No School: Sweet!

Ok, I'll admit it.  I'm slightly giddy at the cancellation of school tomorrow due to "Frankenstorm" hitting the US's northeast's coast throughout tomorrow.  I'm happy to have the day off but also highly intrigued by the discussing, obsessing, and goofiness of it all.  From the naming of Hurricane Sandy as Frankenstorm (check out the Wikipedia entry) to the continually updates people have received in the 24+ news cycle and the various posts on Facebook and Twitter (#HurricaneSandy and #Frankenstorm), you pretty much have to live in a bubble to not to have heard about it or been threatened by it.  The current trend I'm seeing is people posting photos of grocery stores being completely emptied out because of the forthcoming storm (such as this one).

In similar capacity to what I saw with the great earthquake of New England, I decided to create a facebook page in a similar fashion called:  Thanks Sandy The Frankenstorm, I Don't Have School Tomorrow.  Clearly, there's an element of egotism on here (we know I can be an attention whore), but I'm not nearly as interested in my own self-promotion as I am at seeing how the numbers play out--how quickly does it grow (if it grows quickly at all) and what can be derived from that information as relates to learning and social media.

So here's to exploring of something can be made of a mass event and engaging with people about it and its potential uses.  I'll post a follow up in the next week as we see what happens (or doesn't happen).

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Booked Thoughts: Complete Without Kids

Based upon a recommendation from a good friend, I took the time to read Complete Without Kids:  An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance by Ellen L. Walker.  It proved a decent read for those making the conscious decision to not having children or even those who might be considering having kids but wanting to consider all possible options.  I have my critiques of it which will follow shortly, but I first wanted to explore the purpose of such a book and why I am writing about it.  Many friends know that I made the conscious and permanent decision to not reproduce years ago.  I regularly make note of this in various social media and when interacting with people.  Some have certainly accused me of talking about it "too much" and this usually takes two forms:

1.  Thou doth protest too much

This is the argument that I talk about not having kids and being happy with that decision but really do want them and am pretending or faking myself out to believe I don't.  That's more likely a projection of the other person than it has anything to do with me.  As someone who is constantly processing and putting time and thought into his actions, I have been more than comfortable with my decision; it's not something I've faltered in.  It's something I'm assured of and feel it's only right that I boast of my choice just as those who choose to have children also do so.

2.  Attacking parents

This argument usually argues that I'm trying to make parents feel guilty about their choices or to somehow devalue people who decide to have children.  Again, this is more projection from the person than it is accusation from me.  I understand why people want to be parents; I understand the beauty and wonder of raising children (See side note below).  However, my choice not to do so is often an affront to their choices (conscious or not) to have children.  Thus by saying, I'm happy in my choice to not have children, they hear it akin to me saying they could have been happy without kids (or future possibility of kids).

Book cover: Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree  Living by Choice or by Chance by Ellen L. Walker
Complete Without Kids:
An Insider's Guide to Childfree
Living by Choice or by Chance

by Ellen L. Walker
So then why do I talk about it so much?

1.  It's a significant part of my life.  

Just as having children is a big part of parents' lives, not having children is equally a significant part.  It changes the course of one life and perception of time.  Instead of my 30s being a time of nesting, raising pups, and running around like crazy taking care of children, I'm exploring different physical, intellectual, and spiritual experiences while contributing to the world around me in myriad ways.  Much of my successes and opportunities stem from the choice not to reproduce.

2.  To open up the idea to others

There is no real discussion or space in our culture for those that choose not to procreate.  Our culture like many others celebrates the act of reproduction through stories, rituals, and traditions.  And yes, a culture should celebrate its youth and encourage reproduction for the stability of the culture.  However, we do so largely in this culture at the disregard of those that don't have children.  There's no real place for them in society and very little encouraging in our culture for people to consider to not have children.  Just like how we communicate gender norms throughout childhood, we largely inform our youth that their purpose is to procreate and don't have a healthy or reasonable dialogue about not having children.  So I choose to talk about it regularly to give the opportunity and space for people  to make a more conscious decision about it.

Onto the book!  Walker approaches the subject first by re-framing it as "childfree" instead of "childless".  Linguistically, this intrigued me from the start because it speaks of how we tend to frame adults.  They are lacking--"childless".  In a culture that orgiastically worships children and youth, to be "childless" means you lack any connection to what's important.  Curiously, the word has overlap with the word "chilly"--clearly not a conspiracy of any sort, but interestingly nonetheless as that is somehow childfree adults are described as the author points out.

The book operates as a guide for things to consider if a person is on the fence or a reinforcement of the decision for those that have decided.  In fact, in many ways the author tries to play to several different audiences ("Childfree living by choice or by chance" as the subtitles reads) and I don't know that it works out as successfully if she had just charged in deep to one specific audience.  She does provide a panorama view of the things to consider from coming to the decision, to engaging the world from this vantage point, to the new choices opened up to you by moving in this direction.  She also emphasizes differences in relationship, wealth, and opportunities for those finding themselves along this path.

My major critique of the book is that it doesn't really have a substantial strong male presence or approach about what it means to be a male without children.  I don't think she fully considered that there are different experiences for men who don't have children than women.  I would argue that there is.  This is not a case of one has it worse than another, but how that decision is challenged or questioned often plays out differently.  For women, not having children can often mean they are looked at as less, devalued, or not seen as a complete woman.  For men, the judgment comes in other forms such as challenges about our masculinity and even implications or raise eyebrows as somehow being more predatory than men who do have children.  So I think she misses the boat on that one (mayhaps the book I need to write?).

All in all, she provides some good food for thought even for people who believe they are going to have children but want to think more critically about it before moving forward with the decision.  I have to wonder if people had the opportunity to have a genuine conversation on the topic of whether to procreate or not, how many of them actually would--especially when we consider that about half of children born were unplanned.

Side note

Some will read that line and say "You can't understand what it's like to be a parent because you aren't one."  If you hold that line to be true, which seems to imply I'm devoid of feeling or sense making about something profound as life and love, and happen to be a parent or at least contemplating becoming a parent, then you cannot understand what it is like to be an adult who has consciously and permanently chosen not to reproduce.  It's a silly argument that parents often put upon people who don't--or haven't yet--reproduce.  By that logic, we can never understand addiction unless we're an addict, we can never understand any type of trauma without being exposed to it, and so on and so forth.  It's simply silly.

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Published Letter to the Salem News

Originally, I didn't think they were publishing this--it was almost 2 weeks ago.  What follows is an response to this editorial column in the Salem News by Jonathan Blodget, Distract Attorney for Essex County, published on October 11, 2012.

Blodgett's words about the perils of texting while driving are worth reading.  But I think most people will read them, say "that's right" and continue to condemn people who text behind the wheel, all the while texting when they drive--because they really know what they're doing. 

It's not that Blodgett's words are meaningless; but in and of themselves, they are irrelevant.  Yes, stop texting while driving is the goal--but what's a realistic route to that goal.

For the rest of the letter, click through to the Salem News.

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Teaching: Trying Not to Be Snide, Or, A Battle In My Mind

The student had already tried my patience.  Largely, because less than 24 hours earlier, he was asking for information about an assignment (due in 72 hours) that could be found right under the title of the "Assignment Guideline".  Thus before class as the student approached, I didn't have the best frame of mind (a problem unto itself).  He began asking questions about the assignment; questions that I had gone over in the previous class.  What to cover (also in the guidelines), how to deal with the subject matter (also in the guidelines), and other details.  He kept asking; I kept answering and suddenly, I caught myself (and wanted to smack myself).  This was THE tone.  This was the dismissal.  This was where a student becomes disconnected.  I had to take a step back and reassess what I was doing.

I spend a lot of time with a course, making sure I have everything the student needs in order to properly accomplish the task at hand.  This means generating about 20 pages of text (and increasingly 1-2 hours of self-created videos) to be made available for the students.  I couple this with setting aside class time to go over the assignment step by step.  So there is a tendency within me to feel like I've "done enough" for my students or that I'm happy to answer questions that are more substantive than when's the paper due (listed on the syllabus, the guideline itself, and each upcoming assignment is posted on the homework slide in class).  I believe deeply in the idea of transparency and that when a student steps into my course, he or she knows everything that will be expected of him/her throughout the entirety of the class.  Students may not always like the amount and the type of work that I expect in a course, but they are never misinformed on my behalf.  I do this, because I care about my students' success.  I want them fully aware of what success looks like in the courses that I teach and I want to make sure I've guided them in the right direction.

But there I was, slipping into that authoritative tone that looks to berate the student because I know it's in there and this student doesn't fully realize it.  I don't like the tone; it feels too distancing and comes at the expense of the student's lack of knowledge.  It's too matter of fact and not enough matter of concern.

I caught myself before slipping too far.  I was able lighten my tone and engage with the student about the assignment in a more meaningful way.  But the moment had me thinking (obviously).  I caught myself that time but what about the other times that I don't catch myself.  How many students have I lost or sent down the path of apathy because of my lack of sensitivity.

It's not that I look to baby my students in any way; they have ample work to do in my class.  But I would rather work from a vantage point of working with them-not against them.  The work will be hard in my class, thus I look to be a conduit to aiding them in making sense of and accomplishing it.  I want to guide and strengthen their skills, but that doesn't happen by shaming, disregarding, or (directly or indirectly) insulting them.  That alienates and distracts them from the purpose of education.  I regularly emphasize that the classroom is a place of learning and a key piece of learning is sometimes making mistakes (or even failing).  I know my own life is full of failures that have been great lessons on life.  It's moments like these that I have to hold onto that and communicate it better with my students.

So I guess that's something I need to keep working on.

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Recent Post on LETS Blog: “Surviving” Earthquakes and Viral Education

I heard about it; I did not feel it.  Apparently, I missed the not-so-epic earthquake of New England.  I was in my basement apartment engaged in conversation–I guess I just figured it was the hot air bellowing from me (or indigestion?).  But New England witnessed a 4.5 magnitude earthquake in Maine that was felt down through Massachusetts.

Like many people who missed the earthquake, I found out about it when Facebook updates exploded with references to it.  Dozens of friends were asking Facebook if their world was just rocked.  Enough asked to figure out that yes, indeed, there was an earthquake, even before the official notice went out.  It was pretty interesting to come to Facebook some 20 minutes after the event to discover the event and witness everyone else discovering the event.

For the full article, click on through!

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Adventures in Learning: Is Almost All Learning Social?

Previously, I had talked about the nature of wisdom as being centrally located in the realm of the social and less in the head.  Again, as Merriam et al explain, "Moreover, wisdom seems to consist of the ability to move away from absolute truths to be reflective, and to make sound judgments for the common good related to our daily existence, whatever our circumstances" (Pg 356).

As we've delved into thinking about learning, I can't help but think about learning as almost entirely social in many capacities.  I do believe a child left to its own devices (only given the necessary food) is likely to make some sense of the world (i.e. learn) but I tend to think that its sense-making is significantly diminished without the social element.  After all, if we have these mirror neurons, they are very much there in part for us to learn and understanding the world by watching others. Human babies, compared to many other species, are born prematurely without the innate knowledge much of the animal kingdom seems born with.   Thus, much of their learning is socially constructed.

Ok, some will think, children and adults still get to a point where their learning is self-directed and derived within.  Yes.  But is it really?  The baby turns into a toddler and eventually a full fledged adult.  All the while, the learning continues to be mirroring those around from smiles, to sounds, to walking.  Would a child ever learn to walk if it was not surrounded by upwardly mobile adults--witnessing 1000s of times humans practicing the act of standing up in the 1-2 years it takes the child to develop the strength and determine it.

But as the child develops there's a continual social context in which it learns.  In fact, it takes a witness for proof that a child has learned something (talking/walking only count when an adult is present).  However, it's when the child begins to learn language that it truly descends into substantive social learning.

What is language: a means of communication between two or more entities (real or artificial; we have human languages and also computer languages).  Language is grounded in the social space between two entities.

Social Learning and the Child

Back to the child.  The child learns and integrates that language system and it becomes a fundamental way of making sense of the world--so much so, that throughout the lifespan of that child, it will continue to use language as a central part of its thinking process (to be clear, I know we don't just think in language, but a substantive portion of our thought process is language based).  Every time, we engage in language internally or externally, we are invoking the social world.

This is not just an abstract, convenient, or interesting way to think about learning and the social realm.  Language is the means by which we categorize and make sense of the universe.  Certain languages privilege certain words (more adjectives than adverbs), relationships (the ways words can be constructed in relation to one another), tones (emphasis and accents on certain words change meaning) and even ideologies (languages that create a pronoun system based on gender).  Language shapes thought--we cannot necessarily think of (make sense of or recognize) things that are not connected to a cohesive use of language.   Thus, even when we are in our own heads (for instance, while reading this post), learning and making sense of the world around us--if we are using language, we are relying on our social relationship to learn.

"But no one hears me when I use words in my head" might be the protest.  But you're still engaging in dialogue with yourself.  That is, it can still be social in nature even if that dialogue is internal.  We see this happen all the time--we debate ourselves (some even play themselves in chess), we compete against ourselves (Tetris--ohhhh, Tetris), and we engage ourselves.

So if language is a social construct and we're constantly using it, isn't most learning social in nature?  If words are transmitting of thoughts, who are we transmitting to when we use words in our head?

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Tales of Running: Resilience & Mules

When I was young and had to run at sports, I always came in last.  I knew I would never be a winner at running, but I always told myself that compared to most people I was running with, I bet I could out run them.  That is, I told myself (though never ever came close to proving it) that I could have the stamina to keep running long after they had quit.  That's what I told myself, but I'm not sure I believed it.  I told myself that I was a mule--made for long treks while they were gazelles, gallivanting about.  It tended to be self-delusional at best and largely a means of trying to make myself feel superior when I felt anything but.  However, years later, as I enjoy the development and love for running coupled with the accomplishments of this fall of running a 25K, 30K and half-marathon, I feel now more the mule than ever.  I'm still not winning races and I'm coupled with hundreds of other mules as we trot along in these races (most others at faster paces), but I feel I am doing running that many others that I was comparing myself with may never do.  It's a slight feeling of vindication, accomplishment, and comfort to that child who hated running, himself, and the world around him so much.

Finding Inner Balance

In all my development as a runner, I've walked a very tight rope.  Inwardly, I've accomplished an impressive feat that has profoundly changed my understanding of myself and my abilities.  And because of that, it lends itself well to feeling like I "know" something about life and can extrapolate from my experience to make sense of others' life.  In laymen's terms, I could easily fall into the preachy world of believing that if I can do it, everyone can.  It's such an easy position to take up--one that feeds our egos and our national mythology of the self-made man (or woman).  This is such a strong sentiment within our culture:  "If I did it, you can.  If you can't, you're clearly not trying hard enough."  That is, we have a tendency to decide that something we can do and others cannot is a character flaw.  Many know this as the fundamental attribution error.  We know our own stories and recognize the myriad situational challenges that keep us from doing things we want to do, but when we look to others facing challenges (drugs, weight, relationship problems, etc), we decide their problems are a result of character flaws.  What I have to keep reminding myself is that just because I did it, doesn't mean others can.  And if they can't--it's not necessarily through a failure or lacking on their personal end.  It isn't a reflection of them but more often, a reflection of their context.  (Some will hear that and look to blame the individual for inhabiting their specific context--this feels like the same thing:  much of our context is predefined or inescapable or even unrealized because it entails trying to see and and make sense of our lives from beyond our viewpoint--more about that later).

Lance Eaton running the Nahant 30K race in his Vibrams
While I did manage to build up the stamina and strength despite different set backs, there were vastly more things that went right for me (beyond my control or influence) that allowed me to work as hard as I did and succeed.  There were innumerable situational contexts that helped me as an individual to succeed.  I can't claim victory without acknowledging how those contexts helped me and how the context of others' lives hinder their attempts.  And of course, I'm not just talking about running--this is true for all aspects of life.

What Does This Runner Have Going for Him?

Here is just a list of some of the situational contexts that allowed me to do what I have done--that vary drastically among people.  And these are the ones that I'm aware of--I would imagine for every one that I am aware of, there are several that I'm not:
  • I work in an environment that is intellectually stimulating (making me feel mentally rewarded and thus leaving me opportunity to seek physical stimulation after work hours).
  • I work in an environment that is not physically exhausting.
  • I am paid sufficiently so that I do not have to work 10-12+ hours a day nor do I have to work a second job (I do--but that's because we all know I'm hyperactive like that).
  • I have a good amount of peers who have picked up running prior to or in parallel with me and thus had a community I could depend on for support, advice, and encouragement.
  • I could afford the footwear that helped me find running tolerable (and eventually enjoyable).
  • I live in an area that I am safe to go running in at any time of day or night.
  • I'm a large white male--perceived as less vulnerable than others and thus, more confident to run by myself without fear or concern.
  • I can afford a music player to help keep me motivated and moving (technically numerous, since once accidentally found itself in the washing machine).
  • I could afford the various entry fees that I paid over the summer for the different races and to which helped me build up the stamina for the longer runs.
  • I had the leisure to write about the running (which helped perpetuate the running).
  • I had the internet access to regularly get a sense of how far I was running.
  • I knew that if I got injured while running, I could access my health insurance for care.
  • I knew that if I got injured while running, it would not likely impact my job or job performance in an irreparable way.
  • I do not suffer from previously untreated or poorly treated illness or injuries (often from lack of health insurance or poor quality insurance).
  • I do not suffer from any variety of visible or invisible disabilities.
  • I have the resources to regularly wash clothes.
  • I have the resources to afford healthier food to better fuel my body.
  • I do not have other dependents to care for (my cats don't count).
  • I was coming from a place of health where I have already achieved some success (sustained weight loss after becoming vegetarian) and that served as substantive motivation.
  • I had an occasional running partner whose schedule coincided with mine (and then I could go on ad nauseum of all the things that went right in order for him to be running with me).
And to be clear, I'm not making excuses for those that haven't achieved their goals (whatever they may be).  But I can better understand that while I could start training for running at mile zero, many others must start training at mile negative ten and beyond.  I have a great many advantages to work with that made achieving these goals more realistic.

Context Is Messy

The context we exist in is particularly tricky.  It can empower us, debilitate us, and usually does a range of both in differing ways.  The mental ability to stick with a project can be challenging.  Whether it's weight loss, physical training, or quitting cigarette, outsiders don't often realize that it's not a singular battle ("I've decided to eat healthy. Done!"), but innumerable battles taking place on many different battlefields.  Take eating healthier.  It means every time one engages with food, one has to determine a path to "healthy eating."  Nevermind, that food information lies, misinforms, or purposely confuses (see Michael Pollan's work for more on that), so choosing the right foods is problematic, but then there's the amount.  There's also the cultural around food.  I have at least one friend who swears she wants to be a vegetarian but she lives with a family whose cultural food traditions are very meat heavy.  I have other friends who feel they lose elements of social engagement because they have to reject offers to go out to eat because the places to eat are not inline with the decisions.  So as an individual, a person is dealing with type, amount, timing, social pressure, inner pressure, and other myriad facts.  And they're doing this constantly throughout a day.  That's a heavy cognitive load to work with.  And it's true that it wears on the psyche of the individual.  Research experiments regularly show that one's will power is limited and needs time to develop more strongly.  But with big-ticket items such as weight, healthy, addiction--that's extreme hard to do because in a given day, the willpower is being drained away constantly.

And of course, one is doing this while also deeply enmeshed in the craziness of their lives with the various personal, work, familial, and friend-related demands that complicated it extensively.  And this is important too.  People don't realize how much one has to do with the other, but yes, the myriad other demands of one's life also make achieving specific goals quite hard.  Want proof?  The military has about a 60% success rate in terms of people who sign up and are still there 4 years later.  Despite the tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) spent on the training of a single soldier, they still cannot get a higher retention rate--they cannot get people to achieve their goals.  And that's the US military!  I make this point, because the military are very conscious in their training and helping soldiers prepare.  They do something that virtually most of us cannot.  They purposely and clearly remove the cognitive demands of soldiers.  Basic training takes soldiers out of the demands of their daily lives--it lessens the amount of things they have to think about, so that they can focus on training.  Their food, sleep, clothing, daily events, transportation--nearly everything--is predetermined for some 6-12 weeks.  This means that they only have to focus on their goal.  It's almost entirely reprogramming; remove them from their context, and get them fixated on one purpose.  It's a very ingenious way of helping people accomplish a task and yet, isn't perfect.  It goes to show why making committed decisions in our lives are rather challenging and that it takes a serious amount of reprogramming that not quite easy to do when deeply intermixed with our context.  

In the end, I'm proud of my accomplishments.  I've earned them.  But I hold no perception that this proves anything about anyone beyond me.  I've benefit from the privileges afforded someone as a white middle-class (perceived as) heterosexual male.  In our culture, that does give me certain advantages and predispositions.  It does not detract from my accomplishment, but it provides a relevant context for understanding that the there is a multi-layered playing field and others have larger and more challenging obstacles to overcome beyond just building up to the running  (or whatever goal or expectation being discussed).

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Tales of Running: That's Gonna Hurt In the Morning

So I know I just ran a half-marathon on Saturday and I should probably give myself some rest.  But I couldn't resist.  I found my body yearning to hit the road again.  Maybe it was because how I felt about the half-marathon or just that I feel a post-run buzz.  It could be because fall is finally here and that makes me happy too.  Or it could be that I ate crappy and was largely sedentary today so I figured this could at least balance that out.

But the run was wonderfully delightful.  A bit tricky for sure; running at night is hard because the sidewalk is not always visible which is even more problematic when running barefoot or with vibrams.  But I totally rocked it.  I ran 4.3 miles.  Not a long run for sure (oh, the amusement of that sentence:  Lance just said 4.3 miles was "not a long run".  Hilarity).  I set a strong pace and did the run in 40:05.  That's a 9:19 mile pace which is ok.  I've done better but when juxtaposed with the run the other day and the fact that it was night, I'd say it was pretty good.  Overall, it just felt good to push myself hard.  On most runs, I am pushing distance and keeping solely pacing on making sure I finish.  In this instance, I was focused solely on pushing myself to go hard.

Right now, I'm clearly running on endorphins and excitement.  I'm proud of the accomplishment; I'm energized by a hard but short run.  But I have a good feeling (or is that a bad feeling) that I'm going to feel this in morning.  I'm off to shower and stretch...and maybe pop some aspirin--I have a feeling I'm going to need it.

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Tales of Running: Of Half-Marathons and Mind Games

Timing on Lance Eaton's first half-marathon.So there it is.  My half-marathon.  Done.  Accomplished.  Just over a year from the first road race I've every completed.  And it's not that I was worried about doing it--after all, I had the 30K and the 25K behind me.  Getting it done wasn't a  fait accompli but I was definitely confident about my performance.  I told myself that I would definitely shave some minutes off my time.   I was setting a low time of 2:20 and a high time of 2:15.  Neither were hit.  I came in at just under 2:26 which was 11:08 miles.  In terms of timing, I did better with the 25K with 11:01 miles.  So clearly, I was wrong.

So why didn't I do better?  There could be lots of reasons to point to:

I didn't train as best I could over the last month.  There's truth in this.  Every week I could have fit in one more run, but told myself I was too busy to do so (despite knowing how much good it does me--even when I'm busy).

Lance Eaton et al after first half-marathon.I jumped out of the gate too soon.  Again, there's viability here.  This is the first race I ran with friends.  They were kind in slowing themselves down to stick with me, but regardless, it still pushed me a bit too hard when I might not have otherwise.  This has been great on the short runs.  One friend has been awesome at getting me to produce better times.  However, here, I let their presence distract me from what I knew I needed to do and how I needed to pace (And if they're reading this; I'm not blaming you in any way--you guys were great support--I just should have given myself better direction).

It's too much to expect.  After all, it was barely a month since the first run.  Definitely a realistic thing to consider.  A part of me says "yeah, but you still should have" and it battles with the other part of me that says, "Shut up, ya did it. You can work towards a better time in the future!"

With all of these courses, they have been completely new to me.  I've not run them before and have no idea what to expect.  The runs I do in my neighborhood, I know without thought.  I've walked, ran, biked, and driven them hundreds of times over the last 30 years.  These routes are entirely new to me as a runner (and often even a driver--I've never driven around Nahant, Hollis, or Gloucester--or at least the degree to which we ran around Gloucester).  That in itself presents challenges because I really don't know what's around any given corner nor can I accurately predict the "end".

Lance Eaton's racing numbers and medals.But all of that is speculative and not really why I didn't do better.  In hindsight, I failed the mind game.  My body is clearly capable for the running.  I've done and continue to do it.  But I didn't prepare myself well enough for the mind game of running.  The mind game (for me) seems to creep in somewhere around mile 8 (if it's a longer run; if I'm running 9-10 miles; it doesn't register).  It's the point at which I'm battling the impulse (and yes, it is an impulse) to stop with the desire to keep running.  It's true that by mile 10, I need to stop and stretch my legs and my feet need some rest to keep circulation going smoothly.  But with that stop comes the mental demands for more stops.  The rest of the race is a tug of war between wanting to finish and wanting to walk.

In part, I lost this battle in this run.  I stopped and stretched, but didn't let myself become re-absorbed with running.  Instead, I continued to stop every mile or so therein and rest, walk and stumble back into running.  I lacked strategy.  I understand my body needs rest, but I also know this was more of my mind deciding to stop.  This is the inner battle of (this) runner.  It's clear I was never able to slip back into the mindset as I was unable to smile or cry.

It's something I need to be more prepared for and ready to overcome.  After all, if I need evidence that I can in fact do these, I've now got 3 medals saying I can and did.
Lance Eaton's racing number and medal for his first half-marathon.

The question remains now:  when does Lance do a marathon?  I think that option's out for the fall and winter season.  However, as I've said if the winter is mild and I can keep my running up.  I may think about it next summer or fall. 

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Adventures in Learning: Would the Real Andragogy Please Stand Up?

This discussion follows close on the heels of my discussion of is there an "adult learner" post (to which I largely say no).  Thus, if there is no adult learning, I wonder if we can have a theory of adult-teaching (andragogy).  Our look at pedagogy and andragogy seems to bring this point home for me.  In last week’s class (9/27), andragogy was explained as using the leaner's own knowledge and experience to better align with or integrate it with the new information, content, ideas, etc of what the course content is focused on.  Of course, that seems to be realistic way of approaching teaching in general—not just something geared specifically towards adults.  Helping children translate knowledge from something they know to something new doesn’t seem to be a particularly adult-specific approach.  A lot of learning we do with children is analogically based (a good example is how parents try to explain death to a child; “you’re grandmother’s ‘gone away’ for a long time.”)  However, one supposed element of andragogy is that it’s about leveling the class, removing hierarchy, and shifting to a student-centered approach.

That the classroom of the adult learner is less hierarchical seems to be a fiction.  Our class the other night is a great example of that.  Students had questions about how to do one thing or another.  They wanted to verify different elements of the course.  They were concerned and wanting to make sure they understood the expectations so they could do the work right.  Our instructor (engaged in the practice of andragogy) lightly laughed and said that we were worrying about it too much and she wasn't too worried; it will all get worked out, she assured us.  She was essentially embracing the idea of peership within the course.  Our investment in our education would guarantee our success in the challenges she provided.  Or at least on its face value, that's what it appeared.  But that's not entirely true.  The classroom, adult or otherwise, is still largely hierarchical  Like many other instructors have said, "this might be a benevolent dictatorship, but it is still a dictatorship."  And no, I'm really not trying to call our instructor a dictator exactly.  However, for all the talk of us being responsible for our own learning, for our meaning making, and self-direction, we're still at the instructor’s mercy.

We are at her mercy for our grades and the ways in which she chooses to evaluate us.  She defined our goals and proofs of achievement (assignments).  She sets the agenda and decides how we move through it.  She may ask us, but that asking is still a choice of hers to grant or not grant.  But most interestingly is that example I identified above.  We asked and she relieved our worries.  We couldn't and wouldn't take it for granted that we can relax about learning and approaches to assignments.  That is, our instructor and others may establish a facade of levelness between student and instructor, but it's not inherent.  If one has to grant freedom to his or her peers, then there is no freedom to be granted.  The instructor still rules the course and whether that approach is pedagogical or andragogical, it's still not genuine decentralizing of the instructor-centered teaching.  The instructor chooses to draw on students' experiences or chooses not to.  But even if the instructor does make all these decisions, the power differential is still there and explicitly directional.  In any course or classroom setting can there be any true de-centering of power?  If so, it probably lies in borrowing from the idea of the "un-conference."

A good example of this was Thursday (9/27's class).  The instructor had decided upon activities we would perform.  Her checking in with how we felt about the activities in lieu of other ways of digesting or engaging in the material was fleeting or came with it, a sense of coercive agreement, something along the lines of "How does that sound?"  as we were already being directed into our groups.  No one felt they had the power to say no to it.  After all, she was the authority who had said “this is what I have planned.”  To be frank, while I found the activity interesting, I don’t think it did particularly well to actually engage, challenge, and think more deeply about the idea of ages, adults, experience, and learning (More about that in the side note).

With one activity going over time, and the other one pushing us to 7:00pm (and nowhere near complete to the degree that the instructor defined complete) we were given a scrap of time to meet with our groups.  But the decisions were largely controlled by the instructor.  Given the choice of breaking up the class time, most of us would have preferred to truncate the activities in lieu of getting some face to face time with our groups.

Even the second activity of approaching teaching through an andragogical or pedagogical model felt weak.  First, there appeared to be many people groaning about having to do it and reasonable confusion about how to do it.  For myself, if I have questions and concerns about andragogical approaches, jumping into an activity even before getting to discuss it in a meaningful way seems pointless; especially when the readings themselves provide mixed messages about andragogy.    There’s been a lot of information thrown at us and very little opportunity to process it or engage with it.

In the end, while I can appreciate the idea of andragogy and the ways it plays upon concepts of democracy and equality, but until there’s substantive redevelopment of education (currently based on an industrialize model), it feels like a benevolent dictatorship.


With regards to the first activity, I tend to think it more likely did harm since it encouraged us to think more about age groups and to some degree, become more stereotyped about the age groups.  What I mean by this is that while each “generation” group offered up a self-definition as well as how the culture perceives them, it’s still problematic to have 5-8 individuals (largely perceived as highly-education, middle class, and white) to develop definitions of a generation that contains tens of millions people.  The concluding remarks of the exercise that these are things to keep in mind when planning lessons for adults ruined for me any real usefulness.  The activity at first seemed to be an attempt to break down stereotypes about generational difference, and yet we were left with only really replacing them with more inconsistent views of the generations (even if those newer ones were more positive; a positive stereotype still isn’t useful in dealing genuinely with people of any group). 

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Adventures in Learning: What's Childhood But Another Context

So the questions that I'm grappling with and will continue to grapple with in this course until a solid answer is provided (or mayhaps I go off and write my own article/book) is:  Is there any way of distinguishing the child learner from the adult learner beyond differences of degree--that is , are there any full categorical differences between adult and child learner?  If there isn't, then why are we talking about "adult learning" as all; why isn't it just "learning?"

The point that comes up time and again is that adults have much more experience than children to draw upon.  Experience (which is another word for being conscious of contextual elements of our lives—understanding how we live and move through our lives informing our understanding of the world) is great, but because it is so individualized, it then seems to nuke any cohesion about adults as learners.  At least when it comes to giving the instructor or institute anything definitive to work with as a perception of “adult” learner.  Adults are learners with life experience (but that life experience is all over the place, so then what can I do with that).

To that end, I offer this thought:  Humans are chaos theory in action.  That includes children.  Context is the infinite amount of events and experience (conscious, subconscious, and unconscious) that we accumulate in our lives from second to second, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, year to year and how it is filtered into our senses of past self (personal history/narrative), present self (self-define), and future self (goals and tracks we pursue).  But it's like chaos theory.  Chaos theory says that there are enormously vast systems on Earth (and in the galaxy for that matter) at play and even small elements of that system can trigger cataclysmic events (e.g. the butterfly effect).  Humans are the same.

In another post, something I'll talk more about when I talk about post-modern concepts of the self (a chapter we don't read, but that I will be because I'm finding fault with the definitions offered about the approaches thus far in Merriam) is that we never acknowledge that for all our pretensions about the "self" as being set, we as humans are incredibly inconsistent.  We are NEVER the same; from second to second, minute to minute.  We are never the same person, no matter how you argue it.  Physiologically, we never contain the same number of cells chemical balances, etc throughout the body.  Psychologically, we are continually consciously and unconsciously influenced not only by our environment but by our bodies (hunger, pain, or even the need to pee alter our state of mind as do the morning commute, advertisements, and quality of air or other external factors).  Physically, our bodies are never in the same space twice.  In the immediate sense they may be--I can sit the same chair twice, but is that chair in the same "spot" when one considers that we inhabit a rotating planet hurdling through space.  We are never in the same space twice in the universe.  Thus, the only thing we seem to be saying about adults is that they are very much context defined such as these quotes emphasize:

"For purposes of this discussion, there are two important challenges to the validity of intelligence tests.  The first asserts that they are too culture-specific; the second, that they are constructed from problems and tasks derived from the context or "culture" of schooling rather than everyday life.  Both these challenges derive from a single feature of intelligence tests:  that the problems and tasks used are largely decontextualized; that is, separated from everyday social and cultural activities and purposes.  (Pg 17)"

"These findings reflect a growing understanding of the importance of coming to grips with the full context of human functioning.  The complexity of everyday work and home life makes increasing demands on ordinary individuals to negotiate an ever broadening terrain of life experiences.  In the face of such complexity, the narrow focus and circumscribed text regimes of the traditional intelligence tests appear, somewhat inadequate for the task. (Pg 22)"

"That is, skilled practical thinking draws aspects of the given environment, be they people, things, or information, into the problem-solving system.  (Tennant, Pg 45).

"Schmidt and colleagues argue that expertise is largely non-analytical and based strongly on instances... (Tennant, Pg 53)

"A persistent theme in the expertise literature is the central role attributed to domain-specific knowledge in expert performance. (Tennant, 56).

"The role of the learners' experience.  Adults come into an educational activity with both a greater volume and a different quality from youths. (Knowles, Pg 57)"

"Despite the limitations of this line of research (Courtney, 1992), it has become evident that learners' motivations for participating in adult education are many, complex, and subject to change."  (Merriam Pg 65).

“In summary, looking at the social structure rather than individual needs and interests reveals some very different explanations as to why adults do or do not participate in adult learning activities. (Merriam Pg 69)”

“But each student experiences this lesson in a specific way, which involves emotions, motivations, and psychological energy. (Pg 99)”

“For Jarvis, all experience occurs within the learner’s world (that individual’s world, not the world), which is ever-changing... (Pg 101)”

 What distinguishes adult from child learner--experience--isn't that just one more context.  Some in class have heard me go on about this, but I'm still not buying or seeing any definitive distinction between adult and child learners.  There doesn't seem to be anything that adults can do as learners that children can't to some degree.  So much of this is differences of degrees and so creating different “categories” of learners seems faulty.

Given that context seems to be the only definitive difference, it seems worth exploring.  The reason for stating childhood as a context and not as a deficiency is important and key.  We tend to think of children lacking conscious context (awareness of experiences and how it influences their lives) and being embedded in context (subject to but not necessarily conscious to the impact, relevance, and usefulness of experience).  When we’re talking about context or experience, we privilege adult learners as having much more conscious context to evaluate the context they are embedded in.  But we make 2 fatal assumptions with that.

1. We assume adults fully know or are better equipped to perceive their context.  

I highly doubt this assumption.  If humans are chaos theory in action, one way we center ourselves is by telling ourselves a story—a constructed narrative of selected moments that creates an arc—that explains how a person got to where they are.  However, the construction of the arc is fictional (not the events, but the selected events)—they are the one we consciously subscribe to but don’t account for the millions (if not billions) of actions, decisions, and exposures to different contexts we are subjected to in our lives.  We assume understand the fullness of how the world impacts us and we really don’t.

2. We assume that children can’t make meaningful sense out of their worlds without conscious experience.  

But of course they can.  They use imagination.  They craft meaning out of everything they encounter based upon their experience and projecting themselves into the world.  This is no different than a person struggling with weight encountering the information about high fructose corn syrup and deciding that is the reason they are having so much trouble.  The child projects and engages in the world the same way.

Our discussion of children has largely viewing them as empty vessels to fill up.  They are like cups; empty until filled.  Experience (context) is the flavored drink being poured into the cup.  But I think that’s drastically inaccurate of a metaphor.  Children are not empty; they in fact have a very rich means of sense-making in the world when engaged to do so.  So I ask again what categorical difference is there between child and adult as it comes to learning?

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Adventures in Learning: Some Reading Responses

So these are some of the smaller thoughts I have about the readings.  I have 2 posts that are forthcoming and likely to be more substantive and critical, but here's something to hold you over in the meantime:

Learning About Andragogy and Its Discontents

I was happy that Knowles had been taken to task in Merriam.  I couldn't help but think about as I read it, how much he in his writing and direction appeared to be more pedagogical in his approach than andragogical (after all, if a book is a tool of learning, then should there not be some means of changing the tone and approach to meet andragogical approaches--if there is such a thing as distinctly "andragocial").  

Knowles ideas parted ways with me very early.  First, I'm surprise no mention or exploration in the education within the military as there must be substantive information and ideas about how that works (or doesn't?) and what kind of return the military gets from its approaches to training and learning.  Then, Knowles says, "The pedagogical model assigns the teacher full responsibility for making all decisions about what will be learned, how it will be learned, when it will be learned, and if it has been learned"  (Pg 52).  I know Knowles was writing this in the 1970s, but doesn't this ignore the role of administration such as principals, school boards, and even state and federal standards of content, learning and measurement?  To ignore the massive machinery behind the teacher seems to be problematic misstep.

Additionally, Knowles discussion about self-direction of learning sounds nice in theory, but falls apart when we look at certain types of content.  Generally speaking, "self-direction" or "student-lead" should not be a method or approach to learning surgery, operating large machinery, or police training.  That is, his ideas about a self-directed approach only really work with things that don't necessarily have the potential to harm people if someone goes off track.  

Practically Intelligent

Tenant and Pogson's differentiating between academic and practical intelligence I think is quite useful.  Though my background lends me to being that academically intelligent person (proudly nerdy since the 1980s), I've recognized and consciously work to achieve practical intelligence too, building practical skills over the last few years such as cooking, gardening, and light tool work.  In their discussion of the contrast and tension between practical and academic intelligence, it invoked something I discuss at length in my popular culture course.  The course is centered on exploring and understanding the underpinnings of popular culture.  One of the core underpinnings of popular culture is that it is less valuable or relevant than elite culture.  Practical intelligence like popular culture is devalued (which makes sense because when we think of popular culture such as a Red Sox game, we picture the drunken and obnoxious people that come along with it--and whether consciously or unconsciously, assume they are from blue-collar backgrounds as mechanics or plumbers or construction workers:  filled with practical intelligence but not necessarily academic intelligence).  What's interesting about this distinction is that it flows also over into politics and the U.S.'s history of anti-intellectualism that remains a part of political rhetoric as well.  The candidates attempt to present and pretend they sit side by side with the "common man" (common as popular culture; common as everyday knowledge one needs to exceed in their lives), all the while, maintaining advance degrees usually from Ivy League schools.  They try not to bring attention to such things but perk up for photo ops bowling, eating hot dogs at a game, or just chilling at a bar.  

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