Thursday, July 30, 2015

If teachers were treated like athletes
Key & Peele make us laugh and get us to think about our upside-down priorities.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Our Right to Be Offended?
This letter to the editor appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal today.
“I thank Summa for standing up and being heard about a dress code. I think it is a wonderful idea.It is not a new one; when I went to school, a store or church, we were told by our parents what to wear and how to act with respect for our elders, parents, mentors and teachers. 
Summa is doing that, and I am proud to be in the SummaCare program.I am a senior citizen and read Bob Dyer’s column in Sunday’s paper. I usually agree with him, but not on this one (“Dress code at Summa has people questioning adequacy”). Pink hair, tattoos and piercings might make others happy, but I am within my rights to be offended seeing all this. 
Those with pink hair, tattoos and piercings do want people to look at what they have done to their bodies, or they would not have done it. They will cause people to look at them. Frankly, this scares the pants off their elders, but maybe they don’t care about parents, grandparents and greatgrandparents. 
We are another generation, but we also have earned respect and have worked hard and paid our bills and taxes.So many I see who have defiled their bodies don’t have money to pay rent, buy groceries or take care of their children, but can dye hair, get tattoos and smoke or do drugs. (I know, I have been a landlord.) I thank Summa and hope other businesses will follow its high standards. 
We do not have a legal right to be offended, but clearly many choose to frame their own tendency to be offended by others unlike themselves in terms of a ‘right,’ and that is disturbing.  It offends me.  But rather than focus on my hurt feelings, let’s consider this.

When we see conflicts as competing perspectives, we are less likely to leap to being offended, much less to a right to be offended and to have our offendedness reflected in policy.

Let’s assume the letter writer is a much-beloved grandmother who harbors zero ill-will toward anyone she actually meets in her life.  When I do this, I am able to sympathize with her fear of the unfamiliar and the very high value she places on respect for authority and civility. I even understand her nostalgic approach to civility, hitching it to codes of conduct she associates with her childhood in the 1940s or 50s.

Understanding this makes me reconsider being offended.  Instead, I like her and applaud her letter, her choice to make her voice heard, and would love a chance to chat with her on a porch somewhere. 

Instead of describing how offensive I found her letter initially, I would want to talk with her about her cousin Fred (the one with the tattoos he got after the war, who worked for years as an honest cop) or Mary from her parish who was the first person she ever knew to have two earrings in each ear, quite the scandal at the time, but really stepped up to help her out when her husband was sick that time.

When we can separate potential friends from the abstract fear mongering pedaled by Fox News, too many pastors and politicians (think Trump at the moment), it is more likely we can have a conversation about difference where it is not conflated with threat.

Neither this letter writer nor I have a right to be offended.  In fact, the tendency to frame our disagreements this way amplifies the social space between us, making us appear more different and more scary. 

If we instead start with ‘that seems like a good or bad idea’ and then discuss the many ways that idea might impact real people we know, we are more likely to see, and make salient, our shared humanity and build bridges, even if we continue to disagree on the quality of any particular policy decision, like a dress code in this case.

On the other hand, she usually agrees with Bob Dyer and that really offends me....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Small Steps Toward Sanity

I applaud South Carolina and Alabama for doing the right thing, unprompted by a Federal Government mandate or intervention.  Well done.  Finally.

The more we examine the policy efforts to turn back the putative 'war on Christians' the more we understand the importance of thinking about law as generalizable.

Brilliantly put.  As President Carter added: "If you don't want your tax dollars to help the poor, than stop saying you want a country based on Christian values, because you don't."  Well said across multiple generations.  Another small two-step toward sanity.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How Great Colleges Distinguish Themselves
Click on title for good article in Chronicle of Higher Education, concluding this:

“In short, by investing in their people, great colleges create a culture of engagement. Faculty and staff members understand and support the institution’s mission, are provided with the tools and authority they need to contribute their best, and consistently go the extra mile for colleagues and students.  This investment in culture pays off.”
The article in the Chronicle mentions Six of the Twelve recognition categories used:

1.      Collaborative governance
2.      Senior leadership seen as credible and capable
3.      Job satisfaction
4.      Transparent and interactive communication
5.      Alignment to create a sense of being on the same team
6.      Respect, fairness, acknowledgment

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Modelling Stupidity as a Life of the Mind...Curiosity is a Better Way to Frame This

Modeling the Behavior We Expect in Class is a good short read.   After only reading the title (and waiting for the article to open) I thought this might be an interesting source of some new ideas and began to wonder: what do I do that models the behavior I expect?

Actively listen and frequently spend time in class helping students, on multiple ‘sides’ of an issue, strengthen their own arguments.

When listening to student comments it is important (if I choose to be one of the responders) to highlight what the student did well and to point out ways the student inaccurately summarized a scholarly article or appears to have conflate two concepts, or whatever the error might be…and suggest ways to re-think it.

Ask students what they think.  Then push them so they believe you really want to hear what they actually think.  Then take it seriously and connect it to course material in as many ways as possible.
Change my mind.  Sometimes in small ways, like ‘that is an interesting read of this article and one I had not thought of,’ and sometimes in larger ways, like ‘fair point, you are right, when I said xyz I overlooked this or made the exact mistake our author is warning us against.’

Be curious and excited about engaging with the ideas and arguments under examination.  Connect these to better understanding some real world problem on people’s minds at the time.  Try to find illustrations of the students doing the same and point it out to them that they are doing this…with enthusiasm!

These are a few of the ideas that zipped through my head in about a second.  Then I turned to the article which starts with a reminder of the value of social-learning theory or observational learning.  That is, the insight that we learn ‘by watching others.’

This reminded me of how our children so often learn the least productive approaches to conflict transformation by watching their coaches, parents, teachers, pastors, and other adults model behavior they would be humiliated to claim as their own on a video.

The author tells us about Matthew Fleenor, who in a 2010 article called on teachers to ‘model stupidity.’  To really be a first-among-equals in classrooms designed to focus on inquiry and open questions and learning. 

Fleenor was, according to our author, building on a 2008  idea from Martin Schwartz who is quoted as saying , “the more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.” 

Both of these remind me of Einstein saying ‘If we knew what we were doing we wouldn’t call it research.’  The modelling noted here is about meeting our students where they are to travel with them to a life of the mind, research, inquiry.  For me, however, we should be modeling curiosity and open-mindedness.  Calling it modelling stupidity catches our attention as educators, but works less well in our communication with students or larger publics than modelling curiosity and open-mindedness.

Our author takes an idea from Julie Glass who suggests we “turn our classroom documents into scholarly documents” and builds on that to recommend an assignment where students engage with a scholarly text as text, but also as an artifact not all that different from the texts they create in some fundamental ways so students will get comfortable assuming the position of ‘scholar.’

We too infrequently put scholarly texts in front of our students.  Whenever I do, they rise to the higher expectations, so I am doing it more and more.  We want them to engage with texts, and peers, and communities of scholars and more.  Help them do just that and their tour guide through scholarly texts, where we are one reader among many.  Modeling stupidity as a life of the an interesting point, but the same point works better if we think of it as modelling curiosity and open-mindedness (and build in, or better yet be open to, being wrong now and again).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Summer Fun

Riding waves with G, C & C

Games with Colty

Jim's Dock with Casey and Aishlin

Monterosso with Jules and Katie

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Microaggressions Capture Attentions
The idea…that there are everyday communications reinforcing the status quo that not only go unchallenged, but largely unnoticed by those with more power is worth thinking about. 
One way to think about this is to label these microaggressions and that is a label widely used today so, like any good framing device, it frames our thinking and talking about this phenomena…for now.

Two articles in the most recent Chronicle focus on microaggressions.  The topic is complex and neither article fully satisfying, but the conflict is also important so reading both provides real food for thought.

The basic premise strikes me as common sense (though I recognize not all agree): the messages we communicate to others, particularly when these carry the tag of ‘conventional wisdom’ or ‘taken for granted,’ can reinforce the harms experienced by marginalized groups with less power.

Built on that it also seems clear that even very minor forms of communication, accumulating over lifetimes, can be experienced as a surround-sound-like barrier to living in a meritocracy or even fully understanding the unequal distribution of harm carried in everyday communicative messages. 

The most common remedy emerging is to create codes of conduct or contract stipulations to make it easier to call out those who are aggressive in this way.  One leader in the field argues that these are designed to encourage discussion and dialogue, and to the degree that this is accurate, we are moving in the right direction, because some statements identified as microaggressions are better understood as areas of legitimate disagreement.

For instance, in one article in the Chronicle they note that

‘Any characterization of the United States as "a melting pot," for example, is classified in widely used training materials as a microaggression signaling a refusal to acknowledge the role that race plays in American society. The same goes for saying "Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough" or "I believe the most qualified person should get the job." Colleges are accused of "environmental microaggressions" if all of their buildings are named for white, heterosexual, upper-class men.

To characterize the US as a melting pot over-emphasizes one part of our social history, but to characterize the US in ways that suggest an absence of a strong assimilationist impulse would ‘signal a refusal to acknowledge’ other aspects of our actual historical experiences. 

To say ‘everyone can succeed’ is clearly inaccurate, but if the point is to say that it is possible for any individual, regardless of race or gender, to become president (for instance) than this same collection of words communicates another message that is less than inaccurate or offensive.

To say you believe the most qualified person should get the job should not be on this list at all, because saying this can just as easily express a critique of the fact that the most qualified non-white-male often does not get the job as it can be heard as an endorsement of that practice.

And that is my point.  Words hurt, but language is also a rich tapestry with multiple, sometimes contradictory, meanings built into phrases.  This invites dialogue. 

It is clear that any ways we can recognize that most of our ‘dialogues’ are hopelessly skewed and distorted by the existing power structure—and in particular in the ways that power impacts what we see as ‘just common sense’—our dialogues will be more likely to deepen our understanding and help us reduce the harms targeted here.

At the same time, when our efforts to reduce distortion and confusion and harm make is less likely that we can have an honest and clear conversation about power and language, we are less likely to deepen our understanding.  More likely to invite a backlash that will resonate with the moderate middle.  Less likely to reduce harms.

A second point about these two articles in the Chronicle focuses on the way the second article frames the debate between those who favor dignified communication and those who favor a victimhood society.  The article is not without value, but this framing choice is without justification, because it too makes it less likely that honest dialogue will follow.