlands and reservoirs.

“I like to say it’s raining everyday in Clayton County because we’re putting right now about 10 million gallons back in our water supply,” says Mike Thomas, general manager of the Clayton County Water Authority.

Thomas says the reservoirs here are full and have never been in danger of being too low. That’s because back in the 1980s, folks realized there wasn’t enough water to support the growth, so they decided to build a system of wetlands and reservoirs that would help them save water.

Clayton County Wetlands

Amid the 4,000 acres of wetlands in Jonesboro, Ga., are graded pools used to filter water. The water is pumped in from a treatment plant and flows into these ponds, which are filled with all kinds of thick vegetation, including cattails, native grasses and water lilies.

“You can see right down here where the water’s bubbling up,” Thomas says, pointing to one of the ponds.

The treated wastewater enters the wetlands and gradually works its way through several pools. Thomas says that gives it plenty of exposure to the plants and animals that help remove any additional pollutants or nutrients.

The water in the ponds looks clear and doesn’t smell bad. There have been complaints from neighbors not about the odor but about something else entirely: frogs.

“At night when they really get active, it can really get noisy because there are so many frogs,” Thomas says.

Before these wetlands were created, the county used an extensive sprinkler system to clean wastewater. It sprayed treated wastewater in the forest and let nature filter out the impurities. But Thomas says the old system was expensive, and the county was running out of forest land.

“Before, we were maintaining all these pipelines and sprinklers. Now about the only maintenance activity we do out here is to mow the grass, and we usually only do that maybe two to three times during the summer,” Thomas says.

He tries to keep weeds and trees from growing in some places but he says Mother Nature takes care of the rest.

From the wetlands, the water runs over a gate and into a reservoir, one of four that were built to store billions of gallons of water. Residents use about 26 million gallons of water a day and through this system, the county reclaims 10 million gallons of that.

The price tag is also an advantage — it can be as little as half the cost of building a regular wastewater treatment plant.

This idea probably won’t work for bigger cities like Atlanta because it requires a lot of land. Still, it’s attractive for smaller communities.

And there’s an added benefit: Officials can create a nature preserve for those who live nearby.

This idea might be applicable to our own Allessandro slough/Prince Barranca/San Jon Barranca area.

April 23: Earth ACTION Day 10-2:30pm VC quad

Ventura College’s Earth Action Day Weds. April 23, 2008 10-2:30p

VC’s second annual Earth Day is about ACTION–taking action, advocating action–with an emphasis on
educating and advocating actions related to and about global warming. The event is free; parking is $1
on campus.

The event features entertainment, a film series, booths, a program by America’s Teaching Zoo, music,
singer/songwriters, poets, writers, a clothing swap, art activities, alternative transportation info, and more.

The film series will run from 10-2 in the Fireside Lounge in the cafeteria/campus center. Films include the classic An Inconvenient Truth, the brand new documentary The 11th Hour, the drama Into the Wild, and with a series of short films provided by the Earth Action Network from the Live Earth events as well as a 4 minute
reflective video by Steve Shaefer set to a poem by Robert Frost. The short films are provided by the
Earth Day Network; the longer films are donated by Movie Town in midtown Ventura.

The main stage in the quad will feature a 10-11am show by “America’s Teaching Zoo”, the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. The show will focus on endangered species and the impact of global warming. Many of the children from VC’s Child Development Center will be walking up to the quad for the family friendly show.

Jazz music by VC students Louis Lopez on trumpet and Max Gauliteri on guitar will follow interspersed with poetry, an open mic, singer/songwriter Emy Reynolds, and CSUCI prof and Sespe Wild writer Brad

Local organizations and student clubs will offer activities and information and the VC preschool coop will be squeezing fresh orange juice. Bagels have been donated by Noah’s and water donated by the Ventura Water store will be provided to anyone who brings their own container.

In addition to encouraging students to take action about climate change, a goal is to register as many students to vote as possible.

This event is supported by a grant from the Ventura College Foundation.