The Problem with Exclusivity

When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. This quote by Zora Neale Hurston that appears in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, hung on my bulletin board next to my desk for all of my years teaching. It was a reminder to myself that every student that entered my classroom had been cut up, beaten down and covered in mud to varying degrees. This could come in a multitude of ways – poverty, abuse, addiction, homelessness, death, bullying, mental illness, race, religion, gender – some that were visible to the eye and some that weren’t. I couldn’t assume that some students carried more burdens into the classroom than others because most were invisible. My job was to find the spark. To be open to whatever form that spark took in our classroom. To create an environment in which…

Published May 5, 2021

The Case for Creativity

In 2006 Sir Ken Robinson gave a talk at TED called, Do Schools Kill Creativity? His contention was that creativity was as important in education as literacy, and that children are, before attending school, not afraid of taking risks. They are not afraid of being wrong. After entering school for a bit, however, children learn that mistakes are bad and failure is to be avoided at all costs. Instead of nurturing this extremely important skill, our education system is doing the exact opposite – educating the creativity out of our children. Robinson’s talk is the most watched TEDTalk of all time, with over 70 million views in 15 years. That is, to put it in perspective, almost a third of the US population. I would argue, however, that not much has changed in our educational system since Robinson gave his talk. Audiences cheered as he outlined the error of the design of our public school system, which was to meet the needs of industrialism. Viewers despaired as he shared that the hierarchy of subjects – math and literacy on the top – was developed to promote those fields that would lead directly to jobs. Listeners rooted for the change he advocated.

Published April 13, 2021

The Beauty of Being an Outsider

As we witness the rollout of vaccines, I find myself thinking about all of the different types of knowledge that are needed to implement this process. There is, most obviously, the science that goes into developing a vaccine. But there is also the need for communication and education in helping people to understand how the vaccine works, and ensure that they are still taking precautions even after they get their vaccine. Computer programmers were needed to develop the registration systems as well as the apps that are being used to track the spread of the virus. Translators worked to ensure that correct information was given out in multiple languages, organizational systems analysts worked to create a system for distribution of the vaccine across the world. I am slightly in awe of the diversity of perspectives and types of knowledge that were required to move us from a global pandemic to beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In his book Stretch: Unlock the power of less – and achieve more than you ever imagined, Scott Sonenshein cites a study done with InnoCentive, a company that uses crowdsourcing to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

Published March 5, 2021

The Importance of Connection

It has been quite a month. Since I watched the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a few weeks, I have been thinking of the challenging years we have ahead of us. With our country so divided, it has become harder for people to find common ground, based on shared values and experiences. It has become very easy to see those who disagree with us as not having a shred of commonality with us. And yet… all of us have parents whom we want to see grow old with good healthcare and respect, children we want to see thrive in our school systems, and loved ones we want to see have secure jobs that bring them both fulfillment and the ability to live comfortably. Vivek Murthy, who served as the Surgeon General of the United States from 2014-2017, recently wrote a book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” in which he shares the amazing power of community and connection on not just our emotional, mental, and physical health, but also on our ability to enter into healthy dialogue with others. He says, “When we are deeply connected to other people, one of the…

Published February 5, 2021

A New Year

The end of a year always makes me reflective, considering what I’ve learned from the past year and what I want to do differently in the new one. I believe deeply that higher education will find that the social and emotional aspects of learning will become more and more critical to the successful serving of our students and our community than it ever has been before. In part this is due to the students themselves. Bringing a wealth of knowledge from life experiences and a wide range of cultures, our students have the opportunity to develop amazing understanding and communication across difference. In a country so deeply divided, this may arguably be the greatest gift we can offer our students in their learning. This requires that faculty share control in the classroom with students to interact and voice opinions and share experiences and ideas. This is a model very different from the traditional lecture-style classroom, and one that we need to embrace rather than fear. By modeling how to build bridges between students, how to listen and learn from their peers, we demonstrate that respecting multiple ways of knowing rather than valuing book knowledge above all else, will bring the…

Published January 6, 2021