Cognitive Dissonance: Real Education

Cognitive Dissonance is a regular Monday feature in which a post is presented that, if read, may provoke “a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” I hope these pieces will provoke thought, if not conversation.

The stories in this piece are familiar enough for most of us. By the end of it, though, the author seems to be at a loss about what to do. Which begs the question: what to do?

“Reacting to the Past” in the Community College: Introduction

You walk into your class a few minutes before it is scheduled to begin. To your pleasant surprise, six or seven of your students arrived sufficiently early to arrange the tables in a large half-circle, in preparation for discussion and debate. They did this without your request, but it’s exactly the formation they needed today. You also notice a large portion of the students already seated, pouring over their copies of Plato’s Republic.  Some students are wrapped in white linens, in imitation of the tunics worn in Athens, circa 403bc. One has a garland in her hair.  Rather than walking to the front of class and introducing the day’s main topics, you instead quietly take a seat in the back and pull out your own copy of The Republic, turning to the pages on the goals of an excellent education: to make good citizens first, and to give them the tools so that they may contribute to society in the way they are specially suited as individuals. Though you have not provided specific guidance, most everyone is reviewing the same pages.

The minute that class is scheduled to begin arrives and passes. Nothing has changed. You are still sitting in seat, saying nothing, unless a student approaches to ask a question about the text. Otherwise, you can clearly see your students clustered in groups about the room, speaking in hushed voices, The Republic in hand. Occasionally, a student from one corner of the room stares menacingly to another cluster. A young, petite woman raises her fist and booms, “Athens is a city of democracy! The men who fought for us have the right to participate in government!”  A young man from the opposite group retorts, “giving the rule to the mob is giving Athens over to the passions of the appetite! That’s no way to rule wisely or justly!” A commotion begins, and chaos threatens. You continue to sit in your chair, taking notes about who is saying what. Ten minutes after the scheduled class start, you, the instructor, have yet to say a word.


An Argument for Democratizing Knowledge in America

I just read a book “Back to school: Why everyone deserves a second chance at education” by Mike Rose.

Back to School book cover

The students described in this book could be my own and I find that rather refreshing in a book about higher education!

There was something really powerful about reading the words of students like mine in the pages of this small book. It reminded me that our students all have various reasons for being in our classrooms:

To be a role model for my kids. To get a career to support my daughter. I don’t want to work in a crappy job all my life. I want to learn to read and write. I want to have a better life

I teach in the Child Development program. I’ve always thought of my courses as serving both academic and occupational goals, and I have treated both goals equally. We are a career program, and yet the intellectual life of my students is extremely important to me. I want my students to experience many and varied opportunities for cognitive growth in their time here. I also have a higher responsibility to the young children my students will ultimately serve so I work hard to make sure my students understand developmentally appropriate practices in the profession of early childhood education. This book has reminded me of the importance of developing an academic intellectual life, but it has also reminded me of the intelligence of occupational work.

It’s midterm by the way, in case you haven’t noticed! This is the time in the semester when many of us lament that students are unable or seem unwilling to take advantage of the support resources available to them such as office hours, tutoring, and the like. The book helped me to remember that my personal approach to learning in terms of actively seeking information and forcing myself to take charge of my own educational experience by any means necessary can be really different from how students approach my class.

As Rose states,

Many students with privileged educational backgrounds are socialized from day one to seek out resources and engage members of institutions to help them attain their goals. This seems so much like second nature to most academics that we forget that it is a culturally influenced, learned behavior.

…teaching is more than transmitting a body of knowledge and set of skills but also involves providing entry to the knowledge and skills and tricks of the trade necessary for fuller participation in learning.

It’s a quick read, but it has inspired me to think differently about my students and my teaching. I think it’s worth a look. Let me know if you want to borrow it!

A Survey about Surveys

In the last couple of months we have seen more and more surveys popping up in our inbox. There was the survey about the Inspector General’s Office, about Morale (where are those results?), Lecture capture cameras (ditto), and now Registration. I know many people do not fill out these surveys which I think is a mistake. Consider this, in some small way filling out these surveys is like voting. If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about decisions made later. How much happier we all would have been if the powers that be had sent a survey about branding or graduation or most recently,  no more spring hires. (Just a side comment- if we are no longer allowed spring hires, does that apply to district too? So, if there is a job opening do they have to wait until fall semester to hire or are they allowed to hire based on need and availability?).

Not to say that a survey would have changed the decisions that the money spenders made, but at least our voice would have been heard. A large complaint about this administration is the total top-down communication. I would like to think these surveys are at least an attempt to give the people who actually work with students a voice.  So next time you see a survey pop into your inbox, don’t ignore it, fill it out. Don’t pass up an opportunity to actually communicate back to the powers that be, we have so few opportunities to do so….

The Final Tuesday Teaching Talk (TTT) of Spring 2012

Tuesday Teaching Talk is a regular feature which, as the name implies, is an opportunity to talk explicitly about teaching (and learning) in the practical and philosophical sense that happens on, you guessed it, Tuesday. Hold on to your hats.  The CAST coordinators (yes there are 2 of us) are tasked with supplying TTTs to you.  Look for questions, videos, tips, etc.  Enjoy!

Though not the most animated speaker, what he has to say is very interesting.  This is a somewhat selfish post on my part given my admiration for Noam Chomsky.  It’s rather long and I don’t expect you to be able to watch this in its entirety this week.  But for a nice little snippet, fast forward to 1:20:30 for some interesting discussion about open courseware, online education  (and student engagement0) in general.  See you all Thursday at 4 at Emerald.

The scam is on?

I saw this article in today’s tribune. Apparently, the time and money students spend on their education is not worth it in the long run.

From the article (yup, I thought of PhiloDave when I read this):

“(Doing standup) will teach you how to write,” he wrote in a blog post earlier this year. “How to communicate. How to sell yourself. How to deal with people who hate you. How to deal with the psychology of failure on a daily basis. And, of course, how to make people laugh. All of these items will help you later in life much more than Philosophy 101 will.”

What say you? Are we the problem or the solution? Is this a business perspective or a true educational view?

Education and Incarceration: Priority Shifts

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the NAACP has begun advocacy on a new and worthy topic:

Over the past two decades, states’ spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of spending on higher education, notes the report, “Misplaced Priorities.” In 2009, while K-12 and higher education spending declined during the recession, 33 states spent more discretionary dollars on prisons than they had the year before.

The overall annual price tag for incarceration, youth detention, and parole in the United States: nearly $70 billion – of which $50 billion is spent at the state level.

The current system largely warehouses people who need treatment for drug and mental health problems, while at the same time taking dollars away from education, one of the best ways society can prevent crime, the report says.

At least read the article, if not the report, but the report is worth some time, too.