B.J. Enright

B.J. Enright
Eastern Michigan University; Vice-President, Residence Hall Association; future teacher

Tottered on: 31 March 2006
Temperature: 68 F
Ceiling: partly sunny
Ground: damp
Wind: S at 18mph


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TT with HD: B.J. Enright


HD: Alright, here we go.

BJE: Is this calibrated fine, or ...?

HD: Well, let's actually get the tottering motion going and then we'll see. Some people are under the impression that no actual teeter tottering takes place.

BJE: They think people just kind of sit on it?

HD: Yeah, but I feel like there's got to be some tottering motion going on. Okay, so this ought to work.

BJE: Okay.

HD: I noticed that you drove over here. I was kind of hoping you would ride the bus so that we could talk about the Ypsilanti bus campaign.

BJE: That would have been more appropriate, I think.

HD: Are you involved in that at all?

BJE: Not directly. I read Ypsi-Dixit and that's how I found out about it. And I've just been reading her blog here and there. I have an RSS syndicated feed that I can just read on my LiveJournal [http://bjenright.livejournal.com]. I was just kind of curious, because that was the first way I'd heard about it. But, how outrageous to get rid of the bus system in Ypsilanti! Because I know that for Eastern Michigan sporting events, that's how they get students to go to the stadium. And they barely have enough students to go to sporting events as it is, so if they're going to get rid of this, it seems like a bad idea.

HD: Well, I know one of the points that people have made is that some people feel that EMU does not make an adequate contribution to or does not subsidize adequately AATA in the same fashion, say, that the University of Michigan does. I don't know the details, but I've seen that point made on Ypsi-Dixit, I think.

BJE: I can understand that impression. We [EMU students] obviously don't pay to use the bus. I'm sure there's some deal that's kind of cut.

HD: I don't know how obvious it is, because that's surprising to me. As an EMU student you don't have to ... ?

BJE: For me to come to Ann Arbor on the bus, I would have to pay. But there's a shuttle that takes students from on-campus resident housing to, say, the College of Business on Michigan Avenue. It's free of charge, as long as you show a student id or something like that.

HD: You mentioned the RSS feed you have integrated into your LiveJournal. Is it even possible as a college student nowadays, to have any kind of a social network at all without having a LiveJournal page? Or I guess MySpace is another alternative.

BJE: I was hoping you were going to bring this up. I've noticed that there's this big disparity between college students using the internet, and then, say, tech-savy, community-savy adults, such as yourself and Ypsi-Dixit and other folks, who have interesting and legit-looking websites, as opposed to someone's MySpace blog with unreadable colors in the background, that flashes images, that's impossible to read.

HD: Well, there's some pretty awful stuff out there everywhere. A lot of it is so horrifying to me when it shows up on the screen, just from the layout aesthetic, colors, which you mentioned, that I really have to exercise some self-discipline to force myself to read through and find out, What is this person up do? Anything interesting here at all? How did I get here? I think I'll kill this browser window!

BJE: I don't know if we really know what to write about, I think, at this age. Clearly a lot of fellow college students write about, Oh, today was a bad day, because my boyfriend wouldn't talk to me on the phone, or such and such. I get the feeling that if I want someone to read something and respond to something that I'm going to write, I had better at least make it interesting, as opposed to just someone saying, Oh, I'm sorry, I hope you have a better day tomorrow! kind of thing.

HD: Well, in addition to writing prose, I notice that one of your strategies is to put up interesting photographs. You take photography a bit more seriously than the average bear.

BJE: I guess I do. And I didn't use to actually. I just had a regular digital point-and-shoot camera, made by Vivitar, some thing my dad got on sale, I believe at Wal-mart or at some conglomerate store. I'd been using it for two years and going, Oh, this is nice I can take pictures and upload them. But it was just leaving me wanting more. If I wasn't using a flash, the shutter would stay open so long just to get an image, because you couldn't mess with the ISO speed. And finally I thought maybe I should upgrade. And researched a kind of camera called a digital SLR, which is basically a regular film SLR camera with a digital sensor on it. You can use regular film lenses and things like that. I spent two or three weeks researching online and picked up the model that I have now. And I'm just loving it.

HD: So now is your photographic interest driven by artistic concerns or more by journalistic concerns?

BJE: More journalistic, I'd say. Obviously, I'm learning as I'm going along. I haven't taken any sort of photography classes. It's mostly a little bit of advice my dad told me, that you put someone in your picture: instead of just taking a picture of a building, put someone in front of it. Or pay attention to where the sun is. Just little tricks of the trade, I guess. And I'm just learning by trial and error, too.

HD: People in photographs, hmm. Sometimes, I guess people can be interesting, but the picture you sent me a link to, the teeter totter skeleton, the one with the middle support frame without the boards attached: no people. [http://static.flickr.com/34/102245141_09a0d6e46c.jpg] Yet it works. I have a special interest in teeter totters, so maybe it struck an emotional chord with me that it wouldn't with others.

BJE: I was hoping you wouldn't be too heartbroken from the fact that that exists.

HD: Oh, no, I've come to grips with that. I'm well aware that the school systems and the park systems, they've assessed teeter totters as a safety hazard and they've torn them out. Which is fine, I guess, especially for me because now I have a totter-opoly going. But what I was going to say, that photograph, even though it's sunny weather, it has this sad, forlorn quality to it that I found sort of touching. I was thinking, if you went back to the same location, that wouldn't be hard, would it?

BJE: No, it's literally in my backyard, it's a park there.

HD: If you waited for a really gloomy, overcast day and took that same shot, you would really ratchet up the sad, forlorn quality of it. That might be something to consider.

BJE: I might do that.

HD: If you do, send me a link to the photo.

BJE: Absolutely, and I can send you a high-res image, too, if you want.

HD: So the original link you sent me was to Flikr. You took the photograph, and then you uploaded it to this Flikr-dot-com sort of deal. Do you ever worry about the fact that that photograph is living on a remote server and that you're relying on Flikr-dot-com to basically keep that photograph alive? That if Flikr fails, if you don't have a copy yourself somewhere, either digital or print, that it'll be lost forever? Are you comfortable with the idea of uploading it and letting it go?

BJE: I guess the way you put it, it raises some concerns. But I don't know. Flikr seems like a really good website. There's a lot of competing photo uploading-ish kind of sites out there, like PhotoBucket and the like. Flikr, supposedly, if you upload an image, it'll stay there forever. I don't know if that will hold true or not, but as far as my own personal ... I have a copy on my computer, and then I have an external hard drive that I put everything on.

HD: You mentioned Wal-mart a few minutes ago. And I noticed that you have a plug for Meijer on your LiveJournal in the form of shaving accoutrements and supplies. I don't know if you actually did some math, but you make the claim that by switching to the Meijer brand from the name brand, you expect to save around $8000 over your lifetime in shaving supplies.

BJE: I think that was just sort of a wild number that I thought would be funny and outrageous. I don't think I really took it seriously. Someone had a comment on there that said, Did you actually compute at what age you would die, and how much shaving cream you think you're going to use?

HD: These are the comments you have to put up with if you actually write something interesting. So would you care to defend the Acura 3 versus the Quattro?

BJE: Yeah! Well, I haven't used the Quattro. It's the Mach 3 versus the Acura 3. And I actually did use the Acura 3 this morning and it's comparable. It feels different against my face, but it does the same job and I think for the money it doesn't hurt.

HD: Well, if you really want to save money on shaving supplies, I have a suggestion, and I assume you can probably guess what that is: roll with the whiskers, dude!

BJE: If I could, I would, but there are certain parts of my face that aren't developing enough facial hair make it look presentable.

HD: You have to make those kind of choices, at some point. There's another photo in a recent LiveJournal entry of yours of people riding in a golf cart? In connection with the student government elections? Have those elections now concluded? People still campaigning?

BJE: They, I believe, finished up at 10pm last night. That's when the polls closed. So I think we'll know in the next day or two. They have to be certified by a CPA, I think, to make them legit. I think that's what's written by the Board of Regents for student government elections.

HD: What were the campaign issues this year?

BJE: Really, I wish there were some to speak of. I guess an issue, just to make one up, would be lack of participation. We only had one candidate running for student body president with a vice-president. I think we had a few senatorial candidates. So they ran unopposed. I believe there were a few students who were concerned about this and started a write-in campaign the day of the elections and were passing out flyers. But just an issue across student organizations, from what I've noticed, is a lack of participation. It's just like pulling teeth trying to get people to come to meetings.

HD: So are you involved at all in the student government? I know at one point you were the Vice-President of some housing entity.

BJE: I still am. I guess, 'out-going' Vice-President, since we're having elections soon, of the Residence Hall Association. And in some ways we're an auxiliary of student government, where we concentrate more on residents that pay to live on campus, and student government concentrates on all students at Eastern Michigan. Yeah, so I've been pretty active in that.

HD: I take it you have to live in a dormitory in order to have that office ... What's your sense of the issue of housing in general over at Eastern? I know for University of Michigan students, there was essentially a student push that resulted in the creation of a lease ordinance that's supposed to protect their interests as far as signing leases goes, at least the timing of it. That same sort of issue exist at all over at EMU?

BJE: Somewhat in some places, I guess. There are students, obviously, who live in apartments fairly close to campus that are just as concerned about their rights ... But as far as landlords going crazy so to speak, or ripping off students or telling them things that aren't true about the places they're about to live in, I'm not sure it's as rampant as it is over here. But as far as on-campus living, as far as encouraging students to live on campus, I can't speak enough about it. Obviously, I've done it for four years. You're closer to campus, it's really safe, there's a lot of program opportunities, just meeting people in general.

HD: So what is the actual physical mechanism of voting? Is it electronic at all? Is there any technology at all that's been thrown at this problem?

BJE: Yeah, it's all online, I think. The website is emich-dot-edu-slash-campuselections. And whenever there is some sort of election that needs to take place, homecoming courts, Eastern Idol ... sort of a take on American Idol ... and then we also have the student government elections. You log in through your user name and password.

HD: So you don't actually have to go anywhere?

BJE: Nope. There's no polls, there's no face-to-face interaction, there's no ...

HD: ...what's the participation rate like?

BJE: For voting? Not sure. Maybe we'll get a couple thousand students. Mostly the reason why they had the golf carts that day was just to remind students that the polls are open and that you can vote.

HD: I assumed that the golf carts were sort of a means of transportation to the actual polling site, but there was no polling site, per se.

BJE: No, it was just kind of a courtesy, Hey, want a ride to class? By the way, go the website when you go back to your room ...

HD: Maybe the ease of access works against participation in the voting process. Because it's so easy to do, it must not be a valuable and important thing. Do you think that could be a part of the psychology?

BJE: I guess. I don't really know anything different, because I think they've had online voting since I've been attending Eastern. But there is sort of some exhilaration or excitement about holding a ballot in your hand. The same sort of thing, getting a letter in the mail, holding it and opening it up, as opposed to just an anonymous email from someone you've never met before.

HD: Sticking with the theme of technology, just by way of background, there was one kid in our entire dorm, who had a computer, one of the early IBM desktop computers, probably a 286 ...

BJE: ... we have one in our basement ...

HD: ... word processing was non-existent. Basically, if you had a paper to write and submit, you typed it out on a typewriter. And I suppose no one owns a typewriter anymore in a college dorm. Is submission of papers nowadays also electronic, or do people still print things out and hand them in to a box still, or?

BJE: I'd say that's still more the norm than not. Most professors at Eastern will prefer a hard copy. Some won't even take emailed copies, because they don't want to print out so many papers to read. Obviously, if you had to grade a hundred or so papers just by looking at an LCD screen, you'd go crazy. You can't write comments on it and whatnot with a pen. But there are some teachers who do accept emailed submissions. My social studies methods professor will actually take any kind of format. He's a younger kind of guy, so I think that's just what he's used to. But most professors do prefer a paper copy. I actually kind of like printing off and holding it and saying, Here's my work that I spent all night doing ...

HD: ...especially if it's particularly long, you can say, Ah, that's got some heft, it weighs two pounds!

BJE: Absolutely.

HD: I'm surprised, actually, that students haven't pressed more for electronic submission of papers. Not on the grounds of ease of submission, but on the grounds that it provides an easy opportunity to really get objective scoring and evaluation. So a professor is forced by virtue of the fact that the paper is submitted by anonymous FTP and that a remote algorithm matches students' identities to their papers ... They really do have to score the quality of the writing and content of the paper, as opposed to scoring the name on the page and whatever associations the professor has with the person with that name. A professor looks at the name and says, This is a student who always asks annoying questions in class ...

BJE: ... or a student that never shows up to class ...

HD: ... right, or a student who never shows up, so I'm going to bring, maybe subconsciously, all that to bear on evaluating the merits of this paper. And I think as a student I would prefer to know that that paper is being evaluated on the merits of that ... WOAH!! [momentary lapse in focus nearly results in involuntary dismount by HD] ... ...

BJE: What were we talking about?

HD: ... hmm, technology, ...

BJE: ... anonymous submission.

HD: Right.

BJE: Yeah, I think students that would really want that are students who do skip class and would be worried. Those students, on the whole, I've sort of noticed, might be so disengaged that they wouldn't really carry [through on that issue]. I do sort of agree that it would be kind of an awesome thing. I don't know why more students have not brought this issue up, saying, We want anonymous submission for papers. But, I guess, on the whole, most professors are fairly impartial and if there is some sort of grievance that someone has, then they can file that with the ombudsman or Dean of Students or whatever.

HD: I discern ever so slightly an adoption of the teacher's perspective on this more than the student's. Does that have anything to do with the fact that you're planning to become a teacher?

BJE: Perhaps. And I'm noticing that more and more. I forget what I was watching the other day, it was some show or I was reading some article where it was obvious that my teacher perspective was coming out. I think it was something along the lines of the NCLB, the No Child Left Behind Act, sorry I'm using all these teacher acronyms already, where they want highly qualified teachers in the classroom. I'll give you a scenario: a former engineer for Ford or GM, who just got laid off, which just happened this past Monday, let's say they wanted to go into teaching. There are proponents of allowing them to go into a classroom as we speak, today: they have obviously been in the field, they've been working with numbers all their life, why wouldn't they make an awesome algebra teacher, or something like that, because clearly they have the skills ...

HD: ... because maybe they're just mean?

BJE: Well you bring up a point! Just because someone is qualified to teach doesn't make them a great teacher. And there's this argument, people want these professionals in the classroom, saying they'd make great teachers and we have great teacher shortages. But the fact is that the teachers unions would never go for it. You have to have all the pedagogy and learn how to teach classes before you get into a classroom. I guess there's a lot of people who make a big stink about that. But having gone through them myself, two, three years ago, I honestly would not have known how to manage a classroom like I do now.

HD: So what level of education are you headed towards?

BJE: Secondary.

HD: With a concentration in?

BJE: Social Studies.

HD: Have you begun the job search already?

BJE: Not directly. I still have to do my student teaching in the fall, and I have my certification test tomorrow. There's a few other requirements I have to do. But I am on the lookout for jobs. Particularly there's all these conferences happening here every other weekend or so, where they're sending up groups from Flordia or North Carolina or other states where they have such dire teacher shortages. They're having all these fairs, saying, We'll pay for the rest of your schooling, just come teach down there! So I've been paying attention to some of them, but I'd like to kind of stick around in the midwest maybe, the Michigan area, at first.

HD: So this certification test that's coming up, when did you say that was?

BJE: That's tomorrow at one o'clock.

HD: And you're preparing by riding a teeter totter?

BJE: I don't know. It's an interesting test. There's a lot of people who are really anxious about it. I've seen signs on friends' residence hall doors saying, Don't bother me this week, I'm studying for the MTTC! And I'm thinking to myself, Gosh, should I be doing that, too? But I've always been sort of a good test taker. I don't necessarily 'wing it,' but I've taken the practice test online and I did fairly well. And really ... the history portion of the test is 7000 years of world history. I'm not really sure how I'm going to sit down and cram for that before tomorrow. At the very worst, if I don't pass, which I don't plan on, there are other opportunities to re-take it. There are plenty of teachers that have to re-take certain tests.

HD: This is a general competency test covering world history and there's a math section or?

BJE: There's two tests you have to take to be a teacher. There's the Michigan Basic Skills Test, which is just to get into the College of Education at Eastern and to just start a course of study. And that's the reading, writing, arithmetic sort of test, to make sure that you've actually not lost all your brain cells in college doing god-knows-what ...

HD: ... I have no idea what you're talking about ...

BJE: ... neither do I, but for whatever your major and minor area is, then there's specific subject area tests that you have to be certified by the State.

HD: So how long a test is this?

BJE: They allot four hours. And there's two specific tests I'm taking. There's a little over a hundred questions for each test, the social studies and then the history.

HD: Multiple choice?

BJE: I think so. There might be a writing section. Clearly I've investigated and everything! But I think it's all multiple choice and there's some, read a passage and what's the best answer, but I believe it's all multiple choice.

HD: So is there anything you wanted to make sure we talked about on the totter that we haven't touched on yet?

BJE: Well, just the whole idea of blogs fascinates me, which is clearly why I emailed you and said, Hey I like this concept website you have, ... I thought, Can I ride the teeter totter? But you have all these city council members, mayors or ex-mayors [ed. note: not yet], famous people doing certain things, and I sort of felt humbled ...

HD: You know, the basic criterion is people who are somehow important to our community, however big that community might be, and I sort of figure that anybody who's willing to ride my teeter totter must, in some way, be important. So really, the threshold is either low or high, depending on your perspective. A willingness to ride the teeter totter with me is the basic criterion. It keeps me in check. Unlike a straight-up blog, where you can just sit down at the keyboard anytime you like, and type in whatever you think, or want to share with people about whatever topic, I actually have to lure somebody over here and get them to ride the teeter totter. So that's one hurdle. That's one check on me, that keeps me from just unleashing all my personal thoughts upon the world. And then there's the check that comes from the immediacy of the person who's sitting right there on the other end of the board. Not just at the level of, if I say something that's factually incorrect, then the person I'm tottering with can instantaneously correct me. But also, I think, if you're talking to someone on a teeter totter, who you might otherwise just write about, or in your purely online guise, you might be harsher with, or more inclined to really try to put the screws to them, when the person is sitting on the other end of your teeter totter, there is this sense that you want to automatically treat them with more dignity, consideration, 'respect' is, I suppose, the right word. That you want to be a bit more cordial and constructive, than you might otherwise be, if you were, for example, emailing questions and answers back and forth.

BJE: It's really easy with the internet and online communications to be harsh to somebody, if something they say rubs you the wrong way. Or just the idea of interpreting something incorrectly starts a whole ...

HD: ... and a lot of it can be inadvertent. People are loosey goosey with language. It doesn't pay to parse something too fine, and assign interpretation based on that. And you don't get every nuance of intonation from text on a screen. So even though you heard yourself being facetious as you typed it, the person who reads it may not appreciate that you meant it in a light-hearted way. And then the anonymity of it all allows you to be harsher than you would in person. So for me, it serves as a way to keep things in check.

BJE: And I like that. Another thing, as I was driving over here down Huron from Ypsilanti, I couldn't count the number of people who had iPod ear buds in their ears. They're walking to class, they're enjoying good music, but they're walking by other people and they can't hear. They can't hear the [ed. note: a bird chirps loudly] birds that are chirping over their heads, or wave and say, Hi, to people. I don't know if it's technology that causes that or ... There was this article I read in a class I had last year, where she was talking about how excited she was to order her groceries online and how they could just be delivered to her house. But then throughout her essay piece, she noticed how she missed seeing people at the store and how she missed all these things. I guess what I'm coming to grips with is you can embrace the technology, but don't let it rule you, and let it turn you into a social outcast where all you do is sit inside and read other people's blogs, and wish that you could have an exciting life like they do.