VT-GrATE: Teach-In

Two weeks ago or so I was fortunate enough to give a presentation on the Null Curriculum of Sex and Gender in the Sciences. During my part of the session we processed through what we were historically taught about sex (namely that there are two), gender (also that there are two and that it should correlate with biological sex), and all the things we weren’t taught. What haven’t we been taught?

Well, we usually weren’t taught that:

  • there are at least 6 sexes
  • the Eurocentric and Western of gender has been and always will be in flux
  • Intersex folks call into question the consistency of our correlation of gender and sex
  • Intersex “conditions” are extremely common.
  • 1/1600 people do not have XX or XY chromosome configurations.
  • 1/200-1/2000 people have an intersex condition to include physical “abnormalities”

All of these scientific, historical, and biological facts constitute the null curriculum. The Null Curriculum is the idea that: Facts/information deliberately or unintentionally omitted from formal education and informal social norms can have as much, if not more, influence on our relationships and actions as the facts and information deliberately included. (Matheis)

If it is right, then in not learning about these notions the policies and practices we enact even at institutions of higher education may reflect a false science and have a negative impact on folks who live and learn here at the university. Yet, who was attending the teach-in?

Not the people who are in-charge of creating and amending policies. If they aren’t going to attend things that, quite obviously they need to hear, then what needs to be done to pull them into conversation about the impact of the null curriculum on our practices and policy?

 

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Higher Ed: How Do We Educate? The Wrong Way.

If I could change one thing right now in Higher Education, it would be our educational model. Specifically, I think we absolutely need to, and must, move away from the banking model of education that tends to be the default throughout many of our disciplines.

In this model there are the folks with the knowledge and those without. The “haves” present the material to the “have-nots” and in doing so allow them to acquire something that they were lacking; this is obviously a deficit model.

However, in addition to being a deficit model it is also a one way street. The banking model is not reciprocal; it is students sitting in class viewing slide after slide being the receivers of information but never the givers. It is the professor being a sage on a stage as opposed to a guide on the side for the conversations. It is asking students to memorize formulas, facts, figures, and dates all so they can pass a test, entry exam, or do well enough on the SATs to get into the college they want to go to or, internationally, so they can get into a better secondary school.

To me, higher education that focuses on the banking model is more or less restricting the future of discovery, innovation, and learning for all involved. We can’t innovate if we are only taught to think one way; we can’t imagine if we’re too busy learning how to shove the imagination into a box in order to focus on the things that are real and testable. Yet some of our greatest achievements have happened from those who imagined and thought differently (or were on drugs…but I’m in favor of the non-drug induced imagination for various reasons).

As such, I think our educational system needs to change and radically so. One way is as follows:

  • First, let’s get rid of “instructors” and replace them with facilitators whose are trained to work with and guide students in the process of investigating various problems, questions, or issues. In fact, let’s fire around 80% of the current educators.
  • Second, let’s shift away from the individualistic tendencies that we have right now in both learning and teaching. Let us have the majority of work be done as group work (of course, if folks need to do it independently that’s okay too!) and when it comes to soliciting feedback peers are responsible for giving feedback to one another about not only their participation in the process but also the outcomes of the process.
  • There will still be feedback from the facilitators for both the groups and the individuals in the groups.
  • If we need to evaluate progress, let’s do it. collaboratively. Let us make it a conversation among the facilitators and students using continuously revised goals, and hopes, that the student proposed to guide their own improvement.
  • And my most radical proposal that I am blatantly borrowing from something said by Naomi Zach: let’s redo the way a school day works. For example, in non-secondary education the day should include portions in which older students are responsible for facilitating groups of younger students and in which students of like ages/peer groups are responsible for facilitating conversations and lessons with one another. At levels of higher education, this could be instantiated by requiring and expecting that older students participate in the facilitation of younger students, mentor them, work with them, even as they work with one another and from those whom are older than they are.

Ultimately let us make the system of education in higher education more than even a two way street–it should be a web where all can learn, all can grow, and all are welcome to share their thoughts, experiences, and expertise in the project of learning with and from one another.

 

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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The open access journal I’ve chosen to look at is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). Although I wasn’t sure if it would count as an open access journal per se, after reading through the site it seems to qualify even if it has a slightly different model than most.

The SEP is published, or rather maintained, out of Stanford University via the Center for the Study of Language and Information. The goal of the SEP is to not only have an open access platform that is available to the public, and philosophers, about a wide variety of topics from various areas within philosophy, but also to make sure that the articles are cyclically revised, revisited, and kept up-to-date by experts in the field as the discipline continues to grow and make new discoveries in the various areas.

On it’s “about me” site, the SEP explicitly names that it ascribes to an open access model and that, in approaching this model, it has taken steps to ensure that access is universal (assuming you have an internet connection and the site isn’t blocked by a filter). These steps include having mirrors of the site on the servers of other institutions around the globe. This allows for folks to have faster access to the site, on the one hand, but also avoids the pitfall of maintenance outages. Relative to the movement, I think that the SEP sees itself as doing something that is revolutionary in the sense that, pace other open access journals, it doesn’t simply settle for once off publications.  While most journals simply publish, the SEP publishes but also demands constant revision as progress is made. As a peer reviewed entity, the SEP also instantiates a level of communal labor and accountability for the material that is being produced.

To me, this is more akin to what I would like to see journals be like in the future. On the one hand, everything is free and accessible (and citations are all included to help folks working on their own projects). On the other hand, it is not assumed that the publications and entries are finished projects. Rather they are continuous projects that can withstand the lifespan of the original author(s) and as such are adding to a communal entry on any given subject. Too often I think we consider our publications to be mere representations of our own ability and shininess and I wonder what would change if we saw them more explicitly as part of a communal labor of which we are but a part.

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MOOCs: Some Attendance Required

 

While I am in favor of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), I also think that for all the positivity there is a way in which we tend to gloss over some of the sticking points for the approach and the negative impacts privileging the digital over the actual can have on faculty at a given institution.

As the beginning of a talking point, consider the above infographic. Consider what the percentages of students enrolled who do not finish mean, or don’t mean. And now think about what would happen to an in-person course that had 64%-98% of the class drop out or not finish the course.

While it is fabulous to be able to reach people who otherwise cannot be reached, there is a risk that this approach will and has been used to reduce the number faculty at a given institution. In 2013, for example, this conversation was being held out in California as concerns the replacement of in person courses with the online “equivalents”. However, one of the things I think crucial to this conversation goes beyond accessibility of courses to the rigor and presentation of the courses. If you have 100k+ students in the course, how are they supposed to learn to write? How are they supposed to get actual, individualized feedback that is intended to bolster their progress in a given field? Even while the courses, such as in the article I linked to earlier, would be intro level courses, is that not where we are trying to lay the foundation for as concerns future scholars, academics, and practitioners in the given fields?

I want to acknowledge that these hiccups were probably not intended by the folks who came up with the MOOC idea. In fact, this article from the WSJ with Daphne Koller co-founder of Coursera indicates that they see it (sometimes) as being something in addition to traditional classes and coursework. But what matters more: intent or impact?

To bring this back to the infographic at the beginning, I think that in someways it can be used to support my thesis but I also think it is misleading. To me, MOOCs allow folks who are interested in a subject to dabble in it without fear of failing a course or having to invest a lot of money. They also allow folks who have the limitations to experience a subject in a way that, otherwise, they may never get to do traditionally or due to their location, job, ability, or financial constraints. For these folks, and even those in “traditional” programs MOOCs can be a benefit, but I share the concerns others have about them being used to supplant, as opposed to supplement, in-person and small class size courses.

Of course, I also fully support people taking MOOCs in philosophy so here is a link to a list of them: https://www.edx.org/course/subject/philosophy-ethics

 

 

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I Need More Ice Cream for This

It was not in Raj Lyubov’s nature to think. Character and training disposed him not to interfere in other mens’s business. His job was to find out what they did, and his inclination was to let them go on doing it. He preferred to be enlightened, rather than to enlighten; to seek facts rather than the Truth. But even the most unmissionary soul, unless he pretend he has no emotions, is sometimes faced with a choice between commission and omission. “What are they doing?” abruptly becomes, “What are we doing?” and then, “What must I do?”
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (2010, p. 124)

When I started reading the selections for this week the above quote from one of Ursula Le Guin’s books came to mind and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s went into my hand. In higher education, in our graduate school careers, in the courses we teach, and with the students we work with the question remains: what are we doing?

MeIRL

What are we doing when students from historically marginalized populations continuously take the third shift of educating their peers, and us, about what it is like to be at an institution that was never meant for them?

What are we doing when we make students jump through hoops of paperwork for “accommodations” that may not actually fit their needs out of fear that someone, somewhere would abuse our generosity if we simply took students at their word?

What are we doing when our peers and colleagues say they suffer in ways we could never understand, that they’re tired, that they have to be on their “best behavior” to avoid validating stereotypes and that they feel tokenized when the only time their voices matter is if they are needed for a photo-op for the upcoming recruitment brochure or for a video highlighting the diversity at a given institution?

What are we doing in these situations? Sometimes this

When I read this weeks readings I felt/feel: angry+sad+irritated+ tired…

All these birds at once…

I feel like I need to go grab another three pints of Ben and Jerry’s even though I know I’m probably at least partially lactose intolerant and that I should be a vegan.

Me.Every.Night.

I feel all these things and this is what is missing from most of the classes I’m in and from a number of the conversations I have with folks outside of my friend circle: emotion and affect.

Palmer’s essay was about this notion and long before Palmer people such Audre Lorde pointed to the uses of emotion and affect, in Lorde’s case The Uses of Anger. In fact, most of his essay read like the work of numerous liberation scholars including liberation theologians and those historically invested in black liberation. While what I say next is in keeping with what Palmer says, it’s from the space of the liberation scholars who did the labor before us all and are no longer around to see their labor bloom into a new movement and conversation.

Contrary to the commonly espoused belief, emotions can serve in a clarificatory capacity for some people at least some of the time. Which  people? Well, probably the folks who historically have had robust reasons to be irritated with the current state of affairs and higher education.

How does this semi-diatribe relate to being a “new professional” and connecting the dots? It’s an invitation to reflect on the final question: What must we do?

How do we make space for emotion and affect to be in our classrooms where our students can be their full, authentic selves even in the midst of deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversations?
How do we relate to those who question the system when historically and systematically we are given disincentives and incentives to the contrary to censure, ostracize, and disassociate from the “revolutionaries”?
How can we be our authentic selves while we are here?

How can we do these things? By being revolutionaries which is what Palmer is gesturing at even if they never use the word and say they aren’t calling for an uprising.

What would that look like? I don’t know, but I suspect that the answer relies on building capacity and a network of colleagues who can share the labor, work together, and change a system to be in the service of those it is charged to serve-to place the system into the obediential service of students and faculty/staff alike.

What might it require? Being for and with one another even in battles that are not our own.

Being for and with our students in the project and labor of inviting them to be critical of themselves, the programs they are in, the lessons they learn, and of the institutions they attend.

 

It requires solidarity (tapputu in Akkadian), emotion, labor, and hope–but what these look like are things we will have to figure out in the process of relating to one another and figuring out our revolution.

“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or, it is nowhere.”
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974, p.301)

 

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Connecting Dots in the Big Picture

This week’s reading and videos make me think of the meaning of school and education. After we talked about so much about different styles, different thinking ways, different ideas of teaching in this pedagogy class, I feel I learned a lot before this week’s talk hits me. I suddenly realize that I am too into all the details and forget about the whole picture. The whole picture about why do we teach, why are we so passionate about education, why are we so into different aspects of pedagogy. The answer is about the future. We want to change the future of the world through education. This is the mindset we always want to have when we pick up the details about teaching and connecting them together.

Picture Source: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/how-to-unleash-your-creativity

There is another fundamental thing we need to figure out here. What kind of results do we expect from our teaching? Before we start to plan a course and put the pedagogy we learned in this course, we need to think about the learning outcomes we expect. For teaching landscape architecture, I expect to help my students gain more creativity. “Creativity” starts to sound old, since we seem to talk about it a lot. However, as future designers, my students are expected to create the landscape for an empty land. They are expected to solve the design problems in creative ways. I don’t expect them to remember all the knowledge we talk in class, but I do expect them to change their thinking ways and offer more possibilities for the future clients and the future world. Creativity will always be my ultimate goal when I set up a course and think about pedagogy.

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Connecting Dots in the Big Picture

This week’s reading and videos make me think of the meaning of school and education. After we talked about so much about different styles, different thinking ways, different ideas of teaching in this pedagogy class, I feel I learned a lot before this week’s talk hits me. I suddenly realize that I am too into all the details and forget about the whole picture. The whole picture about why do we teach, why are we so passionate about education, why are we so into different aspects of pedagogy. The answer is about the future. We want to change the future of the world through education. This is the mindset we always want to have when we pick up the details about teaching and connecting them together.

Picture Source: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/how-to-unleash-your-creativity

There is another fundamental thing we need to figure out here. What kind of results do we expect from our teaching? Before we start to plan a course and put the pedagogy we learned in this course, we need to think about the learning outcomes we expect. For teaching landscape architecture, I expect to help my students gain more creativity. “Creativity” starts to sound old, since we seem to talk about it a lot. However, as future designers, my students are expected to create the landscape for an empty land. They are expected to solve the design problems in creative ways. I don’t expect them to remember all the knowledge we talk in class, but I do expect them to change their thinking ways and offer more possibilities for the future clients and the future world. Creativity will always be my ultimate goal when I set up a course and think about pedagogy.

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What Counts as Inclusion?

How far do you have to go to pee? Take a few minutes to think about it and then think about how far you’d have to go if the closest restroom was closed.

For many people on this campus, the answer to the first question is “right down the hallway” though for some folks the answer may be “on the next floor”. For the second question, a number of folks may answer “on the next floor” and, maybe, a few would say “the next building”.

Would that answer change if you were disabled? Would it change if you had a small child you had to take care of? Would it change if you were trans or gender non-conforming?

When it comes to structuring our institutions, things as seemingly small as bathrooms can have a significant affect on the way that folks structure their day-to-day activities and how successful they are able to be during their time at an institution. As a case example, take the Squires student center here at Virginia Tech. If you were a trans person and couldn’t use the public, multi-stall bathrooms without threat of violence where could you go to use the bathroom? In this instance, you would have to go over to the GLC and hope that the door to the bathroom was unlocked (though that may be now fixed) or over to the library to use one of the single occupancy bathrooms. To further this point, how far would a trans person have to walk from, say, Goodwin Hall to find a bathroom they can use? The answer is around 10 minutes.

When students on campus have back-to-back classes and are trans, or disabled, or a combination of this an other identities or needs (people with shy bladders for example) it is necessary to know where the bathrooms are that you can use, know whether or not you’ll be able to drink liquids during a set time or have to risk dehydration, and make other concessions that other folks may never have to consider. When there are campus build projects that insert new obstacles or shift accessible routes, this complicates the structuring that a number of students have to do with their day-to-day activities.

This is a not a phenomenon that is limited to Virginia Tech—it is a global conversation at many institutions and a conversation that is pushing folks to rethink what counts as inclusion. Here at Virginia Tech, for example, it’s not the case that single occupancy bathrooms are available. They are in certain buildings, on certain floors, and in varying levels of ADA compliance. However, they may not be accessible—they may be behind locked doors, too far away, up a staircase, or require a faculty access card.

What then does inclusion mean for institutions? In one sense, it may mean that things are available. In other sense it may mean that things are accessible. But even that may miss the mark: having accessible facilities may be necessary for inclusion but it isn’t sufficient. Rather, what would it look like if by inclusion we were indicating an institution where folks could flourish, be nurtured, and feel that they belong? What would it feel like for students? What would change and what would have to be changed to reach this model?

I don’t have these answers but I do have a challenge—the next time you’re trying to use the bathroom think about how things would be different if you were disabled, had a child, or were trans. One day, try to only use bathrooms that are accessible for disabled folks both by ADA standards and able to be accessed via routes that are accessible. This won’t show you what it is like everyday to be a person with those identities, but it might raise awareness about the limitations in the system and why structural changes are necessary when striving for inclusion.

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Reflections on Admission

When it comes to admissions, philosophy has a bit of a problem. By this, I mean that in hiring we have a tendency to hire white men and to not even have a single woman as a final candidate. How does hiring relate to admissions? Quite a lot.

In the first place the same tendencies that crop up in hiring appear when we try to admit people into our programs. Even though professors are aware of the tendency of our discipline to admit certain demographics (i.e., usually straight, white, and cisgender) we continue to fail in many instances to admit diverse groups of students. In the second place, the students who are willing to come into a space may need a space where there are people like them in positions of power and authority or where such representation would be contribute to a better dynamic of support and conversations about how to navigate the discipline as a member of x identity. I don’t want to be read as saying “all people with x identity will need/want to work with a faculty member of x identity”. What I am saying is that the representation may still matter, even implicitly, and that the option of having a conversation with someone who may, plausibly, know some of the struggle you may face is an important one.

What is done to address this? In some spaces, departments intentionally furnish offers to 50% men and 50% women at least initially. When hiring, some departments will make sure that women are the final candidates. But that seems to be the few instances of intentional and carried out initiatives for inclusion.

I don’t know what the department here does, and I shouldn’t be read as making any claims about how they do admissions since I don’t know! But overall the discipline has a problem. Some institutions admit based on area, some institutions may furnish funded and unfunded offers and by chance none of the funded offers went to women even though technically offers were furnished to women, some may have a tendency towards admitting people who did undergraduate at Ivy institutions.

Is there a way to fix this? Is it the same for other disciplines? I don’t know. But I don’t think anyone benefits from ignoring the problems we have in attracting people to our programs, admitting them, and ultimately keeping them.

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Reparations: Reflections on a Present Condition

Last semester, President Sands addressed a motley crowd on the grounds of Smithfield Plantation. Marketed as a talk that would address the necessity of owning our past if we are going to “Invent the Future,” the sparse, and now deleted, advertisements on Facebook drew members of the university community from various areas and disciplines. Thus framed, persons from the IEC, GIA, Philosophy, VT Engage, Inclusive VT, and other university affiliates gathered together in the pavilion to hear about plausible shifts in the conversations held about the plantation and its historical connection to the foundation, and upkeep, of the university proper. At the cession of the talk, many were still waiting to hear the talk which had been promised (or perhaps more charitably the talk which many expected to be furnished to a group which included people of color, students, faculty, staff, and the decedents of the Prestons who founded the plantation  240+ years ago).

That said, this blog post is not about the limited discussion of history found in the talk, the lacuna left by the passing mention of the native populations who had once occupied these lands, and the devolution into a discussion of making students employable. It is not about the ways in which the plantation was ultimately framed as not a historical resource which can be utilized to raise awareness about the history of both of this institution and the US in general but, rather, as a commercial enterprise capable of hosting weddings, parties, and other money heavy activities. It is not about the extended amount of time spent discussing the meaning of the new “VT-Shaped Student” initiative which, to be honest, a number of folks in the crowd were already intimately familiar with given the push to give students both the “breadth and depth” needed to excel post-college. Nor is it about the statement “micro-aggressions are kinda complementary” which sent a tangible wave of displeasure through the crowd during the talk.

No, this post is not about any of these things though I assume that plenty of folks have had conversations a plenty about all of them. Instead, this post is about the 13th amendment, the exception that we never speak about, and the tendency to proclaim to learn from the past when we are still deeply uncomfortable speaking, and fixing, the present. So, while this post uses the talk at Smithfield Plantation as a speaking point and example of a phenomenon of import, its scope is not limited to the talk nor is it intended to be a (robust) critique of Dr.Sands. Instead, this is intended to serve an alertive role. By this, I mean that it is intended to call attention to the consequences which accrue when we  fail to have conversations about the present under the false pretense that all we need do is start discussing the past in the process of innovating the future.

The 13th amendment, passed in 1865, is often framed as the amendment that abolished slavery in the United States. Indeed, when I asked my three classes on a Friday what the 13th amendment did I was met with a chorus of “it abolished slavery” given that that was what they had been taught in school. Imagine their surprise when I informed them that slavery was still legal in the United States and that the 13th amendment contains an exception clause–prisons.

Contrary to popular belief, slavery is still legal in the US. Forced labor as a  punishment for the “duly” convicted, also know as Penal Labor, is fair game under the law. In relation to Virginia Tech, prison labor is the source of our furniture, fabrics, and other material goods by law. By this, I mean that the state of Virginia requires its public institutions to utilize prison sourced goods whenever possible. The organization in charge of enslaving organizing the incarcerated is Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE). Their tag line: “Virginia Correctional Enterprises help offenders become producers”.

As such, when it comes to this institution, and others, being able to create a future that is inclusive, nurturing, and representative of its constituents it can’t ignore the present. It can’t ignore the unrecognized, undervalued, and sometimes uncompensated labor that is currently present. This is instantiated by prison labor in the case of Virginia Tech and how we don’t discuss this with students or with one another. It is also instantiated by the undervalued labor of the secretaries and custodial staff. It is instantiated by the unrecognized emotional and relational labor that falls on the shoulders of many folks with historically minoritized identities.

Institutions can’t create the future without owning the present. But owning the present is a hard thing to do and it requires folks to take risks that, institutionally, we are given incentives to never take.

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