Teaching about Arguments & Arguments about Teaching
Regrettably, I’ve been neglecting the significance of May 4th as the first day of the Freedom Rides in 1961. As much as I enjoy the Star Wars Day theme of “May the Fourth Be with You,” I can work more at helping my students appreciate the historical milestones of the Freedom Rides as encouragement for us to keep working out the “better angels of our nature” in terms of justice, dignity, and mutual respect as human beings.
Here in the homestretch of the school year, I’m working with my students to continue learning while also effectively reviewing and integrating previous learning. Lately, I’ve been emphasizing some informal interleaving strategies as my senior students continue to read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in our final quarter of the year. These strategies can work well with a wide variety of texts and topics.
While sampling Simon Sinek’s recent book The Infinite Game, I began musing about the ways that Shakespeare intensifies the dramas of Henry V, Hamlet, and Othello by layering in life-after-death metaphysical and ethical issues that his characters face. For the sake of my reflection here, I characterize the finite game and its play with the secular dimension of life, and the infinite game of life and its play with the spiritual dimension of life. Thinking about these metaphysically and ethically has all sorts of implications for interpreting our lives and our literary readings.
Although they’re an odd couple to recommend, Kurt Vonnegut and Jim Collins make surprisingly good companions for high school teachers who are trying to go the distance as effective long-term educators.
High school and college English teachers frequently admonish their students to get their writing to answer the question: So what? Mere philosophy can help in coaching students to make better thesis connections in their writing. There might even be healthy motivational side-effects for teachers and students as we compose ourselves in the process.
A wise old proverb says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Here are four of my favorite humor bits from over the past year.
Our school is doing a quarter block schedule that I’ve got mixed feelings about. The strangest part of the experience is having some of my seniors do their end-of-the-year graduation speeches at the end of the third quarter, which was last week. This year, I also had my juniors do a reflective speech on how their personal philosophies developed through a year of dealing with COVID. Despite the quarter block scheduling’s weird timing, I was delighted with my juniors and seniors’ content, thoughtfulness, and delivery this year. Here, I follow up with a few reflections.
I was recently reading part of Cal Newport’s helpful book on A World without Email. In one part, Newport analyzes our complex, evolutionary relationships to Baboons and productivity while trying to work with our email challenges. I couldn’t help but remember another far less philosophical book on productivity that I read in the 90s: The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken, Jr., and Hall Burrows. The monkey metaphor represents any given project and still helps me think productively and humorously about our work as teachers and students. (No actual monkeys were harmed in the drafting and launching of this blog post.)
With a few days to go until spring break, I’m wrapping up another semester/quarter of teaching on a condensed block schedule. I’m once again realizing how difficult endings can be. The theme of endings got me thinking about my experiences with philosophy, spirituality, and the meaning(s) of life.
For Colorado’s Meat Out Controversy, Here’s Some Helpful Humor from Baxter Black’s “A Vegetarian’s Nightmare”
Recently, our Colorado governor issued a “Meat Out Proclamation” for March 20th, recommending that Colorado residents take a day to abstain from eating meat and consider the potential health benefits of other dietary choices. The proclamation has led to some unintended consequences, instigating a day of special deals on burgers and leading the NY TimesContinue reading “For Colorado’s Meat Out Controversy, Here’s Some Helpful Humor from Baxter Black’s “A Vegetarian’s Nightmare””
Francis Bacon said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Brett McCracken’s The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World is a good book to chew on, and it’s a good book to help us reflect thoughtfully on our mental, social, spiritual, and experiential dietary habits.
I’m up for my second dose of a vaccine on March 12th, and that date was my last day of in-person learning in the spring of 2020. Looking back, I find myself noticing things about experience, education, and culture that I wouldn’t have if not for the influences of COVID. Here are some assorted thoughts.
Fifty Years Later, John Wooden’s Three Things Still Matter for Good Teamwork (a.k.a. Good Collaboration) in Our Institutions
Just this morning, I heard an excerpt from legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s speech at UCLA in the 1971 NCAA Championship Game. Truly, the three things of his philosophy of coaching work well for good collaboration in schools and classrooms. I found this especially timely after writing about collaboration last week, using somewhat similar connections from about thirty years ago. Wooden’s emphasis on conditioning, fundamentals, and a team spirit helps essentialize our work as educators.
Thirty Years Later, Good Collaboration Still Requires Well-Prepared Individual Students (and Educators)
Just a little short of thirty years ago, I was taught several “cooperative learning” strategies via our small school’s informal yet thoughtful approach to professional development: Have experienced teachers share knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Old timers back then knew that good cooperative learning also requires good individual preparation and accountability. The same can be said for our mostly synonymous notion of collaboration these days.
A Star Trek Captain’s Wisdom for Dedicated Teachers: Avoid Promotions, Stay in Charge of Your Ship, and Stay away from the Nexus
When I think of opportunities I’ve had to become an administrator, I often recall a scene in the 1994 movie Star Trek: Generations where next-generation Captain Picard meets the legendary Captain Kirk of the previous generation through a mysterious, wish-fulfilling, destructive space anomaly called the Nexus. The scene and the space anomaly provide apt analogies for teachers to consider as they face temptations to move to administrative positions beyond the classroom.
Journeying under the Sun and through the Smoke with Ecclesiastes while Teaching and Learning in a Public High School
I had a much different topic ready for today, but I read Dave Stuart’s timely and encouraging post on “The Teacher’s Journey.” That got me thinking about the cycles of disorientation and reorientation that are so much a part of my life and work as a teacher. In terms of struggling through such cycles, I’d say that one of most formative books for my own journey so far is Ecclesiastes. It’s an ancient wisdom book that deals with inner and outer cycles of learning, teaching, and working through life’s messy experiences. Ecclesiastes is a bit like C.S. Lewis’ characterization of Aslan: The book grows bigger as the messy cycles of life and teaching frequently grow bigger and more wearisome.
Duane, a retired science teacher who started teaching about 70 years ago, often had practical wisdom to pass along about teaching. One of his best insights was to “just get students working at the board each day.” That still applies for in-person and distance learning in the 21st century.
In the previous post, I shared my concerns that a sort of unhelpful flea market approach to education has become too common, characterizing it as a philosophy “of” education. In contrast, I advocated that we need a sort of mere philosophy “for” education that will guide us into more effective and coordinated teaching and learning efforts. A mere philosophy approach helps coach my students to make meaningful connections with their learning and long-term flourishing in my English courses. If we could get mere philosophy working for professional development thinking, I believe we’d have healthier and more inviting schools in which to teach and learn.
Mere Philosophy “for” Education as an Alternative to the Fickle Flea Market of Ideas and Tools: Part I
Instead of the commonplace exercise of just developing a philosophy “of” education, educators of all ages need to develop effective philosophies “for” education to offset unhelpful institutional, cultural, and personal habits. I find that most philosophies “of” education resemble flea markets of scattered ideas and practices. Adapting a theme from C.S. Lewis for the public high school context, I might call the alternative “mere philosophy.” Here are some initial thoughts about the value of mere philosophy as a guide “for” better learning and teaching.
Thankfully, medical science has come a long way since the 18th century. Here’s a brief reflection on why today is a good day to get inoculated. This afternoon, I’m going to get my first of two vaccine doses. I’m especially grateful for how far medical science has come since the 18th century.
Anne Bradstreet’s “Verses upon the Burning of our House” became way too relevant to my students and to me in the fall of 2020 as the East Troublesome Fire roared through our county. I found myself rethinking my recent, somewhat flippant comments about “2020 being a dumpster fire of a year” and how our local wildfire might become “some version of Lord of the Ring’s Mordor.” On a Wednesday night I looked out my front door and saw a scene that looked way too much like Mordor.
Baby Bird Illustrations and the Limits of Romanticism for Going the Distance as a Teacher, Learner, and Flourishing Human Being
Each year about this time, I start wrapping up a unit on American Romanticism with my juniors. Each encounter reminds me of some helpful things about Romanticism for teaching, learning, and living well, but I also find important limitations in Romantic philosophies.
Better Modes of Coaching, Teaming, and Philosophizing for High School Teachers Who Want to Go the Distance
“John, I made it thirty years, and here’s how: I didn’t coach.” That was advice from Larry in my first or second year of teaching, but Larry did coach: He coached students in how to learn science as a discipline and teachers in how to live a balanced life. I was also mentored by some educators who did coach athletics. These educators went the distance for over three decades of teaching. Many of those teachers still worked as substitutes, coaches, and mentors well into their retirement years.
At 27 years of teaching high school, too many days feel like badly directed versions of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. Not too long ago, a good friend texted to ask how I’ve made it this long. I was tempted to answer that it was probably due to a head injury. Actually, a big part of making it this long has been with the support of such friends who love to learn and love to promote learning but struggle with our cultural and institutional settings that seem absurdly obstructive to learning.
Throughout the year, outside forces of marketing, media, and politics tempt our susceptible human nature to focus way too much on appearances and rob ourselves of a much richer inner life. C.S. Lewis addressed this tendency throughout his works, but especially in The Chronicles of Narnia.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman stirs my thinking about education and long-term flourishing in fresh ways. The play has been a close companion from my first reading in college and through much of my teaching career. Although it’s a tragedy, it makes us keep thinking about the problems that can get in the way of pursuing the grace of everyday experiences and relationships. So, here are three takeaways from two rounds of reading the play with students this fall.
Debugging the Grace of Great Things with Kafka and Other Great Writers (“Teaching with Great Writers in Mind” Continued)
For me, Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis reads like an existential parable about how people can lose their humanity by mindlessly going through daily life and relationships. I don’t want that to happen to any of us in real life. It’s one of those stories that I use with the students and simultaneously use to warn myself away from just going with the flow of public school teaching.
As educators and thoughtful human beings, we really should be subject-centered and thereby more relationally-minded in our teaching, living, and pursuit of long-term flourishing. That sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true and helpful. Under the influence of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Parker Palmer explains in The Courage to Teach that subject-centered teaching is the best way to approach teaching and learning. Rilke and Palmer are just a few of the many thoughtful writers who compel me to assert that good subject-centered knowledge rightly guides better relationships.
Some students find it interesting to consider how the Protestant Reformation and its context can connect to science fiction and fantasy. With the second season of The Mandalorian starting on October 30th, I thought it would be a good time to excerpt a bit of historical theorizing from a previous post from not so long ago or so far away…
With the challenges of teaching a semester’s worth of upper-level high school English knowledge in a quarter, I’m painfully aware of too many inputs and outputs in a teacher’s life; hence for this week, I have a blog entry about the length of a Tweet. Life & learning continue.
I thought the 2016 presidential debates were embarrassing! After last week’s presidential debate, one of my junior students told her mom that we have much better debates in our classes. Nevertheless, there still are many pockets of excellence and signs that we can do better. Samuel J. Adams of The Dispatch points to data suggesting “that mostContinue reading “Who’s Afraid of Talking about Political Rhetoric in High School?”
Tentatively Wrapping-up Rational Knowing: Humble and Cautious Reasoning Recommended (Who’s Afraid of Epistemology Cont’d)
In this short post, I bring a tentative conclusion to my segments on rational ways of knowing: Many of our best uses of reasoning recognize the limits of our reason.
How a Motorcycle-Fixing Philosopher Can Help Educators Start to Rethink and Repair Modern Knowledge Problems (Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Cont’d)
In philosophy since Descartes, western civilization seems to have lost its ability to understand the value and nature of philosophical common sense. In our time, the motorcycle repairman, philosopher, author, scholar, and tinkerer Matthew Crawford can help us do some much-needed rethinking of our philosophies of knowledge, ethics, attention, and learning in the light of reality and in the pursuit of long-term flourishing.
Addendum #12: For Star Trek Day on September 8th, Consider Some 23rd Century Insights for 21st Century Educators
In honor of Star Trek Day and a few of my teaching colleagues who are Star Trek fans, I offer five educational insights as a tribute to over five decades of boldly going where no one has gone before.
While thinking historically about philosophy, education, and my experiences in a strange profession, I’m increasingly convinced that there are two types of educators: Coffee-driven or Cocktail-driven…
In light of hearing teacher concerns near and far about starting this school year, I’m thinking that the dynamics of credibility between teachers and administrators work much like they do between teachers and students. Might we be a bit more considerate of teacher concerns about focusing so much on design thinking and innovation? Ken Sande’sContinue reading “Addendum #10: Empathy via Thoughtful Maintenance versus Hyper Design and Innovation Trends”
This is one of those brief, barely-hanging-on posts. I need to take a detour from my series on “Ways of Knowing” for learning and teaching since remote-teaching-readiness is occupying my mind in light of recent news reports of districts being open for only a few days or a few weeks before shifting to remote learningContinue reading “Addendum #9: Eleventh Hour HyFlex Planning Notes for High School Courses”
Coaching Students to Engage Knowledge with Aquinas’ Scholastic Method (Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Continued)
In this post, I explore some student-learning applications of Thomas Aquinas’ approach to argumentation via his thoughtful questioning and charitable disputation method as modeled in The Summa Theologiae. (Also often referred to as part of “the scholastic method.”) Aquinas’ method of charitable disputation serves well as a way to coach students to more thoughtfully summarize, analyze, and argue knowledge claims. Modern argumentation approaches, such as the Toulmin model of argument, can also be integrated.
Aquinas and Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru for Thinking about “Sudden Remote Learning and Teaching” This Fall (Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Continued)
In this post, I argue that Thomas Aquinas and Star Trek’s Mr. Spock both model some very helpful patterns for thinking through knowledge about preparing for our upcoming school year.
Synthesizing Knowledge with Thomas Aquinas for Better Learning, Teaching, and Long-term Flourishing (Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Continued)
In this brief post, I reflect on Thomas Aquinas’ comprehensive approach to synthesizing knowledge from disparate sources.
Deliberately Sorting Out Knowledge with Aristotle for Better Learning, Teaching, and Long-term Flourishing (Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Continued)
Even with many limitations of his 4th century BCE context, Aristotle can assist our pursuit of long-term flourishing (synonymous with his use of “eudaimonia” as the highest aim of life) through his methods of rationally deliberating topics of knowledge. For education and public life in our fractured republic, we need philosophical help from good thinkers and good methods in order to effectively pursue inclusive long-term flourishing.
Plato’s Ideas about Wrestling with Knowledge for Better Learning, Teaching, and Long-term Flourishing
At the heart of Plato’s philosophy is a wrestling with visions of true knowledge, especially in the tension between thoughtful individual inquiry versus superficial group-think. Despite his flaws, Plato can help us thoughtfully construct and consider different visions of learning and long-term flourishing in our time.
Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Socratically Seeking Knowledge for Learning, Teaching, and Long-term Flourishing
As I start my series on epistemology (or theory of knowing) for better learning and teaching, I want to emphasize an approach to rational knowing in relation to a very important ancient Greek thinker: Socrates. He believed that knowledge and virtue are inseparable, and therefore the search for knowledge is a search for virtue and vice versa. Socratically, teachers and students should strive to be virtuous in their pursuits of knowledge. What does virtue mean? How does one acquire virtue (and knowledge)? Why, those are just the sort of questions Socrates wants us to thoughtfully explore throughout our lives for long-term flourishing.
Who’s Afraid of Epistemology? Exploring Ways of Knowing for Better Learning, Teaching, and Long-term Flourishing
In this post, I discuss the neglected but important branch of philosophy known as epistemology or theory of knowledge. I also introduce my general plan for a series of postings about epistemology for better thinking in service to our learning, teaching, and ongoing pursuits of long-term flourishing.
An ancient Roman philosopher and a twentieth century African American civil rights leader can have more in common than we realize. It is both the similarities and differences that are important for us to consider in these difficult times. Last week, I briefly explored the adaptable role that really old books could have in tackling modern problems, especially in terms of our blind spots and shortcomings. In our fractured republic, we also need to situate the study of books and ideas in the context of what is often referred to as the liberal arts. The liberal arts seem more important than ever for personal and mutual public flourishing.
Ancient-Modern Arguments That Passion Is Overrated in the Pursuit of Long-term Flourishing (&Read Some Older Books!)
Concerning the popular focus on finding one’s passion, I appreciate the discernment recently expressed in Cal Newport’s post on “Ancient Complications to Modern Career Advice.” He points us toward thinking more wisely about responsible living and long-term flourishing.
“Philosophy is everybody’s business.” –Mortimer J. Adler Educator and philosopher Mortimer Adler made several important points about philosophy in the twentieth century that still apply to our time. Indeed, philosophy is everybody’s business and so are ideas. Among the 103 Ideas that Adler catalogued and explored with others, he asserted that there are six greatContinue reading “Seeking to Know Seven Great Ideas for Learning and Long-term Flourishing in Conflicted Times”
The Lindy Effect and Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits: Help for Educators to Grow Better Individually and Collaboratively (For the School Year and for the Summer!)
Collaboration: Done well, with a durable knowledge-rich and a knowledge-building focus, collaboration can empower educators. Done poorly, collaboration becomes a purgatorial experience. I believe that the Lindy Effect’s notion of longer-lasting knowledge and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can help educators envision much better individual and collaborative approaches to effective education.
Emergency Remote Teaching has been challenging for these last two months, but there are some important takeaways for teaching during crisis and non-crisis times:
1. Introverts need community too.
2. Extroverts need introverted skills.
3. Existing online tech tools can be helpful if used with discernment.
4. Distance planning is good for non-emergency course planning too.
5. We’re way over-scheduled during our “normal” non-emergency times.
HyFlex Course Planning Strategies for High School Teaching and Learning: Consolidating the Right Questions for Crisis and Non-Crisis Times
Although it’s an extremely demanding approach to course planning, HyFlex course design invites important questions about effectively teaching students with flexible alternatives to interaction, which could work well in four important scenarios: face-to-face learning, face-to-face intermittently mixed with distance learning, complete distance learning, and sudden shifts from face-to-face to complete distance learning. HyFlex isn’t a silver-bullet solution, but it does concentrate educators on essential questions about instructional planning for best and worst-case scenarios.
For this posting, I’ll briefly share my approach to a final activity for my senior English courses: A senior graduation speech from every member of my class. (This year, the activity is getting some streamlining due to our social distancing, but it’s still a good time to reflect on the full process of working with my students for future use during normal times.)
The celebration of Star Wars Day this week was well-timed as I’m having my seniors start work on a research project that explores popular culture through the lens of at least one serious academic discipline that they would not typically study in high school. Their review of knowledge related to the research process includes elements of interleaving. The project is a good way to wrap up our time together (at a distance) this year.
It’s Star Wars Day. May the Fourth be with you! Hopefully, we’ll all have a healthier republic in the months to come.
About this time each year in my high school English courses, I get encouraged listening to my students engage in debate and discussion activities. Those lively discussions are one of the things I’ve missed most due to the stay-at-home restrictions. That got me thinking about resources that I’ve found most helpful for teaching students about good, bad, and ugly approaches to arguable topics.
The important question that most of the social emotional discussions have surfaced is, “How do we appropriately support and coach struggling students with the social emotional dimensions of learning and growing?” This is a more complex question than it might initially seem.
For educators, Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic can help us think better about unhelpful extremes and unhelpful mixes of over-centralization and hyper-individualism.
Addendum #6: Advanced Placement English Thinking Is Highly Relevant to Emergency Teaching, Real Life, and the Pursuit of Long-term Flourishing
“What are the most important values to consider for guiding one through crisis times and toward long-term flourishing?” I brainstormed that synthesis prompt this week as I was considering what we’re not testing in the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition exam this year due to the COVID-19 crisis. As a teacher, I’m working onContinue reading “Addendum #6: Advanced Placement English Thinking Is Highly Relevant to Emergency Teaching, Real Life, and the Pursuit of Long-term Flourishing”
New and veteran teachers need workable methods for effective productivity during crisis and non-crisis times.
Addendum #5: A Way to Use College Board AP Review Videos + Interactive Lecture Strategy = A Step Toward Effective Curriculum and Instruction Coherency
As I’m talking with colleagues, several of us are grateful for the Advanced Placement Online Classes and Review Sessions. These resources are helpful for our emergency remote teaching and learning conditions, but they’re also important as a reminder and a model of what coherent and effective curriculum and instruction can be. As an experienced teacherContinue reading “Addendum #5: A Way to Use College Board AP Review Videos + Interactive Lecture Strategy = A Step Toward Effective Curriculum and Instruction Coherency”
How J.R.R. Tolkien’s notion of eucatastrophe and his collaboration with the Inklings can offer encouragement and hope in our times of crisis.
Addendum #4: Literature + Reader-Response Questions + Google Classroom Can Restore Some Sense of Relationship
As my seniors finish their reading and response work with Octavia Butler’s Kindred this week, I’ve especially appreciated the spot for private comments on student postings in Google Classroom. With the platform and with student postings, I can get the gist of how students are reading and thinking about these last parts of the novel,Continue reading “Addendum #4: Literature + Reader-Response Questions + Google Classroom Can Restore Some Sense of Relationship”
Addendum #3: Arguing for Clarity and Using MacGuyver Strategies: “Emergency Remote Learning” Conditions During COVID-19
Project-Based Learning advocate A.J. Julian shares good and timely counsel as he revises what he and other educators have been calling “distance learning” or “online learning” in “This Is Not Distance or Online Learning.” He rightfully clarifies that what we’re doing is actually “emergency remote learning.” The distinction is helpful and practical for guiding teachers,Continue reading “Addendum #3: Arguing for Clarity and Using MacGuyver Strategies: “Emergency Remote Learning” Conditions During COVID-19”
How CBT strategies can make Seligman’s ABCs even more effective for overcoming procrastination and promoting resilience.
(Also, Deconstructing Senioritis)
These are the times that try our sense of humor. Here are four of my favorite short bits of humor that relate to argument, literature, or communication.
Addendum: Five good links for helping you think through distance learning and teaching during the social distancing caused by COVID-19.
How practicing “D” for Distancing and (gentle) Disputation can help us grow more resilient. (Also, some quick thoughts about focused and effective approaches to distance learning.)
How Martin Seligman’s ABCs of growing through adversity might help students and educators.
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