Monday, March 21, 2011

Whatever happened to cogitation?

Periodically I'm blindsided by a cultural reference or a piece of information that I think is common knowledge but it turns out to be a generational thing. A recent example:

Last week I was in a meeting with a fellow faculty member and several graduate students. At one point, the other faculty member said that he wanted to "cogitate" on something. The graduate students (who are bright people) looked puzzled, and one of them asked what that word meant. I was really surprised because I thought that was one of those everyone-knows kind of words.

So, later that afternoon I asked my Sociological Methods class if they knew what it meant, and not one of the 40 kids did. I asked several other people who were over 40, and they all did.

So, here's my question: What happened to cogitation? (The word, not the action). Is it the case that most young people don't know it and most old do? If so, why? I don't think that it's just that young people know far fewer words; in fact, they probably know more than past generations. Also, I haven't found this big a generational difference with other words, so... what happened?

Something to cogitate on....


Friday, March 18, 2011

Interview with me in USA Today on divorce rates

Here is an article that came out in USA Today earlier this week about divorce rates. I enjoyed the interview, and the information comes from my book.

Still, I was surprised by the comments on it. It seems like many articles on Christianity devolve into the same type of discussion regardless of their content. Troll-magnets.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Taking a stand against standardized testing

This last week my fourth-grade son, Floyd, brought home a request from his school. They asked us parents to make an extra effort in encouraging our children that week. To facilitate our encouragement, they gave us 6 stickers, and we were to put some sort of praising statement calling for our children to perform as well as they could.

What was the special occasion for which we were to encourage our children?

Was it learning more material? No...

Was it doing something that would benefit themselves? No...

It was Connecticut Mastery Test week. This means that all the kids in town take a standardized test, and if they do well the district looks good.

I wasn't too thrilled about the school emphasizing this in a way they hadn't anything else, including things perhaps more important, such as learning.

So, I was asked to provide slogans, but I wasn't explicitly told what I could and couldn't use. So, I thought that as long as we were focused on the collective good, why not go to the professionals, and I modified revolutionary slogans developed in the Soviet Union back in the day.

So, Monday morning all the other kids had notes on their lockers telling them that their parents were proud of them, and calling on them to do their best. In contrast, here's a picture of Floyd's locker.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Enough with the upselling

Last week I took a several day trip to the Midwest, and it felt like I spent most of my travel time listening to people "upselling" me. You know, when you buy one thing, the person selling it to you starts asking if there are other things that you want as well.

* I checked in at United Airlines, and the check-in kiosk asked if I wanted to purchase seats with extra legroom or an earlier place in line.
* I bought a bottle of water at the newsstand as was asked if I would like to buy some tea (in bags, not even a bottle!) for my trip. Now, why would I want a tea bag for my trip?
* At Kohl's, after I arrived, I spend most the transaction explaining to the cashier that I really did not want a Kohl's charge card--even with the extra 10% off.
* At a supermarket, they have the "item of the week" at the checkout stand, and they ask if you want it.

I recently went to a hospital to visit a sick relative, and at least I didn't get any upselling there. For an extra $200, we will make sure that he doesn't get an infection." "Would you like to upgrade the quality of the food we serve?"

I'm probably just being cranky about it because I'm getting old (why, back in the good old days....).  Also, I realize that they're just doing what they are told to do.  Still, I wonder, though, if I should start practicing "downselling." Maybe each time I'm asked if I want something more with my purchase, I'll ask if I can have the item for less money. Or maybe reduce what I'm purchasing. "You know, I think I would like just half of a hamburger. Could you take 50% off?"

Or maybe I could start selling them something that I own.  "We've got an old television set at home, just sitting in the garage.  Would you like to buy it for 20% off today?"

Hey, if we're going to negotiate, why not?


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Regulating my intake of information

This last week I was in the Midwest attending to my ailing father, and among other things during the trip, I changed my consumption of information. I carried a cellphone with me, so that I could be available to family and friends. I read the newspaper at the hotel (hey, it was free).  I even watched some television--mostly CNN in my father's hospital room. Normally I don't carry a cellphone, read the newspaper, or watch tv, and this last week reminded me of why I don't.

I strongly prefer exerting control over what I think about and react to and when I do it. Now, if I'm in a burning building--I want to know about it, even if I'm thinking about something else. But, most things in the paper and on TV are not things I really care about, and yet just being exposed to them takes up time and energy on my part that would be better spent elsewhere. Even after I turn off the television or fold the newspaper, I still think about about what I saw and read. With phone calls, while I appreciate talking with people, but the calls often interrupt other activities.  (Thank goodness for e-mail).

So, day-to-day, I carefully regulate incoming information as part of prioritizing what I think about. I read the Economist each week, for I tend to value what it covers and how it does so. Other than that... my ignorance of what the media says is is bliss, and, if something is really important, someone will tell me about it. Other than that, I want to be thinking about my research, my family, my faith, UConn basketball, etc... stuff that I see as even more important that the latest political scandal or what celebrities are saying.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Chesterton on committees

"I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees."
- G.K. Chesterton

Need I say more?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Religion story lines in the media

This week I've been reading various studies of how the news media regards religion. In 1993, Peter Steinfels, sketched out a list of basic story lines in the coverage of religion. They are:

* Religious leader has feet of clay (or is a scoundrel)
* Ancient faith struggles to adjust to modern times
* Scholars challenge long-standing beliefs
* Interfaith harmony overcomes inherited enmity
* New translation of sacred scripture sounds funny
* Devoted members of a zealous religious group turn out to be warm, ordinary folks.

Just thinking about recent stories that I've read, this list fits a lot of them. Though I might add something about religion in politics.

Can you think of other common story lines?

(Quoted from Silk 1995, Unsecular Media)