Non-Measurable Mondays: “The Saved Voicemail,” by David Richardson

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

About five years ago I had a voice mail from the father of a former student, Kelly B. She had been in a summer school class of mine about three years prior to when I got the voice mail. I remembered her right away when he said her name. 

Back then, in about the third week of the class, she came to me and said that she needed a letter. I said, “Sure. What for?” Turns out that she was only in the class because she’d been paroled and needed to be in school or have a job. She had a hearing coming up on whether she would have to stay under confinement to her house, which would make the school thing impossible. So I wrote a letter saying what she’d been doing in class and how she had done enthusiastic work–leaving out some things about the grades and comprehension and the rest (she was very under-prepared, but trying at least). The judge accepted it, but I don’t think she finished the class.

Anyway, years later, her dad‘s call came. In that voice mail he told me she had died as a result of her struggles with substance abuse, and he was calling to ask my permission to read part of my letter in her eulogy. He said something like, “She was many things, but in recent years, she’d come to be defined by her struggles. But she kept your letter as a reminder of what else she was. We don’t have anything else like it.” I saved that voice mail for years.

David Richardson is Professor of Philosophy at Harold Washington College.

CAST Reminder: First Meeting and Next Week’s John Dewey Discussion Group

CAST Reminder: First Meeting and John Dewey Discussion Group

Don’t forget, tomorrow (Tuesday, September 1) at 2pm in room 1046, CAST (the Committee on the Art and Science of Teaching) will be meeting for the first time this semester. There will be cookies!

Our plan for tomorrow includes introductions, previewing activities for the semester, and discussing with attendees what people would like to do, read, and discuss over the course of the semester.

Next week, on Tuesday September 8, CAST will host the first discussion group of the semester. We will be reading and discussing the first two chapters of John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. The text can be accessed for free at The full link is below:

Website Wednesday: BBC’s History of Ideas

Yeah, it’s been awhile since I’ve run this feature, but I figure that since HW is the Online college now, it’s probably the best one to revive.

Not only that, but I got some unexpected inspiration this morning when I fell on this little video about Karl Popper and Falsification:

Which reminded me that the BBC has a great series of videos on big ideas. Check out the Playlist for their whole collection and find brief, fascinating overviews on some huge ideas in Philosophy, especially political philosophy and epistemology–two hot spots in contemporary philosophy.

And be quick about it–from what I understand, the BBC has some financial challenges of its own

CAST Schedule Preview: We’re Bringing Cookies This Semester!

Megan and I are still preparing our final CAST schedule, but I wanted to show you a preview of what we have in mind.

This semester, all CAST meetings are scheduled back to the classic time of Tuesdays at 2:00pm. The first meeting of the semester will be during week 2, on September 1, in Room 1046. During that session, we will figure out exactly what sort of content we want for the duration of the semester. So if you have ideas, please attend or send them our way!

A big change this semester is a greater emphasis on discussion groups. Last spring, I hosted a total of eight discussion groups on four different essays. Each essay had both a Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning group. The discussions we had were stimulating and eye-opening as we heard from a variety of people. Attendance varied, however, and some groups only had one other participant besides myself.

We hope that our new time helps more of you attend. And, to make discussion groups a more regular feature, we will host one CAST discussion group every other week beginning on week 3, September 8.

While we are still figuring out all of the texts we’ll discuss, we have a few picked out:

1. Paulo Freire: We had two discussion groups during FDW, but some people said they want more. We’ll try to cover new ground to keep things interesting, while tying it back to the original text.

2. John Dewey: A few different people told me independently that they’d love to read John Dewey’s “Democracy and Education,” and I’m happy to oblige! I’ve read some of his short essays, but none of his longer texts. I’m excited for this one.

3. Coming in the Spring, we’re featuring another sponsored book club on Bell Hooks’s book, Teaching to Transgress. I have yet to read her and I’m excited. Just like with Freire and other books, we have copies for those interested.

As for the rest of the semester, this is currently our tentative schedule. Leave a comment if you would like to see anything added or changed!

Week 1: Off Week
Week 2: Welcome Back/Planning Meeting/Discussion of Goals, Interests.
Week 3: Discussion Group: John Dewey, Part 1. Short reading selection from Democracy and Education.
Week 4: Off Week
Week 5: Discussion Group: John Dewey, Part 2. Short reading selection from Democracy and Education.
Week 6: General Session: TBD
Week 7: Discussion Group: Paulo Freire Revisited. Including some non-PotO Freire piece.
Week 8: Off Week
Week 9: Discussion Group: TBD
Week 10: General Session: TBD
Week 11: Discussion Group: TBD
Week 12: Off Week
Week 13: Discussion Group: bell hooks Primer?
Week 14: General Session: TBD
Week 15: Discussion Group: Problem Question/Reflection on the semester.
Week 16: Off Week/Grading Party

Non-Measurable Mondays: “The Mother’s Geology Lesson,” by Phil Vargas

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

“Crescat scientia; vita excolatur.” Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched. This is the motto of my alma mater, and my interpretation of this phrase has changed as I have grown as a researcher, an educator, and a father.

As a “numbers guy” I felt as though it is only appropriate for my inaugural blog on the Harold Lounge to be an essay on a non-measurable metric. So I wanted to contribute to this project by sharing a story a former student told me at the end of geoscience survey course that, despite occurring many years ago, is still fresh in my mind.

She was walking with her daughter on the beach when her daughter noticed all of the rocks were flat and smooth, and she asked her mom why. Her mother then explained the weathering processes of the water and the wind. She described what the rock probably looked like thousands of years ago, and how it will likely appear thousands of years from now. She explained the fundamental geological concept of uniformitarianism to her daughter in a pleasant conversation while enjoying a walk along the beach.

She did not tell me this story in class to illustrate she had learned the material in efforts to bolster her grade. She told me this story to say thank you. She said the pride she felt when being able to explain this concept to her daughter was overwhelming and almost brought her to tears. She thanked me for everything I had taught her because she believed it had made her a better mother.

When I was in research my interpretation of “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched” was how I could push frontier science with my work. Standing on the shoulders of giants I was seeing just a little further and expanding knowledge in the scientific community. As an educator my interpretation of this motto has evolved. It is now how the knowledge I impart to my students empowers them to not only transform their lives, but also the lives in their community.

I do not know if this student completed her degree. I do not know if her success in my class lead to a new career. I do know that in my class she learned more about the physical world around her and the processes that shape it. I also know that she took this knowledge and shared it with her family and her community. As a parent, I know that her believing she is now a better mother is a treasure words cannot describe, let alone numbers measure.

Phil Vargas is Professor of Physics and Physical Science at Harold Washington College.

Non-Measurable Mondays: Call for Short Essays

This fall, the Harold Lounge will host a regular feature every Monday titled “Non-Measurable Mondays.” Each posting will be a narrative, anecdote, perspective piece, or something of that ilk that explores a critical component about our students’ education that has not been (and perhaps cannot be) reliably measured in its fullness. The only problem is, I only have four ideas, and there are sixteen weeks! So we would love to hear some new voices.

If you have the interest to write a piece for this series, please send it to my personal address at