The bright side of hating your passion




“I hate science.”

I hear this a lot in the hallway.  It’s sort of the default way of saying some experiment or endeavor backfired without getting into details.  I’ve said it enough times too.

Wednesday after our weekly class meeting I am going to watch the second of the two PhD Movies that came out recently (eight thirty in the GLC!).  I paid the $5 on the internet to watch the first with friends.  We had a great time.  There was something almost therapeutic about laughing, realizing you weren’t laughing alone, and hearing friends say “oh so true.”  But I just kept picturing someone who was not in grad school watching us watch the movie.  If I had watched this as an undergrad I would not have skipped a beat.  If I had watched graduate students watch this as an undergrad I might have got a little worried.  It really shouldn’t be that funny.

But I don’t hate science.  Not by a long shot.  That’s really not what we are trying to say.  We wouldn’t say that if we didn’t care so badly.   Having had my fair share (I think we’d all like to say more than that) of frustrating outcomes in the lab, is probably the single most influential experience on my recent thinking about teaching.  Is this what Parker J. Palmer meant when he described “mining” emotions for insights into an institution and a need for change?  I’ve been really grateful for the conversations in this class and the way they have given me resources to use this “insight.”

We have to ask “why my specific branch of science?”  Or come to terms with the idea that our job may be entirely dependent on the existence of a government agency that exists to give out money.  I’ve never been more aware of statistics that say we don’t need more STEM students for the jobs that exist now.  I’ve also never been more convinced of the importance of the role of the teacher-facilitator in science.  We’ve been challenged by Seth Godin to ask “what is school for?”  I don’t agree with everything Seth Goodin said – let’s be honest, sometimes of love the sense of self efficacy that comes with a good textbook.  But I think this question is critical and I think part of the answer for the educator is being able to shift that question to students.  To have students think critically not just about what is education for, but also what is this subject matter for?  To open it up both to criticism and innovation.

“Stories are just data with a Soul” ~ Brene Brown

I know a mechanical engineer, who loved what he did even though he became an engineer not due to his passion for engineering but due to family pressures. However, over the years he found that he loved what he did and he worked for it. One of his colleagues got promoted every year, chosen over him for six straight years not because of better work but because of the relationships maintained with superiors. Even though our engineer never complained, his boss subtlety indicated that he needed to get better at connecting with his superiors too. Our engineer did not care because he knew he was being authentic and real to himself and his work. He connected with his workers, they cared for and respected him and that was enough for him. He did not need to connect with his superiors to gain this insight, he found gratification in his authenticity and his ideals rather than the approval of his superiors. Our engineer – a man a few words – my father, defying norms, did not care of organizational safety.

Safety – we all crave safety, don’t we? If we look at Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy, after our basic needs of food, water and air are met we move on to safety needs. Being “safe” means different things to different people though. In the professional world, I think it has unfortunately been equated to conformity – we conform with standards, we conform with norms, we conform with ideals of the company we work for because we want to be professionally “safe”. It is in the human nature, in our instinct to want to be safe. Fight, flight and freeze are real and all three of these instincts insure our safety depending on the situation we are in. Human beings are wired for it and that is what I believe Parker Palmer is getting at, when he questions why people don’t stand up to institutional ignorance or injustice. If we believe that our professional safety is in danger because we are not conforming to the norms of our workplace, then it is possible that people will chose safety over whatever is on the other side of the spectrum.

What is on the other side? According to Brene Brown, the author of Daring Greatly, it is shame – defined as the fear of disconnection or the fear of not being good enough to connect. How did I go from intellectual to emotional, left brain to right brain? Please bear with me so I can explain. Just as human beings are wired for safety, we are also wired for connection. In her research that focuses on qualitative data analysis of interviews with themes such as shame and vulnerability, Brene Brown has talked extensively about human connection and the lack thereof. In her TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, she states that in order for us to connect with others, we have to allow ourselves to be “really seen”. While reading Palmer’s thoughts about the “new professional” I wondered if that is what he thinks the new professionals need…the courage to “really be seen”. The willingness to be examined as a whole person – not just as a professional or an academic but as a whole. And that is where the image of a wholehearted, authentic educator appeared in my mind.

In describing the features of a wholehearted person, Brene Brown succinctly puts them as “the courage to be imperfect”, the compassion to be kind to oneself and others, the connection that is formed as a result of authenticity which is the willingness “to let go of who people think they should be in order to be who they” really are. And last but not least, the vulnerability that comes along with the belief that what makes a person vulnerable is also the sole cause of them being beautiful. In order to be vulnerable however, one has to be willing to put themselves under a microscope, to examine their own values, beliefs, ideals, and most importantly, as Palmer puts it, their “own shadows”.

Very few people sign up for self-inflicted interrogation though. Mostly we are “ok” with being safe in our lovely, comfortable cocoons and we lose our passions and we douse our fires that drove us towards our professions in the first place. Passions that made us want to be doctors, engineers, scientists, researchers, psychologists, artists, counselors, mathematicians, actors, economists…the list goes on. Personally, I agree with Palmer as well as Brown, and for myself want to integrate the concept of challenging what is wrong not only with the intention to stay sane but essentially because I want to remain authentic and genuine in my profession, to honor my own integrity as a counselor and live by what I believe is my deepest calling – to be an educator of new authentic and genuine professionals.

There’s more to life than what you read in books

Maybe it’s the caffeine or the sunshine, but I don’t know if an article has ever energized me as much as the one I just read.

I started by watching Seth Godin’s TEDx Talk in which he posed the question:

“What is school for?”

Then I read Dan Edelstein’s article, about the purpose and the indirect impacts of education in the humanities.

However, as incredible as those were, it was Parker Palmer’s article that has me so excited. Maybe the first two set the stage for this one. Maybe it’s just the ideas that he mentions or the incredible examples he used.

If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.

Palmer’s article really drove home the point that education is for more than just content knowledge. One of the key topics he discusses is the interaction of an individual with the institutions of which they are a part. I believe that this knowledge of institutional relationships is something a lot of folks struggle with these days. Often the narrative of “I have a problem with this organization. I’ll find something else to do” defeats the harder narrative of “I have a problem with this organization. However, I believe in it and will work to make it better.” Too often we believe that institutions are untouchable.

Palmer gets into a deep discussion of how to navigate our own feelings and let them speak to us in the workplace and in academia, which my commentary cannot do justice. I’ll let him speak for himself here.

So we have precious little experience and even less competence at extracting work-related information from our feelings. […] “So what?” might be a reasonable response to that observation—until we realize that a capacity to translate private feelings into knowledge and then public action, when warranted, has been an engine of every movement for social change.

Palmer is asserting, and I agree, that education is for more than just teaching people the “stuff” they learn in school. It’s more than solving equations and memorizing anatomy. Our educational institutions provide settings that could be used for so much more. So what are some things that I believe school is for? I’ll tell you.

School is for

  • Self-discovery
  • Gaining inspiration from those who have gone before us
  • Learning how to make connections between seemingly unrelated topics
  • Building and making and creating
  • Figuring out how our feelings relate to what we do
  • Learning how to work with other people to accomplish a goal
  • Seeing the value in people different than us
  • Learning how to work hard even when you don’t want to

School is a playground to discover who we are and how we want to interact with the world around us. My good friend Jeff wrote a blog post sharing college advice he had recently given to a high school senior. His first point really stuck with me:

You will learn about your degree in class.  You have the potential to learn about yourself every single moment.

This is the point I want to end with. Too often our educational system downplays this idea, but it should be sung in every classroom:

The most important thing we can learn is who we are.


What bullet points would you add to the list? How have you learned who you are through interactions inside or outside the classroom?

Confessions of an Over Educated High School Dropout

“We’re focusing so much on academics that we’ve taken out things like art, sewing, cooking, woodworking, music, and other things that introduce kids to careers.” – Dr. Temple Grandin

I am a high school drop out. It’s a fact that I normally do not share with many of my colleagues and peers in graduate school. It is an aspect about my history that I usually keep hidden. I was a little less than half way through my junior year before dropping out and enrolling in the GED program. Less than six months later, I moved to New York to go to acting school and honestly, I never looked back.

The idea of being a traditional student was something that never appealed to me. In fact, it was something I rebelled very strongly against. I resented being force fed curriculum designed by an educational system that more closely resembled industrial mass production than an earnest learning environment. So my answer was to walk away and explore the world through my own curiosity, my own passions, and by identifying my own needs.

My educational path would be one of my own devising. A combination of professional experience, conservatory training, certificate programs, community college courses, a bachelor degree, and a terminal masters of fine arts with not one, but two graduate certificates. I charted this path on my own time, identifying my own learning objectives almost every step of the way. I went to acting conservatory because I wanted to be a better actor. I got my bar-tending license and my life-guarding certificate because I needed to diversify my sources of income, I took English and literature courses at a Los Angeles Community College because I wanted to be a better writer and communicator, I studied music business and management at Berklee I wanted to be a better musician, and I entered the MFA arts leadership program because I recognized an opportunity to further my career and strengthen my understanding about the role of the arts in higher education. The point is, it was always my decision. What to learn and why to learn it.

As we have explored several times over the course of the semester in Contemporary Pedagogy, the current form of primary and secondary education exists as a result of the industrial revolution which required a specialized skill set necessary to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic. By 1833, the British government would pass the Factory Act requiring children working in factories to receive two hours of education per day. Education was necessary to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving workforce. However, as society has continued to advance, the methods of knowledge creation and knowledge transfer have remained strikingly similar to the early 1800’s.

What is the purpose of education? What is the reasoning behind it? Some would argue it is to prepare students to get a job, some would argue it’s about creating engaged citizens, some would argue it isn’t about what we learn, it’s about how we learn. Still others would focus on the importance of a well rounded education while some would highlight the importance and necessity of trade schools and specialized workers. As we learned throughout the semester, there is no right answer. There shouldn’t be a right answer because these arguments are not mutually exclusive. Education exists as both a public and private good meant to advance the individual and the common good simultaneously. Why then do we allow education to define our success by assigning value to specific disciplines?

Somewhere along the way disciplines became fractured, separated into individualized class periods devoted to one type of specificity. This fracturing created an environment where specific disciplines are valued differently. Science, engineering, and math carry more significance than liberal arts and humanities. This system perpetuates an educational environment where disciplines operate out of the scarcity mindset, hoarding and guarding physical and financial resources as precious commodities. This fractured system leads to increased levels of departmental competition and often marginalizes the fine arts, liberal arts, and social sciences. But who assigns these values? Who determines the significance and importance of one discipline over another? And what about students, like me, who don’t fit well into this specific definition of education?

At their core, all disciplines are intrinsic to one another. Music and math are the same language just as engineering cannot exist without design and the arts and sciences share the same iterative process. Science exists for us to explore and discover the world around us just as engineering exists to invent ways in which we engage with the world around us. The liberal arts and humanities create meaning and provide historical context and ways of communicating our shared and individual experiences. One cannot exist without the others. One SHOULD NOT exist without the others. Yet these disciplines are fractured. Separated and expected to operate independently.

The current paradigm of education is one that will perpetuate fractional disciplines. As longs as disciplines remain fractured, differential values will be used to identify what is important and what is superfluous. This paradigm treats all students as if they are identical carbon copies. It is this paradigm that is in desperate need of revolution and reform.

I say this because I am a living example of both the failures and the successes of our current educational system. A high school drop out who went on to pursue bachelors and masters level education on my own terms, in my own time, and in my own way. Instead of adhering to a prescriptive model, I decided what was important, when it was important, and why it was important to my educational growth. Imagine if everyone was allowed the same opportunity.


“What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”

I believe I have said here or elsewhere something about the importance of the relationship between the humanities and the physical sciences: While the arts need the sciences for the sake of utility in the “real world,” the arts provide for the sciences a conscience. The sciences teach us how to experiment and examine the world as an outside observer; the arts teach us how to examine the world from within ourselves. Scientists work with their heads and their hands; an artist’s work comes from the head and the heart. While these examples are gross over-simplifications of these disciplines, they do illustrate the symbiotic relationship between the hard and the human sciences, a sort of codependency that is demanded of the individual who is studying them. And yet…

There remains a constant need to justify the equality of these fields, particularly from the humanities side. As an English major at a STEM-heavy university, sometimes it feels as though there is a perpetual chip on my shoulder, as if I must always remind everyone else about the relevance of my skills and my discipline. The pressure is not only pervasive in academia. Every family visit results in someone asking “So, what exactly are you going to do with your degree?” as if I am some dewey-eyed hippie, whose only future path is to live on a commune with huts made of tires, spending my days reading and writing poetry, telling stories, and living a frivolous life of frolicking through tulips, smoking a peace pipe, and generally being a disappointment to my ancestors. My response (somewhere in the ballpark of “Um…teach, hopefully…” “Well, if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life” and “Excuse me while I go nail my eyelids to the front deck in order to avoid having this conversation again…”) is never satisfactory. Besides, and perhaps most importantly, what role would I have in the event of a zombie apocalypse? While others with more practical skills would be building shelter, tracking weather patterns for safe travel, building farms, and finding a cure for the accursed zombie virus, what would I be doing? Soothing the undead to sleep with the sultry sounds of my silver-tongued recitations of Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream”? Fighting off a flesh-eating horde with my hardcover copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Unabridged, wiping bone matter and pieces of half-rotten corpse off of the dust jacket every few minutes? I was beginning to feel like the character in that Avenue Q song:

But of course, all of this is ridiculous. Even though the market seems to value certain career paths over others, that’s not to say someone couldn’t live a perfectly satisfying life working in a humanities field. After all, there are some universally practicable skills that aren’t learned in the science classroom, such as reading comprehension, public speaking, clear and effective writing skills, visual literacy, crafting a well-reasoned argument, etc., etc. Part of the reason why I feel so strongly about interdisciplinary practices is due to my liberal arts background, where each field is appreciated for its particular contributions in creating a well-rounded classroom full of jacks-of-all-trades. This ruined me. Now I can’t favor one discipline over another without feeling a twinge of guilt as though I have failed in academia by not being some sort of mutant renaissance man. I do not have strong math skills, and though much of it eludes me like so much effluvium drifting above my head just out of reach, I am still fascinated with mathematics as a field, to the point that I feel compelled every so often to brush up on some of the concepts which I had previously forgotten. I say this not to brag–only to illustrate the state of mind that I’m in regarding academia, and, really, life in general. If we live in a world where we are able to not only appreciate other disciplines, but to utilize their skills for our own work, we will be expanding our potential–exploring and discovering nuances in our own disciplines which had previously remained elusive.

And, should the need arise, we will be much better equipped to kill zombies, which should make us all sleep a little sounder at night.

Why I decided to attend Virginia Tech

This week’s articles were difficult for me to comment on, because I agreed with them so thoroughly. Of course the humanities are important, and, as much as the media bags on literature professors, they do contribute something exceedingly valuable to the scientific community. Unfortunately, “Well Duh” is not an appropriate response far a blog post, but it feels pretty apt when all of these articles are acting like this is some great discovery. However, because I would like to contribute to the conversation in a way that doesn’t involve retyping the articles in all caps, I thought I would share with you the reason I decided not to attend a liberal arts university.

I could have attended a Graduate program that would have catered to a liberal arts background and turned out liberal arts undergraduates, but I specifically chose not to. Don’t get me wrong, I love literature and philosophy, I’ve dedicated a large portion of my life to it, but liberal arts graduates are not those who need the humanities. When I teach people who are invested in the ethical good that literature can provide it often leaves me feeling like I’ve just spent my time in a coffee shop with friends; we’ve had fun, we’ve discovered something new, but a majority of the learning could have happened with or without each other. We knew where we were going, but we wanted to go together. We were just passing time and introducing one another to new topics. Preaching to the choir doesn’t do anyone any good. I love teaching thinking, writing, and philosophy at a STEM heavy college because when I do, I can see the change that it makes in people. I teach writing and rhetoric to an engineer and all of the sudden they realize that all of their professors are taking them more seriously. I read Those Who Walk Away from Omleas with a physician and he begins to think about why he does what he does for a living. It’s not bringing them into a coffee shop with me, its opening the door to their fallout shelter and allowing them to see daylight for a little bit. When they return to the fallout shelter afterwards they remember why they are working inside it to begin with, and who they originally built it for.

This stepping out works both ways. Often time’s debates within the humanities will end on a difference of unprovable opinion. The world, it would appear is a constant bed of reconstruction that we simply allow ourselves to attempt to make sense of. I hate this notion. Not because it is necessarily untrue, All accounts prove otherwise, but because it is so defeatist. It’s a way for the humanities to throw their hands in the air and live in a state of agnosticism. In all honesty, I find it cowardly. I admire STEM for its certainty. Its ability to say, “The world is something we can figure out, just give us a little more time.” This is optimism at its core and it’s a good counterweight to the issues that we in the arts suffer from.

I know that I have probably said too much, and I don’t want anyone thinking that I have betrayed my field. I do think that, at the current moment, the humanities need to be heavily championed so that they continue to provide the services that society so desperately requires. If I can leave you with one belief it is this. The humanities are not a cure all. They are a vitamin. Without them society will transgress into a place that it doesn’t want to be, but I wouldn’t depend on them to cure cancer. We shouldn’t have research colleges and liberal arts colleges, we should have universities where individuals are taught to be uncertain so that they can attempt to work toward certainty.

Sith Kristen 2016-03-30 14:05:25

Technology Gets in the Zone

Our equipment changes how we process, how we remember, and what we produce.  As Nietzsche said, “our equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”  The trick is to hack the advantages of each, and be ready to shift equipment as one type of equipment or interface is better for the purpose.  And even if we don’t know exactly what we want from each form of equipment, using diverse equipment will diversify the input that goes into our analysis, memory, and output.   In short diversify equipment, expand learning.

If our equipment changes how we analyze, input, and produce information, can we use this to our advantage?  This is exactly how Benjamin Franklin described the way he taught himself how to write.  He took an essay whose style he wanted to emulate, made a sort of an outline.  He gave himself time to forget the original, then fleshed the outline out again.  He also switched between essay and poetry and back.  Could this approach take advantage of different equipment we commonly use to learn and share information?  I could envision giving an assignment in which students are asked to make a PowerPoint presentation of a paper, including all important figures.  Then they could be asked to write a scientific paper from that PowerPoint (it would be tricky to reliably take away access to the original paper for the second part of the assignment, but I’m sure something could be done).  I can imagine paper notes to be used during the lecture-format portion of a class, and laptops to be used for in-class review for example to generate a list of questions about the material in a google document.

Every technology comes with pushback.  They are tools with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.  So what are our goals, the things we want to increase through technology and avoid disrupting?  How do we optimize?

I see three main goals of technology and format which both aid learning and enable learning to be better utilized:

  • To enable communication
  • To enhance productivity, either individually or as a group
  • To complement individual faculty – augmenting skills and opening access to enjoyable challenges

For each of these goals our use of our use of technology, equipment, and medium will affect them.

The point is to optimize the positive effects and utilize a diversity of effects, knowing that there is no form of learning that does not use a medium of some sort.   Does this piece of equipment in this context put you into communication or out of it?  Does more get accomplished in the end because of it – either individually or as a group?  Does it facilitate challenge and interest, or is it leading to worry, to apathy, and distraction?  Is a tool that draws you to be constantly “thinking about the task [you] weren’t doing,” or helps you is it something that helps you do the thing you were doing better?


A number of people have talked about how Plato critiqued writing as a new-fangled technology that would inhibit real learning and thinking.  This is often in the context of making a point like “well we know writing is a critical tool for our individual and societal development, so now we know his critique of this new technology was invalid – a fear of something new.”  I’m not sure this argument holds.  We do know that writing is critical.  But listen to his explanation:

Writing… has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing.

Although in other places his criticism is harsher, the point he makes here is that writing can’t replace interpersonal communication, and has weaknesses in that it cannot replicate the accountability and inspiration of interpersonal communication.  To this extant I think his comment is very valid and many modern technologies address exactly this weakness of writing, making written word more interactive.

I’m sure Plato would be happy to know we have not abandoned spoken conversations as a format in education.  Now we chose among many formats and technologies as we need to.  For example, in order to become a PhD candidate, I had to pass an oral exam.   The biggest exam and most formal exam I will probably have to take in my education is actually very Socratic in its structure.  We pick the format we want to use for the purpose at hand.  (Still, I am glad he did not live to see the invention of the scantron….)


Technology is a huge enabler of productivity.  But this is an area that is rife with paradoxes and optimization problems.  As science and technology writer Clive Thompson says we are “social thinkers

and technology that enables communication makes us more able and productive as a whole.  I would argue that productivity (in some form or another) is an almost automatic byproduct efficient communication.  (I don’t argue that this productivity automatically produces something that is necessarily good – effort and wisdom will always be important.)  Technology (whether it’s a bugle, pen and paper, or a super computer) is critical to communication-derived productivity.  I really wish google docs were around when my debate partner and I were writing up case briefs in high school.  I had an online class once in which we each had to post questions to a forum, and we could get credit for answering them as well.  The professor would clarify points we couldn’t.  My lab’s collaborators meet regularly via WebEx, which has options for screen share, document share, and chatting – a Skype for professionals.

When it comes to an individual productivity, the story is more nuanced.  On an individual level, productivity has a lot to do with an ability to focus, not just on topical knowledge, ability, and insight.  Technology certainly effects our focus.  Our technology effects the way we process information as we acquire it, the way we avoid distraction and prioritize information, and how we “get in the zone” really engaging in what we do.  The effect is very individual by person and context.  Sometimes technology streamlines this.  Other times simpler is better.   If I have writer’s block or am trying to jot down a poem without disrupting my flow of thought, you better believe the pen and paper is coming out.

The big productivity risk of technology comes with multitasking.  Since reading about the 2009 study done at Stanford on the disadvantage of multitasking on mental performance, I have been trying to be more conscious about focusing on one thing at a time and not letting myself think or work on something else until it is finished.  What is interesting is that multiprocessors were pulled from a group of people who regularly multi-process via technology.   That said, I found a lot of benefit from tying to make a point to consciously say “this is what I am thinking about for this next minute or so.”  And this helped me while I was doing work on a computer.  I needed the computer to accomplish what I wanted to do.  I also needed to be conscious about how I use it.  I noticed something while I was trying this that goes beyond an increase in productivity.  The increased focus came with clarity and motivation.

Flow – Or being in the zone

If productivity is a sign of equipped social thought, then being “in flow” is a sign of well-quipped individual thought.  Being in flow is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.”   I like to call it being in the zone.  It is essentially the signature of someone who sustainably and intrinsically enjoys what they do.   Flow comes from feeling both challenged and skilled.  It has seven basic features:

  1. Focus, concentration
  2. Ecstasy
  3. Clarity – know what to do
  4. Sense of the challenge being doable, even if hard
  5. Serenity, loss of a sense of self (too focused on something bigger)
  6. Timelessness
  7. Intrinsic motivation

What I noticed when I chose not to multi-process is that a I noticed a number of features of being “in flow” increase in addition to the obvious increase in focus.  Even when I don’t particularly enjoy the things I was doing at that point.  I had more clarity, a sense that I could finish what I was working on, and less of a worry about waiting time or of paying attention to it.  I wouldn’t say that my busywork acquired more ecstasy, but it was more enjoyable.

In other words, we have a significant about of control over how much our work resembles being in flow, even busy work.  We don’t have to reach the frenzied passion of an inspired artist to take advantage of flow by degree as part of the way we are wired as humans.  One of my new goals as a teacher (and as a learner!) is to encourage myself and my students to find as many of these seven features in whatever work we do to whatever extent it is up to us.

Focus.  Skills. And challenge.

And a diversity of technologies to help you do it.


We don’t need no Education

“You! You! Yes, you! Stand still, laddie!”
When we grew up and went to school
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision
Upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness
However carefully hidden by the kids

I think Pink Floyd summed up the entire education system (back in the 1970-80’s) fairly well in their song “We don’t need no Education”. The effects of such an oppressive educational model are still present, in fact, the educational model hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. The lyrics (accompanied by the video) articulate in a concise fashion the banking model of education (as described by Paulo Freire’s in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed“); it is particularly apparent in the last couple of lines in the song where the students recite along with the teacher:

“An acre is the area of a rectangle

whose length is….”

In the banking model of education, the student is viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. Paul notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power”. The following lyrics from the same song “We don’t need no Education” succinctly express that a banking/factory model of education is oppressive and abusive and change is needed:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone

The lyrical brilliance of Pink Floyd shines here where they use double negatives; “don’t” and “no” in the same line negate each other expressing that although education is necessary, operating within the confines of the current system makes the children mindless souls that do not have free creativity or imagination (this argument is not only supported by the lyrics but also through the stunning visuals in their video). The combination of words “thought control” and “dark sarcasm” further argues that teachers can be perceived as authoritarian and controlling. In particular, if the child does not please the teacher then the child is automatically wrong and punished for their behaviour.

I think there are plenty of parallels between Paul’s work and Pink-Floyd’s lyrics. However, both bodies of work seem to paint an extremely pessimistic view of the education system. The lyrics and the book are fairly old (70-80’s) and may have been apt for the post-war era. In the current context, there are several common themes/core ideas that still ring true today.

Learning to be a Learner

After reading chapter two: There is no Teaching Without Learning of Paulo Freire’s book: Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, it came to my mind what kind of knowledge should a professor acquire, so the cause of teaching will have a learning effect .

Most of you are currently struggling as teaching assistance because there is no other option to obtain that so well received assistantship. Since the first day, this has been a topic of discussion in every class, where students share their anecdotes to get feedback from the others to feel that they are on the right track and of course, to feel that most of them are in the same situation. But let me tell you something, I believe there is no right solution to these “issues” on how you should teach. You can’t decide whether you should only be “cool”, “funny” or even if you should talk about your daily anecdotes to make the students feel comfortable in your class.

Everybody has a different perspective of how should a college professor should be. Im sure most of you have seen the following meme that shows the different perspectives that people have about what it means to be a college professor. ( The picture is self explanatory, but as you can see even the actual professor thinks he does something that he is not really doing.  Should we act like Mr. Burns as the villain and wreck the students lives or should we help students open their minds and find what they really want in their life as Robin William did with Matt Damon?


Learning to be a Learner might be the hardest thing to accomplish since we are trying to learn what we should learn, to find our Authentic Teaching Self. Finding your Authentic Teaching Self can be a difficult task, however is not an impossible one to achieve. One of the things that I have noticed from the professors is how they behave to get the attention of the students during a lecture. According to a paper published by Diane M. Bunce et al, How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers, the authors mentioned that if a student does not have the enough motivation during a lecture, they will pay attention for an average of 10-20 min ( This means that if you made the wrong choice on how to approach the students, you will see the effect of the attention decline after 10 min of starting the lecture. So, we ask ourselves again what could be the best practice to apply in college in order to not transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge, as mentioned by Paulo Freire?

As connected learner that we are the first thing that came to my mind was: “let me google best practice in college” to find the answer; the first thing that I found was: A Brief Summary of the Best Practices in College Teaching ( tructional-methods/best-practices-summary). Just by reading the title I told myself: “I finally got the answer that I needed”, but all of you know that is not that simple. Even though the document was divided into 12 specific and well explained areas that the author believe you should concentrate to follow the best practices in college, it will not make you find your Authentic Teaching Self.

There is a lot to cover in this topic, however the question will always remain open no matter whom tries to summarize best practices to become the “ideal college professor”. I believe the professor has two options, either he/she adjust to each individual student or treat every student as a whole. The problem with the first one is that due to the constant changing, the professor will not have a own identity and the second one will have an impact on the students since not every student have the same knowledge. You can’t speak only in English in a class with different student from around the world, you have to talk to them individually in their own language in order for them to learn from the one that was once a learner.

A Rant on Graduate School!

Many times in life, we go into classes not knowing what to expect. Sometimes, after the first class, we learn to expect to master a list of requirements for the course. Those classes either have an engaging professor who can grab our attention… or they don’t. That’s usually the story of most classes.

*Unless* you go into a class, and you find the professor explaining to you WHAT this can do for the REAL WORLD. Many of us expect to have some type of a positive impact on the real world. So, let me ask this, how many of you got really really passionate about something you learned in a course just because of all the amazing applications for it? How often did you ever have classes that you looked forward to? How often did you not have classes you dreaded going to in undergrad? I know this is a rare occurrence and all, but sometimes, there are those rare professors who can get their students to look forward to being there. I think a lot of these people follow Freirean ideology on education. These people encourage their students to relate what they’re learning to the world. These people guide students to leave an amazing foot print. These people scaffold their students into always being curious. Freire was a true believer of pursuing curiously. This video is a wonderful idea of how he encouraged great curiosity.

Many times, graduate students get impatient sometimes because they don’t get the results they want in research. In fact, sometimes, advisers advise in certain directions, and request that work is done a certain way. However, if we set our curiosity free, and share our curious ideas with our advisers, maybe we’ll make great victories.

If I’m interpreting my world in Freire’s view as was in the presentation, risking is the backbone to reading the world in our research and our living. If we risk, try hard, risk, try hard, risk… And Embrace EVERY failure…. We’ll be on to the next Noble Prize. At least that’s how I see it.  Just gotta be patient!  :)

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