Category Archives: critical thinking

What We Could Be

This week, journalist and photographer David Bacon sledgehammers a hole in the wall, revealing the 750,000 farm workers in California hidden from view.  Their labor is performed away from where most of us work; few of us sleep in their conditions, but they are still our neighbors.  Through storytellers like Bacon, it is possible that we, us and them, could be so much more.

Nearly ¼ of those farm workers come from small communities in Mexico; these are native communities with a history and culture predating European discovery and exploitation by 1000 years.  In California fields, a rich linguistic history can be traced and explored; nearly two dozen languages can be heard on any given day – evidence of a rich, diverse culture going nearly unnoticed.  What we see today, in terms of working conditions and divisions between classes of people, are the result of choices made hundreds of years ago to create an unequal system.

trabajamos image

Photo by David Bacon

 

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves:  Why do we keep this system in place?  Who benefits?  Who continues to suffer?

How about this?  What if these million or so people were welcomed in the world?  How much richer would American society become when these dozens of voices, perspectives, ways of seeing the world, became part of who we are instead of something we hide?  How much longer can these walls stand?

 

 

To see Trabajamos/We Work: In the Fields of the North, get to Riverside Art Museum, before April 11th, www.riversideartmuseum.org

To buy the book, go to www.ucpress.edu/9780520296077 and use source code 16M4197 at checkout to save 30% or buy at the Blue Door Store inside #RiversideArtMuseum

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under art, belief, chicano, critical thinking, things to do in riverside, Uncategorized

Motivation Schmotivation

I teach motivation as part of my coursework in my Intro to College course, and I sprinkle it into many of my Critical Thinking classes.  The other day I faced a pile of dirty dishes.  That moment clarified just what each of us faces when it comes to finishing a task.

This short post goes out to all my fellow procrastinators.  By the way, I stopped to write this while in the middle of finishing my media and retail sales lists for my publisher, Reedy Press.  I was supposed to have them in by the 15th.  Enjoy!!

When faced with a particularly heinous pile of dirty dishes, I took the rookie-actor approach and asked myself, “What’s my motivation?” After all, this is a home mess, not a work related occupational hazard.  My inner director called up three approaches –

  1. External motivation – I need to clean this mess up before someone comes over and sees this.
  2. Internal – I need to get this done so I can work on those other project deadlines.
  3. Go outside, watch birds, and hope an elf does them while I am away.

 

I went outside. I watched birds. I chased a two-year-old around. I stepped in dog poop.

Eventually we got hungry.  When we came inside to make dinner, those dishes were still there.  But I was in a much better headspace to knock them out.  Give yourself a pass today on beating yourself up about unfinished tasks.  Go look at something pretty or talk to someone that knows you are already pretty awesome.

1 Comment

Filed under art, critical thinking, Family, happiness, things to do in riverside, Uncategorized

What is Your Sophomore Year?

What is Your Sophomore Year?

dragon from galway

Over the rest of 2016, my top writing project will be the completion of a book covering a year of significant change.  In my art and my writing, I often choose places of significant conflict. This is not always negative but it does capture the struggle between competing ideas or paths. For example, when I was laid off from my super cool full time college professor job, I faced a choice:  Double down on the life changes so far and modify them to work in the new schedule. Or, jump off this teacher track, chalk up this as an interesting life experience and hustle my butt back into an administrative role at another college.  The choice my wife and I settled upon resembles option one.  Which aligned with my writing goal to complete a book on the second year of a new experience.

Why the second year? And why call it the Sophomore Year?

The Sophomore Year appears following a year of significant change in life circumstances or approach.  Adding a member to the family can count, as could losing a family member.  Marriage could hearken a sophomore year. After a year of excitement and announcement and pomp and ritual, that second year can feel flat.  For that wedding year, prior to that you have the engagement.  And before that you have plenty of talk about the engagement. There is so much to look forward to. We create milestones and products to wear/buy and things to do and say to one another – “I take thee” “I do”.  More people than ever take part in that ritual and enjoy that initial feeling of goodness. That feeling generates internally and externally. Internally, we feel validated and part of the community because we can take part in a common shared ritual that we all accept and understand.  The external motivation comes from the universal positive reinforcement of our choice.  Note that even the government will confer benefits for choosing marriage, perhaps they even provide some sophomore solutions themselves, such as long term investment in shared property and child raising.

Emily Post even gives you up to a year to get out those thank you letters after the wedding. They know just how fun filled and activity ridden that first year can be.  But after a year, usually a routine has set in. In 2015, I left a decade of college administration leadership to blaze a new trail down the academic side of the hill. A perfect new baby came into my life at the end of 2014. By the Summer of 2016, I was laid off from my job, moving me back into an Associate Professor role. By mid-summer, I was one of 33 artists in a 2 month long installation of new artists at Riverside Art Museum. At the end of 2016, I will celebrate five years of marriage to my second (or last, or current as I sometimes say) wife. Needless to say, my second year has been full of peaks and valleys. The paths leading to and from these milestones can be good or bad for my growth.

What is the second year routine? That is a question worthy of exploration.  The topics under this large umbrella are many – work, philosophy, friendship, love, parenting, teaching, volunteering – so the trick is to find ways these weave together in a way that provides greater understanding of what some of us are trying to do, or become, or merely learn, as we toddle our way towards new milestones.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under art, college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, Uncategorized, writing

Using the Comma in Your Life

This is a link to an article I wrote for Inlandia Literary Journeys. Each Sunday’s Life section of the Press Enterprise features a different guest column.  This is from 3/13/2016.  Share, enjoy, and read other postings on the subject of writing here –

The Creative Pause, Larry Burns

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under career, college teaching, critical thinking, UOPX, writing

Looking for Stories

Metrics!  No matter your job, there are data available to validate, educate, or eliminate you!  A solid organization will utilize all three purposes while managing the people side of the operation. During my decade in higher education, “educate” would seem a natural fit, but metrics applied in higher education can make people wonder just what they taught us at our alma maters.

If you were ever a college student, you know that the preferred method of gathering metrics from students is through the end of course survey.  One concern is that they tend to attract your most ardent supporters and frustrated detractors.  To be fair, that is an unscientific opinion supported by personal experience over several years.  I would be pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, so if there is good evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

A second concern has to do with the psychological effect looking at my scores has on me.  As much as I say and believe that I am not competitive, I sure find plenty of evidence to the contrary. Since I teach a class on thinking critically about data, I should know better. Actually, I do know better.  I also know that if Vegas ever offers betting options on what motivates decisions – emotions or evidence – put your kid’s college fund on “emotion”. But I look at the score, then immediately see how my score compares with the University average. Above average means I have been validated and I am a great teacher and should keep on keepin’ on. Below average and I may need to revise my syllabus, dust off the CV, or both.

Now that I teach several times per week instead of a few times per year, I am on campus a good deal. Which means I get to run into students from my early courses on a regular basis.  I like these student interactions because they tell a story better than the data sets.  As someone who teachers with a philosophy that we all enjoy stories and should tailor our communications to that reality, it makes sense for me.

Recently I ran into three students from three different classes on the same day!  First, I enjoyed the fact that enough of my students persisted through their early coursework in order for me to run into them!  Second, I remembered two of their names!  More importantly, the short conversations we had between classes left me feeling that I am making a difference.  One talked about his tough but survivable Math class, and how it related to some of our discussion topics in English. The other warned me that there are still plenty of teachers still doing the “Death by PowerPoint” thing.  He said if the military could not break him with months of jargon-filled slides, an occasional four hour session of them was not going to stop him either.  The third conversation was the most supportive and it came from a student that really did not like my class all that much.  We talked about work stuff and parted with a friendly handshake.

All three interactions came about by chance.  A chance that happened only because they chose to stick with the program and I chose to be out and about at my campus.  For me, it was validating.  To see them still at it, to see they wanted to continue the conversation long after they had to, helps me understand my goal as a professor.  It is not to get a higher score than my peers. If I truly wish to help them “Rise”, I must make it a point to see them, and hear them, long after they have passed my class.

Leave a comment

Filed under college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, metrics, UOPX

How We Teach Students About Values

College campuses are getting a good deal of attention these days. In fact, we always have something to bemoan about our school systems. Why? One reason is because it is a generally shared experience. However, on close inspection, the education experience will vary for people based upon things that may not align with our values.

One of our values is enshrined in our Declaration of Independance: the “pursuit of Happiness”. The assumption is that this is our own happiness, but we often pursue the happiness of others. Sometimes this is good, such as when we help someone rise and they take us with them. Or we work under someone, help them be successful, then we get to have their job when they promote or move on.  Too often, we allow systems to impede that happiness. If we value the pursuit of happiness, we are obligated to remove as many obstacles as we can. Doing so benefits ourselves and others.

With the holidays at hand (some would argue that we have been in the holiday season since Halloween), and New Year’s nipping at its heels, it is natural and healthy to reflect on our schools. I would recommend this activity with a caveat – ignore your campus mission statement. Those will always align with your values.  Choose a bigger challenge; you are a seasoned professional and are up to the task.

I recently spoke with a student in an accelerated master’s program.  He loved his teachers and felt the peers in the class were great to work alongside.  However, when he signed up for his evening program, no one mentioned he would need to take day classes to fulfill his electives.  No small obstacle when your target market is working adults.  Now, did the college commit a lie of omission, or did the student selectively not hear that detail?  Reasonable people will disagree here.

Thank goodness we are not trying to solve THAT problem.  Instead, take this example and apply it to your school. Why? Because most of us cannot change the big things at our schools, but we can affect the little things.  How we communicate, what we communicate, and when we share all will either keep a student on track or contribute to his or her failure.   Whatever we pursue in our careers, it is usually in our interest to find ways to improve the path for others.  At the very least, we should not knowingly set traps for those who rely upon us to teach them from a place of truth.  We can do this, we can live this.

Leave a comment

Filed under college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, Uncategorized

Great TED Talk for Critical Thinking

I like to think of my classroom as a place for solid infotainment, to steal an idea from television news.  Students need new content to dissect and discuss constantly.  Like it or not, we live in a fast paced society, and that lifestyle has found its way into the classroom. Better to embrace it and adapt then to “fight the good fight” to the bitter end.  The fact is, students need teachers to look for many different ways to facilitate open communication and expose new college students to a wide range of ideas.

Which is why this talk comes in handy during week one.  Why People Believe Weird Things from @michaelshermer is the perfect antidote to the clock-watching and smartphone searching that begins in earnest as we start the fourth hour of class together.  It’s funny, moves from point to point with purpose, and uses so many cultural references (UFO’s, drugs, music, religion) that almost anyone can find a part to enjoy.  I particularly love the backward-masking section because in high school, we actually studied how to find all the hidden satanic messages in heavy metal 80’s rock.

The title gets people talking. Students come to understand the joke in the title…what we consider weird is usually a matter of perspective. What I think is normal; what you think is weird.  Five weeks of critical thinking will cure most of that illness.  A video that makes people laugh, makes people think, and provides dozens of discussion topics, is certainly worthy of any educator’s attention.

Leave a comment

Filed under belief, classroom management, college teaching, critical thinking