Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why yes, it has been years

But there's been an election and with that panic attacks and general terror.

So, how to move forward.  First, I need to work to listen and pay attention to the people who understand how things really work.

Presidents don't have all the much power.  Advisors to presidents don't have that much power.  Rhetoric is just that, rhetoric, and while someone can be a despicable person it doesn't mean much of anything regarding what they'll do in office.  Someone with no experience may, in fact, see some opportunities to do things that haven't been taken advantage of because of an unwillingness to burn bridges.  And, despite lacking experience, his party wants his time in office to be a time of success and flourishing because they want to continue to be able to have their agenda be at the forefront.  And since he's a loose cannon (or at least presented himself that way), who knows what sort of negotiating power that gives him.

Nazis aren't going to take over even if the President is listening to them because Congress, Supreme Court, the 95%+ of the population who oppose that sort of behavior.

But, the fact of the matter is that I can't really control him (my efforts at mind control on people closer to me have been unsuccessful so I doubt more effort is going to work with him).  So, I have been emailing and calling my representatives.  I'm doubtful that this will have much impact beyond adding to the number of people calling and emailing (and I think quantity probably does have an impact).  And, when my representatives are in town I will show up and ask them questions face to face.

More pressingly is what I'm going to do day to day.  I really do believe that what has happened is a consequence of decades of not listening to people and instead everyone being confident in the truth of their own beliefs.  This isn't to say that those beliefs are mistaken but that if all we do is focus on how correct we are we may miss some important things about other people's experiences.

I think that many people are dissatisfied with their lives.  And that being dissatisfied they want, at minimum, for their dissatisfaction to be acknowledged and for it to be acknowledged that their lives being the way they are, economically, socially, probably isn't their fault.  We've  I'd done a horrible job of listening to this.

Given the dissatisfaction and then adding to this feeling ignored or, even worse, passed over because of a focus on issues of racism, gay rights, trans rights, etc (all of which are important and ought to be addressed) people are going to, understandably I think, be resentful of those who have gotten the attention and those who have been doing the ignoring.

I've long said that I think that everyone wants, fundamentally, to be heard, understood and cared about based on who they really are.  I don't think I've done a good job at playing my part in this.

It seems like everyone has been so intent on proving that they are right that we've stopped even listening to what other folks are saying assuming that we already know what they are doing to say.

so, what am I going to do to make things better?  I need to rethink my courses, a constant, so that they are doing what I want them to be doing.  Of course this means I need to get clear on what I want them to be doing.  I also need to be really intentional about what I'm communicating to others in terms of my willingness to listen to all.  And, of course, I need to not just say that I want to listen to all, I need to reach out and really ask and listen.

I recently purchased a Black Lives Matter sweatshirt because I do believe that Black Lives Matter.  But, I also believe that gay lives matter, trans lives matter, poor lives matter, conservative lives matter, brown lives matter, red lives matter, etc.  I don't like "All Lives Matter" because that seem antagonistic to Black Lives Matter.  But, that aside, now I worry about wearing the sweatshirt.  I know that it will mean that I'm viewed as an ally to many (and I am their ally) but it will also be interpreted by many as meaning that I don't want to listen to them, that their story doesn't matter to me and that I think Black lives mean more than their lives.  Now, of course, in a nice intellectual conversation I could note that this isn't what it means, but how can I get to that conversation if someone sees the sweatshirt and draws all sorts of conclusions?  Why aren't I wearing a sweatshirt that says "Poor Lives Matter"?  or one of the other variations?  So, I'm probably not going to wear the sweatshirt, or if I do, it'll be because I take it somewhere to have a list of x lives matter put on the back of it.  I suppose one take away here is that sweatshirts may be poor conversation starters but they certainly communicate ideologies even if what is communicated isn't what is intended.

I think lots of folks deserve allies.  When I think of the values of the US that I think are important it isn't merely individual rights and freedom, equally important to me is hospitality — welcoming the stranger and doing our best to make them feel at home.  I need to work on being more hospitable to people who might assume that I am not interested in their lives being good lives.  Yes, I'm rambling, but since no one is going to read this, I'm not terribly concerned.

I am going to return here regularly to work out my thoughts about what I need to be doing and what I'm going to do in terms of my everyday behavior and my courses.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

White & Class privilege

I saw this video a week or so ago and it's really stuck with me.

In the intervening weeks, the house remodeling happening in my house has hit full throttle (which means moving from agonizing over decisions to actual people coming in and doing things like altering plumbing, installing wiring, sheet-rocking, white walling, etc.) and I've gotten back to walking my dog.  One of the things that I like about myself is that I'm friendly.  And one of the things I like about where I live is that this friendliness isn't viewed suspiciously.  I make it a point to chat a bit with the plumber, the painters, etc.  I enjoy saying good morning to people on daily walks with the dog, stopping to chat with people along our 2.5 mile route.  I enjoy not being in a hurry and having the time to stop and connect with people.

I should note that I do all of this while wearing shorts that are not in anyway stylish and t-shirts.  Not 'women's t-shirts' but regular old t-shirt t-shirts with crew necks.

So, back to the video.  I've been very aware in the last week or so that the reception I expect from people (and the reception I usually get) is that people will be friendly back, they'll welcome the connection and respond by chatting with me.  I began wondering how would these exact overtures be taken (how would I expect them to be taken) if were not white & middle-aged?

I suspect that if I had a heavy accent and/or dark skin and/or some sort of overt religious garb (excepting, possibly, a nun) that I'd be treated really differently (suspicion, most likely or with perfunctory politeness).  Or, at the very least, I'd expect to be treated differently.

Yes, I am very slow.  But, in my defense, this is all stuff that I've known intellectually.  If someone were to have pointed all this out, I'd have agreed and though it obvious.  But, in this last week, I've felt it.  I've realized that these everyday interactions (which I really enjoy) go smoothly and in a way that I find enjoyable largely because I am white (I imagine that a person of color would have an easier time if they were of a certain economic/social class than if they weren't, but I'm pretty sure that I'm always going to have the clearest path of social ease — so clear and so omnipresent in my life that I never notice it.  This is not something I'd fully appreciated before.or, rather, that I'd fully felt before.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Liberal Arts & Jobs

Higher education as it currently exists is a strange beast.

Students come to us wanting jobs (a completely reasonable desire).  They think that the best way to get jobs is to be trained for a particular job (a reasonable, though I'd argue, false belief).  Those of us in the humanities argue that our classes are 'practical' because they teach students the very skills that employers want (and citizens, future parents, etc. need) — how to ask questions, how to think critically, how to listen to others well, etc.  But, students, shockingly, aren't convinced.

So, here's my plan: Provide for students a serious, rigorous liberal arts education — with equal emphasis on all aspects of liberal arts: science, social sciences, humanities & arts.  I am absolutely unapologetic about that.  BUT, add to this, from the moment the students step onto campus serious, on-going conversations about how careers, what there is, how to get them, how to succeed.

I'd say everyone should in addition to the rigorous liberal arts education students should get the equivalent of a minor in a professional degree (business, journalism, etc.).  I'd also say that the emphasis on majors should be vastly downgraded.  If there are majors, there should be limit on the number of credit hours that can be required in a major.  And, students can only major in one field.

This way students get the rich intellectual foundation that they need but also get a skills based 'package' to leave with.  Supplement this with constant conversations and support for getting jobs (including but not limited to internships).

There we go.

Next problem?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I ♥ Daniel Kahneman

I'm reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow and wishing I could just memorize everything that's in it.  It's so good and has the potential to really change how I do many things (particularly, obviously, teaching).

I don't have the time to read and reread it nor do I have a good excuse to teach it.  How am I going to remember all the things in it that I need to be remembering?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On-line Class

Well, I'm moving into the last week of my 6 week on-line class and since I have absolutely nothing besides face-to-face classes to compare it to, I think it's not gone horribly.

It's ended up being a writing intensive class (students have at least one assignment a day) and I've structured it using an idea that a good friend had (& is going to write about) — using Bloom's taxonomy.  The early writing assignments were for the students to summarize the conclusions of the texts (I gave them excerpts that had conclusions fairly easily identifiable) and provide textual evidence to support their summaries.

After they did this for each of the texts we're covering, we moved in the next week to actually apply the conclusions to specific cases.  And, now this last week, they've spent time identifying and summarizing in their own words the arguments in support of the conclusions they identified earlier.

Now, I think that what I've developed is a good learning experience if the students are diligent (I have a few who are and the work they are doing suggests that they are learning) but I think that a major downfall of this course is that it's only 6 weeks.  This is a huge amount to do in only 6 weeks.  The students who are doing well are, by their reports, dedicating at least 3 hours a day to the class.  This makes sense.  I usually teach this class as a 15 week class meeting 3 times a week.  If we use the 3 hours outside of class for every hour in class, that's 175 hours spent on the class (45 hours in class and then 135 hours outside).  In a 6 week class there's only 42 days to work with.  That means over 4 hours a day would have to be spent on the class.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A life devoid of creativity & emotions?

This just makes me sad.  Well, I suppose since the person writing it says she'd make the same choices all over again this is something she's okay with, but I can't imagine that this is something I'd be willing to do.

Nor can I imagine encouraging anyone to pursue a life like this.  In fact, I think if success in a field depends on living a life like this, someone needs to stir up that field a bit.

Once again, I feel incredibly lucky to have the job I do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Future of Higher Education

My tendency when trying to solve a problem is to find a similar problem elsewhere that has already been solved or to find a situation where someone has managed to avoid the problem and figure out how it's been managed.  Efficiency or laziness?  Honestly, it's laziness.  Why not just learn from what's already happened instead of doing all that exhausting heavy lifting myself?

I've been reading a good deal about education and am participating in a summer project focused on thinking about the future of higher education.  I have many times related education to both the ministry and health professions and I think that, again, looking to these areas we can learn a good deal.

In particular, I think higher education and organized religion share a good deal.  We both believe that what we are providing is self-evidently good for the people who we serve.  At the same time, we've never really had to 'sell' ourselves.  Participation in religious institutions is something people were simply raised to do and so did.  Aspirations to go to college to become educated and think about big ideas is something we, in higher education, count on continuing.  But, our assumption that people would always want what we are providing means we have never really made the case for what we are doing.

And, now people are choosing to go to churches where they get what they want (big churches, few responsibilities, spending time with the people they want to spend time with, entertainment and little challenge to already existing beliefs) and my pastor friends bemoan this.  Likewise as people begin to choose the college education they want, they are probably not going to choose what we think they need and what I really do think is, ultimately good for everyone.

I'd say that journalism is undergoing the same sorts of problems.  Democracy depends upon a thriving journalistic community and a population that is engaged with this community.  But, now people read only what they want to read and are able to fairly easily ignore what they want to ignore.  We spend more time confirming what we already believe to be true and less time becoming aware that things aren't what we thought they were.

Journalism, religion and education are also in the same situation insofar as much of what we have provided in the past is available for free (well, it isn't what we really have been providing but it's what people have thought we've been providing) and so now we are increasingly unable to fund our own versions of what it is we do (since there is less of a market for it).

One thing churches did do, lo many years ago, was make a distinction between monks and priests.  Having these be two different jobs has always made sense to me.  It's the monks who were the scholars and the priests who communicated the relevant learning to the laypeople.  It's long been a mystery to me why, in the academy, we expect faculty to be monks and priests.

Now, turning to religion (or journalism) doesn't actually provide solutions, but it does make clear that what's happening in higher education isn't unique to higher education.  We are at the mercy of the same forces that other important institutions are.  Which means we need to be looking at the conversations in these fields to see what we can come up with together as a strategy for where to move and how to best retain our core values without shrinking into the vanishing point.

Faculty Salaries

I'm reading this article "Visioning 2035: The Future of the Higher Education Sector in the UK" and it just occurred to me why faculty don't get paid more.

The work that faculty say would justify us getting paid more money (that which takes most of our time — teaching) is not the same work that drives hiring.  In general, teaching is important but I doubt that a great teacher with no publications would ever be hired given a market where there are so many unemployed PhDs available to drive salaries down.

If we really hired people based on their proficiency for teaching, I suspect this would radically alter what university campuses looked like (and it'd eliminate or at least change the concept of tenure) and that'd be the only way to really get to higher salaries.

And, to be clear, I'm not complaining about my salary.  Yes, I'd love more money (would anyone not?) but I get paid well to do something I love in a way that I generally love.  There are people who have way less satisfying jobs who get paid less than I do and they should be the ones who get paid more.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Transforming Spaces

I would love to have a very cool (as in 'hip') house.  The problem is that I am not terribly good at seeing what a space can be.  All I see is what's already there.  Seriously, I can barely imagine different furniture. And, yet, I would love to get a space and then make it my own (which, obviously, would be very cool).

And then I come across this.  Many houses I've looked at are much nicer than what these folks started with and I dismiss them.  I've got to figure out a way to cultivate this sort of vision because what these folks did with this space is, objectively, awesome.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Assigning the listening/viewing of on-line lectures

I'm teaching an on-line course this summer.  I volunteered to do it with the idea that this will get me thinking about teaching in a way that I haven't.  I figure, also, that if I can figure out how to teach well on-line, then this ought to make me a better teacher in a face-to-face setting.

And, in fact, it is making me think more about my teaching.  I'm really having to focus in on what I want to accomplish in the course and how I'm going to do it.  Hopefully, much of what I end up doing for this on-line course will be useable for my traditional face-to-face course.

At this very moment I'm wondering about the wisdom of pointing students to on-line lectures on the theorists will be discussing.  I've also thought about doing this for classes that aren't on-line.

How is this different (is this different) from assigning reading?  I mean, obviously, it's different but is it different bad or different potentially helpful?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In the minds of students

Last night I had dinner with two graduating majors and learned a good deal about what students apparently think about me.  I have no reason to think they were lying and they did go out of their way to say that they don't think these things, but that students who don't know me as well do.

I'll jump to the end: students are way more suspicious than I thought.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Well, damn, it's been a really long time since I've written anything here.  Not for lack of things to say.  But, more, a lack of, well, writing anything here in a long time.

Instead of trying to catch up, I'll just start with where I am and, if anything relevant happened in the last 5 months, it'll come up and I'll catch up.

On the teaching front, I've agreed to teach an on-line class this summer.  My thinking is that on-line teaching is here to stay but that it's unlikely to be here in this form (I'm thinking of the first cell (that is, 'mobile') phones that were super clunky but have transformed to what we now have) and I'm interested in possibly being ahead of the curve here.  Also, I think this is probably a pretty good way to get myself thinking about teaching — since I won't be able to fall back on habits, having not cultivated any in this area yet.  And, lastly, if I'm going to move into teaching & learning stuff, I probably should be able to help folks with teaching in all its incarnations.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Teaching struggles

Well, we're now at the end of a semester and, as usual, I feel like I've done a less that great job in all of my classes.  I wonder if I'm in the minority by spending the last 3 weeks or so of classes berating myself for all the things I didn't do, should have done or did poorly.

In an attempt to not merely berate myself, I am also trying to figure out ways to improve things.  And I think I have a moderately good handle, at least, on what the problems are.  Yes, it's taken me this long to become just moderately comfortable with having identified the problems that have to be solved.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Philosopher? What's that?

Since I ought to be commenting on papers and journals, now is the obvious time to write something for this blog.

I've been fairly busy of late (with "of late" being the last 6 months to year).  I've been fortunate enough to be viewed as having something worth saying (or being good at saying stuff) and so have been a speaker at a steady stream of conferences.  I thought I'd posted about this before, but as I look through my posts, I seem to have not.

Oh, what's the 'this' I thought I'd posted about but didn't?

Well, let me share.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I wish I could say it's an experiment but it's more of a survival tactic.  I'm going cold turkey from Facebook.

Every night as I get ready to go to sleep, I reflect upon the day and how much time I've wasted on FB and resolve to stay off of FB the next day, delete games that suck time, lock myself out.  And then each morning, I'm back online wasting hours of my day.  So, last night, when I made my nightly resolution that would not be followed through the next morning, I retrieved my computer, went in and changed my FB password to something too long and complex to remember (I used ISBN numbers of one of the books laying around — I don't remember which), used a random word generator to toss in two word and then randomly chose a word out of a book.  Too late I realized that I could have used a password generator that comes up with basically impossible to remember passwords.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fun times

I realized, as I was closing in on the last day of discussing Gorgias in my Ethics class, that students were not quite as excited about this text as I am.  Okay, that's an understatement.  I suspected that they were lost and dazed and realized that this is not an ideal spot for students to be.

So, I decided to go with the following in class.  I told them that some students leave this text with one overarching question <dramatic pause> "Who cares?" or, put in slightly more sophisticated form, "Why should I care about Gorgias?"  I then appointed one person to count the number of people in the class who were in this position while I stepped out of the room.  In my first class only 5 people admitted to being in this position while in my 2nd class 21 people admitted to it.  The first class was, as far as I'm concerned, lying.  But the 2nd class, 21?  Sheesh.

Anyway, I then asked them to come with all the reasons someone might give for believing that they should not care about this text.  After they did this (and I put all the reasons on the board), I asked them to now advocate on behalf of Socrates/Plato and respond to these reasons.  I told them that some of the reasons while factually correct might not be good reasons for not caring and that others if they were factually correct probably would be good reasons and so the task with these was to figure out if the claims were factually correct.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So, so close and yet.....

Well, I'm sending off an article today that I started about two years ago (in the intervening time other articles have been revised and resubmitted, presentations have been given, classes have been taught, so it isn't only that I'm a slacker).

Turns out that I may have missed being cutting edge by just a few moments. In the last 2 years there have been just shy of 4500 publications on this topic whereas prior to that, well, I was pretty much up to speed in the area.

Instead of reading this additional stack of 4500 I'm going to send it off, hope that the core of my argument warrants an R&R and then I'll read whatever reviewers might be inclined to suggest I read.

If only I'd gotten it out two years ago. if only.

I'll bet there's something to learn here. But, I'm not entirely certain what it is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A good book (movie coming soon)

I just finished reading We Need to Talk about Kevin and I gotta say it's a really interesting read. Not a 'feel good' book by any means but a thought provoking book. Apparently it's been turned into a movie that's gotten good reviews from the Cannes Film Festival. I say read it before it comes out.

It's about woman's reflections on herself and her relationships with her family after her son has killed members of his high school. I like it because it authentically captures the ambiguity of life and the lack of clear answers without just leaving the reader with a nihilistic conclusion.

It's biology's fault

So, in an effort (a clearly failing effort) to actually get some work done, I've made use of a program that prevents me from getting onto facebook. Now, I've used programs like this in the past that give one the ability to lock oneself out of facebook, but they've had the fatal flaw of making it possible, with just a few clicks, to easily gain access again. Clearly the people who find those programs helpful either have vastly more will-power than I do or they are just not all that bright.

Anyway, this new program is such that once you've set the timer (which unfortunately maxes out at 24 hours) you can't access the pages you've 'blacklisted' and you get do anything (aside from get onto a new computer) that will give you access. You can delete the program from your computer and you'll still be locked out. I suppose if I knew more about computer code I could undo it, but here's where my general laziness kicks in and my willpower is subsumed by my unwillingness to exert the effort. Yes, any success I've had is due to a strange and lucky confluence of my flaws.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Risk vs. Regret Aversion

As I'm working on revising an article, I'm referencing risk aversion which, because one needs to cite every claim one ever makes regardless of how self-evident one thinks the claim is, led me to look for articles and I came across an interesting distinction (and how I love a good distinction!). The suggestion made was that while some people are risk averse others are regret averse and that the latter can appear to be the former.

I'm fascinated by this because, well, here's my Rawlsian decision making method: given a particular decision one is struggling with, assume that no matter what decision you make it's going to not turn out well, which decision would you rather make in the event that it won't turn out well?

I've always thought this was a test regarding risk and one that works for me because I'm risk averse. But, now I'm wondering if this is about regret — which outcome would you prefer even if it turns out badly? Even as I type this, though, I don't think that the test, itself, differentiates. I think that depending on the reasons one gives this could be a test of risk or regret.

And this gets me to the next thought which is whether there really is a distinction or is it just that 'regret aversion' is more accurate than 'risk aversion.' That is, do people really avoid risk qua risk?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Well, here it is more than midway through June. Summer is flying by.

I have many thoughts about many things (surprised?) but will limit myself to just one (possibly more will sneak their way in).

I watched the Tonys last week and I'm reading Tina Fey's Bossypants and decided that I want to be friends with Neil Patrick Harris and Tina Fey (and Gwyneth Paltrow, Jane Lynch and, I'm sure, many more). I've also returned from a conference where I met some interesting people and I continue to want to be friends with Parker Palmer & Diana Chapman Walsh (and Sharon Daloz-Parks, Arthur Chickering, and bunch of folks I can't think of).

Reasonably, you may be wondering why I share this information. Because as I was cataloging the list of people I want to be friends with I realized that (a) most people I meet also want to be friends with these folks and (b) these folks probably aren't all that different from other people except that they are well-known. This led me to: conservatively, I'd guess that 25% of the people I meet are, probably, fairly fabulous people (more generously, 75%) but that I don't get to know them the way that fame and books let me believe I get to know these other folks.

I'm thinking there's probably a conclusion to reach from this.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cutting Edge, Way Behind the Times or Really Not So Bright

Here's a question for anyone out there inclined to answer: how does one know if an idea is worth pursuing (as in spending the time writing down and sending off to a journal)? I have ideas, and I find at least some of them interesting, but I have no sense, at all, if the ideas are worth sharing or ought to be hidden because they'd reveal my basic cluelessness. The problem is that I have no idea for how to go about figuring out the answer to this. I've tried doing journal searches but my fear is that my not finding something is due either to my idea being so painfully obvious that no one has written on it since the 16th century (and JSTOR doesn't go back that far) or, what I think is more likely, I'm using search terms that just aren't helping me find the relevant articles. I suspect that there's this entire conversation or branch of philosophy that holds just about all the views I do and they've got a nice articulation of my 'novel' ideas but I just can't figure out the correct search term to find this little community of right thinking people.

I suppose I could take the time to write things out, send it off somewhere, get rejected and told that what I'm doing is not new because.....and then I'll be told what relevant loop I've not been a part of. But that seems like a fair amount of work to just be pointed in the right direction.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not everyone is like me

Yes, an obvious truth but one that I've been spending a good deal of time discussing with my students. I think that as humans we have a tendency to assume that other people basically have the same 'take' on things as we do (while simultaneously believing that no one really understands us; but I think that the 'I am alone in the world' stance is one that hits most of us rarely and that most of the time we think most people generally see the world the way we do). There's lots of evidence anecdotal and otherwise to suggest that we think that most people (particularly those who we like) share most of our views even if we have no evidence beyond liking them that they have the same views. My suspicion is that at least part of this is due to the fact that if we view our view of the world to be the correct one — or else we'd have another one — and we figure that if we like someone they are unlikely to be the sort of person who is wildly irrational.

Anyway, onto how I've bumped into this in my own life. I recently went to a roundtable discussion that was about certain aspects of teaching and, well, due to the particular title it ended up that the folks who were there were not the usual cadre of folks but instead people who I vaguely know and have no reason to think I don't like, but who I really have never had a conversation with.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

after talking it out....

.....I've figured out my (white) relationship to (black) history.

Looking at Royce who talks about community being defined by a shared historical moment crucial to self-identity and a shared goal for the future, I was trying to figure out to what extent DuBois was telling me something about my community. After talking about it with some folks (and, I kinda suspect, looking a bit clueless), I realize that I was missing a key aspect of Royce.

Having a shared historical moment doesn't mean that we all have the same relationship to that moment. Thus, the experience of Black folk that DuBois is talking about is a part of my history but I have a different relationship to that experience than, say, Black folks do.

So, perhaps I am a bit clueless for it having taken so long to get to this, but, in my defense, it was that I was working with less than ideal reading of Royce.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talking Race

I am firmly committed to the belief that we (particularly we white folks) need to be talking about race. And, I am firmly committed to teachers taking a leading role on this. However, it scares me. Mostly because I know I'm not 'trained' to do this and that I'm potentially opening up a can of messiness. Of course, the fact that the messiness is there and just not talked about is all the more reason to get things out and into conversation, but still....

Anyway, my class is reading and discussing W.E.B. duBois The Souls of Black Folk and I think things are going well (though it does make me want to teach an entire class on the Harlem Renaissance which I'm pretty much sure I can't squeeze into my course rotation).

Discussing duBois on the heels of discussing Royce is interesting. (1) It'd be really surprising if duBois hadn't studied with Royce and (2) Royce has really interesting things to say about interpretation (one person working to help a second person to understand a third person) which is what duBois is doing in this piece (duBois is explicitly making white folks his audience) and (3) Royce has really interesting things to say about community.

It's this last one that's led me to some interesting 'places.' To what extent is the history of Black Folk my history? As I thought about this and talked it out a bit, I've come to the realization that I, too, have a divided soul as I try to understand myself as both American and white.

Here's what got me thinking.....despite my ancestors not being anywhere near this continent during the Revolutionary War, I view this part of history as part of my history. I understand myself to be American (in the United States, Norte Americana, sense of the word). Without thinking I use the pronoun 'we' to discuss US history. That is, until 'we' morphs into 'white folks' as in 'we drove the American Indians from their land.'

Is, say, jazz legitimately a part of my history? Gospel music? The pain of reconstruction South? DuBois notes that Black folk have particular and important things to contribute to America's sense of who we are, but how do I (or can I) claim it as part of my history?

I really want my history, as someone who is a US citizen, to be inclusive of all. I don't think that US history is the history of white folks. But, it also seems naive, arrogant, weird, downright wrong (pick any or all of these) for me to include the non-white experience in the US as my history (yet, weirdly, it doesn't seem weird for me to include the male experience as part of my history -- do two weirds cancel each other out?).

So, is jazz a part of my heritage as a white US citizen? Do I have to identify with only the winners in the history of my country when I have been a very clear beneficiary of them winning?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Emotional Whiplash of Teaching

Part of my break was spent reading Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach which is a book that just makes me happy. Primarily it makes be happy because Palmer gets at some interesting aspects about teaching — namely the extent to which teachers teach who we are — while admitting that he sometimes feels like an utter failure as a teacher. His words leave me feeling less alone and wanting to be a better person. [as a sidenote, a while back I asked two folks I greatly respect if they ever had days when their classes just crashed — a not so subtle plea for sympathy and commisseration — and both responded with 'no'. Talk about a self-care strategy that completely backfired]

Yesterday, the Monday after break ended up giving me instances of feeling like a pretty good teacher and instances of feeling like I probably should have dedicated my career to something like data entry. Of course, the fact that I teach 4 classes on Monday's is part of it. Due to a series of events, my initial (and quite beautiful schedule) was destroyed and replaced with what is, at best, a less than ideal schedule.

I left my first two classes feeling pretty good about things. Students seem to leave class having learned something and not disliking me or the material. The second two classes kinda tanked. Part of the problem, I think, is that the second two classes are upper level classes and I find upper level classes so much more difficult to get going than the lower level classes. In particular, with these two classes yesterday we were discussing material that I find absolutely interesting, fascinating, world-altering.

Unfortunately, classes spent on this sort of material rarely goes well and I think it's because I go into the class assuming that everyone's going to have found it as fascinating as I first did and conversation will just take off of its own accord. And, well, frequently the unimaginable happens and the students don't find the reading nearly as amazing as I did and I spend much of class time just being puzzled at the difference between my response and theirs. And, class doesn't going well. Not a huge surprise.

So, I really need to start spending more time thinking through very specific tacks to take to get students engaged even when I think that their engagement is pretty much guaranteed by the intrinsic fabulousness of the article.

AND, I need to start working on helping students to develop the skills to really look for what's cool and interesting in the reading and meet the text part way. Why is it that I can read just about anything and find something interesting in it to connect to something else and help me better understand things that aren't in the reading, but my students can't? What is it that I'm doing without even thinking about it that I need to be making explicit to my students so I can walk them through the process?

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I have clearly gotten spoiled.

For the last year or so, I've been fortunate enough to have been able to go to a conference on teaching and learning every couple months (this is what happens when you blanket the teaching and learning conferences with proposals and a huge number of the are unexpectedly accepted). Each time I go to one, I am reminded that (a) I'm not alone in my interests and passion; (b) I have much to learn and many ways to continue to grow and (c) I need to take the time to put into practice what I know since it is so easy to get lazy and fall back on what's been 'good enough' in the past.

I am, unfortunately, now in the position of not going to another conference until the beginning of June. June!

I have come to so enjoy the experience of these meetings, getting to know and spend concentrated time with folks that I'm really missing it.

Luckily, I have started a couple reading groups on campus focused on teaching so that should hold me until June, but it's gonna be really difficult.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Entire student

I just read a journal entry from one of my students, a very bright, very engaged, very motivated student. He commented that he is going through a bit of a crisis triggered by Hume. Hume notes, accurately I think, that reason is and ought to be a slave to the passions (contra a handful of philosophers, say, Stoics, who'd say that we need to use reason to control our passions). This student notes that he's spent his entire life trying to 'fine tune' his rationality and has realized that he is no happier because of it. He can appreciate the intelligence and care gone into arguments, but he misses and wants wisdom, not truth (and, yes, I want to hug him for this). So, instead of doing the reading for class, he find himself reading material from Buddhism, Thomas Merton, etc.

I have long believed that college education (in the classroom at least) treats students only as minds and not as whole people (thank you Dewey for making the point that students are, in fact, people and we need to treat them as such). Students, and all people, crave meaning in life and if they can't find it in the classroom, they are (a) going to look for it elsewhere (see the success of 'non-denominational' fundamentalist churches as one place where they find it -- these churches explicitly target young college students) and (b) think of college as only a place to learn college related skills and not things that are important to life.

So, how do we, in the classroom, work to remedy this? We appear to be contributing to the schism between intellectualism and real life instead of working to undermine it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

More on grading...

Oh, it's been a long time. Not that there's nothing to write about, just haven't been writing.

The issue of grading continues to occupy me for all sorts of reasons. There's the Dweck stuff that provides evidence of what we grade shapes what attitude students take (duh). If we grade products, students focus on performance and looking good; if we grade effort, students focus on learning.

There's also the publication of research alleging that students learn virtually nothing in the area of critical thinking skills in the first two years of college. This research was put together by looking at CLA exam data. The CLA (College Learning Assessment, I think) is an exam where students are given a bunch of documents and a task — along the lines of 'write a report for your boss making a recommendation for dealing with this problem.' None of the documents is perfect or without the possibility of error, bias, etc. Some of the documents are completely irrelevant to the task at hand and there's basically no way to arrive at certainty regarding the problem. All this is to say that it's working to closely mirror a real life situation. Not surprisingly, students who have learned how to take multiple choice exams well and who have been given assignments that tell them exactly what to do, well, these students don't do all that well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grading experimenting

Well, the semester is over and I'm not done grading (obviously) but I thought I'd do a quick update of the approach I've taken to grading and what I'm seeing so far.

At the beginning of the semester, I told students that none of their work would receive grades but that all would receive comments.  They did receive my 'paper grading standards' which would enable them, very easily, to translate the comments into grades should they have cared to do so.  I told them that their final grade in the class would be determined by how much they learned as demonstrated through the various means they were given throughout the semester.  They had to consistently maintain on-line journal on the reading & their thoughts on the reading, participate, submit self-assessments every three weeks (detailing how they thought they were doing and how they could improve and how the class could improve) and then depending on the class a combination of exams, papers and/or projects.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"why didn't anyone ever tell me this?"

This is what a handful of my students said when I told them that most folks who have been successful in business have not majored in business and most people who are successful journalists have not majored in journalism.

Why hasn't anyone made sure this was understood by these students who are majoring in business and journalism?  Just wondering.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The semester has started (and is about half way over) and all is good. I've been able to coordinate a reading group discussing How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School and the discussions have been really good. I think that it's something that the participants are finding valuable. If nothing else, it's getting a handful of folks from across campus to interact who wouldn't typically interact. So, I'm feeling good about that.

In fact, I'm working on a proposal for reading groups next semester one focused on Parker Palmer's Courage to Teach with the idea being to help faculty find our teaching 'voice.' And the other will be focused on a book about student learning (right now I'm thinking of Nurturing Independent Learners: Helping Students Take Charge of Their Learning but we'll see).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Well, since you asked.....'s one thing that I've been thinking about/tossed out into the world.  I'm thinking about following the example of a couple folks I know and grading next semester based primarily/only on effort.  Using language like

Your grade in this class will reflect my assessment of your engagement with the material in the class, the quality of your contribution to class discussion and the learning of your classmates, the depth of your understanding of the material and your ability to move beyond the material to develop your own ideas that take seriously the material but are not simply a repetition of what is in the reading or what others have said in class.  I will also be assessing your development of certain dispositions the acquisition of which are crucial to continued success in all areas of life.  As I develop my assessment throughout the semester I will rely extensively on your assessment of your development both with regard to understanding of the particulars of this course and your progress in the different skills and dispositions that you should be working on.  Thus, your thoughtful effort on your self-assessment is very important.

If you put in 100% work (and I’ll detail what I take to be indicative of 100% work) then you’ll get an A in this class.  Less the 100% and you won’t.  You’ll be given multiple opportunities to make the case to me that you have put in 100% effort into your work.

At any point in the semester, if you would like to check in about anything (including how to improve in the class or your grade at the moment) please do not hesitate to come and speak with me.

Individual assignments will be commented on, but not graded, and you are encouraged to rework all of your assignments in response to the comments.

Your grade in this class is a guaranteed A if and only if I am convinced that you are putting 100% effort into the course. Your behavior throughout the  semester will provide evidence to me of the level of effort you are putting into this course.

Some links...

Yes, it's been a long time.  And, yes, I've done a good deal in the past months.  But, now, I shan't be documenting them all since, quite frankly, it probably wouldn't be all that interesting to read about.

However, there are some good things out there to read.  Here are some links:

  • Diana Chapman Walsh is one of my favorite people, EVER. I want to grow up and be like her (or at least be *liked* by her — and there's some evidence that she just might). Anytime she's gonna be at a conference, I do my best to get to that conference....that's how fabulous she is.  Here's an article by her that's in Inside Higher Education.

  • Then there's this article in the New York Times reporting on a study that documents the importance, long term, of one's kindergarten teacher.

  • Here's an article challenging the whole 'you must publish in order to be a good academic' thinking.  The fact that I agree with the sentiment may have drastically colored my assessment of the article.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Catching up

I just received two books I ordered from Amazon and it turns out they are essentially the books I was thinking I might write (the one even references a relatively obscure James text that I was thinking of referencing).  The good news, however, is that, unlike the James text that was written 100 years ago, both of these were published in the last year.  I'm not quite cutting edge, yet, but I'm getting closer to it.

Oh, the books?  Why Students Don't Like to Learn and How Learning Works

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's like being 18 all over again

I grew up in Orange County California, where I felt unbelievably out of step.  For those who don't know, Orange County is one of the most conservative places in the US (or at least was when I was growing up there).  This is a place where Ronald Reagan was thought to be too liberal, black folks are questioned by police because the only explanation for their presence is the plan to commit crimes, and Fox News is taken to be the gospel truth.  Again, needless to say, I felt considerably isolated and a bit crazy growing up there since I most definitely didn't/don't share these views.  Then I went to college and discovered that I wasn't completely alone and that, in fact, Orange County was a bit of an outlier. 

Jump forward a considerable number of years and I'm going through this again.  A recent Leiter Reports discussion focusses on the question of which philosophers of today will be viewed as important in a century (Hume was not viewed as all that important in his day and age and now is a must read and folks who were viewed as really important then have faded into near obscurity) and all of a sudden I discover that I'm not the rebel/idiot I thought I was. 

I went to graduate school where, to put it mildly, W. V. Quine was god.  I'd capitalize 'god' if it weren't for the fact that it was also made abundantly clear in graduate school that any sort of theistic beliefs were evidence of being ill-equipped for intelligent thought.  So, I dutifully learned my Quine but all the while didn't really enjoy what he had to say (not that I found it false, but, just, not all that worthy of being risen to god status).  Of course, I just took this to be indicative of the fact that I'm probably a fraud and got into (and out of) graduate school based on a mistake.  I much preferred, and continue to be influenced by, Hilary Putnam and Nelson Goodman.  Of course, in good Woody Allen fashion, I assumed that my preference for their work (in terms of being interesting, important, fruitful) was evidence that they were not all that good (sorry H & N).

Well, back to the Leiter Reports discussion.  Looking through the comments, it appears that, at least according to folks posting comments, Quine is either (a) wrong or (b) saying something so painfully obviously true as to be unworthy of further discussion — just incorporate his point and move on.  Further, Putnam (and to a lesser extent Goodman) is pointed to again and again as someone who will be viewed as important 100 years from now.  And a bunch of the other names noted as being important in 100 years are also folks I know and appreciate.

So, maybe I'm not the fraud I thought I was.  Maybe.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beliefs about Brains

I hesitate to even share this because I draw on Dweck's work so much in my writing that if other people start to read her, my writing may end up simply stating what everyone already knows.  But, being the benevolent person I am (and knowing that, maybe, 6 people in the world read what I write here) I share this article on Dweck's work.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More on Rawls OR People I want to be more like

Being an academic or, perhaps, being a reader, I always find myself thinking that I'd really like this writer or that writer.  Well, I've learned that just because people write things that you admire it doesn't follow that you will admire them.  I've heard a few stories about theorists whose theories I've admired that have completely disillusioned me.  Though, on the flip side, I've never met a person I've admired whose theory I didn't also think was pretty darn interesting and worth learning from.

Rawls, apparently, was an incredibly kind person.  When in the audience where someone was critiquing his work had to basically be forced to stand up and respond to the critic (I've also heard that he was extraordinarily shy which may have been a consequence of his stuttering — the fact that, like me, he stuttered endeared me to him right away). 

Friday, April 30, 2010

Rawls on Religion

I love Rawls.  Love.  I love the least from what I've heard about him from folks who knew him.  I love his theories.  I love his writing. 

I just read part of the most recent book published of his writings.  It's a book on his views on religion.  One of the fascinating things about the book was the discussion about whether to publish it.  It's his undergraduate thesis (yes, his undergraduate thesis) and a piece he wrote in 1997, but didn't attempt to publish, about his views on religion at the time.  The question was whether to publish these things given that he, obviously, hadn't published them.  All those who participated in the discussion pretty much decided that he would not have wanted these things published (seeing as they were not polished either in writing or argument) but they also decided that publishing these things would not harm his stature and would serve to bring light to him as a person (and probably generate another couple hundred dissertations on him — in a good way).

Anyway, I read the intro and the piece written in 1997 (skipped the undergraduate thesis and the commentary because, well, who wants to read an undergraduate thesis that will just make you feel like your stuff is horrible when compared to that which a 21 year old wrote? Yes, I do  refuse to read Mill and Hume's works written when they were mere children.  No I don't, but I do feel like a failure when I read the stuff they wrote when they were youngsters).  It was interesting — he rejected orthodox Christianity (but not Christianity as a whole) and embraced an ecumenical, we should be working on understanding religious beliefs position — not surprising at all.

I found myself feeling a bit sad for Rawls because so many people have written so much, in theology, dealing with the issues that led him to reject orthodox religion (the problem of evil and the injustice of predestination) that it seems he could have really benefited, personally, be being parts of those conversations.  Here's a guy who left for WWII intent on becoming a priest and returned turning to secular philosophical writing.  The personal cost of that which changed his mind would have been enormous and being part of the wider conversation of folks who struggled and made meaning may have really benefited him. 

Yes, I'm completely guessing Rawls' emotional state. 

Quite frankly I think most everyone would benefit from reading what's really going on in theology then they could stop being so stupid about religion.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Language Learning Fun

So, as I think I've noted before, I spend a good deal of time with a young child (YC).  YC is just about 18 months and is learning vocabulary at lightening speed.  She hears a word, she repeats a word, experiments with using it, pays attention to corrections and tries again.  Seriously, we spend about 5 minutes in front of the refrigerator with her pointing to things, me saying what it was, her repeating, pointing to something else, saying something, me correcting, her pointing.  It could have gone on all day, but I have a vague memory of my mother chastising me for standing in front of an open refrigerator for too long and so we ended the exercise.

Anyway, despite her learning very quickly and very accurately, YC insists upon calling the bird feeder 'mommy'.  This has prompted me to theorize that she isn't using words the way that we (and she, ultimately, will) use words.  She isn't using words to refer to objects in the world, but to something else — maybe the feelings she experiences when the words are being used in a way that she's learned is correct usage?  The thing is that her mommy is the one who is in charge of the bird feeder at her house.  So when she's pointing to the bird feeder and saying 'mommy' (and she does repeat 'bird feeder' when I say it, but then she says 'mommy' pretty soon after) she's not labelling the thing; she's got to be doing something else. 

Gotta say I always (okay, almost always) hated philosophy of language (because no one has really be able to explain to me the point of it in a way that convinces me it matters), but if philosophy of language deals with stuff like this, I could completely get interested in it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Footnotes to Plato (and, maybe Aristotle)

I'm currently reading William James Talks to Teachers (which, happily is freely available as an e-book) and this, along with the other history I've read this year (Dewey & Royce) makes me really wonder if anyone seriously reads this stuff anymore.  So much of what all of them wrote could quite seriously be published today and no one would bat an eye because it's exactly the same as what's being published today in terms of content. 

It's this sort of stuff that brings my writing to a halt.  I started reading James to get some sense of what's been done before me and I realize that, in fact, the entire conversation going on in much of educational theory (I exaggerate only a tiny bit) pretty much happened 100+ years ago and folks are, for the most part, saying exactly the same thing

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I've read in Langer's book on Mindfulness that very few people know what the imperative "pay attention" is really asking of them.  And, in fact, attempting to focus our attention on one things with some sort of laser-like precision is really remarkably counter-productive.

I'm working on trying to figure out what sorts of responsibilities, if any, students have in the learning process and I've hit a snag.  I don't know what it means to 'try.'  I mean I get that if I'm sitting and looking at at hammer and nail that I am not actually tryng to hammer in the nail.  But if I get the hammer, do something in the direction of the nail and someone says to me "you aren't trying" or "try harder," what does that mean? Seriously, if you told someone to 'try harder' and then responded with 'what does that mean?' How would you answer?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ideas having minds of their own

As my fiction writer friends know, I am fascinated by the claim they make that characters in their stories frequently have 'minds of their own' in terms of what is or isn't going to happen to the character.  Similarly, when a friend of mine told me that ever since she was a kid that she's heard voices in her head, I quizzed her on what these voices sounded like.  Did she mistake them for people who were in the room with her?  Or a radio? 

What does the experience of 'having voices in one's head' or 'characters in stories taking control of the stories' feel like?  (I similarly am intrigued by what it must feel like to feel like someone is one sex trapped in the body of another — and there's some really cool related neuro stuff detailing folks who have never had limbs still having 'phantom' limbs.  But, I have no idea what it feels like to feel like a woman in a woman's body even though I am a woman in a woman's body.  I suppose it's one of those things that one can only feel if one is out of sync (though, sometimes, I do feel like I'm a left-handed person trapped in a right-handed person's body  — hmmm, funny or not taking others experiences seriously?)  .

Anyway, I'm working on an article (and to paraphrase a comic I once read, there's nothing like trying to write something out to really make clear to yourself how truly unclear your thinking is) and the article is turning into something I really hadn't expected it to.  Each time I think I have it back on track, it swings back to the other track (and, yes, I have now given in and am just following where it leads).  But is this what fiction writers are talking about?  If so, it's considerably less interesting and exciting than I was led to believe.  Thus, I will assume that this experience is nothing like what they are experiencing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Is Civility that Unusual?

So the background to this story is that I was going to apply for a position at another institution (and still may at yet another one — not that I'm looking to leave where I am but because there are a couple positions out there that look interesting and so why not just test the waters?).  I had begun filling out the HR on-line documents and when I returned to upload my cv, the job had disappeared from the HR site.  Confused, but thinking that it had been exactly 2 weeks since the job had been posted, I emailed the Vice Provost in charge of the search.  I got a nice little note back saying that they had gotten so many qualified applicants that they decided to stop accepting applications.  Now, of course this is odd and I'm guessing they have an inside candidate, but that's neither here nor there.

Here's the relevant part of the story: I emailed back, thanking her for the information and noting that next time I'll have to act more quickly.  Not a big deal email, certainly not effusive in any sense, but I, very quickly, got a response from her thanking me for being so kind and understanding and noting that not everyone has responded this way.  Okay, seriously?  Did other people really respond by ranting and raving?  Of course, this is rhetorical because I know that they do.  From a purely self-interested perspective how does such a response accomplish anything beyond making the ranter/raver feel good?  It's not like the folks in charge of the search are going to say "oh my gosh, you are right, please, please send in your application."  And from a pure decency to other human being perspective, why take the time and energy to be unkind to someone else?  Really?  What does it accomplish?  Why not be just minimally decent and say nothing or be ever so slightly decent and thank the person for responding (which they really didn't need to do)?


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Teacher's too smart

As I was wasting time (precious time of which I have very little, I might add) on facebook (my id is more powerful than just about anything), I came across one of the students I'm fb friends with in a conversation where one of the students used as a reason not to take a class with a particular professor that the professor is "too smart for me." 

Quite some time ago, a very wise friend of mine who works closely with students who have academic difficulties told me that when students say that a particular professor is 'brilliant' this invariably means that the student is unable to follow what the professor is saying and, yes, this certainly deflated me since I was taking student perception that I was brilliant as evidence that I was, well, brilliant.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If I were in charge of things....

....well, clearly, all would be much better but I have a specific recommendation to address in this post. 

I haven't shared this with many folks, but during my sabbatical I've been taking guitar lessons — I've always wanted to play the guitar and have found a most amazing teacher and am making, I think, some fairly decent progress. 

In addition, about 10 years ago, I started taking martial arts classes and progressed far enough to get my red belt (that's one before black in the school I was in).  I learned various styles of external martial arts (northern & southern kung fu) and then a variety of internal arts (tai chi, bagua, Hsing I &  liuhebafa) — I stopped training about 5 years ago when other things started taking priority in my life.

The point here is that these are two things I started and was, in both cases, an absolute rank amateur (I was studiously not athletic as a child and no one I know would ever call me musical - my mother has told me that I couldn't "carry a tune in a tin bucket" - yes, more fodder for therapy).  And in both situations have struggled do learn things that haven't come easily.  I think that doing this has made me a significantly better teacher because I've had to work really hard to learn things and have been completely at the mercy of my teacher.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Updating (again)

Well, the snow is gone.  Good points: um, snow is gone.  Bad points:  may be approaching the sunset of sabbatical.

I've been getting some good writing done.  Stuff to send off, stuff to rewrite and stuff to develop into a book proposal.

Got two more proposals for conference presentations accepted

I have become addicted to chocolate covered raisins...why had I not happened upon these before?

Have actually begun thinking about my career as a career....even looking at some job openings.  Kind of weird, particularly given that I have no desire to move, but....

Really enjoying sitting outside on the deck and watching the dogs run and play

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hypothesis Regarding Assignments

If we find them boring to grade, students find them boring to do.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Uh oh, another troubling conclusion

One of the topics I've been reading about during my sabbatical has been young adult intellectual development which, along with the topic of brains, is super, super cool stuff.  But, I'm now wandering toward conclusions about higher education that, if correct, basically mean we are doing everything wrong.  Or, rather, to the extent that we are doing anything right, it's probably accidental.

I just finished reading Kegan's In Over Our Heads and have started his (I think) first book Evolving Self and his most recent book (written with Lisa Lahey) Immunity to Change.  After finishing IOOH I emailed Kegan (I love email since it allows you to correspond with folks you'd never randomly call or write letters to and most of the time they actually respond - very exciting) and asked him what else I should be reading.  Well, happy, happy day, I've actually been reading all that he suggested as relevant. 

ANYway, onto higher education.  Basically, if what I've been reading is correct (and I don't have much reason to believe it isn't), people are more successful in life (and feel free to define, operationalize, assess, whatever 'successful' any old way you want) when they are able to think in more complex ways and that complexity of thought is a developmental issue.  That is, we go through different 'stages' of conceptualization of the world with each progressive stage allowing for more complexity than the last.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Need to Find the Flaw in My Thinking

Hmmm, so I have long thought that having a PhD in something is not enough to make someone a good college or university teacher and I've long suspected that having a PhD isn't even necessary to being a good college or university teacher.  But, now I'm beginning to think that it's an actual detriment to being a good teacher and is simply a historical accident - the result of scholars needing to have patrons and 'earn' their pay by teaching the patrons' children and then, if monks, to continue the education of the next generation of monks.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Teacher's Oath

From Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier blog:

I swear by Athena, Goddess of Learning, M├ętis, Goddess of Wisdom and Thought, St. Gregory the Great, Patron Saint of Teachers, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Students, and all the wise rabbis of the Talmud I will fulfill this oath and covenant:   
  • I will give a damn about each person in the class!  I will care! I will support! I will encourage! I won’t just mouth it, I will live it!  Each day, unconditionally!                        
  • I will teach to nurture, not to weed out.  I will greet and embrace and accept each student.  I will not greet anyone with the expectation that he or she will fail.  I will not treat anyone as dumb and unwanted.  I will treat everyone as capable and belonging here.  I will greet each person knowing she or he has a unique potential to be cultivated.  I will greet each person knowing that she or he can learn, achieve, and succeed.  I will have faith in, belief in, hope for, and love of each person.   Each day, unconditionally!                         
  • I will treat each class as a “gathering of sacred ones,” of diverse, individual, noble, and very special human beings.  I will treat each person with equal dignity and unqualified respect. I will not let anyone go unnoticed; I will not allow anyone’s face to get erased;  
  • I will not let anyone go nameless; I will not place anyone in the background; I will not place anyone in the shadows of the corners;  I will not shun; I will not ignore; I will not belittle; I will not demean.  Everyone will start with a clean slate; I will not judge anyone by the ring in her belly button or the tattoo on his arm or the clothes she wears or the whispers of other people or a GPA or the accent of their speech or the color of their his or her ethnicity or his religion or her gender or his sexual preference or whatever else;                      
  • I will never be negative.  I will be upbeat, offering nothing less than praise and/or positive, constructive critique. I will focus on each student and her or his learning, and worry about my teaching later.  
  • I will be there to help each student help herself or himself  become the person she or he is capable of becoming. 
  •  And, nothing will mean a thing if I don’t help each student help herself or himself become a better person and live the good life.                       
I make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon my honor.  And if I keep this oath faithfully each day, may I enjoy a life   overflowing with fulfillment, meaning, purpose, accomplishment, and satisfaction, respected by all in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

So, I take this and I'll do my best to fulfill it.  But, I'm a bit hesitant to call this a promise since I know I'm not going to be able to fulfill this all the time and I don't like making promises I can't keep.  I will, however, keep it at least as an aspiration to be taken seriously.

I am hitting that point in my sabbatical where I'm wondering how I'm going to take what I've learned back to the time when I'm back on campus and all that that entails.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just very cool book

Well, I thought I was rereading Mark Johnson's book The Meaning of the Body, but either I have an extraordinarily bad memory (which I don't think I do) or I have, in fact, not read this book before.  Regardless of which it is, it certainly feels as if I'm reading it for the first time.  And, wow.  It's really interesting.  This is another case where I wish I could be taking a course on this book (or, better, with this author).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Things to get done in the next 8 months

Seeing as, generously, I have 8 months left to this sabbatical.

  • Impact of physical environment on learning
  • Young adult development clashing with that of the older adults in their lives (with bad results)
  • Psychotropic drugs used to enhance academic performance
  • The subjective experience (qualia) of learning
  • Temptation of Privilege 
  • Evidence-based learning and the responsibility students
Book Proposal:
  • Working off article that keeps getting sent out
  • Well, the sabbatical will end with classes starting
Hmmm, that's not an insignificant list.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Conferences can be fun

I returned last night from my most recent conference and it ended up being a very positive experience. 

I got their early and so was by myself, eating at the bar the first night (feeling very alone and friendless).  But once the conference got started I ended up making friends and never ate alone again.

I got some good ideas for future teaching (did you know that there's sites on-line that make it easy to create comic strips?) and got positive responses to my presentation. 

I was very well-run and I look forward to keeping in touch with the folks I met.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Comments Policy Changed

On the off chance that anyone actually reads this blog (as opposed to stumbling across it and then leaving immediately), I have changed the comments settings.  I didn't realize that I had prevented anonymous posts. 

But, if you're going to leave an anonymous post, please don't be mean.  It'll keep me up at night and cause me much angst.

Suggestions Welcome

Here's my current quandry:

I received $200 worth of Borders gift cards for Christmas.  Most of the books I want to buy (and there are many) I can get cheaper on Amazon - frequently by buying used books through some other retailer that Amazon, puzzlingly, tells me about..  It chafes to spend more money, even though it's gift money, on a book when I could get the book for less (if I use the Borders website and try to buy used books through them, I can't use the Borders card). 

Now, it just so happens that Borders also sells, in addition to books, a Sony e-reader that has gotten good reviews and if someone had just given me this for Christmas, I'd have been very happy.  But, the choice to purchase it is just laden with land-mines (fyi - choice is not a good thing...the toothpaste aisle in the grocery store sucks up an unreasonable amount of my time as I try to figure out which choice is the right one). 

(1) Would reading pdfs (that'd be the primary reason to get an e-reader) on a tablet be a good idea?  All the reviews say that reading on e-readers is less taxing on eyes than reading on a regular computer screen and all tablets that are out now are not of the e-reader variety

(2) Should I get the Apple ipad (silly name notwithstanding)

(3) Then the ever present, should I wait until the next tablet, e-reader comes out

Now, if I don't get this e-reader from Borders and, instead, get either a tablet or get nothing, I still have the Borders gift cards to contend with and the spending more (of someone else's) money than I would of my own money.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Infants, Causation & Light Switches

So, a while back I read the Philosopher Baby book (or something like that).  I've also read (and assigned for class)Tomasello's The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition in which Tomasello spends a great deal of time discussing human intellectual development.  Now as I read Johnson's Meaning of the Body I'm getting more stuff on infant 'meaning-making.'  Clearly, I do have coherent beliefs, I'm just completely unaware of the coherence.


Reading about the fact that infants need to learn about causation, I was reminded of something that I don't want to forget that has to do with infants and causation.  The young child in my life, let's just use YC to preserve anonymity, was sick, clearly feeling like crap.  She, however, did not know why she was feeling like crap.  So, being the good little scientist all of us are, she set about making any adult who was holding her, flip every switch, pushe every lever, do everything she could think of.  It was pretty clear to me that she was trying to figure out how to make the crappiness stop.  She just turned 1 and probably doesn't have a very good sense of what sorts of causal relationships make sense and which don't.  It just made sense to her that in the past she'd been able to alter her experience in the world by light switches being flipped, stereos being turned on or off, etc.  It just stood to reason that alter her crappy-feeling experience should have been able to be altered by some sort of switch being flipped as well.

Cool, eh?

Sunday, January 31, 2010


First of all, let me say that I'm really enjoying doing research.  And, for the first time in my life I really think I have something to say that might, actually, be worth other people hearing.  So, this isn't bitterness about having to write, research, publish.  I'm honestly enjoying this.

Having said that, I have to say that it seems to me publishing, at least in my field, has changed.  And not for the better.

When I was in graduate school, publishing was not expected (and lest you think this was just my school, two hotshots in philosophy were briefly at my grad institution (not as students) and neither of them published much (if anything) in graduate school.  The expectation these days is to publish, publish, publish.  At least by the time your finishing graduate school and, ideally, while you were an undergrad.  Now, seriously, after, say, 6 years in a field, how much can a person really have to say that's worthwhile?  I'm guessing that much of this is publishing just to be publishing.  Further, how can encouraging folks to publish with this little experience under their proverbial belts not, at the same time, encourage some arrogance?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

People and Buildings

Just finished the book People and Buildings which was interesting on at least two fronts.  First, the content.  It's a selection of articles focussed on the intersection between social science and architecture.  Second,  the era in which is was written.  The book was published in 1972 and all the articles had been written in the '50s and '60s.


A couple articles stand out as particularly interesting without me having to look back at the table of contents.

(1) The reason I bought this book was to have and read the article by Maslow (and then a follow-up of the article) that examined the effect on mood of rooms that were "Beautiful", "Ugly" and "Average."  These articles provided the evidence that, shockingly, the nicer the room, the more envigorated and optimistic folks in the room are.  One of the interesting aspects of the study was that not only were the people who volunteered to be subjects actually subjects, but the people who volunteered to be the examiners were also subjects.  Neither the volunteer subjects nor the volunteer examiners knew the true purpose of the study.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I have fully embraced the on-line search abilities of contemporary research.  I love being able to sit in my comfy chair and find loads of articles and books.  The one difficulty, however, is finding the key to unlock the vault and find all that's been written on a subject.  That elusive keyword for the Boolean search.

I imagine that all of academia is a huge flow chart with different little pockets of discussion.  I also imagine that what I'm interested in and reading about is already being discussed (or has been discussed and put into the past) by all who are in the know (of whom I am not one).  However, I never find that little pocket because I don't know the right keyword. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ipods & Privacy

I am now making my way through People and Building a collection of essays on, well, people and buildings.  More specifically, looking at knowledge we have from psychology and sociology and how this knowledge is relevant to the design of buildings.

The article I'm reading right now, about privacy, connects with an observation I made to someone a couple days ago.  I was talking about my perception that there are very few public spaces (real, live public spaces, as opposed to virtual public spaces...this distinction is, I think, important and I'll come back to it) and that even when folks are walking around we try to turn public spaces into private ones through the use of ipods and cell-phones.

Multiple minds

So, I received feedback about one of my articles today.  The article was rejected, which I can live with since I tossed the paper together in about a week to meet a deadline, but what's really interesting are the comments. 

The reviewers were supposed to answers questions with a number btwn 1-5 with all 5s meaning that the paper was really good on just about all fronts and all 1s meaning it was really bad on just about all fronts. One reviewer gave it just about all 5s with a

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Writing about the obvious

How does a person (namely, me) go about writing about that which is just obvious?

Here's the general thesis of the paper I'm currently working on: "Classroom design tells us what we think learning is.  And most influential beliefs about how learning happens are wrong while the beliefs about the purpose of learning are, at best, uninspiring."

This seems so painfully obvious to me that I can't believe I'm even considering writing about it.  But, if it is obvious, then why are we designing classrooms the way that we are (and by 'we' I do not mean me)?  Do we not care about learning?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teacher, know thyself

Either a new realization or a reminder of an old one.  All teachers, regardless of level at which they are teaching, ought to be well-versed in developmental psychology and should be continually be updating what they've learned about developmental psychology.

I strongly suspect that most teaching 'problems' (at least at the young adult level) are a consequence of teachers knowing nothing about where their students are developmentally (whether it's emotional, intellectual, whatever) and, perhaps more importantly, knowing nothing about our own intellectual and emotional development. 

Loyal to Loyalty

As I near the end of The Philosophy of Loyalty, a few thoughts....

(i) love, love, love Josiah.  Please let him not have been a jerk in real life.

(ii) the gist of his argument (unless something major transpires in the last chapter) is:

  1. Humans experience tension btwn the desire to be authentic to themselves and the need to define authenticity with reference that which is outside of them (society, family, etc)
  2. Loyalty to a cause alleviates this tension as one identifies oneself as the player in something larger than oneself, thereby uniting the inner and outer
  3. What cause?  Of course there are good causes and bad causes, though regardless of the cause, loyalty is a good for the loyal person and the inclination to be loyal should never be discouraged, though the target could be.  Anyway, the appropriate target, generically, is loyalty.  We should be loyal to loyalty (hence the never discouraging loyalty part).
  4. Any substance to this?  Yes, one should never be loyal to a cause that makes it difficult for others to be loyal to their causes (this has quite the Kantian flavor to it -- also in the idea that we must choose that to which we are loyal).
  5. and....having committed to being loyal to loyalty the particular way we choose to do this can be through means that are conducive to our personalities, etc.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Getting Closer

So, I'm reading and loving The Philosophy of Loyalty and have just found out that The Limits of Loyalty by Simon Keller won the APA book prize.  This means I'm getting closer to being cutting edge - as in the footsteps toward the cutting edge that I'm walking in are fresher.

woo hoo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Someone Else's wisdom

A nicely put post on the value of 'useless' majors is found here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Newton & Leibniz

There's a word for an idea that's time has come and then comes into being simultaneously in different places.  In evolutionary biology, there's a similar concept (parallel evolution?) such that beings very similar to one another independently evolve (Australia is riddled with animals similar to, but different from animals in the rest of the world).  The idea I'm most familiar with that arose at the same time is calculus with the burning question being "who was first?" Leibniz or Newton?  To me it doesn't really matter who was first, the more interesting question is why did they both come up with the same idea at about the same time?

How is this relevant to me (given that everything I write about is relevant to me)?  I've become more and more convinced in the last few years that the area that philosophy really needs to be looking at is the issue of decision-making.  Whether there is an absolute truth (moral, scientific, etc.) or not is irrelevant given that we are unlikely to gain access to it.  Nonetheless, we must decide what to believe and decide how to behave.  Saying we don't know the absolute truth doesn't remove the necessity for decision making.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Publishing & Perishing

I've just started reading Josiah Royce's The Philosophy of Loyalty and love it.

I have a huge number of books I want to read, both fiction and non-fiction and am having a very difficult time deciding which to read.  Reading fiction during the day makes me feel guilty which takes me to the non-fiction.  But then I don't know where to start.  If I had some sort of clear cut research agenda, I suspect that the task would be a bit easier but given my approach of "I'll just keep reading stuff that's interesting to me and an idea worth pursuing in a paper will emerge" the choice of books is not easy.  So, instead of architecture, moral or intellectual development, neuro stuff or even philosophy of education, I've settled on Royce.  I've been wanting to read this book for a while and since nothing else was calling to me, I figured maybe this would give me some good 'soil' in which other ideas could be planted (yes, a dismal metaphor but nothing else is coming to me).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Workshops & Farms

So, I continue to read The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander and what I've just read articulates, nicely, a thought I've been having. Alexander, it turns out he's a fairly big deal in the world of architectural theory, argues, as far as I've been getting it, that we, humans, desire, what he calls, "the quality that has no name." We want to feel "alive," to be fully present in everything, to be who we "really are." Now, I know that there are some serious problems in terms of what these things really mean, in some sort of metaphysical sense, but I think that most of us understand what they mean phenomenologically, i.e., we've all experienced the feeling even if we can't justify the feeling as corresponding to something real. He further argues, and I already believed this so little argument was necessary, that this isn't a feeling we can achieve simply through inner work. That our surroundings are important to this -- it's noteworthy that those who do focus on inner work do so in very particular places (or at least, I'd argue, desire to).

Monday, December 21, 2009

What got me started on this

Crappy white plastic tables.

We had had desks in our classrooms that were the sort I had when I was in high school and college. The kind that were unkind to people who were left-handed (although every once in a while there'd be a special 'left-handed' desk) because you had to "enter" the desk and your right arm was to rest on the desk while your left hand, I don't know, wrapped around the top of the desk. They weren't so much desks as "desk-chair" combos.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Aesthetics & Architecture

Well, I have discovered, much to my surprise, that as I've been following this little trail of books on design of buildings and rooms that I'm fairly squarely in aesthetics and, what's more exciting, is that I'm in a moderately new area of aesthetics (new as in the last 10-15 years which really is new in philosophy) called environmental aesthetics with my interest being in built environment as opposed to naturally occurring environment (which would be "the wild" and even US national parks probably wouldn't easily qualify as "the wild").

Monday, December 14, 2009

Changing Spaces

I've moved on my next book (The experience of place) and in the Introduction something the writer said reminded me of an important alteration of space in my (remarkably mundane) life.

I spent a couple weeks each summer between the ages of, probably, 8 and 14 at Girl Scout camp and I remembered these weeks as some of the best times of my life.  The bulk of these weeks were spent at Camp Scherman (I have only recently learned that there is a c in Scherman) which is in the San Jacinto mountains.  Through these weeks I came to fall in love with this part of California.  However, back to the change in space topic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thinking about Space

So, I'm reading about, and, thus, thinking about, the physical spaces we occupy and what makes them appealing - with the ultimate target of classroom and building design that is conducive to learning.  As I've been doing this, I've been recalling the depictions of physical spaces that have captured my imagination.  Part of this is inspired by an article which uses a quote from one of the Harry Potter books in which one of the classrooms is described (the classroom of the really spacy potions professor, if I recall correctly) making the case that along with many other characteristics, classrooms should be, I think they say, "enchanting."

My list of spaces that have captured my imagination:

Sam's tree in My Side of the Mountain
Whangdoodleland in  Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory (first scene in the movie where everything is made of candy minus the Oompa-Loompas who just freak me out)
Wonderland of Alice in Wonderland
The museum in The Mixed Up File of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Minds & Brains

I'm a member of the International Mind, Brain, Education Society (IMBES) because I'm interested in teaching and I think that brains are really cool. I've just finished reading a book on Architecture and Neuroscience (Brain Landscape) which I found generally underwhelming but which did force me to a thought. Namely, I'm, ultimately, more interested in minds than I am in brains. This book forced me to this because the connection between architecture and neuroscience seemed, ultimately, forced. The author kept saying that what neuroscience can do is help us understand why we respond to particular things in particular ways. What I don't understand is why this piece of information could be of interest to an architect qua architect.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Wow, it's only been a month since my last posting?

I suppose lots has happened on the scholarship front. I've given one presentation at a conference (which generally boosted my ego and confidence regarding my ability to give presentations at conferences), I've submitted 4 proposals for 2 conferences for presentations (see previous parenthetical comment for the reason this was possible), I've written 2 papers (found the call for papers about 1 1/2 weeks before the due date) for yet another conference (accepted papers will be published in journal) -- of course found out, after pounding out 2 papers in a ridiculous period of time, that they only allow one submission per person (a piece of information well hidden -- about three links from the main cfp -- on the webpage). I also submitted a proposal to comment on a 'target' article in a journal, the proposal was accepted and the commentary has been written and submitted and, unless I've completely misunderstood the concept, said commentary will be published.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Catching Up

I haven't posted in a long time, but I have been reading.  No good reason to list what I've read, but I have been reading.

So, here's a question that I'm thinking of pursuing: what happens when we think of autonomy as a skill to be developed instead of a quality or characteristic that an individual has or doesn't have? 

Of course there's about a zillion books on autonomy and I don't have the time to read all of them.  However, the question of autonomy does come up in philosophy of education as the question of whether autonomy should be the goal of education.  I'm thinking that maybe I can interject something half way inteligible into that conversation.

I'm running into the problem I always do when I try to get into a conversation.  Namely, I am so behind in a conversation that is already on-going that I feel entirely ill-equipped to jump in and participate.  Of course, reading everything that's been written up to this point on a topic, while potentially necessary, is not going to be conducive to me actually getting anything written and into the conversation.  And while I'm perfectly happy to just read and learn, there's an expectation that I publish and some of my professional goals require that I meet this expectation.  But the question is always when have I read enough to be able to foray into the fray? 

All I know at the moment is, not yet.