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Epic Fail: Cast Your Vote for the Top Fails of 2011



The Biggest Difference Between High School and College

For years, I’ve taught mostly high school honors classes and remedial college classes.  By a wide margin, the high school students are more literate, more creative, and more productive in every way.  What do they do that’s different? 

They have already learned the key to success: self-motivation.  Most high school students are used to being spoon fed and led carefully by the hand; what makes someone an honors student, by and large, is taking over the reins of their own life.  Not coincidentally, the reason why so many otherwise bright and talented young adults only slide by in high school and fail in college altogether is that they haven’t internalized that idea.

In high school, for instance, the focus is on classwork, while homework and independent study exist to supplement and reinforce the classwork.  In college, however, the focus is on the homework and independent study, and the classwork exists largely to supplement and reinforce what’s done outside of the classroom, by the student, on his or her own.  That’s a transition that many young people have a hard time adjusting to. 

Like any habit, the earlier it’s inculcated, and the more diligently it’s practiced, the more likely it is that someone’s going to be successful at it.

The New York Times Admires Joseph Smith’s Civil War Prophecy

In a blog post last week about Mormons and the Civil War–focusing on the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Brigham Young–the New York Times mentioned this:

Fascinatingly, Joseph Smith had prophesied in 1832 that an immense civil war would someday transform America, and that it would start in South Carolina.

It is fascinating, isn’t it?  A couple of commenters noted that there were good reasons in 1832 for predicting such a thing, but that hardly does the prophecy justice.  I submitted the following as a comment, but it hasn’t been published yet:

Joseph Smith’s Civil War prophecy is impressive.  As Jeff Lindsay notes, in 1832, Smith predicted that:

  • The war would begin with the rebellion of South Carolina.
  • It would cause the death and misery of many souls.
  • The Southern States would be divided against the Northern States.
  • The Southern States would call upon other nations for assistance, even upon the nation of Great Britain.

And that, later, Great Britain would enlist help from other nations in wars which would “be poured out upon all nations.” 

For those who think this was a lucky guess based on 1832 politics, one would be hard pressed to explain why the opinion wasn’t common, and why Smith repeated the claim eleven years later, in 1843.  The original prophecy is in a Mormon scripture called Doctrine and Covenants 87; the reiteration is found in D&C 130:12-13

Not only did Smith predict the war, but he even foresaw details like the South calling on Great Britain, which it did (this fact is even mentioned in the second National Treasure movie). 

There are plenty of other instances of recorded prophecies by Joseph Smith which came true:

Defending UNLV’s New Freshman Orientation

Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that UNLV will begin a new class next year, a required freshman orientation course.  The class looks like a seminar designed to acclimate students to college life and work, focusing on the purposes of higher education and the skills required to succeed there. 

A local talk radio host ripped into it this morning, and the comments under the RJ story are universally negative.  But here’s why they’re all wrong. 

If this seems like a dumbing down to anyone, consider the caliber of students we now work with.  The decade-plus long experiment in Nevada with the Millennium Scholarship has filled our campuses with students who barely squirmed out of high school, who did it with lowered standards, and who now come to college with little financial investment of their own in it.  Many simply do not have the background to succeed here.  If UNLV wants to reduce its abysmal drop out rate, such remedial training is necessary.  Who can fault us for giving our students  the foundation they need? 

Continue reading

The Biggest Difference Between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

I started my observations about these two movements a month ago with a point of conciliatory commonality–their shared opposition to undue influence by rich special interests in politics, whether left or right.  However, after two months of Occupy Wall Street, the most stunning thing about these two movements is how their core is starkly contrasted.

Tea Party protests usually had a “vote the bums out” message–their signs and speakers focused on what those in the crowd should do.  Occupiers, however, seem focused on what others should do for them–their signs and speakers are about the demands they have for what “the rich” should be providing them with (student loan debt relief appears to be a big one).

This is a broad generalization, of course, but a useful one.  While there are certainly Tea Party protesters who want government to do things for them, even those things are more limited and more for the benefit of others than what Occupiers demand for themselves.  Decreasing spending so that future generations of taxpayers won’t be saddled with unpayable debts (as many a Tea Party sign begged, such as at 1:52 in this video from a Las Vegas protest) is a far cry from insisting that “government has a responsibility to guarantee access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement,” as a poll of OWS protesters showed, according to a survey cited on the OWS Wikipedia page.  Rescinding fairly recent policies that exacerbate economic problems strikes me as more restrained and pragmatic than demanding the spontaneous erection of a new infrastructure for a panoply of progressive fantasies.

Consider Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally last year.  Continue reading

The Oxford English Dictionary Has a Blog!

Doing some research this morning for an upcoming vocabulary assignment my classes are doing, I found that the Oxford English Dictionary has a delightfully logophillic blog, OxfordWords.  The most recent offerings appear to be about invented languages, word origins, eponyms, and the persistence of cassette tapes.

Has this blog already been added to my link list?  Yes, it has.

Jeopardy! on DVD?

Am I the only one who would buy episodes of Jeopardy! if they were released on DVD?  I think there must be a market for this.

So what if we already know the answers and who wins?  There’s always plenty to enjoy and learn.

It would be cost prohibitive, I imagine, to release entire seasons, but selected collections could sell like hotcakes.  Sets of the college tournaments, teen tournaments, and the tournaments of champions would be perennial sellers.  All time greatest hits collections, outtakes, and celebrity features might also be big.

If nothing else, they could put out a ten-disc set called The Ken Jennings Collection, and I would pay whatever they ask.


Radical New Facebook Philosophy

I’ve been doing this all wrong.  I need to stop using Facebook to reconnect with old friends, get to know acquaintances better, and keep in touch with distant loved ones.  That’s boring.  From now on, I’m only going to friend freaks and morons–people whose wild and inane posts will entertain me far more than the mundane posts by people I actually like.

Voluntary Martyr Teachers

In my first few years of teaching, I tried to be one those Hero Teachers–the guy who stays at work ten hours a day, who goes in sometimes on Saturdays, who takes tons of work home and grades while he tries to unwind at night.

During that third or fourth year, a scary thought hit me: what if I only did half as much work?  Would I get half the results from students?  Would they only learn half as much?  I tried cutting back on the intensity of grading papers and fancy detail of planning classes and, even after several weeks, it was obvious: my extra efforts had made no difference at all.  It was a sobering epiphany, and much of the next several years were heavily influenced by it.  I didn’t stop caring about the quality of my work, but I did try to trim anything extraneous that didn’t seem crucial.

I’ve seen a lot of teachers who think that unless they’re beating themselves to death, they aren’t doing a good job.  Some of them are convinced that we have to read and grade every line of every paper in copious, minute detail, or we’re cheating children.  Now, I’m all for feedback and revision, but except for that, so much of the time we spend grading and planning is frankly wasted.  There’s a law of diminishing returns that applies to teaching as much as anything else.  After a point, ongoing work is fruitless, or even destructive.  The goal of anyone who would do their job to maximum effectiveness is to find the point at which energy stops yielding results, work up to that point, and then clock out.

Some of us may have a Puritan streak to us that demands that visible suffering and sacrifice are requisite virtues in a teacher, but that’s baloney.  What matters is student learning.  Achieve that, and you’ve done your job well, regardless the hours you stayed late.  The time and energy you might have wasted being a volunteer martyr can be better spent on your students during the day, anyway.  Or you might even put more into enjoying your life, which will also increase your productivity at work.  This is one case where it truly does help to work smarter, not harder.


The Mysterious Religion of the Jaredites

Updated 11/8

I’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon, which is a wonderful, wonderful analysis of that sacred text.  In its cornucopia of insight, though, one thing has jumped out and fascinated me more than anything else: Hardy shows that the Jaredites probably weren’t Christians.

This might seem odd on the surface: it’s the Book of Mormon, after all.  Everything about it is meant to testify of Jesus Christ.  And certainly, the little book of Ether, which tells of the Jaredites, does do that…but only because of the commentary given by its editor, Moroni.

Hardy notes that the only explicit teaching about Jesus Christ in the book of Ether come from Moroni, and that the only two figures in the Jaredite record he’s abridging who seem to have any clear knowledge of Jesus are at the very beginning and the very end of that story: the brother of Jared sees Jesus personally, but is told not to share his experience (Ether 3), and the final prophet of that civilization, Ether, prophecies briefly of the New Jerusalem and is rejected (Ether 13).

That’s it.  Nothing else is said directly of Jesus Christ or any gospel-related Christian doctrine in the Jaredite record, at least as we have it.  There is no mention at all of the Atonement.  The Jaredites don’t seem to have had any priesthood or any ordinances.  No covenants among that people are recorded.  Whenever the book of Ether mentions prophets working with people, it’s merely in the context of repentance, but it’s never tied into the grace of God’s sacrifice, so while they may have had some commandments to keep, their spiritual knowledge can’t be said to have extended beyond carnal morality.

This makes sense, actually.  Continue reading