Showing posts with label viewpoints. Show all posts
Showing posts with label viewpoints. Show all posts

Thinking about Learning Part 1: A Willingness to Change My Mind

"Learning is acquiring new, or modifying existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information." (Wikipedia)

A central tenant of learning is change.  Learning is internalized change in how one makes sense or meaning in the world.  Learning like humans is utterly dynamic; never static.  Despite what we tell ourselves, we are not static beings.  From the microscopic to the entire body and to the mind, we are never the same from one moment to the next.  Our bodies are constantly changing, much it based upon the constant feedback we receive from our numerous senses (by the way, did you know we as humans have more than 5 senses--we have more than 10 according to some).  As you sit reading this right now, consider all the changes occurring in your body right now:  blood coursing through veins, foodstuffs in various states of processing, cells in various states of decay, neurons firing away as you translate arbitrary markings on a screen into meaning in your head.  This says nothing to the physical movement your body is experiencing as you feel stationery and yet, your body moves at speeds you never imagined as the earth you inhabit rotates on its access and your body moves even faster as the planet you inhabit hurdles through space revolving around the sun.

Learning is very similar in that it is happening constantly.  Those senses take in all that information and we constantly make meaning of everything going on around us--we learn, unlearn, and relearn the environments based upon a range of variables that are certainly beyond this author's ability to keep track of and quantify.  We are conscious and unconscious of learning.  A great example of unconscious learning is the spine.  I've had various lower back issues for years.  It's a low-grade pain that peeks its head out every once in a while.  How did this happen?  My body slowly learned to contort itself to what it perceived for the moment was a comfortable position.  However, over time, this created other problems with my back and posture.  (It's partly why I've switched to a standing desk).  But I didn't consciously set out to do that, my body adapted and learned (wrongfully alas) what would be comfortable for the immediate future.  Now, the conscious me has worked long to unlearn what my body naturally learned, and I will eventually relearn how to sit properly in chairs for longer durations (if that's even possibly).

 If you haven't figured out yet, I'm committed to the idea of being a life-long learner.  I can probably fault my father for inspiring this but it's a core part of who I am.  As I close in on this Master' of Education that I've been working on, coupled with the other 4 degrees, and the nearly 100 college courses that I've taught, I've come to an important realization about learning and it may sound simple (though it's hard to master) and has already been said elsewhere, I'm sure, but I feel important to discuss it in the realm of teaching and learning.

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A willingness to change my mind stands as a major part of this aspiration for life-long learning.  I don't mean in some frivolous way wherein I want chocolate, no wait, I want vanilla, no wait, I want chocolate, definitely chocolate, or maybe I should try strawberry.  I mean that to be a learner means to actively find ways to change your mind.  But not just change my mind in the sense that it is no longer the same (e.g. adding pennies to a jar, changes the weight and substance of the jar), I also want to change my mind on things I've long believed.  That's what learning in part means--to change my understanding and knowledge in the world and a true learner must recognize that this means some things I learn will not be easy or easily fit into the narratives and frames with which I understand the world.

This is the learning that's hardest for many of us and triggers resistance and cognitive dissonance among people, trying to interpret, reinterpret or outright ignore things that conflict with their worldview.  More than anything else, it conflicts with how we as individuals make sense of the world and we don't like such conflicts.  We see this on the big level all the time with international conflicts, political debates (remember "You didn't build that."), and in squabbles on Judge Judy.

But understanding this in education gets tricky.  To be a successful teacher does in part mean being a successful learner and in doing so, to continue to peel away at the preconceived notions we come to class about our learners and to help them peel away their own preconceived notions.  Helping students retract their preconceived notions is the bread and butter of many disciplines.  After all, we encounter students who argue that Subject X is not their strong spot or relevant or interesting.  We do our best to make converts of them.

But changing our worldviews about our students remains tricky.  Sure, we always have the student that surprises us in almost every class.  The student who didn't make a good first impression but then makes us want to cry with success by semester's end.  But in our classrooms, we very quickly decide that a range of actions and personalities are antagonistic.  We use terms like "respect" and "attention"; often determining what they mean (even though they are culturally-socially-economically-dependent and we often have a very diverse population), and grow resentful or angry towards those who don't fall into line.  In that way, I wonder if we as instructors need to relearn our classes each and every time.  I know that many of us treat each new class as a brand new opportunity but we slip into our own patterns and interpret our students according to our own past--not theirs.

In some ways, from the design of the syllabus and outline of the semester to assignments and classroom activities, we're setting the course for learning based on previous experiences (old classes; old knowledge) but not often or substantively enough, setting the course of learning based on the present experience (the classes we are actually teaching).  Should teaching be a more improvised and adaptive to the students we have--not the students we had.  And if so, what does that look like?



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What Social Media Has Taught Me About Sensitivity and Respect

Following up on my post about the Boston Marathon bombing and even other posts where I discuss my positive experience with social media, I have been thinking about the fact that social media has made me more sensitive and reflective.  So often I hear people discuss social media as a dehumanizing and vampiric tool on human sensitivity and respect.  The anonymity and distance from one another allows us to be mean without consideration of the impact.  Just do a quick Google search on the latest obnoxious, racist, sexist, and mean things flowing out of the internet and this justifies as proof-positive that the internet is a cesspool of despicable peoples.    At least that's how the argument goes.

But I find it's quite different for me.  I'm increasingly sensitive to what I'm saying, posting, commenting upon, and interacting with online.  That's not to say I'm censoring what I say or refraining from speaking, but I'm more deliberate in what I have to say and I'm likely to vet it more before posting.  Even on Twitter, I think more critically about my use of 140 characters.  I'm still critical and challenge things that I find problematic or dubious, but the ways in which I challenge them are increasingly more restrained.

I find myself doing this for a few reasons.  The first is the fact that because of digital technology, anything can be captured and recapitulated into the larger world in mere moments and I will largely have little say of whether that something of mine is deep and respectful or obnoxious and insulting.  Also, at the end of the day, I want my digital identity to correspond with and reflect my physical identity (or at least my conception of it).   Another reason is that I find much richer and rewarding conversations and dialogue when I post with respect than when I don't.  I make more friends and connections.  I learn more about myself and others.  I get a slice of that human need for dialogue.

I've also realized that aggressive arguing, attacking, and insulting doesn't suit me.  I would rather not be up half the night in such debates like the meme below.  I can easily get an awful sense of indignation and righteousness--that's not hard at all for many of us given the right topic and the wrong comment.  But I find little or no value in dispensing my wrath through social media.  Largely, because it doesn't dispense itself but just sits there waiting to collide into someone else and begin nothing productive but a virtual yelling match between two people.  That is, anger just festers.
http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6067/6027755162_87e38e4708.jpg
We often do this; and yet never feel better.

But the internet and social media feel less and less like an nebulous, anonymous, and potentially hostile environment to me and more and more like a very large room with the capacity for people to hear everything that you may say.  This enormous, ongoing, cross-cultural, trans-generational conversation puts me in contact with many other people in many different places (geographically, politically, spiritually, sexually, etc).  Slowly but surely, the conversations that I've hopped into with more callousness or sense of right have only reminded me of the multiplicity of understanding and process in the world.  In plain, it's shown me time and again that I'm wrong in many different, humbling, and wonderful ways.  Thus in moving forward, I increasingly try to step back before stepping forward.

So where is all of this coming from?  Last week, I heard about the major explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas as it was being reported; it is another tragedy in the unfolding like the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that week.  Upon first hearing it, a host of quips came to mind--none of which were appropriate, but did capitalize on the intersection of fertilizer and explosion.  I have no doubt Twitter and the like are inundated with such quips and off remarks.  I could have easily tossed out a bunch of them, but I realized I didn't want to.  Sure, someone might laugh but it would be at the expense of real people.  People that I'm likely to find out in some way, shape, or form, I am connected to--and who even if I'm not connected to, I'm likely to read about their stories, lives, and experiences from a variety of writers and creators on the internet.  This is what I mean by the large room.  We become much more aware of how closely we are connected and that means we're more connected to events even when they are afar.  We see the human element of the event more and more because it's a quick check of our various social networks to get a sense of who it has reached.  We're increasingly in those networks of connection.  

Thus, more and more, when I prepare to hit the send, tweet, publish, or post button, I'm more likely to think much more about who will read this and how will impact them.  How can I communicate my thoughts and ideas in a way that will effect them without insulting or aggravating them.  I think it has made me a better communicator in many ways and have seen direct and indirect indicators of this.  It's also made my life richer and more enjoyable.

To be clear--I'm no saint in this regard.  I still slip into a more antagonistic role in social media at times.  Though I find it interesting that I'm likely to do that with people that I've known 10 years or longer--slipping into previously established scripts and roles--but for most people whom I know from adulthood and may have never met face to face, I find that I try to maintain a mutual respect, regardless of differences.  It's not an all or nothing and I think there is a learning curve involved.

I think it's also that social media brings to our attention the ways that we are in our day to day lives that we miss or don't necessarily see--but can actually follow in through looking at a week's or month's worth of posts and comments on a social media site we favor.  This opportunity to capture how we interact and be able to examine and study it is something I don't think we really have done well in our day to day lives.  Our conversations, interactions, and gestures are fleeting and thus deny the opportunity to fully study and understand.  Yet, social media has helped me understand what it is that I do and how it is when I interact with people (for good and for bad).  And that is a fascinating opportunity to get a more defined sense of who I am.

I write this, like I write so many other things, because I believe there are many more like me and who have yet to put pen to pad (or fingers to keys) but still find what I have to say resonating with their own experience.  If that is the case, please speak up in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter (@leaton) or elsewhere on social media.  I would love to know that I'm not the only one out there finding that social media is informing and improving our sensitivity.



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These Are The Gun Arguments That Are Bunk

Given the mass gun shootings of the last year and in the last decade, the discussion around guns continues to circle around without actual meaning or purpose.  Over the course of conversations with people, I find myself getting to the point where I start to roll my eyeballs when I hear certain faux-arguments.

To be clear--not just because I feel obligated to say it or else be disregarded as a "anti-gun" person and because I actually do believe it--I do believe people should have the right to reasonably arm and protect themselves including guns from realistic and recognizable threats.  I go back and forth about owning a gun myself--not because of any ethical issues about ownership or protecting myself but because that would also entail proper care of the weapon and regular practicing with it (which for those who know me, know that I already do a billion things--adding to the mix can be challenging).  That is, if I were to be a gun-owner, I would want to make sure I could be a responsible one.

However, the words "reasonably," "realistic," and "recognizable" are the key modifiers here.  That people instantly want to (or choose to) believe that a discussion about the places for guns in our society equates to wanting to take guns away from everyone seems to mean they have either drank all of the NRA's Kool-Aid or may themselves not be entirely rational (which is a relevant issue to consider down below when we talk about mental health).  

So here are the bunk arguments that I just don't want to deal with any more, largely because they are a distraction from the conversation and not a meaningful contribution.

People can still kill with "______" so are we going to outlaw "_____."

Yes, they can.  People are wonderfully creative and have ample ways of killing and doing harm.  But that's not a fair analogy on several key elements.  The first is that no one is talking about outlawing all guns.  Quit pretending there's somehow a majority of people in this country that want that to happen and you're some frightened minority.  There is a discussion about the use of guns that are capable of spraying a large amount of bullets in a short span of time.  The serious and purposeful use of a gun such as that is clear, when one contrasts what happened at Sandy Hook and what happened on the same day in China.  Of those involved in the stabbing spree, almost all have survived.  And at the end of the day, yes, other things can create massive death, but they are either highly restrictive (cars, trains, planes, etc), highly ineffective for mass murdering (knives, rocks, crossbows, etc) or complicated enough to orchestrate (e.g. ingredients for a bomb akin to what Timothy McVeigh did).  In the case of cars, trains, planes, etc, we still create numerous blockades (both legal and physical) to prevent the large scale harm by motor vehicles and the like (and in truth, it's easier to dodge a car than it is a bullet; you're likely to be able to see and avoid the car much easier).  In the complicated orchestration, there's nothing preventing people per se but it takes a significant amount of planning that is hard to pull off.  If doing things like bombing were so easy and quick to access, then why do the more fierce gun zealots have to point to McVeigh as proof of evidence that common household are just as easy to kill large amounts of people? Why do they reach back some 18 years if these things are a clear and present danger--unlike semi-automatic guns which one only needs to look back every few months.

Yes, you can kill by other means; that doesn't mean you ignore the ways in which guns are predisposed to kill many people in efficient ways.  That doesn't get the gun off the hook.

It's the 2nd Amendment; You Can't Mess With the Bill of Rights.

I hear this a lot.  Usually, it's gun-advocates yelling at who they perceive as liberals saying something along the lines of "You don't want your amendment of free speech messed with, well, I don't want my amendment of the right to bear arms messed with."  Butt there are ample restrictions on every part of the 1st Amendment.  It has been amply messed with and with good reason.

The 1st Amendment reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It contains five specific freedoms:  religion, speech, press, assemble and petition.  There is indeed laws that do interfere and disregard religion:  laws that restrict drug usage, forbid plural marriages, and animal or human sacrifice.  There are laws restricting freedom of speech; liable and slander laws are good examples of those as well as the "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" or saying "bomb" on a plane.  The press have their limitations too about the kind of the information they can present and their sources.  The right to peaceably assemble has been disregarded innumerable times (e.g. around national conventions).  And though I don't enough about the limitations on the right to petition, it's clear that some do exist.

All this is to say that there are reasonable restrictions (ok, and some unreasonable; PATRIOT ACT anyone?) on the First Amendment.  They are there because while the founding fathers were intelligent people, they did not know everything and could not foresee all the ways society would become incomprehensibly complicated.  This is true of the Second Amendment.  In the age of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, the gun was not a weapon of mass murder it is today.  It could take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute per shot and these were not the mass-produced weaponry of today, they were regularly problems with the aim and function.  These were the "arms" in the Second Amendments that the founding fathers were referring to.

One has to legitimately wonder if they would have worded things differently if the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle was available in large quantities as it is today.  Along with that the introduction of mass produced guns and bullets coupled with the significant decrease in price might also have created a different outcome.  Again, in colonial times, a single gun would have costed significantly as would the bullets.  Amassing an arsenal would not have been feasible.  Finally, none of the rhetoric from the pro-gun camp seems to acknowledge that Amendment itself, in its original text, talks nothing of personal protection but solely about the "security of a free state"--not a free individual as a precursor to having a right to keep and bear arms.  That is, the right to bear arms is directly connected to the people's willingness to be part of a "well-regulated militia"  (part of an organized and controlled effort--not just lone gunmen) in protection of a free state (the state or the federal state).  That they never want to discuss what a "well-regulated" militia would look like or mean to their concepts of freedom is a clear indication of choosing to read only what they want to see.

Disarming Everyone Won't Stop Criminals

Absolutely right, but two problems with this.  1.  We don't want to disarm everyone.  2.  This conversation isn't necessarily solely about criminals.  Adam Lanza was not a "criminal."  Klebold and Harris were not "criminals."  They certainly committed illegal (i.e. "criminal") acts, but it was not in the same vein that "criminals" use such weaponry (which is to secure the property of others or protect their own--often illegally obtained--property).  The discussion as it exists right now is more interested in the issue of easy access to assault weapons to people with mental illness who when given easy access to substantive killing machinery may act on it without notice.  And before we quickly go blaming the people around that person (such as Lanza's mother), realize the prevalence of mental illness in our society (26.2% of adults; that's over 1 in 4).  This means if have 200 friends on Facebook; statistically speaking, at least 50 of them are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Since we have a poor means of talking about and dealing with mental illness, it also means we fail them and us when it comes to dealing with issues of access to such weaponry as the Bushmaster.

That's not to stigmatize mentally ill people; but so much of the discussion around guns and gun rights is focused on gun owners as perfectly rational people.  Never mind that humans are generally irrational beings; there is also a large portion of the population whose mental faculties may be inhibited with an illness.  This complicates the issues of accessibility to weaponry because when people are in highly irrational states which is often an element of many mental illnesses, there is no reasoning with them.

The argument about criminals completely (and purposefully) misses the mark because in cases like this (besides missing the mark that it's not about getting rid of all guns),  Lanza had easy access to legal semi-automatic weapons.  If he had not, either the death toll would have been less or it would not have happened at all.  It was not a perfectly conceived plan--it was the impulsive whim of someone lacking the mental faculties to do otherwise like many other mass murders.

Gun Free Zones Don't Work; They Just Make Us More Vulnerable

This one seems to be at the core of the NRA's response to the shooting;  A gun in every school for protection.  First, gun-free zones are for the same reason that speeding limits in schools are there.  By and large, some people are still going to speed or bring guns.  But in both cases, it's about the fact that the increase (of speed or presence) perpetuates an increase in chance accidents.  Nothing makes things absolutely safe, but there are ways of reducing the risks.

Much of what I'm talking about here is easily summed up in a great internet meme I've seen floating around Facebook:


Wanting Sensible Gun Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Gun Just Like How Wanting Sensible Traffic Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Car


In the end, I know tragedy can't be averted entirely, but they can be reduced in number.  Given that we are living in a world that is significantly less violent and brutal than any time in history, our concern (and sometimes obsession) with being threatened and vulnerable is a bit disconcerting, owing more to the 24 hour news cycle and the perceptions of threats as opposed to actual threats.  I would love to see a reasonable conversation about such things, dominated by the majority in the middle rather than the zealots on the extremes.



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