Thank You–And a Word About the Future

Thanks to all of you. Like you, I wish we could have had a course without the wrenching change from classroom to website brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic. I was just getting to know you when that happened and, I suspect, you were just getting to know me.

We couldn’t continue the path we were on, so I changed it. This was hard on you but was better than the alternative, which would have been harder on you still.

As I am reading paper #3 and getting ready to receive your portfolios, I am impressed by what I am getting from you. Some of you haven’t submitted yet, but I am looking forward to reading what you have written, too—there are no penalties for being late, though I do have to submit grades in eleven days.

This summer, I am offering two classes that are designed for online studies instead of being tossed into a situation that weren’t expected. I don’t really like teaching online, but I have done it for years and, when given the chance to adequately prepare, can do it. One of my two Summer 1 classes, Technical Writing, is already full, but the other, Introduction to Literature: Drama, still had some spaces. I am hoping a few of you might sign up. After all, we know each other at least a little bit and can get off to a running start—important in a short, summer term. Follow the link to the OpenLab page and see if the course might interest you.

One of the things I have heard from students is that you have hated having to be online this semester. I don’t blame you. And I hope this doesn’t last too long. That said, I know that many students (and not just at City Tech) are bailing on the fall semester, not wanting to repeat what has happened since we have been online this spring. And I don’t blame you.

But the online classes this fall are going to be better than they have been this spring. Many of your professors have never taught online before so were learning as much as you were. Their classes, this fall, are going to be much improved—and you are going to be much more agile in negotiating online courses yourselves. I am only going to be teaching Freshman this fall, so won’t be offering any classes any of you will be taking—but I am worried that, if you take the fall off, you might not come back.

Whatever you do, good luck to you!

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part XII

I’ve spent the last few days reading and grading the papers students have been turning in, papers arising from their journals but with added research and an interview. Though not perfect (especially in the research and interview part—and proofreading), the papers have been quite good. I have been impressed and, sometimes, moved by what I have been reading.

Though this semester has been especially difficult—a disaster, some would say—many of you have been working as hard as you can to make the best of it. And I don’t simply mean on your classes. Some of you have lost family members and have had to take on more responsibility as a result. Some have had friends and family get sick and have had to step up to deal with that. Others are struggling financially, a real hardship in a society so dependent on money. A few are suddenly living in a new place with all of the disorientation that brings. All of you face the uncertainty of a pandemic our country is handing in an almost haphazard fashion, one that we have no idea when it will end but that is closing us off personally as well as in terms of our futures.

The politicians like to call what we are experiencing a “pause.” That’s a laugh. For many of us, it is a smackdown—and one where we can’t fight back.

We watch on TV those who pretend to fight back, carrying guns into statehouses or even killing people asking them to wear masks, and realize that the only way we can struggle effectively is to not fight it at all but find ways to abide. Resisting just makes the bonds tighter, drawing the virus more securely around us.

Though we have lost tremendous numbers of students who have decided that, with all the other things they have to deal with, they cannot continue with their studies this semester (and I don’t blame them), that so many of you remain and continue to turn in good work in a difficult situation heartens me.

Though City Tech will continue online at least through the start of the fall semester, there should be lots of changes in how the classes are presented making, I hope, your experiences as students much better than they have been this semester, where the ‘migration’ online was forced, fast and slipshod. In our class, we had a little advantage: I was able to set up the OpenLab site before the shutdown and get many of you registered for the course page. Because I was fairly sure this was going to happen, as we talked about in class, I was a little better prepared than most. I knew we would have to jettison the agenda for the rest of the semester—the book I had handed out to you and that you were to turn in with notes: As one of you pointed out, that was no longer practical. So, I substituted the journal assignment and the poems I put up, quickly flipping into a new orientation.

Of course, I don’t know how things are going in your other classes, but I do hope it has been just as well. City Tech professors are often attuned to the needs of students and know how to be flexible. The pandemic has certainly shown us, faculty and students alike, the value of flexibility.

The classes I teach in the fall will be better designed for online learning than this has been, for I have had more time to work out how things should be done. I do not like teaching solely online but, like all of you, I have to make the best of things. The journal will be part of the classes, but it will also be a log of student activity—everything a student does will be recorded there. The requirements will still be of three papers and a portfolio beyond that and the course will revolve around a theme (coronavirus was dropped on us as the theme by events, but the one for the fall may be related) but with as much room as possible for students to pursue their own interests. I am working on new ways for getting students to collaborate, something we’ve not done enough of this semester, and things I can add to make the experience on OpenLab more interesting.

Whatever happens, though, it is going to be you students who manage to complete the course this semester that I am going to remember. You were thrown into the deep end of a pool but have shown that you can think quickly and swim. I am impressed with you—and am impressed that some are still joining even this late in the semester to do what is needed and pass the course—and, possibly, even earn a high grade.

So, this will be the last of my journal entries. Good luck to you on your portfolios, on your other classes, and in the summer and fall!

5/4: Final Assignment, the Portfolio

The end is in sight!

Now that you have written your journal and three papers, you need to put them together into a portfolio, a single Word document with each paper/journal as a chapter (so, you will have four chapters).

Use the Headings provided in Word to differentiate between them. Be sure to include a general introduction and a ‘final thoughts’ section. Your break-down will be like this:

Here, you will tell a little about what is to follow. Give an idea of what your paper topics were and what problems or successes you had generally with them. Here, also, you can talk about having had to ‘migrate’ you studies online in the middle of the semester and how that has changed your studies.

Paper #1
In addition to the paper itself (and any revisions), you should include a short introduction to the particulars of what you did with this assignment and describe what you learned from it.

Paper #2
In addition to the paper itself (and any revisions), you should include a short introduction to the particulars of what you did with this assignment and describe what you learned from it.

In a short introduction, write about whatever problems you faced in writing this journal and tell if you think the exercise was useful to you.

Paper #3
In addition to the paper itself (and any revisions), you should include a short introduction to the particulars of what you did with this assignment and describe what you learned from it.

Final thoughts
This semester is not ending up as we thought it would, back in January. Still, you should have learned something over the semester. Describe what you have learned and add in a few thoughts for the coming term.

Good luck to all of you!

The assignment is due in two weeks and two days, on 5/20.

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part XI

Yesterday, when we were walking the dog, we paused to let a maskless woman cross in front of us. She turned to look at us.

“You don’t have to wait. I’m not poison.”

We waited anyway and followed, at a safe distance, as she continued down the street.

She stopped at the door of an apartment building and, as she was unlocking it, said, “You won’t stay so far away when you need something from me.”

We simply walked on once she had closed the door.

That was the first time I have encountered aggressive rebuke for social distancing on the street. I did imagine there were some people who would see it as a personal insult when others stepped well out of their way or stopped at a distance to let them go by. But I had hoped that there weren’t people so ignorant and self-centered to think that the action is about them.

When, most emphatically, it is not. If it is about them in any way, it is about protecting them. This woman was the more vulnerable one. We were acting on the reasonable epidemic advice, “Proceed as though you are the one with the disease.” That way, because many of us can carry the virus without knowing it, we don’t endanger others. None of us wants to unconsciously infect others and none of us knows whether or not we care carrying the virus—even if we have been recently tested.

That’s what was so egregious about Vice President Michael Pence refusing to don a mask during a visit to the Mayo Clinic earlier this week. The Clinic had asked that he respect the protocol but Pence decided he needn’t. “Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just — I just don’t…. I won’t be doing it personally. It’s a recommendation,” he said.

The irresponsibility of that is astonishing, more so now that the number of COVID-19 deaths exceeds the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War and the recorded number of Americans who have contracted the disease passes one million. For Pence, clearly, it’s all about Pence. He doesn’t seem to get that the mask is not to protect him but to protect others.

Our individual freedoms end where they start to negatively affect others.

Unfortunately, there are too many Americans who don’t understand this, who think their liberty to do whatever they please is absolute. It never has been. Your freedom to throw a punch, as they say, stops at my face.

A distant friend brags on Facebook about not wearing a mask, insisting it is his right. He claims a new fraternity of maskless people. They smile at each other, he says, in a new community of nonconformists.

“Look,” I want to say to him (but won’t—it would do no good), “I don’t like the masks much either, nor do I believe that they do much good. However, they certainly are a symbol that we are all in this together and that we respect each other enough to not want to infect them. It’s a symbol that we don’t know if we are carriers but also that we care. We don’t live as independent individuals but as members of a group, whether we like it or not. And we really need to respect the others in the group. Yes, the masks may not be necessary, but living together is. When we go out without a mask, we signal that we take from society but are refusing to give anything back or to respect the others who allow us to take. Not wearing a mask is a sign of ignorant egotism, not something I would brag about, on Facebook or elsewhere.”

All that would do would be to get him to block me, and that serves no purpose at all.

When this is over, where there is a vaccine and adequate testing, we’ll all be able to throw away our masks and our gloves and learn again how to be close to others. Perhaps we will even have developed new respect for others and even affection that comes from knowing they cared enough about us to take precautions, whether there was an absolute need or not.

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part X

The discussion of how we’re going to manage the fall semester has been on my mind the last few days.

But, because of the chaotic nature of the move online this semester, I am paying particular attention to construction of my summer courses which, of course, will be entirely online. Over the past six weeks, I have learned a great deal about online teaching—though I have done it before and even taught for an online university for a bit years ago—for I had retreated from online classes over the past few years. I believe strongly in the value of face-to-face instruction over online instruction so had been willing to only go so far, any longer, only teaching hybrid, half online and half classroom, courses when I taught online at all.

That, of course, has had to change, and quickly.

Now, when I am planning my summer courses and thinking about the fall (which will certainly start online, though we may migrate many courses to the classroom partway through the semester), I am considering the online as a necessity and not as an alternative. That changes my attitude in general. Now, I have to consider online learning in new ways to meet the new circumstance.

One of the things that I will continue to require that I asked soon after we moved online this semester is a journal. What I have read from what you students have volunteered so far (you have not been required to turn in the journal) makes me believe that keeping a journal or, more accurately, a log of activity can help students in a time where there is a lack of structure in general.

Some teachers are using synchronous online interaction with students, meetings through Zoom or another app, to provide structure, but I am not comfortable with that. The tendency would be to lecture, which can be useful, but I can’t lecture to faces online… I need to actually see my audience to do that, otherwise I end up simply reading a script, which bores everyone.

So, I stick to the asynchronous, which also allows the students to work out their own schedules, something that can be important when others in the household may be sick or have scheduling problems of their own.

If I were setting up classes in a stable situation, I might consider synchronous classes as an occasional touchstone, using them for motivational lectures of fifteen minutes or so, but I don’t believe that would work, now. I would have to offer each lecture at least three, probably four times. And I don’t think I could manage the enthusiasm through all of them.

In the rush, however, I did not prepare my classes this semester for writing journals, assuming that I could model journal-writing for them with my own. That is not proving enough.

For one thing, I am used to writing every day. I have been doing it for years. It is easy for me to forget that my students can’t just sit down at the keyboard and pound out a thousand words in an hour, not even when they are simply recording their thoughts and the events that have surrounded them.

So, for the summer classes and those in the fall, I will provide much more instruction on writing a journal, using the idea of a log as a starting point, a log of activities, almost hour-by-hour, certainly day-by-day. I will also ask my students to create their own schedules for writing, deciding a specific time each day or every other day for writing, half-an-hour or an hour at a time. Part of the log they turn in as part of the journal will include a record of the times they wrote and even the daily word-count. I won’t require specific numbers, but I will provide goals.

Also, I will ask the students to send me their journals several times during the term and not simply at the end, as I am asking this semester.

What I am thinking, too, is to give more explicit directions for journal topics, making them even less free writing than I made them this semester. I think I will develop lists that students can use as sparks for writing if they can’t think of what to say outside of recording the events of their lives. These are going to take time to develop and will have to be revised throughout each term. I didn’t really have that option in the confusion of our hurried transition.

One of the things I don’t like about using journals is class—except when I’m teaching advanced classes where students are already experienced writers—is that journals don’t carry with them particular images of audience. Before one can become a really good writer, one has to internalize the concept of audience, having developed the habit of always having something to say to someone and always combining the two, never writing nothing to no one. That’s quite a skill and it takes practice to reach it—and guidance. I shouldn’t have simply thrown my students into it as I did this semester.

Our second paper was supposed to support learning to address audience, but the classroom exercizes I had planned fell by the wayside, also victim to coronavirus, and I did not have the time to design online replacements.

All of us teachers have been learning this semester, and learning quickly. The question of how best to utilize journals is not the only one I’ve been addressing. If we weren’t so overwhelmed by the pandemic, I would be able to think of this as an extremely useful experiment. Unfortunately, though, it was forced onto us—and actual students should not be the subjects of experiment.

That said, I hope that this strange semester will work positively of the education of all of my students in all of their classes. That it will work, in fact, for all students everywhere.

With only a week to go before the next paper is due, I am looking forward to seeing students live up to the potential I know is there.

It’s a tough time for all of you, but go for it! Reach beyond the current crisis and pull yourselves beyond!

The Ball Poem

Boy standing at the edge of a pond.
Afifa Afrin / CC BY-SA (

The Ball Poem

by John Berryman
What is the boy now, who has lost his ball.
What, what is he to do? I saw it go
Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then
Merrily over—there it is in the water!
No use to say ‘O there are other balls’:
An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy
As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down
All his young days into the harbour where
His ball went. I would not intrude on him,
A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now
He senses first responsibility
In a world of possessions. People will take balls,
Balls will be lost always, little boy,
And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.
He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up
And gradually light returns to the street,
A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight.
Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark
Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,
I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move
With all that move me, under the water
Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part IX

Food delivery trucks in Brooklyn
Food delivery trucks in Brooklyn

One of the common elements of my dog walks over the last month has been the food trucks.

Of course, they have always been there, but their numbers have not diminished while most other traffic has. There are the big sixteen-wheelers bringing nourishment from outside to supermarkets and wholesalers. There are the smaller delivery trucks such as the ones I see loading and unloading at Romeo’s and Lioni’s. There are the beverage trucks and bread trucks and vans of all variety.

Looking at them brings comfort. Food is arriving. There are eight million of us in this city and, for the moment, most of us have enough to eat.

All of us would, had we all the financial resources to buy the produce, the meat, the packaged food and the rest that continues to flow into the city.

The problem right now is that a growing number of us here in New York don’t, or are finding our reserves growing perilously low with no relief in sight.

Those of us, like me, able to work at home are extremely lucky. Yes, we do run some risk of contracting COVID-19, but economically we are stable. Of all New Yorkers, we are the safest, both economically and in terms of health. Those whose jobs are considered necessary but who are not in the health fields are also lucky, but less so. Though they run the risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus daily, they at least have continued income and can feed their families. These people have to be extremely careful and many more of them are going to get sick than those of us in the first group.

The group facing the most danger of disease is, of course, that comprised of health-care workers and first responders. These people need to be applauded by all of the rest of us, as many have been doing every night at seven. But they, too, have economic security that, for the moment at least, assures them of food on the table.

Which leaves a fourth group, those who have been furloughed without pay or who have lost their jobs completely. I know one, a single mother who, though she is trying to get unemployment, is not going to be able to meet her expenses. I know another, a woman in her sixties who cleans houses for a living and who also has health problems. I know a family who, though owning their home, depend on the mother’s income as a dog walker and school-bus driver to survive, for the father’s pension is not enough to cover their expenses, especially with their own special-needs adult son at home. We have helped them all (and others) out a bit, but soon that is not going to be enough, especially as they are not alone. On every block there are dozens, even hundreds like them.

None of them likes accepting help, and none is proud of hoping that the government will assist them—or is helping (at least to some small degree). But their situations are growing more dire by the day.

They want this over but, as New Yorkers, they also recognize that we cannot push things, cannot rush to open the city economy when an extremely contagious disease and generally unidentified carriers (testing is woefully lacking) lurk everywhere. Unlike people in those parts of the country as yet to have the cases we have had here, we New Yorkers all know people who have been sick, very sick, and some who have died.

This is real to us. Not some hoax or disease for ‘other people.’

But that does not make things easier when the end of the financial line grows closer every day.

We here and elsewhere (even in rural states) are going to be in a terrible state as the safety net begins to fail more and more people.

Hunger can upset our entire national strategy for recovery.

And hunger will get even worse, the longer this continues, unless the nation does something to protect our food production and distribution network in addition to making sure everyone has access to food.

Right now, the problem is a lack of the financial means for procuring food soon to be faced by way too many people, if they are not facing it already.

In a few months, food many not even be available in places like New York City that lack the capacity for growing or otherwise producing its own.


South Dakota’s governor Kristi Noem, putting ‘freedom’ over common sense, has refused to batten down her state. This has allowed a hotspot to emerge at the Sioux Falls Smithfield Foods plant, endangering the food supply far beyond the upper Midwest. Farmers are having problems finding workers to harvest their fields and face difficulty in sorting their produce as demand shifts away from formerly assured pipelines like schools and restaurants to over-burdened supermarkets. Dairy farmers, for instance, have had to destroy vast quantities of milk.

It’s not that the need for milk or the other products being destroyed has lessened; it’s simply that an alternative means of distribution is not available and there is no means of storing the perishables until one is established.

If the United States does not start a concerted effort to maintain its food chain, we are all going to face a deadly choice: risk the disease or risk hunger. This is the choice that the governors of states like Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota and more are already making in choosing to open up their states to commerce (or never having really closed them) right now.

But the choice is a false one, or it should be. With just a little effort and a massive emphasis on testing, we can maintain our food chain—one of the most important parts of our economy—without endangering more people.

This is not an effort that can be undertaken by individual states or even small consortiums like the one New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are involved in. It needs to be a national effort with the goal of ensuring access to food across the country by making sure that workers are safe, from farm hands to supermarket checkers, and by developing new means of distributing food, perhaps using school-kitchen storage facilities as points of public access to food—as is being done to some extent already.

At the same time, the safety nets need to be strengthened so that every American can buy or otherwise acquire the food they need to exist. It won’t help if we simply manage to get food safely to market and in adequate quantities. People need to be able to take it home and not simply look longingly at it in shop windows.

As many are saying, we can’t simply sit and wait out the novel-coronavirus pandemic. But we can’t just open up. We need to be working as a nation to make sure that our response itself doesn’t threaten us by developing a muscular testing program and alternative means of food access.

After all, we won’t be able to simply say, as food supplies tighten and fewer can afford bread, “Let them eat cake.”

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part VIII

We’re getting to the point of relief. That is, relief in our minds that the worst is over and that we can get back to the way things were. We’ve dodged the coronavirus bullet no worse for the wear—most of us, discounting the 40,000 and more who have died and the untold number suffering the effects of the ventilators that saved their lives. Discounting the family members and friends of that 40,000.

To the vast majority of Americans, this unseen enemy seems to have retreated. We dodged the bullet.

Maybe so. But just because there is no sound of gunfire, we can’t be sure that the enemy is not still shooting.

In the classic John Wayne film The Sands of Iwo Jima, when the harrowing battle is almost over, John Wayne’s character, sitting comfortably on a hill with some of his men, reaches into his pocket for a pack of smokes. “I never felt so good in my life.,” he says. “How about a cigarette?” He slumps over dead, shot by an unseen sniper.

We are in a critical situation. Many of us may have or have had the virus but are asymptomatic. Others may think we simply had a cold or allergies but it was really a mild case of COVID-19. Each of us may be a carrier, bringing danger not only to family and friends but to anyone we contact. Because a lack of testing, we simply don’t know—and this virus is so extremely contagious that we can’t take the chance of increasing the number of deaths through our negligence.

This is what so many don’t understand: The virus has not been stopped, merely slowed to a level that can be handled by our medical establishment. If we keep on as we are, at least for a few more weeks, we will have built up supplies for combating future spikes and will have assured that they will be smaller. Yes, we successfully dodged one bullet but that does not mean what too many people believe—either that the bullet wasn’t there at all (that this was a hoax) or that there’s not another one following behind.

Staying in, even when we have plenty of work to do (as I have—I have been busier since the close of our physical campus than I was before), is getting harder and harder. I need to take a break—but what? More TV? More reading? These are fine, but I have not yet gotten used to being a prisoner in an apartment. My wife and I clean and cook more than ever before, but the enjoyment in that is limited. Yes, we get out to walk the dog and, on Saturday, took a drive into Manhattan (never getting out of the car), but this is not the life we were expecting right now—and Governor Cuomo says we are only halfway through this.

So, I can understand the frustrations of those who are grasping onto the idea that they are being unfairly limited, that their freedoms are being encroached upon. They want to get back to doing things, in many cases, to making a living. The impact of this isolation is much greater on other than it is on me, for I do have my work, at least, and things to look forward to (I am preparing my summer ENG2002:Introduction to Drama and ENG2575: Technical Writing classes, always something fun—even though I do not like the idea that they will be only online) in the meantime. Some people are facing actual hunger, a problem getting even greater as food-pantry supplies dwindle. Others are running out of the medications that keep them alive and have no way of replenishing them. 22 million have lost their jobs, and are desperate to get to resolve their futures—yet all they can do is sit and wait.

And none of that counts the people who are suffering illness and even death.

So, even as I complain, I remember how lucky I am. I have not been sick—so far, at least—even though I scared myself, briefly, into believing I might be. And I have plenty to do thanks to the internet and the work-from-home possibility it provides. I know people—we all do—who are going through great struggles right now (some of my students are among them) and try to consider them with compassion rather than complaining about my own situation.

Still, we are living in a country where it sometimes seems to be all about ourselves and our individual rights and not at all about the others. Why should I be stuck at home, too many ask, when there’s nothing wrong with me? Why should I suffer just to keep other people from getting this disease?

I know the answers to these questions. I suspect we all do (they are highlighted in the writings foundational to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and all of the other major religions) but that does not mean I do not feel frustrated at times by the quiet when I am used to action.

Let me end this entry with lines from what is perhaps my favorite song lyric, that of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”:

Well, the moral of the story
The moral of this song
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong
So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’
Help him with his load
And don’t go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road

4/20: Paper #3 Assignment

Now that you have been writing your journal for two weeks, you should have from six to eight entries and each should be several hundred words at least.

Keep writing the journal but it is time to start mining your journal (you will be including it in your final portfolio) for the basis of a paper.

Go back and re-read your journal and mark ideas for papers relating to our current coronavirus situation. Choose two or three of the ideas for further consideration. Then, do a bit of initial research, finding news stories relating to these ideas.

Next, of the two or three ideas that you have researched, choose one as the basis for a paper that should end up being from three to five pages long.

In the paper, you may quote from your journal–but I want you to also quote from at least three other sources, one of which must be an interview you conduct (via email, text or phone) with either a classmate, family member, friend or acquaintance relating to the topic.

Your point for the paper needs to come from your own experience but you need to support it with what others have said. The quote from a friend and two quotes from articles. You will include bibliographic information on these in a Works Cited section at the end of your paper, using MLA style (check online for how to do this).

Address the paper to someone who does not understand the point you are making. Identify that person (or persons) in the paper. It could be someone who doesn’t know what it is like to experience what you have experienced or who holds an opinion different from yours. Make sure every sentence of your paper is addressed to that person just as they would be were you talking face-to-face.

As part of the paper, you will need to include a multimedia attachment. This can be a photo- or video-essay relating to the topic or a podcast or a slide show. It could be a song you write or a poem (as long as you present a video of you singing or reading it) or anything else. If you would like, you can incorporate this into the paper itself but that isn’t absolutely necessary.

This paper will be due May 4th.

Email me with any questions… and good luck!