Additional Post: Prosperity

I would like to share a few thoughts about a book,“Disrupting Class” by Clayton M. Christensen, that I reading right now that is relevant to this class . If you haven’t had the chance to read it, I strongly recommend it. The book is well-researched and very insightful on the state of higher education today and offers a few possible directions it might go in the near future.

On page 9 of the introduction the book quotes John Adams. It says:

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

This last group, the group that has the freedom to pursue whatever they find interesting, seems to be a pretty good description of the Millennial Generation, my generation. We live in a prosperous time and should do all that we can to distribute prosperity. We were raised by the Baby Boomers, who were raised by the WWII generation. The WWII generation (if we are speaking in terms of the collective in this period, not individuals) were forced to war and had fewer options at education and career choice. Many of them worked in trade jobs their entire lives because they had little chance to further their education that was disrupted by the political conditions of the time. My great grandfather was one of them. After he came back from WWII he was a painter. Because he was a painter his whole life he made sure that his four sons had the chance to go to college to study engineering, math, science, business, etc. His son, my grandfather, the first of his family to go college studied physics. A little later my father went to college to study engineering. Both physics and engineering are intensely difficult subjects to study. I took one course in statics and one course in introductory physics….and no more. My grandfather and father studied these subjects because these fields provide lucrative employment opportunities, and not necessarily because they are in love with the second law of thermodynamics. Because of their hard work and sacrifice I was recipient of opportunities that my progenitors never had. For possibly the first time in my family history, I had the chance to study WHATEVER I wanted. What a privilege that was! Also, what a responsibility.

I now have two daughters and I will encourage them to study what they are interested in and what they can become gainfully employed in. I want them to be able to pursue prosperity, however they define it, and to pass it on to their children and neighbors, in even greater abundance than they received it.


Critical Pedagogy: Defined and Illustrated

During class our table (Table 4: Aislinn, Ben, Sengul, Susan, Andrew, Rathsara – full names and blogs posted at the bottom of this post) discussed perspectives of critical pedagogy. Below is our definition of the term followed by objects that illustrate a few key concepts. Enjoy!

Critical Pedagogy is a process where learning is teaching and teaching is learning.

Reality is a process

Skipping Play Hard GIF by theAwkwardYeti - Find & Share on GIPHY

Critical Pedagogy challenges what we know and the structures that control society

Knowledge Russians GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Critical consciousness can be used as a political tool

Game Of Thrones Power GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Banking Concept of Teaching

Think, Engage, Work together, Learn

Hand In Hand Illustration GIF by Kochstrasse™ - Find & Share on GIPHY

Susan – School is failing to teach us the necessary skills to function once we become an adult. Instead, most of the topics that are taught are important, but may not be important later in life.

Susan – As a TA or an instructor, I am always learning, either from research literature or from my students. I don’t know everything about a topic and I don’t think I ever will.


Aislinn’s Blog:

Ben Kirkland:

Sengul Yildiz Alanbay:

Susan’s blog

Andrew Barnes Blog:

Rathsara Herath:

Banking Concept vs Problem-posing

This week I have been assigned to read and prepare to share with the class a portion of Paulo Freire’s seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. See the link below.

Chapter 2 of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire:

First, I would like to provide some background on the author. I did some quick research on Paulo Freire on Wikipedia and learned that this work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is considered one of the foundational texts of the overall crtitical pedagogy movement. Taking directly from his Wikipedia page “Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has had a large impact in education and pedagogy worldwide, especially as a defining work of critical pedagogy. According to Israeli writer and education reform theorist Sol Stern, it has ‘achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs'”. Some additional relevant trivia is that Paulo wrote this text in response to other contemporary works that emphasized the need to formally educate the indigenous populations of his native Brazil which is, needless-to-say, controversial.

In Chapter 2 of the book, two main teaching approaches are outlined and branded by Freire. The first, Freire calls the “banking concept of education“. In this approach “education thus becomes an act of depositing…knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry.”

Although this description is a rather cynical description of formal education, the point is made. Learners are empty vessels to be filled and (should) make no contribution to the process expect by consuming the subject matter. I don’t believe that I have ever been subjected to this extreme level of the banking concept, but I have definitely had samples. If my experience is anything like what Freire is describing, I agree with the author that this method is lousy.

The second approach that Freire introduces is one he calls “problem-posing” education. In a lengthy expert from the text, problem-posing education “breaks with the vertical characteristic of banking education, can fulfill its function of freedom only if it can overcome the above contradiction. Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on “authority” are no longer valid; in order to function authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are “owned” by the

This approach is one that I am familiar with and am particular to. I especially like the portion of the previous quote that says “arguments based on “authority” are no longer valid.” The authority argument, which is to say, “I have a credential therefore my opinion is right”, has always been a weak and contentious one. It removes the responsibility of the authority figure from justifying a position which is a great disservice to learners. The quality of the thought, not the diploma on the wall, is what should be graded. Beyond that, it is regarded as pretentious and a little lazy.

Let me know your thoughts on the two approaches outlined above.

Safe Spaces & Brave Spaces – Home & School

In light of the recent free speech executive order, the topic of safe spaces on college campuses has become more prevalent in popular and news media sources. What I have read has inspired a few thoughts that I would like to share. I believe that college should generally be a relatively uncomfortable place, not because discomfort is the objective in itself, rather because it is the natural result of growth and progress. In the college environment I should be challenged to think in new and different ways. I should be exposed to a diversity of thought that is foreign to my own. I should be presented new ideas that enrich my perspective and broaden my view. In summary, the classroom should be the arena, not the spa.

I also believe it is important to have a controlled environment, call it a “safe space”, to consider in my own way what I have learned in the classroom. This safe space should be my home, a familiar place where I am can close the door and be left to mentally digest what I have learned.

I have two daughters, one of which will be going to kindergarten in the coming months. I know school will be a place where she is confronted with new ideas that may be uncomfortable. I am glad this the case. It is for her good. Also, I am glad that she has a safe and familiar home to return to at the end of each school day. It is my responsibility to provide her with both places and support and guide her as best that I can.

Curiosity & Conformity

This week’s post focuses on the viewpoint article Curiosity as a Learning Outcome by W. Gardner Campbell, the Director of Professional Development and Innovative Initiatives in the Division of Learning here at Virginia Tech (link posed at the bottom).

I feel very torn by this article. On one hand, without a doubt I see and share the value of engaging and encouraging curiosity. I, like many, or possibly all, students know what it feels like to be forced to learn something that is utterly boring and un-engaging. There are certain subjects that I have a natural affinity for and enjoy engaging with. Other subjects never stop being a chore. This being said, I believe that it is beneficial to introduce students to subjects that they might not be naturally inclined toward. It is an enriching experience. Like the author propses, the times that I have felt the most “alive” during my education is when I stop thinking about school as school, I lose track of time, page-length, and letter grades and fully immerse myself in the pursuit of a curiosity. The satisfaction that comes as a result of fulfilling a curiosity is rewarding, and can even be addicting. This experience is what formal education should strive towards.

On the other hand I don’t believe that children, and often teenagers, should be left to determine how to spend their own time, because…they are children. They need guidance. They need to learn conformity, by compulsion if not by persuasion, in many ways until they reach an age where there are fully accountable for the consequences of their choices. For example, I know that as a 10 year old (and maybe even a 16 year old…or 25 year old) if I were given full autonomy over my education, I wouldn’t have one. Instead of learning, I would have spent the entirety of my time playing Twisted Metal 2 on my PS1 and eating toaster strudels by the crate.

So, in summary, conformity has its time and place. It isn’t a universal good or evil. Conformity is the way that a society establishes a set of standards that can make it function. It is true that conformity, like many other things, can turn from virtue to vice if not properly managed, but this is the reason for teachers, formal or otherwise. They help students, formal or otherwise, conform to society while concurrently finding their individual passion that will benefit the society that they are a part of. Simply put, it is important to both lead and to follow.

Genuine Authenticity: Thoughts about Yearners and Schoolers

Yearners and Schoolers, by Seymour Papert is a great paper with a lousy title. It outlines, literally outlines, the way that a teacher should find and use their own style while teaching and communicating in general. I would like to point out and comment on a few points that particularly spoke to me.

First, half way through the first paragraph the author writes ” You must work to discover who you are.” Through my own life I have realized that the “work” that must be done to discover yourself is service to others. For me, this service has happened in both volunteer and paid capacities. It was times when I was truly “present” for the people that I was with and focused on their hopes and needs instead of my own (for a change). It reminds me of a quote from D. Todd Christofferson. He said “The more we serve [others] in appropriate ways the more substance there is to our souls, we become more substantive as we serve others. Indeed, it becomes easier to find ourselves because there is so much more of us to find.” Discovering who you are, in opposition to popular opinion, does not come from focusing on yourself. Instead, counter-intuitively, it comes by focusing on others. I’ll post a link below to the video that I heard this quote from.

Second, in the second paragraph it says “it is good to adapt techniques that best conform to our individual style and authentic teaching self.” I have learned from personal experience that it is best to observe the way someone else does something, mimic as closely as possible, and once the basic concepts are understood, adding your own style to make it yours (sorry this sentence was so general). “Conformity” has become a dirty word in the modern era, and in many ways, conformity is toxic. Still, if you are consciously conforming in order to make improvements it isn’t bad.

Finally, the last item that I would like to comment on is in Section I.A.1 which simply says “Be genuine”. We live in a time where people idolize others to the point where they begin to lose parts of their own identity. People are increasing losing the ability to generate original thoughts. They act their way through life, trying to be the person that they think others want them to be. I find that I am happiest when I am striving to be the best person that I know I can be. This is my genuine self. It isn’t my natural, current self, but it the best version of me and I’m working hard to get there.

Grades: A(n) (un)necessary evil(?)

My post today is going to focus on the assigned article The Case Against Grades by Alfie Kohn (link posted at the bottom)

I’ll admit that after I had read the title of the article, but before reading the article itself, I believed that my mind had already been made up on my position. This is a weakness of mine that I am working on fixing, but credit to the author, the article made me think more deeply. I found that it was particularly persuasive in a few key areas. First, the first sentence of the last paragraph says, “Grades don’t prepare children for the “’real world’”. As someone who wasn’t a naturally-gifted student, I often had this same thought. I thought that measuring a student so precisely, normally on a scale of 1-100, leaves so much room for the misalignment of the teacher and the students that results in a worse grade. Some students, more than others, will be more inherently like-minded with the teacher and for this reason a certain portion of the student body will perform better than others providing false-validation to the instructor. I always knew that my brain, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, processed information differently than the majority of the student body. Over the years enough struggling has taught me to translate between my brain and most of my teachers, but the fallout of the experience has been bad grades and a chip on my shoulder. I’ll get it over it, but it wasn’t that fun, and it brought at the worst in me at times (i.e. entitlement, anger, feelings of injustice, etc…). In the real world measurement with this amount of precision just doesn’t happen. Your boss, friends, family members, total strangers, etc…never try to zoom in that far to figure out your short comings. They have a open-ended, overall impression of who you are as a dynamic individual that will never be totally figured out or summarizable with a 1-100 grade…which is how it should be.

The other area that was persuasive for me was the first of the author’s “three robust conclusions.” This conclusion states that “grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.” All too often grades are a distraction from learning instead of a motivation for learning as they are presumed to be. In the past week we have read about the myth of multi tasking and the power of focus. It is hard to focus on learning when you are distracted by grading. Worse, grades further split the focus of the learner by inviting an additional distraction which is gamesmanship. When grades are introduced, the student now starts to think past the education, past the grades, all the way to how the grades will be collected, which is how the test will be written and is it “beatable”. It is a real weakness and it removes students so far from the original intent of the learning experience.

Embracing Change

Coincidentally, my thoughts have recently centered on the concept of change which made reading this article seemed almost providential. The whole article (pages 39-49 of the link posted below) is well worth the read. (To provide a shameless plug for the article, it is highly consumable, replete with fun facts, figures, anecdotes and everything else that would capture the attention of average fan of Malcolm Gladwell literature). The part of the article that most resonated with me is found on page 43. It says, “Change motivates challenge…It means making the most of living in a world of motion. We can no longer count on being taught or trained to handle each new change in our tools, the media, or the ways we communicate on a case-by-case basis.” This statement, “we can no longer count on being taught or trained” is what might define those who succeed and those don’t.

My professional experience confirms that this is true. Before coming back to school, I spent five years working in the home building industry in Raleigh, NC. The leadership team of that construction management firm was laser focused and determined to beat the competition. And they did, but at the high cost of constant change. In 2013 the group was ranked in the low 20s for largest home-builder by volume and by the time I left in 2018 it was 2nd. Growth by 25-75% year over year is the type of perpetual change that this article is talking about. It is also the brand of change that cleanses an organization of anyone who is counting on others to stop and show them what to do, or in the words of the article “count on being taught or trained” by others. In this firm, each person had to know, from way up at the 10,000 ft view all the way down to the most granular level of detail, what their objectives were. If a person couldn’t he or she wouldn’t last long. The first few years there was a lot of turnover. For example, with the exception of my manager and myself, turnover was 100% in my department. For a two-and-a-half month period I was the only one doing the work of three. I would often get to the office before 6:00 am and wouldn’t leave until after 6:00 pm. This trial by fire paid off and helped me learn the nature of constant, ruthless change. It was terrible at the time, but I feel like I got a year’s worth of experience in a quarter.

To summarize, growth and improvement is impossible without change. Those who are motivated embrace this and look forward with anticipation to work that follows.

Click to access newcultureoflearning.pdf

Thoughts on “Four Things a lecture is Good For”

This article, Four Things a Lecture is Good For by Robert Talbert, makes some good, concise points on the topic of traditional lecturing. It should be noted that criticizing the traditional, stand-and-deliver lecture isn’t new. As the article outlines, for decades research repeatedly shows that lecturing does not lead to adequate levels of content retention. In fact, the numbers that have been reported to me over the years all describe that the levels of retention by traditional lecturing are embarrassing low. It would be easy (and possibly lazy) to say that these facts can be summed up and attributed to a few bored and boring lecturers. I used to believe this, but not as much now. I becoming more friendly to the argument that lecturing is overused and is an inferior way of teaching in many circumstances.

Now, with the emergence, or insurgence rather, of online educational sources, traditional, lecture-based education is forced to justify itself. On this matter Tablert says “Resorting to a lecture because I need to ‘cover material’ is just an admission that I didn’t design my course well. If that’s all the lecture is for, put it online so students can at least pause and rewind.”

In spite of the online takeover of education gaining momentum and territory there is still room for the traditional lecture. I agree with the author on this point. He outlines four occasions where lectures are still an optimal content delivery method. Of these the most persuasive to me is “modeling thought processes”. Providing an expert model, especially a role model, through software is very difficult, if not impossible (currently). The presence of an expert human being demonstrating thinking in reality is something that virtual reality cannot yet imitate.

In summary, I believe that education is due for a much needed update steering away from the overused, lecture-based, content delivery method. I also believe, like the author, that lecturing still has its very important place and should remain an important part of the pedagogical arsenal.

Learning to learn

My post today will be centered on the Ted Talk What Baby George Taught Me About Learning (2016) by Michael Wesch. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure that you do. It is well worth the 17 minutes. If 17 minutes is too long, then play it at 1.5 or 2.0 times normal speed.

The primary takeaway for me was to care, really care, about teaching. To do this I must care, really care, about the students. I need to care about them enough to acknowledge my own professional weaknesses and resolve to overcome them. While I was watching the Ted Talk I thought back on a teacher in college that embodied caring at the level I aspire to. I recall that on the fist day of class he came to class having already memorized the names of each student in the class. This small act of caring made me feel worthwhile. It was memorable.

I liked how Michael Wesch discussed programming failure into the learning path. A good teacher knows that many students will struggle and wont hold it against them. Purism is a toxic expectation. Just like Michael’s son George, who failed stepping down off the step for months, wasn’t a failure, neither are students who fall short, but continue striving to succeed. Failure is a product of quitting, not of consistently trying yet still coming up short.