2.13: On Process

I spent the better part of the last 48 hours thinking about and planning a lesson for this morning’s class on AI in science fiction. The lesson planning was more like lesson learning for me, as it allowed me to advance my own understanding of the no-longer fledgling field of research and the possibilities inherent therein. I suppose from a philosophical perspective the planning was my largest leap in understanding since I began reading Simulation & Simulacra after watching the Matrix all those years ago. I mean for my teaching to be reflective of my own learning process in a way and to ignite the process of others. Movies are meant to cause conversation and discussion and to promote more than entertainment.

One thought that continually stood out throughout the process of creation was the idea of process itself. For example, I have been on the path to ‘habitizing’ this process of how and when I write the blog (2.0) for 13 days now. It takes on average 66 days to form a habit and 21 to break one. I don’t believe I lasted the full 21 in my brief repose from the talisblog, but the formation of this new process should subsist for the entire timeframe. In fact I plan to make the number, 66, something of a goal of mine moving forward academically, personally, etc. 21 is likewise to be part of my process.

I am engaged in a number of transformative processes at this point in time. One is the breaking of my reformed soda habit. I’d like to quit entirely, but I like Jack and cokes and the occasional Red Bull, so the best I am willing to allow is a great moderation. 21 days from now we will see if I’ve broken the habit of simply reaching for a soda in the ‘soda fridge’. In truth, the best option there is to remove the stimulant and replace it with a better substance for me and my jazzed up boys.

In the end it all swirls back to the idea of process and the comfort and security of that. Each morning I wake up, say good morning to my love, go downstairs to prepare coffee and languish in the stages of that process. Then my coffee and I are here at the desk writing for the next ten minutes. That process–that familiarity is extremely grounding. If my kids are with me, they become a part of that process. However, they are not always here and will eventually grow and move on, so the core process remains love, coffee, and words. There is a simplicity and a wonder in that which warms my heart and lightens my soul.

Some Thoughts:

  1. A friend asked me if I was a jealous person. I said no. I don’t think I was lying, but I feel like the answer is incomplete. In matters of the heart I am jealous to a certain extent. That extent is less physical than emotional. I don’t understand how to share love. That continues to be a problem.
  2. I don’t believe my writing days are over. I don’t think the stories are gone from my mind or that my access to the stream has been revoked. I believe it is clogged the way a drain clogs from too much rough use. I know this because in moments, in flashes of shadow and movement I see stories.

2757. On Teaching

I don’t understand why the teaching profession is so deeply disrespected in our culture. Were the balance of our schooling experiences so negative that we, as a nation, have chosen to devalue the act of teaching as a result? Teachers are underpaid, required to buy their own classroom supplies, chided heavily for the summer vacation, and above all else completely disrespected by parents who–on average–view the teacher as an enemy combatant who is somehow either holding their kid back or responsible for the fact that their kid cannot get ahead.

We routinely cut education budgets, school shop, complain about the length of the school day, blame teachers for the social conditions created or allowed by the system, fail to award the teachers doing good work, and then immediately blame all teachers for the handful of really bad ones out there. Not only does this have a negative impact on the education of the moment, but it furthers that negative relationship between teacher and student down through the generations. I suspect that everyone has had a good teacher at some point. I want to hope that a safe and productive learning environment is the rule instead of the exception, but more and more it is becoming a rarity to hear that or to hear about good teaching at all. Perhaps we as a society ought to get back to looking for silver linings as opposed to looking for that awful stroke of lightning that burns down our confidence in learning as a whole.

This is not a quick-fix situation, but something endemic to the American society as a whole. We have trended towards the quick and easy, but education is neither. Fixing education is even less so. I am constantly reminded by the contrasting viewpoints of thinkers who argue, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and those who remind us that our education system is essentially the same as it was when we founded the country. I fear it is not the kind of responsiveness we ought to be practicing as world leaders. Moreover, I fear our so-called world leadership has become far less academic and inspirational and far more monetarily driven. We are powerful because we are profitable. However, to remain profitable we must be able to capitalize on the mental resources of our citizens. Unfortunately, we have gone far away from that, settling for fly by night apps and imported intelligence.

I believe it is time we started giving back to the teachers, so they can put us back up where we belong.

2713. On Teaching and Learning

*Note: This post didn’t get uploaded on Friday because I was too lazy. I’ll explain in tonight’s post.

Spending some time away from division meetings at the collegiate level has reminded me of the disconnect between how colleges are run/assessed and how students are taught. While teaching is/should be at the heart of what we do at any school, it feels like the administration of and analysis/reporting of that teaching is a larger part of what teachers actually do.

In teaching writing I often talk about the 60/40 and 80/20 rules In critical analysis I invite the students to structure their work as 60% evidence and 40% analysis and argumentation. Science pushes that evidence vs. analysis spread to 80/20. This is merely my rule and doesn’t reflect the actual functioning of the multiverse. It does, on the other hand, create a fair comparison to the to what the functioning role of a community college professor feels like. 60-80% of these meetings have little to do with the actual teaching.

We are focused on collecting and reporting data. We are focused on assessing individuals, classes, and programs. We speak a jargon-filled language that inevitably bleeds into the classroom and into how we communicate with students who don’t really need to hear or learn our language.

A part of this meeting/working time is about building community amongst the teachers. Now a lot of that community is forged in the mutual disdain for such meetings, but beyond this we do effort to create real communication and real differences and consistency between what is taught between the levels and classes and how that is carried out. I would love to see a school where the classes offer the same basic content from top flight instructors who all approach it from a very different angle–so much so that variants of students would be super engaged in both class and community. Jargon free: I want good teaching that looks different in each class.

One can dream.

2051. On Teaching and Writing

I’ve been thinking about my novel writing class and the way I give students little character assignments to do every day without clearly defining why I give them those specific assignments. In reality the idea is to engender thinking about the characters every day and to do so in a way that causes the characters to evolve in their minds to the point where they become a part of the writer’s daily thoughts and activities. There is nothing so compelling as a character demanding their story be told. Characters are like ghosts in that fashion. There is something they want—something that needs to get accomplished, but your pen is the only thing capable of making it come to pass.

I think that when I teach I do so in a fashion reflective of how I would love to write and think and be. It is, in that sense, a bit like parenting. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Meanwhile I rail against that notion in conversation more than action. In fact I would very much like to be the ‘do as I do’ guy both in writing and as a parent, but I am indeed human and often make poor choices. I can Monday morning quarterback the heck out of that situation as a teacher and a dad.

Hindsight is 20/20 (cliché but legit), so it does benefit my students to realize that it is often best to be haunted by your characters. In truth, my best fiction is the result of haunting. As the ghosts grow stronger, their history deepening in my veins, the story becomes a part of me and must be released unto the page. I say this as I am harboring yet another ghost and soon expect to birth his story.


Some Thoughts:

  1. No Waiver Wednesday today. I don’t have the internet connection right now and cannot get a sense of who is playing. I’ll put it together in the morning when I post this bad boy.
  2. Tackle begins this weekend and I heard tell that there is a bounty of sorts on my kids’ team. They blazed through the GYFL last year, only being slowed by the top two teams. Well, we kick off the season against one of them and they are looking to lay some big hits on our kids. They apparently are interested in intimidating them to the point where they don’t want to play anymore. I don’t see that happening, but I’m interested to see that these kids are looking for a fight. This is my first experience going to a small town where the entire town is behind the football program and it starts at age 6. I feel like I’m in Texas, but I’m not. Culturally, this is going to be a fun one.

1790. On Grades, Grading, and a new Schema

Fact: Students don’t understand the way I grade. I hear it every semester. What I do is apparently abnormal. To make matters worse, I change what I do every semester. I allow my grading system to evolve organically, sometimes even throwing the whole thing out to build something new. I’m thinking about doing just that again. The problem as I see it is a near complete disconnect between myself and students on the role and value of grades.

The one thing students and I agree on is the final grade. What you get at the end of a semester is supposed to mean something. I think the shared understanding ends at that point. Often students suggest that the final grade should be a reflection of growth (largely stated by low performers who improve) or overall knowledge (stated by those who knew stuff coming in and or worked hard to master content). Grade as a measure of ability and or knowledge is a staple of the academic industry, but it is not a consistent measure or even defined in terms of what it is meant to define. What a final grade means to me is you came in and received one semester’s worth of learning. During that semester you hit (and often exceeded) a plateau. The grade, in that sense, is the opening of a gate that allows you to move on to the next gate, next level, next mini-boss on your way to conquering this game of education.

I’ve approached grading in a plethora of ways. The most common grading modality as of late is the base 10 method with each class being worth a certain number of points (usually a thousand) and each assignment being a fraction of that figure. Now this leads to students trying to ‘game the system’ working as hard as they can to get points in specific assignments to reach their grade. I layer a ‘gaming system’ on top of this that focuses on the group work and competitive academics. The games give points and those are tabulated at the end of the semester with the top team getting a 10% grade boost based on winning the game. This system confuses students mainly because they aren’t used to games being a part of a grade and because they are often terrified of group work. I get it, having my grade in the hands of someone I’ve known for only 16 weeks is crappy, but the fact remains that collaborative success or failure is a part of the world economic system. Of course, teaching (primarily) teens means that individuality is bursting from their DNA.

Rarely I apply Peter Elbow’s grading contract philosophy. Its a ‘gamed up’ and ‘talised’ version of the thing, but the general idea is that you have a contract to complete specified tasks. If such work is completed it results in the grade you asked for. It also allows for you to ‘outplay’ your contract and for teams (groups) to hold your contract rights. This is also complicated on the surface but is modeled after the NFL-CBA, which a majority of my students (the dudes at least) seem to have a basic understanding of.

I don’t know what is going to happen in the next semester, but I’m still gestating ideas for a new plan. I need to come to a common ground and understanding with students so the focus is on what is learned and not what grade they get.


Maybe that is just a pipe dream.


Some Thoughts:

  1. 1790 was the year England introduced Chrysanthemums to China. It sounds minor on the surface but it was the first of many invasive re-plantings that would have never occurred in a non-globalized society…