Listening

I.

I inhabit a lot of different social and cultural worlds, and sometimes the adjacency of posts on Facebook is stunning. I can’t share tonight’s example because a lot of people might misunderstand my motivation for highlighting it. I will say this: as someone with a diverse circle of Facebook friends, I have the privilege of listening in on conversations that a lot of people don’t get to hear.

As a progressive, I get to eavesdrop on the conversations of my (often profoundly) conservative friends. As an atheist, I get glimpses of the perspectives of my pastor friends. As a white person, I get to listen in on conversations about the struggles and fears of my friends of color. Tonight, reading two Facebook posts and their ensuing comment streams side-by-side, I saw worlds colliding. One friend’s circle occupies a cultural context that lets its members clearly see the collision; the other friend’s circle does not, and might even deny that their worlds are colliding. It’s stunning, really, especially since, when worlds collide, neither world survives.

Hug your kids or the people you love tonight, and know that people you might see as very unlike you are doing the exact same thing.

 

II.

Elsewhere in my Facebook stream, a friend shared his pastor’s comparing having a call—by which she meant knowing what you are alive to do—with being pregnant with Christ. He wrote, “Your call in the world, the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need, is the same role as being Mary or Elizabeth.”

The post was an explicit invitation to ponder, and another friend alluded to Frederick Buechner’s quote, from Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, that “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

But what do we do when we sense so much deep hunger? And if we’re fortunate enough to feel deep gladness in a number of ways?

 

III.

It might seem odd for a depressive to admit to deep gladness, but there it is.

 

IV.

At what point do we acknowledge that the world’s deep hunger has met our deep gladness in a way that is unsustainable, that exhausts us?

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of teaching, of advising and mentoring. It’s a labor of love–and I mean that in a literal way, not in the way the cliché often gets used. Which is to say: I don’t mean that it’s work I do because I love it; rather, it is work that requires love.

It’s exhausting.

 

V.

I passed a couple of hours earlier this week talking with two friends–one a coworker, one a grad student–for whom being Christian is not only at the core of their identity, it is their primary identity. They were both stunned to learn I am not a believer–or, not a believer in any conventional sense–and we had a wide-ranging conversation that moved from them probing me about my failure to believe to me trying to understand the nuanced differences between their denominational commitments and perspectives.

I love talking with people whom I admire but with whom I disagree profoundly about important things. Such conversations are how we grow.

 

VI.

That’s part of why I haven’t been writing in these parts for several weeks. I’ve been having amazing conversations about religion, education, technology, parenting, marriage, humanities, citizenship, librarianship, and the past. The conversations have taken me back to reading poetry, as well as new nonfiction and fiction. And, of course, to research, old and new.

I’m learning so much, but this semester has been a time of listening and quiet reflection rather than writing. I’ll be using my voice again in 2015.

Until then, I’m wishing you all the best for the holidays and the new year.

Humanities = employability

I found myself in a meeting on Friday with several science faculty, and I had the opportunity to share with them what I’m doing in my Digital History course this semester. When I mentioned in particular that my students were mapping the neighborhood’s irrigation ditches, an engineering professor asked me how they were doing that. I said I had a student minoring in GIS and she’d likely in the end use Google Maps or maybe even Illustrator just to indicate where the water flows through the neighborhood and where it disappears underground.

She clarified her question. “No. . . How do you get your students to do things you haven’t taught them to do? If we ask our students to do something new, they say they can’t do it because we haven’t yet taught them how to do it.”

I pointed out that history, and the humanities more generally, provided students with plenty of opportunities to take initiative in research and communication, and that we tried to cultivate independent thinking in our students. Plus, I try to model this spirit of inquiry in the classroom. I pointed out (once again) that I’m a history professor without any degrees in history, and I’m a technologist without any formal training in that field. I’ve decided to eschew impostor syndrome in favor of openly making up my projects and career as I go along.

The professors seemed a bit flabbergasted. Maybe they hadn’t ever considered the humanities as anything other than courses that taught students grammar and asked them to read a lot.

For me, job #1 is ensuring students are critical and creative thinkers who can use technology thoughtfully so they can both tackle big problems and make a living. I don’t understand how anyone could enjoy—or even think it was morally defensible—to teach a course that didn’t inspire students to stretch themselves, that required them merely to learn content or basic skills. If your students don’t get past “comprehension” in Bloom’s Taxonomy, you’re doing it wrong. Students need to get to synthesis, evaluation, and creation in as many class meetings as possible.

In light of this discovery that the university apparently is producing STEM students who lack initiative and intellectual curiosity, I’ve just suggested it fund an interdisciplinary project that would bring some of this humanities secret sauce to STEM students. Here’s a smidgeon from my response to a CFP aimed at gauging faculty interest in new, interdisciplinary projects:

a) Project description – provide a short description of your project idea

Students need more opportunities to practice solving problems across disciplines, and Idahoans often need low-cost solutions to the challenges they face. My years in the classroom have taught me that humanities students (and especially history students), if given the right tools, support, and encouragement, are both persistent and creative researchers and makers. They seek out new knowledge, teach themselves and each other skills, and work together collaboratively with little complaint or friction. I’d like to bring this “humanities secret sauce” to students across the disciplines, as I’ve heard from faculty that their students don’t always demonstrate this initiative and ability to learn new things—or synthesize their knowledge and skills—outside the classroom.

Accordingly, I propose creating the Curiosity Shop, a place where the Boise State community, as well as everyday Idahoans, can bring persistent issues or problems, and students can—working alongside these individuals—address these challenges using research, experimentation, and communication. The atmosphere of the Curiosity Shop will be permeated with curiosity, deep inquiry, empathy, creativity, improvisation, and perseverance. Working in multidisciplinary teams, students will learn to prioritize challenges, research possible interventions, and then propose, fund, implement, iterate, and evaluate their solutions.

b) What are the broad research questions?

  • Are there differences in how students in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences tackle problem-solving? If so, what are these differences, whence do they emerge, and do students’ problem-solving styles change during collaboration on interdisciplinary teams?
  • What kinds of technologies, digital or otherwise, do students employ while solving diverse problems? What patterns emerge in this use, and what does their use say about students’ habits, beliefs, and values?
  • How do these students’ problem-solving styles and choices of technology jibe with or deviate from employers’ expectations of entry-level employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities in various fields?

Here’s hoping the appropriate committee bites. Our students can change the world if we let them.

On instructional design

On Wednesday morning, I’m interviewing for a director-level position that bridges academic technology, instructional design, and faculty development. As a result, I’ve been even more reflective than usual about the choices I’ve made regarding teaching and technology. I. This semester, in addition to continuing to build or maintain a slate of existing projects, I’ve tackled […]

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All I have are bullets (many of them literal)

 You may recall I fought very, very hard to keep guns off of Idaho’s college campuses. On day 6 of the semester, a gun went off in the middle of a class at a public university classroom on the other side of the state; a professor was negligent with his concealed firearm. Honestly, my money […]

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Nope

Today, a friend and colleague asked me if I was energized for the fall semester. “Nope!” I texted to her. I meant for it to be funny, but in the context of the conversation we were having, my response came across as angry and sad. Why was I sad? I enjoy teaching. I like students. It’s […]

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On fear at 39

Years ago, when I was working in academic technology and faculty development, I teamed up with a group of extraordinary women—Laura Blankenship, Barbara Sawhill, Barbara Ganley, and Martha Burtis—to present in various ed tech venues about a phenomenon we termed Fear 2.0, the constellation of fear-mongering around the use of social media in higher education, […]

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Everyday liberal arts

For more reasons than I could adequately explain here, I’ve been thinking even more often than usual about the value of a liberal arts education in our understanding of the world and the ways we ought to engage with it. As Jeremy Hunsinger has written, Coming to know, as the primary process of knowledge, is […]

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A full deck

PeteGuitar

Usually when Fang‘s birthday rolls around, we’re ready to duck and cover, as April 19 and 20 are two of those days when crazy people are wont to do and say stupid and dangerous things. Strangely, though, this year Fang is doing the opposite of ducking and covering—he’s been doing amazing work, running around Boise […]

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Things I’m thinking about these days

As, of course, a random bulleted list: My fellowship research on how Idahoans have understood health and wellness, as represented by (sometimes very weird) artifacts in a museum’s collection. Found thus far: various fraudulent “cures” for gynecological ills, countless jars containing Chinese apothecary treatments (including shriveled animal testicles, starfish, sea horses, and paper wasps’ nests), […]

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Concealed carry culture is antithetical to higher education’s mission

(written in response to Idaho Senate Bill 1254, which would allow concealed weapons on campus) Idaho has long nurtured what some have termed “a gun culture.”  Hunters and ranchers reasonably see rifles as necessary tools. Families pass treasured rifles from grandparent to parent to child and educate the youngest members of the family about gun […]

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