Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part VII: Who Coddles Whom?

By Pughe, J. S. (John S.), 1870-1909, artist - Library of CongressCatalog: download: url:, Public Domain,
By Pughe, J. S. (John S.), 1870-1909, artist – Library of CongressCatalog: download: url:, Public Domain,

As he is not a teacher, not really, New York Times pundit David Brooks is able to accuse the higher GPA of English classes as opposed to Premed classes of “coddling.” If the grades are higher, students must be getting less out of the class. It’s too easy.

Brooks writes from the perspective of privilege and from a belief that all who matter are from the American upper-middle class and above. Students from other backgrounds are invisible to him. Most people are invisible to him.

My classes are certainly not difficult but I do not believe my students can be accused of being coddled. Mostly, I teach First Year Composition and my students are trying to learn how to be college students. They don’t come from backgrounds that prepared them for the American college experience the way of the students at Yale, where Brooks sometimes teaches a course, do. Most of them work. Many of them are more comfortable speaking a language other than English—some, in fact speak as many as five languages. None of them has been coddled but all of them need support as they negotiate an environment more alien to them than anything Brooks has ever experienced.

Because it is critical for them to learn to work on their own and with fellow students, and to take command of their own learning instead of simply reacting to the demands of a teacher, I give my students a lot of freedom to either do the work or fail. Most of them manage, though they don’t always like it. It is easier to simply follow orders instead of trying to figure things out on one’s own. When they manage that, I reward them.

I do not, however, grade ‘on a curve,’ keeping the class GPA down and priding myself on being tough—the way Brooks implies is best. When all of my students do well, they all get high grades. That’s only fair. And grading, I know, isn’t a sign of how students are treated, of how they are coddled or not. In the aggregate, over time, it does show the effort a student has put into the work, but it does not show that the work has been too easy if the grades are high.

If anyone is coddled in this country it is not the vast majority of college students, few of whom have the privileges that Brooks grew up with (or that I did, for that matter—both of our fathers were college professors). It’s the people who have been protesting against stay-at-home orders across the country. They have been told that they are independent individualists who ‘make it’ on their own—even while their success has been universally assured by cultural and governmental forces that give them advantage over almost anyone else in the world:

Protesters at state capitols across the country this week expressed their deep frustration with the stay-at-home orders that are meant to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, pushing a message that is rapidly coalescing among the nation’s conservatives: Reopen the country.

Groups rallied in at least six states this week, and protests are planned in four more in coming days.

These are people who have been lied to up to the point where they believe they take ‘nuttin from nobody’ and, therefore, owe nothing to anyone else. Why should they care that the vast majority of Americans, working as a community, have ‘flattened the curve,’ at least for now, reducing COVID-19 death by, possibly, tens of thousands. They believe that:

edicts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Kristi L. Noem [of South Dakota] said disparagingly, reflected a “herd mentality.” It was up to individuals — not government — to decide whether “to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play. Or to even stay at home.”

Anyone who believes that any individual, in this modern, interconnected world, can act with that kind of freedom has been coddled to an extreme that has never before been possible—not before the last century in America, at least.

Rather than worry about student GPAs, Brooks might better spend his time teaching where he can have real impact. That is, he could start helping his fellow conservatives understand that their fake individualism is as toxic as the novel coronavirus and that they should stop looking only to their own wants and recognize that all they have comes from the largesse of a society and a government biased in their favor. If he is worried about coddling, he should worry about theirs.

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm

The quiet Wallace Stevens writes of here is quite different from that we are experiencing now—for the world is certainly not calm. But the connection between reading and the world may still be present.


The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm



The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The reader became the book; and summer night


Was like the conscious being of the book.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.


The words were spoken as if there was no book,

Except that the reader leaned above the page,


Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be

The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom


The summer night is like a perfection of thought.

The house was quiet because it had to be.


The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:

The access of perfection to the page.


And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,

In which there is no other meaning, itself


Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself

Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part VI

Welcome back from Spring Break! I won’t ask how your travels were for I assume they were somewhat like mine: ventures outside only for necessities and of limited number and duration.

After CUNY’s rocky start to this transition, we now should be on an even keel until the end of the semester, no more unexpected breaks and no more truncated vacations. Today and tomorrow, I will be getting back your last essays to you and continuing to post here. Please remember to comment on the posts—and even on older ones—as frequently as you can, for those comments will count as part of your grade.

I hope your own journals are going well. Next week, I will be explaining how you will mine them as the basis for a third paper that will be due on April 29th. For the moment, though, don’t think about that but make sure you are recording your impressions of the extraordinary time—remember, you will have to turn in the journal as part of your portfolio at the end of the semester—which isn’t very far away.


We took the dog out a little later than usual today figuring few people would be out on Easter Sunday. We drove over to Marine Park though we would be too late for the dog to be able to run free, for it is a nice place to walk and we thought it would be empty.


While not as many people were out as might have been were we not in the midst of this crisis, hundreds of people were in the park, some of them in groups that seemed, given the coronavirus, uncomfortably large—and many of them were not wearing masks. We avoided the path around the park for it was surprisingly crowded and walked Darcy (that’s our dog) through the large middle field, zigging and zagging to avoid the clumps of people all over the place. There were quite a few children out, which is understandable—parents must be going crazy with cooped up kids. There were people throwing around baseballs and one person was flying a kite.

We were shocked, and I wondered how we are ever going to get used to crowds again.

As we drove away down Avenue U, we were again surprised, this time by how many people were on the sidewalks, many more than on 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge or 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights, places we often pass while walking the dog. We don’t know what Avenue U has been like these past days, but I hope it does not stay as it was today. Though the increase in new cases of COVID-19 has slowed, it will pick up again if we don’t stay in for the most part and, when we do go out, don’t practice social distancing.

I desperately miss the classroom and human contact with students there. Though I like getting email from students and am finding that many of my students continue to do good work, this is not the way I wish to run my classes. Right now, I am beginning to prepare for my summer classes, ENG 2002 (Introduction to Drama) and ENG 2575 (Technical Writing). Given that the university wants to move that way, I am going to set them up on BlackBoard, though it is by far my favorite platform. Still, I have time, at least, to really prepare rather than just throwing things up as we have had to do this semester. I feel lucky in the students I have this semester, for they are managing the transition and, for the most part, are going to come out of it just fine. Still, I am hoping to be back in the classroom in the fall, though I hear all classes are going to be hybrid (partially online), starting only online and moving into the classroom once it is safe to do so.

I wonder how different we are all going to look when we do get back. If anyone is getting haircuts right now, it is at home and by family members. I have a feeling that hair styles, as a result, will be dramatically different in the fall. Fifty years ago, I wore my hair long, even sometimes braiding it. Though I don’t think I will appear back at City Tech with a braid, I am sure I won’t look the same as I did when last I saw students… and I am sure the students will look different to each other.

One way or another, campus culture is going to be different when we all get back. How different? I have no idea. I do think we are going to see much more use of technology in the classroom, for teachers are going to be much more used to it and are not going to want to abandon the skills they have gained.

I just hope we will be willing to talk face to face one again!

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part V

I hope all of you are keeping up with your own journals. Remember, I will not ask to see them until you turn them in as part of your portfolios, but you will be using them as the basis for a paper next month, so don’t forget to be writing three or four times a week.

One of the things I have been considering since the shutdown of our physical campus is the future of higher education—not only in CUNY and New York City but across the country.

There are lots of people who would love to see education move more substantially online. I resist this, for I know the value of -face-to-face instruction. My father was involved with what was then called “programmed instruction” in the 1960s, the utilization of “teaching machines.” Like the others involved in this, he learned, by the 1970s, that they alone do not provide adequate access to education for most people. Rather than being at the center of education, they are most valuable when they are used along with the other tools of the educator and from a face-to-face classroom base.

I was surprised, when I announced that we would be continuing online for the rest of the semester, that so many of my students groaned. I had thought they would like the new freedom of working from home and at any time they would like. Most of you appreciate, I found, the benefits from on-campus course meetings. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. If you had wanted to go to school online, you could have chosen to do so.

I don’t mind teaching online, but it requires a great deal more preparation than we were allowed in the shift this semester, even with the two breaks. It takes careful preparation and a different kind of syllabus—and a great deal of work on the digital platform. We were thrown into this, students and teachers, so are just having to make do. That may work for this semester, but it is not a permanent solution and, as we all know, even this semester we cannot accomplish what we should.

Colleges are planning for a drop in enrollment in the fall. I don’t if that will happen in CUNY. In fact, we may find just the opposite. After all, the economy is going to continue to be hard hit, meaning students may not have the money for expensive education but, not wanting to stop learning, may turn to CUNY, which is relatively cheap, in greater numbers. I don’t know what to expect. I am hoping that City Tech, at least, continues along approximately as it has been, not too many more students (a sudden expansion can cause problems, too) and not too many fewer. I could see enrollment going up for reasons beyond cost, too, especially in medically related fields where there is going to be increased demand for trained workers on the heels of coronavirus—but my ability to predict the future has been shown to be woefully small.

In the fall semester, we will probably start out online, migrating to the classroom, if possible, sometime later in the semester. If that happens, it will be an interesting experience, something none of us has ever been through. Normally, we meet our students and professors with little or no prior experience of them. This time, we will know a great deal about each other but will never have met. I wonder what that is going to be like.

One thing that worries me is that many professors know very little about using digital tools in teaching. It is quite different from classroom teaching and requires a new set of skills. In many ways, you have to trust your students more… not trusting simply that they won’t cheat but that they will take command of their work in a way that is not necessary when you meet regularly in the classroom. Also, there is no real online replacement for the lecture which, though many don’t like it, is an integral part of classroom teaching. Recordings and lectures through things like Zoom do not provide the same dynamic—certainly not the motivation that is one thing lectures are meant to produce.

For all of us involved in higher education, students and faculty, the next few months are going to be eye-opening. When we look back in a few years, I wonder what we will think.

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part IV

I have never gotten so tired just sitting on my can most of the day. Oh, I’m working and some of it is quite stressful, but I am not moving about nearly enough. And that makes me less effective, grumpier and tired.

Yesterday was filled with phone calls and Zoom meetings (I hate Zoom). Fellow teachers reaching the ends of their ropes, students panicking about classes that have become something other than what they had signed up for, and friends and neighbors simply running out of steam. All of them are one simply tick away from breaking down.

Maybe the only thing that is holding any of us together is understanding that there are eight million of us in the same boat. No one is enjoying this; everyone is struggling.

In many respects, I am luckier than most for I do have plenty of work to do, am even falling somewhat behind. Not only that, but my health is as good as that of anyone my age—so far. Like everyone, I scare myself into thinking every little sniffle is COVID-19 but that, perhaps, is good, for it helps me to continue to be careful.

It’s eerie, when we go out, to see all the signs of spring around but so few people out to enjoy them. This should be a time of emergence, of coming out from our winter hideaways and into new sunshine. For now, though, we are holed up as though a blizzard were roaring outside.

I guess one is, but it is silent.


One of the things I am relearning is just how much we need each other but, at the same time, always manage to get on each other’s nerves. All of us are trying to constrain ourselves, not overreacting, not sulking. We know that everyone else, well… I said that above.

Having a dog is a great blessing right now, not only for the devoted companionship but for making us get out with them and walk. Being outside with them keeps us from not feeling guilty that we are not isolating. The dogs, though, can’t understand why we pull them away from other dogs instead of standing and chatting as we used to do and allowing them to sniff each other. But they are all getting more walks which is absolutely fine with them.

It’s good we have the cats, too. But, though they do show love, we can’t use them as excuses for going outside.

Vegan cornbreadToday, we broke down and ordered pizza. Oh, and shrimp parmesan. We went way overboard and now I am stuffed. There’s leftover pizza in the refrigerator though, a welcome change to our own pasta dishes and the bean concoction that I like to eat over rice but my wife likes as is. Even though we have the time for it, neither of us feels much like cooking. The only thing I’ve made, recently, is vegan cornbread. I like it, but my wife says it’s terrible—though she admits the last batch was better than it had been.

When I sat down to write today, I wanted to concentrate on all the thoughts that have been passing through my mind about education, about how students need to be treated right now, about the changes that all of this is forcing on us. But I couldn’t do it.

Guess I’ll have to save that for another day. Right now, all I can really do is simply try to get by.

Hopper in Our Time

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) painted a world long gone. Or is it?

NighthawksHis most famous painting, generally known as “Nighthawks at the Diner,” has been studied and parodied for almost eighty years. But never have we examined it in a time like this. How does it resonate with you today? What does it say during a crisis such as our own?

Hotel WindowAnother of his paintings is “Hotel Window.” It has not been as well known but it may gain in popularity. Does it say anything to you?

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part III

I am going to increase the frequency of my journal for this week, for we may be entering the roughest period of this crisis, at least for us New Yorkers. Though I don’t know what is going on in your lives, I am concerned about each of you. I hope you will all comment more frequently here and are working on your own journals—maybe not every day, as I am doing right now, but at least three or four times a week.

Last night, I dreamed that we had left our car in a hotel parking lot while attending a function, leaving our dog and cats inside. When we came out, the car had been trashed and the key wouldn’t open it. I had to struggle to get the pets out. Fortunately, I did.

When I woke, I took this to be a warning from my unconscious to stay in this coming week, which may be the “the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives” as U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams predicted yesterday

Though I know there is chaos in the distance already, the most I know of it beyond the news media is the sirens, much more common that they normally are. Around my neighborhood, almost all is quiet. People are out, but not too often, many of them walking dogs—as we do. Almost everyone is now in masks and most of us try to keep a safe distance away from others.

The strange thing is that there does seem to be a high percentage of those outside who are aggressively acting as if nothing has happened at all and as if nothing will. We read stories about people insisting that the coronavirus is all a hoax but the stories are generally from places far from New York. Here, we are living with it already. I think there are few New Yorkers who don’t yet know anyone who died. Certainly, all of us know people who are ill with COVID-19. We may be, ourselves. The symptoms range from none at all to mild to serious to deadly and none of us knows what ours may be—or even if we have already had the virus but don’t know it. The lack of easily available testing is keeping each of us in suspense.

My only outing yesterday was to go to the laundromat where I dropped off laundry rather than doing it myself as used to be my normal routine. My only one today will be to pick it up. Though I hate it, I wore a mask and will again, today. I really doubt that the masks do much good but this is a time for prudence, not for stubbornness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my students, many of whom are not that active here on OpenLab. I hope they will be, and not simply so that they will get credit for the course. I am concerned about them, hoping each one is OK and that their families are OK. I know one high-school student, a good student, who is falling behind on his classes, a burden he does not need right now. He stepfather died of COVID-19 ten days ago and his mother is sick (but recovering). He has been responsible almost completely for his pre-teen brother and sister for three weeks now, cooking for them and seeing to all of their needs, including those resulting from their father’s death. I hope that none of my students is facing a situation as bad, or even worse, right now, that there are other reasons for their silence.

To pass the time when I am not dealing with my classes and students, I have been writing some and reading, and watching television. We just finished the available episodes of a Swedish drama called “The Restaurant” on Sundance Now so, today, we will have to start looking for another show to binge on.

After almost a month of being inside almost all of the time, we are beginning to get used to this, though that doesn’t mean we are starting to like it.

The worst of it is the not knowing, the wondering. Even if we get sick, the vast majority of us will recover. But thousands are dying. These include friends, maybe family, maybe even ourselves. We just don’t know… and that’s the hardest thing of all.

Professor Barlow’s Time of Coronavirus Journal, Part II

I hope all of you are progressing on your own journals. Feel free to comment on this one, perhaps recounting incidents in your own life.

Last night, because I have been reluctant to take her on as many walks as usual, the dog wet the bed, badly enough to require changing sheets and mattress pad. Not much got on the mattress itself, but enough so that we had to clean and leave it uncovered to air out. That meant that we had to inflate the air mattress for my wife and I slept next to it on the couch.

It’s days, now, since I was concerned that I was getting sick. I suspect it was allergies but we did isolate me, as best as possible, in the apartment for 24 hours. Now, I am up and about once more, getting back to regular activities—which now include daily washing with a spray disinfectant that includes bleach, of all doorknobs, light switches, countertops, and anything else in the apartment that we regularly touch. This all happens under my wife’s supervision; cleaning is something I always like to put off, but we cannot afford that, not now.

We know, as everyone does, that we need to be acting as though we are contagious, staying out of the way of others for the sakes of those others. And hoping others are doing the same for us. It’s all of us together who are going to get through this at all, all of this acting out of concern for others and hoping they are thinking the same for us.

Our neighbors, whose son-in-law died from COVID-19 recently after a week on a ventilator, have more illness than anyone knew. The daughter is ill—we knew that—but so is her father, our friend, who is in his seventies. He has not been sick enough to go to the hospital, thank goodness, but is still at home, now getting better, as is his daughter.

A friend’s daughter—they all live in Syracuse—is also ill, though the test came back negative. All of her symptoms, though, are of COVID-19. And now her boyfriend is having upper-respiratory problems. Uh, oh. These next few weeks are going to be difficult as more and more people we know fall ill. I just hope the numbers will be small.

The entrance from 92nd St. onto the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge on April 4.
The entrance from 92nd St. onto the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge on April 4.

Yesterday, we combined walking the dog with purchasing gloves and masks, things we had been resisting but that now seem at least important symbols of concern and, even though they are signs of distancing, of solidarity. Wearing masks and gloves, though they seem to simply be protections of ourselves, are also protections of the rest of our community, should we be the ones who are sick. It bothers me, when I am on the street with the dog, that I have to walk into the street to avoid other pedestrians when the sidewalks are narrow. It seems like an insult and I have to remind myself that it is a show of respect for the other.

I wonder if, once this is over, we are all going to have difficulty walking in crowds the way we New Yorkers had been used to doing. This whole thing is changing all of our lives; only later will we be able to catalogue how. One thing I am expecting is a change in hair styles, especially for men. Being unable to go to barbershops is making longer locks more and more common. We are going to get used to them again, and then they will become the style.

On a lighter note, I have been spending time training Sherman, one of our cats. So far, I have gotten him to sit on command, to touch my index finger on command, and to hit my fist with his paw on command. He isn’t yet perfect, still sometimes thinking he can do the actions and get a treat instead of waiting to be told, but he is getting better and I am beginning to think about what I want his next task to be. Follow this link to see him:

We Real Cool

Pool Room
By Chris Yunker from St. Louis, United States – Booches, CC BY 2.0,



We Real Cool

By Gwendolyn Brooks




The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

            We real cool. We
            Left school. We
            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We
            Sing sin. We
            Thin gin. We
            Jazz June. We
            Die soon.