“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.

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.


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.

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!  :)

Peer-taught Classrooms: A Recipe for Creating Learner-centered Bonanzas

The syllabus workshop we did in class was pretty fun. Some of the feedback I got was that my syllabus may have been a little too learner-centered and lacked enough structure to guide more apprehensive students. So I made some revisions. I’ll share the syllabus below and highlight some its aspects that may be useful to other instructors.

First, don’t pretend that teaching and learning can be separated. Be explicit that you do not have perfect knowledge and fully expect to learn something while working with your students. My syllabus starts with a short teaching philosophy that says as much.

The structure of the class is also very adaptable to scale and course content. The gist of the idea is to let the students teach themselves. In my syllabus, they may teach anything so long as the rest of the class agrees. Topics can obviously be narrowed by the instructor for more targeted lessons. Anyway, here it is. Critiques are appreciated. And reading recommendations for the course.


Virginia Tech

PHIL 2984: Self-Directed Learning Techniques & Strategies

Spring, 2016


Instructor:                  Andrew Schultz                                                           Office: HOLDEN 126

Email:                           andrew2@vt.edu                                           Office Hours: By appointment


Any student with special needs or circumstances should feel free to contact me to arrange
appropriate accommodations.


Teaching Philosophy


I think of myself as more of a veteran student than a teacher.  We’ll be exploring some interesting problem spaces in this course and I probably have more experience with the areas instead of some inherently better means to navigate them.  I should be thought of as a guide.  I can show you around, point out interesting landmarks and questions, but I am perfectly happy to help you start exploring something new and outside of my direct expertise.


Educational Objectives


Having successfully completed this course, the student will be able to:


  1. Identify their personal reasons for learning and the value of their education.


  1. Research reliable information and techniques for learning.


  1. Plan and implement strategies to acquire specific knowledge.


  1. Clearly and effectively communicate ideas, propose questions, flexibly frame problems, suggest solutions, and justify conclusions.


Course Description


This is a course about learning: the process of questioning truth more often than finding it.  What is your definition of learning?  Why do we do it?  What’s worth knowing?  When?  How can we learn? Which ways are best?  Who should do it?  Does that change with the content of the learning? Why?  What can we learn from asking the same questions about teachers and teaching?


Learning is (a) gaining the ability to identify questions that are personally, socially, scientifically, economically, etc. interesting and novel, (b) discovering and/or inventing reliable means to gather information, (c) evaluating and prioritizing the importance of and need for specific information, (d) developing the capacity to verify information and its source’s validity via routine, rigorous skepticism, (e) efficiently recalling past experiences by (f) making creative associations within and between areas of information, (g) building ready access to dense webs of knowledge that allows for adaptive critical thinking and creative problem solving, and (h) becoming proficient at sharing valuable information in ways that facilitate understanding – in a word, teaching.  This class is about developing your own philosophy of learning and gaining new strategies to better control and direct your education.


Teaching and learning can’t be separated; therefore, teaching will play an important role in this course.  It is more than merely transmitting information.  Teaching well means doing one’s best to inspire the students’ interest and imaginations, nurturing their confidence and enthusiasm to explore independently, anticipating students’ frustrations, misunderstandings, shortfalls, reservations and resistances – this requires you to simulate disparate ways to formulate problems and generate solutions – teaching is about manufacturing rewarding challenges, pointing out opportunities, and illuminating ways in which students can attach meaning to their learning.  Basically, if you can learn how to effectively teach others a topic of mutual interest, you will be empowered to better direct your education through teaching yourself.  In this class you will be teaching your peers.  Your first task will be convincing them that you have information worth learning.



Course Reference Materials


Heinrichs, Jay. Thank you for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson can Teach us About the Art of Persuasion.  Published by Random House, Inc., New York. 2007.  


Class Structure and Proposed Procedure


(for letter grade and Pass/Fail; No Audits)


“The purpose of education is to teach a defense against eloquence.” – Bertrand Russel


“Truth springs from argument among friends.” – David Hume


Whatever we decide to learn this semester, my hope is that we will question and argue about it – Is it relevant? Why do we care?  Is it important?  How much? Is it accurate?  To what limits and in what situations? Et cetera…  The class will be based mostly on student-lead discussion under the instructor’s moderation.  Participation and engagement are critical in this class.  One of two required reading for the course is Thank you for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs.  As the course description explains, the ability to learn relies on one’s knowledge of and skill at teaching; further, teaching begins with persuading students to engage the material.  Heinrich’s book is a fun introduction to rhetoric: the tools, techniques, and strategies of influence.  It’s actually not even required if you feel confident in your persuasive abilities, but it’s a great read and even better reference for this class.  The best way to resist the influence of others is the ability to reciprocate targeted influence in them.  The second “mandatory” piece of reading is an excerpt from Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends by Tim Sanders.  The excerpt contains arguments I like for the efficacy of books as self-directed learning tools and the significance of reading as the most important habit for continuing one’s education.  I hope it justifies the course structure proposed below.  The rest of the course material and structure is up for debate between the instructor and students.  Here is a suggested format:


First, identify individual and collective learning interests, brainstorm questions related to those interests, and systemically design plans to investigate as many topics as possible.  Teams of 3-4 students could produce a presentation that introduces the rest of the class to an important idea (perhaps the thesis of a book) pertaining to one of our predetermined subjects of interest (something like a TED talk).  Their goal could be persuading their peers to investigate the concept or topic further for themselves.  Each person would do this 3-4 times throughout the semester; teams may (are encouraged to) change between presentations.  This ensures that each person will experience responsibility for researching and teaching their peers while gaining familiarity with multiple team dynamics.  Say, for instance, each presentation is primarily a kind of book report – an attempt to persuade the audience to read the book(s) upon which the presentation was based.  Alternatively, a group could refute the main theses presented in a book, convince the audience it’s not worth reading, and propose another option.  Students can also write short summaries of their books to share with the class.  Conducting class this way and assuming groups only present 1 book at a time, individuals need only read 4 books while we collectively receive the benefit of reading 20-30 books worth of customized education over 13 weeks – pretty impressive!  Ideally, the presentations will inspire and convince individuals to read more than the minimum 4 books and groups’ presentations will tie the ideas and conclusions from multiple books together.  Students are challenged to read 10 or more books this semester.  Imagine if a class of 20 did this and summarized each book for their peers.  That would be 200 books in 13 weeks – damn impressive!  Let’s shoot for somewhere in the middle: collectively averaging 6-8 books per person this semester.


Proposed Course Schedule


Week In-Class Readings
1 Intros, Team Formation, Curriculum Brainstorming Love is the Killer App (excerpt)

Thank You for Arguing

2 Discussion Book 1
3 Discussion Book 1
4 Presentations Book 1
5 Discussion Book 2
6 Discussion Book 2
7 Presentations Book 2
8 Discussion Book 3
9 Discussion Book 3
10 Presentations Book 3
11 Discussion Book 4
12 Discussion Book 4
13 Presentations Book 4


Grades and Expectations


You are responsible for directing your learning through the selection of course content and design of your presentations.  You have the freedom to teach the class however and about anything your group agrees to so long as you do so with civility, foster an inclusive environment, demonstrate intellectual integrity and remember…


Evaluations (assuming the suggested format is agreed to) will be done utilizing in-group peer-reviews, audience reviews, and instructor reviews.  For instance, in-group reviews will evaluate individuals’ contributions to preparing the presentations; the audience and instructor will review the engagement value, relevance, clarity, accuracy, and persuasiveness of the presentations.  Class participation will be based on your contributions to developing the course’s content and engagement in the weekly discussions.  A good rule of thumb would be to have at least 5 comments and questions ready for each session.  Students are expected to propose materials and justify their relevance to the rest of the class.  Involvement in designing assessments and providing meaningful feedback for peers is also expected.  The instructor has veto power in creating and modifying rubrics for assignments but student input is welcome and encouraged.  The details of each rubric should be mutually created and agreed to by the students and instructor.



The tenets of the Virginia Tech Graduate Honor Code will be enforced in this course, and all assignments are subject to the stipulations of the Honor Code.


Class participation:  (25%)


Presentations (75%)


Peer review – 30%

Audience Review – 25%

Instructor Review – 20%


*Notice that students control more grading power (55%) than the instructor (45%).

Recommended Readings



  1. The Tao of Pooh – Ben Hoff


  1. Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism – Richard Wolff


  1. The Spiritual Emerson – Ralph Waldo Emerson; Ed. Jacob Needleman


  1. The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg


  1. Natural Capitalism: The Next-Industrial Revolution – Paul Hawken and Amory & Hunter Lovins


  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahnemann


  1. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse


  1. Love is the Killer App – Tim Sanders


  1. Your Money or Your Life – Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez


  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie


  1. Thank you For Arguing – Jay Heinrichs


  1. Moon-Walking with Einstein – Joshua Foer


  1. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer


  1. Ishmael – Daniel Quinn


  1. Empire of Illusion – Chris Hedges


  1. The Omnivores Dilemma – Michael Pollan


  1. The Heart and The First – Eric Grietens


  1. The Glass-Bead Game – Hermann Hesse


  1. The Ecology of Commerce – Paul Hawken


  1. The Science of Discworld – Terry Pratchett & Ian Stewart


  1. Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps – Allan & Barbara Pease


  1. The Demon-Haunted World – Carl Sagan


  1. The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers


  1. Ecological Intelligence – Daniel Goleman


  1. The Hidden Brain – Shankar Vedantam


  1. Republic – Plato


  1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari


  1. How to Train A Wild Elephant – Jan Chozen Bays


  1. Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond


  1. A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn


  1. Walden – Henry David Thoreau


  1. Verbal Judo ­– George Thompson


  1. Think Like a Freak – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner


  1. Freakonomics – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner


  1. Outliers – Malcom Gladwell


  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey


  1. Who Moved My Cheese? – Spencer Johnson


  1. I Moved your Cheese – Deepak Malhotra


  1. Our Iceberg is Melting – John Kotter


  1. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer


  1. America: Imagine a World without Her – Dinesh D’Souza


  1. What Does it Mean to be Well-Educated – Alfie Kohn


  1. The Gift of Fear – Gavin de Baker


  1. The Social Contract – Jean Jacque Roseau


  1. A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers


  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde


  1. Cradle-to-Cradle – Michael Braungart & William McDonough


  1. The Outsiders – William Thorndike


  1. Player Piano – Kurt Vonnegut


  1. Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire


  1. Pedagogy of Freedom – Paulo Freire



The numbers say I am racist

How do we recognize when we are flying in autopilot?

Last week I took a version of the Implicit Association Test. The aim of the test is to look at perhaps hidden bias in our own minds by looking at the difference in ability to associate positive terms with or negative terms or positive terms with a given race or identity, in this case not my own. I did quite poorly. I’m not even really sure I want to admit this. How comfortable am I admitting this result with my friends? Is that a conversation I want to have? Would it be hurtful to do so? Or is it only my own ego I would hurt?

So in short the survey was a really a horrible experience. I am grateful for the experience, but to be blunt I found it sickening. Have you ever felt self-conscious around yourself? Have you ever found yourself wondering what you might be thinking? A little tempted to squirm out of your own consciousness, and find some meaningless distraction? Have you ever attempted to eavesdrop on the conversation in your head as though looking for gossip? This week I have found myself questioning myself. I want to know if this is true in my interactions with people. Or at least I want to find out. It’s hard to say if I really want to know.

From the experience, I think there were two kinds of factors playing in on the unconscious mind – the mind on autopilot. The first a bias against another group, and the second a bias toward myself. The first is hard for me to wrap my mind around. The second is easier. What I have never noticed before is how many of my mnemonics are based on some system of ranking, of doling out importance. When I memorize numbers I use tricks like noticing when the digits add to 10, patterns and symmetry, and – conspicuously – a competition between the “good” even numbers and the “bad” odd numbers. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember without ever consciously deciding to do so.

What’s scary is how often I use “likeness to me” as a mnemonic. I’ll use my age, my initials, my favorite color, my “favorite” number, whatever it takes as a tag. And if I am trying to remember an ordered list or associate numbers with terms, I find it easier to remember when the more “me-like” is the greater. For example, potassium is “my” element because it’s abbreviation is “K.” My initial. The concentration of potassium is high inside the cell (I get to be the “insider”), and the Na+/K+-ATPase that maintains this gradient only pumps 2 K+ in for every 3 Na+ out (because I can’t be pushed around like so much sodium…). I use all sorts of mnemonics and the crazier the better. My memory is pretty horrible. Repetition hardly helps. My spelling skills are remedial (if anyone bothered to recognize that there is such a thing). But I don’t think I am off the mark when I say my memorization skills – the conscious ability to memorize what I set out to memorize – are very good. It’s something you practice as a biology major. But I’ve never pieced this together before; good at what cost? Have I trained myself to be quickly and instinctively egocentric?

And then there is the other factor that I have to wrestle with. The idea that with these results there is inherently a bias against. That’s the way this works. What do I do with that? I really like the concept so the hidden brain introduced by Shankar Vedantam. In effect he says that one of the best ways to get back control form the autopilot in my mind is to admit that the autopilot is there. To be aware of it.  That’s what this assassination test did for me.  Kind of like when a real pilot can be tricked into believing they are flying level between two layers of clouds, when if fact the clouds are not level at all.  We need some instrumentation and hard and fast numbers to identify the false horizon.  In the interview with Shankar Vedantam they talked about the idea of which person the autopilot of personal default or the conscious pilot is the “real you.” I really think it depends of which one is flying the plane. David Foster Wallace: “Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” Whether his long bout with depression and eventual suicide gives him credibility here or the lack of it could be taken either way; I fundamentally agree with this quote. So I will take it as a good thing: not getting a poor score on the Implicit Assessment Test, but having taken it and gotten a score at all. And I hope that this exercise will build into my arsenal and allow me to help facilitate similar experiences in the classroom and continually in my own life.

Privilege Pedagogy–Awkward, Yet Necessary

This week’s topic is something that is near and dear to me, something that always get me in trouble at family dinners, something that has forced me to enter into social media rants and arguments shedding years off of my life. Diversity! And the issue implicit within that topic–privilege.

Privilege can be a difficult thing to talk about, whether it is in the company friends and family or strangers. I come from a largely homogeneous area of Appalachia. We are overwhelmingly white and Christian. There were only 10 people of color in my high school and the families of all but 3 of them owned and operated ethnic food restaurants (Because in my neighborhood, the balm of tolerance was dependent on the desire for authentic egg foo young and carnitas fajitas). My hometown and many of the surrounding communities are also overwhelmingly working-class, meaning that poverty and other socioeconomic struggles are not uncommon. How do you have a conversation with a poor white person about how the color of their skin, their very identity, provides them with unearned privileges, when all they know is living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to feed and support their families, and God forbid the car break down or someone need medical care? It’s a difficult conversation to have.

And yet, it is necessary in order for us to move forward as a society, to ensure that people of all walks of life, from every demographic be it race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and ability status, etc. are treated as equals. We have to recognize our privileges in order to eliminate their existence in our culture, because denying privilege, ultimately perpetuates it.

Last semester I wrote a paper regarding the potential implementation of privilege pedagogy (i.e. the inclusion of instruction about privilege) in the composition classroom. I wanted to explore the idea that privilege pedagogy can be communicated both explicitly and implicitly through composition curriculum, which I chose for a few reasons: First, at most institutions, composition is a general studies requirement, therefore all students must take and pass at least one section of it. This would mean that, if successful, it would reach as many students in the institution as possible. Second, privilege pedagogy tends to lend itself to the humanities, though it should be ubiquitous to all disciplines (considering that privilege is).  Thirdly, composition is a flexible enough discipline so as to allow such diversions with minimal distraction from the overall curriculum (focusing largely on texts and on the individual). And lastly…well quite frankly it’s the only course I’ve ever taught, so I figured it was my best and easiest entry point for me. What I found was that composition seems to be a great choice for implementing privilege pedagogy, because, in many cases, it’s already being implemented albeit implicitly, due to readings from diverse authors, from a variety of backgrounds. Students are often encouraged to talk about their own identities in writing, sometimes comparing their experiences to others’. Focusing on the individual throughout the writing process does more than improve a writer’s confidence; given the proper subject matter, it promotes empathy.

There are a couple of activities that can introduce the concept of privilege in the classroom that I’ve used to positive results. The first, called the paper toss is illustrated in the following video:

The other activity is called Privilege Bingo. You provide each student with a copy of the game board below. Whoever has the most marks (or gets a Bingo) has the most privilege and “wins.”


I’ve found that in both cases, students seem to connect with what privilege is, as well as its effect in our culture, while alleviating the awkwardness of the conversation. This is key to a successful discussion about privilege. We want to be inclusive, not only because we want students to feel as safe and comfortable as possible, but also because the way to tackling privilege is through a collective effort.

Feel free to let me know what you think int the comments below. Do you have any privilege exercises that you’d like to share?

Dear current and future creator, builder, developer, dreamer, problem solver, world changer

Before I begin, there are a few things that you should know about me. I am quiet, goofy, kind, caring, shy, outgoing, creative, and bubbly. And I am an engineer.

I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering and I am currently working on an MEng in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Engineering Education. I want to improve the way engineering is taught and help to change the “chilly climate” that is synonymous with engineering. Engineering is not always a welcome setting for women and minorities. But how do we change this?

I came across this TEDx talk by Debbie Sterling on inspiring the next generation of female engineers. She talks about getting girls excited about engineering and changing the narrative for young girls. And she is working to accomplish this through the creation of GoldieBlox, toys that introduce girls to engineering at a young age, to change the narrative of what girls can be and what they can do.

In Whistling Vivaldi, Claude Steele talks about giving people “information that enables a more accurate and hopeful personal narrative about their setting” (Whistling Vivaldi, p. 169). So maybe we can give young girls a narrative about engineers that is broader than “train conductor” or “antisocial nerd” (because, let’s face it, I am neither of those things and engineering is much broader than that).

And that got me thinking. Can letters by engineers to future engineers help change the stereotypical narrative of what an engineer is?

Below is my letter. What would your letter say?

Dear current and future creator, builder, developer, dreamer, problem solver, world changer:

My name is Amy and I love learning about the world around me. I love exploring and seeing new things. I love creating new things and making things better. I love hearing other people’s stories and learning about other areas and cultures and perspectives. And this is why I love engineering.

I always thought that engineering was just about math and science. I thought engineers sat alone in a dark, dingy rooms starting at computer screens. But engineers get to do really cool things. Engineers get to help find cures for cancer, help explore outer space, help people learn, help improve the way we live, and so much more! Engineers use math and science to solve problems and find creative solutions to those problems. And engineers work with people to do this. Engineers are creators, builders, developers, dreamers, problem solvers, and world changers. Just like you!

Engineering is really fun and amazing, and it is also really challenging. But that is because engineers are constantly learning about new things and trying to see problems from a new perspective. But one cool thing about people is that we are always learning and growing. We don’t stop learning when we are done with school. We all constantly learn about the world around us, and engineers get to do this every day!

So I encourage you — creators, builders, developers, dreamers, problem solvers, and world changers — consider engineering as a way to realize dreams, learn about the things around you, and change the world. We need you!



On eggshells

Hello. My name is Cody, and I….

  • …am white.
  • …am a male.
  • …am married.
  • …am a father to a wonderful son.
  • …come from an extremely impoverished, agricultural community in rural Alabama.
  • …am a student loan statistic, living with unbelievable student debt.
  • …am the first generation of my family to graduate from University.
  • …am the first of my family to finish an advanced degree.
  • …am an agriculturalist, ecologist, biologist, botanist.
  • …spent three years working in the field before pursuing a PhD.
  • …am a follower of Christ.
  • …come from a broken family with continued rocky relationships.
  • …am neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal.
  • …have worked with members from more cultures than I can count.
  • …drive a Subaru.

And so much more.

In talks concerning inclusivity and diversity, more often than not, the first two items on my list of descriptors are all that matter. According to these discussions, I am the pinnacle of society, and therefore, am not a concern of progressive thought. However, if one of the first two items in my list of descriptors could change, I would be viewed as the object of progressive thought. It is here, that I want to draw our attention to a video I related with this week:

In all our talk about how to move forward with inclusivity and diversity within the university, it feels as though we are always looking for the nouveau approach (if for no other reason than to remain relevant). Now, it is currently apropos to announce our pronoun preferences (as unique and specific as they may be), if not to further advertise more of our personal identifiers (e.g., gender). Why this is now important in the classroom is beyond me. More importantly, I feel this movement trivializes so much.

Let me ask: If, in an attempt to be inclusive, we implement pronoun announcement in class, why do we not also seek to know more of the individual? Why is it not important that I announce my life experience in poverty? Isn’t my learning framed by that experience as much as someones gender? My point is not to denigrate the gender spectrum revolution, but instead to point out how I feel our progressive steps are misguided. We are taking one step forward, and three back.

Referring to the video, searching ancient knowledge, and visiting the creased pages of history, I am reminded of how important a mere assertion was for relationships of past centuries: Are you friend, or foe? Would not our classroom benefit more from a similar model of camaraderie amongst the students? Of course our society has become one of individuality, in which the parts are greater than the sum. Here’s hoping we can again be sojourning learners and citizens, instead of each vying for our place, first identifying with a group that does not pertain to the purpose of the classroom.

In the classroom, we should first be learners. Then we can hope for common ground with everything else.

Hello. My name is Cody, and, in the classroom, I….

  • …am a learner, and a facilitator of learning.


The only real object of investigation…

Where do I start? Since Wednesday night I have been asking myself this question and I still do not have an answer. At least it is by no means a perfect answer or even an answer at all. At this time it is like a puzzle so I plan on describing a few pieces and hopefully it will result in something meaningful in the end. Bear with me.

When I saw that the readings for this week included Claude Steele’s work I instantly consulted my teaching notes from a year ago and found that while teaching a Social Psychology lesson I had used one of Dr. Steele’s videos as a way to introduce the topic of Bias, Stereotype, Prejudice and Discrimination for my students. You can find it on YouTube here. Much of what he talks about in this video is summarizing what we read in the chapters from his book Whistling Vivaldi. A few things that stood out to me in Dr. Steele’s work were:

  1. The explanation of what makes a social identity important “if you have to deal with things in situations because you have the identity then that identity is likely to become very important to you…” (approx. 14 minutes in his talk)
  2. How “Identity Contingencies” become central to how one functions on a daily basis.
  3. “a question that makes you aware that you’ve got an identity” (approx. 16 minutes)
  4. Contingencies that threaten us become more important… caring makes you vulnerable (approx. 35 minutes)

I will deliberate on the third point here just to provide perspective. Somewhere along the path of life we all realize that we are individuals, that we are different from other people in a particular way. This could be anything like Dr. Steele explains. It could be gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, metal health status or ability to name a few but a differential status that makes a person vulnerable from the get-go is what is central to how we feel about it and how we function with it day in and day out. Growing up in a majorly male chauvinistic society in India I always knew as a female child that I would not be treated equally. It was an awareness that I did not argue with till later in life. My gender being a part of my identity and having lived with it for numerous years and being discriminated against for it never really came to me as a shock. Something else however came as a shock…eventually.

One particular situation that comes to mind happened in 2005. I was in U.K. based in a small town high up north neighboring the Scotland border. It was 4am on a crisp August morning and I was waiting to catch a bus to London so as to fly back home to India for good. Eventually another individual, with a similar situation I’m sure, came up to me and started making small talk – weather, sports and what not but the question that made me realize something about myself apart from what I already knew and that I had never thought of before was “what country are you from?” and soon after that came “so you are a Hindu, right?” No harm done just as long as they were questions based on curiosity. We all get curious. Just to add a little context to that situation though this was the time when U.K was in upheaval, upset and torn by the London Tube blasts that had unfortunately taken place not even a month ago. Not sure what the next question would have been or how this situation would have ended but the bus pulled up at that very time. As I boarded the bus I realized something I had never thought of before – I walk with every single one of my identities. Some are overt and some covert but still every single day, I enter situations in which other individuals have the opportunity to form an opinion about me even when they do not know my name or what kind of person I am.

I used Bias, Stereotype, Prejudice and Discrimination together in a sentence earlier as I have always arranged them in my mind on a continuum. Bias – showing an inclination or preference for one over the other. Stereotype – a generalization about a group of people or social category, usually incorrect or presumptuous in nature. Prejudice – an unjustified attitude towards an individual, usually a result of stereotyping. Discrimination – behavior or actions towards an individual, usually negative and usually a result of prejudiced ideas or stereotypes. So it makes sense if you arrange the four concepts on a continuum, right?! Now was it bias, stereotype, prejudice or discrimination that was exercised in the aforementioned story? Can you tell? Maybe it was one or maybe it was neither. I still cannot decide but it lends perspective on the fact that identity contingencies that fire up our fight or flight response become important.

Dr. Rick Hanson in his book with Dr. Richard Mendius called Buddha’s Brain explain simply that any incident that triggers fight or flight or the limbic System or the primitive brain as it is sometimes called will result in the prefrontal cortex or our thinking brain to shut down. Therefore, no matter what we know through our prefrontal cortex, the area that is responsible for higher level thinking and reasoning, we are not thinking with that part of the brain anymore. Everything at that time and in that moment is about survival. Thus, it would make complete sense if I were threatened or felt threatened due to one or two identity contingencies that those contingencies would then be extremely important to me and any time, any single time one of those identity contingencies were threatened, they would trigger a fight or flight response in me. How simple does that sound on a cognitive prefrontal cortex level. On the level or our primitive brain however, it sounds horrifying.

If I learned anything on my journey to becoming a counselor it was to treat every individual as…wait for it…an individual. Even while considering them in various roles and different social contexts one always has to try and understand the individual. This takes time. After listening to numerous stories, and mind you real, horrifying, heart wrenching life stories, and trying understand how it feels like to be in my client’s shoes, I can say that it has been the most humbling experience of my life. One has to make a deliberate shift from forming an opinion to forming an understanding. Carl Jung in his famous work The Undiscovered Self says:

“Judged scientifically, the individual is nothing but a unit which repeats itself ad infinitum and could just as well be designated with a letter of the alphabet. For understanding, on the other hand, it is just the unique individual human being who, when stripped of all those conformities and regularities so dear to the heart of the scientist, is the supreme and only real object of investigation.” (p. 10)

Stepping into the role a teacher then we have to decide – what is the real object of our investigation? If the object of our investigation is what inspires learning in our students then we would need to know who the student is. In order to know the student then, we would need to understand their identity contingencies. If we are neglecting to understand our student’s identity contingencies we are neglecting to understand the student and therefore in turn neglecting to understand what really inspires learning in our students.

Lastly, I know I am a dreamer, but even I know that a perfect world does not exist. I know that even an ideal world is difficult to create. Just like years ago I knew that in the Indian society a female child is a liability and as I mentioned before, would never be treated equally. Is it however, too much to dream that every individual could be, should be and has the right to be treated with equity?!

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