Friday, May 08, 2009

Dust Bunnies of the Mind

- Blackboard is buying Angel.  As soon as we got the news, we made an appointment to meet with some counterparts who use Moodle or Sakai.  Blackboard has been colossally unhelpful in its upgrade cycle -- Angel had been one of the more viable alternatives.  Now, not.  I anticipate a sharp spike in the use of open source platforms.
- Most mornings, my route to work involves a stretch of highway with traffic lights, shops, and hotels with varying levels of seediness.  One morning earlier this week, I saw a school bus stop at one of the relatively cheap hotels, and a boy about TB's age climb on.  I had never seen that before.  I admit not knowing the back story, but it's probably not good.
- Note to statewide consortia, initiatives, task forces, projects, etc.: Please, please, please stop scheduling statewide all-day workshops during final exams.  Thank you.
- I think "wrongitude" should be a word.  "I have not yet begun to explore the depths of your wrongitude."  "Your proposal's wrongitude is breathtaking."  "Wrongness" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
- Three weeks ago, the stimulus looked like it would give us two years to restructure.  Two weeks ago, it looked like it would give us one year.  Last week, it looked like two years again.  This week, even one year is in question.  I'm getting budgetary vertigo, and I'm not alone.  It's hard to live up to 'transparency' when things change this quickly, and for reasons entirely outside your control.  At this point, I just want a solid number for next year, even if it's bad.  It's getting impossible to keep postponing decisions.

- Apparently, NBC is planning a situation comedy this Fall featuring Chevy Chase, among others, leading a merry band of losers as they make their way through community college.

I'll just admit to being conflicted about this.

I'll start with the easy snark, just to clear my throat. NBC? Chevy Chase? I give it three weeks, tops. Anyone who saw Chevy's late night talk show in the 90's – all three of us, basically – won't be expecting much. Will it rock America the way Cops and Robbersons did? History will decide.

Okay, that's done.

Many years ago, Judd Apatow did a criminally underappreciated series called Undeclared, which was sort of Freaks-and-Geeks-Go-to-College. It was wonderful, it was accurate, it was ignored. (The same was true of Freaks and Geeks, which was one of my favorite shows ever.) Part of what made Undeclared great was that it didn't fall into the usual storylines of either Animal House or Dead Poets Society. (For the record, I prefer Animal House. “This is no time for thinking!” is one of the great lines of cinema, for my money, and Belushi's eyebrows still make me laugh.) Instead of either 'college is wanton debauchery' or 'heroic teacher saves souls,' it captured the combination of humanity and banality that actually exists on most campuses. Of course, dorm life is still a minority experience, and the show never really found an audience.

It's much more common to set tv shows in high school than in college, probably in part because high school is a much more common experience. If community colleges are starting to get familiar enough that a network is willing to gamble a mass audience, I see that as good.

The part about 'losers' gives me pause, but it's hard to make comedy about winners. And I have to assume that the losers won't be too far gone, since they have to be sympathetic enough for advertisers to tolerate, and successful enough that we could imagine them not immediately flunking out.

If anything, this is probably the time to get the requisite smartass comments out of the way, so we can take the high road when it goes on the air. The world really doesn't need another “would you marry a chinchilla?” reality show, nor does it need the umpteenth Gritty Police Drama. A show that portrays community colleges as flawed but basically good, full of flawed but basically good people gradually getting their stuff together, isn't such a bad idea. And if we retreat into the usual Stuffy Professor tut-tutting, we'll only confirm a really tenacious and unhelpful stereotype of higher education.