The Sad Buffet: Emotions and the Failure of the Education System

As an engineering student, I have definitely felt pressure to remove my feelings from the work that I do. I have also learned how to resent “the system” as well as taught that there is nothing that I can do as an individual to actually change that system. I think that the constant push to create solutions that are practical and economical directly contradict the lack of consideration for the social, emotional and larger societal effects of decision making in engineering. Parker J. Palmer’s article, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited” was a very interesting and profound argument for embracing our feelings in the professional world. Harnessing our emotional power has the potential to create the environments that we believe in and that we want to participate in.

At all levels of education, immense pressure is placed on students to achieve with the best degree, the highest grades, and the strongest portfolio in the fastest possible time. This, supposedly, is for the betterment of the student’s career. Students struggle to balance life responsibilities. Furthermore, education is served at a cookie-cutter pace. Seemingly, students have little control over the orientation to graduation timeframe. Individualized curriculum does not exist; instead, students have a sad buffet with limited direction. We are left overwhelmed. There is no room for failures and no time for feelings. This is a failure of the system not the student.

What Palmer points out is not just that these feelings are justified, but the importance of recognizing these feelings.  As students, we need to stand up and consider if instead there is something wrong with the structure of the system. I was really struck by his idea of how the education system should adjust to create the “new professional” as described in the following paragraph from the article.

“The education of a new professional will reverse the academic notion that we must suppress our emotions in order to become technicians. Students will learn to explore their feelings about themselves, the work they do, the people with whom they work, the institutional settings in which they work, the world in which they live. They will be taught to honor painful emotions such as anxiety, anger, guilt, grief, and burnout. They will be taught that such feelings are neither signs of weakness, nor sources of shame, nor irrelevant to the complex challenges of knowing, working, and living.”

-Parker Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited” 

I wish I had been exposed to these ideas early in my college career. Realizing that all of these feelings are completely normal and maybe more importantly that feeling is not a limiting factor in success. The most successful people are just as prone to feeling anxious, angry, burnt-out, etc. The difference is learning how to recognize those emotions and “riding that feeling into action” as Palmer puts it.

Feelings are directly related to passion, and when we are passionate we do better work. Therefore, stifling emotions simply smothers our passion. Now considering the recent tax bill that passed the Senate, graduate students face added financial burden. It is important for us, the students, to recognize the fault in the system, when the system does not have our interest.

If we are even partly responsible for creating institutional dynamics, we also possess the power to alter them. We need to help students understand and take responsibility for all the ways we co-create institutional pathologies.

-Parker Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited” 


Future of Higher Education

Technology is giving teachers and professors new way of teaching, that is changing curriculums and shaping modern forms of online research and collaboration.

Communications technologies such as online collaboration tools would make the greatest contribution in terms of improving educational quality. Also, different software that is used to deliver learning content is supported individually paced learning. Nevertheless, learning management systems and enhanced video and presentation tools are among other innovations that will likely to have a profound effect on the academic experience.

Social networking is also another benefit of technology that aims to help in building connections with alumni and support career service activities. Using Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, instant messaging and social networking as an example have been influential in improving connectivity in many settings and are in use now at a large number of institutions.

This era of pervasive technology has significant implications for higher education. Technological innovation has a major impact on teaching methodologies, students are more engaged in constructing their own knowledge.Nevertheless, this innovation of technology lead to more online degree programs and distance learning that is offered by different universities
around the world.

Higher education is responding to globalization. Many universities have or will have an overseas presence, institutions either already have foreign locations or plan to open them in the next years. Also, distance education is also becoming increasingly global, with universities in the US and overseas leveraging advanced technologies to put education within reach of many more individuals around the world.

Meet you at the Crossroad

Dan Edelstein’s article brought me back to a book, that I had last read about a year back and Aristotle. Considered as one of the world’s most influential philosophers, Aristotle’s interest lay across multiple fields. He is also considered as one of the world’s first biologist who used a network of scouts to collect botanical and zoological samples from all over Greece and Asia. Aristotle established a school, the Lyceum (in Athens) where the majority of study focused on mathematics, philosophy and natural sciences. Seems weird?

Fig. 1. Aristotle (Source:

Here’s an excerpt from Durant (1961)

The new School was no mere replica of that which Plato had left behind him. The Academy was devoted above all to mathematics and to speculative and political philosophy; the Lyceum had rather a tendency to biology and the natural sciences. If we may believe Pliny, Alexander instructed his hunters, gamekeepers, gardeners and  fishermen to furnish Aristotle with all the zoological and botanical material he might desire; other ancient writers tell us that at one time he had at his disposal a thousand men scattered throughout Greece and Asia, collecting for him specimens of the fauna and flora of every land. With this wealth of material he was enabled to establish the first great zoological garden that the world had seen. We can hardly exaggerate the influence of this collection upon his science and his philosophy.”  Durant (1961, pg 53)

This is not a one off situation. The majority of early scientists and mathematicians were philosophers (Pythagoras, Rene Descartes among others). However, with the modern times and the advent of the “Division of Labor” as propounded by the famous economist Adam Smith, there has been a tendency for people to specialize in one particular field (in the majority of cases a specific aspect of a field).

I have an undergraduate degree in Economics, a subject considered by some as a science as well as art (Read this blog) and others as neither. To my untrained mind, economics looked like science with concrete demand and supply equations. It blew my mind when I had to take my first class in Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx and other classical economists. Here were people considered the forerunners of the field of economics and their writing turned out to rely heavily on what we now classify as philosophy, sociology and political science etc. (so called humanities). There went my inherent disdain for the humanities. I decided to meet all (or atleast some of the sciences) at the crossroad thereon. From that day on, Economics could not exist independently of philosophy, sociology and psychology.


  1. Edelstein, Dan (2010), “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy,” Liberal Education96(1), 14-19.
  2. Durant, Will (1961), “Story of philosophy,” Simon and Schuster. Link to the full text here

The Humane Part of Education

It was during my high school. One of my English teachers asked in the class, what’s the job of education? Many of us responded but finally, we agreed on one thing – to make us more humane. This was the first time someone taught about a different facet of education and I was sixteen that time. During the final semester of my undergrad, I was taught a class on Engineering Practice and a small part of that was on ethical values in engineering. Other than that, there was no class on ethics in my entire life. I did not get any chance to take these classes in the earlier stage of my education, which could have been more impactful. Despite the availability of a class called Engineering Ethics at Virginia Tech, I did not take it as I thought there will be a lot of workload on me besides doing research. Some of my friends took the class, however, they think the materials which are taught in that class are what everybody knows. So I thought, since I know the stuff (every human must know how to act ethically!), I may skip the class. But sometimes, we need to be reminded of what we know and what we should practice. To me, this type of classes must be made compulsory for all students to be reminded of their responsibility as humans.

Educating the educators is what required most to make sure that students become more humane in the process of education. I taught for two years when I was in Bangladesh. I got the chance to teach just after completing my B.S. without any training on teaching. Because of the lack of candidates with higher degrees, students with good GPA in B.S. can teach in my country. This makes a huge void in the education system. I only taught my students what was required to complete the syllabus, but I could not offer much. There were few reasons behind it, which I figured out later. I was not educated enough and I was not trained enough. I could teach better if I were given chance now. Because I got an extended exposure, which made me confident and I got training in teaching. It is true that sometimes we teach unconsciously by just influencing students by who we are. But to become that person who can teach students unconsciously, the person needs to be trained. If the teacher himself has no idea of the goal of education, it’s treacherous for all. Now if we consider the educators who are already in practice and practicing the old school teaching style where the humane part of education is absent, how we can solve this issue. Replacing the existing negative (!) teachers with positive would take time in a natural way, and the time required to do that would create a huge number of graduates without a humanistic view of education.

I have dots to connect before I sleep

If there is one thing that my graduate education has made me realize, it is that I have to un-learn everything I learned in school and in undergrad. I was taught to make decisions with reason and not emotion, and follow instructions without questioning. If you plot my grades over the past 19 years in education, you can see an inverse relationship between my obedience and my grades. Come to graduate school, and I had to think for myself. Think for myself?! It was intimidating at first, but slowly I realized this is what I was destined to do.

This class has made me question my goal to be an educator. I want to continue in academia after my PhD, and I don’t know if I will be a successful professor (or a professor at all), but I will try. I will try to keep pace with the new culture of learning and I will try to listen to students and improve based on feedback. There will be critics, and there will be failures, but I will keep trying to get better.

I am reminded of a quote for moments like these:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Collecting the Dots” to “Connecting the Dots”

When I heard about the problem-based learning (PBL) case at Queens College or listened to the TEDx lecture by Seth Godin, I recalled my confusion and embarrassment when I first encountered a PBL-style class. It was the first class I attended when I returned to academia after some years of professional life. The class was for learning a computer scripting language, but the professor did not give any lecture in the lab and just shared his tutorial videos that he posted on YouTube. There was a little project assignment each class that students had to figure out how to complete by themselves watching the tutorial videos. The professor stayed in the classroom just to answer the questions.

My first thought was as follows: why am I here paying the tuition? Did I make the hard decision to come back to academia giving up my career and salary spending all my savings just for watching YouTube videos in the classroom? I can watch them at home or in my office without paying for the tuition! Moreover, I had never seen that type of class when I had been a college student, thus, the professor not giving a lecture seemed like a dereliction of his duty. Due to these thoughts, I was lost during the first class and finally dropped that course.

Ironically, this issue of YouTube learning came up again in another lecture class. In that class, a guest lecturer was invited one day, who was a young CEO of a consulting company for Building Information Modeling (BIM). He said that nobody was teaching BIM when he was studying at architecture school because it was a new system of which not many experts were available. Therefore, he could self-learn BIM only on YouTube, and he could be one of the few BIM specialists when he graduated. He said the self-learning through online platforms would be the future of the education, and we should be more active and comfortable with learning new area utilizing those supports. The guest lecturer’s session helped me open my mind toward the new learning method.

Afterwards, more and more classes in my schedule turned into PBL. I could learn a lot, even though the learning process required significant efforts. During the three years in academia, I could see the guest lecturer was right, also, the scripting language class would have been helpful if I did not drop the course. As Godin explained, the definition of learning seems to move from “collecting the dots” to “connecting the dots” now. I was educated in the system of “collecting the dots” in my college. Although I knew the system was burdensome and uncreative, it was harder to break through the familiar methods. Finally, I could start moving toward “connecting the dots” accepting the new system of learning, which seems like a valuable gift from my graduate studies.




TEDxYouth. (n.d.). STOP STEALING DREAMS: Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS. Retrieved from


This semester finally almost comes to the end. The GEDI course has brought me different perspectives on teaching. In this post, I just want to do a few reflection on the article by Dr. Palmer…..

First of all, I like the analogy that teaching is just like cooking. For example, adding a little spices may change the taste of the dishes. If you add too many sugars or salts, people may enjoy it at the moment, but it would not be good for their health in the long term. Different people have different tastes. How to cook a dish that can satisfy everyone’s taste buds?…. There are so so many things we need to learn to become a good cook or say a good teacher?! I would say the best cooker is the one who doesn’t need recipes; instead, who can use his/her intuition or experience to make delicious food! However, I believe that in order to get to that level, more than 10 years experience is necessary!!!

Next, it’s very interesting to recognize the differences between the Western and Asian “FOOD”. In my opinion, the teaching styles in the West is definitely more creative and more interaction between teachers and students. Besides performance, the Western teachers seem to more care about students’ emotion. The courses’ contents are encouraged to include more projects and case studies, instead of exams. In the East, I remember tons of exams were torturing me every semester, and I was the top student in class, but I had no idea which subject really interested me. However, I like the fact that the traditional learning environment can provide students with more systematic and logical way to learn new knowledge. I think this plays an important role when we were establishing the basic foundation and developing our studying strategies.


At this moment, the only thing I really want to do is to find an opportunity to teach and apply those methods I have learned from this class!!!

Weekly Pessimism vs Seth Godin, and “Famous Colleges” will outlive us all

I used to adore TED talks. I thought they’re the modern world’s answer to the old Lyceum movement. Bringing the wisdom of the our best and brightest to the curious masses, but in short and sweet format to accommodate our digital ADHD.

But the more of them I watched in my own field, the more I saw speakers butcher their subjects. Turns out they are rarely experts. Occasionally you’ll get someone on the cutting edge, but TED seems to select more for performance and theatrics than knowledge. Half of these talks are given by journalists who have only a modicum of experience in the subject, and most are wildly idealistic. The greatest sin of all is the scripted TED-brand performance. I feel like they should trademark it, with its dramatic pauses and hand gestures, a heartfelt anecdote to start it all off, a bit of pacing, some nice graphics; it’s like they’re given a formula. They have a TED hour on NPR now, and even without video, you can feel the sensationalism seeping through the speakers. Check this out:

Seth Godin is the perfect example of this phenomenon. He’s got the body language and formula down perfectly. He doesn’t seem to be any sort of expert in pedagogy, but he’s rich, personable, theatrical, and can carry a crowd. Most importantly, he’s idealistic, and wants to tell you about why the system is broken, but could be fixed if we just changed everything!

Let’s ignore the conspiracy theory level talk about how public education came about for the sole purpose of creating mindless factory drones. Maybe it had that effect, but to suggest the entire thing was orchestrated as a vast hidden scheme makes me wonder when we’re going to talk about the Illuminati or Lizard People. Instead let’s consider his eight-steps for fixing everything:

  1. Inverted classroom – One brilliant professor serving millions via online video, while the rest of the teachers of the world serve as glorified assistants at in-person recitation sessions? Sounds good for the guy at the top, but you’re killing diversity of thought. If literally two or three professors in the world teach each class, they control the entire curriculum, they emphasis what they consider is important, they ignore what they don’t, and they homogenize the learning of an entire generation. The recitation teachers could fill in some blanks, but at the end of the day you end up with an entire generation of intellectual clones. Also, I hate video lectures, if you miss one thing and you’re lost for the rest of the lecture. If you can’t interrupt to ask questions, or get the benefit of others doing so, you’ll have an inferior experience no matter how great the professor is.
  2. End Memorization – He seems to be going overboard, but yeah, that’s OK in moderation. We’ve spent time in our class talking about how unproductive rote memorization is. You don’t need your physician to remember all 185,000 drug interactions, but they should at least remember where the gallbladder is without having to look it up. The idea of never memorizing anything is a bit simplistic.
  3. End Prerequisites – Who could possibly think this is a good idea? We use spiral curricula in modern pedagogy for a reason: you need to have a basis in the fundamentals before you can dive into advanced stuff. That isn’t unjust or unfair, it’s just reality. You can’t go sit in the electrical engineering department’s graduate signal processing class if you have no math or physics knowledge beyond high school, you won’t get anything out of it.
  4. End specific degrees – we’re already moving towards interdisciplinary education, and again this is fine in moderation, but unless we live in a Star Trek like post-scarcity society without any obligation to work, you’ll need some defined skills to get a job. You cannot take nothing but poetry and art classes and then be a civil engineer.
  5. Measure experience instead of test scores – Nice in practice, easier said than done. In this part he also claims that resumes as a measure of compliance will become useless, but as with #4, as long as there are employers, those resumes will be useful.
  6. Teachers should be coaches – Huh, I actually like this.
  7. Incorporate work into schooling – I wish he said more on this.
  8. Death of the Famous College – LMFAO.

Those colleges were relevant when Byzantines controlled the Bosporus, and before the Aztecs even started building their empires. Think of all the incredible social changes the last 1000 years has brought; those colleges survived them all. The rise and fall of feudalism, the first limits on the monarchy’s power, the modern republic, the rise and fall of communism, the rise of modern capitalism, the renaissance, the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the rise and fall of colonialism, the space age. Through it all, those colleges survived and flourished. I think they’ll outlive capitalism too.

No, seriously, I can envision a time when robotic manual labor and AI mental labor are so cheap that literally everyone has everything they could possibly want, and even then, those colleges will be around. Humans are social animals, and outside of the insects, all social animals are concerned with status. So long as those colleges grant status, they’ll have relevance in any society. And don’t tell me there isn’t a real difference in quality either.

The claim that attending such a college has “no relevance to success or happiness” is also bullocks. Don’t tell me that attending Oxford isn’t significantly associated with higher success rates than attending State. Of course there is a variance in outcomes, but overall there is a huge association between attending an elite college and success. Happiness is another story, but I would imagine there is at least some correlation between it and general success, money, status, and comfort in life.

He concludes by saying that we need to kill two false ideas:

  1. Great performance in school leads to happiness and success.
  2. Great parents leads to great performance in school.

Which is odd, because I think both of those are some of the most self-evident truths in education. Yes, Dave Thomas didn’t finish high school, founded Wendy’s, and ended up being extremely rich. But variance aside, in general someone who finishes high school will be more successful than someone who doesn’t, and someone with an MBA from Harvard will probably do even better. Is there really a debate here?

As for the parents, isn’t parental involvement strongly associated with success? Same goes for stability at home. If you find a kid who goes hungry every other night, or suffers from abuse or neglect, the last thing they want is to play around with an Arduino to make art. Helping these kids out is incredibly difficult, but let’s not pretend that we live in some fairy-tale world where having great education-minded parents isn’t an advantage. If anything, we should devote resources to helping the kids who don’t have such parents, instead of telling them it doesn’t matter.

Asking the question “what school is for” is invaluable, and Mr. Godin does have some good ideas. He really does. If he simply gets people thinking about the issue, he has done a great service. But, man… does this smell like the naïve idealism of a layman. Does Mr. Godin have any pedagogical credentials at all? His biography suggests he is a marketing executive that made a lot of money during the dotcom era, and now writes business self-help books. Perhaps we should take all of his advice with a grain of salt.

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