Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First things first

My reading lately includes ethics texts (for a January course), daily thoughts on gratitude, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Facebook (with some Celia Rivenbark for balance).  In the midst of this (and other) reading, there have been recurring references to Anna Quindlen's writing and life.  The most recent example is a Quindlen quote from this morning:  
The ultimate act of bravery doesn't usually take place on a battlefield.  It takes place in your heart when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclination, and your soul by listening to its clean, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world.
Being immersed as I am in reading and musing, the intersection of the topics, the quote, and the timing prompted me to wonder about some things...such as where we learn to listen to that clear voice of direction...why we accept the voices of others...and what happens when we stop being curious, thinking for ourselves, and digging deeper into a subject for the sheer joy of it all.

So, I took the time to read a bit more about Anna Quindlen, a woman who transitioned seamlessly from writing Newseek columns to writing novels in order to honor her own inclination to be home with her children and to write fiction.  And in the process of reading about Quindlen, I wondered about the source of the quote, as the punctuation in the version I saw seemed...well, wrong, especially for a writer of Quindlen's caliber.  So, honoring the voice of one of my own beloved muses, I searched for the primary text, found the source of the quote, and the punctuation I would have expected.

I don't always take the time to put first things first, to find the source and read it for myself, to grapple with my own understanding (or lack thereof).  When I do, though, for the sheer joy of satisfying intellectual curiosity, there are few things more satisfying.  If I can find a way to bring a small part of this into the classroom...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Women who work

It's called synchronicity.  My choice to read women authors is followed by a link from a former student (who took my strategy class) to research into what makes teams smarter. According to research from Carnegie Mellon University and the MIT Sloan School of Management, women are an important part of successful teams:  
It's a preliminary finding--and not a conventional one.  The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group.  But so far, the data show, the more women, the better.  
And why might that be the case?
Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.
Given the amount of teamwork we require of our students (that same strategy class) and the quest to understand why some students perform better than others, I shared the link with my colleagues.  By return email, I received this from a male colleague (might this be a good place to insert that all my colleagues who teach this particular course are male?):
I have found (from my practical experience) that this is true.  The managers in my research group at Walmart were 70% female and the hardest (working)/ most productive members. Before that, in civil engineering, I found the female design engineers and project managers to be the brightest, most productive team engineers.
As a woman, I find this both affirming and frustrating.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Trash talk

New trash cans today!
Though this may not reflect well on the academy, it is our reality today.  We have new trash cans in our offices.  They're small.  And they are small for a reason.  The goal is to get us to think before we trash. 

And if we needed an example of how easily we can miss the important for the, shall we say, less important, this is the day.  From an email sent by a staff member in the associate dean's office:
I have received so many emails about the new trashcans, and they are all thought provoking.  Many people have strong feelings for and against the cans. The question I am hearing more than any other is: “WHY are they SO small?” 
The email provides a link  to a recent New York Times article about trash cans (at another academic institution) that are even smaller than our new ones.  The ones in the article are only 6" tall and it seems they're all the rage on that campus.   By contrast, our new ones are quite a bit larger.  

This leaves me wondering... how is it we miss the irony of having time and energy to engage in email eloquence regarding the size of our trash cans?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Women who write

In my high school and college years, I spent a great deal of time arguing the similarities between men and women, going so far as to attribute the vast majority of gender differences to nurture.  The nature versus nurture discussion continues and what we know for sure is that we don't really know.  The most sweeping conclusion that can be drawn is "humans are not hard-wired."

I've learned some things, experienced a bit more of the world, and taken on more roles since my teens and early twenties.  I have a deeper appreciation of the rich and varied interplay between gender and milieu, as well as the role of, well, roles.  And regardless of all the science, the known, the unknown, the questioned, and the hypothesized, I am quite certain that, as a group, women who write do not write in the same way as men who write.  Perhaps it has less to do with nature than with life experiences and those pesky roles than tend, more often than not, to define by way of limiting.

As I think about the courses I will be teaching next semester and the changes I will be making in both content and approach, I am thinking about why I read what I read.  And, during September, I've decided to read only women authors, not for any particular subject matter expertise, but to experience the difference in voice.  Today, it's Molly Ivins.  Waiting in the wings are Annie Dillard, Maya Angelou, Merlin Stone, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and a host of others.  Though I'll miss my favorite men who write, I'm looking forward to some time with the girls.