Monday, June 30, 2008

The Purpose of Education

I read this article called “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” and it had a very interesting argument. The argument is that getting an education at Ivy League schools prepares you for a fabulous career and financial success but it does not prepare you for life – for interacting with others, for the possibility of failure, for an intellectual quest unhitched to tangible success.

Since reading this article, I have been wondering about the components of a good education and I have come up with three components of a good education. First, it should impart a love of learning. This can be in a particular field or a general curiosity. Second, it should impart specific skills which help us to find and keep a job. Third, it should teach us life lessons – how to interact with others, finish tasks on time, adapt to exigencies etc. Being a teacher, I can attest how hard it is for any school or course or teacher to teach all these at once. Indeed, colleges are universities are now bifurcated in what they teach – either they are very specific and specialized to fulfill the second requirement or they are very generic and diffuse to fulfill the first.

I admit that since I have started my dissertation, I have been seeing my education in the more instrumental way that the second requirement suggests. Finish the dissertation, get the degree and leave and then I am free to do what I want. But I think this attitude hurts the dissertation. It makes me unwilling to sit down and write because I am writing for my committee or with the far-off goal of finishing in mind. There are times when I recapture the love for the subject itself and at those times, I am much more productive because I am captivated by the material. True, when I am captivated by the material, I also waste a lot of time because I read articles and books only tangentially connected with my subject. But it feels like fun; not like a chore. Ultimately, I think, dissertating and all reading and writing for our profession should be done for both instrumental reasons and out of genuine curiosity. The instrumental part of me is what adheres to deadlines and prevents me from reading and working on multiple subjects at once. The curious part of me wants to work out of genuine excitement – except it also distracts me from one project and leads me to another. A combination of the two attitudes would be ideal.

With regard to the third goal of education, I have been thinking of what UVA has taught me. Often I fail to reflect on the great experience I have had at UVA and remember the bad things like funding battles. So, here are some of the great things I learnt and got from being at UVA.

Great friends.
Tenacity (this is a lesson that any graduate student must learn in order to get their PhD).
Adaptability (this was honed as a result of the uncertainty of graduate life).
Possibility of failure (this is again true of graduate students as a whole – probably not because of UVA).
Diverse perspectives on political theory – actually I learnt a lot about American Politics and a lot about Political Theory.
Excitement about a lot of different issues and topics – I loved being part of a community which thought about larger issues while also caring about and sharing the minute details of my life.
Some really caring faculty.
My first experience in a really beautiful exciting college town.
Gregg (This list is not in order of importance, so I do not mean that Gregg is the least important thing on my list of "good things from UVA")

The list is much longer but you get the point. So what about you? What are your theories on education and what have you gotten out of your education thus far?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Multi-Tasking

Since I read this article, I have been more conscious of my multi-tasking abilities. As I have said before, I am a multi-tasker. I cannot watch TV without doing something else – reading, paying bills, etc. On the flip side, I cannot read or even write without watching TV, cooking or playing with Giggs. I simply seem unable to do one thing at a time.

The article argues that multi-tasking reduces productivity. People who think they multi-task actually do not do so. It takes the average worker 25 minutes to return to their work after getting distracted due to email etc. True multi-tasking is learned behavior and needs practice and it often leads to loss of short-term memory.

The question I have been asking myself is: am I a true multi-tasker? A person who truly manages to do multiple things at one time and do them effectively? And more importantly, if multi-tasking can be learnt, what about single-tasking? Is that something that needs to be taught now? Given our daily schedules, we seem to grow up as multi-taskers. The problem is just intensified as we get older. As teachers we know the routine: sit down to work (whether that is to write or read or prep our lectures) and then check email or voice messages. And there is always something to answer to. Life is now made for multi-tasking; it has too many distractions to concentrate. Meetings, classes, grocery stores inter spliced into our work routines. To truly concentrate, you must be in an area where you cannot be reached by phone or email or IM or text message. We have more to cram into our days and we are more accessible to people. Multi-tasking seems to be inevitable.

Having said all that, maybe I should practice doing one thing at a time. Maybe the problem is that I have not tried hard enough. Though the multi-tasking approach has worked for me so far, concentrating single-mindedly on something has so many more advantages: the work is done faster, better and apparently, the details are retained for a longer period of time.

Any thoughts on multi-tasking? Are you a multi-tasker? If so, has it worked for you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A WASPy Day

Jill’s blog is called: “Am I Waspy”? While I think this is a good question for Jill to ask herself, I have never had to ask myself this question. Clearly I am not a WASP. I am not White or Anglo-Saxon or Protestant. Nor do I have particularly WASPy tendencies: I do not like decorating or sewing or dressing up for a meal. I like cooking but setting tables and making flower arrangements is not for me. But this past Saturday, I had the closest thing to a WASPy day that I have ever had.

As I said before, Gregg’s parents came to Lancaster this weekend. Saturday was their guys’ day – and Gregg, his dad and his brother all went to Philly for the day. They were scheduled back around midnight after watching the Phillies game. So, what were his mom and I to do?

Not to be outdone, we decided to have a special day too. I had made reservations at this place: the House of Clarendon. It was to be an English High Tea. It turned out to exceed expectations. The tea they served was an English Breakfast from Piccadilly. It had a subtle aroma, a gentle mellow taste and was perfect with just a splash of milk. The food accompanying the tea was also perfect. As we all know, English tea is accompanied by finger foods. This place serves 7 savories and 7 sweets – all bite-sized – with the tea. I thought that 14 bite-sized pieces of food cannot possibly be filling. I was so wrong!!! Thank goodness, we did not have time to get breakfast before we went for tea at noon. The savories included spinach and cream cheese pinwheels, a chicken tartlet, sausage rolls, stuffed phyllo etc. At the end of this, I was already starting to feel satiated. But the 7 sweets put me over the edge. They included mini ├ęclairs, scones with apricot, lemon and raspberry puffs and even a mint tea in a chocolate cup – and you are supposed to eat the cup after drinking the tea. All the food and the tea was served piece by piece and we just sat and relaxed and talked for two hours. This, combined with the fact that you have to dress up a little to go to this place, made me feel very WASPy. But we had a great time.

After this tea, Gregg’s mom and I decided to take a nap. Unfortunately, I had not counted on Giggs being super-hyper after being left alone all day. So, my nap was rather short!!! Then, in the evening, we got up, got dressed all over again and went to the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster to watch a play – Brigadoon. I had never heard of it but it is a romantic play about a guy who falls in love with a woman who lives in an enchanted village in Scotland. The village appears to the outside world every 100 years and so when he decides not to stay with her, he is forgoing her forever. The question is: is he (and she) doomed to live with his decision forever or can they see each other again in spite of the enchantment. I will not spoil the ending for those who do not know it. Anyway, suffice it to say, that unlike the rest of the audience, I was torn. Everyone wanted them to get back together – I thought however that while second chances are good, maybe living with the consequences of one’s actions is a necessary lesson. But the acting and dancing and singing were really good and again, we had a very good time. It felt good to be dressed up, at a play, doing something cultural instead of sprawling in PJs in front of the TV at home.

After the play, we did do something un-WASPy – go home and pig out on pizza and Chinese food. But on the whole, it was a really nice day – and to me, the WASPiest things I have done so far.

More Pictures of Giggs


Giggs








These are pictures of Giggs during his trip to Gregg's parents - the weekend of June 6th, 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Schedule Changes

We have had Giggs for almost three weeks now and I have been noticing some major differences in our loves. First, we laugh a lot more. Giggs is very funny, plays silly idiotic games all the time. Second, Gregg and I have been taking turns at household chores much more. This is because someone needs to watch him all the time. He is teething and this means that he will chew on anything – shoes, cords, laptops etc. But this post is about the third development: the change in our work schedule.

Usually Gregg and I study very differently. Gregg needs to sit at a desk and he needs to work uninterrupted for long periods of time. I study in front of the TV, with the laptop on my lap and I can be repeatedly interrupted without losing my train of thought. The problem is incorporating Giggs into these patterns. Since he needs constant attention, the question is: who gets to baby-sit when we are working? Given the patterns, it seems to make more sense that I should baby-sit. But, ironically enough, Gregg has actually altered his habits to incorporate Giggs. He has been working with Giggs in the room, keeping an eye on him and taking him outside if he scratches at the door. I was worried that these interruptions would irritate him but he seems unperturbed. I, on the other hand, have had trouble getting work done. I cannot put my laptop on my lap when Giggs is around because he is such a lapdog – he will not even play on the ground, he sits on our laps when he plays. It is impossible to have a laptop on your lap when you have a dog on it!! Even reading with him on your lap is difficult, because he is prone to biting your pencil or book.

So, I have taken to snatching time to work when Giggs is asleep. I also bought Giggs a toy called a Kong. You can put a treat into the toy and it takes him about 45 minutes to extract the treat from it. I try to work when Giggs is busy with his Kong. But this experience has made me think: if it is so difficult to get work done when you get a puppy, how on earth do people get work done when they have babies? We all know friends in grad school who had kids. How did they write a dissertation while taking care of kids? How do people get tenure while managing children? If one person is an academic, does the other parent have to stay at home?

This is not to say that academics work harder than anyone else and therefore, juggling parenting and work is more difficult for them. All I am saying is that it is more difficult to get work done when you are working from home and have a more flexible schedule and have kids. You are the automatic choice for baby-sitting which diminishes the time you can spend on work. All of this is complicated by the requirements and deadlines for tenure. How do you balance it all?

Thoughts??????

P.S.: Just to be clear, these are just thoughts. Echoing what Jill said in one of her blogs: I have NOTHING to announce.

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Updates:

Reading: The Chronicles of Narnia. I want to watch Prince Caspian but I have a rule: I cannot watch a movie based on a classic book if I have not re-read the book recently. So, I am reading the entire lot of them. Then, on to one of the books that Betty gave me for my birthday. Thanks Betty.

Weekend: Gregg’s parents and brother are coming to visit us on Friday. On Saturday, Gregg, Aaron and their dad have a “Lindskog Mens’ Day” planned which includes a baseball game in Philly. So, Gregg’s mom and I are going to go off on our own. I am going to plan something too – so far, we are going to a high tea at one of Lancaster’s many tea rooms.

Tasks: Gregg is making our new bookshelves. My job is to run errands, bathe Giggs and arrange some of our books in some sort of order.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Long Weekend

Gregg and I at Yankee Stadium


I have been meaning to write about last weekend for a while. A couple of months ago, Gregg and I bought tickets to a Yankees-Royals game on Sunday (the 8th) in Yankee Stadium. We love going to baseball games and have decided to see one new baseball stadium every year. Since Yankee Stadium is going to be torn down after this season, it was now or never. We both hate the Yankees but this was more in the interest of history than anything else.

Anyway, at the time we bought the tickets we did not know that we would have another member of the family to think about; Giggs was not in the picture then. We had planned to drive to New York, watch the game and return the same day. This was impossible because of Giggs and Gregg refused to put him in a kennel since he still has separation anxiety when we are not with him. So, we decided to go to CT on Saturday, leave Giggs with Gregg’s parents on Sunday and return after the game to pick him up.

However, things got more complicated when my great-uncle (my maternal grandfather’s brother) called and said he would be in CT on Friday. He lives in Jakarta and would be flying out on Saturday. I have not seen him in 5 years. But we are very close and he spoilt us rotten our whole lives. So, I promised to get to CT on Friday instead of Saturday so we could see him.

This is why we ended up getting to CT on Thursday. We introduced Giggs to Gregg’s parents. They have never had a dog before and I was worried that he would be naughty or soil their carpets – thereby making them dislike him. But they were wonderful and so was Giggs. He did not have a single accident the whole weekend (he is 90% house-trained already) and when we were not there, he spent his time sleeping on their laps. They were so sweet to him, took him out every time he needed to go, played with him and refused to crate him. Like parents, like son!!!!

On Friday, we spent most of the day with Giggs and then left for Stamford to meet my great-uncle. Gregg was a little nervous (meeting new family members is always uncomfortable) but everything went well. He got along very well with my great-uncle and his son (who was born and brought up in the United States). We stayed for dinner, talked about politics and had a lot of fun. In the meantime, Gregg’s parents bonded with Giggs.

We spent Saturday with Gregg’s parents. Gregg’s mom went out and bought Giggs about 5 new toys, 3 boxes of treats and even a bandana which says ‘Democrats in ‘08’. By the way, Gregg refuses to let him wear it. Then they took us out for lunch and I had the best sweet potato fries. I usually like real instead of sweet potatoes but they were awesome!!

Sunday morning, we left Giggs and took a train in to New York. Let me just say that New York always makes me anxious. Too many people, too much noise, too fast-paced!!! The number of people on the subway from Grand Central to Yankee Stadium alone was mind-boggling!!! Gregg insisted that I not wear one of my many Red Sox t-shirts. The game itself was fun. I was very excited for the short time when the Kansas City Royals had the lead but that dissipated when it was clear that the Yankees would win. It was 95F and I was very glad for the hand-held plastic fans which Gregg’s mom had supplied us with. But the atmosphere (though enemy territory for a Red Sox fan) was electric and the game itself was fun.

After the game was over, we took the train back to CT, picked up Giggs and drove home. It was a very long but fun weekend.

I will post more pictures of Giggs (as requested by many) in the next couple of days.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Temple University

As most of you know, Gregg and I moved to Lancaster so that I could start teaching at Millersville University this fall. But the worst part of being an academic couple is that, in a world of scarce jobs, two people have to find jobs close to each other. While finding an academic job seemed challenging enough, finding two jobs close to each other seemed almost impossible to us.

However, Gregg applied to a few schools for one-year positions starting in the fall. Some were closer than others; some would have allowed us to live together, others would not. A month or so ago, he got his first job offer: from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. We were both ecstatic and upset. Ecstatic because it was a good school, it paid well, it required only one prep. Upset because West Point is 4 hours from Lancaster and it meant we would have to live apart for a year. We talked about it, round and round in circles for hours and finally decided to accept their offer.

While we were waiting for the formal letter from West Point, Gregg got another job offer. This one was from Temple University in Philly. Philly is an hour-and-a-half from Lancaster which is a long commute and a lot of money on gas but at least we will be together. Temple also agreed to give Gregg a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule cutting down both on driving time and the amount we spend on gas. The classes at Temple require more prep but we decided to accept it anyway.

This experience taught me a lesson. Life is all about choices but if you know what your priorities are, those choices may be easier to make than you think. Temple was better for our relationship; West Point was better financially and academically to the extent that Gregg would have more time to finish his dissertation. But we are very happy that Gregg has a job, we can be together and that our first year of being an academic couple is in a place which we have loved thus far.

Oh, and as Gregg points out, Temple is the biggest rival to UMass – a piece of information which makes me root for Temple even more.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Contentment



I have been thinking of the difference between happiness and contentment. Happiness is reserved for the big moments in life – for me, happiness is always mixed with excitement. Happiness is what you feel when you get engaged or married, get a good job or fellowship or get accepted to a great school.

Contentment, on the other hand, is something you feel at small things. There are a few moments in the day which I look forward to all day. One is my piece of apple pie or lemon cake at night. I always eat some dessert at night about an hour before bedtime. I usually watch some TV or read some fiction while eating dessert. While this may not sound like much, I look forward to it all day. I also look forward to my single cup of coffee in the morning. I drink a large cup of cold coffee while reading fiction or playing on the computer. That slow start to the day is what makes the craziness of any given day tolerable. Last evening, Gregg and Giggs were curled up asleep on the couch together. I was taking notes on Thomas More. I looked over and they looked so comfortable. So, I got under the blanket and curled up with them. It was only a few moments but that is when it occurred to me: I was so relaxed and content. I have a great life!!!

What about you? What moments do you look forward to? Any moments when you feel truly content?