“Go, Monkey, Go”

A 25-pound male macaque monkey has been living in and around Tampa, Florida since at least 2009, eluding capture by state wildlife officials.

No pet macaques were reported missing around Tampa Bay — there wasn’t even anyone licensed to own one in the immediate area. Yates, who is called by the state wildlife agency to trap two or three monkeys a year, was struck by how “streetwise” this particular one seemed. Escaped pet monkeys tend to cower and stumble once they’re out in the unfamiliar urban environment, racing into traffic or frying themselves in power lines. But as Yates loaded a tranquilizer dart into his rifle, this animal jolted awake, swung out of the canopy and hit the ground running. It made for the neighboring office park, where it catapulted across a roof and reappeared, sitting smugly in another tree, only to vanish again. Yates was left dumbstruck, balancing at the top of a ladder. “There’s no way to describe how intelligent this thing is,” he told me recently.

He is a folk hero, a colorful visitor to the back patio, a recluse, a symbol of governmental over-reaction, a source of anxiety, an object of controversy. Is he better off living in the wild, or living in captivity with a female macaque? It’s an intriguing and offbeat story, related recently in an offbeat way by The New York Times. I hope the publicity does not hasten his demise.

I Will Be Serving Flounder

You wouldn’t know it from the quantity of my summer posts, but I am still alive.

I will be teaching a freshman course for the first time in 13 years, so I think often of how they are different from the sophomores, juniors, and seniors I usually teach. An Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe by Boston College professor Carlo Rotella titled Advice for the College Freshman captured my attention, particularly this paragraph:

Hit the marks, but find opportunities to flounder purposefully. A number of tendencies in child rearing these days, chief among them the predominance of coaching and lessons and other formal instruction, make for kids coming out of high school who are terrifically good at hitting the marks. A teacher tells them what to do and how to do it, they do it and get praise for it (because positive reinforcement really works), the teacher gives them something a little more advanced to do, and so on. This is great, on balance, but the price of all that coachability is that students are often not as comfortable when learning in an open-ended, less-guided style. College is a good place to do both . . .

Amen. Many of my assignments are open-ended and I prefer free-ranging give-and-take discussions to structured lectures. Students across the achievement spectrum can drift aimlessly if they are not told exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s not enough to be smart, to implement someone else’s concept perfectly, to shade your performance to satisfy someone else’s expectations.