Saturday, August 29, 2009

education as crops

Consumption seem to be an integral part of human experience. Adam and Eve are given the job of expanding the garden (be fruitful/multiply) and that every plant yielding seed and tree that bears fruit was theirs for food. (Gen 1:29 ) Thus the expectation is that these resources were to be consumed in order to help sustain their lives as well as their families, etc. However they are responsible for maintaining the resources of which they consume. Genesis 2: 15 Adam is told to cultivate and keep the garden. (This is also, supposedly, translatable as 'worship and obey' which has other implications.) Even in Genesis when Adam is handed his part of the curse for his failure to speak up he is still responsible to raise the bread for which he will eat though with much more effort and labor.
As 21st century individuals we are usually very removed from the originating source of our food/clothing. I have no connection to the cow(s)(and their chemists) that generated the milk that is currently in my fridge.(To my own credit, I've been to a working dairy farm and have helped push a herd of cows through the milk rotation while also trotting around the 2" of manure/urine that cover the majority of the barn floor chasing errant cows back to the milk chutes. This is easily one of the top three worst smelling places I've ever been in. ) I/we are used to having our milk show up in grocery stores in already packaged containers assuming it is properly pasteurized and deliciously nutritious. As natural consumers we/I need food to survive. As 21st century consumers, I/we don't think about it and I think this is from whence the danger comes. I was thinking tonight that perhaps the issue with our consumption patterns may not be completely in the act of consumption itself (though this has its own issues) but is rooted in the pattern of thought behind the consuming.
Since we are no longer an agrarian society, as a culture we/I do not have an (in)vested interest in the production of our food. We have been so far removed fromit we have no idea the effort it takes to produce. In some ways this is good because it measn that we arefree to pursue other interests/hobbies, etc. However I think that this aspect of consumption far from the source of production of sustenance mainfests itself in our education processes as well. As Postman and others have written, the current schooling system in the West is set up to produce consumers only w/o grounding in asking "What is?" Students are moved through standardized testing consuming facts, vomitting them back up in darkly filled No. 2 pencil dots and, having conusmed these facts are given diplomas in order to get a job in order to buy stuff, that is consume. This may sound slightly radical but read any major organ of higher ed and the focus is on the job market with the call resounding that we (the institution) need to help the student break into the market place. If the focus of this 'higher ed' is only the job market then there is no need for Bible courses or philosophy. The arguement that these items are needed for the student's worldview is no longer relevant as the necessary knoweldge can be obtained from Sunday School.
My question is: How are we/I helping students think critically? (I understand this term 'think critically' is almost dead as a cliche but I think this practice is the foundation of education.) Maybe this means eschewing whatever pragmatic approach is currently trendy and rocking a class rap session together. It definitely means more writing. There are schools that are doing both. Check out Deep Springs College which is a two year school where the students work to sustain the school (farm/ranch) and study with a very small faculty who leave the light on at night on their front porches if they want to let students know that the faculty are available to chat. This is education experienced in community-outside the bounds of the 50 minutes of classroom time. Check out their academic statement here. I completely doubt Deep Springs is a utopia but I think their touches to the heart of developing respondible students and invovled citizens. I think this approach of requiring laboring scholars . If we/I work to build/maintain a place then I/we have invested something more than federal loans or our parent's money. I believe that consumption of education is directly combatted by knowledge of its importance. If If education is simply a job training process then colleges should go out of business bc people change careers like old socks. But if college is going to challenge the process of only consuming then I think we need a holistic approach that requires not only the minds of the students but their hearts and hands as well.

One of the things that sparked this somewhat admittedly labyrinthine bit of text was the five questions Prof. John Oliff raised on his blog a week or two ago. See the original post here and partially reproduced below:

"I begin the semester with copious questions (again) about the nature of the educational process and the value of traditional education system. I am still convinced the way the system is currently structured leaves students unprepared to face the realities of the world post commencement. Here are some of my lingering questions:
(1) what value is it to students in the real world to have them memorize data for the sake of tests and measurements - dates, outlines, paradigms, etc.? Why have students write "research" papers when they have no clue how to write in the first place - I mean, when a student applies to a retail job or a desk job in the future, their bosses are not going to have them do such a thing, right. If one argues it is simply to build in them the discipline to do so, then I think it is not the proper motivation. They did not come to University to build discipline (that is for the home, prior to coming) but to be trained to think about systems, analyze texts, and write critical essays on them, right?
(2) Do we stifle the process of dialogue and learning by having 50 min. classes where the process is cut short by the clock - what does this model about learning?
(3) What do we really mean by integration? If by it we mean take Bible classes and fit the other disciplines into the Bible, then I think it is not what it means (I am open to suggestions here).
(4) Prejudices, how much of what I do in the classroom and out of it is based on known and unknown prejudices - ones passed on to me from others who have them and have not considered their origin? Am I even aware of my own? Do I know them but fear the outcome of questioning them?
(5) Why do students come to University? Why spend thousands of dollars a year to come to University - to get a job, I think not? To go in debt - I think not... To learn to think! To evaluate reality, to learn to interact with other humans who are doing the same thing?!?!?!?!

Ok, enough, you get the point. One of my goals this term is to love to learn and learn to love in a way that will stimulate others along the same path. Remember, the unexamined life is not worth living (Aristotle).
So let it begin, let the texts be opened and the mind expanded! Cut the student lose from the chains that have bound their minds to unexamined presuppositions, to wonderment of the unseen realities surrounding them. Let them be human - seekers of truth, answers that fail them... let them learn to "be". "

Thursday, August 13, 2009


So today I and another Davis College employee, Josh Ridall, are departing Davis College at 4 pm with the goal of flying out of Elmira, NY at 7 pm enroute to Michigan and then catching a connecting flight back to the Chicago area, getting picked up by a car dealership company in order to be dropped off at a hotel in a town that in 1999 was rated "one of the worst metropolitan areas to live",(bottom of the page) arising early in order to get picked by the same car dealership by 7 am in order to drive the two newly purchased vans from Illinois through Indiana, Ohio, PA and into NY for 11 hours and 35 minutes where our route will take us through Cleveland for much of Ohio parallels Lake Erie eventually shuttling us onto Route 86/17 in NY which is easily the most interminable road that I've ever driven on so in order to stave off sleep/boredom/fading off the road my drive will be accompanied by Kerouac's On the Road being read by Will Paxton which was chosen because it was the best audio book available from the local library that was also long enough to cover the entire drive.
Adventure on!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The NYT is a technology hub this morning and some of these articles are worth sharing
Digital Classrooms Digital Textbooks

I’ve Got Mail

Breakfast Can Wait. The Day’s First Stop Is Online.
It's quite interesting to read the second and third articles in conjunction with each other. Both articles identify this tug that information (or the possibility of new information) has on our collective consciousness. In my mind, and in my experience, this constant 'waiting for something to happen (email/facebook/blog update) promotes, again this is for myself, a state of tension that is difficult to identify unless I'm distinctly cut off from them. My previous position was at a company who did everything through email and in the IT section where I worked we used IM (instant messaging) to share information. Thus typically some sort of informational message was constantly popping into my screen. Transitioning from that comapny to the college library where I know where was surprisingly difficult in the mental transition of setting goals for the day. Where I was used to my day being a reactive one based on the information pumped into my computer, at the library on a busy day I may get 10 emails. This seriously blew my mind the first two weeks of working here and I find myself staring at Outlook and whacking away at the F9 button to make sure there weren' any message hanging just outside of the range of the computer's consciousness.
One of the questions I think that we as a culture and a nation, possibly a world, are going to have to address is what is a good relationship to the amount of technology and information to which we have access to? I don't think we have successfully done this yet. There are many books dealing with exploring what the technology and information have done to our society and some of those effects but I'm not sure if we've begun to grapple with how to successfully navigate them as the second article points out. The idea of a machine updating ties nicely into the evolutionary concept that progress is continually happening and that things are consistently getting better.
If any of the 3-4 readers of this blog know of any, or even any blog postings/articles that may deal with this I would be interested in reading them, so please feel free to share.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

do you have any tea?

I had a very drunk 63-year-old with no teeth tousle my hair at 9:28 this morning. The reason that he happened to tousle my hair was that he was explaining the Holy Trinity to me. After ticking off God, (his thumb) Jesus, (the second finger) he reached up and tousled saying this is the Holy Trinity. The initial reason that we were even contact was that
while in my office working on cataloging books I heard someone yelling obscenities which is really rare for the Davis campus. Sticking my head out of the front door brought the shouter into view. He was swaying gently back and forth next to the handicapped ramp. I asked him if he needed help. He requested tea from the cafe. Unfortunately for his purposes the cafe wasn't open yet so I suggested coffee as that is what I had. He asked for tea again. I said I didn't have tea but I did have coffee. S As I was coming back out of the library with the coffee in hand, someone across campus had sneezed and Steve was kindly administering the common courtesy extended to sneezers from his perch on the steps.
Handed him the coffee and attempted to avoid sitting down on the library steps.
-You scared?
-(in my head- a bit)
-(out loud) Nope.
-What's your name?
Steve, the teetering elderly man with no teeth, yelling at people across campus. Steve is about 6' and was wearing a greenish short-sleeve button-down shirt (possibly grey) over a yellow t-shirt with his legs wearing dirty jeans and white sneakers. He also wore glasses-bifocals. I think his eyes were brown and his hair was short and dark grey matted slightly so that it almost looked he may have used gel but based on the remainder of his physical appearance that was probably not the case.
I sat down next to Steve
We managed to discuss(where discuss = he talked and I insert Sure/indeed/ok at appropriate intervals. He was difficult to understand.) where he lived (about a mile away in Johnson City) the wonder of creation, Adam and Eve, the appropriate treatment of spouses, his occupation (this was tricky bc he said he was an art teacher (plausible) and he broke people's backs (implausible). This breaking backs thing may have been a metaphor to his perserverance as the literal was probably not true as he was barely in shape to walk.)
and infinity. Steve lacked teeth which made have made him harder to understand. He said
-Iforgot my teeth.
-that's alright, man.
-oh alright.
In the beginning of the conversation he managed to stick his tongue out about 5-6 times. Steve has an amazing tongue-partially bc it was mostly white rather than the standard pink/salmon tongue color that is expected and also bc he could basically touch his unshaven chin with it. (Not sure if this is due to a short chin or a long tongue-either way it was impressive.)
The weird thing is that conversation was progressing fairly well until he attempted to explain the Trinity in addition to the thumb/forefinger bit that the sound of the contractor's saw was also the Trinity and I responded really/i'm not sure if that's correct/I don't agree with you at which point I was told I was a lying sack of 'poop' and didn't know garble anything.
The police had been called apparently but I was not aware of this. I am not sure if I had been aware if I would have offered my hair to be tousled as a continued distraction.
The police arrived about 10-15 minutes afterward and I gave the report. The officer said if I wanted anything for my hair, not that there was really anything they could do. I said no not being particularly worried about it but my head continues to tingle, which is unusual. (Apparently Steve had been on campus before; hopefully I was on vacation when this happened bc according to the person telling me Steve had to be strapped down to a gurney by the ambulance who came to pick him up and if I had missed that working in the library I've got my own issues to work out.)
There's another part of this story that might be considered metaphysical. That the part where I'm not sure where if this is sad or funny or challenging or a call for action. How should this story be told? In the light of humor at his expense? Or do i swing it around at my expense where at the same time I'm hoping for some commendation for my interaction with him-on the level of a normal person interacts w/ non-normal person via a cup of coffee (which didn't even get finished as the coffee spilled during one of his stories and the cup was crushed underneath Steve's foot and for reasons unknown to me, upon his departure Steve pocketed the squashed cup) which I think is empty as it sounds but knowing the emptiness doens't seem to curtail or, more importantly, seem to dissolve the desire for that recognition. Even writing this down is probably a back-handed attempt to win recognition. However at the same time this is one of the much more poignant encounters than I normally have and so to document it, for rememberance and contemplation.
The police officer asked me if we (the college) wanted him around again. I said no. In his prior state, Steve was not particularly conducive to Davis campus. During the once a week chapel session we talk about inviting people onto campus and informing the community that they are welcome however the implication that they are in a state of mind and behavior that would be considered the antithesis of Steve's state of mind. This is not to be unfair or unduly ideological but rather that Steve in his appearance and demonstrating his distance from the life God has called us to walk requires something more than an invitation or a police escort off campus. We normal people usually call it 'help' as in 'Steve needs help' which is probably true whether or not he sees it that way and Davis is not equipped to receive and help people struggling the way Steve seemed to be as we are attempting to equip ourselves to help a different sort of struggling person. Should/can we be? Not everyone wants to be helped. I don't and from my viewpoint I'm much more 'together' than my man Steve seems to be.