The national winter bird count is coming up soon, in which I will be participating from the comfort of my panoramic bedroom window, with its view of the feeders in my yard. My most common visitors this winter have been goldfinches & chickadees in large numbers, along with quite a few juncos and jays and woodpeckers (downey & hairy); there have also been a pair of starlings hanging around, as well as some nuthatches. I’ve noticed a group of crows down by the river, but they have kept their distance. A couple of days ago I saw a solitary grosbeak, though I’ve seen a group of them up the road when we walk the dogs — we had all kinds of grosbeaks last winter.
At the end of each semester, our departmental majors present the work they have done in their required research seminar. The subjects are wide-ranging because we are an interdisciplinary department the focus is on research methodology rather than subject matter. Earlier this week I attended this semester’s presentations. I had to leave a bit early, so I did not get to see every student present, but I was struck by something I had not noticed in previous semesters: Our students tend to speak almost exclusively in their research from the discourses of power. They are unable to distinguish the normative claims embedded in supposedly descriptive language. One student, a Business double major, presented her research on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), taking employers’ objections to provisions of the law as natural and just while dismissing provisions that allowed employees flexibility in managing medical leaves as “difficult to keep track of.” Another began her presentation of South Korean business conglomerates with a quotation from a journalist that contained the phrase “the more orderly Western mind” & though that phrase was mostly window-dressing, she took the behavior of the paternalistic, hierarchical, authoritarian business structures of the chaebols as natural, at least for Korea. It is this assumption of the naturalness of existing orders & systems that really struck me this time around. We need to do a better job teaching critical thinking in the research seminar.