Free Gender and Comics Course at Ball State

Free courses, period, through Canvas Network!

I am already addicted to taking Coursera classes. I’ve had to drop out of some fascinating ones this month due to lack of time on my own part. Now that I know there are free courses over at Canvas Network, too, I think I may be doomed. Doomed, I tell you!

This course is especially interesting to me: Gender Through Comic Books. It’s an open course through Ball State University, where I had the best sandwich of my life—no joke, it was on a debate trip, from their cafeteria and totally vegetarian. The course will combine women’s studies with comic books, and will explore stereotypes, women’s identity, and other issues found in comics. As a lifelong comic book lover who would love to share this interest with my daughter without giving her body image issues, I am eager to take the class. I’ve already signed up; if you want to join me, it’s completely free and it looks like so much fun.

These open courses are popping up everywhere, and while you don’t have to take them to learn about any subject—there are thousands of self-paced courses on the web, too—they do give you the full online class experience where you can discuss things with classmates, submit questions to be answered, test yourself over material, and sometimes even earn certificates to prove you took a course. I did that just last month in a 10-week Greek and Roman Mythology class that I absolutely loved.

There are so many opportunities to further your education today than ever before, without paying a cent more than your monthly Internet bill. Find something you love and learn about it!

Why majoring in English won't teach you how to write

And what to do about it

This past month, I've found myself working more than I ever have in my life—and I went to a lot of school at places that are known for making their students work a lot. I am fighting, tooth and bloody hangnail, both to survive and to learn. I am fighting to get better at writing—because my esteemed university, for all the money I still owe them, never gave me much instruction in that regard.

I was an English major, too—the kind of person who's supposed to come out of school flinging verbs like throwing stars and building walls of raw grammar. And I was good at being an English major. I read books and I wrote papers and I got good grades on them.

But being an English major is not the same thing as being a writer, much like being a student is not the same thing as being a person. Students must jump hoops in timed competitions to see where they stack up against each other. Their skills are relative and disposable. Real people in the real world must build themselves up so not to starve or fall into a hopeless pit of useless self-loathing. Real people in the real world have real things at stake beyond a letter next to their name.

The thing is, it isn't necessarily hard anymore to learn how to be an English major. Most of my peers did very well in the class. It was almost as if my professors and T.A.s graded on participation and effort alone. Show up to class and look excited for ninety minutes and you get a shiny, polished A. Even the papers, the meat of an English major's labor, were graded simply on the hoops they had to jump—on bare and simple criteria, not as a whole.

The thing about writing is that it is a craft as much as a labor. You can create a written work that argues with plenty of evidence how Hamlet's psychosocial undercurrents disallow the possibility of free will, but unless you do it in an architecturally engaging way, you're just connecting dots. Graders of English papers don't much care how you say what you're saying it. They just care that you're saying it so they can stop reading the bile you dredged up from the pit of your guts at four-thirty this morning. They've got better things to do, so they check that you hit all the notes and they move on to the next jerk's essay.

A writer friend of mine who's also a math major recently bemoaned to me that because he hadn't majored in English, he had never been taught to write. I told him that you don't learn to write by majoring in English. I didn't, at least. You learn to write by writing, and writing diligently—picking apart every new word and finding ways to make it elastic, building up elegant towers of sentences that stop just before they get too big and topple. You read writers you admire and then you write a lot and then when you think you could never write another word you keep writing. You build up that brain-muscle—because unlike your English thesis, writing well is one task you'll never be able to B.S.


How to Get the Most Out of Higher Education by Honing In On Skill Sets

Why focus and specificity will be your friends in this economy

It's been all but proven that higher education, when pursued for its own sake, isn't too much more than a scam. Teens who have been conditioned to believe that there's nothing more important than building a career around a meticulously crafted individual identity show up to campus and spend four years trying to 'find' themselves. Maybe they learn something about their own tendencies and desires, maybe they don't. Either way, the ongoing conviction that every child should finish college has left this country with a surplus of young people who feel that they've earned--and paid for-- the right to a good job that reflects their inner selves. The problem is that there are now way more special snowflakes than there are jobs for them.

Students who enter college with specific careers in mind, like pre-meds and pre-MBAs, aren't really subject to this generational plague of overeducation. It's the ones who dabbled in vagueries for four years that are having the problems. They take crappy jobs (one in four retail salespeople now has a college degree) or they move back in with their parents. Maybe they'll go back to school someday, or maybe they'll keep working at positions they could have landed with just a GED. They feel, somehow, like they were promised more than what they've ended up with.

Surprisingly, it's not just the liberal arts folks that have fallen through the employment cracks. What you studied doesn't have too much bearing on where you end up, but how you studied just might. Dabblers aren't rewarded in this economy. Employers aren't going to be impressed by the period of self-discovery where you changed your major five times and took Indian dance on the side. The college prep push to be well-rounded backfires after a certain point. After a certain point, you've got to focus.

That's why art school grads are actually doing okay out there in the world. Unlike liberal arts colleges, art schools teach you to hone in on a specific set of skills. There are tons of jobs in design, printmaking, 3D graphics. Images are as needed as ever--and a school that forces you to graduate with a portfolio is a school that will leave you with more to show from your education than just your diploma.

So yes: ironically, more grads coming out of top-tier universities may be wishing they had gone to art school instead. Because it's not where you studied that matters most: it's how well you were able to focus. 

College Students: Don't Major in English Like I Did

Try for a degree thaat will help land you a job.

I was an English major and I regret it. I chose to major in English because I LOVE reading and writing. (DUH!) I never once thought about whether it would get me a job.

But being an English major is pretty worthless in the job market. Reading and writing are necessities in daily life it’s not often that you’ll be asked to cite a classic on a job interview. (It might happen on a date, but never a job interview.)

The only jobs I got based on my major were teaching jobs in South Korea; if your goal is to teach English in South Korea, then being an English major is a good thing. If your goal is to get a job in the business world, then being an English major is probably not a good thing. If your goal is to teach English in the United States, then you still need a teaching certificate in addition to your English degree.

The skills I needed for blogging I learned not in my high school English class, but while studying for my AP history test. Thank you, Mr. Elliot for teaching me to write persuasive, concise essays for the test.

I digress.

Some would argue that the humanities are suffering from lack of funds. I agree. But that doesn’t mean that I think that students should major in English, the classics, or the arts. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

If you are passionate about reading and writing, minor in English and get a more practical degree in either digital communications or business. This will probably come as a shock to you, but there aren’t many job fairs targeted to English majors.

Likewise, there aren’t many job fairs targeted to artists. If you are passionate about the arts, major in something practical like architecture, interior design, or graphic design because there aren’t very many recruiters knocking on the doors of art majors. Minor in art or photography and make sure that you get enough money to enjoy your passion.

If you’re good enough at math, major in business because they have the most job fairs. If you are better with your hands, either go to a technical school, start work earlier, or get a degree in business so that you can work for yourself.

Of course, if you want to follow the route of Patti Smith and become a writer/artist/punk rock star, get kicked out of school, move to the big city to find your way, and live on the streets.

That’s not what I recommend.

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Oklahoma State Fans a Little Too Happy

There was definitely bedlam at Bedlam the other day.  The annual football game event called Bedlam at Oklahoma State University was home to a chaotic stampede of joyous fans as the underdog Cowboys won a huge victory over their rival, the Oklahoma Sooners.

Despite the announcer’s warning not to storm the field, thousands of fans did just that, some not even of their own volition.  Witnesses recount being knocked and pushed over the wall in the human wave of jubilant onlookers who rushed the field to celebrate the big victory.  The 20-30 person security crew was no match for the onslaught of humanity, and revelers pulled down goal posts in their glee.

It took more than 45 minutes for police to restore order to the chaos, and in the middle of the celebrations, at least a dozen people were injured.  Two people, including one with an existing medical condition, were airlifted to hospitals following the melee.

Two others had to undergo surgery for broken ankles, and still others were treated and released at the field.

While this is portrayed as a humorous event in the news, it is a testament to how quickly crowds can lose control.  I’ll be the dozen or so people who were injured didn’t find it amusing in the least bit.  We have been trained to look for the funny sides of stories like these, but in the process we are becoming so removed from the people involved that we forget how traumatic something like this would be.

I feel for those who were injured and hope they will return again to enjoy a game.  Perhaps this time they should go for the nosebleed seats, however.

Are Higher Education Degrees Worth It?

Many college graduates have tough times finding jobs in this economy.

Of late, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of a variety of grad school degrees; I went so far as to complete all of the requirements to gain acceptance into one grad school before realizing that I might not want to be saddled with $30,000 in debt for a degree that wouldn’t land me a job anyway. 


The Internet is full of both offers for cyber-schools promising immediate acceptance for degrees in everything from rocket-science to basket-weaving. Fortunately, the Internet is also full of warnings about obtaining higher-education degrees that won’t get the graduates any farther ahead than they already were. 

According to reports listed in an article by the Washington Post, recent graduates are faring far worse in the current economic crisis; as many as half of them don’t have jobs. Those of them who do have jobs earn on average $27,000 a year which is so low that the students might not be able to pay back their student loans. 


As I’m doing my own job search and attempting to shift careers, I’ve been getting employment advice--termed as information interviews by What Color is Your Parachute--and out of the ten to fifteen people I’ve asked about how to build up my resume, not a single person has suggested that I take a MA in any field utilizing soft skills. 


Many people have suggested technical degrees, which more often guarantee employment and more than a few have suggested that I stop being so lazy, study math again, take the GMAT, and get an MBA from a reputable school so that I’ll have some more marketable skills. 


The latest information interview I had was with a woman who has a background in the tech industry, in non-profit management, in politics, and now as a Vice President of a communications company. Her advice was to get my foot in the door any way I could and learn on the job, either as an employee or as a volunteer. While I won’t get student loans if I pursue this path, I’m alot less likely to incur the kind of debt that I would if I pursued a graduate degree. 


The Washington Post article I read had a different take on education; the writer proposed that every university should be required to provide a sort of cost-benefit analysis which would include how the amount of money spent versus the family’s wealth benefited the actual student. (The specifics are HERE.) The idea behind the proposal is that students would know in advance how valuable their degrees would be. 

Safest Colleges in America

With news stories of hazing gone wrong, assaults on campus and increasing violence in our colleges, choosing the right college has to be about more than tuition, standings or quality these days.  Now, when you consider your options for college, it is also a good idea to keep in mind the level of safety a college can provide.  These top ten colleges have scored big in terms of safety and are ranked among the safest colleges in America.

1.  Arkansas State University, Beebe Campus-- Beebe, AR
2.  Louisiana State University -- Eunice, LA
3.  The University of Virginia's College at Wise-- Wise, VA
4.  Lake Land College-- Mattoon, IL
5.  Central Texas College-- Killeen, TX
6.  Delgado Community College-- New Orleans, LA
7.  Erskine College and Seminary -- Due West, SC
8.  Southern University at New Orleans-- New Orleans, LA
9.  Virginia Western Community College-- Roanoke, VA
10. Edison State College-- Fort Myers, FL

I find it interesting to note that almost all of these colleges are in the south.  Maybe there is more to southern hospitality than northerners like myself are aware of.

The safety ratings that give these colleges their rankings are determined by the number of reports of :

  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Car Theft
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Theft

The number of reports are weighted by factoring in the total population of a college to determine an overall likelihood of a crime happening to each individual.

With safety an ever increasing concern in our country, these colleges can provide a safe haven of solid learning and low crime for students.

Where Can I Find GED Scholarships for College?

Did you know that you can use GED scholarships to help fund your college education?  You don't need a high school diploma, tons of extracurricular activities, and a GPA that would make Harvard fill your mailbox with acceptance letters in order to qualify for scholarships.  Maybe in the old days, but not anymore.

These days, a number of students drop out of high school and get their GED.  The reasons vary drastically, but may include medical reasons, the need to work full-time before graduation, frequent moves, or small children that must be cared for during the day.  Regardless of the reason that you dropped out of high school, a GED can help you qualify for a number of scholarships.  


Start by looking for GED scholarships at your local community college.  Some of these scholarships may favor students who attended GED training classes at the college, so read the guidelines carefully.  If you don't see any GED award packages on your school's website, talk to a counselor or academic advisor.  They may be able to point you in the right direction.   

Large state colleges and universities are another option for financial aid packages for GED recipients.  Southeast Missouri State awards up to 20 scholarships each year to students with a GED.  Kaskaskia College offers a very impressive scholarship package for GED holders: 48 free credit hours.  That's definitely one of the best you'll find. 

You can also try talking to your employer about GED scholarships and tuition reimbursement, especially if you didn't obtain your GED until after you were hired.  Explain that a college education will benefit both you and the company.  Some employers will agree.

Regardless of where you find your GED scholarship package, give yourself a pat on the back.  You've earned it. 


What’s Wrong with Community College?

"Is it like comparing brand name to generic?"

I had big plans of going big time in a university.  I had it all figured out - I was going to go to the nation's top veterinary medicine school and spend my life taking care of animals.  Somehow, along the way, this vision faded a bit and I found myself sitting down at the local community college for my basic classes.

Years later, I never did get that degree or head to university, and I find myself wondering, did I really miss anything?  Sure, there is much I missed out on socially by not attending university, but do you really learn any less at community college?  Is the quality of education that different?

I sure like the price tag a whole lot better, and as I look forward to the possibility of my own brood of children attending college, affordability comes to mind as one of the priorities.  So would I really be doing them a disservice by putting them through community college for the basics?

I don't know how you compare the two.  Is it like comparing brand name to generic?  I never really understood the difference there, either.  Take clothes, for example.  No matter what the label says, they will all cover my body, provide warmth and for the most part, fashion as well.  So why do I have to feel obligated to spend ten times the amount of "common" clothes to get a fancy tag?

I guess I'm asking all of you who are or have attended university.  What's the big deal about going to community college?

Hazing Myths Debunked

The Dangers of Hazing


When I went to college, one of the highlights of my time there was the news that members of a fraternity at a rival college had been caught in a hazing incident involving nudity, sheep, and peanut butter. While the hazing incident resulted in the closure of that house on campus and seemed funnier than anything else, other hazing incidents on college and even high school campuses are less funny. The Washington Post just ran a feature describing some of the harmful effects of hazing and the myths associated with hazing in schools. 


Most of the myths underscore the truthful seriousness of hazing on college campuses and beyond. 


The first myth is that hazing is just a problem among campus Greeks. Many athletic teams, campus groups, and even bands are known to have had serious hazing incidents adversely affect their students. 


The second myth about hazing is that it isn’t serious.This isn’t true; hazing incidents can cause psychological and sometimes physical damage to those who have suffered from them. Hazing is more than practical jokes gone bad. In addition, a great deal of planning usually goes into the hazing acts. 


The third myth about hazing is that if there isn’t malice involved, it’s ok. It’s not ok. Even if the intention isn’t to hurt the person or people being hazed, the person still may be harmed. 


The fourth myth about hazing is that hazing encourages respect and discipline. This is simply not the case; there are definitely easier, kinder ways to encourage respect and discipline which don’t result from someone living in fear and terror of the hazers. 



The fifth myth regards the legality regarding hazing. Some people believe that if the participant agrees to take part in the hazing that the hazing is legal, even if criminal activity occurs during the hazing. This is not true. 


The last hazing myth is that it’s tricky to determine what is and is not hazing; this is not the truth. Some litmus tests to determine whether an incident was truthfully hazing involve answering questions about whether or not there was alcohol involved, whether or not the incident would be painful to admit to a parent or authority figure, and how the person felt during and after the incident.