Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I learned this year

Before I resolve anything I thought I'd reflect a bit on the past year. The great thing about a personal blog is that it allows you to look back.

I wrote about two things more often than anything else: work-life balance and my frustration with lack of faculty technology knowledge and use. It's clear that those things were key factors in my deciding to quit. I had probably been thinking about quitting longer than I was truly conscious of. One thing I learned from that decision was that it was difficult. I spent a lot of time agonizing over how it would affect my family financialy. I shouldn't have. I should have gone with my gut.

Stepping out of my role as a tech support person has allowed me to begin looking at the effects of technology on life and learning more comprehensively and more deeply. In many of the presentations I gave last year, I was already going there, thinking especially about social software and my own scholarship.

I turned 40 this year and my oldest turned 13. That changes your perspective a little. While I certainly don't feel my life is over now that I'm 40, I certainly feel there's no sense in wasting time. Spending time with my kids has become more important as I realize how little time I really have with them. Oddly, I also feel greater feedom to do what I want.

It's been quite a year. I'm looking forward to the next one.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You can never go home again

Technically I'm in the town I grew up in but I'm not in the same house or even in the same area where most of my childhood took place. Home has not been home for me since college when my parents got divorced and the world reordered itself. Most of my friends moved away and their parents too so it's unlikely I'll run into anyone I know. That used to be a regular occurance. The lack of these familiar things don't bother me. In fact, I think if everything were the same I'd find that more disconcerting--like despite all that's happened since I left hadn't made a difference, that no matter how hard we try we're pulled back by some force into our old lives.

I'm thinking about this not just because I'm here but also because the new year is approaching. So much has changed and it's at once refreshing and disorienting. As I look around my town with the new right next to the old and familiar, I think about what is good to keep in my life and what should be torn down like a condemed building. I don't want to become the abandoned eyesore but the strucure that's been maintained by keeping the good parts and replacing those that have outworn their purpose.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, December 29, 2008

We made it

After a sprint through the airport, we made the last leg of our flight to our destination. We've had a good night's sleep and coffee. Let the family fun begin!

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Travel adventures

From Geeky Mom
We've been attempting to get somewhere today. It started out with a 4:30 am call telling us our flight was canceled and they couldn't get us on another flight tomorrow morning. We really wanted to get there today so we decided to fly out of Newark. The flight wasn't until later but we were all awake so we decided to go out for breakfast and hit the road. An hour into the trip, Mr. Geeky got tired so we stopped at a rest stop for a nap. Geeky girl also napped.

Once at the airport, we were selected for special screening. Do you know what a pain it is to go through that process with two kids and lots of electronics? Bleh. So now we wait. I hope we arrive eventually.

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Geeky family is wallowing in the sloth and fullness of the season, which means things have been pretty good. Electronics reigned supreme again this year, with a new iPod and cellphone for Geeky Boy, who's realized the costs of those two habits are going to eat up most of his allowance. Geeky Girl is busy playing new SIMS extensions on our new computer. We finally replaced our almost 8-year-old iMac with a newer one. That was the big gift of the season. Mr. Geeky got a netbook and I got a microphone for podcasting, plus pjs. I have enough pjs now that I can work at home in my pjs fairly regularly. It is teh awesome! There were also some books to go around for everyone, but in general, things were lower key at least in terms of the number of gifts this year. My dad started college funds for the kids as their gift for this year and my mom got them exactly what they wanted off their list--which wasn't much.

I hope everyone had a wonderful day and for those continuing the holdiay season, continued well wishes. Peace and joy to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's Left: Shopping, Cooking, Baking, oh my

Update: The item I wanted--canceled. Note to online sellers: if an item isn't in stock, don't sell it on your website. Duh. Their consolation: we didn't charge your credit card.

Normally, I'm not running around at the last minute buying stuff. I don't like shopping and so I try to dispense with it as quickly as possible. But this year, thanks to the online shopping experience from hell, I'm running around trying to replace the gift that will not arrive in time for Christmas (still has not shipped!). I went to three different stores yesterday, including the brick and mortar version of the store where said gift is supposed to ship. And, they were out of everything. The traffic was horrible. Everything took longer than I thought. Bleh. So I came up with an alternative and am going to pick it up today.

On the plus side, we made our first batch of cookies yesterday. After school today (yes, the kids still have school), Geeky Girl and I are going to make Grasshopper Pie and fudge. Tonight we'll watch Christmas Vacation, and I can finally relax (at least until it's time to whip up dinner tomorrow night). It's all part of the season.


Grasshopper Pie Recipe

1 C. chocolate wafer crumbs
1/4 C. sugar
3 T melted butter
1 C heavy whipping cream
2 T milk
3 1/4 C. miniature marshmallows
2 T white creme de cacao
1/4 C. green creme de menthe
1 pt. vanilla ice cream, softened

Combine crumbs, sugar, and butter. Press along sides and bottom of 9 in. pie plate. Chill.

Whip whipping cream. Chill. Melt marshmallows and milk in pan. Cool. Add creme de menthe and creme de cacao to marshmallows. Fold this into whipped cream. Spread layer of ice cream on crumbs. Then spread marshmallow mix on top. Chill in freezer. Set out of freezer about 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, December 22, 2008

House Envy

A friend and I were talking over the weekend about longing for better houses. A mutual friend is in the process of buying what sounds like to both of us a fabulous place to live. We both have good houses in good locations, but we both also have things we don't like about our houses. And whenever someone we know buys a new house or we visit someone with a great house, we start seeing the flaws in our own houses all the more clearly. Luckily for me, most of the people I socialize with are other faculty who are as priced out of the larger house market as I am. But there's still the occasional playdate visit that sends me into envy again.

I also noted that I have a smaller house than my parents did. Financially, my mother ended up in about the same place as she was when she grew up. My dad fared much better. Me, I'm doing worse (yay for the education industry!). Of course, it would have been difficult to go up from where my dad was--near the top of the income ladder, especially for the small town I grew up in. Every once in a while, I lament that I didn't follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. Of course, knowing me, I would be a public service lawyer of some kind and still not make any money.

House envy (and probably general envy of other goods) has to have played some role in the current crisis. You watch friends and relatives move up to bigger houses or add on to and improve existing houses and you think, I want to do that. And so you go to the bank and no, you can't quite afford it, but the broker plays on your envy and next thing you know, you're paying more than you can afford for a house that isn't worth as much as it once was. I think it's a pretty easy trap to fall into.

The whole issue of envy is something I've been working on a lot. I think because my lifestyle is somewhat downsized compared to what I grew up with, I've struggled with my frustrations at not being able to have some of the things I had as a kid. At the same time, I contribute some of the relationship issues my parents and I had (have?) to the fact that they were both somewhat obsessed with keeping up with the neighbors and we were in a living space where we could all easily avoid each other. So, I've been focusing on other things: spending time with the family, enjoying the things I do have. I actually want less stuff now, not more. And we've tried to do small things to make our house more enjoyable. Frankly, I often feel lucky to have a roof over my head.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

I watch this movie every Christmas, sometimes twice. I remember when TNT used to show it every day for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The first time I saw it all the way through was the Christmas after my sister died. I was staying at my then boyfriend's house. The emotion of it didn't hit me then. I think I was either too cynical or too focused on just the relationship between George and Mary.

Now I can't watch it without crying. Even though I know what happens.

I share the views of this article, which explains that George's life isn't all that wonderful. It's confining and dull, full of those horrible adult responsibilities we all wish we could dispense with in favor of travel and other recreational activities. I've always seen Mr. Geeky in George. The oldest kid, who put off college while his younger brother went immediately after high school. While Mr. Geeky stuck nearby his home town throughout grad school, his brother went off to med school, internship and residency. Now, of course, the tables are turned and Mr. Geeky lives far away in the big city while his brother returned to his home town.

As I get older, I feel the sense of letting go of earlier dreams from my youth. There are certain things that will never happen. And what I get from the movie is the grieving process of that. There's the denial, pain, anger, depression and loneliness (near suicide in the film), and then the post-angel part of the film is the upward swing toward acceptance, ending in the hopeful message that "No man is poor who has friends."

I think what's moving about the film, then, is that I go through all of that with George. Every year, I am reminded of what's really important and quit comparing myself to the Sam Wainwrights of the world. It's a moment of realizing my own shallowness and then letting that shallowness go. The emotion of that and the suddenness of it would make anyone cry.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Online versions of box stores suck

No wonder box stores (I'm looking at you Target) are suffering. Their online counterparts suck. I've order two things--important things--for Christmas. The same day I ordered several other things from places like Amazon, Honeybaked Ham, and I have tracking numbers for all of those items. A couple have already arrived and a couple more look likely to arrive tomorrow. The stuff I order from Target (one item is not available in their store): not shipped yet. Ordered on Monday. One thing's for sure, I'm not rushing to Target to replace the order. I'll find what I need elsewhere. Idiots.

And if you detect a little bah humbug in that, it's true, I'm a little edgy about the season. I think a few others are too. Perhaps many people are frustrated, sad, scared, etc. because of the economy. Well, they're taking it all out on the rest of us.* I haven't been honked at so much in my life as I have been in the last week. And I promise, my driving hasn't warranted these honks. Even my son commented on someone's misplaced honk on our way to school the other day.

*Maybe they have a right to, but damn, it's not my fault. And if they actually talked to me, I might offer sympathy and support.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A-Z movie meme

I think Tim is going to regret tagging me. I have really bad taste in films. I'm much more of a book or tv show person for some reason. Mr. Geeky is the movie guy. I was, however, happy to see that Tim's not the hugest fan of Hitchcock either. I mean, I like his films, but Mr. Geeky will watch *anything* by him that's on.

So here's the list for both of us (mine is listed first, Mr. Geeky's is second):

American Beauty | Alien
Best in Show | Brazil
A Christmas Story | Citizen Kane
Dr. Strangelove | Diehard
Elizabeth |
The Evil Dead

Ferris Beuller's Day Off | Fargo
Gone With the Wind | Groundhog Day

Hairspray (both versions) | Halloween III: Season of the Witch (don't ask)
It's a Wonderful Life | Independence Day
Juno |
Jurassic Park
Kramer vs. Kramer | Kung Pow: Enter the Fist ( I was torn myself)
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King |
Lord of the Rings (the whole series) -
we do tend to watch the whole thing in a marathon session
Monty Python and the Holy Grail|
and Memento (tie!)
Nine to Five | North by Northwest
Out of Africa | O, Brother Where Art Thou
Platoon | Planet of the Apes
Quiet Man | Quantum of Solace (there are no Q movies!)
Rear Window | Raiders of the Lost Arc
Shakespeare in Love| Silent Running
Talladega Nights | Twelve Monkeys
Unbearable Lightness of Being | Unforgiven
Valley Girl | Vertigo
When Harry Met Sally | War of the Worlds (1953)
X-Files | X-Files (hey! we agree)
(no Y for me) | You Only Live Twice
Zorro | Zodiac

Doing More with Less

Or, as Dr. Crazy puts it, "Excellence without Money." I've appreciated greatly the conversation going around the blogosphere that Dr. Crazy links to surrounding the issues of asking faculty to take one for the team. In some cases, that means no raises, cutting travel funds, or increasing class sizes. Sometimes it means giving up a percentage of salary. Dr. Crazy analyzes this situation quite well, and I agree with her attitude that this job is a job and she shouldn't have to give the blood of her first born to help out her employer. I can't find the references now, but a whole back, there was a whole conversation about how academics struggled with this perception that their campuses were like their families. Some even brought out a priesthood metaphor. I think all that rhetoric about families and priesthood is used to cover over the fact that many faculty are not properly compensated or appreciated. I agree with Dr. Crazy that there's only so much belt-tightening that one can do.

On the staff side, when things get tough, the situation is even grimmer (and perhaps this applies to contingent faculty as well, but my experence is the order of layoffs is staff, part-time contingent faculty, full-time contingent faculty). Dr. Crazy acknowledges that she's in a position of privilege as a faculty member. The janitor, whose job gets outsourced, not so much. As Dr. Crazy said, someone earlier in their career hurts more when the raise doesn't come. For many staff, the lack of a raise is the difference between being able to commute to work or not or between paying the heating bill or not. Most staff (and I'm guessing faculty too) have seen their real incomes decline over the years. I experienced a downturn in my first 6 months on the job. I got no raise the first year and only a paltry one the second. The 3 years after that were fine, but still, overall, I saw my salary decline. Add into that that faculty have the opportunity for merit raises--a sizable one when getting promoted to associate or full and yearly ones based on teaching, research and service accomplishments--while staff do not and you end up with some real inequalities that cause some serious pain during hard economic times.

I'm not putting forth this information to say to faculty, you don't know how good you have it, but to say that I think staff, too, should not take on more sacrifice. Too many of them do. They look at themselves as part of a family or team or whatever and put in extra hours without pay or offer to donate to the college(!) or suck it up when they go without raises for a couple of years. I was pretty hard-nosed about my work hours. I went in at 9 and left at 5. Although there were a handful of times I worked extra or at odd hours of the day, it was truly rare and I often took an extra hour or day off to compensate. Most policies include a phrase about "working until the job is done." That means as a salaried employee, you're expected to get your work done even if it means working 50-60 hours week, bringing your actual hourly pay down to just above minimum wage. You can really only ask that of workers for so long before they say, "Do your own damn work."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Technology and Education is in the air

Yesterday, I got a request from our school district to fill out a survey about "21st Century Learning." I did. They asked a lot of the right questions. Although they did ask about whether all children should have laptops, most of their questions were about whether web 2.0 tools should be used and how and what kinds of things would the school need to do to make that happen. One of the things I said was that it would be nice if they could make it easier for parents to participate in their kids learning process through the use of these tools. Right now the extent of my technological participation is a Course Management system that just lets me see grades after the fact and email. Yes, some of the teachers post their assignments on the web, but that's not participatory. What I suggested was, something along the lines of what Will Richardson has done in the past, having parents reading the same books and commenting on student blogs about those books or learning about science together. If I knew what my kid was doing in his classes, then I might be able to participate in a more meaningful way.


I've also been reading the Net Gen Nonsense blog, which I highly recommend to advocates of technology in education. I've been an advocate of technology in education, especially socially-oriented and user-creation-based applications, not for the sake of developing technology skills, but because these tools enable better and deeper learning, if used appropriately. And yes, our students are using some of these tools, but as I've said time and time again, they need help using them for learning, especially the kind of in-depth learning required in college and that will hopefully continue throughout life. A key quote from a recent study cited by Mark on his blog:
"Students make limited, recreational use of social technologies such as media sharing tools and social networking sites...the findings point to a low level of use of and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies."
I'm reading Don Tapscott's Grown Up Digital, which spouts much of the ideas this study is trying to knock down--that "kids these days" are living and breathing web 2.0 and so we need to change our educational and work systems as a result. Actually, what I'm seeing is that there are a handful of students who are using these tools creatively and intelligently and many of them are pushing for changes in work and school, but it's a very few. What keeps me up at night are actually the vast majority of students who either don't have access to these tools or worse, who do and either don't use them or use them irresponsibly. I think we need to change not because students are demanding the change (because quite frankly, they aren't), but because we need to have studets who are creative, collaborative thinkers.


I've also been finalizing parts of my Gender and Technology course for the spring, and I've found myself thinking over and over again--what can I do here to drive this point home or to have students experience this more directly rather than just reading about it or hearing me talk about it. So, I'm including some gameplay, some experiences in Second Life, lots of blogging, building a network graph, and creating mashups and multimedia assignments. The hard part about including this stuff is that everyone is going to be at different comfort levels with the technology. And I hate it when technology gets in the way of the experience. It makes me wish we had a lab section. And I think that's the rub. I'm comfortable with all this stuff and will find a way to use it effectively and help the students get past the technical hurdles so they can see the point. But most people a) aren't comfortable and b) don't have the time and/or patience to deal with the hurdles. It makes me wonder who is going to be left behind.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I do more before 8 . . .

So far, I've made breakfast, two lunches, wrapped two presents, looked up addresses to ship said presents, and collected the recycling for today.

It's going to be a long week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

RBOC: Friday Edition

  • Routine, what routine? This week has been filled with disruption. The first two days were half-days, doctor's appointment on Wednesday, and today, thanks to a forgotten permission slip, I'm retrieving my oldest from school at 9:00 while the rest of his team goes on a field trip. Sigh. Not to mention, Mr. Geeky was away yesterday and today, so there was no help to be had.
  • Holiday stuff. Presents are almost all purchased and sent. It was a book year again this year. Every couple of years, we just head to a book store and start buying stuff we think our family members will like. We still have stuff to get for the kids and for each other, but mostly done. Greeting cards purchased and will likely be filled out and mailed slowly over the coming weeks.
  • Work. Coming along. Made some some progress on deadline-oriented projects yesterday especially. Also did some contract work on Monday. Still feeling a little more disjointed than I'd like, but it's probably a result of the disjointed week more than anything.
  • Housework. Feeling like it's mostly under control. I've moved a lot of bigger items that were in the way out of the house. This weekend, I hope to engage the family in some cleaning projects, however briefly. I want to be prepared for the chaos Christmas will surely bring.
  • In other news. I have a few things I want to blog about, but I'm going to wait a while. I'm still gathering thoughts. If anyone wants to hear about something in particular, feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kid Restrictions

One of the things we've instituted since I've quit is tighter control over the kids' screen-based leisure activities. We were sort of half-heartedly doing this over the last year, kind of taking it day by day, but now we have Rules (with a capital R no less). Geeky Boy's obsession was the computer, spending hours playing games, watching YouTube, etc., while Geeky Girl plopped herself in front of the tv for far too long. So now they each get an hour a day during the week and 2 hours/day on the weekends. This has led to their having to get creative about entertaining themselves. They've played shuffleboard, read books, come up with some kind of ball game that involves stairs and the cat, created videos, and occasionally driven us a little crazy.

Geeky Boy has actually expanded what he's doing online, so in addition to just playing RuneScape and finding cool YouTube videos, he's been working on an Inform project, and he started a new blog. Now that all that activity must take place within the span of an hour, he finds himself faced with decisions about how to spend that time. All good I think.

Believe it or not, Geeky Girl is less attracted to reading now than Geeky Boy, but she's pulled out the last Harry Potter book again in addition to revisiting her Flip video camera. I'm hoping the increased non-tv time will lead to even more reading.

And they also both have chores--kitchen duty and room cleaning--that they must attend to every day as well.

It's been an adjustment for them, but they're not really complaining about it much. Every once in a while, we'll get a "just five more minutes" or "can't I have a 1/2 hour more today" but for the most part, they're adjusting just fine.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Still trying to find work-life balance

The conversation that started on Mama, Ph.D., which many of us picked up, continues. Tedra brings out some pretty scary stats on the rate of tenured and t-t female faculty who are married with children as compared to men. It raises the question, once again, of why people question whether women can handle both family and career. As many of the commenters have said on my earlier post, it has a lot to do with the balance of work at home. As I said somewhere in there, I just think women are still more likely to care whether the house is in decent shape and the kids have doctor's appointments, etc. So sometimes they just do it and don't ask. But I think we should ask. And I think husbands/partners should jump in more and as Libby said, they should push for more flexible schedules, too. And Libby added universal health care to the list, which I think is a fabulous addition. And, can I add affordable college, too? That was a big part of my struggle in deciding to quit.

This is one of those weeks where, if I were working full time, I'd be juggling a few too many balls. Today and yesterday, my youngest gets out at 11:30. Mr. Geeky could have managed yesterday, but today, I would have had to get child care or take 1/2 day off from work to deal with not only my daughter, but the parent-teacher conference. It's not that I don't want to do the parent-teacher conference, but the double-whammy of having the conference and the lack of child-care is problematic.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Misheard lyrics

Because it's been a day where I couldn't even get 5 minutes in front of a computer, here's a hilarious video, courtesy of Geeky Boy, who always finds the coolest stuff on the interweb.

Friday, December 05, 2008

And cat blogging too . . .

A video

Blackboard as part of the Military-Industrial Complex

I've been working on various things that have to do with taking advantage of social software to create active, collaborative learning environments for students. When I talk about using social software, I'm talking about using blogs or wikis or Facebook or Twitter or other freely available web applications and leveraging them for educational purposes. Anyone can do this without having access to an educational institution. I could set up a whole class using Blogger, Facebook and pbwiki.

Blackboard was originally created as a simple way for faculty to put course material online back in the day when putting up a web site meant knowing how to code html and navigate the pathways on a server to get your files in the right place. Most faculty didn't know how to do this. And so Blackboard and a couple of other companies sprung up as solutions to this problem. Ten years ago, this was great! The web was very interactive anyway and this made it easier for people to post syllabi and course documents. Blackboard was not, however, any kind of innovative technology. It certainly didn't change the teaching and learning game. It was, and is, still built primarily as a one-way communication medium. Faculty post information and students read it.

Social-software oriented education allows students to create a more personalized learning environment and create a many-to-many communication channel. They no longer have to (nor can they, if done right!) sit and wait for information to flow from the professor to them. They can post their own information, ask questions of each other, see out new information and share it, comment on it, all without needing the professor to intervene. Social-software oriented classes that are open and public also benefit from interacting people not in the class, creating a broader audience for their work and learning from broader perspectives beyond the confined walls of school.

The factory-model of education treats, as the video below explains, students as widgets, as one size fits all. Blackboard perpetuates this model by not allowing for much customization, few communication tools, especially those that allow many-to-many communication, by keeping everything behind a password and not allowing for interconnection even within a single institution. Faculty cannot share course materials. Students cannot interact with students from other classes, much less with people outside of the class. Blackboard is built on the concepts of education from the industrial age, even though it was built in the information age.

As I say all the time, the software matters when it comes to using it for teaching and learning. The layout, its flexibility and interface, its ease of use all will affect the teaching and learning experience. Blackboard creates a really unfriendly learning environment. It's contained and closed off, which gives the message that education only happens within the confines of a "course" and not in the interstices of courses. One can learn, it says, only the information I give you. It pretends, as Michael Wesch is fond of saying, that information is scarce, when it's not. It makes education and learning narrow and defined when learning is huge and broad and takes place all the time over a lifetime and that is the message we need to be sending.

I used to think Blackboard was okay as a stepping stone to other things, but now I think it's not. I think it's okay to use it to keep your copyrighted materials and maybe your grades, but I don't think it's okay to use if for learning.

Blog vote

I can't decide what to blog today, so you can decide for me:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Teaching and Learning and Education

One of the great things about being both an educator and a parent is that you get to think about teaching, learning, and education from all kinds of perspectives. As a parent, I'm constantly teaching my children and they are constantly learning (not just from me, of course, but from everything). I also have to interact and react to the educational system my children are a part of. As a college educator, I'm also thinking about teaching and learning within my own classroom, and also about the higher ed system in which that teaching and learning takes place. I've been doing that on multiple fronts this morning as I've been reading the LEAP report and working on a presentation proposal. I also read these two posts by Aspazia that relate to the book I read not too long ago and my continuing work to help my son through the educational system.

For me, education is separate from teaching and learning. Education is a system within which teaching and learning occur. A school is a part of that system and the usual context within which most children get formally educated. What I've been thinking about a lot lately, both as a parent and as an educator, is how formal education interacts so little with the teaching and learning that goes on outside of school. Aspazia points to the deficit system of education where what formal education does is build on what's missing, presumably filling in the gaps of what has not been filled in informally instead of building on a child's strengths. The child must conform to the system rather than the system conforming to the child (a point also made in relation to ADHD both by Aspazia and by Peg Tyre). I'm thinking as a parent about how to help bridge the gap between the way my son is with the way the school wants him to be and at the same time, insure that he's learning. I would also like to find ways to encourage the school to change.

At the college level, with my own students, I'm also seeing a gap between what we do in class and what they do outside of class. So they're exploring Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube while we are reading printed articles and books, listening to a lecture on said printouts and occasionally having discussions about that. It would be great to bridge those two worlds, not have one subsume the other (as I think is happening when a CMS is the technology of choice). We need to find a way to help students connect what's happening in the classroom to the world they actually live in. I see the gap between the two widening as people shun Wikipedia or YouTube and cling to a "classic" education. When you can't apply what you're learning in the classroom to your real life, you don't learn.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ladders, Lattices, Mothering, and all that shit

Pardon me, but I'm in a bit of a mood right now. I've been following the discussion at 11D that is a spin-off of two Mama PhD posts about balancing an academic career and family and off ramps and on ramps to such careers. The second Mama PhD post references this article in the NY Times about career lattices, about providing a variety of opportunities for not just climbing a ladder, but pursuing other opportunities that may be lateral moves, part-time work, etc. As the post points out, such opportunities seem unavailable in academe.

All of this is resonating with me, of course, as I'm in a bit of an off-ramp at the moment. I have no idea what I'll on-ramp to in a few months--could be the academy, could be my own business, or it could be the right job at the right place. I have a feeling, though, that what I'll put together will be not quite full time. Because honestly, doing the parent thing is a shit-load of work and I really, really don't want to short-change that. But I also have to say that I'm a little disappointed that we couldn't make the dual-career family work. There are a lot of reasons for that. A flexible, intellectually satisfying job just isn't to be had at the moment. So I'm making it up as I go along and despite some frustrations in picking up the pieces of the household maintenance that got left behind as a result of the dual-career thing, I'm much, much happier than I was a few months ago. And I think I'll be happier still one my career does start to take shape and once the house gets to a point where I'm not digging out from under a bunch of crap. That's taking retraining not just myself, but the whole family, which is a long road, let me tell you.

Although Laura and the other professor moms lament the strictures of the academy in terms of career movement, things are not much different on the corporate side either. Even though things are changing more there than in the academy, there's still the same assumptions about what a career means: "For some, a career that isn’t going steadily upward is a career going nowhere" (NY Times). This was the attitude of the man referred to in the article, and I think it's telling what the wife's response is:
You were successful because you worked really hard at one thing — your career — while my role was to carry out all the noncareer elements of life, from child-rearing to household projects to community involvement and so on.
It's that focus on one thing that leads to success both in academe and in the corporate world. Women more so than men, don't have the luxury to focus on one thing for such an extended period of time. My own career is a testament to that--graduate school, lose funding, get corporate job to put hubby through grad school, have kid, move across the country for hubby's job, go back to grad school, have another kid, move across the country again for hubby's job, adjunct for a while, get full time job because adjuncting doesn't pay the bills, finish Ph.D., quit job, start a business. And honestly, that timeline isn't that unusual regardless of what the husband does. I saw women whose husbands worked for a large corporation get transferred every couple of years. How the hell are you supposed to maintain a career with all that moving and all those life changes. And throughout that whole thing, it was Mr. Geeky who was focusing on his career, not so much with a careerist kind of attitude, but just pursuing interests and opportunities. Meanwhile, I was trying to juggle both. And as I've said before, it's not that Mr. Geeky was uninvolved, it's just that I probably thought about my career and the kids about equally not in terms of everyday tasks, but in terms of long-term goals, etc. and Mr. Geeky did the day-to-day stuff equally, but wasn't really thinking long-term about the kids. At least that's my impression of things.

And then there's just the feeling of being discounted because you do have a family . . . but only if you're a woman. From Leslie, at Clutter Museum, comes this nugget in response to Ed Rendell's microphone blunder:

Some of the commenters at 11D expressed frustration at having to have this conversation so many times. I'm frustrated too. And I think partly it's because I have no idea how to fix the problem and of course, those of us who are frustrated are the ones without any power. It'd be great if we could all band together and do something about it, start a think tank or something. As Laura said, there's an awful lot of talent volunteering at school because they can't find satisfying flexible work. How stupid is that? In my ideal world, here's what life would be like:

1. Husbands would do as much housework as wives.
2. Good, part-time work would be readily available, with pro-rated benefits.
3. Schools would come up with a schedule that makes sense for working families and/or provide services and programs when 1/2 days are scheduled.
4. In the academic world, adjuncts would be paid a decent salary (see #2).
5. Women would not be seen as less desirable employees because they took time off to care for children.
6. Employers would offer leaves for women (and men, if they want) that are longer than simply the physical recovery time from giving birth. And leave doesn't just have to be taken right after the baby is born. Got a kid struggling with school? Maybe take some time off and then come back part-time.

That's just a start. It frustrates the hell out of me that employers can't get more creative about work schedules and that if someone presents a solution like one of the ones listed above, they're seen as not as committed to work. Ugh. So, how do we fix this? Are there opportunities with the new administration to encourage employers (including colleges and universities) to adopt better policies? Or is this a lost cause?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What counts as work

And why aren't there enough hours in a day. Yesterday, I had a lot planned. I had the usual morning routine. I worked on my web site all morning and then had a skype call at 11 to discuss a presentation proposal. I met some colleagues for lunch to discuss some possible work. Lunch lasted a bit longer than anticipated. I had planned to drop off some recycling, hit the grocery store and be home around 2:30. I was going to clean the dining room/kitchen, including taking care of a couple of much-need organization projects. Instead I wasn't home until 3:00. By then, Geeky Boy was home and I was completely and totally exhausted. If, what I do getting the kids ready for school and in maintaining the house count as work, I had been working (with a 1/2 hour break for a shower) since 6:30, or 8.5 hours. So a full day. If the work I do for the family doesn't count, then I only "worked" for about 5 hours.

On both fronts, I *still* didn't get everything done. Everything always seems to take longer than I think. Sigh.

21st Century Allowance

The New York Times reports that PayPal has come out with a service for teens and parents, where teens can have an account, spend money and parents can monitor all of it. I think this is a great way for parents (*cough* like me *cough*) to have an easy way to pay allowance and for kids to learn about saving and spending. I suppose you could do this with a regular bank and have access to the account online, but this seems easier somehow.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Complete slug

I was a complete slug this weekend. I'm only now catching up with world news. I know horrible things happened. I don't know the details. I'm kind of in denial.

Mr. Geeky and I got up early yesterday and had breakfast and went shopping without the kids. We had no real agenda, but we ended up getting about half of the presents we needed anyway. I'm at a point where this whole Christmas present thing could go away. I don't need anything else. The kids don't need anything else. I think sometime in the near future, I may just say, don't get me or my kids anything, and we'll just travel for Christmas or something. Now that the youngest is no longer a believer, it opens up a bunch of opportunities.

So now it's back to work and school, though Christmas vacation is only 3 weeks away. I have some projects with deadlines so there is work to be done over the next few weeks. And the house slid a little this weekend although the kids did a good job keeping up with kitchen duties. I have some frustration with the household duties, but I will leave that aside for now. More intelligent commentary is coming soon.