Humanities and Real-World Needs!

I was reading Dan Edelstein’s piece about how humanities can contribute to knowlege economy. He argues that increased innovation and entrepreneurship skills are two main practical results of studying humanities. While he tries to justify how humanities can be beneficial to the real-world economy and development, I believe without humanistic training most of our solutions to problems will be technical and very likely “unsustainable”.

To support my argument, I provide an example from development world. Consider a situation in Afghanistan, where experts (from medical and engineering fields) find out that in a certain village, access to tap water is limited and women have to come out of their houses for washing dishes, clothes and etc. SO the experts say: They do not have access to water, we will give them tap water! With the help of international funds and thanks to their expertise, the NGOs provide every house in the village with clean tap water.

After a week or two, the NGO members observe that women are again frequenting to the wells instead of using the water at home! After investigating and interviewing with the “final users” the experts understand “finally” that going to wells, is the only way for these women to communicate with their outside world. These women do not want to use the tap water by paying the heavy price of missing the opportunity to go out of their houses and to mingle with other women! In this example, if the NGO leaders and experts had integrated people with humanities background, the process would have probably taken another form. One would have probably asked in the first place, what is the “problem” and from whose perspective? Based on the real consumers’ culture, history, religion and even language how we should address such problem.

In conclusion, I believe more than enhancing entrepreneurship and innovation as Edelstein mentions, humanities practical value in real-world projects is in their close and deep understanding of “humans” as the final goal of many projects seeking to bring “positive change”/ increasing quality of “life”!

Critical Pedagogy Whiteboard!

This week we discussed about critical pedagogy focusing mainly on Paulo Freire work. Using Jigsaw classroom technique we formed groups and after co-teaching/learning the main concepts, collectively created the image below to consolidate our ideas and understandings of critical pedagogy and its elements. This was a collaborative effort with Jack ViereHeather CorleyAllie BriggsBailey Houghtaling, Tami Amos, and Romcholo Macatula.


we defined Critical Pedagogy as the following:

Critical Pedagogy first acknowledges power structures in order to reciprocally cultivate knowledge within a dynamic learning space that acknowledges varying human perspectives and life experiences, promotes continual questioning, and liberates marginalized view points.

It was really a fun educative experience for all of us as a group and as individuals.

Are we all good ol’ racists?

While reading a piece about Shankar Vedantam’s new book “the Hidden Brain” I was thinking “NO! This is wrong! I was not at all racist when I was 3… cause there was no other race in Iran…” To be more precise, we (Iranian students) usually have a hard time understanding what race is when filling out application forms for US universities (I sometimes categorized myself as Asian and sometimes as white)! But after a while pondering about racism, I thought well, we do not have racism in its classic meaning of othering the other ‘races’, BUT we do have many discriminatory behaviors (and policies unfortunately) toward a large number of minority groups in our country namely Afghan Refugees”.

The point is, even if we have not formed the associations between certain groups of people and the concepts about them (simply because we have not had the chance of it), it does not necessarily means we are not bigots, as a Persian proverb says “He doesn’t see any water; otherwise, he is a skilled swimmer.”

I totally agree with Shankar when he emphasizes on taking back the control of our brain by unlearning our mental associations consciously and conscientiously. This would be a difficult process for everyone of us, since as we grow up we lean more and more towards our autopilot brain functions and as Shankar puts it “… the hidden brain is much more in charge of what we do than our conscious mind’s intentions”. This, in my view,  is everyone of us responsibility at individual level.

What I find lacking in this article, is how society as a whole should move towards eradicating racism. The structural inequalities must be addressed in order to give back minorities and the oppressed their voice and power. When world powers, their policies, media and social structures at national and international level are constantly shaping an unequal, prejudice and hateful global culture (e.g. toward Muslims/Jews/Arabs/etc.), do individual efforts suffice? I say NO!

Curiosity as a Learning Outcome…Seriously?

I was thinking about Gradner Cambell’s viewpoint on how increased curiosity must be an important outcome of learning. I totally agree with him that skill mastery and especially successful recall of information are by no means (and have never been in my view) proper measurements nor outcomes of learning. I also share the same (pessimistic maybe!) view about our today’s neoliberal education system which under the name of efficiency is distancing itself from effective meaningful learning!

What I found crude in Cambell’s piece is when he argues that curiosity as an outcome of learning is possible if we invest in our increasing digital environment. To me it really does not sounds coherent with his previous claims. While technology can increase the quantity of interactions, it does not necessarily enhance the quality of those! Many of the statements he mentions as epitomes of increased curiosity among students, are merely achievable in the real-world with intentional (inter)actions. For example, the last phrase saying “I am the kind of person who embraces unfamiliar people, events, and places”, is somehow more achievable in a classroom rather than an online course for example. Since to me it seems very unlikely that in a learning digital environment, people share their personal life/stories as much/consistent as in a classroom where informal talks are usually prevalent and recurring!

In my opinion, here the more important question is not about what medium can encourage curiosity in the students, but rather how in the first place, one can be so engaged in the learning process that he/she feels the “need” of knowing more. While personal interest and preferences in the course content play a part (e.g. you are naturally more curious about your research-related issues), yet I believe teachers’ role, the class ambiance, informal interactions and so many other factors will effect the stimulation of students’ desire to know.

HPR 2154: Introduction to Harry Potter

Why is it that some books are so easy to read/follow while others (many of the text books) are mortally boring; Why can we remember details of a good story (e.g. Harry Potter) even after so many years, but there are tons of information we cannot recall from our last week readings?

Harry Potter and Ron Weasley in Divination class

Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in their book “A New Culture of Learning Cultivating The Imagination For A World Of Constant Change” try to answer these questions by discussing the importance of modern learning processes:

They argue that in today’s ever-changing world, it is rather unproductive (if not impossible) to continue the traditional forms of learning/teaching-i.e. when someone (teacher) transfer the solid knowledge to someone else (the student) in a unilateral direction. while the unchangeable forms of knowledge are shrinking everyday, flexibility towards change and accepting new ways of knowing become more and more quintessential for humans’ learning process.

In spite of the fact that I agree with Thomas and Brown’s idea of making sense of the world through gaming (and internet being the adults’ way of playful sense making), yet I believe engaging solely new technologies in today’s classrooms is not the panacea for our ineffective education system! Many of us “Google” new terms, watch YouTube videos and try to understand the course materials with the help of world wide web, still we do not necessarily develop the vital connections needed for LEARNING process. That means, in most cases, we gain a rough understanding of the issue but we do not ponder enough (e.g. having no time or interest) to process the information into our knowledge.

While the authors believe, Harry Potter books’ success in sticking to readers’ minds (and hearts!) were due to readers’ “experiencing the unfolding of the story with friends, both online and offline”, I think there are other criteria that leads to such memorability!

First of all, the readers “choose” to read Harry Potter in order to “enjoy”. While in many cases, we do not have a “choice” over our course work, therefore having “fun” is less achievable. Second, reading Harry Potter is not an assignment and does not have a deadline to be finished/graded, hence the reader has all the time in the world to savour each line with full concentration (and no fear or pressure of grades and so on). As a result of passion and having the time to reflect on the book’s content, the reader can make sense of Harry’s world by connecting the author’s descriptions to his/her own life experiences-the process in which a co-creation of knowledge between the author and the reader happens!

Laptops And Phones In The Classroom: YAAAAYYY!

In her article, Anya Kamenetz explores different attitudes towards using electronic devices in the classroom. While some teachers find this habit as “distracting”, “unhealthy”, and useless others see positive points in using laptops and cellphones during classes. After reading this article, I really could not decide whether I am happy with using of laptops or cellphones in the classrooms or not. To be more precise, I am skeptical about the approaches to control how and to what extent students should use these kind of devices.

My concern is about the students’ ability to choose what they want to learn. I believe there is a different between a primary school pupil and a college student. The former does not have the control over the content he/she is going to learn. For the good or bad, all of us have to learn some level of math, literature and sciences by a certain age. This makes me think, if we do not “choose” what to learn then we allow ourselves more freely to be distracted as soon as we lose our interest in the topic/teacher/and etc.

Photo from:

Therefore, in my view in K-12 education, to the point that students are forced to take and learn a course, “self-governing” sort of policy for using laptops and cellphones not only is not fair but also does not make sense! We have not given them the primary freedom to choose what they want to learn and then we expect to have all their attention in a democratic way!

However, when it comes to college because of the freedom to choose the courses, asking students to use laptops and cellphones upon their will, makes sense and is fair. Although, there might be many other incentives to take a course (getting a certificate, and etc.) rather than pure interest, yet due to the inherent optional characteristics of the university courses, students feel more internal obligation to focus on the course material. In this case, self-governing over technology is in line with the values of higher education!

Of Tools and Goals

Drawing on Kuh’s work, Gardner Campbell in his paper “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” differentiates between learning as a “tool” versus  learning as an “objective” itself. He mentions that even though student-centered learning is the new mantra in the pedagogy arena, yet in most cases “learning” is considered as a tool to achieve certain quantifiable goals and objectives.

Built on Amartya Sen’s human development theory, one can explain Campbell’s perspective regarding education as a tool or as a goal. Sen’s believes that in human development, humans are the final goals of development projects. That means if a person gets educated, although she/he can serve her/his society better (human capital), however, that education will not be considered as a step towards human development, unless it creates new “freedoms”. Sen defines freedom as the capability to choose from different choices, so one can live a dignified life as he/she wishes. This said, the question is what constitute a transformative educational experience which can develop one’s choices and capacities in life.