As a future professor I expect to be questioned

I connected so much with Parker Palmer’s piece, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited.” There were so many quotes I thought were so thoughtful, but I will start with a few of my favorites.

“… I decided to become a professor, animated in part by the belief that education can humanize us”

“… taught to value intellectual detachment above engagement with the world. They refused to recognize what they knew”

“Does education humanize us? Not nearly often enough. We have yet to uproot the myth of “value-free” knowledge, and hence we turn our graduates loose on the world as people who know, but do not recognize that our justice system often fails the poor, that corporate logic usually favors short-term profits over sustainability, that practical politics is more about manipulating public opinion than discerning the will of the people, that our approach to international relations is laced with arrogance about our culture and ignorance of others, that science and technology are not neutral but rather means to social ends.”

I had a conversation with my roommate this past weekend about what I want out of (potentially) becoming a future professor. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and what I want. Whether I want to be at a predominantly teaching institution or research institution. I don’t believe I should have to choose and compromise one for the other. I want to be able to do research with the necessary resources and my job is to teach students. I am passionate about both and I don’t want to go to an institution that won’t support me doing both. To most people when I tell them that they tell me to go to a teaching school, but I think I want to work at a research institution because I see the teaching there being more of a challenge. I see large public institutions being where I can get the most diversity of opinion and backgrounds in the classroom (diversity being amongst the college going population, which is inherently not diverse, but hopefully slightly more diverse than the private institutions). My teaching strategy is what I think to be pretty straightforward. While I would be teaching in a geosciences department, I don’t expect to be teaching geoscience majors, I expect art history majors, business majors, economics majors, biology majors.

I couldn’t care less if my students become geology majors. That’s wonderful if they feel connected to the material, but I don’t feel that that is my job as a future professor. My job is to get them to think and critically engage with what they are learning and the wealth of literature and knowledge that I’m asking them to engage with. My job is to get my students to think. My job is to create members of society that can critically consume what they are being told, not just blindly accept. That can recognize bias and think about how they think and in what ways they may be biased. I want them to question, I want them to question me, I want them to question their peers. Memorizing the geologic time scale front and back doesn’t tell me anything about their ability to critically think. If they can take context clues and put those together with how they’ve learned to think, that’s what I care about. Science is driven by observation and asking questions, that’s what I expect of my students.

There is so much more I could say about Parker Palmer’s piece, but I will leave it here for the sake of space. 🙂

Who gets to draw the line anyway? Science and Humanities are simply human endeavors

The worn out battles of “humanities vs sciences” have been fought a thousand times and yet, you can still pick up the scent of doubt about “true values” of humanities in the opinion pieces. I am looking at Will the Humanities Save Us?, Stanley Fish and the response by Dan Edelstein in here.

I am going to disagree with Fish when he surmises that the only answer to “what good is humanities for anyway?” is a form of humanities for the sake of humanities rationale. The idea being that such questions are so utilitarian that they only apply to science.

No! Let us flip the question. What good has science (in its isolated concentrate form) has done for us. And why not stretch the meaning of “us” just a little bit to include human beings, animals and the planet altogether because things  start to look different at this level. We have eradicated the infectious diseases but we are still unable to convince parents to vaccinate their children (+). And all the peer-reviewed journals in the world are not enough to change a politicians mind about climate change. These doubts about liberal arts are absurd to me.  As an engineer, I can clearly see how the positivist attitude of STEM can become completely oblivious to human condition. We owe it to STEM students an education that meaningfully connects them to their community and environment.


Avoiding Complacency

As the semester draws to a close, there seems to be a communal feeling of exhaustion that unites all levels of the university system. Everyone seems to be united in counting down the days to summer break while simultaneously listing off every task that must be accomplished before the semester can officially be over. I can completely relate as I found myself on the verge of dozing off while standing in line at the grocery store this afternoon. With all of the end of semester busyness, meaningful reflection and critical thinking seems to get pushed to the side in the name of productivity.

So, when I read the New Yorker Article, Personal Best, this week, it resonated with me. Here was someone seemingly at the top of his game, who was still seeking to improve his skill set. He did that by allowing himself to be vulnerable and open to constructive criticism and showing the gumption to make the changes suggested. He didn’t settle even when he could have without the questioning of others. The veteran middle school teacher in his article didn’t settle either.

As this semester draws to a close so does my first semester as a teaching assistant. While I wasn’t responsible for a whole course, I lead two lab sessions throughout the semester and got a small taste for what it is like to teach. After seeing the amount of work that goes into preparing for just the lab section of a course week-to-week, I can see the temptation for making minimal changes year-to-year. However, if there is anything that I have taken away from this semester, it is that true learning doesn’t take place in the classrooms of complacent professors. For effective learning to take place, everyone has to be engaged, and change is inevitable and inseparable from learning.

Watching people who are further along in their careers, it is fairly evident to me that the busyness doesn’t fade away; it often expands. With that being the case, being an effective educator must be a continual practice to make engagement and self improvement a priority much like the surgeon demonstrated in the article. It is a choice not to settle for what seems to be working but to strive for what could be truly exceptional.

What is School For?

Seth Godin's message in his Tedx talk is to re-conceptualize education as something more than be complicit in some preordained social role. His solution to this cog-in-the-machine dilemma sounds like problem-based learning in which students are tasked with initiating projects of their own and then reaching out to educators when they need help. An easy critique of this "alternative," more open-ended type of education is that it's too theoretical. Having students choose their own projects simply won't work because their sense of creativity and innovation is continuously and systematically curbed as they "progress" through school. But one counterpoint to this critique is the Montessori style of teaching. And at this point, when I think of how there are "alternative" styles to education that don't make students comply to a larger, social ordering, I realize that the problem at hand might be boiled down to the larger debate over public vs. private schools. 

Funding is an immediate hurdle that public schools would face in implementing Godin's plan. Funding is based on accreditation. Accreditation could arguably be the point when compliance is most apparent in the institution of education. (And that's not necessarily exclusive to public schools). Accreditation pressures both teachers and students to meet arbitrarily and superficially established standards. I agree with Godin's problematizing of both Horace Mann's "normal school" and standardized tests. Both forms of standardization fit nicely into the narrative that industrialization led to a compliant, disciplined workforce. Yet when contrasting the (caricatured) images of public school to private schools (Montessori being only one example among many), there seems to be more possibilities for art-driven curricula and problem-based learning in private school settings. Maybe I am wrong in this assumption and perhaps I am making a false dichotomy.

If not, though, I think the concept of paying for your ability to be creative in a private school or collegiate atmosphere is the larger, overarching problem here. If teachers encountered the pressure of standardization as equally as students do in the public school setting, that tips in favor of the students in the private school and college/university settings. In other words, students as consumers have some sort of "right" (contract) that they feel that must be met. I think this is the essence of what we always hear about in class when primarily dealing with undergraduate students in engineering, science, and math. These students have bought a degree to be more or less certified in their area of study. (Perhaps these students are more aware of the social pressures of getting a job than their humanities and art students counterparts). I think this falls into Godin's imagery of industrialized learning; make cookie-cutter students to fit preordained roles in society.

So what's the big deal, then? :) From a teaching perspective, why take an art-drive, problem-based pedagogy and apply it to fields that encourage students to be fixated on earning their money's worth of a degree? I think that this is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Students aren't paying for an "alternative" (and hence, that's why these non-traditional forms of education get labelled "alternative"). To say that "education is the starting point of social change" is great. But some people see education as a means to an end. Getting people to see beyond that perception requires some changes on the industry side of the problem...or not. But you'd have to pay to learn that.



Parker Palmer rethinks the norms of what it means to be a professional, writing that we should not aim to be “value-free” to excel in what we love. Following Palmer’s rethinking, I do not think academia should be value-free. I have not mastered it, but as a teacher, I hope to maintain a balance between thinking about what we value as a society and individuals with teaching students what they are expected to know to be professionals in their discipline (at least as it applies in my class).

While some say teachers should not express their personal beliefs in the classroom, I think that this perspective is too black and white. Students are not mere receivers of information, and I am not merely a dispensary; this is what machines do. Rather, we should be open to having conversations with our students about our values, and their values, with the understanding that we are critical thinkers who are emotional and rational. This knowledge is what makes us different from machines, and what I think should define “professional” in teaching.

“Knowing is not enough”

The title of this blog post was taken from Palmer’s “A new professional: The Aims of Education Revisited”. This week’s readings really helped me connect everything we’ve been discussing in class so far, particularly Palmer’s article. I have been thinking and doing a lot of reading on whats missing particularly in Nutrition and Dietetics education and how I can help bridge that gap a future educator of Dietitians. One thing I that I came up with was having students develop a way to understand and interact with patients better, to provide better care and I thought about having students work on their empathy skills. I found and article by Rupp and Huye (see reference below) that talked about a method they used to incorporate empathy into MNT curriculum and I used that on my syllabus. One of Palmer’s five “immodest proposals”on educating the new professional is: “We must take our students ‘ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects”. Reading this made me feel pretty good about my decision to include that component in the course, but also made me realize that maybe there should be a greater emphasis.

Another thought that I had from reading Palmer’s piece related to Dietetics education was how there really isn’t any conversation about challenging the institutions which we work for. After going through a typical dietetics program, students go through an internship. During this internship, we are told to strictly follow the guidelines of the institution in which we are interning for instance a hospital. These hospitals have guidelines set up on how a dietitian should practice. They already have written how we calculate calories and fluid for a patient (although there are many different calculations). I think there is a better way to do this. I’m not advocating that students don’t follow policies, but I think they should definitely challenge them if they feel there is something better out there based on research and sound reasoning. They should be conditioned through their education to not feel too inferior to pose these questions, like I feel I missed out on during my education.


Rupp, R., & Huye, H. (2017). Using Humanities Content in a Medical Nutrition Therapy Course to Enhance Empathy in Senior Nutrition Students. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(9), A38.

To Those Who Stole My Dreams

Writing this to those who want me to be a good student! To be obedient! To memorize everything!

You people stole all my dreams, wasted my time. Undoubtedly, I learned (or memorized) a lot, I collected a lot of dots, but there is no worth in memorizing when I had never learned how to connect dots to my promote learning when I was in school.

I really like the Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS video, and how he questioned the common teaching style and why we need to ask students to do something interesting or go and figure something out instead of spending several hours giving them a lecture, he also emphasized on providing opportunities for learning how to innovate.

My first exposure to online teaching was when I was assigned as a TA to Risk Analysis and Decision-Making class at the University of Nebraska. The instructor asked me helping him to flip the classroom lectures into online (YouTube) videos, my first reaction was he is a lazy instructor. But that class turned into a fantastic experience for students and for me. the students are required to watch videos and read the PBL before the class. The class time was the time to discuss, ask the question, and practice innovative thinking. As a person who took this course five years ago, I realized that I wasted my time before when I was memorizing concepts; and through this course and all active learning activities, I comprehend and learn the course concepts deeply.

As a new professional who is going to help to raise up and to prepare new professionals, I always will keep what Palmer mentioned in my mind:

“knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.”

Knowing does not guarantee to learn, being obedience does not dictate being a good student. I will try to raise up new professionals who are connecting dots as they are collecting dots!

Just do your (art)work!

This week’s readings came at just the right time for me. I needed some validation and bucking up.

My students’ final assignment is to create a work of art — collage, photographic series, painting, song, sculpture. It can be anything, but it needs to represent work, labor, or the working class and connect with one or more of the themes we wrestled with this semester. They are also required to write an artist statement justifying their decisions and do a short oral presentation to the class. To me, this is a fun project. It has some restrictions in terms of themes, but it wide open to genres and interpretations. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, I have a small contingency of students who are not enthusiastic. On Thursday, I asked them what their level of discomfort with the project was on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most awesome ever. It’s a 1.5. They’d rather write a research paper. I almost gave in. Instead I ended up giving a spiel about the importance of humanities to foster critical thinking, yadda, yadda. I followed that up by mentioning the need for creative thinkers to solve problems in fields like engineering and science. I even heard myself say, “If you’re struggling with it, it’s probably good for your brain.” I LITERALLY just embodied my mother.

Needless to say, I found this week’s readings validating, but I have a few takeaways for future semesters:

  1. Dan Edelstein uses the word innovation. I should use that. Innovative thinking is a phrase that likely carries more meaning and weight to science-types than creative thinking.
  2. I need to be more transparent with students throughout the semester about the value of art, literature, film and music. I often expect students — as we talk about constructed narratives, social change, and the arts — to come to an understanding about how the arts shapes our lives in real and important ways. I need to be explicit.*

*Full disclosure: I said the phrase “Let me be explicit …” in class last week and they snickered at me. Then I made them look up the definition of the word on their phones. Then we talked about why it has come to mean graphic or offensive. This is an example of why I am not the cool one. So uncool.

  1. I need to stop thinking about the loftier reasons for humanities’ importance (citizenship! Empathy for others!) and learn to better justify it, like Edelstein says, in terms of professional success. I believe in the arts and in their importance. I should be ready to fight for them.

Teaching for the 21st Century – Connecting the Dots

Creativity and creation lead to student learning and outcomes. However current educational systems tend to impede these essential components to successful and fun learning.  Awareness of ways in which students meaningfully learn is not enough. Educators must apply strategies within/outside of the classroom in order to facilitate student learning that fosters the critical thinking skills needed to solve real world, complex issues.

Creating better learning systems starts with practice. Will it be enough if educational changes are not broadly made?  These readings helped to frame concepts and issues that we have been discussing in GEDI 2018 throughout the semester. As informed educators we must become activists for changing policies that are in favor of creativity and creation rather than memorization and dissemination. Without policy changes our minor, individual efforts are unlikely to be enough to make a structural difference. However, policies and social environments take a long time to change and successes at the individual and interpersonal (among peers) levels are equally important. Ultimately utilizing tools available to us in order to evolve as educators or coaches is a critical component for future success in order to combat the inevitable discouragement of failure.

Thus, I am excited although realistic with regard to the challenges and benefits to applying student-centered learning outcomes within future classrooms.