On Her Way

When talking about China, many people are astounded by its enormous and mysterious performance in recent decades. Since the implementation of economic reform and opening-up policies in 1978, China has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies with the GDP growth rate averaging between 7% and 8% a year, despite a bit slowdown in recent two years. Nevertheless, standing as the world’s second biggest economy in terms of its nominal total GDP, China successfully inspires the world’s curiosity. What kind of government and/or policies that make China such a huge turnover immediately following the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which is a sociopolitical movement that paralyzed China politically and economically? How it significantly reduces the desperation of hunger and poverty not only in its own homeland but in many other countries’ land? What is the role of education in playing to inspire its people to reconstruct the nation as well as the economy? To answer these questions, let’s start from overviewing the education in China.

Being a country of the world’s largest population, China organizes and operates the largest education system with almost 260 million students and over 15 million teachers in about 514,000 schools, excluding graduate education institutions (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2014). China’s education system is not only immense but diverse. If you compare the education in rural areas and urban areas, in poor families and rich families, in northern regions and southern regions, in interior cities and coastal cities, you will get dramatically different conclusions about what is China’s education and how it performs. Education in China is always assigned a high value by the government, holding the belief that it is the fundamental of national development and modernization. In recent years, the share of government expenditure on education has grown to more than 4 percent of national GDP, reaching the goal set by the National Medium and Long-Term Educational Reform and Development Programme (2010-2020). Education is state-run, with little involvement of private providers in the school sector, and increasingly decentralized. The Ministry of Education is the agency of the State Council that oversees the education throughout the country. At the provincial level, there are departments of education or commissions that are in charge of education. At the county level, bureaus of education are in charge. The responsibility of basic education lies with county-level administrations, hence efforts are made to integrate the development of education and the labor force with the development of local economy and the advancement of culture, morals and living standards.

The Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, which was enacted in 1986, stands as a milestone in China’s education reform of achieving the mission of universal primary education for all citizens. According to the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, all school-age children with Chinese nationality have the right to receive at least nine years of education (generally, six-year primary education and three-year secondary education), and parents are responsible for enrolling their children in school and making sure they complete nine years of compulsory schooling. The Law was revised in 2006, and it now stipulates that all students in compulsory education are exempted from tuition and miscellaneous fees. According to UNESCO-UIS3 2016, the gross enrolment ratio for primary education in 2014 was 103% compared with 104W% in 2006, while for secondary education gross enrolment ratio was 94% compared with 64% in 2006. Up to 2014, China has progressed to allow over 140 million students to get the basic education.

The reform of higher education was not that reassuring. In the periods of political upheavals, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, ideology was severely stressed over professional or technical competence. Universities were forced to shut down as college students were out for political activities. A whole generation of talented people was ruined at that time because of political repression. In 1977, prominent Chinese political leader Deng Xiaoping made a resolute decision to resume China’s National College Entrance Examination (NCEE, also known as Gaokao) across the country. Starting from 1978, the examination was uniformly designed by the Ministry of Education and all the students across the country took exactly the same examination.

Reforms on the content and form of the examination have never stopped, among which the permission for individual provinces to customize their own exams has been the most prominent. Permitted by the Ministry of Education in 1985, Shanghai took the first step in employing an independent exam, following by Guangdong, Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang. Till now, there have been 16 provinces and municipalities adopting customized exams. In 1970, less than 1% of Chinese people had attended higher education, far behind the world average level. In 2015, more than 40% of Chinese people had attended higher education. Though it is still quite low compared to the percent attendance of higher education in the Western developed countries, China has made its amazing progress of surpassing the world average.

Needless to say, with such a crowded population, the fierce competition for getting into universities never stops. In 2015, there are 9.43 million students across the country registered for the NCEE. According to the 2015 report from the Ministry of Education, the college gross enrolment is about 74.31%, meaning that 2.42 million students were not recruited to get the higher education. If take a further look at the provincial/municipal situation, it is even worse in the more populous provinces and municipals, such as Henan, Shandong, Anhui, Beijing, Shanghai. Acknowledging its life-influential consequence, both teachers and students have undergone tremendous pressure in preparing for and taking the exam. Because of the social focuses on the university admission rates, teachers have to pay more attention to each student’s ability to take the exam by training them with tons of tests and exams. Students are told that their destiny is made by the score that they can achieve in the NCEE and if they fail, so as their life. This is a really painful must-to-go experience. There is no other choice but to fight it with all efforts.

However, few teachers and students realize that Gaokao is not just a simple entrance test for Chinese students and their families, which might determine their happiness for life, it’s also a huge investment in learning and studying that lasts years. In fact, Gaokao perfectly explains what it means from quantitative outcome to qualitative outcome. Though we ourselves call our learning for exams as cramming, we know that this is more than simply cramming. A study conducted by researchers at Stanford University found that Chinese freshmen in computer science and engineering programs began college with critical thinking skills about two to three years ahead of their peers in the United States and Russia. Yet Chinese students showed virtually no improvement in critical thinking after two years of college, even as their American and Russian counterparts made significant strides, according to the study. This is to say, the biggest problem is not Gaokao, it is our rigid and obsolete higher education that may really alter Chinese students’ life track.

Somehow, we ignore it. We ignore the role it plays as a huge investment in learning and studying that lasts years. Take myself as an example, the saying I heard the most when I was in senior high school is, “Try every effort and try harder. Once you win the Gaokao, you win your life and all the rest is whatever you want to do and enjoy.” What an inspiring promise. As long as I endured the Gaokao, I would win back all my freedom of doing whatever I like to do. Is it really the truth? Ironically, it never is. After getting into college, I suddenly realize that teachers just paper over the cracks – they just forget to tell (or they actually forget the real truth) that Gaokao is only one of the important challenges in our life and after getting over it, we still have to fight for the next and the next and the next challenges. We still have to keep fighting for what we dream of and care about.

Without realizing the reality (or more possibly, without accepting the reality after realizing it), many students lost their control of themselves and drown in wasting their valuable time in college. This is, as in my understanding, a consequence of many kinds of reasons. Years ago, students that graduated from universities were easy to get a job as there were not too many people holding a higher education experience. Now, things are different. With the fastest growing and opening economy, holding a graduation certificate with a degree is no longer enough to make oneself qualified for a job. More other personalities and experiences are taken into consideration. Things change, so as our vision of what the higher education should give us.

In changes of the forty years. You may see it a mystic surprise, but we see it a step-by-step progress. Not yet enough to get rid of everything rigid and obsolete, but it keeps making its way. China has experienced miserable periods as well as flourishing eras. China has gone through peaks as well as troughs. China accepts the defeat in the last century and China takes its time to revive in the coming century. China holds the belief that, as in The Work of Mencius, Mengzi, Gaozi, part II,

“Whenever Heaven invests a person with great responsibilities, it first tries his resolve, exhausts his muscles and bones, starves his body, leaves him destitute and confounds his every endeavor. In this way, his patience and endurance are developed, and his weaknesses are overcome.”

In changes of the forty years. How many can you expect from it? Using exams as standards for selecting qualified experts in various vocations has been a Chinese tradition for more than one thousand years (The imperial civil examination in China, the earliest civil service examination in the world, was established and developed in Tang Dynasty). It is never easy to abandon the tradition even though it’s of little use in the current era. We respect our tradition, that why we’d like to spend more time figuring out a better way to revise our higher education in the contemporary context but still in align with the traditional moral.

The suffering generation of the Cultural Revolution gradually recovered from the terrible experience. They also moved out of the historical stage. Now, the new generation is moving forward. They realize the importance of open dialogue instead of suppressing various voices. They must uncover the hideous political-social-ideological disentangles and uncover the suppressed voice. Only in this way, can they straightly face the truth and deal with it. This is a tough task, especially in this ever-changing era. Not only need we keep in eyes with the historical leftover, but also with the emerging technology and opportunity. Thanks to our devoted leadership as well as our hard-working citizens, we make it a great starting remark.

During these years staying in America, I really enjoy its culture of openness, diversity, and inclusiveness. I enjoy its education of various voices from various groups of people. I enjoy its authentic and sincere relationship among each other. I enjoy the mindstorm inspired by all kinds of differences. While enjoying them, I understand that some of them can never be set the same in China. Like I may not understand why religion is so important in America, you may not understand why family is so important in China. That’s why we are Chinese and you are Americans. We have lots of misconception and misunderstanding for America, so as you have them for China. When we come to America to resolve our misconception and misunderstanding of what is America, I’d hope you can come to China to take a close look at what is China. The reason I bring out this point is that, though I don’t want to admit, I see many Americans hold their pride and prejudice over Chinese. Massive media report the misleading fact of China, ignoring the real truth. I remember that we once discussed in class about bias and prejudice. When we each hold our pride and prejudice over others, can we take a moment to think, how about we learn more histories or facts before we make our conclusions?

To the end, as time goes by, China goes on. Through peaks and troughs, through ebbs and flows.


1. Education in China, China Highlights, updated March 30, 2017.

2. Education in China: A snapshot, OECD 2016.

3. Overview of Education in China, Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, updated December 19, 2016.

4. UNESCO – World Data on Education, International Bureau of Education, 6th Edition.

5. Javier C. Hernandez, Study Finds Chinese Students Excel in Critical Thinking – Until College. The New York Times, July 30, 2016.

6. Javier C. Hernandez, Weighing the Strengths and Shortcomings of China’s Education System. The New York Times, August 6, 2016.

7. National Centre for Education Development Research, National Report on Mid- Term Assessment of Education for All in China, Beijing, China, 2008.

8. Guodong Wei, On the Reform of China’s NCEE since 1977. Dissertation, Hebei University, China, 2008.

9. Lichao Sun, Gaokao or Bust. Office of International Affairs, May 1, 2013.

10. Lan Yu and Hoi K. Suen, Historical and Contemporary Exam-driven Education Fever in China. KEDI Journal of Educational Policy 2005 Vol.2 No.1, p17-33.

11. Benjamin A. Elman, Civil Service Examinations, Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, 2009 by Berkshire Publishing Group LLC.

12. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – Institute of Statistics, 2016.

13. Development of National Education Report, Ministry of Education, China, 2016.

Not A Final Summary, But A Progressive Reflection.


“We are an intentional community committed to developing a pedagogical praxis using inclusive pedagogy and problem-based learning to support active learning across a broad range of contemporary teaching sites. We come from diverse disciplines, backgrounds, and orientations to consider how we might leverage the passion that drew us to our academic fields of inquiry to ignite the curiosity of our students. As 21st-century educators we use a broad array of teaching technologies, and are especially attentive to the power of networked learning environments to amplify our work. We are committed to the transformative potential of education and to using our compassion and expertise to make the world a better place.”

— GEDI S2017 Syllabus, by Dr. Amy Nelson

Before I decided to register this class, I was told by my friend (senior grad) that it would significantly impact my view of high education and teaching job. I didn’t take her words very serious as I actually didn’t mean to be a teacher. I mean, at that moment.

Why I would choose this class. Partially because I’m always told by many people that my personality is suitable for being a teacher and I can be a very good teacher. Another reason is that I want to see if I am really competent for being a teacher. I want to see if I can really handle this ordinary but sacred job.

It was the first time for me to have such a big class at Virginia Tech. Students from all kinds of departments or disciplines sit around to talk about what is higher education, network and technology, inclusion and diversity, authenticity and responsibility, philosophy and pedagogy, learner-centered syllabus, problem-based case learning, and the most importantly, what it means to be a teacher/educator in the 21st century.

Honestly, I was astounded. My head was installed by so many stuff that I would never get a chance to think deeply about. To put in this way, I thought that I’d understand most of the things that discussed in class. However, every time after class discussion, I had to say that I was far from the spiritual of higher education and educators. I acknowledge that my (Eastern) education is drastically different from Western education and, honestly, different in a worse sense. I acknowledge that we need to put determination and effort to reform our education so that we can be in accordance with the call of the new century. However, I feel very upset that I don’t know how to put my determination and effort to make a difference. When all (most of) the students talk about how to change the student, change the class, change the university, change the system, change the world, all I see is that is it really that easy – is that really easy to say I can make a change and do things that really make a change?

As I ask myself many more times, I’m more confused and lost. I don’t understand what kind of role can I play to change the world. It feels so big to me and I don’t think I can handle it. I talked with my friend, and she said to me that, “I totally understand your feeling as I went through all the struggles in that class. In fact, the real gain for me during that class wasn’t about how to teach a class. It was all about how to teach ourselves.” YES! That is exactly what I’ve struggled with. I always try to figure out how to be a teacher or how to teach a class. The fact is that I never try to figure out how to teach myself – how to decompose all my views, thoughts and experiences, to figure out what constraints myself from deeply reflecting the past and envisioning the future. If I can’t understand myself, how would I understand the education that made me who I am? Then, how would I understand the way that I could use to make the education better?

I feel that I’ve complained my education a lot. However, after getting surprised once and once again during the class, I realize that I myself (we ourselves) should be blamed as well. We use the “our education is rigid and complicated” excuse to defend ourselves, ignoring that we are the ultimate reason that makes the education “rigid and complicated”.  If we truly want to make a difference, we have to truly know ourselves and change ourselves. Have said to this point, I really want to say THANK YOU to you, Dr. Amy Nelson. Thanks for all the efforts that you’ve made to this class and to us. Every course arrangement, every reading material, every class discussion, everything you said and made is awesome. It has significantly impacted me, as is what my friend just told me beforehand.

Education is a huge system that covers not only the education itself, but the whole society. It covers not only about the educators/learners in school, but every single person in the society. It is a public good that desires our determination and effort to make it a positive externality. Though we might be the tiny pieces of the whole system, we are undoubtedly the pivotal parts that make it functioning as a spacecraft to explore the great and bright future.

I hold my belief that we will make education better, make tomorrow better.

There is a need for “Scientists” in the Humanities


Dan Edelstein’s article “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy” does raise an important reality that “In the face of limited resources, administrators and policy makers are urged to invest more in science, engineering, and technology programs (Goldin and Katz 2008); meanwhile, liberal arts colleges are on their way to becoming an endangered species (goodbye, Antioch!).” While there is much funding in the STEM fields, from personal experiences, I know having a sole STEM mindset is not innovative. There is a need for “Scientists” in the Humanities. As an environmental engineer, all of my work translate to affecting society. For example, I worked on a research project that evaluated consumer confidence reports. For those who don’t know what these reports are, they are  reports that contain information on the quality and safety of tap drinking water. They are mandated by the USEPA to be delivered to water customers every year. Unfortunately, my research found that most of these reports were not well written and the clarity of message communication was poor throughout. As a result, a team of environmental engineers and “scientists” from humanities field collaborated to offer improvements to the readability and clarity of these reports. Without the training I had in my Science, Technology & Society course, it would have been difficult for me to communicate my work in a way that will benefit water customers. What is the point of the work I do in water quality and safety if I can’t effectively bridge that gap between me and society? I totally agree that,” the humanities provide students with the best opportunities for learning how to innovate.”


How will I be a New Professional?

Throughout this semester, we covered numerous topics in this course relating to pedagogy. For those of you that may not remember, below are the main topics we discussed:

  • Networked learning
  • Mindful learning
  • Assessment
  • Inclusive pedagogy
  • Critical pedagogy
  • Multi-tasking
  • Problem-based learning

I know, that’s a pretty daunting list of topics, but don’t worry it isn’t as bad as it might look. Now, each of these topics can be used individually when teaching an have powerful implications. But instead, if they are used together better results can be achieved to ultimately become the ‘New Professional’ as Parker Palmer likes to put it. For me, I feel that this idea of a ‘New Professional’ can be broken into four components:

  1. Adapting the curriculum
  2. Being mindful
  3. Proper pedagogical praxis
  4. Proper assessments

For each of these four components parts of the list above can be incorporated and mixed together to provide what I feel is a curriculum for a ‘New Professional’. The four components and the interactions of the topics covered in this course are discussed in more detail below.

Adapting the curriculum
The first component of becoming a ‘New Professional’ is adapting the curriculum to individuals in the course. One method of adaption is the used of networked learning. Firstly, networked learning can allow for individuals to participate in the class when they are not able to physically in the classroom. Networked learning can allow for deeper conversations to occur  through the use of blogging or similar online outlets. Adaption does not just stop at the use of blogging and online platforms. Adaption to new technologies in general is as a huge deal. Nobody wants to be taught by a professor that uses transparencies and a slide rule.

Being mindful
A ‘New Professional’ needs to be mindful of the students and be sure to take what Ken Robinson had to say in mind. In order for the students to flourish  a ‘New Professional’ needs to be mindful for three principles: diversity, curiosity, and creativity. Stifling any of these principles can have an adverse effect on the learning process. Being mindful covers more than ensuring your students have the three principles needed to flourish. A ‘New Professional’ must be mindful of the grading policy he/she puts in place. In certain instances an A-F grad may not be the right answer for providing feedback to students. A ‘New Professional’ must be mindful of competition amongst students. I feel that competition can have a positive impact on the students when used in moderation (The Bright Side of Competition Projects). However, if competition is used improperly it can lead to students playing it safe and not learning as much because they are scared to get a “low grade”.

Proper pedagogical praxis
The third component is using a proper pedagogical praxis when teaching a course. When in the classroom, it is important to use teaching methods that work for the students in the class being taught. This means that one method that works one semester may not work as well the next. There are numerous pedagogical praxis out there each with their own spin on what is important and what isn’t in the classroom. In this course we talked about inclusive and critical pedagogies specifically. I think both of these pedagogical praxis are a good start to forming a proper pedagogical praxis. The use of an inclusive pedagogy was illustrated in the first two components above so I will not repeat it here. Looking at what Freire had to say, it is important to not view students as empty banks where information is to be dumped. Instead, a ‘New Professional’ would use dialogic engagement.

Proper assessments
Being a ‘New Professional’ does not stop at teaching information, which is why the fourth component exists, assessments and course work. Deciding what assessment is best is a difficult choice, but it is one that every educator must make. One assessment that I feel will be used at least once in every course I teach is problem-based learning. I want students to develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary for engineering. While knowing the theory and calculations to back up claims is absolutely necessary, in industry there is no book with answers in the back to problems they will face. Therefore, students will need to be able think critically and use logical arguments to back up their claim, both concepts that are taught through problem-based learning assignments.

Final Comments
I feel it is impossible to say that there is one way formula to being a ‘New Professional’. Being a ‘New Professional’ is going to be different from educator to educator, but what will be the same same is the use of personal strengths to develop a curriculum that works for the educator and the instructor. As of now, I haven’t had enough teaching experience to know what topics I learned in this class will be of the best use to me. But, I now have a tool belt partly full of topics and principles that I can test and see how it works for me. Now, notice the “partly” in the prior sentence, I say this because I strongly feel that this course was just the tip of the iceberg and provided me with some tools but there many other tools other there that I still have yet to find. It is now up to me to continue investigating and keeping up with new developments so that I can be a ‘New Professional’.

A Game of Pedagogies

“The best pedagogical practices in the humanities draw attention to the fact that the knowledge being conveyed is questionable. This is not an invitation to rampant revisionism or postmodernism, but a simple recognition that historical, literary, political, and anthropological knowledge is not made up of equations or organic structures, but of perceptions, arguments, aesthetic effects, philosophical concepts, and other representations whose signification is subject to change. The words of Hamlet or of the Declaration of Independence may not vary, but their meaning can.”

Dan Edelstein, “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy”

Perhaps especially because I realize now that the meaning of so many things can change, it  great comfort to know that, as educators, we’re never re-inventing the wheel. It’s more like we’re improving the wheel, from the material used to make it (e.g. pedagogy)  to the laborers needed to produce it (e.g. teachers). (Wait… does this mean knowledge is like a car in this metaphor? Okay, well that makes students drivers. And maybe I’m the driver’s ed instructor. This is both exciting and terrifying.)

Going home and realizing you’re never done re-doing your assignments

When I think of what it means to be professional, though, I do agree with Parker Palmer’s overview of the “new professional” which is as follows:

(1) We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.
(2) We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.
(3) We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence. We must do more than affirm and harness the power of emotions to animate learning
(4) We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.
(5) We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.

It’s hard to question the state of things, and harder still to question a discipline. I think Palmer’s emphasis on emotional intelligence is essential… seriously. When I think of this course as a whole, I know that emotion is essential to teaching. A syllabus? Your personality as a teacher (which has emotion). A teaching philosophy? Your view of teaching as a person (which has emotion). A problem-based learning assignment? Your ability to let go and let students guide you as they demonstrate what they learned (which has emotion, y’all).

Thus, I think it might be best to end my final blog post for a course in contemporary pedagogy with this observation by Dan Edelstein: “To innovate is thus less to abandon the past than it is to tinker, transform, and revise what came before.”

Flexibility in a fast changing world

The importance of the humanities, addressed by Dan Edelstein in this publication, reminded me of a couple of articles I had come across before on “Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees with Liberal Arts Degrees” and “How Studying Philosophy Led Me to the Executive Suite“. A couple of quotes that stood out for me from the first one of these two was: “It’s a horrible irony that at the very moment the world has become more complex, we’re encouraging our young people to be highly specialized in one task. We are doing a disservice to young people by telling them that life is a straight path. The liberal arts are still relevant because they prepare students to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.” and “…the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white.”

It can also be expanded to the irony that the main fields that are changing at a faster pace than any other, those related to science and technology, are following the same outdated educational system where students are being forced to comply to a predetermined set of rules and provide a predetermined set of answers. This instills the notion that they should be looking for the “right” answer instead of considering a broad range of options, and their implications, which seems to be closer to what they will be faced with out in “the real world”. People with a background in humanities are considered to be better suited to adapt to fast and drastic changes without being thrown off or paralyzed by them. Proof of this should be shared with teachers at all levels of the academy, especially those in STEM fields which seem to be some of the biggest opponents to humanities as part of their curricula. In their quest for all things technical (since everything else is perceived as a waste of time), STEM educational programs can be generating less critical-thinkers/problem-solvers and more oompa loompas.

On the piece by Parker Palmer on the “New Professional“, the author refers to educators avoiding recognizing their students as human beings with their own set of emotions. I kept thinking about how this behavior would translate for underrepresented minorities in any field and their relationships with their mentors and educators. If educators don’t want to engage with their students on a deeper or even personal level, it can make them less equipped to understand and effectively communicate with students from different backgrounds to their own. When colleges and universities start pushing for an increase in admissions for underrepresented minorities without proper training to the faculty and administrators who will be key players in their education, it can be a disservice to these students where the people and resources at their disposal do not meet their particular needs. It seems that programs receive both pressure and incentives to increasing diversity without proper training on how to best manage this new landscape in higher education.

I Need More Ice Cream for This

It was not in Raj Lyubov’s nature to think. Character and training disposed him not to interfere in other mens’s business. His job was to find out what they did, and his inclination was to let them go on doing it. He preferred to be enlightened, rather than to enlighten; to seek facts rather than the Truth. But even the most unmissionary soul, unless he pretend he has no emotions, is sometimes faced with a choice between commission and omission. “What are they doing?” abruptly becomes, “What are we doing?” and then, “What must I do?”
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (2010, p. 124)

When I started reading the selections for this week the above quote from one of Ursula Le Guin’s books came to mind and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s went into my hand. In higher education, in our graduate school careers, in the courses we teach, and with the students we work with the question remains: what are we doing?


What are we doing when students from historically marginalized populations continuously take the third shift of educating their peers, and us, about what it is like to be at an institution that was never meant for them?

What are we doing when we make students jump through hoops of paperwork for “accommodations” that may not actually fit their needs out of fear that someone, somewhere would abuse our generosity if we simply took students at their word?

What are we doing when our peers and colleagues say they suffer in ways we could never understand, that they’re tired, that they have to be on their “best behavior” to avoid validating stereotypes and that they feel tokenized when the only time their voices matter is if they are needed for a photo-op for the upcoming recruitment brochure or for a video highlighting the diversity at a given institution?

What are we doing in these situations? Sometimes this

When I read this weeks readings I felt/feel: angry+sad+irritated+ tired…

All these birds at once…

I feel like I need to go grab another three pints of Ben and Jerry’s even though I know I’m probably at least partially lactose intolerant and that I should be a vegan.


I feel all these things and this is what is missing from most of the classes I’m in and from a number of the conversations I have with folks outside of my friend circle: emotion and affect.

Palmer’s essay was about this notion and long before Palmer people such Audre Lorde pointed to the uses of emotion and affect, in Lorde’s case The Uses of Anger. In fact, most of his essay read like the work of numerous liberation scholars including liberation theologians and those historically invested in black liberation. While what I say next is in keeping with what Palmer says, it’s from the space of the liberation scholars who did the labor before us all and are no longer around to see their labor bloom into a new movement and conversation.

Contrary to the commonly espoused belief, emotions can serve in a clarificatory capacity for some people at least some of the time. Which  people? Well, probably the folks who historically have had robust reasons to be irritated with the current state of affairs and higher education.

How does this semi-diatribe relate to being a “new professional” and connecting the dots? It’s an invitation to reflect on the final question: What must we do?

How do we make space for emotion and affect to be in our classrooms where our students can be their full, authentic selves even in the midst of deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversations?
How do we relate to those who question the system when historically and systematically we are given disincentives and incentives to the contrary to censure, ostracize, and disassociate from the “revolutionaries”?
How can we be our authentic selves while we are here?

How can we do these things? By being revolutionaries which is what Palmer is gesturing at even if they never use the word and say they aren’t calling for an uprising.

What would that look like? I don’t know, but I suspect that the answer relies on building capacity and a network of colleagues who can share the labor, work together, and change a system to be in the service of those it is charged to serve-to place the system into the obediential service of students and faculty/staff alike.

What might it require? Being for and with one another even in battles that are not our own.

Being for and with our students in the project and labor of inviting them to be critical of themselves, the programs they are in, the lessons they learn, and of the institutions they attend.


It requires solidarity (tapputu in Akkadian), emotion, labor, and hope–but what these look like are things we will have to figure out in the process of relating to one another and figuring out our revolution.

“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or, it is nowhere.”
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974, p.301)


The Ethical Dilemma of Ethical Dilemmas

“The fact that we have schools does not mean we have education. The fact that we have hospitals does not mean we have health care. The fact that we have courts does not mean we have justice. We need professionals who are “in but not of their institutions, whose allegiance to the core values of their fields”

This quote in Parker Palmer’s article really stuck with me. I think that in every field we have issues where what we learn in school isn’t necessarily what is done in the world of work, whether this be because of lack of time, money, or effort. Obviously this disconnect is an issue, but the bigger issue is the gap in education that we receive in terms of ethics. We’ve discussed numerous times the cursory attention that ethics are given in education, and the more I think about it the more I see this gap everyday.

While writing this I’m sitting across the room from my boyfriend who has a degree in engineering, and he confirmed that he doesn’t recall any of his classes addressing ethics. This man could go out and build buildings, create weapons, design computer programs, and a million other things I’m unaware of, and not once did anyone ever prompt him to consider the ethicality of doing so. Luckily he has a good head on his shoulders, and is a very culturally and environmentally aware person, but what about those who aren’t. What about those engineers or doctors or biologists or teachers who didn’t grow up being taught to think about how their actions impact others? If these people aren’t learning this in their personal lives, and aren’t learning it through their educations who knows what could happen.

There is so much deception, damage, and corruption in the world already. If we don’t, as Palmer says, “humanize” ourselves, and begin to educate in a way that emphasizes the effect rather than the result things will only continue to get worse.

Despite my examples being primarily engineering related, this isn’t an issue that only impacts the hard sciences. We all need to humanize our students. What good does it do for me to teach my students how to give an effective persuasive speech if I don’t address the ethical implications of this type of speech, and when this type of speech might be inappropriate.

We often shrug ethics off as something that everyone already knows, but judging by the current political state in our county I believe we have to accept that everyone doesn’t always know the difference between right and wrong, especially when the lines begin to blur, money becomes involved, and your personal security is on the line. I am throughly convinced that ethics need to be a more prominent subject in my course, and I hope you do too.

Final Thoughts


I love the quote by Parker Palmer used in this week’s blog prompt:

“In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.”

I feel like this accurately describes my main goal as a professor. Working on the Flint Water Study team over the last year and a half has been an eye opening experience for me. I was the “dark side” of the engineering profession where the people who were supposed to be working for and protecting the public were actually causing them harm and then trying to cover up their wrong doings. While I don’t believe that these people woke up one day and decided that they wanted to lead poison an entire city, the choices they made and actions (or lack of actions) they took ended up harming an innocent population.

What I have learned through this experience is that there is definitely a cultural problem within these organizations (i.e. EPA and MDEQ) where they are more focused on meeting regulations by whatever means possible (even lying and cheating) rather than actually providing people with safe drinking water. But maybe there is also a major flaw in the way were are educating our future engineers. I know that when I was in undergrad we did not spend very much time discussing ethics or how we would/should handle situations that could come up in the professional world.

Through discussions in this class as well as with people from the engineering education department it does seem like we are moving in the right direction and putting more emphasis on ethics and showing students real world situations that they may have to face as professional engineers. But there is always room for improvement. As a future professor I plan to bring up ethics and ethical dilemmas in my classes as much as possible because I think it is key to developing good engineers. You can be the smartest most creative student but if you have no ethical values and are just in it for the money then are you really going to provide value to our society?

In “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited” Parker J. Palmer’s statement really resonated with me: “Does education humanize us? Sometimes, but not nearly often enough.” He went on to say: “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”

This summarizes very well the point that I am trying to get across, we can’t just teach students the technical skills they need and expect them to be successful engineers there is also human aspect that is often overlooked or ignored in our field but is equally as important.

Becoming a professional

I recently had a professor ask me how I introduced myself to others. I usually tell people, “I work with [advisors names] on [research].” Apparently there are still people who refer to themselves as “students under [advisor],” or just as students. But as graduate students, we’re not “just” students. We are early career professionals. In my case, that means that I am just as much an entomologist as anyone else in my field. As a professional entomologist, I realize there is more to it than the practical skills of keying out or pinning insects. Sometimes it seems like we’re made to feel that the best scientist is the most emotionless one. This is why Parker Palmer’s essay is so valuable. Emotions and ethics have an important role to play in guiding our actions professionally and personally. Rather than acting as we’re “supposed to” on the outside, we should honor how we feel on the inside. There is a reason why depression, anxiety, and alcoholism rates are so high among graduate students! We have the opportunity to do tangible good in the world, but that would be much harder if we completely walled ourselves off from how we felt or imploded from the process of getting a higher education.


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Being a professional isn’t about “staying in line”
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