Being Taught vs. Being Told

I approach the teaching of critical thinking in a slightly different manner than many instructors. In my composition courses, we don’t have time to cover everything I would like to cover about critical thinking techniques, but I embed ways to practice high-level thinking as a part of the writing and research processes because these skills are essential for writing and other intellectual pursuits.

Mainly, I want my students to understand why it is so important and for us to take some time to practice. The “Library” page from The Foundation for Critical Thinking provides a number of interesting articles and interviews, which set a solid foundation for discussion and practice. Through seeing the benefit of a healthy thinking process and the negative implications of not thinking effectively, my hope is that students will take more time questioning ideas and looking at situations from a variety of perspectives. I want them to survey the terrain of expertise and understand there is rarely, if ever, only one expert or perspective, and we also address the fallacy of placing issues into the myopic aspects of the two-sided debate.

After students read, review and study some of the materials from the Foundation for Critical Thinking, we move to what many consider a simple answer to a simple question to see what happens when critical thinking strategies are applied:

How many senses do humans have? Well, for most people, the answer is simple: 5.

Now, first think about when you learned this and ask: Were you taught about the senses or were you told the answer is 5?
Second, ask: Did you question the answer? Did you test the answer? Did you experiment? Did you do any research?
Third, read this article: “Title Withheld for Obvious Reasons.”

Now, let’s discuss…

What does this make you think about?
Do you want to question other ideas?
Why is critical thinking so important?
Why can’t we just absorb things without question?
What are the implications of not thinking for ourselves?
What are the benefits of thinking for ourselves?
What should we do? What are some important strategies to not be misled?

*Note: Don’t feel you have to answer all of these questions. The goal is to discuss, learn, practice and progress.

I am mainly sharing this because it has been a successful exercise to help my students see the value in developing a solid process for critical thinking and research, but if you are so inclined, feel free to post a comment.

So many complex systems and issues are over-simplified, which drives me crazy. We need to start helping young people see complexity instead of feeding them simple, straightforward answers for regurgitation and filling in bubbles on Scranton sheets.

Ask: What else in the world seems to be oversimplified or, as commonly understood, does not make sense?

Posted in Being Taught vs. Being Told, corporatization of education, Critical Thinking, factory education, Problem, Teach the Willing, Uncategorized, unlearn | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowspiracy: Now on Netflix

Cowspriacy takes a long look at animal agriculture, and Kip and Keegan go on a journey to find out how and why so few are talking about the issue. Their moniker is “the film that environmental organizations don’t want you to see!” I’m much more concerned with how their message will impact the general public. Many environmental organizations have become complacent and are more focused on staying lucrative than eliciting change.

I’ve heard all of my life that taking short showers is a good way to save water, and it is, but…

Here is a statistic that is at the heart of the matter:

“2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
(NOTE. The amount of water used to produce 1lb. of beef vary greatly from 442 – 8000 gallons. We choose to use in the film the widely cited conservative number of 2500 gallons per pound of US beef from Dr. George Borgstrom, Chairman of Food Science and Human Nutrition Dept of College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University, “Impacts on Demand for and Quality of land and Water.” )”

Now, put this in the context of taking a shower. A conservative estimate is 15 gallons of water per shower (I’ve seen numbers as high as 50). 2,500 / 15 = 166.67. So, if I did my math correctly, not eating one pound of finished beef product would save the same amount of water as not taking 166 showers, which is, once again conservatively, five months of showering. Stinky statistic, isn’t it?

Why are we not talking about lowering and, eventually, eliminating such as wasteful and antiquated piece of technology? There are much more efficient ways to produce protein on a large scale, which comes from cleaner burning and healthier sources. Not to mention our infatuation with protein is a myth. Protein deficiencies are extremely rare.

There are many more mind jarring data on the Facts page at Cowspiracy.

But there are plenty of people who are trying to get the word out:

Find a way to watch this film. Head to Netflix or the Cowspiracy website for ways to view the film and ways to get the message out.

It is time to listen. It is time to change behavior.

Posted in corporatization of education, Critical Thinking, environmentalism, factory education, Food, indoctrination, listening, new paradigm, Problem, protein, solution, Teach the Willing, unlearn, water | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Phrase to Save You Unneeded Stress

Below is a phrase that I think I came up with, but I’m sure I’ve put it together and/or partially stolen it from various folks out in the world of “those-trying-to-navigate-this-crazy-life,” and as far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve posted it to the web.

Keep the simple, simple.
Keep the complex, complex.
Don’t make the simple, complex.
And don’t make the complex, simple.

To me, I always hear people say, “You’re just overthinking….” I can’t stand that comment because it is meaningless without context. For some things in life, overthinking can be real. But I also think that far too many complex ideas are reduced to oversimplified, worthless versions of their former selves. I think this plays out so often in the stupidly dichotomized (please, let me use this potential non-word) PRO/CON debates.  I mean, how often do we find ourselves NOT PRO and NOT CON.

So, what the hell does this mean?

  1. Running is simple. I am not talking about the industry of elite and overall competitive running. I am speaking of putting one foot in front of the other for whatever time and distance a person chooses. Here is an example of making the simple, complex: taking 45 minutes to get on the proper shirt, shorts, undergarments, visor, etc…; hooking up the electronics; making the perfect liquid to fuel concoction; among others (I don’t address footwear because that is a complex and personal exercise of N=1) and then going out for a 20 minute 2-mile run. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad someone is moving a body, but really? Just go run. For such a short time and distance, a person doesn’t even need water.
  2. Healthcare is complex. Public healthcare is complex. Private healthcare is complex. Here is an example of making the complex, simple. Am I for socialized healthcare? Am I Pro or Con? These are both questions that attempt to force a dichotomy on something that doesn’t fit into a two-sided debate. In a word, I am “neither” pro nor con. Instead, I think there are benefits from many of the points on both sides of the false dichotomy, so why make it a dichotomy? Mainly, too many people like simple, and if something is marketed as simple, it sells better.

I know these are somewhat arbitrary and not fully-fleshed-out examples, but I think they do help to clarify why I think the above phrase can help us think more effectively for the many contexts of life.

Note: Though the concepts of simple and complex could be pushed into another false dichotomy, I see these concepts existing as a spectrum. There is a ton of space between for all levels of complexity, which should be the case for the many opposites we have in language. And, of course, I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite.

Make of it what you will.

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Combat Sport vs. Real Violence

One of my favorite websites and podcasts is The Art of Manliness. Brett McKay is the founder of the site and host of the podcast. Over the past couple / few years, I’ve learned and put into practice so much from the website, the podcast, Brett, and the honest and insightful guests he brings to long-form conversation – no memes or sound bites for these folks (a refreshing change for a culture lost to the thirty-second spotlight).

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and back to why I decided to re-post one of the last podcasts McKay published. The interview is with Tim Larkin, “self-defense instructor and creator of Target Focus Training.” What I think is so powerful about what they discuss is the ramifications of not being prepared or, most importantly, prepared in dangerous ways. Artificial violence for sport and training can be fun and have huge benefits, but, as these guys discuss, it can have some serious consequences when applied with an aggressive philosophy or other unjustified application.

Enjoy. I hope you all take some time to explore more from these thinkers. They have much to teach, and both openly give away so much without second thought.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Improvisation, new paradigm, podcasts, self-defense, solution, survival skills, Teach the Willing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reverse American Breakfast

As school was getting back into session, I’m sure there were plenty of parents out there who just opened the cabinets, placed a bowl on the counter, and filled it with cereal and milk. Too busy. Kids satisfied. But nutritionally lacking and setting them up for a crash in the very near future. Oh… probably right when they get to school. With this in mind, I thought I’d share what I usually create for a quick, yet better breakfast. Here is what I create:

An overhead view of one of my standard breakfast bowls for the kids.

An overhead view of one of my standard breakfast bowls for the kids.

I make this so often that I can’t quite remember what is exactly in this particular bowl; I would assume banana, and I can see cantaloupe, strawberries and peaches. The goal is to use what ever is already washed and in the refrigerator or on the counter (some fruit can be cut the night before – not all – careful). My general goal is to place a bowl each of the kids side by side and fill equally: half banana to start and then I add any kind of berries, melon, apple, pear, etc…. Mainly, it is whatever I have, which is what I can get, what is in season, and/or ripe or on sale. Fresh is best, but frozen works great too. Tip: freeze in season and save for later. Adjust fruit and portions as needed for taste, season, and budget. You can top with dried fruit as well.

The most important step is to REVERSE the trend. Most people (at least from my experience) top cereal with fruit. In my bowl, I top the fruit with cereal. It is as simple as that. It still provides the crunch and satisfaction of grains but doesn’t overwhelm the system with packaged food and all its known and unknown additives and sweetners. For liquid, any milk can work; I use nut milks, but cow’s milk is more common, though I would be very careful with how much you use and where it comes from (it can be quite scary stuff). You can also drizzle a little honey or maple syrup over the top; sometimes I do this on a reward system. If all goes well in the morning, a little sweetness can go a long way.

Happy times. Enjoy.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Food, Improvisation, new paradigm, problem solving, solution, unlearn | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Wonderful World of Podcasting

Here is a link to a post on one of my other blogs:

Couple Questions Answered on Fitness Podcasts

The main reason I’m linking this to Teach the Willing is to encourage anyone and everyone to explore the content available in podcasts. It is often (good podcasts, that is) a return to the lost art of long-form conversation. In our media-driven world of sound bites and memes, it is a beautiful thing to listen to and/or have long conversations about the things we love and care about.

Good luck exploring…

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John Holt and Teaching Reading

As a human, I’ve always loved reading – well, I guess not always, but most of the time. I feel it is one of the things that can free us from the confines of what others want and/or force us to know about the world. Being a good reader is critical to the process of thinking, to the process of learning, and to our need to be able to question those in authoritative roles.

Note: I don’t mean just reading words. I mean all texts – words, audio, images, moving images, etc…

I have degrees in Elementary Education and in Writing and Literature, so my stance is not surprising, but I still think my claim has merit outside and inside any institution. But in my experiences with teaching children and teaching in higher education, I am always surprised at how so many people loathe (and hate sometimes) reading. Why would anyone hate what can free them from the shackles of control?

Bob Marley speaks of “mental slavery.” He tried/tries to educate those who couldn’t/can’t read about what was/is really going on in colonial-controlled Jamaica and in the rest of the world (it continues today). Marley has also said, “We don’t have education; we have inspiration; if I was educated, I’d be a damn fool.” With these, he wants to wake people up to what education means. He was educated, but he did not allow himself to be indoctrinated. There is a huge difference. The education he is addressing comes from outside and is used to control and sway people into thinking in a particular way for another’s agenda. This is extremely dangerous and can destroy what it is to truly be free.

In the following article, John Holt address some of where people’s dislike of reading originates. While you read, pay close attention to how he blends his writing process with his critical thinking process and comes to a new understanding of how children learn to read and how they can learn to love and embrace its power.

How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading”
(Note – You will need to right click and rotate the pdf.)

I’d love to hear what anyone thinks about Holt’s ideas and how his experiment paid off. I really enjoy how he focuses on a skill-set and a life-long passion rather than on content. Huge difference. We can learn skills through just about any content, so ask: Why is content so vehemently controlled while children are learning to read? Shouldn’t children be allowed to choose what they learn about and/or the content of texts while they learn to read?

Posted in Critical Thinking, indoctrination, Reading, solution, Teach the Willing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Factory Education vs. Improvisation

Not long ago, I was just finishing up a consultation in our college’s writing center when one of my former students, Noah, turned from a computer screen and greeted me.  Noah was a dedicated student in my class, and from what I have observed, he is in college for the right reasons and truly wants to learn and grow. In the center, he and a friend were working on adjacent computers, and both were now engaged in conversation with me. After the standard rigamarole of segueing into a discussion, Noah turned to his friend with arms stretched out toward me and said, “He doesn’t teach English; he teaches us about life.” Wow. I was quite blown away and responded with something like “But we can learn to think like writers through life. Can’t we?”

This scenario with Noah is exactly why I’m constantly revising what and how I teach and looking for ways to turn the switch on for students. The more school curricula focus on rote memorization and information transfer, the less I can just jump into writing skills. So many of my students have no idea how to think for themselves that I find it much more important to teach them how to think, to ask real questions, and to negotiate and navigate the complexities of life and our modern communication systems. There is one glaring truth that I always come back to: if you can’t think, you can’t write.

Why does school curricula focus on what the policy makers deem “required skills?”

As a father of two young boys, 6 and 4, I am woefully concerned about where current education is leading. I experience it every day of my life. I see the downfalls of the factory model and the lack of skills and, more importantly, the lack of care and investment in students’ own learning. They just want quick answers, so they can get it done (usually passing a test) and move onto what they deem as “more important things.” But what is more important than learning? And this is where my mind resides. I have to ask: What is learning? Is learning memorizing something for Friday’s test only to forget it by Monday? Is learning punching a few key strokes on a mobile device and finding the “answer?” Or is learning to look inside and find a passion for what our world has to offer and then seeking to understand? It seems the latter has, or is, all but gone from our current model of education.

Perspective Shift (Theory vs. Application)
Do I want my kids (and/or my students) to be able to memorize a poem and recite it on some random day of the week or do I want to instill a love for literature and what it can show us about our worlds?

Do I want my kids (and/or my students) to be able to solve artificially constructed math problems or to solve life problems on their own through understanding common mathematical applications?

Applied Scenario (It is not if but when)
In the not too distant future when my boys are no longer under our roof, what happens if one of them is on a road trip across the country or abroad, and his vehicle breaks down out in the middle of nowhere? (Insert your own scenario if you want. The creative possibilities are endless.) At this location, there is no cell service and/or his phone has no charge. It is the middle of the night, getting colder by the minute, and nobody is coming to the rescue anytime soon.

In this situation, what knowledge and skills do I want my kids to possess? Do I want them to be able to find a way to keep warm and safe and not panic or do I want them to be able to perform well on next week’s standardized test?

Are life skills, such as the ones needed in this admittedly hypothetical situation, something kids would be more willing to learn? Would this type of learning help them see the value of teaching and learning? Would this reduce apathy and increase personal investment and concern?

A few of the skills needed in such a situation are creativity, problem solving and improvising. These skills can be taught, and once such as skill-set is strong, it can be applied to an endless variety of situations in academia and life in general.

In my hypothetical situation, the vehicle’s gas won’t last forever, so a person can’t just sit idly with the engine running all night to keep warm, but on the side of the road will be all kinds of things that can be used to build a fire, and if it is raining or snowing, a shelter may be needed as well. Ask: Will his eighth-grade vocabulary test help here? The answer is quite obvious. Who knows what we will encounter as we navigate such a complex and unpredictable world. To me, this is where improvisation is so key. We all need to be able to find creative solutions for problems and situations without preplanning. We need to practice relevant and vital skills, so that when we are faced with something unexpected, we won’t panic; instead, we will survive the ordeal and come out the other side stronger.

To me, this is what education should provide. Whether it is writing a paper for a Composition course when the format is not specified; whether it is finding solutions to hypothetical social problems in a Sociology course; whether it is looking through the pile of stuff you have stored all over your house and finding new uses for it instead of buying more stuff; whether it is repurposing those leftovers in the refrigerator and creating a tasty new dish; whether it is taking the ideas of several people, mixing them, and creating something new; or whether it is finding a way to use a stick or something else on the trail to fix your bike and get you back to the trailhead, we all need to learn to improvise, and factory education is not helping.

Last Question to End
Do I want my kids to be dependent on others or some mobile machine or do I want them to be self-reliant, creative, improvisers who can learn and solve problems on their own?

Posted in corporatization of education, Critical Thinking, factory education, Improvisation, new paradigm, problem solving, solution, survival skills, Teach the Willing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Factory Education

I created and drew the cartoon for the 6 November 2001 edition of The Pride student newspaper of California University, San Marcos.

I created this cartoon for the 6 November 2001 edition of The Pride student newspaper of California State University, San Marcos.

In many ways, I want to revise this political cartoon. I want to add color and make the characters much more prominent and creative upon entry and much more factory-stamped on exit. But it will just have to remain as is.

When I created the cartoon, I wanted to bring light to the fact that those in power were making the decisions for those who were paying for education. If you look closely, you will see the characters are on a conveyor belt, as if in a factory. Just like the factory where I now teach. There are four enthusiastic learners running to get an education, but what comes out of the factory is three graduates who no longer show any signs of enthusiasm, as if the wind was taken out of their sails. They appear the same. They have been molded into the next generation of worker bees who are trained and tested to perpetuate the institution.

I wish I could say that I’ve made a significant difference, but I haven’t. Yes. I’ve reached some students and helped them unlearn and begin a journey to what is real. But for the most part, I have banged my head against a wall in frustration for the border-line impenetrable wall of programming from K through 12 and beyond. It takes me on average of, who knows, 16 to 32 weeks to get through and illuminate what has transpired for the individual learner. Sad but true (sorry for the cliché). I unlearn as many as I can, but I am up against a massive power structure, and it will take a massive countermovement to balance such a situation. We have to take education back. It is about giving. Right now, it is drowning in taking – taking the foundation of creativity and critical inquiry from the learner in order to create yet another product of a broken system, a worker bee trying to please the queen.

Posted in corporatization of education, factory education, new paradigm, Problem, Teach the Willing, unlearn | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teach the Willing


If you happen on this blog, please read my About page. It is going to take some time to fully develop and bring my vision to the masses.

We have to start with the learners. Once they reach deeply into the hearts and minds and are “willing,” watch out world!

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