Real Live Prof

I don’t like being evaluated. I always get nervous, and when I am nervous, I sweat. Not pretty. Oh, I understand on every intellectual level why we need to be evaluated as teachers.A+

We can always improve something.

It keeps us honest and trying to do our best.

We need to be accountable to others.

It should keep us humble.

Really, I get it; but not on an emotional and reactionary level. Last Spring, my Dean sat through a class, evaluating me. He had asked which day was best, and so we were both prepared. I presented my very “best” lecture. He was complimentary, and made several really helpful suggestions. When I next met with the class they, too, had plenty of “helpful” critiques: They asked me what happened to the usual Prof, because he certainly was not there last time. They said I was a phony just putting on some show that day. Strangely, I appreciated these critiques as much as my Dean’s critiques.

My students may not have realized it, but they were agreeing with Erving Goffman, a sociologist who was very much interested in how we present ourselves (Presentation of self). He used theater language to describe people as mere actors, who present lines and images and use props to make points. We have a front stage which is public and a backstage that we guard from the public. (My wife, a second grade teacher, is always amused when she meets her students at Wal-mart because they are amazed that she too, has to shop for stuff. Shouldn’t she have “people” do that for her?) Ironically, a part of the Dean’s review of my teaching effort was that the students did not seem very concerned with taking notes or paying attention. He suggested that weekly quizzes might help motivate them to greater attention and general preparedness. (So the joke is on the students this year because we now have weekly quizzes.)

Another part of my reactance against evaluation is hubris. I want to believe that my “good enough” is great and that I cannot possibly have room for improvement. At this point I am reminded of my two older kids, who both loved sports in high school. However, they did not love practice. In fact, they hated it so much they would invent illnesses and injuries that would keep them home during practice. They wanted to believe, as I want to believe about my teaching, that they could just show up for the games, without practicing, and be awesome.  Maybe that is why they were so pleased to get participation trophies.

In the end, I want more than a participation trophy. Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize

Now I have reinforced my intellect, will someone please instruct my heart to relax and know that constructive criticism is, well, constructive? Maybe next time when I am evaluated in class, the Dean and the Students will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Real Live Prof

I live in East Texas. It has been the second dry, hot summer in as many years. Now it is September, but the heat keeps coming. I have really felt it this summer as I have worked outside most days. I would start at daylight, and work until noon. I would come home exhausted, change out of sweat-drenched clothes, eat lunch, and rest. If I still had work to do, I would go back out in the evening. It was still very hot, but evening and shadows and shade were also coming and comforting. Now I look at the 10 day forecast and I am not encouraged. Yet I know that eventually it will get cooler, and even cold. I am eagerly waiting for that day. (By the way, I have learned to pray for rain like a farmer, or, at least, a fisherman).

My Favorite fishing place: down from 5 acres to 1/2 acre this summer

My favorite fishing place: down from 5 acres to 1/2 acre this summer

Karl Marx wrote in 1843 that “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).  By using the term “opium”, he meant that religion has the effect of anesthesia upon the religious in that it makes us “dead” to our current bad political situations and instead gives us a heaven to look forward to. If you are focused on heaven, he reasoned, you will never take seriously the exploitive conditions here on earth that you could fix through political revolution (i.e. worker’s paradise, and communist utopia).

Dear Karl, it is true that as a Christian, I am very much looking forward to heaven. Jesus tells me I will be with him and I will have a new body. He is preparing me a place, and preparing me for that place. I will see my family again. A few years later, I fully expect to walk out on my lawn, pick up the paper, and read the 10,000 year weather forecast: Sunny and clear, high of 75, low of 65.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, said it this way, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that. the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

So, finally Karl, as the summer and heat and dry drag on, I am called to hope, which I think you would have to admit is very revolutionary. But my hope is too small if I only hope for cooler temps and a little rain. It is a much better and bigger hope if I groan with creation and look to God to right the wrongs of global warming and global warring against the things of God.



Real Live Prof

Funny thing happened in Social Psychology last week…it turns out that social psychologist are very interested in the effect that other people and situations have on us. They have even given it a catchy name: The ABC Triad. ”A” stands for Affect or how we feel inside. “B” stands for behavior or what we do. Finally, “C” stands for cognition, or more simply, what we think about as we are doing something.  CaptureCharacterWe might use the Triad to try to understand horrific behavior such as how seemingly normal American soldiers could get caught up in the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003. Were they simply following orders or were they morally bankrupt? We want to know how such a thing could happen and so we are faced with either blaming the torture (“Behavior”) on the soldiers (“Affect”) or the situation (“Cognition”).  Oddly, when we do something wonderful and awe-inspiring, we are very willing to take the credit.  For example, if students make an “A” on an exam then it is because they studied hard. If they failed an exam, it was obviously the Prof’s fault for making it so crazy hard. (Conversely, if all students pass an exam, it is our fault for not making it harder. If they all fail, then it is their fault and they should have studied much harder.) We often find ourselves between blaming and boasting.

After talking about the Triad, I asked the class about the Christian idea of character (doing the right thing, even if no one is looking). How would character fit into the Triad? We came up with the ABCC Quad. Developing Biblical, Christ-like character allows us to more accurately assess the situation (peer pressure, convenience, or no one is looking, etc), our own feelings about the situation (which are often faulty and self-centered), and then to act rightly and do the right thing, despite the situation and my feelings.

 Maybe I should have made the exam a little easier… 

Real Live Prof

Here is something I try to do every semester:

When I am thinking about the class before the semester, I wonder about how this particular class should impact my faith and the student’s faith as well. I then prayerfully pick a “Semester Verse” which tries to encompass this oncoming collision.  This semester I am teaching two sections of Introduction to Sociology. One of the things we try to do as sociologists is to look at problems and issues from other perspectives. (As a point of interest, I would suggest that this is one of the most difficult things for us to do. For example, it seems so right for me to look at all things from my perspective: white, male, middle class, employed, married, Baptist, father of three, educated, Texan, middle aged-professor at a Baptist university, person.) Romans 12 This semester I chose Romans 12:1-2 as a semester verse mainly for verse 2, which urges us to “no longer conform to the pattern of this world”.  Early in the semester I suggest that it is extremely hard to notice the pattern of this world and even harder to go against it. How many times have you walked into a store to buy one item and walked out with multiple bags of things of things you did not even know you needed? Partially this phenomenon can be blamed on your cell phone and your spouse and kids, but some of it is subtle but effective advertising that you never consciously hear. (Last year, Wal-Mart played the Old Spice whistle every few minutes as I shopped there. Before I realized it, I had tried all versions of their Body Wash. I settled on “Swagger”, but I am a little worried because new scents are coming out all of the time). Just like below-the-radar-advertising, the world’s pattern of thinking and acting are foisted upon us as normal and preferable at almost every turn. An example would be how society’s attitude about premarital sex has changed in the last several decades from taboo to celebrated and expected behavior that “youngsters” are supposed to go through on their way to finding true love. Even marriages are referred to as “starter” marriages where individuals learn to live with another on an intimate level, and then pull out when they have discovered what they really need and want in a committed relationship.  Hopefully, no kids, no harm, no foul and both are wiser and aware of what it takes to make themselves supremely happy.

As a way to keep the integration of faith and learning alive during the semester, you might ask the class again about the verse as you review for the exams. Next week, before the first exam I will ask the intro class, “How does Culture (Chapter 2), ‘conform us to the pattern of this world?'” A follow-up question will be, “Why is it so hard to ‘transform our minds’ in our American culture?”

Real Live Prof

005I will accept the challenge of chronicling my take on the integration of faith and learning. The process begins with faith and living, and did for me as a teenager in Richardson, Texas. I had become a committed follower of Jesus and I had to learn what it meant to be a believer and student. The early stages for me were immersed in a legalistic regimen of “do’s” (go to church, have a quiet time, etc), and “don’ts” (don’t drink, don’t do drugs, and avoid all things sexual). A strength of legalism is that it does not require deep thinking. One simply refers to their list to see which category a particular behavior falls under. This phase lasted me through college. When I got to seminary, I made new friends who were more into license than legalism, and as such, were happy to drink and party and still manage to love Jesus with a clear conscience. My personal pendulum of living and learning swung their way, for a short while. Granted, it was fun, but not spiritually satisfying. I married two years after seminary, and even as we started dating, I could tell that I had left my new friends’ freedom, and had moved back toward a broader, central place between the two extremes.

After our marriage, Diana and I started going to the University of North Texas together. She finished a Master’s Degree, and I started a Ph.D. in sociology. I think of this short (11 year!!) period as the time that I got the “unintended consequences” education (a sociological theory by Merton). I was studying sociology, which was new to me, but I was also learning about technology (post punch card, pre- PC and email when I started). Suddenly, I was taking classes with “those” people (gays, Lesbians, feminists, liberals, atheists, Democrats, etc) that I had never been around and was taught to fear and avoid in my previously conservative education. Again, I was faced with the integration of faith and learning and being a Christian in front of people who were openly hostile towards all conservatives, but especially evangelicals. I now believe melding faith and learning is a lifelong pursuit. The scenery may change, but we are called to live our faith out loud.

For instance, I was teaching my Sociological Theory class last Spring about Mead’s theory of the generalized other. Simply stated, we base much of our decision-making on what other people think we should do. As an example, I showed a photo of my car, a 2004 Nissan Pathfinder with 224,000 miles on the odometer. The theory suggests that we buy cars based on what our peers think is appropriate for us to drive. Next, I showed a picture of a Toyota FJ Cruiser. I asked the class if I could buy this vehicle. They assured me it would be fine. I then showed them a picture of a VW Beetle Convertible, which was turquoise green. It is my dream car, but they said they would never “allow” me to buy such a car. (peer pressure at my age?) I then confessed that I was actually happy with the Pathfinder because it was the way God was blessing me right now…no payments, virtually trouble- free, and when things have gone wrong, I was able to fix it myself. I think our meta-story comes through to the students as we teach, so I try to be very deliberate and show God as the foundation of my story.