Teaching Evaluations

by Harry on December 19, 2004

I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me, but here goes. It’s teaching evaluation season again. Students fill out forms at the end of class rating their teachers on a range of qualities, and we carefully tot up the numbers (or rather, some computer does). I think this is nice for the students, and, so that I get something useful out of it, I ask them specifically to comment on issues concerning teaching style and topics in the course (I had one topic in my contemporary moral issues course this term that I definitely thought didn’t work, and was interested to see if they agreed). My department prides itself on maintaining reasonable teaching standards, and we take the evaluations pretty seriously when it comes to merit raises. I should preface these negative comments by saying there is no sour grapes here: my evaluations tend to be good, in fact better than I think I deserve and better than any other mechanism of evaluation would produce for me. Here are some observations.

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More on hate speech and incitement

by Chris Bertram on December 19, 2004

We all got worked up about the British governmen’t proposed law on incitement to religious hatred. But it isn’t the only thing going on in the world of free speech and censorship. Last night “hundreds of Sikhs in Birmingham protested outside a theatre”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/4107437.stm (and a few tried to storm the building) that was staging a play depicting scened of sexual abuse inside a Sikh temple. And the United States “has added Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4106595.stm to its list of terrorist organizations on the grounds that its broadcasts incite violence. Al-Manar has also been taken off the air in France. “Reports of the French decision”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,11882,1373845,00.html give some detail both of Al-Manar’s offensive content and of the grounds of French action:

bq. A guest on a live discussion programme said there were Zionist attempts to spread Aids and other diseases to Arabs. On December 2, the station accused Israel of “an unprecedented campaign” to stop it revealing to European viewers “the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel”.

bq. The French broadcasting authority, CSA, said in a letter to al-Manar that Israel had never been held responsible for crimes against humanity by an international judicial body. Al-Manar’s words, it said, could constitute an incitement to hatred or violence on grounds of religion or nationality.

[Note: I’m leaving comments open, but discussion should focus on how these cases bear on principles governing hate speech. I’ll delete any comments which veer off into generalised comment on Israel-Palestine etc.]

Quicksilver questions

by John Q on December 19, 2004

I just finished “Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, and I have to admit bafflement.

It’s great fun, with a great evocation of the period and plenty of sly digs at the modern reader (I liked the Duke of Monmouth as the Dan Quayle of the 1685 campaign). At the same time, I can’t help feeling I’ve completely missed the point here.

The style is that of fantasy, but the novel seems to be entirely historically accurate[1] apart from the fact that the members of the Cabal have been replaced by new characters with the same acronym, some of whom play a minor role in the story, and that one of the key characters comes from the island of Qwghlm[2], apparently a British possession.

I don’t know exactly what gives here: maybe a reader can point me in the right direction. A lot of readers had much the same reaction to “Jonathan Strange which I loved, so I’m open to the idea that there’s more here than I’ve seen so far.

There’s a whole Metaweb (a type of wiki apparently) about all this, which may be worth exploring.

fn1. I don’t claim to be an expert on 17th century history. There may be some other things I’ve missed.

fn2. Given my Manx heritage, the idea that Qwghlm is the Isle of Man seems appealing. Certainly the name has a certain resonance, though its disemvowellment makes it hard to interpret.