Engaged Pedagogy

In chapter 3 of Teaching Critical Thinking by bell hooks, she states that, “engaged pedagogy begins with the assumption that we learn best when there is an interactive relationship between student and teacher. As leaders and facilitators, teachers must discover what the students know and what they need to know. This discovery happens only if teachers are willing to engage students beyond a surface level. As teachers, we can create a climate for optimal learning if we understand the level of emotional awareness and emotional intelligence in the classroom”. 

These words really resonate and hit home with me. All semester long I feel as though I preach the same message to my academic colleagues in the room- that they must be willing to engage beyond the surface level and DO LIFE with their students. Too often at the doctoral level ESPECIALLY those in STEM, they spend their time in the lab and their mentors, committee and chairs tell them that that is where there time should be spent. I disagree. Life is still happening beyond the lab. Issues of race, racism and discrimination are happening on college campuses to their students. It is not sole the responsibility of those working in student affairs to address these issues. Our peers and colleagues in academic affairs must be held accountable for creating spaces in which students can engage in this dialogue. bell hooks says that we must create and interactive classroom where students can learn from the teacher but also where the teacher can learn from the students. Teachers have to be willing to go beyond the surface level (read: beyond the required course material). I challenge my academic peers to create that space. Find a time in your classrooms where you can ask questions about life with your students. When you agree to take up a position as an educator, you agree to create aa climate that is conducive to learning. You agree to create a space where ideals can be challenged, knowledge can be assessed and where knowledge can be acquired.

At Virginia Tech specifically, VTSA (Virginia Tech Student Affairs) talks a lot about building community. (If you’re looking for a great read, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block is a good start on how to do this). bell hooks also states in this chapter that you have to be willing to create community and comrade in the classroom amongst your students. By creating community, this breaks down barriers and walls, it builds a level of trust, opens the door for communication and creates a genuineness that will allow both the students and the teachers to be vulnerable with each other. When students have buy-in into the classroom, when they know that their voices matter, when they know that their questions are valued, it can change the entire setting in a classroom.

I get concerned when I actively see that many of my peers to do not understand the value of creating community in the classroom. Many of my colleagues including myself, grew up in classroom spaces that adopted the banking style of education (per Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed). Teachers spoke AT us and did not often allow room for questions or a space to grow in our learning. I see many of my peers repeating this same pattern because it’s what we know and what our committee and/or mentors expect us to do. STOP THIS! I dare you to be different! I dare you to adopt a model of engaged pedagogy in your classroom. I dare you to create a community and a culture of care in your classroom. I DARE YOU TO BE DIFFERENT!


In finishing the 2018 pedagogy course, it’s great to re-affirm the role of people-feelings within the realm of academia, be it research or instruction. It’s easy to become lost to the allure of pure, cold logic, the belief that things have definitive beginnings and definitive endings, that facts may be readily discerned with absolute certainty. Yet reading Parker Palmer’s piece shows an entirely different side to explore. Research and instruction alike are both voluntary and fallible: what may be discovered is forever limited by time and technology, what may be learned by the limitations of focus and recall. It’s important then that we draw our gaze as much to why as we would to how, that we shine our narrow vision on those gaps most worth knowing. It’s important then that, even when limited by institutional directives, we remember our true, original spirit of study, that which we dreamed about as children and which survives within us today. There’s much momentum in life which cannot be resisted, but all can be guided, and by integrating emotion into the driest, most tiring of fields, we can find and share that which is worth knowing and steer the course of the development of worthwhile knowledge for those the follow us in time.

Remembering why we do what we do

Some interesting reads this week.  I thought the article on the new professional was really good.  They made some good points about making sure we connect the things we learn and produce in academia and professional practice to the people around us and recognize the need to keep a human perspective in the things we do.

I think it’s easy for professionals and academics alike to look at things too scientifically and in too sterile an environment.  We start reducing people to statistics and numbers and words and we lose focus on the lives behind the numbers and behind the words.  This leads us to forget the why behind what we do and sometimes leads us to miss opportunities to do things that will actually benefit the world at large.  I liked the comment that knowing isn’t enough.  If we can’t have a soul behind the knowledge and actually use it to the benefit of someone else, we are really missing the boat.  As someone mentioned in class a month or so ago, we also put ourselves in danger of getting so caught up in progress and innovation that we don’t always recognize the full consequences of what we’re doing and may end up doing more harm than good.

I think we have a responsibility as people in positions of power/privilege/education/potential/you-name-it, which we certainly are given we have the opportunity to be attending school and getting advanced degrees, to actually make a positive change in the world and to recognize that we can and should do more.  That starts with taking more time to think about the people affected by our research, our teaching, and our practice, and then making changes based upon the things we discover.  I had the opportunity to visit the Oso Washington landslide which killed 43 people.  Although I didn’t have anything to do with the poor engineering and public policy that led to the disaster, that experience certainly shaped the way I continued in engineering practice.  It’s moments like that that serve to wake you up to the realities of what we are actually called to achieve in academia and practice.  I hope most of us don’t need wake up calls that dramatic, but I do hope we take more time to stop and look at the world around us and remember what it is we’re working for.  And then do something about it.

“The fact that we have schools does not mean we have education.”


“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.”- Parker Palmer. This was a very powerful article that I think helped me reflect on various personal experiences and this class as a whole. This was written 11 years ago and sadly so many of the issues that he brings up continue to persist in our education system today. The quote mentioned earlier I think very much summarizes all of these issues that many times we, as educators choose to ignore or as he says we are “taught to value intellectual detachment above engagement with the world, they refused to recognize what they knew”. This also reminds me of last class’ discussion that we had and whether or not many of us will use what we learned and talked about in the class in our own classrooms or environments. The easier route it is definitely to choose disengagement but where is the fun in that? This also will allow for these cycle of issues to stay here, those issues that we discuss and complain about.  Lastly, “we must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them. Doing so means, of course, that as mentors we must embody what it looks like to live in that way”. If we want our students to be the future that we hope to see then we have to start with ourselves. Also, this does not mean, when you graduate, when you get tenure, or other excuses that we tell ourselves.. It needs to start today. We have to embody the hope that we want to see and not by just discussing but acting on those discussions. Many times this means being vulnerable and involves risks but this is how we have always seen change made historically. Overall, this class has exposed us to the different ways we can teach in our classrooms but we have also learn that it is not just about the subject we teach but all the intersectionalities that come with them. Therefore, understanding the complexity of society and what each individual student brings to the classroom with their own lived experiences is something that we HAVE to constantly remember to create those inclusive environments, dialogues, and safe spaces for all.


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. 🙂

Knowing Is Not Nearly Enough….

In the article by Parker J. Palmer, he poses the question “does education humanize us?

In my opinion education does not humanize us as individuals, I think education provides us the tools to know and understand what is happening in society and allows us a larger framework in which to develop our own opinions and values based on our knowledge of ourselves and the world.

What I think gets us closer to being more fully human is the action that we take to help improve the world in which we live. Having the education is all well and good, but if there is no aspect of service that goes into backing what you believe and value then you’re not aiding in the progress forward, you’re allowing yourself to remain stagnant and comfortable in your education.

Questioning Status Quo, Revisiting Role of Education

Am I going to be a professional “in” an institution or a professional “of” an institution? Parker J. Palmer in his article distinguishes between these two notions and emphasizes the importance of preparing and educating professionals to be in institutions rather than of institutions. He highlights the power of individuals over institutions, which need to be uncovered and recognized in order to face existing inhumanity and make a change.

Palmer’s argument targets educators who can serve and provide students with power to challenge existing structures, to let them know that their feelings matter and should be recognized, to help them to build a sense of community,…

People can be part of a system in which the status quo reproduced, the voice for change get suppressed and the bodily experiences get ignored. Unfortunately they may play in such a system and they might not know themselves, sadly. Am I aware that I can make a difference as a surgical resident, as a professional engineer, as a scientist,…?

Education is indeed beyond obtaining technical field specific skills. In line with what Palmer argues, I believe education is also beyond educating merely rational thinkers. The objective view of meaning needs to be questioned and individual’s experience and understanding need to be recognized.

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.


Practical wisdom is what we need!

How many times have we heard the phrase: “we are just doing fundamental research…” when asking (read “challenged”) a fellow researcher about their source of funding or, even responded, ourselves, when we were “asked” about the same thing? How many times have we asked ourselves who is paying us to do what we do, what will our research be used for? (I suspect, based on the pat response when I ask my colleagues, it’s another inconvenient truth.)

Reading Parker Palmer’s article reminded me of the two TED talks by Barry Schwartz on Practical Wisdom (see this for more stories about using or not using our practical wisdom). What we need are professionals who go beyond the procedures, individuals who bend the rules to do the right thing or allow others to do so.

Humanities and Real-World Needs!

I was reading Dan Edelstein’s piece about how humanities can contribute to knowlege economy. He argues that increased innovation and entrepreneurship skills are two main practical results of studying humanities. While he tries to justify how humanities can be beneficial to the real-world economy and development, I believe without humanistic training most of our solutions to problems will be technical and very likely “unsustainable”.

To support my argument, I provide an example from development world. Consider a situation in Afghanistan, where experts (from medical and engineering fields) find out that in a certain village, access to tap water is limited and women have to come out of their houses for washing dishes, clothes and etc. SO the experts say: They do not have access to water, we will give them tap water! With the help of international funds and thanks to their expertise, the NGOs provide every house in the village with clean tap water.

After a week or two, the NGO members observe that women are again frequenting to the wells instead of using the water at home! After investigating and interviewing with the “final users” the experts understand “finally” that going to wells, is the only way for these women to communicate with their outside world. These women do not want to use the tap water by paying the heavy price of missing the opportunity to go out of their houses and to mingle with other women! In this example, if the NGO leaders and experts had integrated people with humanities background, the process would have probably taken another form. One would have probably asked in the first place, what is the “problem” and from whose perspective? Based on the real consumers’ culture, history, religion and even language how we should address such problem.

In conclusion, I believe more than enhancing entrepreneurship and innovation as Edelstein mentions, humanities practical value in real-world projects is in their close and deep understanding of “humans” as the final goal of many projects seeking to bring “positive change”/ increasing quality of “life”!

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