In finishing the 2018 pedagogy course, it’s great to re-affirm the role of people-feelings within the realm of academia, be it research or instruction. It’s easy to become lost to the allure of pure, cold logic, the belief that things have definitive beginnings and definitive endings, that facts may be readily discerned with absolute certainty. Yet reading Parker Palmer’s piece shows an entirely different side to explore. Research and instruction alike are both voluntary and fallible: what may be discovered is forever limited by time and technology, what may be learned by the limitations of focus and recall. It’s important then that we draw our gaze as much to why as we would to how, that we shine our narrow vision on those gaps most worth knowing. It’s important then that, even when limited by institutional directives, we remember our true, original spirit of study, that which we dreamed about as children and which survives within us today. There’s much momentum in life which cannot be resisted, but all can be guided, and by integrating emotion into the driest, most tiring of fields, we can find and share that which is worth knowing and steer the course of the development of worthwhile knowledge for those the follow us in time.
Inclusivity is a challenging subject to discuss at times as societal morality presents a constantly moving target. The common playground insults of yesteryear become the room-silencing slurs of today. In turn, technical terms for uncomfortable subjects segue to playground insults and require routine maintenance every couple of years. This is largely great, it’s becoming more and more taboo to label individuals by aspects of their self beyond their own personal choice, and I’m sincerely curious how long it will be until pejoratives describing rural populations fall out of favor. As morality shifts more and more, we suddenly come to view each previous generation as selfish and barbaric, casting ourselves as the temporary heirs of a more civilized age. Inevitably, these positions too are shown to be folly and morality will generally continue forward as we realize and communicate more of our mistakes. As such, any statement specifically anchored to the accepted morality of a given time and circumstance runs the risk of coming off extremely tone-deaf in short order. In writing this, I question if tone-deaf is even an appropriate term.
No matter how woke you may (desire to) be, you have to run as fast as you can to stay where you are. And in a world where real, actual Nazis exist as a cultural force once more we need to keep up the pace. The notable social progress in our discourse in the last five years has triggered an equal if not greater retraction in opposition. Per the cliche, everyone is the hero of their own story, and many find it just so much easier to see oneself as a steadfast hero of free speech, beset on all sides by snowflakes than to see themselves as out of touch with time and society.
The benefits of inclusivity in academia are clear and can be selfishly justified with no presumption of altruism. We take the best and brightest from all over the world and pay them a bare necessities salary during 2-5 of the most creative, most hardworking years of their career. The question then becomes, how do we conduct inclusive pedagogy to reach both sides of the aisle, all the while functioning within our own implicit biases? For this I lean heavily upon two simple rules: don’t be a *jerk, and understand that you just might not get it, and that’s okay.
I take don’t be a *jerk from the Team Rubicon code of conduct. Team Rubicon is disaster relief organization that’s built upon a beautiful lie – that their primary business is disaster relief. While they perform admirably well in serving disaster afflicted populations, their true, unspoken mission is to rehabilitate afflicted service members. Team Rubicon deliberately recruits veterans struggling to re-adjust to civilian life and gives them a high energy, high adrenaline environment where their martial skills and dedication are useful once more. By pairing new members working to get well with elder members who have been there before they create a natural support group for those carrying hidden wounds. Given such preconditions, I was really surprised to see what a memorable and timeless code of conduct they chose to unite under. We might not realize all the ways we’re beings jerks, and no system of rules can ever keep up with our increasing awareness as a society, but if you start simple, it’s easy to maintain and build a solid foundation.
Second, is that sometimes, I just wont get it. This I take from an episode of South Park in which Stan repeatedly tries to apologize for the blunders of his father, growing more and more off-message with each attempt. Finally, after failing in every attempt to understand and right this wrong, Stan finally realizes that he’s failing because he just doesn’t get it, and he never will. There’s a lot of beauty in layers to this. From the ivory tower perspectives of academia, it’s easy to imagine that all knowledge is tangible and may be readily extracted given the right hooks. Falling into this line of thinking with regards to inclusivity risks discounting one’s entire lifetime of lived experience and private struggles. At the end of the day, somewhere in our selves, we all have some deep wound, some pernicious injury, some hole that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to fill. We can never truly understand what experiences one is carrying looking from the outside in, it’s showing that we’re willing to listen, to accept, and that we care enough that we will strive to do better, even though we don’t always get it.
These rules are simple, they don’t cover everything, but they are robust and generalizeable. Following these has led me well as a framework, and they contain a pure and simple enough truth that they may be disseminated readily – please do.
*Not the original wording.
I recently had the pleasure of reading the prologue to Sarah E. Deel’s work, “Finding My Teaching Voice.” In it Deel describes her own challenges in rectifying her personal preconceptions on teaching while learning how to effectively guide a university chemistry class. Notably, Deel had to come to terms that she did not possess and could not fake the base personality attributes of the popular teachers. This piece raises interesting points on the virtues and limitations of sincerity, the selection of success metrics in one’s engagement with students, and the ability of one to take that which is valuable within themselves while also realizing the degree to which the remainder may prove limiting.
Within a challenging situation, it’s often easy to reflexively retreat upon prior concepts of self, to say “this is not me, these guys don’t get me, maybe I shouldn’t be here.” This thinking may occur just as easily within a teacher as a student. We’re all vulnerable to the imposters’ complex and while unmentioned, it seems quite prominent within this work. Whether you pick the Batman or the Count of Montecristo, it’s valuable to have an internal rags to riches/ triumph in adversity/ revenge by success personal story of inspiration. One is not an imposter in such a scenario, one is a hacker more like, hacking their way through the challenges of education from the outside with a laser focus on their true goal. Where Deel discussed her new approaches as an extension of her prior self, built onto the framework she knew well, it may be valuable to work with students in such implementable terms. By mastering a small skill in science, one may acquire greater confidence to try others. When one finds themselves possessed of diverse, science related skills, the student who just wasn’t one of those science guys might suddenly recognize the scientist within. This finding may be greatly assisted by an educators directing their attention towards those positive attributes within one which grow through diligence.
Another trend I note in Deel’s writing is the manifestation of shoulds in response to a stressful situation. Herein i define shoulds as simple unqualified beliefs about the way things are or are meant to be. Perhaps a teacher should always be commanding and have a booming voice? Likewise, perhaps a teacher should be a relatable goofball with a heart of gold? There’s only but so much room for Pattons and Patch Adams before we all tire of their antics, and within the piece Deel quickly recognized the inefficiencies of relating to students homogeneously as a cardboard cut out. Her best path to ensuring the students’ success was again relinquishing that which did not work and working to append on more positive traits, moving forwards as her aspirational self rather than her comfortable self.
All in all, this piece provided a solid description of adaptation in the face of challenge.
A recent reading of Garnder Campbell’s Post, “Curiosity as a Learning Outcome” drove me to consider the arcs and anecdotes by which I’ve observed curiosity in my own personal life. Within the post, Campbell cites 10 generalized, psychological metrics of curiosity as emblematic of the very virtues higher learning seeks to imbue upon students. An interesting extension of this would be to note the extent to which knowledge and curiosity reinforce each other, such that certain knowledge becomes a prerequisite of useful inquiry. At the surface level, we may see the fruitlessness of low effort curiosity, the 2AM infomercial inventor type. XKCD sums it up well here, whereby some people might spend their entire life thinking the one thing standing between themselves and a fabulous fate was one little nugget of inspiration, that one idea for the pet rock, that fortunate twist a friend managed to nab by sheer luck alone, discounting any sense of the journey required to reach it. Within my undergraduate studies in Chemistry, I found it interesting to see how the first year and a half was all multicolored fires, liquid nitrogen, and churning reactions. After the whiz bang theatrics, we settled into 2.5 years of analyzing very low concentrations of sundry compounds in deionized water. It was far less exciting than the years preceding it, but that space beyond the attentions of armchair inventors is where the real work and money were. I see this as a solid anology to higher education in that if one truly wishes to innovate within their field, they must possess such intense curiosity that they can work the long hours for that 5% improvement that changes their mind. That’s not to say there’s no low hanging fruit in the world, just in the 1990s we as a species figured out how to save thousands of lives a year using two clay pots and a bit of sand.
Coming from a different perspective, my experience in search and rescue shows the risks of fatigued curiosity. There is a very well known phenomena within mass disaster response that injuries and accidents happen after the second day. When first thrust into a novel and dangerous situation, our alertness is peaked, and by extension our curiosity. We scan our environment with wide and suspicious eyes, and we note everything that appears out of place. As time passes we grow comfortable, we stop asking questions, and well fall into a routine, forgetting full well that nothing about our current situation may be routine. Further, there is the question of finding subjects. As with danger, curiosity about the environment for clues and signs will often wane with time and experience.
Newly trained volunteer searchers will call stop for every out of place soda can, beer bottle, and candy wrapper. There appears to be no acre of land on this green earth lacking each of those in abundance. With time one becomes more inured to clues and more motivated to cover distance and finish tasks. During such missions it’s not uncommon to pass an old shed, a pile of debris, or even an odd patch of terrain that’s a little ways outside of the task area yet draws the mind. The stories of search subjects are often concluded before the search begins regardless of our actions, but this may be unknown to the world at large for days if not weeks, sometimes years. Given the weeks of media reminders, unsatisfied curiosity may lead way to nagging doubts or potent regrets. Therefore, whenever anyone asks “is it worth searching that?” the answer is always “yes if you will sleep better, we can wait.”
Summing these up, perhaps there’s a strategy within for crafting a potent and useful curiosity within education. It’s important to arouse curiosity with the shiny colors and whizbang theatrics, yet one must also carefully manage the following the drudgery of finesse until the excitement of the frontier. Likewise, in time within any field curiosity may wane and leave one vulnerable. A periodic sidestep into the adjacent fields may prove an exciting deterrent to complacency well worth the opportunity cost of the transition.
Just last week NPR published an interesting little article discussing educators’ and experts’ views with regards to the role of personal technology within the classroom. The article presented a spectrum of views regarding whether student’s access to cellphones and laptops provided a net-negative effect to the classroom learning environment. It’s easy to scoff at this question as technological conservatism. I personally recall the days when elementary school children were free to bike miles to class unescorted, yet ownership of a beeper or cellphone was an expulsion-worthy sign of poor character. The distractions were still present, those wishing to mentally escape class were free to play a few rounds of Decision on their graphing calculators. Barring access to such technology a couple chapters of young adult fiction from a hidden book could make the days go by. Truly, lacking any comparative experience from the teacher’s side of a K-12 environment, I have great empathy for the distracted students who as of yet have little to no true agency in their lives and educational participation.
Still, as was discussed in Pedagogy lecture, one must also acknowledge the very meaningful difference between such passive time wasters and the realities of the open Internet. A ten dollar burner from the grocery store now yields access to an entire ecosystem of apps optimized to capture one’s eyes as often as possible. As magazines die and consumers cut cable, we’ve grown to accept trading a little kick of digital dopamine here and there for the ad-views which make our world go round. Perhaps this beast of technology is a bit less Mickey Mouse and a bit more Joe Camel? As tempting as it may be to view this once more through a generational lens there’s much to be said here with regards to personal learning objectives. Most specifically, is one most concerned with theory or implementation?
For those theory-minded individuals who are most gifted if not pleased to conceive, recognize, and describe problems, rich contemplation on singular matters is key. While this would run at odds to distraction-prone technologies, it’s also important to consider the roles of discussion and debate. How fully formed may a theory be if it has not been contemplated via outsourced perspectives? Truly, is the classroom a simple knowledge dump where one must optimize transmission rates as one would with their wireless router? Perhaps theory is best served as hors d’oeuvres, offering lots of little tidbits to be more properly merged and ingested hours later as the mind slides into REM sleep.
Those most entertained or gifted by implementation have a much different process for digesting knowledge. They may be alarmingly unconcerned with why, yet adept at the granular nuances of how. For these students I see no reason to limit access to any personal technology within the classroom. Lets start with a few base assumptions here. While technology aids distraction, technology also enables the rapid lookup of knowledge. The Internet of social distractions is also the Internet of tutorials, open troubleshooting, and technogeek forums. Using a series of google queries an implementation-minded student may learn the entire methods behind an artistic or technical process without being bogged down by the theory of why.
This brings up a question of equitability. There’s much debate on the role of gifted-education programs, whether they uplift those admitted or suppress those not. Given access to personal technology, the most invested students may explore points of curiosity 5 steps ahead of a lecture for a far richer experience. However, are the remainder of the students differentially distracted by the open web, and does one make up for the other? Technology will always become faster, better, and cheaper. Therefore, any mainstream technology which is sufficiently workable now (I’m looking at you 2005 Google docs) will almost certainly out-pace its traditional peers later. If technological distractions have reached a robust and stable state, perhaps it’s best we accept their intrusion and await the emergence of more captivating educational technology? As computational power and open source tools grow near disposable, the opportunity for simulation and interaction grows for theory and implementation-minded learners alike.
– Dead person with above-average SES and a robust social network –
It’s happened: the joyless, workaholic millennial generation has continued its mad spree of metaphoric murder. We have slaughtered diamonds, buying houses, buying cars, and the US birth rate. Soon we may kill listicles about things millennials have killed. With single minded zeal, we’ve largely elected to stop spending money on most every non-survival imperative thing that those gifted with the comforts of time, money, and economic certainty tend to indulge themselves in.
With this in mind, I summarize my reactions and offer counterclaims to Gardner Campbell’s assertions in his 2016 piece, “Network Learning as Experiential Learning.“ Campbell’s article begins with a summary of similar views expressed in George Kuh’s 2008 monograph “High-Impact Educational Practices.” Campbell registers his agreement with the problems expressed therein whilst suggesting alternate solutions thereto, stating the problem thusly:
Education was becoming more about careers and “competencies” (a word Kuh himself used, although in a larger sense than others have) and less about inquiry, meaning-making, and a broadly humane view of human capacity. Kuh’s essay implicitly recognized that one of the great costs of abandoning these more expansive views of the purpose of higher education was that students might become alienated from their own learning experiences. He was right. Even as “student-centered learning” became the mantra, the increased attention to outcomes and objectives served (and still serves) to enable a narrowing, behaviorist focus on easily measured, easily described outcomes linked to detailed prescriptions, policies, and penalties, all contained within the course contracts (i.e., course syllabi). 
It feels petty to attack the article solely from this premise, but I would love if such a problem was the greatest that I had to solve. To suggest that current issues are a matter of cynical calculus or co-opted passions rather than a reflection of the larger forces at play smacks of heralding from the ivory tower. Further, there is a delicious irony in citing a piece from 2008 to contend such a point – millennials operate from the moat, ipods and nintendos be damned. The romans were able to indulge themselves with art, philosophy, and maths as they were fattened by the toils of others. This is a lifestyle afforded to relatively few millennials. The vast majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, a single unexpected bill portends doom, and the inevitability of becoming ill is a challenge few of us are prepared to face.
For anyone in doubt of the dire economic circumstances facing millennials, I heartily encourage you read huffpo’s brilliant article “FML: Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression.” I also strongly encourage you to share said article with any boomers, gen-x’ers , or otherwise fortunate acquaintances still beholden to the just world fallacy with regards to American social mobility. Success is an apparent zero sum game, and like medicine, it is offered at rates the market will bear, not those it needs. The spectre of technological unemployment looms before us all, and rather than sharing the bounty of past generations’ technological achievements in automation we will remain as a nation beholden to the puritanical notion that labor is the requisite exercise of virtue. Due to our knee jerk aversion to all forms of socialized good, this behavior will continue far past the extinction of such labor. When seeking to compete in such an arena, is it any surprise that we meter our efforts with respect to the potential rewards, that we who are burdened with such problems seek to develop our skill in implementation rather than our love of theories?
Returning to the article of discussion, Campbell finds agreement with Kuh and follows traditional boomer tropes in lauding free labor as an opportunity for experiential learning, citing “study abroad, internships, service learning, and community engagement” as well as undergraduate research as opportunities for students to improve their inherent value . Campbell does however thumb his nose at Kuh’s narrow dedication to the more tangible repositories of knowledge and the networks therein, suggesting it be supplanted by the endless bounty of the internet. But of course, students/ millennials are once more accused of naval gazing whilst missing the spirit of the endeavor:
Yet our ideas about digital literacy are steadily becoming more impoverished, to the point that many of my current students, immersed in a “walled garden” world of apps and social media, know almost nothing about the web or the Internet. For the first time since the emergence of the web, this past year I discovered that the majority of my sophomore-level students did not understand the concept of a URL and thus struggled with the effective use and formation of hyperlinks in the networked writing class that VCU’s University College affectionately calls “Thought Vectors in Concept Space“—a phrase attributed by Kay to Engelbart and one that describes the fundamentally experiential aspect of networked learning.
Within my own narrow silo, I contend that millennials in higher education perfectly well understand the value of online networks, albeit not from the same perch that Campbell does. The human world has developed in complexity and competitiveness such that many problems are beyond the grasp of singular minds. Further, good minds are expensive and seldom loaned freely. These social networks and walled gardens Campbell dismisses are a marketplace where friendship is exchanged for the services of strong minds. Our network is our friends and colleagues who understand the theory of our problems well enough to guide us in the implementation of solutions. Nodes in this network may take the form of the veterinary student able to provide a presumptive diagnosis for an ailing pet, the statistician able to explain why our answer is meaningless at present, or the salty field-veteran whom helps us navigate the politics of publication.
If those born of more fortunate circumstance suggest you lack the spirit and gumption to see things as they did, laugh freely. If you’re not angry right now, be angry. It is far better to accept the poverty of your situation and strive forward with cynical pragmatism than to indebt yourself fighting to maintain the appearances of one gifted with a world and circumstance which no longer exists.
- Campbell, G. (2016, January 11). Networked Learning as Experiential Learning. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/1/networked-learning-as-experiential-learning
*Please feel free to interchange all instances of “student”, “millennial,” and “those darned kids” at your leisure