Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gen-Ed Courses

I am so incredibly frustrated with this.

General Education Courses

At my college, students must take a total of twenty-one courses (sixty credits, plus
two to six additional credits of lab work) to fulfill their general education
requirements. A major consists of thirty to forty-eight credits. This is especially
difficult for education majors because of extensive state licensure requirements.
According to the president of my college, this number of general education credits
is unusually high when compared to other liberal arts colleges. The president also
is in favor of decreasing the volume of general education requirements in exchange
for an increase in freedom. He recognizes that some students, - whether uninterested,
under-achieving, or devoted to something else (sports, for example) - will flaunt
this freedom and not take full advantage of the various course opportunities. He says,
however, that the freedom of all should not be restrained for the irresponsibility of
the few. It sounds like he's a Libertarian at heart.

I agree. Mostly.

However, I think that a reduction of requirements (and a simultaneous increase of
freedoms) would need to be coupled with a change in mindset.

There are lots of reasons why students complain about gen-eds, but I think that none
of them get at the heart of the real issue.

Is it because gen-eds are outside of the student's major field of study? Maybe.

Is it because they are unrelated and therefore not applicable? Maybe.

Is it because gen-eds are unfamiliar and therefore more difficult? Maybe.

But probably not.

These complaints are surface symptoms of a deeper issue. Well, two deeper issues.

In short, gen-eds are too gen-ed-y.

First, it is not that they are outside of the major, unrelated/not applicable, or
unfamiliar/difficult. Gen-eds are frustrating because they are viewed as and
treated like gen-eds by the faculty and students, which results in these three
surface symptoms. This mindset influences the way faculty approaches a gen-ed to
teach and the way a student approaches a gen-ed to learn.

Gen-eds are - simply put - seen as gen-eds. They are viewed as being outside of the
major, and therefore no effort is made to relate the gen-ed material to various
other majors, which results in the increased unfamiliarity and disproportionate
difficulty of gen-ed courses.

This is a mindset issue. But yes, I do wonder how practical it would be for faculty
to draw connections between a gen-ed course and as many as thirty-seven other fields.

In the meantime, perhaps this can be overcome with a small increase in personal
effort. In order to counteract the gen-ed-i-ness of gen-eds, maybe students can
seek to draw their own connections between their field and another, seemingly
unrelated field. Maybe. One potential problem is that most gen-ed requirements are
completed during a student's first year, when major courses generally are not taken
and when many students have not yet chosen a major field of study. Additionally, the
mindset that surrounds gen-eds does not create an environment conducive to increased
personal effort, which leads us to the second deeper issue.

Second, gen-eds do not inspire personal effort because most are surrounded by a spirit
of expectation that tells students, "It's a gen-ed, it's an easy course, no sweat."
This is worrisome for a few reasons.

This mindset does not inspire personal effort, which means that students generally
are not motivated to study because they assume that they will do well in such an
easy course. Or they are not motivated to study because of the mindset that such a
gen-ed is not inherently important. There is clear evidence of this academic apathy
in that assignment and course grades in gen-eds tend to be bi-modal. This means that
grades are not normally-distributed (bell curve), but instead have two data points
that are most frequent. For example, in a bi-modal grade distribution, most students
have A's or B's AND D's and F's, while very few students have C's. I think this has
less to do with course difficulty and student knowledge and more to do with the fact
that all of the students are apathetic and approximately half of them are apathetic
about their apathy and the other approximate half are conscientious enough to look
over their notes once or twice before a test.

Even so, sometimes it is a nice break to have an easy course. However, gen-eds are
easy courses with hidden dangers. In addition to academic apathy, there is another
potential problem with easy courses.

Sometimes, easy courses are too easy and are therefore incredibly frustrating because
they are too easy to the point of being a genuine waste of time. This results in the
a phenomenon where the only motivation for going to class is to acquire attendance
and/or participation points and where the only motivation for completing homework
is to gain ten points. Such a waste of time is frustrating because the time devoted
to the course and sacrificed in going to class and completing assignments is far too
great when compared to the educational outcome.

There is too much time and not enough learning.

And, finally, this lack of academic investment leads us right back to the first
deeper issue of the mindset that gen-eds are not applicable or important to a student's
major field of study.

"I want to fix the world, but I can't."


Friday, February 24, 2012

Word Nerd Semantics

Contrary to my previous plan, I will not be publishing my ISFLC notes as soon as
expected. I want them to be in a more coherent form.

Word Nerd Semantics

As some of you know, in addition to being a self-proclaimed word nerd, I am also
extremely picky about connotation. That being said, I do not believe in synonyms and
I really appreciate well-crafted semantics. Contrary to the opinion of one of my
classmates, I believe that a seemingly simple change in semantics can make a big

1) Course Title

Maybe it's because of my homeschooling background, where the semantics of a course
title was extremely important to my yearly objectives and portfolio. Such titles
were even more important for my high school transcript so that the local school
district could understand my outside-the-box learning in their inside-the-box terms.
Cooking? Life skills. Fundraising? Business math. Local field trips? History.
Is this cheating? No. It is true and engaging learning.

In my Public Mental Health class this week, we discussed the social issue of divorce
as far as it is related to community mental health. My professor mentioned proposed
local legislation that would offer (and potentially) require high school students to
take a marriage skills course. Really? First of all, more regulation and requirements
would not be conducive to learning. Second of all, are marriage skills really what
we want to require of high school students?

Why not something that would be immediately applicable? Why not something that would
be applicable to a variety of relationship situations? What about a relationship
skills course? What about a conflict transformation course? What about an interpersonal
communication course? What about a group process course? What about a teamwork and
problem-solving course?

Is this just a change in semantics? Not really, it's also a change in mindset. This
mindset change would be evident among the students and faculty and I think it's an
important one. How many times have you decided against taking a course based primarily
on its course title? How many times have you been unexcited about a required course
based primarily on its course title? See? Semantics matter.

2) Individualism and Communalism or Individuality and Community?

In my Community course, we have been discussing various theorists within the field
of community studies who have tried to reconcile the tensions between individualism
and communalism. All of these theorists were extremely pessimistic that these two
perspectives cannot exist together. I disagree.

For my first focus paper, I wrote about the key features of community in light of
how they are exemplified by the strongest community I know: HOBY.

For the conclusion of this paper, I explained how the key features as show by HOBY
can solve the individualism vs. communalism debate. This solution involves a change
in semantics. One of the features of a strong community is that of similarity.
However, HOBY is an especially strong community because it allows for variety, which
means that individuality and a sense of self is not overtaken by extreme communalism.
While individualism and communalism may not be able to exist together, individuality
can exist within a strong community because these forms of singlehood and cohesion
are not excessive.

3) Politicians?

As I was reflecting upon my first test for Comparative Politics that I took this
afternoon, I decided that I do not believe in the term, "politicians." Why?

Because having a separate term for those in positions of political leadership sets
them above the citizenry when they shouldn't be.

Politicians? No. They are citizens and should be held to the same standards as all
other citizens and be similarly expected to uphold the negative rights of others.

Politicians? No. They are citizens in a political office. They have the same political
rights as all other citizens and all other citizens should have an equally loud
voice in the political realm. Politicians? No. They should not have such a pedestal.

I think I'm really starting to not believe in a representative political regime.

Also, for your personal edification...

State = a system that administers laws and policies in a territory
Nation = a self-aware group with a shared identity that has or seeks control of the state
Regime = political system
_____--> Liberal Democracy, Communism, Fascism, Modernizing Authoritarian, Theocracy, and Semi-Authoritarian
Government = transient set of ruling people (incorrectly referred to as administration in the U.S.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reflection: #ISFLC12

First of all, twitterspeak is pretty obnoxious, but I kind of dig the hashtag trend.

Second of all, I am not entirely sure how I am going to tackle this blog post topic.
I have seventeen pages of handwritten notes from the conference and I need to figure
out a way to make them coherent enough for the general public to read without adding
too much additional personal commentary or exploration. I was originally planning to
publish all of these notes in a single post, but it soon became clear that the sheer
volume of these notes makes that impossible. I will, however, maintain chronological
order throughout the publishment of these notes. In addition to the notes, I will
include the speaker biography and session summary from the conference program.

But for now, to begin, my reflection of ISFLC12.

(side note: my blog would be far more professional if I eliminated internal dialogue)


The 2012 International Students for Liberty Conference was incredible. I am beyond
glad that I went. I met a great deal of incredible people, attended a variety of
inspiring and provocative sessions, partied, and experienced some ISFLC spirit. This
ISFLC spirit is similar to the HOBY spirit in that it is based on the fact that the
attendees have a deep bond because of one particular similarity. At HOBY, this is
probably leadership and HOBY itself. At ISFLC, it was Libertarianism, activism, and
other politically-related topics. In a recent paper I wrote for Community about HOBY,
I discussed how HOBY creates an extremely strong community because we are similar,
yet a great deal of variety exists. At HOBY, there is a variety of political beliefs,
backgrounds, and general life philosophies. But these things do not tear us apart
because our community is based upon such a resounding similarity. Likewise, at ISFLC,
there was a variety of hometowns, majors, interests, and general philosophies. But
these things did not impair the ISFLC spirit because the community was based upon an
extremely deep bond of similarity. These spirits have been reflected in many of my
friendships, especially in regards to politics. Essentially, my politically-active
friends and I are friends because we are politically-active. Even though the details
of our political philosophies certainly vary, we are not divided by dogma because we
are connected through common action. Even though our action may be headed in different
directions, we are acting together against the same broken system.

This is what unites us.

Plans for the Immediate Future

I may or may not write two blog posts tonight. Maybe more than that.

What I want to start with is the fact that I outlined multiple blogs during one of my
classes today. Below is the transcription of those notes...


1) Publish ISFLC notes + ISFLC reflection (feels so good to be in a like-minded world,
like HOBY. similarly bonded with variety. individuality + community)

2) Reconciling social work and libertarianism
_____- public mental health: teen pregnancy, increase regulation, marriage skills
_____course, option to opt out, literacy test prior to pregnancy
_____- social work: paperwork, documents, progress notes, bureaucracy
_____(will be an ongoing experiment in reconciliation)

3) Why students hate gen ed courses
_____not because they are outside the major field
__________not because they are unfamiliar/difficult
__________not because they are unrelated/not applicable
_____not because... (more?)
_____because = they seem too gen ed-y
__________- not integrated/applied with/to other majors
_______________~ can be overcome with personal effort, maybe?
__________- are obviously watered-down and simplistic
_______________~ can be good to have an easy course?
_______________~ can be frustrating: too easy/not challenging
_____________________________________too much time/not enough learning

4) Semantics and word nerds
- proposed legislation to offer/require a marriage skills course in HS
_____~ why not a relationship skills course? conflict transformation? interpersonal
_____communication? etc?
- individualism vs. communalism - cannot exist together?
_____~ how about individuality and community?

5) Topics in regards to education
- line segments and school type
_____~ what is most conducive to encouraging outside-the-box thinking?
- elementary schools directed toward girls?
_____~ find current article(s)

1) foreshadow semantics
2) foreshadow semantics
4) semantics
3) gen ed courses
5) more about education

So, that's what you can look forward to over the next few updates... We shall see
how well all of this planning will work out. In other news, I've decided that my
gen ed courses are ruining my life. Too much work, too few points, and not enough
learning. My two gen ed courses are cutting into valuable time that I would rather
spend becoming immersed in my two really good courses. My fifth course is a wash.

Next on the agenda: Start blog post 1!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pseudo-Journal (and School Update)

Feb 8, 2012 12:13am
I want to journal, but do not want to handwrite, so…

I’ve been feeling bored, overwhelmed, apathetic, and stressed all at the same time. I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that my attention span has diminished severely. I find it impossible to focus on one thing, with the exception of while I am in class. I’ve been listening to music constantly and have created the most perfect Pandora radio station. Rather, a shuffle of three stations: dance club, fast dance, and dubstep. I also found a site called top rave songs. I will make my own rave. This past weekend, at least twice, I stopped myself from being ridiculously over-tasked. But I sincerely wanted to listen to music, read, and watch a movie all at the same time. How did I expect to be able to do that? Perhaps I desire to keep myself occupied. And this desire to be over-tasked and distracted only further compounds my struggles with my attention span. This past weekend, I was working on some reading, only to keep interrupting myself every ten or so minutes by checking Facebook or using Stumbleupon or so on.

I feel entirely overwhelmed looking at my calendar and so many of my moments are booked full. One of my friends requested that I ask for help in some way and I said all I really need is more moments in the day so that I can go see my counselor. Monday was fairly full, although I still made time for a two-hour nap. Wednesday will likewise be packed. Work 8-10a, TB results 10a, breakfast, class 11-11:50a, class 12-12:50p, lunch?, volunteer orientation in Harrisonburg 4p, tutoring 5:30p. Oh boy. But that’s okay. During Monday, I realized that maybe what I need is to be kept busy. Maybe that’s what my over-tasking was trying to achieve. Alone in the apartment all weekend, I tried to keep myself busy with the internet, but it didn’t quite work. I didn’t fully enjoy it and I did not keep myself busy with anything particularly productive. Although I did go to an excellent basketball game and a good super bowl party. This brings me to my next two concerns.

I don’t fully enjoy things. I painted tonight and I think I realized part of the reason why I don’t fully enjoy things. Most obviously, most of what I do is school. Therefore, most of what I no longer enjoy is school. This is particularly worrisome and stressful for me because I am such a conscientious student and have always fully-enjoyed school, even if it is a series of hoops. But school, conscientious schooling, involves a fairly high degree of meticulousness. I don’t exactly fully-enjoy piano, but that is nothing new, since I have never liked to play piano when I am even minimally upset. Outside activities (i.e., pretty much anything that gets me out of the apartment and around other people) are probably the most enjoyed. Again, probably because it is a form of distraction. I painted tonight. It was a fairly meticulous painting and, all the while I was painting it, I felt anxious and frustrated. It was too meticulous for my current mood, current life position, and current understanding of the world. I feel messy. I don’t fully enjoy things that require conscientiousness. This stirs anxiety because I need to be conscientious about school. So far, so good, I believe. That will come later.

I don’t feel particularly productive. I have forgotten what I wanted to say about this. I’m getting my work done and, so far, it’s been getting done well. As far as daily assignments (regular reading, mostly), I’ve been staying about a day ahead. As far as additional small assignments, I am further ahead. And larger assignments? I have been brainstorming.

So, after all of that, I have two main worries. I’m not sure how much I actually want to say about these. First, that of money. this is my last undergraduate semester and I want to fully enjoy (lol) it with some semblance of sanity. Sheesh. This means that I want to go out for my birthday and I want to go to local dubstep and other live shows. Attainable. I am going to the International Students for Liberty Conference next weekend. Attained. The only obstacle left is budgeting enough for gas money. Second, I need to be resilient enough so that I am functioning well enough by the time I leave for graduate school. Graduate school is largely tied to my monetary concerns. I will most likely be looking into on-campus graduate housing. And yes, I looked at those graduate school scholarships and marked them as important for the near future. The deadlines are far enough away as of yet.

The other main worry that I now understand is that it is less about my depression or my questionable mental stability and more about the fact that the trauma has severely impaired my coping skills. What this means is that any minor drama or conflict feels like way too much for me to handle. I have two recent examples and one current example of this. Confidentiality. Similarly, reading the emotionally-charged book, 9 Highland Road, for class is too much for me to feel. What must be done, must be done. It’s a really good book, it just makes me cry and/or induces a panic attack.

Along this same line is the fact that there is no way I could handle a costly crisis if it were to arise in the immediate future.

Lastly, my memory has also been severely impaired, although it seems to come and go in waves. Maybe when too much of my brain is struggling with trying to cope with ridiculousness, it gets worse? On Sunday I made a note card for the whole week and a note card for each day. Tonight, I added to today’s note card just so that I could accomplish some tasks between dinner and sleep.


As far as school goes?

I’ve stopped reading for this course because everything that I had read was thoroughly discussed by the professor through his PowerPoint presentation and there was no reason for me to get the same information so many times. When I had been reading, I would mostly doze in class. Now I don’t read and pay attention in class. Perfect. We’ve had some reading quizzes. No big deal. We had a written assignment to redesign a poor study of the Atkins diet. I threw around terms like standard deviation. No big deal. We had an assignment to practice making a concept map to answer the question, “Who am I?” The minimum was ten concepts. I didn’t count mine, but just my genealogy was twenty-three. So, way more than twenty-three. When the professor returned this assignment to us on Monday, he told me that he was going to keep mine for another day so that he could photocopy it as an example of an excellent concept map. Holla. What? The assignment that is due Friday (which I may or may not have completed already) was to listen to an hour long radio segment about bioengineering and write a reaction-reflection paper in response to it. My favorite line that I wrote said something like, “Why do we need to create new species when we cannot even keep the ones we already have from going extinct?” Cheeky.

Biology Lab
Eh. Too much time, not enough credit. What else is new. We’ve eaten popsicles and are currently growing bacteria to test next week. We have to do a semester research project, for which I am partners with a Psychology major, so we are doing a study of a Psychology topic that relates to Biology. The hardest part for me will be keeping it simple.

Comparative Politics
I’ve come to love the non-structure of this course. The readings are minimal, so that’s nice. Theoretically, I wouldn’t have to read for this course, but the professor is just a tiny bit too scatter-brained for me to feel comfortable relying on his PowerPoint presentations and lectures. Our first assignment was to design a brand new state. The values I emphasized were collectivism/interdependence, harm-reduction, and stewardship. For collectivism/interdependence, I want a regime that would make decisions only through consensus, which would require compromise until every citizen was willing to submit to the decision in question. For harm-reduction, I want laws like Amsterdam that are only concerned with the prevention of harm to self and to others. For stewardship, I want a local food network, so that food would not have to be transported or ripened artificially. Our second assignment was to outline the formation, strength, and performance of a particular state, using our textbook, the failed states index, and the human development index. My assigned country was China. We will present this information on Wednesday and turn in the written portion on Wednesday or Friday. Guess when I am turning in my written portion.

Public Mental Health
This is probably my most stressful course, not in regards to workload, but in regards to course content. There’s not really much else to say about this course, as we’ve only had one miniscule graded assignment. On a weekly basis, we must submit a chapter outline and five multiple choice questions written for the chapter in order to evaluate our having completed the textbook reading. These are due on the Friday of each week. I have had mine done by Monday so that I can bring a printed copy to class and take notes on that. The précis/integration exercise model of reading notes and in-class note-taking is the best. Thanks, other professor.

This course is with that (précis) professor. The capstone course for Sociology majors, I love it. For the three self-guided papers we have to write, I will be discussing community in regards to 1) spontaneous community vis-à-vis HOBY, 2) spatial proximity vis-à-vis dorm vs. apartment vs. house, and 3) community transition vis-à-vis moving from high school to college. For my final project, I will most likely be constructing a scrapbook of my three years at Bridgewater, which will be integrated with a content analysis of this scrapbook.

Interventive Methods and Social Work Practice
Not much to say about this course. My reading quiz answers today were pretty much fluff. They made sense to me, although I did not use the textbook terminology, so we shall see. For this course, I will be completing twenty hours of volunteer/shadowing work at a nearby age-integrated day care center.

Library Work
Same old, same old.

Tutoring Work
Same old, same old.

Piano and Jazz Band
Same old, same old.

I’m hungry. Time for bed. 12:59am.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thought-Book 01

I'm going to start a thought-book. Inspiration has been hitting me a lot lately and I
fear the possibility that these instances will result in a jumble of scribbled notes.
I'd like it to be physical, but it won't be. Instead, I will keep scribbled notes and
periodically post them here so that they are collected.

I wish I were smart in the way that I could be unorganized, but know exactly where
everything is. That would be so cool.

Today's inspiration was the fact that I want to write a politically-dystopic story.

Although I do find my politics class fairly annoying, it has provided this inspiration
and some necessary information for it to be realistic/believable.

In class today, I started this thought-book entry...

Proportionate election --> corrupt party leaders working together
Consensus government --> corrupt moderators? --> an AI to be the objective moderator
Eliminating racism --> (spoiler removed!) --> new shade clans
Bartering economy --> people horde storehouses of "currency" --> new banks, loans
Balance and moderation values --> apathy, the extreme are shunned
Globalization --> ?
Job distribution system? --> Huxley-like color system? (predetermined)
Polity? --> ?

Narrative manuscript found later by an anthropologist (too cliche?)
Written by descendent of founders
"We can't do this. We failed."
(ending spoiler removed!)
(ending spoiler removed!)
" Stories exist. The details are sketchy and inconsistent. Non of them have been confirmed."

You guys, everything is in my head and I need to get it out sufficiently before I forget it!

I continue to be aware of my mental instability.