What is the opposite of war?

Question: What is the opposite of war?

Answer: …?

Before you continue to read this post, and for once it’ll be rather short (comparatively, but not by much), take a few moments to answer the above question. While I will be, quickly, linking what I am saying to Freire’s work and thoughts, although I will be assuming relative familiarity with Freire’s problem-posing model and not explaining it, my set-up is going to be non-traditional. In fact, I am going to be pulling from Philip Hallie’s “From Cruelty to Goodness“. Hallie is a scholar who investigated the cruelties of the Holocaust and worked to answer the question I posed to all of us earlier. Given the recent events here at Tech against our Jewish community, it is an answer that I think salient for the critical pedagogy we are investigating this week.


When folks are asked to name what the opposite of war is, many (I include myself in this number) will initially answer “peace”. Likewise, if I had asked a question about the opposite of harm/pain, many would have initially said “relief from pain” or something of that sort.

Peace, and relief from pain, are not the opposite of war or pain; they are their absence. For Hallie, they are not sufficient for overcoming decades and, sometimes, centuries of social conditioning and structured oppression. That is a systems claim, but I see little reason for it to not apply to the classrooms level as well. As such, I would like to posit that we need to do more than remove negative elements in our classrooms. If we ever want to practice a critical pedagogy of the sort Freire posits, a pedagogy that necessitates the destruction of a power differential, we need to have something positive as opposed to neutral in our praxis.

Hospitality and Restoration

For some of the learners in our classrooms, and for some of us in class, there are live harms. There are historical and unmediated instantiations of cruelty and maimed dignity that are brought into the classroom as invisible knapsacks not of privilege, but of oppression, degradation, humiliation, and isolation. Under a neutral model, such as a peace model, these aren’t addressed and in being ignored can continue to impact the experiences of those in the classroom. We can’t, with Freire’s model, afford to ignore these past and live harms. We must address them and combat their reification in the classroom.

As facilitators in our classrooms, a positive possibility for addressing these harms is framed as hospitality. For Hallie, hospitality is “…unsentimental efficacious love” that ends cruel power relationships, and in my view transforms relationships, while seeking to heal those who have been harmed.

To contextualize this a bit more, hospitality is a response to oppression/institutionalized cruelties and these cruelties are captures by four aspects. The first is that the cruelty is substantial and maims dignity. [1] Second, that it is pervasive or total insofar as those living under the oppression cannot find respite from those assaults on their dignity. [2] The third is that it involves a power differential. [3] Last, it operates just outside of awareness and takes a constant effort to address. [4]

This persistence, resilience even, in the face of a historical banking method is necessary for instantiating a radically different pedagogy that, in many ways, is not of our own creating (more on this shortly). Our students have been impeded in a model, for the most part, that tells them over and over again that they are not capable of original thought, that they don’t have anything to offer, and that they are not worthy of our attention or deference. This is a sort of cruelty in its own way, and hospitality is a way of combating it.

In combating it, the facilitator gives deference to those whom they, for lack of a better term, serve. They ask “what do you need from me” and “how can we work together to make sure your needs are met”. I know this may seem odd, and even in liberatory thought deference and “terms” conflicts are readily contested, but I don’t see how Freire’s model can work any other way.

It is a risk, yes, and a risk that we have been systematically incentivized to not take. But what must we believe about those we work with to not be willing to cede power? What must we fear to not be willing to be vulnerable? And who benefits from our continued refusal to do these things?

Hospitality, as required by the model, does not set one person or group above the other and does not assume that one holds power over the other in the conventional sense of the term. Rather, it frames the actors as equals, as mutual laborers in a project of their creation, and stands opposed to the many paradigms of instruction that we have currently in the academy.

It helps create a possibility for the construction and production of knowledge that Freire was looking for. [5]

“Of” NOT “For”

For the critical pedagogy we are investigating, we are looking at a shift in model; we are looking at a student and learner centered model; we are looking at a pedagogy OF the oppressed.

The “of” is very important. This is not a pedagogy that is “for” the oppressed. It is not a pedagogy that is created, formed, laid out, and then applied “to” the oppressed. It is created by and on the terms of the oppressed and never otherwise. Perhaps this is why, in the introduction of his book, we find that a 16-year old boy and his “semiliterate” mother were able to understand the book and its message when the “academics” could not. The book was “of” them, not “for” the academics. [6]

In our classrooms, specifically in those spaces where we hold power granted by a system, this means a pedagogy that is ultimately only ever legitimated by the students and learners is stems from. It is not something we apply to them, though there are facilitation skills and elements of vulnerability imbedded in creating a classroom environment such that they can collaborate in the labor of making, and unmaking, the pedagogy by which they learn; a pedagogy that makes and unmakes them just as it makes and unmakes the facilitator in remarkable and, often, unimaginable ways. This is where hospitality comes into play since, without hospitality, we risk reifying historical power dynamics within the classroom or failing to account for the histories and lived experiences our students bring with them into the classroom.

Outside of that space, in the places where we no longer hold power, though for some of us those spaces are few and far between, there is an opportunity for our own pedagogy to emerge. A pedagogy which, in fact, can lead to the liberation of the oppressed and their oppressors alike. To tie this back to Hallie, hospitality restores humanity to someone else, or to a group of “other” people, but also restores the humanity of the practitioner.

For Freire, only the oppressed can liberate the oppressors. For Hallie, only the maimed can ultimately restore their maimer. For both the liberation of both is bound together.

For us in this classroom, and in our future classrooms should we answer Freire’s class, we will make it and it will make us in a continuous process of labor and relation.

It is a pedagogy of us and it is ours just so long as we are for one another.

[1] “Cruelty involves the maiming of a person’s dignity and the crushing of a person’s self-respect” (p.23)

[2] p. 24

[3] pp. 24-25

[4] “It is the viewpoint of the victim that is authoritative” (p.25) This requires that someone who has been taught how to not listen to the oppressed will have to actively work to listen to their stories.

[5] see p. 10 (by pdf page demarcation) in Pedagogy of Freedom.

[6] see pp.22-23 in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

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The Divide

Lately I have been struggling with what I view as an issue of student entitlement. Most of my students consistently fall into three categories: those who attend and participate regularly, showing a genuine interest in the subject matter (this group is much smaller than I wish it was); those who attend but remain quiet, apparently listening but probably spending a fair amount of class time surfing the web; those who never attend but turn in assignments as expected. Most of the time, I adopt the policy that my students are adults and which category they want to join is really up to them. If they choose not to attend class, they know from my syllabus that they are likely to miss information and reminders, and I expect them to accept the grade they earn as a result. Same goes for those who are there but barely pay attention. Personally, I’d rather invest my energy and enthusiasm into the students who actually want to be there and learn.

The students I struggle most with fall into a slightly different, but ultimately loud, category. These students may overlap with any of the three categories above, but they tend to be either low-attention or low-attendance students. These are students who can’t be bothered to attend office hours but bombard me with emails, inquiring about information that can easily be found on the syllabus. Those who claim to not understand why they earned a certain grade despite the fact that I provided a clear, point-by-point rubric. Those who try to get a friend to turn in assignments for them that I set up to necessitate attendance, hoping that I won’t notice I didn’t see them in class that day. Those who only show up to class to come argue with me while I am trying to set up the lecture and go on with my daily plan.

The major problem I have with these students is a lack of accountability and responsibility. They fly in the face of my decision that college students are adults and should be treated as such, and they bring up unfortunate stereotyping that my more diligent students don’t deserve. I didn’t think it was too much to expect students to write down and monitor their own deadlines, to plan ahead to make up missed work effectively, to approach me respectfully when bargaining. But these students act like I’m out to get them, chasing down and beating them with a rolled-up copy of the syllabus, gleefully punishing them at the first sign of confusion or lack of preparation. More importantly, for many of these students, they act like I haven’t helped them before, haven’t ever taken pity on them and let a deadline slide a bit. I don’t have any problem getting constructive feedback; I take issue with being criticized only when you feel slighted. Why is it always about this unspoken “pay for an A” contract, and never about learning something from the course?

I guess this is something that everyone faces, and you have to decide to either soften your course policies to make them more palatable for these students or stick to your guns in the name of teaching students how to be more responsible. My problem is that students like these make me question why I care so much in the first place. This creates a divide between my passion and excitement for teaching and their lackluster, passive reception of my work, and it makes me pull my hair out to set students up to succeed and still get the feedback that the class wasn’t “clear” enough. Why spend so much time trying to make class interesting and engaging if a number of the students won’t bother to attend anyway? Why shape my deliverables to be more application-focused if students will just complain that I ask too much of them, and it would be better if I just had three tests and nothing else like the rest of their teachers? And, in my current course, why share my knowledge of and appreciation for real-world issues in mental health if no one cares to really listen?

I know the answer is that other students do benefit from that effort. But in the end, are they the majority or minority?

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“I thought he was going to hurt someone”

In October of 2015 a cohort of 40 or so people gathered in Squires for InterCom training. During the training one scenario required a person to use a slur word of some kind during the circle to give the facilitators the opportunity to navigate ways of responding to unexpected events in the process of a facilitation.

But, there was a small hiccup. One of the participants, let’s call him J, who wasn’t a facilitator was out of the room when we disclosed who was going to be using a slur word and why. As such, he, a tall black man (these are important demographics to note), didn’t know going into the circle that another person, a white man, had been asked by the trainers to use the n-word during the circle.

The facilitators were brought back in, given their topic, and things started smoothly enough. Then, in the midst of the conversation, the white man used the n-word and a discussion quickly emerged about that word, its use, and reclamation. J reacted strongly to the use of the term and at one point said “Look, if you use that term again I’m going to have to do something”.

How would you interpret this phrase? How do you think people in the room interpreted J’s response?

While this week’s readings were concerned with adjusting, and mitigating, the impact of implicit bias, utilizing “brave” space as opposed to “safe” space discourses, and what I took to be, in one respect, an appeal to long term tangible increases in profit that can accrue when a workspace and place is diverse, I want to take us in a different direction and talk about some things the readings didn’t discuss all that explicitly. While I will come back to elements of bias, especially given the title of this post, I want to start a bit differently than I normally do.

Rather than start with a long, rather drawn out explanation of the concepts at play, here are some scenarios to ponder.



Scenario 1:
Think back to the first day of class. If you’re teaching or a TA, or have been in the past, think back to how you take roll on day one (assuming you do so). If you’re not teaching or a TA, think back to when you were a student and how your teachers/professors took roll.

Question: How do we usually take roll in a class? Are there any unnamed impacts of certain methods for taking roll/learning names in a class?


Scenario 2:
You are in class and notice two students having a conversation. One student is talking and then the other student interrupts them and says “Look, just tell me when we need to meet. I can meet at 2. When can you meet?”. The first student looks frustrated and starts talking again making the same points they made earlier to the obvious frustration of their peer.

Question: What is going on? How might the parties feel?


Scenario 3:
On a different day in class two students, Alex and Sam, are talking about something before class. Suddenly you notice Alex using a lot of hand motions and get very close to Sam. Sam takes a step back before continuing the conversation.

Question: How would you read this scenario with only the information provided? Would anything change if you knew the gender, or the race, of Alex and/or Sam?



Scenario 1: Universal Design

When I reflect on my experiences in the classroom, the way roll/attendance tends to get called in classes where the professor cares about knowing names is as follows: on day one the professor goes down the list, calls your first and last name, you say you’re here, and if you have a different name that you go by you tell the professor and they edit the roster.

Sounds normal, right? Many folks I’ve talked with in my department say that this is just the model that they have always used and seen used. But who could be harmed with this model or, sometimes, put in danger?

For trans* students, especially those students who don’t have a name change in the system, and sometimes who can’t get their name changed in the system for a myriad of reasons, the first day of class can be a bit stressful. Some students email their professors, individually, semester after semester to give them a heads up that they go by a name that’s not on the roster (or “obvious”). But, there are a few hiccups here. The first is that the that name information doesn’t always make it way onto the roster that will be called on day one and thus the bootstrapping may have been in vain. The second is that this requires the student to “out” themselves to someone they might not know yet and not everyone responds positively, or even neutrally, to trans* students in the classroom.

As such, I think that when it comes to designing our classrooms, we ought to operate with a mind towards mitigating the harms, and the need for bootstrapping, for our students. This isn’t to say that universal design can fix everything, but certain design moves can help those who need it the most and also those didn’t realize that they stand to benefit from changes to the system.

As such, here is a proposal: when we take roll, rather than call out the first and last names for the students, call out the last name only. If you’re like me, you will still mispronounce it but hey, now we only have to mispronounce the last names! After you call out the last name, have the students respond with whatever they go by. There is no need for the entire “My legal name is William but I go by Bill” hoop jumping, for trans* students if they have a name that they want to go by that’s not their “legal” name no on in the class will be the wiser, and you only have to struggle to pronounce the last names (this time). This is one example of a universal design move in the classroom that benefits more than just trans* students even if they may benefit from it more than some others.

While there is more to say about universal design, to end this section, I want to ask a question:

What are some other examples of universal design that we can use in the classroom and what are our reasons for not shifting to different models?


Scenario 2: High Context and Low Context Communicators

For me, I see this kind of interaction fairly regularly and it speaks to a difference in context communication. By this, I mean that some people are high context communicators (HC) and some people are low context communicators (LC). For folks who are HC communicators, especially in new settings, it is not uncommon for them to need to speak uninterrupted in order to feel heard and valued. If they are interrupted, or rushed by folks who are LC communicators, they may feel dismissed or unheard. In contrast, folks who are LC communicators tend to want to get to the point, can come across as blunt for HC communicators, and may also become very impatient with HC communicators.

In the classroom, or in spaces in general, we need to be aware of how differences in context communication can aid, or hinder, the interactions of folks in those spaces. Folks with different styles of communication, or with different context and cultural traditions, may interpret classroom activities, films, or discussions in different ways and respond to those things in a myriad of ways. If we were to ignore the roll that a difference in context played in those interactions, we risk ostracizing a group of learners if the classroom is set up for a certain kind of context learner to the detriment of the other types of learners in the space.

As with the last scenario, oo end this section, I want to ask a question:

When designing classrooms, how to we create and make space for multiple styles of communicators? How do we address conflicts that arise when there are differences in styles?


Scenario 3: Oral vs Print Culture

Sometimes when students interact, body language, tone of voice, mannerisms, and other indicators can be actual indicators of mood/affect. Other times they can be misinterpreted to indicate moods/affects not currently present. In the above scenario, it is not uncommon for folks to take the actions of Alex as either indicating excitement, anger, or other moods that tend to reflect what we as the observer have tended to associate certain actions with (e.g., hand motions means angry) in our own histories. As such, the purpose of this scenario was to get folks to reflect on how we as educators and facilitators may interpret language, especially bodily language, based on our own preconceptions of what anger, excitement, engagement, and the like look like with our academic training.

For, within academia we operate in what is called a “print” culture (PC). This kind of structure is such that emotions tend to be rather limited, communications for formulaic and dictated by tradition and norms within the academia, boundaries and distance (literal and metaphorical) tends to be emphasized, etc. Sound familiar?

In contrast, “oral” culture (OC) operates in a more emotional and expressive manner. The communications are focused on the relationships among the interlocutors, there isn’t really a formulaic or structured element to the conversation as opposed to flowing narrative, and boundaries and distance (again, literal and metaphorical) tend to be down played. The interlocutors connect with one another via emotions, physical closeness, etc.

When folks from a PC interact with folks from an OC, there can be tensions that we need to name. To the PC folks, the OC folks may come across as hostile or threatening due to their close proximity and use of hand motions when, for the OC folks, how they are acting and interacting is an indication of their engagement with the person and topic at hand. There are other things to name, and we can process though them later.

To end this section, I want to ask another question:

How might someone from an OC find academia? Specifically, how might someone who is a first generation college student, with an OC background, find their peers and professors and how would their perception of the climate effect their success?


When the scenario with J played out in the circle, we processed through not only what was said but also how people interpreted J’s words. For some people, and this was the case for a number of the white folks in the room, J’s words came across as a threat.  One person said, “I thought he was going to hurt someone” hence the title of this blog post.

When we asked J what he meant by his words, he said that he had meant he would leave the room. His “doing something” would be removing himself from that space.

When it comes to our classrooms and how we design them there are a few things I think we must all be conscientious of. On one hand there is the design of the space, its accessibility, the removal of needless barriers for students, etc. This can include changing how we do class rolls, for example, or even using only gender neutral/name only references for students when we don’t know their pronouns (a bit more contentious of a UD move).

On the other hand another important element is knowing ourselves. Sometimes, we might misinterpret what a student says, much like J’s colleague very much erred in their reading of his exclamation. In trying to move through those tensions both for ourselves and among the students we work with, we need to know what we’re bring to the table and what they may be bringing to the table.

While we facilitate a classroom, we should know the culture we have, our communication styles, if we are Low Power Distance or High Power Distance (something I didn’t discuss), etc..  We will be bringing our histories and biases into the classroom. Rather than be ashamed to acknowledge our tendencies and biases we can use our knowledge of them to be better facilitators across and among differences in the classroom.

The talking points for this blogpost are taken from and inspired by materials found in the VT InterCom: Dialogues for Social Change program run by Dr.Christian Matheis and the IEC here at Virginia Tech. They can be found, in much more detail, in the Human Relations Facilitation, Modes of Communication, and Responses to Conflict training packet. Additional information can be found in: Intercultural Sensitivity for the Health-Care Professional Eric H.F. Law, M.Div. with Elizabeth Snow, MA, OTR 1995

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Achieving Diversity without Doing a Disservice

Inclusive pedagogy is a comprehensive topic. To discuss it, we need to fully understand diversity issues first.

I took the course, Diversity and Inclusion for a Global Society, last semester with Dean DePauw. The course talks about diversity issues from different aspects. I learned a lot from that course, I do suggest anyone who would like to learn more about diversity and inclusion can think about taking that course.

The most important lessons I learned from the course is that we always thinking about diversity issues as big, obvious aggressions, but microaggressions in daily life are more urgent for us to realize and solve. I recommend a short video from YouTube for microaggressions, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDd3bzA7450.


The video used a metaphor that comparing microaggressions to mosquito bites to emphasize how microaggressions hurt people in daily life. Sometimes, even if people think they are so nice to say something can hurt others in different ways. Once we understand that and pay attention to details, we may think differently when we deal with inclusive pedagogy.

I am happily to learn that diversity help with creation from the assigned readings this week, and I would like to have inclusive pedagogy and even achieve diversity without doing a disservice. Why do I say this? Because when we try too hard to achieve diversity, that may lead to opposite effects. When we try to assign more diverse study groups, we may make people feel awkward since people will feel that we treat them different as “diverse people”, even if we just want to do something good for them. That will be the same when we want to include more diverse members in our course, association or department. If we do not pay attention to the way we take to achieve inclusive pedagogy, we might easily end up like those mosquitos annoy people.

What I can think of to achieve inclusive pedagogy would be to minimize stereotype threat and microaggressions when we interact with students inside the class or outside of the class. We need to learn more about diversity and inclusion before we talk to students or colleague, so we can avoid a lot of words related to stereotype threat and microaggressions.

What do you think of how we can achieve inclusive pedagogy without doing a disservice? I would like to hear more ideas.





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Plagiarism: Philosophy Edition


When teaching philosophy, especially a course on ethics, it is not uncommon for instructors to challenge their students to do what we call “argument reconstructions”. They are, as they sound, a task that asks students to figure out what the main argument of an article is, how the author supports their argument, and reconstruct it in a manner whereby a relatively intelligent 6th grader (or their roommate…) could understand what is going on.

A challenge with doing this however is that many of the pieces that we use in class are used across the country and sometimes across the globe. In some instances, there are people and even instructors who have posted notes, outlines, and essays on the very articles we are using in class. With this in mind, it is not uncommon for students to “stumble” across (i.e., google) these resources in the course of writing their essays. It is sadly not uncommon for first year philosophy students to take the main points from their essays from these sites as well.

When they *do* take their ideas, talking points, and (rarely) complete paragraphs from these sites, the TAs and the instructor are faced with a choice to report the student to the student conduct board or to do something else. Here, I challenge us to think about how we can address problems of cheating using restorative practices and in the process refuse ethically to use a system that stands as a retributive model of justice.



RJ/RP are models of addressing harms to persons and communities that stand opposed to retributive models. These models are such that the parties and communities involved are called into conversation with one another, the party that caused the harm is asked to name what their impact was on their community and on themselves, they are asked to name what they can do to repair the harm done, and ultimately instead of being ostracized from a community for breaking an expectation, or policy, they are welcomed back into the community.

Retributive models, in contrast, take a “exclude from the island” approach whereby a person does something wrong, the infraction is taken to be a reflection of their character as a person, and they are “kicked off the island” so to speak in the belief that all a community needs is to exclude the “bad” people who are harmful to the community. I don’t like this model for many reasons (including the obvious one that eventually almost everyone will have been kicked off the island for one reason or another) as I believe that we ought to separate actions from persons and call people into an opportunity to make the changes, and choices, that will benefit them in their time within a given community.



Every semester for Morality and Justice we have had somewhere between a quarter and a third of our students plagiarize their papers. By “plagiarize” I am not including the folks who simply don’t include citations though we have conversations with them as well. Rather, these are students who saw something on the internet, thought it looked right, and did a type of copy-pasta job for their essay.

When this happens, we start the class with a blunt statement: x% of people plagiarized their papers. We know who they are. We know the websites people used or looked at. We are willing to be lenient this time. In saying this, we leave it up to the students who feel that they may have plagiarized to meet with their TA, on their own time, within the week or they will be reported.

The response to this is, as expected, panic. Students who didn’t plagiarize will come to the office panicked that they accidentally got flagged (sometimes they got the argument so wrong that their papers do get flagged). Students who didn’t cite profess sincere regret for their oversight and laziness. Students who know what they did, and that they did something that may not have been okay, tend to send matter of fact emails asking to meet.

Across the board, one by one, they make their way to the TA’s office during the coming days. In this case, to my office.

When I speak with these students there are a few common things that come up. First, when I ask them to describe their English courses in high school rarely do proper citations and formatting make their way to the forefront of their account. This is not to say they didn’t “learn” about citations in High School (though having been in average English classes for a few years in High School I can attest to the deplorable presentation of such things at least some of the time). At the least, it wasn’t memorable. Second, when I ask them to describe plagiarism most tend to figure out that copy and pasting things word for word is bad (but there are cultural differences at play here sometimes that shouldn’t be ignored). Fewer know how many words in a row it takes to count as plagiarism, that citing incorrectly can count, etc.

Now, when I name this dynamic it is common for folks to say: “Well yes, Lindsay, that’s what they say but aren’t they just lying to stay out of trouble?”. To this I don’t have much sympathy as I think it explains away the systemic and systematic shortcomings of a system that is supposed to serve and aid our students in knowing how to write. More to the point, I tell the students in my office from the start that they aren’t being turned in since I want a conversation and to know both what they know, what they don’t know, and how we can move forward together to make sure they have the skills they need to be successful in their time here at VT.

The students who knowingly plagiarize tell me they messed up, were short on time, that they just didn’t get the piece, etc. As such, I am more inclined to believe the ones that profess ignorance since the ones who aren’t ignorant are situated such that they can tell the truth without censure. Could some lie? Yes. But that’s on them. But I digress.

For both the knowingly plagiaristic and the ignorant, I have a sit down conversation where we go over what plagiarism is, what it looks like, the formal university policy, what the sanctions could have been, and what they will be if the student doesn’t start practicing sound writing practices.



After the initial terror, crying, and self-flagellation, my students don’t plagiarize the rest of the semester. Or, if they do, they do it in a way that neither myself or any of the other TAs notice. While this latter possibility may be of concern for some folks, to me I already know I’ll have students from the beginning who plagiarize and who we don’t catch or notice. I can’t control their choice, but I am unwilling to let the possibility of adding a few more nay-sayers to the pile dissuade a model of intervention that avoids the pitfalls of retributive models. I’ll say more to this in a moment.

In addition to the lack of (obvious) plagiarism, the calling-in model serves also to open lines of communication among myself and the students I facilitate. For some, sitting down in my office for a discussion of plagiarism is the first time they’ve been to my office. It is rarely the last though since, in having their foot in the door, those students are more likely to come to office hours, to check-in with me about their future assignments in addition to being exceedingly careful in their citations for future essays, etc. As such, this calling-in model achieves more than a mere avoidance of plagiarism. It builds connections and community.



I am not saying here that I never send students to the board. I have and do if they plagiarize a second time, if they plagiarized another student’s work, or if they refuse to meet with me to talk about the problem. I use it as a last resort though. Why? Because of the model of the board.

Currently, for students who go in front of the board there are a few options. They can admit that they plagiarized and accept the recommended penalty, they can admit that they plagiarized but say that they deserve a less penalty (in which case there will be a hearing but the panel can decide a more sever penalty if they feel it is warranted I think), or they can deny plagiarism. If they deny it, and are found guilty, they get an F* even if that is not the sanction recommended by the instructor or TA.

This last point if why I am hesitant to use this system. To me, it seems that ethically we shouldn’t have a system that encourages even the wrongfully accused to admit guilt in the off chance that they would be found guilty and more severely punished. I am an ethicist and, to me, we are obligated to build community, connections, understanding, and a process whereby actions that harm the community are addressed, relationships are repaired, and at the end of the day there is at least the initial opportunity to make the necessary changes on one’s own accord.

This is not a model favored or encouraged within many systems, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a model we ought to be using instead of the current one.

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Psychology, Research, and Ethics

For my blog post this week, I looked at the case of David Anderson. ORI found that David had tampered with the data shown in figures in several published papers. Specifically, he removed outliers or replaced them with mean values in order to make his results match up with his hypotheses. It appears that he did this in 4 papers over the course of 2-3 years. His work was done while he was a graduate student in Oregon and being supported by two R01 grants from NIH and NIMH. As punishment, David’s work has to be supervised, he has to certify the legitimacy of any future work, he must retract his published papers containing the fabricated figures, and he cannot serve in an advisory capacity (e.g., reviewing articles). This punishment began in June 2015 and will remain in place until June of next year.

Upon consulting the American Psychological Association ethics code, I see that David’s violation is addressed in two different places, Section 5.01 (“Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements”) and 8.10 (“Reporting Research Results”). The code is clear that psychologists (and psychology students, like David) are not to fabricate data in any way, and that they are to retract publications that they discover contain “significant errors” as soon as they realize the mistake. The code also clearly states that psychologists may not make “false, deceptive, or fraudulent” statements concerning their research or its results. In my program, we have an entire course on ethics and are expected to review the code in its entirety at several points (e.g., beginning practicum). I also reviewed the code and discussed it as an undergraduate psychology major. So, if David’s education was anything like mine, he really had no excuse for his unethical behavior!

I did think it was interesting that David’s was the only psychology-related violation I could find in the list of ORI case summaries. I wonder if perhaps it is more difficult or complicated to try to replicate our data, as opposed to data from the natural or biomedical sciences, because of the complexities of psychological variables and individual differences. Alternatively, perhaps there is more oversight before the publication stage is reached, such that fabrications and other types of ethical misconduct are caught by supervisors and committee members in earlier stages of the process.

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The Cost of Tenure

I spent some time this week thinking about tenure, which we discussed in detail in class this week. Since my focus is on teaching and clinical work, as opposed to research, I don’t know if I will ever be in the position to go up for tenure. However, I decided to do some research about the pros and cons of tenure, just to get a better sense of why it is so important, supposing that everyone in higher education is supposed to have the right to academic freedom.

What I came across was a really interesting and poignant speech, “The Great Shame of Our Profession,” delivered by Kevin Birmingham upon winning the Truman Capote award for one of his books. Birmingham, the first adjunct instructor to receive the award, used this platform to discuss the difficult relationship between tenured and non-tenured faculty. He talked about how adjuncting is a precarious lifestyle, one that makes planning long-term risky and difficult, and yet many universities depend on adjuncts to do the majority of their teaching. This is no coincidence: students have most of their contact with adjuncts so that tenured faculty can devote more time to their research. Graduate students and postdocs carefully tailor their projects and experiences in an effort to secure one of those precious tenure-track jobs, and if they don’t obtain it, they sometimes feel that their years of training were wasted.

This speech was very powerful and it struck me after reading it that the author is describing sacrifices at multiple levels. It’s disappointing and a bit ironic that others have to sacrifice academic (and other) freedoms in order to support the tenure-track system, and even more so that graduate students seemingly have to choose between true academic freedom (like pursuing an outside interest or investigating a controversial question) and the kind of path that is most likely to lead to a tenure-track seat. No wonder my image of a tenure-track professor is that of a tired old man who wants to do the least amount of work possible — anyone would be exhausted after that uphill battle. Moreover, who would want to take the risk and spend the energy to try to change the system once you’re at the top?

So many people suffer at the hands of the tenure-track system, and yet it seems like blasphemy to think about getting rid of it. Is tenure necessary to operationalize academic freedom? Or would higher education be better off without it?

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Three “Wow”s about Finding My Teaching Voice

When I tried to discover my authentic teaching self, I went through three “wow” moments.

Wow, panic is a common thing. That was the first feeling I went through when I was discovering my teaching voice. When I started to try to picture myself teaching, and search for a suitable and strong teaching image, I felt so embarrassed and panic that I couldn’t really see one, which got me into an even worse situation. I kept this secret to myself at first, I tried to think over and over again, and I still didn’t get an answer or come up with a good model. Then I finally decided to open up to people around me about this, I found I was not the one wondering about their teaching image. Just like if you get a new pair of glasses, you start to pay attention to glasses on the road. Suddenly, I saw the same problem everyway, even in the TV shows. In How I Met Your Mother, the main character Ted Mosby got hired to be a professor at university, he went through a change from an architect to a professor of architecture. He was so panic that he even forgot if there was one or two “F” s in the word professor when he would like to write down his self-introduction.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/courtnysauer/how-i-met-your-mother/

Wow, role model is important. That was the second feeling I found out about the searching journey. When I tried to anchor myself, I started to think about all the great professors I had courses with before, their teaching voice, their personality, their ways to connect with students. At one level, I noticed that I always talked about the professors’ teaching style with my friends, and always assumed that if I was teaching, I would like to be like them or make improvements. I heard so many other students talk like that too. For example, when I posted about pink time inspired by Dan Pink, I noticed that some comments said that they would like to try so. That is an important kind of imitating and learning, just like the basic one human species did million years ago. At another level, I felt that my teaching voice at this point is still adjusting, so it is always changed according to different professors’ influences. Role model is important to this standard since our teaching, like our lives, are influenced by different people we run into, different incidents happen, different path we choose every day.

Wow, acting can’t last long in teaching. That was the third thing I realized along the searching way. Going back to Ted Mosby, he set himself up as a teaching image too far away from his own personality, all the weird and awkward acting only leaded to those moments made him lose sight of who he was for a second. I felt the same, if we want to follow up a teaching role model that is too different from our true self, acting can’t last long.

Source: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/15-relationship-lessons-that-ted-mosby-taught.html

Thus, my teaching style and approach so far are as followings. First, I accept myself as a learner when it comes to teach, so I would not be too panic once I feel I am still searching for my style. I would be always trying new activities and approaches to get the feedback from students and adjust more. Second, I gain new knowledge and new teaching images from my professors every day, I always associate their teaching with their personality to see how they fit themselves into teaching, and discover how different people teach differently. Third, I try to keep the true me when I teach, since I recognize myself as kind, energetic, genuine, creative, but I also like to live up to perfection. So I would teach in an energetic and genuine style, filling with creative activities. I would lay down detailed rules about the class and the assignments, and grade students in a strict way focusing on their learning process and learning effort.

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I Have Two Voices: One Is silent

“This is my voice, there are many like it, but this one is mine.”                   –Shane Koyczan, “This is my Voice

Allow me to complicate things for this week’s topic:
I have two voices. One of them is silent.
Yet, both are part of my authentic teaching voice.

The Non-Silent Voice

(Like I said, the non-silent voice)

When I walk into a classroom on the first day, usually into a philosophy class, I give a brief bio about myself and then jump straight into one of the most important parts of that class: community building and context setting. By context setting I mean being honest and transparent about the often unsaid and left out things.

For the unsaid (but sometimes implied):

  • We as a class will be creating and making this classroom together
  • We are responsible and accountable to one another
  • My students are the core while I am a facilitator of their narrative and
    exploration into the topic
  • I am more concerned with them learning to be honest with themselves about what they believe, and why, than with their actual views
  • I will invite them to engage in difficult conversations and to lean into the discomfort of challenging discussions, with the hope that they will eventually trust that the conversation will take us all to deeper levels of understanding both about the topic at hand and, more importantly, about ourselves as interlocutors

For the left out (and rarely implied):

  • We should be mindful of accessibility/We will remake the space as needed to make it more accessible
  • We will discuss things they never learned or were intentionally not taught in school (null curriculum)
  • They are welcome to be their authentic selves in the class; they don’t have to hide their beliefs or say what seems “mainstream”
  • I am more concerned that they leave with transferable skills than knowing the minute details of the philosophers we discuss
  • I am human, have opinions on these topics and I won’t reveal any of mine until the end of the course.

To this latter point, I tack on the truthful disclaimer that I will at times motivate and defend views I do think are false because they are the topic of the week and it is my responsibility as a facilitator to give them an accurate lay of the land to explore. That last part usually gets left out.

Next we do introductions. We take time, careful time, filling out note cards and an intake form that give background information that I want to know such as:

  • major
  • past history in philosophy
  • current beliefs (so I can flag the tensions that will pop up sections to section and so that they can reflect on what they believe at the end of the semester)
  • things they’re actually interested in so I can work in topics/recommend readings
  • “preferred” pronouns if they should have any

I also ask them to draw me a picture on the note card as well but I don’t tell them why until the end of the semester. Pictures and non-traditional methods of concept presentation/acquisition happen a lot in my sections. Finally, we go around the room and share one embarrassing thing that happened to us to establish lines of common, yet different, experiences (lots of people falling down stairs, I share falling down a hill into my first field hockey collegiate game) and we start talking about the reading.

In a normal class session we do processing to work through anything that folks aren’t quite sure about from the week’s readings, we do a peer led discussion where 2-3 students lead a discussion/activity on a given topic for their colleague, we unpack the activity, do another small group conversation, and end with a participation page where they can ask me questions/reflect on what they are thinking about. This is also where the introverts can participate in a more introvert friendly space.

So far everything I’ve named has been the (usually) audible, present voice I bring into the classroom. It is with this voice I try to nurture, not tolerate or merely accept or support, the voices, opinions and thoughts of the students I work with. It is with this voice I try to support them when they say they “just can’t get it” and challenge them to formulate the argument on behalf of their opposition when they get to haughty.

My teaching self tries to be both high in support and high in what is called “control” in Restorative Practices models but more accurately translates to “challenge”. I try to challenge all my students to improve even when they struggle and to reach out to one another as colleagues in a mutual labor of learning difficult concepts. They each receive feedback on their work and at the end of the semester they get an “improvement” based grade in addition to the university required letter grade since when I said I care about improvement, I meant it.

I try to foster a classroom environment where they are accountable to one another, not merely to me, and an environment where ultimately I would be irreverent. One in which unpopular opinions can be shared openly, honestly, and where we can have a philosophical discussion about the tensions among views without the need for facilitator oversight.

All of this (I hope) sounds pretty decent, right?

What then is the voice that is missing?


The Silent Voice

In the classroom an intentional style, and approach, I take given that it is philosophy is to tell my students almost nothing about my background. I tell them a little bit, like the main areas I work in so that they know I may give more feedback than normal if I know the literature; I flag that I’m a diversity trainer for the university (and that they may run into me outside of class); and give a bit of history (reslife, old majors) with the end note of “I know that unforeseen things will happen in your lives; just keep me in the loop when, and if, you need some sort of accessibility move to balance life’s challenges”. Like I said, high in support and challenge.

But what I don’t reveal is also of import when it comes to my authentic teaching self:

  • I don’t tell them that I’m a moral realist, intuitionist, and deontologist.
  • I don’t tell them that I’m a conditional vegetarian who thinks I should be a vegan.
  • I don’t tell them that I think killing is self-defense may not always be morally permissible (a very unpopular view).

I don’t tell them a myriad of other philosophical views that I, reasonably, think I am probably wrong about at the end of the day.

And outside of philosophical views, I intentionally don’t tell them I’m trans.

In philosophy we have a major problem with bias both in the discipline and about the discipline and, historically, this bias impacts facilitators and students.

On their end, if students know that I believe x they are more likely to focus on either a) catering to my beliefs or b) take any criticism of how they formulate an argument to be only due to the fact that I think a different view is more plausible. There is also a tendency to link identities with beliefs and that’s one of the reasons I don’t say anything; why I don’t “correct” for pronouns and have a mixture of “ma’am/she” and “sir/he” floating around the classroom (and email) everyday. The trans*/minoritized identity=liberal=this belief about x is too pernicious to avoid it any other way. That and the fear of being perceived as “forcing my views onto someone’s child” for merely existing is a conversation I’d rather avoid.

While for some folks reading this, it may not make sense to have to hide, obscure, or simply leave out identities, not everyone can do that. There isn’t usually a lot of risk when someone who is in a different gender relationship/partnership mentions that they have wife/husband, for example. There can be tangible risks if you’re in a same gender relationship, a poly relationship, unmarried with a child, queer, etc.

As I said, I wanted to complicate things this week and this is the complication. Depending on your identities, or more accurately the identities that people perceive of you, this “authentic” self sometimes has to be policed by the very person it is supposed to represent.

We can’t talk about our authentic teaching selves without naming the things that we must leave unsaid.

Bridging the Gap

With my audible voice I “use” this silent voice at the very end of the semester to do a consciousness raising activity in what I think constitutes a type of ethical manipulation. Specifically, I use my silence as a tool to get students to reflect on what implicit bias means for them and their communities. During this class we talk about implicit bias, they do iceburg activities with one another naming the identities and histories they assume about their partner, and then they guess things about me. I don’t answer their guesses just as I haven’t answered their guesses during the other weeks.

In leaving a space of intentional uncertainty, my students get to see that not everyone makes the same assumptions about me, and I leave them with the question of which guesses were right, which guesses were wrong, and an invitation to consider what it would have meant if I walked into a space where folks were making multiple, conflicting assumptions. I end by asking them to take with them the question of what assumptions folks make about them and how those assumptions continue to shape their paths in the years to come.

My silent voice ultimately is not the one I speak with, not the one that shows up to facilitate philosophical conversations with students thrice a week beyond being present in absence.

In being silent, and silenced, this part of my authentic self gets used to at least raise consciousness and make a philosophical point that is memorable, transferable, and, just sometimes, world shattering.

It may be silent, but it shapes my approach to teaching as much as if not more than my non-silent voice.


And You?

When we speak about our teaching voices, the kinds of facilitators we are or are working on becoming in the classroom and lab, our approaches, techniques, strengths, oddities, I don’t think we can leave out the fact that some of us, if not all of us, must have dual voices.

Not all of us can be our authentic selves in every classroom without monitoring the plurality of voices that we have; each authentic, real, and felt in a different way.

I have two voices and one of them is silent.

What about you?


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