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

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:

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 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


Tuesday Teaching Topic: T-Minus 6 Days

Good morning, and welcome to the new academic year! If you’re like me, perhaps more of your CCC-related mental space over the past two months have been more devoted to the string of controversial announcements coming out of 226 w. Jackson, but now I need to fill my mind with thoughts about my prospective students, discussions, content, evaluation, and everything related to that great activity of transformative education.

Today’s TTT: Do you have any pre-semester rituals you undertake in order to transition to the proper mindset? What are they? What do they do for you? How far away did you go this summer, psychologically more than geographically (though geo changes often lead to psycho changes), and how will you bring yourself back?

What did you learn on your travels? How did you change?

For those of you that taught summer courses, was the distinct atmosphere and student body of the summer campus enough to satisfy you? Were you refreshed, frustrated, or something else?


August 14 CCC Announcement Profoundly Undermines the Rights of Students

Last Friday, August 14, we received a district wide notice that included the following statement:

“If they [students] do not plan to attend the Fall 16 week courses for which they have registered, they must drop those courses by the end of the day Sunday, August 23 or they will be completely financially responsible for them.”

Note that this is the day prior to classes beginning. Usually, students have a full week after semester start to withdraw from classes. 

HWC faculty Jeni Meresman reports that the Truman Faculty Council found a discrepancy between this new policy and the established policy in the Student Policy Manual, page 27.

“Refunds – Credit Courses Refunds for Student Initiated Withdrawals (WTH; see WTH – Student Initiated Withdrawal on page 44) are available at one hundred percent (100%) of tuition and applicable fees (see NonRefundable Fees on page 24) only if processed during the first seven (7) calendar days from the start of class in a regular session during the Fall and Spring terms (or equitable time period for special sessions, including the Summer term).”

Seven days after, or August 30.

Meresman states that “The Truman FC has contacted their administration and all faculty about this discrepancy, and Jennifer Alexander is going to contact Rasmus.”

From what I’ve heard, an HWC faculty council member will present this to our chair’s meeting with Dean Thompson and VP Sarrafian today.


If this e-mail is a true representation of a new policy, it serves to severely oppress our students’ ability to make responsible decisions for themselves, and make CCC ever less accessible to our community. Students at the City Colleges are not permitted to “shop” for classes. “Shopping for classes” is a practice used by some, but by no means all, other academic institutions. It allows students to attend a variety of classes the first week, check out the syllabus and their instructors, before financially and academically investing in the course. At CCC, students have had the ability to register for classes, show up, check out the syllabus, books, and instructor, and still withdraw if they can’t fit the course into their schedule or decide its not how they wish to spend their time. If this new policy goes through, it will lock students into a course before they have seen anything of the course. The notion of the syllabus “contract” becomes ever more absurd, as students are now required to sign away ever more of their money for a class they know less and less about.

Was this a mere oversight, or a calculated move? There sure seem to be a lot of oversights lately, all of which profoundly affect the way students can pursue their education: almost all of which make our community college less about access to the Chicago community, and more about chasing after that new golden-calf of quality: degree completion rates.

Petition to Emanuel and Hyman to Keep the Child Development Programs Across the City Colleges of Chicago

An electronic petition has been organized at by Ellen Ripley. A lot of familiar faculty and friends of the City Colleges have already signed.

The City Colleges of Chicago is a public organization that serves everyone in the city, either directly or indirectly. Everyone who supports the cause is welcome to sign.

You can sign the petition here. The organizer of the petition has set a goal of 500 signatures. Since the petition was started 18 hours ago at the time of this writing (approximately 7:00pm on June 22), the petition has acquired 227 signers.

An Open Letter to Laurent Pernot and Rasmus Lynnerup in response to the recent meeting in which the CCC Child Development consolidation plan was announced:

The following letter was sent to me by Carrie Nepstad. Carrie is a HWC child development professor and chair of our Assessment Committee. She is a pillar in the HWC community and has inspired me time and again to be a better professor. She asked me to post this letter to the Harold Lounge, to which I happily agreed.

An Open Letter to Laurent Pernot and Rasmus Lynnerup in response to the recent meeting in which the CCC Child Development consolidation plan was announced:

Dear Laurent and Rasmus,
I was on the call with you last week regarding the plans to restructure the Child Development program and I want you to know that I found the entire interaction to be unprofessional and insensitive.
I received a forwarded e-mail from my College President at 6:00 pm on Wednesday night for a 12:30 pm meeting the next day. The message was forwarded to me, as if inviting faculty to this meeting was an afterthought. The meeting was set in the middle of July when faculty are not contractually obligated to be on campus. Clearly, this was an intentional choice.
The meeting was scheduled for a 15 minute time-slot and it was communicated to me during the meeting, more than once, that there was no time during the call to discuss the decision-making process. It was simply a meeting to announce the decision. This decision affects all of us in many ways. After years of rumors, speculation, and denials you were finally making the official announcement. Yet, in the meeting when I asked for a rationale for the decision, you explicitly stated there was no time for any discussion about that. You were speaking to faculty who between us have served this institution for more than 50 years. It was insensitive and unprofessional of you to dismiss my question.
For the record, we disagree with the decision to move all Child Development programs to Truman. The main reason we disagree with this is because it will have profoundly negative implications for our students who live on the south and west sides of the city. The shuttle is not a solution to their transportation and time limits, nor is CTA for that matter. We will lose these students and what you don’t know, because we were not at the table to inform you, is that this will negatively impact early childhood education programs across the city.
I realize this is a business decision and that’s your purview, not mine. However, what has been missing in our interactions with each other is the fact that this business is all about supporting the teaching/learning process. Your jobs and all your colleague’s jobs at the District Office exist in order to support that interaction. Why then, do you disregard faculty input? My input, after 12 years of experience with CCC students, has value. I do not expect to sway all business decisions, but I do expect to inform the decision-making process with my specialized knowledge of the field and of my students and their needs. My expertise has value, and I refuse to have you dismiss it, which is why I’m sending this communication.
We have been told, behind the scenes and in various contexts, to not be “emotional” during interactions with District Office. I disagree with that advice. Emotional intelligence and skills related to emotional intelligence have value in the real world. I teach my students about the value of collaboration, active listening, and respectful, reciprocal interactions with others. These skills are expectations of my field, but they are also sought across many professions and industries. We can do better with our interactions with each other and the key to that is true collaboration.
We have been asking for this plan for many years – since Reinvention began. We have asked to be at the table. Being called to a 15-minute announcement meeting is not “being at the table”. We need to work together to make this restructuring successful. We want that for our students – they are your students too! Please work with us and stop dismissing our questions. It’s counterproductive and highly unprofessional.
I’m sending this to you as a personal interaction. However, I also plan to make this letter public because I want the community to know how the decision to restructure Child Development has taken place. One small hope is that for the next restructuring meeting you have, perhaps you will plan it differently. I believe we can work together, but it will take a paradigm shift. If you want plans like this to be successful, I think it would be helpful if you start building relationships with faculty rather than shutting them down or closing them out. It makes better business sense and, frankly, it’s just a nicer way to work.

HWC Local FDW Proposals Extended until June 15.

Hello everyone, 

We have received a couple dozen excellent proposals for this year’s local FDW. But there is still plenty of open room in our schedule, so Megan and Kamran have decided to extend the deadline for proposals until June 15. You may continue to submit proposals at the link below. Once again, the HWC FDW will be held from Tuesday, August 11 to Friday, August 14, from 9am to 3pm each day.  

As always, we would like to have a wide variety of useful and/or stimulating breakaway sessions from our faculty, including both full-time and part-time faculty.

We are especially interested in more discipline-specific presentations. 

Some suggestions for proposals may include, but is not limited to: 

+ Discipline Exhibitions: Past sessions like the Cadaver Lab Tour, Architecture Walk, and Creative Writing Workshops provide a sample of all the amazing activities and inquiries going on throughout the rest of our building. Our community is filled with experts from a wide variety of disciplines. It is often a pleasure to learn something from our colleagues’ expertise, and these experiences can often have unexpected benefits in our own classrooms. We are interested both in reprisals of past sessions and new ideas. 

+Semester Preparation: Sessions that help faculty setup their Blackboard sites, re-design a syllabus, or think of a new plan for assignments and tests are useful to many faculty. We are interested in presenters who wish to provide a tutorial on different design strategies, lead a workshop, or facilitate a showcase of completed syllabuses, Blackboard sites, or assignments. 

+Science of Teaching: If you have been doing research on the science of teaching, it may be useful for our community for you to disseminate and share what you’ve learned.  

+Technologies in Pedagogy: As technology changes, faculty will find more applications for various programs and devices within the classroom. If you have something you would like to share, we would be happy to put you on the program. 

+Seminar Discussions: Are you interested in hosting a seminar discussion around a particular pedagogical question or topic? This year, we are encouraging proposals for open-ended seminar discussions in the hopes of fostering more exchanges of ideas and perspectives between our faculty. 

+Support System Tutorials: Everybody loves filling out travel reimbursement forms, but sometimes a tutorial on our various support systems can be useful. If you feel comfortable and experienced with a particular set of support systems, we encourage you to share your knowledge. 

Again, these are merely suggestions, and we will be happy to consider proposals that fall outside the above topics. You may leave questions as a comment to this post, or e-mail Megan Ritt and/or Kamran Swanson (e-mail addresses are available via the e-mail from HWC-CAST sent out on June 4, 2015), . 

Thank you, 

Megan Ritt 
Kamran Swanson 

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Final Rituals

This is the final week of classes. If you teach a Monday once-per-week course, you have already said goodbye to one class. Others of us still have two sessions left with our Tuesday and Thursday classes. No matter the case, we are in the week where we will close our class for the allotted time and know this is the end for this particular class, with this particular group of students and set of content material, and a community with a collective memory of the events of the past 16 weeks.

But we will all say goodbye in our own ways. Perhaps for the majority of us, it is a review one day and an exam the second day. Others conduct oral examinations. I have seen a few instructors bring snacks or food and have a little party: a solution perhaps most fitting for classes with take-home essay finals.

Today’s Tuesday Teaching Topic: How do you spend your last days of the semester? Do you have any activities that you believe are particularly fitting for the last day? Last words of wisdom you impart in class or via e-mail? Is there anything that you wish you could do, but feel prevented because of curriculum demands or institutional policies? Do you feel a sense of completion? When things feel like they are left undone, how to you respond?

Putting the Community back into the Community College

Four years ago, I made a post arguing that we should place a cafe in 102 in order to give more space to students and to build a better community space for our entire community college. Former President Laackman told me it was a good idea, but that we needed that space for other activities. In my view, there is nothing we need more than better community spaces. I believe the argument is still valid, and since we have had a change of leadership, and perhaps of priorities, I think it is a good idea to revisit the argument.

Here is the post in full (there were some great comments on the original post, so you may still want to go back and take a look at the original):


Tuesday Teaching Topic: First Law of Motion Edition

Apologies for the lack of posts. I was lured away by the lovely weather and my Tuesday morning writing sessions converted into Tuesday morning lakeshore run sessions. Luckily for you, I injured my back, and am back with another TTT.

TTT Question: If a student receives an “A,” does that demonstrate that they understand the course material? Have you ever had an experience when an “A” student says or writes somethings that belies a fundamental misunderstanding

As the semester comes to an end, we look for evidence that our students have learned something. Tests, oral examinations, term papers, capstone projects, and final conversations can invigorate or devastate us, frequently cycling through both emotions throughout a single day.

I am always concerned about the sort of learning–or lack of learning–that flies under my radar. My students perform better on the tests, and write better papers, but has their deeper understanding of the subject improved, or have they merely learned to imitate knowledge? Let’s look at some relevant physics.

First Law of Motion: 

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

I read a frightening story once that stays with me constantly in the classroom (What the Best College Teachers Do, pg. 22-23, by Ken Bain). After a full term of mastering the fundamental laws of physics with some of the brightest and most devoted students, some professors found that most students demonstrated that their underlying notion of physics was still Aristotlean, not Newtonian. In other words, even though most students could perform exceptionally well on a difficult physics examination, their method of answering some questions belied that this was only a surface level understanding, and that they still operated as though stasis was the natural state of objects. Only some specially designed questions demonstrated their ancient paradigm.

“Ibrahim Abou Hallous and David Hestenes (two physicists at Arizona State University) devised and validated an examination to determine how students understand motion….Even many “A” students continued to think like Aristotle rather than like Newton [at the end of a course designed to teach Newtonian motion]…Halloun and Hestenes wanted to probe this disturbing results a little further…What they heard astonished them: many of the students still refused to give up their mistaken ideas about motion. Instead, they argued that the experiment they had just witnessed did not exactly apply to the law of motion in question; it was a special case, or it didn’t quite fit the mistaken theory or law that they held as true. ‘As a rule,’ Halloun and Hestenes wrote, ‘students held firm to mistaken beliefs even when confronted with phenomena that contradicted those beliefs.’…’They tended at first not to question their own beliefs, but to argue that the observed instance was governed by some other law or principle and the principle they were using applied to a slightly different case.’ The students performed all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid confronting and revising the fundamental underlying principles that guided their understanding of the physical universe.”


I believe every discipline has some important lessons for all of us, and I appreciate physics for its ability to show definitively when our understanding of the world is just plain wrong or misconstrued in relatively clear and discrete terms. This is an example from physics, but it seems quite likely that something similar is going on in my own classes. And in philosophy, we don’t have the clear and relatively final answers that physics has to identify when this happens. So instead, I need to look at how physics deals with this, and see if I can apply the same methods in my own class.

I first watched the movie “Infinity,” a biopic about the physicist Richard Feynman, more than ten years ago. Overall, I found the movie mediocre, but it had a few enlightening moments. In particular, the four minute opening sequence is something that I find so poignant on the difference between trivial and genuine knowledge that I show it to all my students at least once per semester.

There are a few interesting pieces packed in this short clip. An anecdote about a bird comes at 1:24, when the 6-year old Richard listens to a bird, and asks his father, “What bird is that?” His father replies, “That’s a marvelous bird.” Trivially inquisitive Dick responds, “But what’s its name?”

Then comes the money line:

“Richie, I could tell you its name if I knew it, in all the languages in the world. But then you’d just know what people call it in different places. You wouldn’t learn anything about it. You got to look at the bird. You got to listen to the bird. You got to try to understand what it’s doing. You got to notice everything.”

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Mid-Term Edition

This week’s question is short, since you and I both have a mountain of mid-terms to grade.

Are there certain times of the semester where your teaching suffers because of structural elements built into the semester? Mid-terms are an obvious one: we all need to submit grades within the next week. For some, perhaps this is as easy as inserting a stack of scan-trons into a machine, inserting the numbers on blackboard, then transferring those grades to PeopleSoft or whatever newfangled thing we have now. For others, the past two weeks have meant staying up late reading essays, providing commentary, having one’s heart constantly broken by disappointments, then made whole again when we see a struggling student become a determined student and produce something that makes our hearts swell with pride and joy.

Me? I was so busy grading mid-term logic tests over the past couple days, I completely forgot to write a TTT this morning.

Good luck with the rest of the mid-term season, and I’ll see you at Week 10.

Glitch in the new Myfaculty.ccc

The new system for checking rosters, submitting grades, and everything else is about a day old now. In some administrator’s great wisdom, releasing the new system in the middle of mid-terms week seemed like the prudent choice, in order to challenge faculty to learn a new system at the same time that they are giving mid-terms, grading mid-terms, and spending most of their in-office time coaching students and talking to them about their papers. Overcoming obstacles makes us stronger, after all. Thanks for the obstacle!

Anyway, I’ve already heard that some faculty are having difficulty accessing their rosters and so forth. I hit this issue yesterday too, but after some tinkering around, I found a little glitch in the system, and also a solution to get to the content you need.

The short solution is this: once you are logged into the faculty and staff side of, you will see two tabs, “faculty” and “Staff,” in the upper left, with the buttons “home” and “help and resources” directly underneath. It looks like the “faculty” tab is selected by default. However, like so many other things in today’s world, this is nothing but an illusion. Even though it looks as though “faculty” is selected, it is not. Click “faculty” again. Now, like Harry Potter trying to get on his first train to Hogwarts, a third option will magically appear between “home” and “help and resources.” This button is “faculty center,” and it is the secret button you’ll want to hit.

Once you pass through this portal, you will find yourself in the new, fantastical land of grade rosters, schedules, and your other familiar tools with a new interface. This interface still seems a bit glitchy, but if you hit the “my schedule” tab, you can click the little cluster of people icons next to the class names to see your beloved rosters.