Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rigid Systems


I received a care package from home (yay Chex Mix!), but unfortunately it was intercepted by MedSafe and they confiscated some of the supplements inside because New Zealand's nanny-state health system requires a prescription for them. In the U.S., melatonin is a sleep aid and sold as a supplement. The letter gives you 30 days to get a legitimate prescription from a doctor (and if you have more than a 3-month supply, the doctor has to take anything over 3 months' worth and dole them out to you gradually) or they destroy them. The letter tries to convince you how bad it is to order drugs online because they could be harmful. I really don't like the health care system here. Also just found out that the junky student health insurance they sell us is really only intended as a travel insurance, so that's why it doesn't cover anything. The government discontinued students getting onto the good health insurance in 2011 apparently.

My Presentations

I had my one-year confirmation oral presentation with my supervisors, a moderator from the department, and a friend who wanted to come along. I'm glad she did because then I could complain about it afterward with someone who had been there. It wasn't too bad, but I get frustrated at constantly being told I haven't include this, that, and the other French theorist for some point, and how the paper won't pass if I don't include them. Research has gotten so bogged down in these theory fads; it used to be psychoanalysis, but of course that went out of vogue. Now it's poststructuralism, but that too will pass eventually. It seems to become more about pleasing others than making a good, original contribution to the field that is accessible to not just a minority.

One of my former students invited me to give a lecture to the public downtown for International Parking Day, where people buy a parking spot and protest cities being made for cars instead of people by setting up alternate things in the parking spot (like a living room set or a table with leaflets and hands-on activities). There weren't too many passers-by in the early afternoon, but I still got a chance to practice presenting and time myself on my Digital Humanities presentations. We had some good conversations before and after about education and travel, so it was a nice experience.
Got to meet the cutest white German Shepherd walking by!

 Others' Presentations

There continue to be interesting presentations that fill me up with all kinds of ideas. It's what I am enjoying most about being back in school. One of the Digital Humanities ones was on the shift from product-based capitalism to financial capitalism where people make money off of money and digital things like data. Basically, we're giving away our data for free when we use social media and other apps that harvest our data and sell it to advertisers. It's digital sharecropping and we should be cautious about further enriching the .0001% (Google, Facebook, etc.). Hard to disagree that we're being taken advantage of.

Peter Singer, who helped start the animal rights movement in the 70s, was in town speaking on effective altruism, utilitarianism, and rationalism. He believes that people should give their money away to charities and places where it will make the most impact, so like to African charities that provide very low-cost mosquito nets to combat malaria. He says saving more people is better than saving fewer, even if that means not helping people in your community because the money will make more of a difference to really impoverished people. He specifically called out things like walk-a-thons that require a lot of people's time that might be better spent working and earning money that could then be given away. But some people do things for the psychological benefit and so aren't being as altruistic as they could be. It was an intriguing talk with some good audience questions afterward.

An Emeritus Professor of Political Science gave a lecture on throwing out the political science canon (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau) because it limits people's perspectives and the ability to make new connections. He said there is no reason we need to keep reading these men's works as if they are the only way of looking at political issues and motivations. I had to agree with him, more in the context of my own field (see above on my confirmation) where a handful of theorists now dominate the perspective one can take when critically examining literature. But the only reason he can say this is because he's retired and has the freedom to challenge the canon.

Diane Foreman is one of the most successful women in the Asia-Pacific region, and the university's entrepreneurship program invited her to give a talk on her successful business career. I had just read about her in a magazine my friend gave to me so some of the information was repeated, but it was cool to hear about some of her business experiences and how she thinks of herself as a capitalist feminist. She believes in treating her employees well and incentivizing them to do better, which has been missing in a lot of my former workplaces. She also talked about the issue with selling time, a point raised in the magazine article. Kids are encouraged to grow up and enter the professions: doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. But the problem with these pathways is that you can only make money by selling your time. You might bill out at $1,000 an hour, but you aren't making money without billable hours. As a business owner, though, you can make money without having to physically be at your business. You aren't at the mercy of needing others to pay you for your time. She said we should be encouraging kids who have the entrepreneurial spirit to become business owners. I would add that we should be teaching basic business and financial skills to everyone, so even those with Art and Science backgrounds can go into business if they desire. 

The second annual university Feminist Society day conference went well, and I learned some interesting things, including some scary facts about how radicalization is affecting kids and women in the Middle East. There are no easy answers.


My friend recommended a TV show where several Chinese teachers go to a British school and teach the kids in the "Chinese method" for 3 weeks and see if it is more effective than the British method of teaching. He thought I would be against the Chinese method because it is so rigid and involves 10-12 hours of school per day, but I told him that I had a similarly rigid method of teaching at some points in my education and am all for it. I didn't know how many hours Chinese kids go to school though. He said in junior high and onward, they are constantly at school or at home studying; they have very little free time. Everything is geared toward passing exams to get into a good college. [The BBC documentary was called Are Our Kids Tough Enough? I watched it on YouTube, but it has since been removed for copyright complaints from BBC. It might be available elsewhere.]

Speaking of education, the more I learn about the NCEA high school education system here, the more concerned I am for this country. I had to help a student who is constantly being marked down for his bad grammar and punctuation and said he has a tendency to write long sentences that are incorrect; when I asked him if he knew how sentences work (with a subject and verb and stuff like that), he gave me the saddest face and shook his head and said no, he didn't. Where do you even go with that? It's incredibly difficult to try to explain why something is grammatically incorrect if they don't know the parts of speech and how sentences fit together with punctuation. I learned from the Chinese vs. British show that the UK stopped teaching grammar in the 60s, so I assume that carried over to New Zealand as well. I know some schools still do it, but it's probably only the good ones. I'm hoping the U.S. hasn't given up on grammar; I know they were still teaching it when I went through.

When students here try to apply to PhD programs in the U.S., they are completely intimidated by the GRE tests since they don't have to take anything like the SAT or ACT to get into college. If they don't pass their high school classes here, they can wait until they turn 20 and get in without any requirement. And since there are a lot fewer requirements for what they take in high school, the last time they took a math class might have been junior high! I would venture the rate of doing well on those kinds of tests is not very high; they're hard enough for those of us who've been conditioned to the standardized test system!
Spring is finally coming!

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