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Sunday, September 28, 2008

In Quotations

The following is part of a class assignment. Quotes are pulled from Ordinary Ressurections by Jonathon Kozol.

“Liberals may think that they can contradict a stereotype,” he notes,” by
walking off into a neighborhood where they do not belong” and may believe
they’ll “be protected” by their ideologies or sentimental loyalties. “It
doesn’t work like that,” he says, “and you’d be unwise to believe it.” (p.167)

There is a famous story in mathematical circles concerning the death of Pythagoras. It is said there was an uprising against his mysterious cult, but that the venerated leader escaped the original attack only to be cut down later, due to his refusal to cross a bean field. It seems amidst their reverence for number and theorems, the Pythagoreans harbored beliefs in the most extraordinary of things. Because of its passing resemblance to human sex organs, the legume was deemed indecent. Pythagoras, according to this legend, was killed because of his steadfast refusal to be touched by such “vile” plants.

Nowadays, our intellectual elites, our modern-day Pythagoreans, are sometimes slain because of where they are afraid not to go. For fear of appearing racist or bigoted, they disregard stereotypes with celebrated flair. With the kind of passionate ignorance of reality that stems from early sequestering within the walls of the Ivory Tower, they literally and metaphorically walk where they do not belong.

Yet they should take note of one of mathematics less superstitious methodologies- the field of logic. It is one thing to say that not all group members fit a stereotype, and another entirely to say that none do. Behind every cultural stereotype lies a probabilistic heuristic that has proven true enough to survive. Our protection comes not from naively ignoring those stereotypes, but from being able to see past them.

He doesn’t just “sustain” the difficulties of existence. He steers around
them in inventive ways that give him the defense he needs…He never seems like
someone who’s agreed to be defeated. (p. 236)

There is much talk of the “resilience” of children among those schooled in the social and psychological sciences. The term conjures images of the downtrodden, of those who are forever being peeled from the tread of society’s boot. We marvel at how these young people are able to persevere in spite of such a relentless attack. In reality, we give them too much credit, and at the same time not enough. We are right to be surprised by their ability to rise up after being hit by such continuous volleys. No human could be expected to “sustain” those difficulties. Yet while we overestimate their recovery strategies, we underestimate their ability to avoid the attacks altogether. Their “resilience” comes not from standing strong before life’s frontal assault, but from their keen awareness of the likely places of ambush and the ingenuity to escape around the danger. In so much as they manage to avoid the obstacles, they demonstrate their ability to play outside the rules. They employ strategies that boggle our minds, because for all our well-meaning ideologies and good intentions, these children are the ones actually playing the game. We are merely spectators.

I know nothing of theology; but it occurs to me that modest hesitations-normal
ones, like those in ordinary conversations- may allow a bit more space than a
relentless speaking style does for people in a congregation who may feel the
world has tried to clip their wings and that the powers and the principalities
of their society might actually prefer it if they didn’t fly too high. (p.246)

Regardless of the chosen medium, a true artist knows that there is as much power placed in what is not said as in what is. The blank patch of canvas, the silent rest signs of a great composer, the soft pause of a seasoned orator- these are the nothings and nowheres that make the lasting impressions. In that little white spot, the artist invites the audience to fill in the blank- to insert a piece of themselves into the work. This is a lesson of which we as educators would do well to take heed. People are willing to be lead, but will steadfastly refuse to be pushed. We must remember that each lesson belongs not just to us as teachers, but the students as well. In order for our artwork to be remembered through the passing of time, we must not be afraid to put brushes in the hands of our audience.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Profiling 101

Over the weekend, I had to create an academic profile for myself using data gleaned from a series of questionnaires. One was called the GREGORC inventory, which I had never heard of before. Another was regarding Gardiner's multiple intelligences, which I had heard of before. The rest were short answer questions about learning styles and preferences.

I scored comfortable to very comfortable on 6 out of the 8 intelligences. I just missed Bodily-Kinesthetic, but I am very deficient in IntraPersonal. Evidently, I don't care very much about people's feelings. On the GREGORC, I came up Abstract Sequential, which means I value thinking and analysis above all else.

Surprisingly, I found the learning styles sheet the most telling. It consisted of a flowchart of sorts, which laid out all the different learning environments. (noisy, quiet, visual, aural, etc.) I feel quite comfortable with any and all environments save for one- Kinesthetic Mobility Tactile. That category includes such horrors as role playing, mime, and immersion. You can put me in a dark, loud, hot room and I can still concentrate, but five minutes of mime and I'm contemplating murder-suicide.

Well, that's me in a nutshell. (How did I get in this nutshell?)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Where I'm From

So my first assignment for Culture and Community is to right a poem. It is supposed to be modeled on Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon. Here is a rough draft. Feel free to critique.


I am from the streets
(of suburbia.)
From circles to courts and cul-de-sacs.
I am from Big Wheels and lemonade stands,
from broken bones to broken homes,
and always at Pizza Hut.
I am from where the street only goes in one direction.

I am from t-shirts and Bible Belts,
from funnel cakes and Rocky Top.
(Man, I hate that song.)
I am from Frisbee and tenor clefs,
from matinees and tender feet.
I am from sadness and euphoria.

I am from behind the scenes to on-stage,
where everything is backwards.
I am from perennials and postholes,
from what do you want to be when you grow up
to you can't get there from here.
I am from the library.

I am from GA to ME
on foot over mountains.
I am from spotty dogs and smelly socks,
from sunsets to morning dew,
from heavy hearts to ultra-light.
I am from the do-overs to the birds ablaze.
Where the street now goes in both directions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Culture and Community

I had my first education class yesterday, CPI211I: Culture and Community. I thought you'd like to hear about it.

Let's begin the story by explaining that my university has two campuses, 8 miles apart. I think they began as separate colleges that merged at some point. I typically attend classes here in Portland, which is within walking distance from my apartment. But the EDU department is on the other campus in Gorham, ME. Being the eco-friendly fellow that I am, I decided to take the bus that the university offers between campuses, especially since I help fund that bus as part of my student fees.

I hopped on the bus along with 40-50 other people. Every seat was filled and the aisle jammed full of late arrivals. The subsequent 8 mile ride set the tone for the rest of the day. It took 40 minutes to make the trip, which was compounded by the miserably sweltering heat. As I felt my internal temp rising far above comfort level, I read with eyes squinting away the sting of sweat pouring down my forehead, a sign that proclaimed the bus a WiFi Zone. You see, at USM, we have the technology to allow students to receive wireless internet while rolling down the highway at 60mph, but lack that required to build a bus with functioning windows.

I arrived with minutes to spare at took one of the remaining seats in the classroom, which regrettably, was just barely cooler than the bus. It is not hyperbole to say that knowing how that class went, I would have preferred to remain on the bus for that 3 hours.

Almost immediately, we were asked to leave our seats and form a mosh pit in the center of the room. We would spend the next 2 hours performing various getting-to-know-you tasks, beginning with the "human atom." We were asked to move about the room as though orbiting a fictional atomic nucleus. At random intervals, a call to "freeze" was given and further instruction given. At each stopping point we were to grab a new partner and perform a task. The first time, we were to join elbows with someone and introduce ourselves. Next time, it was the knees. The next time, we were to invent a three-part secret handshake. Next, find a common letter between your names and think of three ways to form that letter with your body.

It went on, and on, and on.

At the end, we formed a "truth circle," where we commented on how we felt. People stepped forward to proclaim how relaxed they were and how great it was not to be confined to desks. I stepped up and announced that I was far more tense than I had been before we started.

First impressions are important, and my impression of this class is that it is a complete waste of my time and money. It isn't that I don't get the point of these exercises. In fact, I may have been the only one in the classroom that did. The point was to make connections. Before we can teach someone or learn from someone, we must first establish a connection. That connection will be based on mutual experience or memory or goals or history or whatever. That kernel will provide the foundation for the relationship that will allow for learning to occur. Many of those relationships form a community. This kernel need not be some huge thing; it only has to be real.

Nothing about these artificial activities serve that purpose.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

So Far, So Good

Just got back from a 2 mile run. I know that isn't much, but I hate running and I haven't moved that fast in a long time. Anyway, I thought I'd blog a bit to celebrate.

As I mentioned, I have my first two education classes this semester. I've read both of the textbooks already (insert nerd joke here) and I think I'm really going to like one, and really hate the second. The first is all about how to better integrate the knowledge coming out of laboratories with the day to day functions of the classroom. It discusses recent breakthroughs in neural networks, epigenetic theory, and a host of other interesting fields that may one day be useful to teachers. Hopefully, that day will come sooner than we think.

That book is entitled How People Learn.

The second class is more touchy-feely. It seems to be about how cultural differences embedded in society affect the achievement of students in the classroom. I certainly understand how this knowledge will prove useful to me as an educator, but based on the textbook, the class seems to go far beyond that. There is definitely a subtext of massaging and molding the culture via education to curb some larger social ills, and I don't think that is the primary job of schools.

But we shall see. Perhaps my opinions will change throughout the semester. For now, I have to pack my lunch in my A-Team lunchbox and head off to campus.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Promises, Promises

Look, I know you have no reason to trust me. I've made promises like this before. I'll do better, I say. I'll write more often, I swear. And for a while, I do. It's just like old times. We talk, we laugh. It's like when we first met. But eventually, things change and I'm back to my unreliable ways.

No more, I say. It's a new semester and the buck stops here. I have two education classes and I expect much debate, discussion, and reason for intellectual reflection. I vow to share every thought, every argument, every tiny detail with you.

And I'm going to start jogging as well.