Total B.S.: The Resurrection

whyprof
Careercast.com, joining the multitudes with an unnatural fixation on professor-bashing, has declared “University Professor” to be the least stressful career because of “high growth opportunities, low health risks and substantial pay.” High-level corporate executive jobs – yes, the ones that gobble up bonuses and sail away in golden parachutes, even when they lure both their companies and taxpayers into economic netherworlds  – were for some reason declared among the most stressful.

As with David C. Levy’s editorial claiming that faculty at my college are underworked and overpaid based on spurious information, the Careercast article is notable both for for its disconnection from reality and the Schadenfreude with which it is forwarded by people with much cushier careers. I love my job, and I’m not going to argue that it belongs on the Top 10 most-stressful-jobs list, but déjà vu moments are becoming more common than apocalypse predictions. Once again, the good writers have based their claims on faulty assumptions:

  1. Professors have high pay.  For support, Careercast cited the (yes, dizzying) compensation of faculty from Harvard, University of Chicago, and UCLA, ignoring the fact that most full time faculty at middle-tier institutions earn about half this amount and full time faculty at two year colleges earn about a third of this amount, even using the mysteriously inflated data in the study. My own institution, Montgomery College, only includes salaries of full time faculty and doesn’t list adjunct salaries, which are measly.
  2. Faculty jobs are multiplying. Careercast misleadingly declares, “To maintain the quality of education while meeting the increased demand, universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professorial positions by 2020.” The article briefly mentions that competition is fierce for full time faculty positions (at MC, we usually receive at least 100-150 applicants for every opening) and cites the “new emphasis” on adjunct positions. However, most of the growth in faculty hiring has been in low-paid adjunct positions, with a good proportion of full time hiring to replace retiring faculty who were hired during community colleges’ hiring heydays in the 1970s.
  3. The job has few physical risks. I don’t have any official statistics, but with the massive teaching loads at institutions below the top tier of colleges and universities, overuse injuries and stress-related illnesses (like migraines) are rampant among faculty teaching more than 100 students a term. I’m not talking whining about headaches, but instead injuries that have interfered with work and have needed ongoing medical attention. We’re not saving lives here, but my neck, wrist, and shoulders are never going to be normal again, and huge numbers of my colleagues say the same thing. (Also, if the wacky proposals to require guns in classrooms are successful, the lethality of the job could increase quickly.)

Careercast considered these other factors in calculating stress levels, although they didn’t provide scores for each category:

  • Travel. Most of my long-distance travel is nominally optional, but necessary to stay current in my field. My short-distance travel is almost always reasonable – but if you’d asked me when I was an adjunct driving 500+ miles a week to different campuses, you would get a much different answer.
  • Deadlines. As far as I can tell, our faculty lives are one big calendar of deadlines – for conference proposals, articles, reviews, committee work, collaborations, class preparation. Most notably, courseload directly determines the amount of deadline pressure to respond to student work. A professor who assigns 25 pages of writing during a semester to 125 students is going to grade more than 3000 pages of writing in a semester, not counting homework.
  • Working in the public eye. Even when the public eye is mostly closed – as for this latest article – our work is scrutinized. Public speaking is the #1 most common phobia, and when faculty step in front of a classroom, scrutinized by dozens of skeptical students and sometimes by their helicopter parents, it feels very, very public…witness the persistence of teaching nightmares.
  • Environmental conditions. Environmental risks vary by discipline, ranging from picking up illnesses students pick up from their children to dealing with toxic chemicals and toxic people.
  • Hazards encountered. We’re not exactly on the front lines, but considering that most of the mass shootings have involved students and colleges in some way and that we’re “first responders” for a variety of situations, I wouldn’t say our jobs are hazard free.
  • Own life at risk. Thankfully, our lives are usually not at risk, but occasionally domestic violence, gang violence, or mental instability can create some dangerous situations. These are handled confidentially so I don’t have statistics, but at my own college several threatening situations arise at campuses each semester.
  • Life of another at risk. When I worked in advertising, I can say with absolute confidence that nobody ever came to me afraid that she would be killed by a spouse or ex-spouse, that he or she was about to attempt suicide, that he had nothing to eat, that her parents had kicked her out, or that an addiction made him a danger to himself. Now that I am a professor, these situations come up several times a semester, and once in a while I’ve even probably had a small role in saving a handful of lives. That doesn’t even count the kinds of lifesaving that happens when the support of a faculty member helps a student escape a soul-killing future, which is what I consider to be a good-sized chunk of my job.
  • Meeting the public. What is it that Careercast thinks we do at the start of every semester?

As I said, I am certainly not arguing that my job is the most stressful, and in fact, because my work is so satisfying, the stress doesn’t seem to matter as much as it would in a job that was empty of social value. On the other hand, knowing that I am doing something important in a population whose last best hope is often education carries its own sort of stress, because every day I must weigh my own needs against the needs of others and balance all sorts of competing projects that represent competing values.

It is interesting to me that level of responsibility, amount of prioritizing necessary to get the job done, and public bias (few have knowledge of what we do, but everyone has an opinion about it) weren’t considered in the criteria, since they’re known stress factors, but I’m not a pollster, so whatever. As I tell my students, I am privileged to have the best job in the world. It’s just not the best job in the world for the reasons some people think.

Not with a Whimper but a Bang

candlesThis is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Something about the slaughter of twenty first graders and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut makes me want to state the obvious rather than striving for eloquence. The dead deserve eloquence, but they will be honored more by a thoughtful response to our country’s dysfunctional relationship with guns.

Massacres of innocents with semiautomatic weapons have become so frequent that recent articles on the Sandy Hook shooting haven’t even had space for them all in their ledes. Grisly greatest hits like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, and Aurora usually get a mention, but so far there have been eight mass shootings in 2012, not including a bow and arrow attack at Casper College in Wyoming last week or a man who opened fire this morning at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Also left off most lists of past shootings are Kip Kinkel, a depressed 15 year-old who killed his parents and two classmates and wounded 22 others in Springfield, Oregon in 1998 – yes, before Columbine – whose story was featured in Frontline but has been all but lost in the crowd of other shooters.

An objective observer might conclude that we have a problem.

It’s not a some-people-are-evil problem, a constitutional problem, or even a mental health system problem. It’s a gun problem.

How many times have you heard that the mass murderer of the moment was “always polite,” “perfectly normal,” or “doing well”? Kinkel’s parents were dimly aware of his psychiatric problems and tried to help him; Seung-Hui Cho and Jared Lee Loughner had attracted the attention of school officials who were unable to compel treatment; James Eagan Holmes had been seeing a psychiatrist. In most cases, the guns used in mass shootings were legally obtained. The overwhelming majority of people suffering from mental illness are not dangerous and never will be. However, the overwhelming majority of people, period, are clueless about what is going on with other people, period; and those who are not clueless are often reluctant to intervene, unsure of how to intervene, or helpless to intervene.

Meanwhile, shots continue to be fired. Firearms in the home significantly increase the risk of death from domestic violence, crime, suicide, and accidents. Gun-rights advocates rightly say that gun owners who are careful, properly trained, and law-abiding can safely use guns and that Second Amendment rights trump the risks. But since when are humans consistent about being careful, properly trained, and law abiding? There are more than 17,000 car accidents per day in the U.S. with a crash-related death, on average, every 13 minutes.

With cars, though, the driver who makes the mistake is roughly at as much risk as the other drivers and passengers involved, which theoretically acts as a counterbalance to carelessness and stupidity. Not so with guns. Also, cars have keys, meaning that it is difficult for anyone but the lawful owner to use them. Again, not the case with guns. In a perfect world, only people kill people, and on purpose. But our world, the real one with routine violence and accidental death, is filled with rampant imperfection and frequent errors in judgment. It’s nice to think that only responsible people will use guns, or that these good citizens can somehow deter killers who have abandoned civility or reason, but reality is not on the side of idealism.

The gun control topic has come up regularly in my classes since I started teaching. At first, I adamantly opposed all guns in all circumstances, and I regarded the fiery psyches of my gun-owning students with suspicion. From talking with students, though, I realized that in cities, guns are used overwhelmingly for violence, but that in rural areas, they were necessary for protecting and euthanizing livestock and sometimes for defending humans against large predators. When I moved to DC and commuted on a highway to work, seeing so many deer disemboweled by cars even made me sympathetic to hunting: Which is more cruel, a clean shot or a painful and terrifying evisceration by accident?

But semiautomatic weapons? Seriously? In Newtown, the six- and seven-year-olds were shot multiple times, presumably because the guns Adam Lanza used continued to fire after the children were hit. In this as in so many other things, the bullets are speeding towards their victims much more rapidly than a shooter can think.

We’ve had almost fourteen years to think about Columbine, though, and as the gratuitous death toll has mounted, the political environment has become more hostile to gun control. So many families will go through the holidays missing loved ones who died for no reason – or, rather, who died because skewed notions of self-defense and the right to hunt have overshadowed the reality of the world we live in, in which the killers right in front of us are far more dangerous than the ones from which we imagine guns will protect us.

Reality is on the side of reinstating the ban on semiautomatic weapons, keeping guns out of schools and other public places, requiring robust background checks and review of owners’ continued ability to use guns responsibly (we do it for driver’s licenses!), and considering possession of lethal weapons as a factor in judging whether a mentally ill patient is a danger to him/herself or others.

According to the ancient Mayans (or at least catastrophizers crediting the ancient Mayans), the world is supposed to end on 12/21/12. If the world really ends, I may die regretting my blithe attitude – another day, another apocalypse that hasn’t materialized – but really I’ve hardly given the date much more airtime than it takes to roll my eyes.

In the case of guns, on the other hand, it’s time to stop pretending that we can do nothing to prevent another apocalypse like the many others that have unfolded in the past year. For every family dealing with the aftermath of the dozens of shootings that have cumulatively caused hundreds of avoidable murders, the apocalypse has already come and gone – and any of the first graders who were killed at Sandy Hook, if they had lived, could have told the rest of us what we should do to stop the next one.

The Spectre of Sandy

Hurricane Sandy’s wind field as of 6 p.m. Sunday evening (Brian McNoldy), via Capital Weather Gang

On Friday, I shared a climate change case study with my transfer composition class, simulating what would happen in an eight-foot storm surge in New York City. The case study came from a four-day workshop at Dickinson College a couple of years ago, Cooling the Curriculum, which aimed to help liberal arts faculty integrate climate science into their courses in meaningful ways.

The storm surge simulation had been on the syllabus since last summer, but it ended up coinciding with the approach of Hurricane Sandy, which by then had already killed 29 people en route to the U.S. East Coast. While my students picked apart the data in the case study and discussed what it meant in an emergency, I pulled up the New York Times on the computer projector to show students how New York City planned to respond to Sandy. As of the middle of class, planners seemed nonchalant, saying they had no plans for subway closures and that they anticipated the storm would be much less severe than Irene.

Two nights later, the simulation has become a horrifying reality, with massive evacuations and citywide closures. For a while, it seemed like Washington, D.C., where I live, would not need to take such drastic measures, but by dusk, the National Weather Service had predicted hurricane-force winds, feet of snow to the West, and probable flooding of the Chesapeake and Potomac. Then the DC Metro, too, announced closures beginning at midnight; the rain totals shot up to a possible ten inches, and the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blogged that people shouldn’t venture outside after tomorrow afternoon because of the risk of falling trees and flying debris. Almost as alarmingly, I received robo-calls from the power company and Comcast, plus emails from a credit card company, warning of extended outages and waiving fees, respectively. (Few things are as scary as a credit card company having a fit of generosity.) We were bombarded with messages on how to prepare, along with dire advisories on how to protect pets in hurricanes. I wondered: could a hurricane-force wind lift a small dog?

Suddenly, the storm threat we’d discussed in class seemed starkly real, and the giant lollipop dwarfing the coastline looked nightmarish and psychedelic. Until I moved to DC, I have always lived in earthquake country – California, and then Seattle (the quake that damaged the Washington Monument and National Cathedral notwithstanding) – where catastrophe could strike without warning, which spared us the spectre of watching it approach.

To the many, many friends, students, colleagues, and family members I know who will be impacted by this storm: I am scared with you and for you. May we all find shelter, and may we all emerge from it safely.

Bad Books Don’t Get Banned

Image

Today marks the last day of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, which, according to the website, “celebrat[es] the freedom to read.” The ALA site makes a distinction between challenged (someone tried to get a book removed from a curriculum or library) and banned (the petition for removal was successful in at least one place) and explains that the most common reasons for censorship are sexual content, explicit language, and “unsuitab[ility] to any age group.”

The ALA’s list for 2010-11 includes a wide range of books, from Sherman Alexie’s devastating National Book Award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to Anne Frank’s classic Diary of a Young Girl. The list also includes Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, banned in a Pennsylvania town for supposedly promoting socialist ideas; and a book about pit bulls and guard dogs, banned in Logan, Australia, because the breeds themselves are prohibited, and, in true Stalinesque spirit, readers should not be allowed to learn anything about them.

Well, there is someone for everything. It is marvelous to live in a country where some people value the 2nd amendment more than the first, and where some people are more afraid of libraries than they are of semi-automatic weapons. One thing I’ve noticed about the banned book list, though: I’ve never read a book that made the list and wasn’t well-written. (Full disclosure: There are plenty of books I haven’t read from the list.) So-called “classics” are popular targets, because they’re assigned in school, although last year someone challenged Kate Chopin’s perennially banned book The Awakening, not because it contains an unremorseful portrait of infidelity or a mother’s abandonment of her children, but because the cover of the book showed a woman with a little too much cleavage.

However, I’ve observed that books so poorly written that I want to hurl them across the room never seem to make it to the banned books list. For example, The Bridges of Madison County, which features a treacly plot involving a photojournalist who swoops into a small town to rescue a woman with no personality from her life of mediocrity, has never been challenged, at least as far as I know. Neither has Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is so historically important and uniquely disturbing, and so filled with clumsily written sentences. Black writers are disproportionately represented in the list of frequently-banned classics, especially considering that novels by women – already barely represented in the so-called “canon” – are only a sliver of the total list.

I can only conclude that if a book isn’t worth reading, it’s not worth banning or challenging. Books that have been challenged, on the other hand, were good enough to be recommended or read by someone who was affected enough to be offended. So many books deemed too challenging for school curricula or bestseller lists are so amply worth reading that I would never want to suggest that the ALA list should be the definitive guide to worthwhile literature.

I will say this, though: If you read something worth banning before next year’s Banned Books Week, I doubt you will regret it.

Survival Guide for the U.S. Election Season

As a U.S. citizen, I am fortunate to live in a country in which gargantuan ethical and civic questions can be decided by an election. According to the U.S. Census, 71% of eligible citizens are registered to vote, and only 57% of the voting-age population voted for president in the 2008 elections. Only about a quarter of eligible voters in the age range of most of my students vote, which means that each voter under 30 gets to make decisions for three other students.

In each election cycle in my 10+ years of teaching, I have urged my students to vote. Early on, I tried to cultivate a sense of civic responsibility, and they countered with arguments that the candidates were not substantially different, that all politicians lie, that they (the students) felt they were not informed enough about issues to give an opinion at the polls, that their votes wouldn’t matter to the outcome, and that no candidate’s point of view represented their own.

And, these days, in each election cycle I have argued that the simple act of voting – even if their candidates and initiatives lose – makes it more likely that politicians will pay attention to the needs of their demographic. About 70% of older voters cast ballots, which can’t possibly be unrelated to the way social supports (such as they are) play out. Why, I ask my students, do you think tuition is skyrocketing, childcare is basically unaffordable, and student loans enrich the bankers and impoverish underemployed college graduates? Why aren’t there more jobs for young people just entering the workforce? If you were a politician, I go on, why would you spend your time on legislation to help people your age when people four times your age are almost three times as likely to vote?

Usually, at this point, I can look up and see a room full of mildly shocked eyes. I like to tell myself that I have made a compelling argument, and I never see anyone sleeping or text messaging for this particular speech, but I have never once had a single student tell me that I convinced her to vote, either, so the shock must be that it’s the middle of the semester and they have only just realized their professor sometimes makes stuff up.

Complaining, on the other hand, is a truly participatory American process. I am not one of those people who goes around telling non-voters that they have no right to complain. First, I sincerely believe that everyone has a right to complain; but second – and more to the point – getting people to stop complaining is like getting DC cars to stop running through crosswalks: If you try to stop them, every absolutely-right molecule in your body is still going to get obliterated by the vehicle whose steering wheel drivers can feel in their hands.

I don’t know whether it’s a function of maturity (or was that a euphemism for cynicism?), the parting of the red sea from the blue sea in American politics, or exasperation with a political system that is far to the right of my own beliefs, but I have also stopped enjoying conversations about politics. All such conversations end exactly like my impassioned pleas to get my students to vote – that is to say, with a high probability that everyone’s minds will be just as unmoved as before I used up all that oxygen.

Political conversations have become a bore, because they have such limited possible outcomes:

  1. You express outrage to people who are outraged about the exact same things…and nobody’s mind changes. (1.a. is that you offer new facts to add to someone’s pre-existing outrage.)
  2. You express your fabulously well-thought-out opinion to someone with whom you disagree, you argue, and, if you’re particularly tactless or impassioned, you discover you can’t talk about politics…and nobody’s mind changes. (2.a. is that you decide you are so horrified by the other person’s politics that you will never speak to each other again, at least until the election is over. 2.b. is that you are secretly horrified that you know and like someone who would have opinions you think should have gone the way of bloodletting as a cure for illness.)
  3. You listen while someone passionately tells you to believe something you already believe, vote in a way you will already vote, or regard the other side as stupid and crazy.
  4. You listen while someone passionately tells you to believe something you are not going to believe anyway, and you realize the other side is stupid and crazy.
  5. The person who disagrees with you makes good points, but you still disagree.
  6. You express your not-so-well-thought-out opinion and refine it so that you gain a better understanding of what you believe. (In my opinion, this is the only good reason to make a political argument these days.)
  7. The dream that you might convince someone who disagrees with you makes you go on and on and on and on and on and on about what you believe.

I have several friends who are both political junkies and chain smokers. My unscientific estimate is that a political conversation results in changing someone’s mind about as often as a conversation about smoking convinces a smoker to quit. It’s not impossible, but you might see a unicorn first.

To me, the only realistic option is 8: You already know what you believe and accept that you can’t convince anyone, so you don’t bother talking about politics.

But, someone will argue, can’t you sway someone who is undecided to take your side?

Um, no. Not really. If someone has trouble choosing between Obama and a presidential candidate who believes that only some people deserve food and healthcare; that science and history should conform to one’s ideology; that some pigs are more equal than others; that Atlas Shrugged should replace the Bill of Rights; that 47% of Americans who are retired, raising kids, or going to college are freeloaders; that government control is bad except when it pertains to women’s bodies; and that it’s refreshingly resourceful to strap the family dog to the roof of the car so the luggage can ride inside, there’s not a whole lot to talk about.

In other words, shut up and vote.

The Million Meeting March

On the first day of class, I always try to avoid reading through the syllabus. One reason is that students, anticipating a day of tedium, sometimes skip the first day and miss hearing the course requirements. The main reason, though, is that I don’t want to start the semester with a day of tedium.

For some reason, however, for faculty the academic year generally starts with several days of tedium, most of which have no relevance to the things that excite us about teaching. At the start of the year, what I find most invigorating are discussions of pedagogy, innovative assignments, and shared insights from a summer of reflection; but where we spend most of our time is sitting in large halls listening to announcement after announcement and wishing we were back in the classroom.

In my opinion, the just-kill-me-now endless rounds of meetings are a wasted opportunity. When we teach a course, we have course outcomes and activities that support these outcomes. The more interactive and active the classroom activities are, the more likely participants will meet the outcomes. When we go to conferences, we have specific disciplinary or pedagogical issues and problems that the presentations address. In most of the everyone-must-go meetings, the intended outcomes are not clear, the activities are not tied to student success and don’t actively involve participants, and the speakers generally repeat information that has already been delivered via email, at other meetings, and even within the same meeting.

I have heard staff complain that the meeting content is too academic, and faculty routinely complain that the meetings rob us of valuable start-of-semester prep time. Administrators, as far as I can tell, are not free to give their opinions. I will be honest: I am writing this blog entry from an auditorium in a meeting that has already gone on nearly two hours and shows no sign of ending. The highlights were the delightful acceptance speeches for the staff and faculty excellence awards – but they didn’t come up in the agenda until well after the meeting was scheduled to end.

While we’re sitting in here, our college wrestles with a reorganization, an upcoming accreditation review, budget crises, public pressure to demonstrate that our students are learning, and sometimes-flailing efforts to bolster student retention, persistence, and completion. As of this writing, midway through the week, I have already attended more than 12 hours of meetings, with at least six more hours to come before the end of the week. The clock is ticking, and my fingernails and toenails are turning blue.

As I have said more than once, I am blessed to work at a college where everyone – faculty, staff, and administration – are talented, intelligent, innovative, collegial, and dedicated to improving the lives of our students. So why are we wasting our own time?

The Teacher’s Pet

After about twenty years of thinking about it and ten years of talking about it, I finally adopted a dog from Washington Animal Rescue League, which looks and acts like a different species than a typical animal shelter. Because I’ve had cats for my entire adulthood, people’s reactions have ranged from outrage (“But I thought you were a cat person!”) to misty idealism (“Having a dog will completely change your life”) to tears (mine, anyway).

As I said many times before I ever adopted a dog, I am an animal person who (up until now) has had a cat lifestyle. Every creature with four legs and fur has been at risk of adoption since the day I was born. My life has definitely changed, but not in the unconditional-love-at-last sense, since the five different cats I’ve had in my lifetime have all done their solicitous best to defy every myth of feline independence.

For some reason, people also feel compelled to give commentary on my dog’s name, Kerfuffle. About a third of the people who hear it think it’s the best name ever, a third have no idea what “Kerfuffle” means and say something along the lines of, “That’s a mouthful!” and the rest suggest that the name has too many syllables. “Cockapoo” also has three syllables, so I’m not sure what the problem is. Secretly, I call him Kerfuffle Cappuccino, Kerfuffle Puffle, Kerfuffleupagus, or often, just “Fuff.”

People also feel compelled to opine on Kerfuffle or me, either directly or obliquely. One elderly walker of two chubby Shih Tzu mixes told him sternly and insistently, “Your tail should be wagging!” When I tried to quiet Kerfuffle when we were at the dog park with dogs five times his size, another owner said, “Oh, let him bark!” I’ve noticed, though, that nothing breaks up a conversation like a barking dog. Some of the advice, like other owners’ informal reviews of dogwalkers and doggie daycares and groomers, is welcome and useful. Most of the owners are responsible and loving towards their dogs. One of my favorite dogs in the neighborhood, though, scared Kerfuffle with a rough invitation to play, and other large dog owners seem mystified that Kerfuffle might feel a little hesitant around the gigantic Cerberuses strutting through the streets.

It’s not at all that I don’t need advice, since my transition to dog owner – while far from tempestuous – has not been entirely smooth. Kerfuffle arrived with an ear infection, a cold that needed antibiotics a few days after he came home, separation anxiety, and a predilection for stealing cat toys and eating paper products. One of the first things he ate was a rough draft of a story, and it occurred to me that being an English professor and writer with a paper-eating dog might eventually pose some problems. Next, he started what I learned was “resource guarding” (a common issue in which dogs defend their food and toys), snapped at the vet when she tried to look inside his ears, began barking at new people in the building hallways, chased my cats, refereed their tumbling play with more barking, and developed a habit of barking at a certain corner in the neighborhood where dogs and owners tend to congregate. At times I feel like I have a misbehaving toddler at the end of the leash!

You would think that someone who can teach students to write 10-page essays or love Hamlet would be able to train a 17-pound cockapoo. I grew up around family dogs, rode and helped out with horses, and managed to teach my cats some house rules. Kerfuffle, for his part, seems sweet-natured and eager to please, and I’m fairly sure that someone put a lot of effort into training him, based on his generally excellent leash manners and apparent prior knowledge of “Stay.” A couple of years ago, I read David Wroblewski’s novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and was absolutely captivated (among other things) by the information on dog training and psychology embedded in the book. I was determined to have a happy, well-behaved dog, I felt able to be clear and consistent, and I understood that most dogs feel most secure when their owners provide them with a sense of purpose.

Yeah, right. Can you hear Anubis snorting at me from where you’re sitting? There is something uniquely humbling about having the best of intentions and yet still managing to confuse a generally willing, intelligent dog. So far, Kerfuffle has learned (or maybe relearned) to sit, sit-stay, stop at street corners instead of rushing out into traffic, not jump on me or the furniture (I would love to have him up there, but aboveground is cat country), not chase the cats, release his toys, quit begging for human food, and start walking on the leash when I say “Let’s go.” From Kerfuffle and the many people I have consulted about Kerfuffle, I have learned that I am not quick or gushy enough with praise, that forgetting to pick up a dog dish when you have cats is just asking for trouble, that raw honey is a good treatment for itchy skin (I haven’t tried that one yet), that walking a couple of hours a day is good for both dogs and humans, that I’m not as consistent as I think I am, that to teach a dog to stop barking you should first teach him “Speak,” and that training with positive reinforcement requires my constant, focused attention.

Back to school, indeed.