Little Weenies of Learning

San Francisco is among the top ten cities in the country for both restaurants per capita and bars per capita—the only city so distinguished. Years ago a single “establishment” often served both purposes, facilitating liquid dining with large but undistinguished spreads of “complimentary” food. Businesses usually closed at noon on Good Friday, though that afternoon’s foot traffic went less towards Notre Dame des Victoires than to Paoli’s, Alfred’s, Jack’s, and Sam’s. But any afternoon of the week or year was bound to see lots of lubricated togetherness ballasted with stodgy fried gobbets and cocktail weenies. You could say it was a meal, I guess.

And you could say, I guess, that it is an academic conference when Queens University of Ontario, conducting a gathering on Transforming Our Learning Experiences, has a call for proposals that includes Research Paper Presentations of twenty-five minutes (with 10 – 15 minutes reserved for “entertaining questions”), Facilitated Poster Sessions, and Educational Speed Dating[1] sessions of twenty minutes. The longest sessions in the conference are fifty minutes: anything lasting hours or a day is banished to the “pre-conference.”

Those in attendance, like the Good Friday devotees of old San Francisco, can take time off from work by using something serious as an excuse for something easy on the mind. They can while away an afternoon filling up on dubious nutrients like Educational Speed Dating, Poster Sessions, and other cocktail weenies of intellect. They can lay out empty calories by “presenting” “research” in ten-minute talks. The main immediate problem in replacing the Symposium with the Happy Hour is that the participants will probably get only bottled water to drink. The main enduring problem is the lingering worry that schooling being transformed into something like this sort of teachers’ conference.

[1] At last: something educational!

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