All Play and No Work

I had no clue what to write about this week until I watched the TEDxYouth talk by Seth Godin called “Stop Stealing Dreams.” Specifically, I got interested in writing when I heard Mr. Godin say “…if it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less. And if it’s art, we try to figure out how to do more.” I think this statement is obvious, but I also think it is something we overlook every day.

Maybe I am wrong in thinking art is similar to play, but in my mind it is very clear that when I view what I am doing as play I am 100% more willing to do it versus when I view it as work. When I say “art,” what I am picturing is something that is creative, thought provoking, and often times fun, which to me resembles play. For example, when I am working on my literature review for my thesis I view reading journal articles as a chore. They are interesting, no doubt, but in my mind there are other things I would rather be doing. On the other hand, when I have free time and I am able to do something else, a lot of times I will choose to read journal articles, but this time I am reading them for pleasure! This time, it is as if I am sitting down in front of my computer ready to play video games, but in reality I am doing the exact same thing as what I pictured as “work” before. This time, I am not limited to the viewpoint of “what will be useful to put in my dissertation,” but rather I am able to think freely about what it is I am reading and I can let my mind make many more connections to other concepts that I would usually shut out.

It is clear that we like to do things that we are not supposed to be doing at the time. If I know that I should be reading these papers in order to retain information to write for my dissertation, it will be a long, annoying day. But, if I am able to indulge myself on those same papers, then the day could not go slow enough. Mr. Godin makes an amusing analogy during his talk between memorizing baseball history and stats to memorizing information we learn in school and I could not have said it better myself. Whether or not he intended this, what is even more ironic about his statement is that many people (myself included) do spend time memorizing stats and the history of sports because at the time we are doing it is a fun, creative process that we are just making up as we go along. I have spent countless hours going through pages of statistics for soccer players/teams so I can recite/recall the numbers at any give time as well as making graphical representations to understand the layout of the league at that moment in time because I enjoy going through those thought provoking exercises. It is funny because there are people that do that sort of stuff for a job, whereas I spend my time doing it out of pleasure.

I think I should state that I really do enjoy my PhD work (and academia in general), but I do classify it as work. There are times that I am able to view it as some sort of art, which makes my day that much better, but I think that I (and many others) could benefit from trying to view their work and/or schooling as art, or at least some sort of creative, thought provoking process, which may end up making it that much more enjoyable.

Playing the Blame Game

I could not stop myself from being annoyed when I read Nicholas Carr’s article regarding Google making us stupid. The idea that the Internet is “making” us unable to read longer or think deeply seems like a personal problem more than one shared by society at large. Carr points to a study conducted by the University College London where they found the subjects “bounced” from site to site and “skimmed” the material instead of reading it at length, but I could not disagree more with their interpretation of what this may mean. His (and their) take from this is that people are losing the ability to interpret text, but what I think is that our ability to interpret anything has not diminished, but rather requires much more sifting to get to what actually is worth interpreting.

This may sound harsh, but I think it is more of an issue with humans who like to try and find things other than themselves to blame for possible shortcomings. These may be intelligent people who are saying media is influencing our thinking process, but I think there has to be a willingness to take ownership when you know you should be doing something else (i.e. read an entire book!). Do not get me wrong, reading long books/papers is not in my top five favorite things to do with my time, but if/when I have to I find some way to read it because I know I need to read these words to extract what I want to learn from them.

So, there is the side where we can just disconnect ourselves, but on the same side of this coin is what Jason Farman’s article discussed, which was that just assuming our new connections are not contributing to meaningful and engaging interactions themselves and/or offering a lot of opportunities for collaborative, thought-provoking discussions is doing the Internet a disservice and is just straight up incorrect. We have plenty of examples of our modern media dependency being a negative impact on our daily lives, but I think (and Jason would as well) there are way more positive benefits from our connections that we can use and will have to use because this is not changing anytime soon.

Too Big to Fail

While reading some of Paulo Friere’s ideas in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (or translated ideas, rather) I could not help but make the connection to the saying we all heard and read about incessantly a few years ago regarding particular financial institutions in the United States, that they were “too big to fail.” The connection started because I was not exactly paying attention as I was reading and came across the term “banking concept of education” and immediately thought he was talking about Chase. I then focused in on the reading and realized while I was not entirely incorrect, it was more about the interactions taking place between tellers and customers and how education mirrors these uninspiring, detrimental transactions between teachers and students.

For some reason, though, I kept getting stuck on the actual bank part, which then got me thinking about that saying “too big to fail.” After reading Joe Kinchloe talk about critical pedagogy in school I think I was able to figure out why I could not get that saying out of my head. Coupling the ideas of the oppressed vs. those in power and how teachers need to challenge themselves to become critical complex educators it made me realize we live in a world where our education system is viewed as too big to fail. Or maybe not fail exactly, but too big to change. Teachers, and probably even students, look at how the education system works today and while they may agree it is not perfect, would most likely say that it is working well enough so why would there be a need to radically change it? Why start a revolution if the situation is not dire?

One may read Friere’s words and think, “But we are not oppressed here in the United States, so this is different.” That obviously depends on multiple factors (that I will not get into here), but I think it is worth pointing out to someone who may think that that our education system can be paralleled with our banking system in that regard. We are lead to believe everything must remain the way it is because if it were to change then all hell would break loose, when really it would just be challenging the powers that be.

Finding Our Humble Conscience (Not via Fox News)

I kind of have to admit that discussing inclusive pedagogy, diversity, microaggressions, privilege, power, intersectionality, and the many other terms associated with our society is exhausting to me. I do not mean to say these things are unworthy of our attention, because they are more than worthy, but when you live on planet Earth (and not planet State Farm with Jake) you can be consumed by issues dealing with all of these topics on such a consistent basis that it is the only thing you can focus on! It can take over our entire day if we choose to address the bigotry or we can choose to ignore it, which is often times the only way to get our necessary work done.

We live in a world full of stupid people. It is learned stupidity, but many embrace it as well and wear it like a badge. For example, while interneting I came across a recently published post on a “news” channel’s website that helped further support this point. I do not plan on linking the story because I think somehow that will count towards their clicks or ad revenue or whatever, but as you can probably guess based off of my title the person who wrote this thing was (and still probably is) a white dude. He is writing about the University of Tennessee’s announcement back in August regarding the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom and with a closing line like “I wonder if they’ve got a gender neutral word for idiot?” you can tell that he does not understand the significance of something like a gender neutral pronoun nor does he care to understand. And it is more so the fact that he, and many other people in our society, does/do not care to even try and understand the other persons’ side is what makes this sort of thing so disappointing.

I would be lying if I said I did not think these gender neutral pronouns were weird, but when I took a second to think that I am a white, heterosexual male, then it occurred to me that most things in my proximate world are not very weird. Instead, they are very normal and that is not by chance. From here it would be easy for me to dismiss something unfamiliar to myself and go back to my comfortabubble, but that is where it is our duty to try and be inclusive, and to try hard to see the view from the other side because it is difficult for it to just come naturally to our brains. After doing that then it became very easy to see that even though these terms are not something familiar with me, I can see their purpose and how they may help.

What helped to drive home this point about having to try hard to command our brain to think consciously in certain situations was the article by Shankar Vedantam. He talks about how easy it is to let our brain just sink back into unconscious thought, which can be detrimental regarding our views on people, race, gender, etc. because we are not critically evaluating our own views on these topics in that scenario. He says, “I have become, in some ways, much more humble about my views and much less certain about myself,” which are great traits to strive for, in my opinion.

If more of us took the latter’s ideas of viewing society/ourselves (humble, open-minded, introspective) vs. the former’s ideas (arrogant, closed-minded, judgmental) then I think inclusivity in a setting like pedagogy would be much more manageable, but it is clear there is still a fight to be fought so we will continue pressing to help those realize it may not be so obvious, but you have to try to see it from a perspective that is not your own.

Still Finding My Voice

Sarah Deel said that she is “…fascinated by this process of figuring out who I am as a teacher,” which is really encouraging to me because I honestly do not know my teaching voice, so to read that someone who currently is a teacher is still working on this is comforting. I have only ever guest lectured for professors when they were out of town or been a teaching assistant for a class/lab that did not require me to be the main teacher so I have not been able to find/discover/create my voice yet.


I would like to think that I would be an approachable, likeable, funny, easy-going teacher, but like Deel said it is a fine line between being liked and being respected as a teacher so maybe that would not be my true teaching voice after all. I may end up being the opposite of how I usually act so I can actually be a disciplined, uncool, hard-nosed teacher, which to me seems like some hallmarks of good teachers I have had in the past. I honestly do not think I could be that sort of teacher, though. I think laughing is the most important thing we do everyday, which may not bode well for being an effective teacher. That being said, Shelli Fowler gives points that allow us to discover our authentic teaching self and a few of her points really stood out to me: be genuine, don’t pose/posture, and that we can control the classroom without being controlling. To me, knowing that these are considered important aspects of being a teacher gives me some hope that I can be my normal, goofy self in the classroom and even if students think I may be a dork or unfunny at least they will know that I want to be honest with them and that they can trust me. And being trusted is important for being able to communicate with students so they feel comfortable engaging with you on things they otherwise may not bring up with someone they do not trust.


I think teaching is probably like most things in life that require a balance so I can be pretty sure that whatever voice I find I will not only incorporate jokes and witty comments, but will probably include some hard-nosed teaching as well. And that is alright with me. If being known as a teacher who will make you laugh, but also make you think hard and work hard is what I can be known as I would take that voice in a second.

To Believe, or Not to Believe…

I realize that the words to follow are going to seem hypocritical in the context of this post, but I think there is still some underlying importance for the larger “issue” at hand, which is the reason I felt inclined to write about this topic. The topic I am referring to is religion. Mainly focusing on Christianity in the United States and the concept of Christian privilege. The reason I think this post will be viewed as hypocritical is because I do not think it should matter what your views on theism are, just as your sexual orientation or even your favorite cereal should matter. But, in saying it should not matter I am still typing up a blog and discussing it, which is bringing attention to it and doing the exact opposite of what I feel should happen.

I thought of this topic the other day when I read a story on ESPN involving a football player, Arian Foster, who plays on the NFL team the Houston Texans. Recently he has “come out” as someone who does not believe in God, which is not a normal occurrence in the NFL, especially in Texas. Foster was interviewed about his decision to make his beliefs public, which were not entirely well received, but have gained support from many people, including myself. Not to overstate his act, but I do think it took a lot of courage to tell the truth when he was almost certain he would be ridiculed for it.

I respect his choice to make a public statement regarding his nonbelief in God and I respect some of the points he brings up in the article about belief. Foster says, “I’m not a picket-sign atheist. I just want to be a happy human being and continue to learn,” which is something I really appreciate considering I feel someone’s views on the subject of theism are his or her own and do not need to be forced on others. Also, I feel his point on continuing to learn is of paramount importance because he says he is open to having his views changed, which would come from learning something new, and I completely agree with that sentiment. I am more than welcome to having my views changed because I realize that I do not know everything and actually look forward to learning new information; especially new information that could change my current view on theism. Foster also says, “There’s a lot of ignorance about nonbelief. I don’t mean a negative connotation of ignorance. I just mean a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge, lack of exposure to people like me.” I thought this was an important point to bring up because there are judgments that come along with someone’s beliefs and Foster is trying to not ostracize people. He is trying to make a point by saying someone is not stupid if they do not understand and/or agree with his viewpoint, but rather he would like to have an intelligent conversation on the subject that would leave both parties feeling as if their viewpoint was respected. A great example of that is his relationship with teammate Justin Forsett, who is a Christian whom Foster has engaging, meaningful conversations on the topic of religion all the time and they still coexist as not just human beings, but friends. And I feel as a society it should be our goal not to just tolerate others who have different views as us, but engage in meaningful conversation and learn from each other.

In response to Foster’s interview, there was a blog post written by Brandon Vogt of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Obviously, Vogt is writing from a position of someone who does believe in God and while I do not agree with everything Vogt writes in his article, I do think he brings up some good points. Vogt writes, “Foster may think it ‘weird’ that football players ask for God’s help, but that’s no justification for atheism,” which I can agree with. Foster thinking it is odd that players pray before (and after) games does not disprove any presence of God. I also agree with Vogt in thinking Foster may have been a little too simplistic in his rationale for discrediting religion in saying, “We’ve been to the moon, and there’s no heaven up there. We’ve dug in the dirt, there’s no devil down there.” I will say, regarding that quote, Foster may have been using the moon and digging in dirt as symbols for our lack of witnessing physical proof of a God vs. actually not seeing heaven in the clouds as well as an underground hell, but I really do not know what Foster meant by his statement. Other points brought up by Vogt I tend not to completely agree with, but on the whole I think his reactions to Foster’s interview are fair and probably echo what he thinks, which I think is great. Considering I read about other places in the world where differing views can get someone killed I am extremely happy that I live in a place where people have the ability to voice their opinions and still live happy, normal lives.

This point about people being able to voice their opinions, though, is why I wrote this post in the first place. Everyone should have the ability to say what he or she thinks (hopefully this would exclude hate speech), but I also believe that someone’s views on some topics, here being religion, should be a non-issue and should not require justification. I mentioned the term Christian privilege earlier, which is something I feel is different from other forms of privilege we talk about, but I think it is apparent in certain situations in the US that not being Christian (i.e. being Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc…) will result in some sort of judgment that is different from someone who is Christian. Some obvious examples of Christian privilege that come to mind are: not having to work on Christmas, even though there are other religious holidays that are not recognized in the US, most likely having a government representative that is some denomination of Christianity, and being able to easily find a Christian community to join in most places in our country. Personally, I can say that I have benefitted from these privileges through most of my life, but as I have gotten older I have realized I have a different set of beliefs, which has brought forth some of these obvious, and not so obvious Christian privileges to my attention. Some examples of Christian privilege that are not as obvious are that now I feel uncomfortable bringing up my beliefs around strangers out of fear of being judged, as well as even some family and friends whom I know will assign stereotypes to me if I were to tell them. So, what I end up doing is essentially not mention anything until there becomes a time where I feel comfortable enough to talk about it, which does not always occur.

I hope in the future that people of all beliefs have equal opportunities for happy, productive, distraction-free lives, but I feel that will only happen when it becomes unimportant about what religion you follow. The Arian Foster interview and the post by Brandon Vogt are examples of stories that bring attention to religion (namely to Christianity here in the US), but I hope in the future that articles like these do not need to be written. It is important to be able to have intelligent discussion about our differing points of views, but to glorify or ridicule anyone for their views on religion (and theism) seems to be the wrong direction to take for a society that is accepting of and embraces everyone’s beliefs, which is the country I want to live in.

The Importance of Winning

When you have a scenario that involves grades and rankings there becomes one obvious goal that everyone wants to attain: being the winner. The concept of winning is clear in sports, business, and petty arguments with our siblings, but it is not so clear when we bring up education, even though education may be the most relevant example of winning (and losing) to all of us throughout our lives. How “well” you do in school is a direct measure of how you are viewed as a future member of society and how your ability to contribute to a job/career is assessed. I am not going to dwell on the major issues of how assessment stifles learning and thinking critically, which is apparent and well supported (see Alfie Kohn’s article titled “The Case Against Grades”), but rather the overall issue we have as a society with our obsession of being a winner that necessitates on the other end, a loser.


The concept of “extrinsic motivation,” which is manifested via grades in the classroom, seems to only serve as a measure for how we stack up against the rest of our peers. I have been a contributing member all too many times to conversations that involved the question “What grade did you get on the test?” just to be able to see how I ranked against the others and I think it is fair to say that in those classes I was much more satisfied with getting an A vs. understanding the concept. Actually, if I left a test unsure of some of the material, but still ended up with a good grade I was relieved! “Well, I may not have learned the subject, but I got a good grade so I am happy!” It is that type of mindset where I can personally say grading has been detrimental to my own learning experience, but if it helped me not lose in this education game that I was a part of then I was happy.


On the topic of assessment and how winners are being rewarded, Dan Pink brings up the importance of three concepts (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) in his TED talk titled “The Puzzle of Motivation,” which focused on how people are motivated in certain situations. The one point he talks about in his video is autonomy, which is a practice that has shown to allow people the ability to step back from their assessment-driven work and focus on challenging themselves to think of creative solutions to their problems at hand. I really like this idea of autonomy and not having to constantly be checking over your shoulder for what your peer is conjuring up. To pair Pink’s ideas with that of Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon’s that emphasizes using our imagination to help tackle our issues I feel there is room for a lot of potential for problem solving to occur. And not just problem solving, but really just a successful take on learning. Not having to constantly be comparing ourselves to others via assessment while simultaneously promoting students’ autonomies and imaginations seems like a very attractive educational system to strive for in the future and while I have been a little hesitant to adopt some newer ideas in terms of connected learning thus far these are ideas that have my 100% full support.

Who’s Leaving Whom Behind?

I have a difficult time watching the video Michael Wesch’s students put together titled “A Vision of Students Today.” Why I find it difficult to watch is because reading statements like “I Facebook through most of my classes” and “I spend 3 ½ hours a day online” make it seem as if the students saying these things are not holding themselves accountable for their own education. To me, these quotes make it sound like they are blaming some other entity for the time they spend online and/or facebooking, which is a sentiment I do not sympathize with and find very concerning for future student generations. It would be fantastic if I could understand the importance of everything presented to me in a classroom setting without having to think about it. In reality, though, what is needed from us, as students, are the desire and enthusiasm to find how and why what we are learning pertains to our lives, which can require more function than just listening to the words spoken to us. This view on learning makes me anxious because if future students keep on following this trend of putting all of the emphasis on the educator to spoon feed every detail to feel as if they are learning something then I will fear for future students’ abilities to critically think on their own and realize that truly the only person responsible for one’s education is themselves. That is not to give teachers a free pass to not try, but I bring that point up to emphasize that if we want to learn something it is up to us to learn it! Nobody became a great thinker by relying on someone else to tell them what, how, and why to think. Great teachers probably inspired them, but the student had to do most of the work on their own.

That being said, I do agree with Dr. Wesch that teachers have a major role in cultivating a learning environment that promotes critical thinking; an activity lacking in many classrooms today. Dr. Wesch’s article, “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance,” brings up the notion of a non-stimulatory, ineffective education system that fails to produce students that can produce original, creative, meaningful questions, which is absolutely true. I have been in a few classes that reward memorization and regurgitation of words without much emphasis on critical thinking and it is fair to say I barely remember anything from those courses. The courses I remember well are the ones where teachers were engaging and promoted discussion on the subjects at hand. The reason I am still in school today (and love learning in general) is due to teachers/professors who challenged us to participate in discussion during class and to come prepared with talking points/questions that we generated between classes. I think it is fair to say, though, that most of my professors in recent years really wanted us to be engaged and wanted to promote a friendly, supportive learning environment, but where they fell short was the implementation of that environment. This point is exactly what Dr. Wesch is talking about in reference to the medium being more important than the message. Promoting a different style of learning other than just lecturing at students from a chalkboard is a wonderful idea and I hope successful alternatives become more standard throughout education in the future.

I would not begin to say that I have the answers for how to fix the lack of enthusiasm that seems so pervasive in our education system, but I feel there needs to be work put in from both sides, teachers and students, in order to make it a meaningful experience for everyone. The point that teachers bear a large responsibility to create a great environment that supports the success of their students’ learning is true, but I feel that is just one side of the story. The other side of the story is the large responsibility that students should bear as well to hold themselves accountable for their learning and to not give up because they feel they would rather be on facebook.

I Think, Therefore I Blog…Maybe

I feel as though I should start out this post by saying I am not fully accepting of the blogging community and am more cynical regarding blogs than I would like to admit. I would like to think I am able to openly discuss most any topic presented to me and I thoroughly enjoy having intelligent conversations with anyone who is willing to talk to me, but I have yet to be convinced that this interaction taking place via blogging is worth the effort it would take for me to write as well as anyone else’s effort to read what I had just written.

Maybe I have the wrong perception of blogging because I have defined it to myself as a platform for people to throw their ideas and opinions into a pot that is already filled to the brim and spewing over the sides with unproductive, pointless chatter. I am willing to admit that I may be wrong about the actual purpose of blogs and that maybe there are other aspects to it that are worth mentioning. Tim Hitchcock hits on this point in his article when referring to one’s profession that “It is not about what you had for breakfast. It is about being on top of your field.” That point resonates with me and helps to separate where blogging (and possibly other various social media outlets) may actually be used for good compared to most of what is plastered on my computer and tv screens with click-bait articles, unbelievably stupid top 10 lists, and hateful/intentionally ignorant stories trying to sell some sort of agenda. Another positive aspect regarding blogging that was refreshing to read was brought up by Scott Rosenberg who stated “Reading is as much a part of blogging as writing; listening is as important as speaking.” When I read blogs I get the impression that it is more of a statement that someone is trying to make instead of it being a part of a conversation, but it is good to know that people out there who take blogging very seriously have this conversation mentality behind blogging and helps paint blogging in a better light to myself.

Another aspect about blogging that I had never considered was brought up in the youtube video with Seth Godin where he stated something along the lines of blogging showcasing one’s humility in taking the time to think critically and write a blog post. I know that my opinion on blogging is harsh, but I feel as though if I encountered more blogs that represented the metacognition that should go into writing your opinions then I would have a much more enjoyable time discussing ideas and having intelligent conversations via blogging.

I can tell that even as I am finishing writing this post I am warming up to the idea of blogging as a useful tool for myself to use in my future career, but there are still plenty of reservations that I know I will need to overcome first. Reading articles and watching videos that show the positive sides of blogging is a great start, but I also realize that some of the positive examples brought up in these stories are idealistic and are not fully representative of what blogging actually can become. Obviously as the semester goes on and more discussion regarding blogging takes place I am sure I will hear positive opinions and I will give my own (probably negative) opinions, but I am more than willing, and looking forward to having great discussion on the topic.

Improving Higher Ed

One aspect of higher education that I feel is missing is the connection between the research and the teaching. Obviously there are more things missing, but when it comes to my own personal engagement in my studies, it is safe to say that I wasn’t considering graduate school until I took a class on research, which completely flipped my world upside down. And it wasn’t until after I started to look into graduate school and started challenging myself with upper level courses that I realized where all of our information comes from, which is primary research that is translated into peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Had one of my professors handed me a scientific publication during the first semester of my freshman year I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. First off, I wouldn’t have recognized the formatting of the paper so I wouldn’t have understood the difference between the abstract and the introduction or why the discussion is even important. Secondly, I would have tried to read the first few paragraphs, failed at understanding the message, and then felt stupid for not understanding. And here is where I think the problem lies; there is a fine line as a professor where you may expose undergraduates to primary research and they understand the concepts or they completely miss the point.

Carson and Miller from North Carolina State University reported on a successful way to engage first year undergraduate students with research, which involved incremental steps of exposing undergraduates to primary scientific literature through journal clubs, helping them to understand what they’re reading, and essentially adding more responsibility to the students until they were capable of successfully working on their own project and utilizing their new ability to read scientific literature critically to help them do so.

Kozeracki and colleagues also showcased the importance of engaging undergraduates (not first year students) with scientific literature and how the increased confidence that comes from understanding scientific literature and the subsequent ability to use this information to help one’s own study is of vital importance for future success in academic or professional careers.

I can personally agree with both of these studies, which enforce the necessity of controlled exposure of scientific literature to undergraduates. I can honestly say that I wasn’t genuinely engaged in my future after my undergraduate education until I took a class centered on research during my sophomore year at Ohio State. During that class I realized the importance of research, how interesting it can be, why we need to perform research in order to better understand our ever changing world, etc… I will always attribute where I’m at today to that class and how it exposed me to research, and I think it is of the utmost importance that higher education tries to engage students to think about research, scientific literature, and how that relates to what they’re learning in the classroom. At the moment, too much of it is reliant on the student to go out and do most of the searching on their own, but I think that is where more professors should step in, reach out, and bring in more students on their own.