Sunday, May 25, 2014

It's not actually about "triggers"

The Atlantic ran a piece last week that's sure to be controversial. The columnist focused on the rise among college faculty (though I'm sure this is happening in high schools too) of labeling syllabi with "trigger warnings" and offering students exemptions from material they find potentially, personally difficult to handle.

"Empathetically Correct is the new Politically Correct" (The Atlantic)
While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.
I understand the tension between pulling students into material that's difficult, material they otherwise would not choose for themselves.  I've seen Story work its transforming power in the hearts of students pummeled by their personal tragedies -- abuse, neglect, rape, broken relationships, suicide, depression.   I've also seen students start to shut down during a classroom discussion because I wasn't paying enough attention or thinking ahead about how their interpersonal stories might mix with the literature to create a toxic environment.

The classroom should be challenging, enriching, even uncomfortable at times -- but also safe, nurturing, and caring.

I wonder if one of the mechanisms at work is that high school teachers spend many more hours with their students, so they tend to be more naturally aware of "triggers," while higher ed faculty (especially when they're teaching underclassmen) may have very little knowledge of the individuals who make up their classes.

My struggling students were all Christian school kids in a place where we emphasized the Gospel, Grace, and dealing with the world head-on (not hiding from it). I saw my role as teacher to know my students well enough that I hoped I could divert a discussion before it truly became a trigger.

 The foundation of teacher-student relationship formed the basis of a learning community that could actually work through tragedy rather than just tiptoeing around it.

Perhaps higher education fails to nurture a similar connection between the average underaged and her professors. In smaller colleges, professors can build those bridges and make quick adjustments rather than having to list out every potential "threat." They can judge whether a student is actually being pushed over the edge vs students taking an offered excuse to avoid the difficult. But I can't imagine a 50-student English lecture class having that level of relationship.

The old saying warns, "If you only own a hammer, everything looks like a nail." I don't want to imply that all problems can be solved by building relationships.  But some could be averted.

We make rules and politics because we try to use procedures to fix what are essentially human problems.  We're all broken.  The problem isn't so much the trigger; it's the need for humans to live within nurturing, caring communities where their brokenness can be healed, not condemned or exploited or -- just as bad -- ignored.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A book to read: Passionate Learners by Pernille Ripp

I'm excited that one of my favorite education bloggers is publishing a book! Pernille Ripp teaches 5th graders in a classroom that I envy. :)  She moved toward a student-centered and active-learning model, and blogs at Blogging Through The Fourth Dimension about her experiences in addition to now producing a book.

You can read an interview with her here to understand more.

We're seeing more evidence emerging that students learn better when they're more in control of what they learn and how they learn it, when they're given the freedom to move about freely, and when teachers see themselves as guides and learning partners rather than knowledge overlords. I really appreciate Pernille's work to explain how this can work in a real public school classroom.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A great interview with D. Michael Lindsay on producing leaders

I really enjoyed reading this interview by James K A Smith (of Calvin College, and one of my favorite authors in the philosophical realm) with D. Michael Linsday, president of Gordon College and author of a few books on leaders & leadership.

This two-part interview is a quick read but packed with great thoughts.  I especially appreciated the discussion of the value of "broad" thinking -- which is usually developed through the wide liberal arts curriculum rather than a specialist emphasis -- as a vital characteristic of successful "top" leaders.

They also unpack some of the tension that Christians feel when they look at the world's definition of "successful leader" and compare that with a traditional emphasis in churches on living a quiet and holy life.  It's worth chewing on.

Part one: The Hidden Curriculum of Leadership

Part two: Ambition, Influence, and Entrepreneurship

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Medieval science, modern science, and liberal arts integration

The Economist never fails to provide outstanding reporting and commentary (in impeccable prose style), and this article on a 13th century precursor to multiverse physics theory is no exception.

The piece opens and closes with the argument that the STEM fields are not enough -- will never be enough -- to provide the intellectual foundations necessary for human development. We need the humanities to keep us human, just as liberal arts academics need scientists and engineers to remind us of what's actually practical.

Do read the whole article, for it's short and interesting.

Cosmology: Unearthing a 13th Century Multiverse

Babbage concludes,
How is all this related to the STEM debate? To succeed, the Ordered Universe Project needed a team spanning both science and the humanities: physics, Latin studies, philosophy, cosmology, philology, medieval studies, paleography, history of science, psychophysics and linguistics. The humanities scholars uncovered insights into Grosseteste’s work that scientists alone might have missed; the scientists helped identify mathematical, physical and geometrical thinking in De Luce that their peers in the humanities might have overlooked. Professor McLeish says that without its interdisciplinary approach—an apparent novelty that has made funding a challenge—the project would not have been possible: “If you’d let the scientists loose on their own, we’d have come up with nonsense.”