Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Books and Their Movies: What Works, What Doesn’t?

Summer movie season always brings out the same problem for me and my grad student (and non-grad student, book loving) friends: what the heck to do about movies-based-on-books. The general rule of thumb is that you should read the book first, right? Well, that’s all well and good when you don’t have 100 academic tomes beating down your door to be read. I find that I often cave and see the movie first, but it’s not an uncomplicated decision.

One problem: I’m running out of time to read the books and see the movies. I have not read the Harry Potter books. I know, I know! I’m culturally deprived. But…I’ve seen the movies borderline religiously. I’m not quite waiting in a pop-tent outside the ticket window, but I’m close. I figure, if I only have 25 hours in my life to devote to Harry Potter, I’m going to watch the movies. I do think I’ll eventually be talked into the books, but I find myself satisfied with the movies. But in the meantime, how do you sort the books that have to be read before the film from those that don't?

Another problem: There are books that I love, and I fear extreme disappointment from a film adaptation. I put off watching Little Women for a lot of years, but was pleasantly surprised (I guess a cast with Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Eric Stoltz, Christian Bale, and Gabriel Byrne helps). But when The Lovely Bones came around, also with an impressive cast, I froze. I adore The Lovely Bones and I can’t risk seeing it ruined. Even films that come out well can feel like a shell of the novel. I think White Oleander is a good movie, but the adaptation was so sanitized; the book is gritty and hard, while the film is sad. I have to force myself to try to evaluate the book and the film independently.

I might be onto something, in considering the book and its adaptation as separate entities. After all, if an outing to the movies is supposed to be a break, I don't want to have to do pre-reading! So I’m seeking guidance. Are there movies based on books worth seeing, with or without reading the books? Are there movies you think are better than the book? Should I just get on with it and get all the Harry Potter books from the library right now? The entire series would be a good tool in the procrastination kit...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Opp Choice: To Inflate, or Not to Inflate

I was just going to skip June entirely, what with the Africa trip, the post-trip recovery session, and the pageant that is celebrating a birthday when friends and family are far-flung, but then a fellow grad student dropped this on my desk, which snapped me back to grad student reality.

Law School's Employment-Boosting Strategy: Grade Inflation

At first, I wasn't shocked, because I don't think this is particularly new, even leaving aside UofC's bucket of oddness. But then I thought about it again, because this article isn't just about grade inflation; it is about a variety of institutional coping mechanisms in the midst of rising debt and unemployment among recent graduates.

I'll tell you that I have never been ordered to raise or lower a grade based on an agreed-upon standard designed to boost students' post-education job opportunities. But I'll also tell you that I've seen graduate students, professors, and students themselves have radically different opinions on what a B paper looks like, let alone if any Ds or Fs should be handed out. We've all had instructors who love to give B-minuses on every assignment, and we've also probably had instructors who dole out the As for simply showing up and staying awake. Getting these instructors to agree on a grade scale based on the actual work would seem futile, but rallying them behind a "cause" to inflate might work.

I have to wonder if law schools have been doing this for awhile, and now the trend is just strong enough that more schools have to jump on the bandwagon just to keep up. I imagine that in law schools, where rankings are important and students often burden themselves with debt, managing expectations is important. In some academic positions where 6 spots open a year, a program can throw their hands up in the air and blame the hiring process, which is shrouded in much mystery. Law firm hiring may also be shrouded in mystery, but if you go to a school that will pay a firm to hire you, things might be a bit clearer.

Does this vary between programs, or between schools? Is grade inflation, at any level, becoming a problem? What do you think of some of these solutions to increased job competition? And, what will this mean for those of us who missed this mass inflation?

**For those waiting on an update on the trip, it will come after the 4th of July, once I can upload the billion pictures of elephants we took! Stay tuned.