Have a good time but remember…Some friendly advice for university students who are about to take a break from their studies this summer

If you are a university student, and want to have a more enjoyable and productive experience when you return to classes this fall, I have some friendly advice.

In roughly three months classes resume. Regardless if they will be in person, hybrid, or on-line, during the summer you will have numerous distractions, but you will also have some down time. Although you can spend your free time away from your studies, catching up on your sleep, doubling down on social media, or watching more Netflix or Hulu, but you might also use this time to better prepare yourself for the fall semester.

How should you go about doing this? First, don’t be so quick to get rid of the textbooks that you were assigned for your class.

Second, go to the books that you did not finish, or read in their entirety, read the chapters that were not assigned, or that you skipped (like the foreword or preface), and if you have time, read the complete text from the beginning to the end.

Take notes like you are supposed to, and ask yourself some basic questions like the who, what, where, how, and why of the content. Keep these notes in a handy location, not the scraps of paper that you probably threw out.

Third, once you have completed this task, turn to the remaining books that were assigned, but you didn’t use. Similar to the ones that you partially read, start reading the ones you never touched. Again, ask yourself questions like why did the author/s write the book, what was their main intent and message?

Fourth, use your free time to consider subjects that you think might interest you, but have never had time to explore in the form of elective university courses you might take in the fall.

One way to approach this task is find out which instructors will be teaching classes on subjects that might interest you this fall, and to ask them for a copy of the syllabus. They may not have the final version, but should be happy to send you an old version. This request will accomplish a number of goals including demonstrating to your potential instructor that you are interested in the subject matter, allow you to get a head start on purchasing the required books, or lending them from a library and once secured, start reading them.

As a result of this process, you may discover that the subject does not interest you. If this is a required class then at least you know what you are getting into. But if it is an elective, then you have some time to switch out of the class and into one that might interest you.

Finally, if your instructor told you that you should improve your writing, then it might make sense to make some in roads in this direction. There are numerous websites where you can access free content and lessons that will help you step up your game.

All in all these suggestions should enable you to better succeed in the fall with your classes and studies, and hopefully assist you in enjoying your time in those courses.

Missouri State University
Students sell back textbooks
(Photo by Kevin White)

If almost all you do is criticize the opposition, then it doesn’t make you a good leader

Those who are still inclined to reflect upon the Trump administration, including the damage that it left in its wake, may also want to consider the criteria that makes a good leader. In order to understand this important role it’s important to distinguish leaders from managers.

Each have distinct roles and responsibilities. In short, the leader develops a unique and realistic strategy for the organization, and the managers implement it. This presupposes that the leader (or the team that assists him or her) selects appropriate managers. And when things fail the leader cannot simply ignore the criticism, blame the manager or fire them, but takes responsibility. Sure we can excuse a handful of the leader’s picks for managers, but if the leader is continuously hiring and firing managers, one has to look much deeper including the ability and skills of the leader (and their subordinates) to make appropriate decisions that will affect the health of the organization.

I don’t have to tell you that Trump’s modus operandi both before the presidency and during it was to take pot shots at people whom he perceived to be his enemies, blame others for his setbacks. But this either seemed to go unnoticed or minimized by his followers and sycophants. Both saw Trump as someone imbued with superhuman powers.

Although there are lots of reasons why Trump came to power, but two of the most important included his ability to spin a believable bubbameister as a self-made billionaire, that many of his supporters lapped up, and his persistent criticism of Obama and his administration which resonated with many Americans.

Trump is not alone in this respect. Many leaders of organizations, and of political units no matter how small, whether we’re talking about the United States or elsewhere are neither good leaders nor managers. They often occupy these positions by default. And for good reason. Few of the competent people want the position. But it’s clear that Trump was a poor leader. A leader cannot base his or her agenda on principally tearing down the competition. He had no vision of a better future and no strategy. And when it came time to deal with one of the major crises of this century, (the ultimate test of a leader) (COVID-19), Trump stumbled and fell.

This brings us to month number four of the Biden administration. With 37 percent of the American population having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and mask mandates fading away (we’ll see how this works out), an infrastructure bill that in the waiting, we can probably say that both Biden and his administration demonstrated thoughtful and competent leadership and management.

But if we look across the aisle to the current Republican leadership we see Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy floundering.

And no amount of rhetoric coming from either of them is righting a sinking ship. Neither McConnell nor McCarthy have a clear vision of where they want to take the Republican Party, and this country. Their only mission appears to be criticizing Biden, his administration and the Democratic Party, and putting legislative roadblocks in front of Democrats. McConnell did that for the eight years that Obama was in power. And as the Republican party slips into the ideological wasteland, for the time being at least, it appears that it is up to Biden and the Democrats to chart the future for this country.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore
“Kevin McCarthy” and “Mitch McConnell”

Running out of time: Documenting the life histories of Old School Graffiti Writers

Although graffiti, has existed for centuries, modern graffiti did not really start until the 1960s. Despite a nascent graffiti scene in Philadelphia, many argue that the NYC writers (1966-1985) were the originators of modern day graffiti (characterized by bubble lettering, wildstyle, bombing, and subway trains with full cars bearing graffiti lettering, images and motifs).

In the late 1960s, the Old School Graffiti Writers started tagging, piecing, and bombing above ground in the Bronx. Later they turned their efforts underground, throughout the NYC subway system. And when the Metropolitan Transit Authority cracked down on their activities, they innovated, chose new targets above ground throughout the five boroughs of NYC.

Their work and subculture was emulated and built upon by others in many big cities, not just in the United States, but elsewhere (e.g., Paris, London, Athens, etc.). Almost every large urban center throughout the world now has a group of young writers (and street artists), who engage in this mostly clandestine activity.

A few years ago, when my wife and I were living in New York City, I attended a couple of gallery openings in the Lower East Side that featured the work of “old school” New York City graffiti writers.

At the time I was completing my Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art, and was hoping to meet some of the writers at these events.

In general, these gallery openings were upbeat events. I witnessed writers, most of them in their sixties and seventies, reuniting, conversing, and generally having a good time. But for me, it was also a little sad.

Many of the artists I saw were struggling with the effects of aging. By speaking to a handful of them and eavesdropping on the conversations of others, I overheard not only stories about the good old days, but also how many of their friends and acquaintances were deceased, behind bars, or unable to attend; some because of work or family obligations, but others due to mobility issues and the wear and tear of getting old. This is an influential generation that is slowly disappearing.

The individuals and work of the Old School Writers has been documented in articles and books and through interviews and photographs. This information has appeared in both popular and academic venues. Some of this content has even been featured in documentaries, podcasts, and television news shows. In some cases, old school writers are very well-known –respected celebrities in the art world, or considered to be infamous subterranean urban outlaws.

Whereas some of the Old School Writers successfully made the transition to gallery artists, or into other careers where they used their creative talents, others melded away into public obscurity. In other words, not all of them had the same life trajectory. In general we know who they were and what they did. But we don’t know what they’ve done and where they are.

If we look at these individuals as a distinct urban subculture, we can recognize that selective information has been made publicly available about them. What we lack is an in-depth picture of the group as a whole.

Many of the writers have passed away. Others are now senior citizens. The next few years might be the last time to perform a rigorous and comprehensive oral or life history analysis of these individuals before it’s too late.

As the scholarly field that examines graffiti and street art evolves, it’s important to comprehensively understand its history. We see this in the field of archeology, where a subgroup of researchers are studying what has been dubbed ‘ancient graffiti.’ It is incumbent on researchers of contemporary graffiti (and street art) to do the same. Why? Because the origin of the Old School Writers is often shrouded in mythology and misconceptions, especially surrounding their growth and activities.

Unpacking and pulling back the veil is important, not only for the scholarly field of graffiti, but also to challenge and lay these misconceptions to rest, and have a better picture how their life circumstances affected their ability to do their creative work.

The available information about these individuals is scattered across different venues. Most celebrates or romanticizes their work (or demonizes them). Less of it digs deeper into the Old School Writer’s lives, and practically none seeks to understand their childhood, late teenage years, and how these writers adapted to the responsibilities of adulthood. And for these reasons alone it’s time to do a larger more comprehensive study.

Photo Credit Heavily tagged New York City Subway car in 1973
Erik Calonius