Ed School TnT 2: Teaching Aether

Keeping with the apparent Minecraft theme from last post, Aether is a fun Minecraft mod.

[Part 2 of the Ed School Trials and Trivialities series, beginning here.]

As an undergraduate, I transferred late (by the pure chance of convenient scheduling) into what became one of my favorite courses, a general education seminar on the history of cosmology from the ancient Greeks to modern astrophysicists. The professor, an astronomer who specialized in galaxy formation, was a bit of a sour oddball, the opposite of the sort of cheerful, self-consciously nerdy types who like to appear on public-broadcast science programs. No, he told us sophomores eager to learn (to paraphrase a distant memory): every theory we cover in this course is wrong, Aristotle as much as Einstein.

I think he wanted to act as a provocateur – for example, he spoke highly of the accuracy of epicycles, the much-maligned medieval method for calculating the movement of planetary bodies, before demolishing them for lack of parsimony when we reached Kepler – so I don’t know how much he believed his classroom persona. But pedantically, he had a point: as a committed empiricist who rated theories less on their strict truth than their predictive power, he embraced a scientific ethic similar to that expressed in the statistical aphorism “all models are wrong, some are useful.”

Well, and some are just useless.

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Ed School TnT 1: Social Study Method

I am very angry.

I’ve been away from this blog for months, first because I started graduate studies in education, second because I became very sick after a minor surgery (not COVID!), and third because I had to resume my teacher training.

However, notice in the previous sentence that I switched from the aspirational ideal of “graduate studies” to the duller term “teacher training.” I have lost all respect for my professors and program.

Though I am supposedly in a well-ranked graduate program (complete with 500-level credits!) designed to help people with bachelor degrees acquire a teaching certification, I sometimes feel like I’m back in grade school: we have weekly journaling activities, pause class for 10 minute “mental health checks” during one-hour sessions, and – this is no joke – listen to professors read aloud from the textbook “because kids like [it].” Assignments have included watching movies, playing online quiz games, and making Instagram posts (!!!) instead of writing essays.

I am not a child; at my most restrained, I would describe much of the program as an insulting waste of time completely disconnected from the practical, adult realities of teaching. Sometimes I wonder why I should even listen: having worked three years as an assistant teacher, I have more primary and secondary classroom experience than some of my professors, experts in the sociology of education rather than education itself. At this point, I am only sticking through it to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements of a teaching certification and out of a sunk-cost mindset that it’s too late to get a refund. Maybe then I reveal my biases too soon: at its worst, the program sometimes even makes me physically, viscerally angry. I am not a fair source. But really, why should I be? I’m spending thousands of dollars to make an Instagram post? UGHHH!!!

It’s infuriating.

So, I am starting an irregular series on this blog to record my most frustrating experiences: Ed School TnT (trials and trivialities), so titled because

1) it is a real trial. For the first time in my life, I hate class and dread going to school, even though it has moved online due to the pandemic. I do things I would have scolded myself for as an undergraduate: texting in class, skipping readings, and dashing off assignments without any concern for quality (for one PowerPoint, I left two slides with default “insert text here” labels. I got 100% anyway).


2) it is absurd. The topics covered in my courses are either trivial and obvious (see examples in this post) or repeated so many times as unchallenged mantras that they become so (a future post). I am not learning. But that doesn’t seem to matter – every class is pass-fail or close to it, meaning that no matter how shallow my learning or how poor my output, I pass if I appear to try …though in honesty, I quit trying long ago. With such low standards, and such obvious course content, why should I bother?

For this first post, I want to give some flavor of the trivialities of the program to demonstrate how little practical value my classes offer aspiring teachers. The best place to start, I think, is the most rigorous and difficult course in the program: “Social Studies Methods.” Though, as you maybe already caught in the title, given the low standards, I don’t have much respect for even this “practical” course.

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Blogging a second year in review and… the news

Let’s flip the order of the title first — I’ve given up on the news (or, if you care about blogging and not the news, skip the next 500 words).

On June 8, the political news website Vox published a timeline “of all the ways Trump failed to respond to the coronavirus” and yes, the Trump administration has clearly failed to manage this current pandemic. But what about Vox and the rest of the American news media? Digging through Vox’s archives in January:

January 26: “There are now five confirmed US coronavirus cases. Experts say it’s no cause for alarm

And this well-aged Tweet (since deleted) on January 31, the same day the Department of Health and Human Services declared the virus a public health emergency:

January 31: “Is this going to be a deadly pandemic? No.

I mean, I shouldn’t laugh, but I am. How often do you see irony that strong in the real world?

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Shimeji Simulation is lots of fun

Volume 1 via Amazon.jp

I’ve been reading and translating Shimeji Simulation, the new-ish 4-koma comedy manga from Tsukumizu, the author of (my absolute favorite!) Girl’s Last Tour. It tells the story of Shijima, a mopey former hikikomori with shimeji mushrooms growing from her head as she befriends Majime, another high school girl with a strange head ornament. The manga follows the same existential, pess-optimistic mood and surreal-but-direct art style of Tsukumizu’s previous work, on display right away on page two of chapter one with visual reference to Girl’s Last Tour (the fish!, and later surprises):

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When English-original visual novels read like translated Japanese

I spy ganbatte

I don’t read many visual novels because they’re almost all uh… pretty bad. I’ll occasionally pick up a free or cheap one on Steam because Steam’s awful recommendation algorithm won’t stop suggesting them. But then, they almost always disappoint. They often run the same anime girl archetypes (and it’s almost always girls. Not much otome seems to make it onto Steam), most have weak art (4 original character designs and 5 backgrounds is not a selling point!), and, most of all, so many of them have terrible, terrible writing.

I’m not here to complain or put down the visual novel medium because, again, I only ever really read the free ones put out by hobbyists that take advantage of Steam’s lax store policy. I know that I don’t have a fair sample for careful commentary.

Instead, I just want to observe a personal point of interest: so many English-language visual novels, even those originally written in English, read like translated Japanese. Or in other words, instead of simply borrowing the visual novel medium to produce fresh English-language works, some visual novel writers seem intent on imitating both the tropes and the language of their Japanese inspirations, resulting in a hodgepodge of stodgy prose that doesn’t quite sound Japanese… and doesn’t quite sound fluent English either.

Today I’ll be picking on Kill or Love, a free visual novel on Steam by Andy Church about “obsession, loneliness, and, based on your choices, varying amounts of murder,” not because it’s good or bad but because it has so many examples of such odd pseudo-translated writing (and because it has Yandere, yum yum). I’m not going to pretend to be rigorous or even generous – I’ll just note some of the lines that interested me and give a probable Japanese inspiration. So, let’s start off with a fan-favorite onomatopoeia:

Tch. チェ

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Hentai Nazi …exists.

hentai killed hitler, good MEM. Sorry the lighting is so bad in this screenshot is so bad, but that’s just the game itself.

[Ugh, it’s been a while. Through late February and early March, I was just too busy with work and applications to write. But then the virus hit and I gave up on having any sort of routine, even a leisurely one for this blog. It’s hard to find anything interesting to observe when you’re stuck in a box.]

Steam is a mess. Of course, it’s been a mess for a long time, at least since the now defunct Steam Greenlight voting system permitted a trickle of low quality indie games onto the platform that has since exploded into a torrent of low-effort, low-value shovelware that crowds out higher-quality releases. Steam has recently begun to clean up its worst offenders but, for the most part, it’s still anything goes.

Sooo, bored inside during quarantine, let’s introduce Hentai Nazi, a typical Unity Engine shovelware game that for some reason floated to the top of my Steam recommendations feed. It’s terrible!

But with nothing else to do during this dull coronavirus lockdown, and leeching off my computer for any inch of entertainment, I impulse bought it. And god damn am I going to get my 89 cents of value out of it, even at 55% off. I finished the game itself in less than an hour though so I’ll need to drag out the entertainment for a little while longer…

Let’s write a ~review~

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Passionate Statement

[Uh, I haven’t written for a while. I’m exhausted somewhere between grad school applications and a full-time teaching job that often feels more like playing taskmaster than educator (how does this country function with such poor school discipline?). I’m probably going to need to slow down this site even more. Lately, I come home, eat dinner, and just sleep]

Oh, what to do when procrastinating a graduate school application essay… why, quote a dead French intellectual of course! After all, what better way to demonstrate your academic pretentions? Make it snappy though, I can’t slack off for too long. Nicolas Chamfort wrote in his Maxims:

 “All passions are exaggerated, otherwise they would not be passions” (trans. Hutchison)

Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

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Living in a glass house, ‘Terrace House’ is my nightmare

Via Netflix

[A friend recommended that I watch Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City on Netflix to keep my Japanese listening in good practice with “real” conversation. Except despite that genre label “reality TV,” I doubt that anything I’m seeing is actually like… real. Nooo no no, it’s creepy instead!]

Terrace House: a plain record of six strangers – three men and three women — living together in a nice home with a nice car and no script! Hailed by critics as a gentler form of reality television without the exploitative excesses of American drama farms like The Real Housewives or The Bachelor, Netlfix’s Japanese docu-soap has won praise as unpretentious “real” reality television. Or, to paraphrase a friend, “Yeah, it’s reality TV, but it’s not stupid reality TV.”

Alright, sure, it’s not that stupid. It doesn’t have (much) contrived drama or forced romance or (thank god) any humiliating mini-games. Terrace House matches the blurb — six people just live together and get on with their lives. But oh man, how could anyone call it real either? And “wholesome?” No friend, it terrifies me! Big Brother is watching, the panopticon, living in a glass house… choose your strained metaphor. It’s my surveillance nightmare.

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Cruelty in print, vicarious regret

I wanted to write about the Japanese documentary / reality television show Terrace House (on Netflix) but the post has taken too long to complete. So instead, for now, how about a brief comment on an excerpt from this conversational review of the series via the New York Times of all places. In it, the reviewers discuss their least favorite subjects in the documentary:

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A few impressions from Kiyosawa’s Diary of Darkness

Via Amazon

I’ve been reading A Diary of Darkness, kept by the Japanese journalist Kiyosawa Kiyoshi from 1942 until his death in 1945 (trans. Eugene Soviak and Kamiyama Tamie). Oh, it’s so good.

The diary covers international affairs, political happenings, and daily life in Japan over the course of the Pacific / Greater East Asia War. Despite strict censorship enforced by the military government and the arrest of several of his intellectual friends for “thought crimes,” Kiyosawa bravely risked his own arrest to produce an honest account of the madness that descended on Japan during the war.

But it’s not just a typical diary either. Kiyosawa kept the journal on the hope that he could use its material to produce a history of Japanese international relations after the war. Thus, along with recording illuminating vignettes of everyday life, Kiyosawa managed to produce a real-time account of the collapse of the Japanese homefront with scholarly rigor as good or better than any secondary source for understanding Japan’s progress during the war.

In politics, Kiyosawa was a committed liberal – more than anything, he complains about the stultifying effect attacks on the freedom of speech had on Japanese society. It’s remarkable then that the journal survived, a powerful testament to the singular importance of that freedom in maintaining a peaceful and democratic society. I regret that he did not live long enough to see Japan become such a society. But hey, it’s nice that he tried.

So anyway, in lieu of something more substantial, here are three quick impressions:

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