Archive for the ‘Trusting the Whether Man’ Category

590x214_02282030_abundant_snowfall0228-2In the table above, Accuweather makes the same mistake that you probably hear every time a TV commercial says that something is “two times faster.” The problem is that they claim to report the “Percent Above Normal” when what they are actually reporting is the percent of normal. Boston’s snowfall this winter is 167% of its normal snowfall, which you can see by multiplying 33.7 by 1.67. Since it is 167% of normal, it is only 67% above normal. Along these lines, I often wonder how TV commercials can get away with saying that something is “two times faster” when it is really 200% as fast, or one time faster.

None of this changes the fact that this is the snowiest winter I have experienced in years and that if there are any more snow days I will really wish that I could withdraw from my courses.

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When I was younger, I loved snow days. I preferred to find out about them after I had gotten up and ready for the day so that I could take full advantage of the opportunities that snow days provided, since I did not have the self control to get up at my usual time if I knew that there was no school. In college, snow days were rare, but I still appreciated the occasional surprise class cancellation (except for the semester that at least 1/3 of my once-a-week class were cancelled – I don’t think we ever got to the “bang-up lecture on hegemony” that the professor kept promising). I liked these surprise cancellations so much that I thought that if I ever taught my own courses I would leave some space in the syllabus so that I could surprise students with a canceled class once a semester or so. Then I started teaching classes in grad school, and everything changed.

Suddenly, my concern was fitting all of the topics that I wanted to discuss into 15 weeks and a cancellation meant major revisions to the schedule that was already overflowing. I gave up on the idea of surprise cancellations (which students who commute surely would not have appreciated anyway) but the weather still caused the occasional problem. Sure, I enjoyed the day that I spent watching Mean Girls because I had been looking for a clip to use when I found out that classes were cancelled, but I also needed to spend time deciding how I was going to deal with the readings, discussions, assignment deadlines, and exam dates that were threatened by missing a class. This is exacerbated by the fact that my syllabi have very specific dates for everything (I have never been able to say, “we’ll talk about this book for a week or so and move on when we’re done” like some of my colleagues).

When classes are cancelled, then, I have a few options:

  • Ignore the material I was going to discuss that day and move on. In some classes, this is inconvenient. In others, it is impossible. For these reasons, I have never used this option.
  • Provide students with an outline of the things that I was going to discuss in class and cram the highlights in at the beginning of the next class before continuing on schedule. This works for discussion-based courses but not as well for things like statistics or research methods. It also gives students the perception that the topic was not very important.
  • Cut down the material for two days and try to cover them both at once. This is typically the approach I use in discussion-based courses. It is inconvenient but does not completely eliminate the discussion of anything that I or my students find particularly important.
  • Push everything back. Moving the entire schedule back a day inevitably pushes something at the end of the semester off of a cliff, so it is essentially the same as skipping a day. That is probably why I have not used this method, either.
  • Speed things up. This is the approach that I am most likely to use in a class like statistics or research methods where I feel like I can’t leave anything out. The idea is that I will be behind at the end of each class period but I will eventually catch up to the planned schedule.

Any of these methods would probably be okay for a single class period, depending on the course topic. Unfortunately, this semester I have already missed an entire week of one course. I hate snow days.

*Edit: The title is now grammatically correct (it previously said “Being a professor takes ruins snow days” because the original title was that it “takes some of the fun out of” snow days but that was way too long. I also forgot to post the line about Facebook below. I’m apparently bad at both grammar and self-promotion.

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Snow from The Oatmeal

Sociologists talk a lot about things being “socially constructed.” We often talk about the social construction of race and gender, highlighting the fact that our ideas about these things arise largely out of social interactions that are only loosely based on any biological differences. Women have babies, for example, but this does not mean that only women are capable of things like making meals or doing laundry that may be seen as part of caring for children. The past few weeks have highlighted the ways that weather is also socially constructed.

Just like biological notions gender and race, I wouldn’t argue that there is no difference between the weather in different locations, only that the way we assign meaning to the weather depends on social interaction. For example, people all over the country think that their weather is unique. Google the phrase “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” and you will see that it is attributed to nearly everywhere, yet if you travel you will often hear people in different parts of the country say this as if they are providing some wise advice that you have never been exposed to (as you attempt not to roll your eyes…).

This social construction carries over to the way that we talk about other parts of the country having weather that we are accustomed to in our own part of the country (as the above cartoon from The Oatmeal demonstrates). When an ice storm hits Texas, people who live in places where snow and ice are more common laugh at how Southern cities shut everything down because of a little winter weather. This is an extreme example, but we can see the same sorts of comparisons even between areas where snow is more common, as the following image demonstrates:

Doug Bigelow - Nemo vs. Monday

Just like social constructions of race or gender, though, we can also see the sorts of errors that people make when they rely on social constructions of weather. The implication in the above image, or in statements about Southerners getting snow, is that the people in areas that don’t get this type of weather just don’t know how to deal with it. When an inch of snow shuts down Atlanta, Northerners laugh at the inability of Southerners to drive in snow while ignoring the lack of infrastructure that makes driving on Northern roads possible in the winter. Cities in Georgia or Texas don’t have snow plows or large stockpiles of salt that can be used to clear and treat the roads. The most effective way to deal with snow and ice on the roads in many Southern cities is to wait for it to melt when temperatures return to normal in a day or two.

Remember this the next time you hear about weather that is commonplace for you causing problems for people in another part of the country. Women are not the only people capable of making meals or doing laundry and a lifetime of driving in winter conditions cannot give your car traction on untreated roads, as this recent video from Wisconsin (where they know a bit about driving in snow and ice) demonstrates:

If this video was from Dallas we would be laughing at the inability of Southerners to handle a bit of snow. Because it is from Wisconsin, though, we focus on how bad the road conditions were. Social construction at work. Drive carefully.

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If you know anybody on the East coast, there is a good chance that your Facebook page has been flooded (or will be flooded…) with links to songs that contain the name Sandy. The one that I’ve seen most frequently is “Sandy” from the Grease soundtrack, even though that is more of a post-Sandy song (especially the spoken-word section where John Travolta says, “Sandy my darlin’, you hurt me real bad. You know it’s true”). Fortunately, there is a better option! May I propose “Hey Sandy” by Polaris from the soundtrack for the Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete. The best line for this point in the hurricane-waiting process: “Have you picked your target yet?”

As Brad Koch would say, this song gives a great opportunity to talk about hurricanes named Sandy, shows that were on Nickelodeon in the ’90s, things that make me think of autumn, and sexism (don’t talk back!).

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