Educators for education-not regurgitation.

Although by now the political climate of America is very forcibly divided, there remains one spark of hope-one area which has been passed down as sacred from generation to generation: the future. The children, it is said, are that future, and it is with them that humanity rests. But are we giving the future the skills it needs to survive?

In a time of information overload, young people are hard pressed to find a single skill set which enables them to navigate not only the political arena, but those which hit closer-to-home, such as healthcare, finances and the ever important education. As many of you well know, student loans are something I rant about rather frequently, the dangers of which remain quite unknown for many people from my parent’s generation. But I digress. The skill set most vital to each upcoming individual, in every generation is one that is in a recession all its own: critical thinking.

As a human being, in a much broader, globalized culture, critical thinking means the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate information (being able to determine fact from crap, essentially).

But Michelle-that sounds like you just criticized your own age group. What are you doing?

Pointing out a concern of mine in regards to the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. I’ve included a little context, but put the point of focus in bold. In a recent statement at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), Mrs. DeVos said:

“How many of you are college students? The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

Link to the video: C-Span of Mrs. DeVos’ Speech

job-education

What is concerning, therefore, is not the fact that Secretary DeVos is of the opinion that the “fight” extends to college students (because she’s right-we’re at the front lines of a fight which extends far beyond education) but that she believes educators are not educating, but force-feeding their opinions to their students. What’s further troubling is her fixation with othering. Her statement is incredibly biased, in the way it undermines anyone who does not support Donald Trump. That in-and-of-itself is refutes her claim of anti-First Amendment work. You do not have to support the person who fills the role of President of the United States in order to be an American, with all of the associated rights. To have someone in an educational leadership position not be entirely educated on the core values of the country is terrifying. And it is for these reasons that colleges (students and educators) MUST be at the front of the fight.

While I am quite capable of passing along my opinion, I thought that perhaps it would be more prudent to provide the thoughtful discourse of a professor. In an email (which I have attained permission to reproduce), Professor Michael Phelan, Linguistics Department at The Ohio State University gave the following statement:

I have been teaching in public schools of various levels [for 14 years]. In all of that time I have never heard comments such as these from someone in a position of educational leadership; I am aghast and astounded.

Education is about two things: Getting you to ask deep, meaningful, interesting questions about yourselves, your neighbors, and the world around you, and training you to answer those questions. Good educators do not let you rest with *any* set of answers. Good educators probe deeper, asking you to consider how you know what you think you know, if there are special cases or more general formulations of your answers, if it is reasonable that other people in other circumstances may find different sets of answers to be more useful. The hallmark of really answering any scientific question is that your answer leads to more good questions, not fewer. Good educators force you to strongly consider the possibility that you might be wrong, and that your teachers might be wrong too. I firmly believe that if you somehow get through four years of university education without having had your deepest beliefs challenged you should ask for your money back.

Good education is not a systematic indoctrination to try to force you to think the way your teachers think. There are systems of thought and custom where that is the case, but education is not one of them. If you believe everything I believe, and your generation believes everything my generation believes, then we as a species have wasted all the years between because we haven’t learned anything new. But if either of us cannot back up our beliefs with rigorous argument and objective evidence, we are only fooling ourselves.

In the coming weeks, we will discuss issues related to language ideology, bilingualism, and the way that attitudes about people affect our attitudes about their language. We will discuss how the way we talk about political issues can strongly influence our beliefs about those issues, and we will use concrete examples including controversial topics like marriage equality, abortion, and physician assisted suicide. I have strong political beliefs, as doubtless many of you do too. We will keep the debate focused around the language used to talk about these issues because language processing is the point of the course, but it is important to know that we can have that debate respectfully, regardless of where we each come from politically.

Secretary DeVos said, “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.” I think she got her question words wrong. The faculty and staff at OSU and at any university worth the name don’t teach you what to do, say, or think. We teach you how to do things, how to say things, and more importantly, how to think clearly, deeply, and critically.

It is with this email that I leave you with the following quote.

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.
Albert Einstein

As always,

You are valid. You have worth. You are irreplaceable. You are enough.

 

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Why Education Matters

This week has seen some really bizarre things happen in my neck of the woods. (Or maybe they’re only bizarre to me.) Most specifically, is the news from my own university, coming at a time when their decisions (or rather, proposed-and-now-withdrawn decisions) make less sense than they might’ve otherwise.

I have a single “article” for you this time, it’s not particularly triggering, but more just informative.

The Lantern (This is but one of the sources reporting, but I think they did a decent job.)
I’ve already passed all my required English courses, and my entire degree is just about finished-so why does it matter to me?

Because not everyone will need to use quantum physics in their workplace-but EVERYONE will need to use English. The 1100 and 2367 courses (first and second semester English lit/lang courses) are required for EVERY student, and almost all of the upper level courses rely on you having taken them before you can move forward. The thing is, these courses teach you how to communicate at a collegiate level, but also at a professional level. I learned how to do in depth analysis of pop culture, of classic literature and more from these courses.

There are (as I understand it) 28 lecturers in the English department. Removing 18 from the equation means removing each of their sections (usually 3) from the schedule. Each of those classes would have had at least 24 people in them, meaning that AT LEAST 1300 students would not have been able to take prerequisite courses (and therefore would have to delay their anticipated graduation times).

More than that though, is the outrage that comes from this idea in and of itself. the lecturers had contracts through Summer 17. And, in an effort to “save” half a million dollars (roughly 10% of the deficit), the university was going to breach contracts of almost 20 people (all of whom have PhD’s). First, I must express outrage as a self-proclaimed academic. These people deserve the same respect as all the other people (both as human beings on a general level and as PhDs on an academic level). Under Ohio law, higher education educators are not able to unionize (and therefore combat this sort of behavior). But I must also express exceptional amounts of derision for the action itself. I pay my student tuition each semester. I have been part of a movement to get more transparency with how money is spent at our university. I’m going into incredible debt-and I have the right to know what I am gaining because of it. I’m gonna put some math in here.

This is all information I gathered from OSU Statistics. But I’m rounding a bit.

Total Number of Students Enrolled: 65,000

Total Students Out of State: 17,000 (Making in-staters: 48, 000) (roughly 13,000 Grad/Law/Med Students/52k Undergrad)

Tuition Out of State Undergrad: $27K (In-State $10K)

Tuition Out of State Grad: $31K (In-State $13K)

**These numbers do not include mandatory fees like lab fees, participation fees and the like)

The university claims that the total amount of tuition brought in EACH YEAR is almost $900 million. (And we’ll come back to that-trust me.)

The 2016 budget claims that it costs $5.5 BILLION to keep the university running (hospital, university and other connections included) and it brings IN $6.1 BILLION (meaning six hundred million is gained).  Of that $5.5 Billion, $1.4 Billion is spent on salaries. This includes everyone from Janitors to landscapers to professors to the President of our university.

So in total, there are 44,000 (rounded) employees of Ohio State. And if you divide $1.4 billion across them equally, you get almost $32k per year per person-so, not an extreme amount of money, but more than minimum wage, certainly. Obviously though, that’s not how that happens.

A non tenure track professor at OSU makes $5000 per class taught. If we take the three classes per semester from above, that’s roughly $30K per year (yay, math!). But, for it to all balance out, there will obviously be people who make much less and people who make much more. For example, a quick Google search will tell you that the president of the university makes $1Million every year. The Vice President makes a little shy of $400 thousand yearly (and no, neither of them teach). The chair of my department makes a quarter of a million dollars yearly, and that is $50K shy of the Political Science chair, but $50K more than the Psychology chair.

There are 105 Deand/Chairs/Interim Chairs/Vice-People. And if they all made $200K, that’s $21 Million (add in the Pres. and VP to get (rounded) $23 Million). But, as we’ve seen not all of them make that, so the number is obviously off. But anyway, that leaves us with $1.2 Billion to split between everyone. When you take out 13k Student workers (who get Federal funding), 25K staff (who make $10 an hour), there’s a growing disconnect. (And did I mention, Coaches also make multiple millions of dollars at my university??)

 

My point is simple. The Ohio State University is first and foremost a place of education. It would be incumbent, then, for this place of education to RETAIN educators. It is vital to the university to maintain custodial and maintenance people (many of whom I have gotten to know). But I’m questioning the necessity to have so much overhead weight. I didn’t even mention the governing body at the university-or the various councils. If we trimmed off just ONE unnecessary administration position, the money saved would be enough to supply ALL of the English 18 with year long contracts.

I know I’m just a student-and my voice doesn’t ring far-but this is unacceptable. Lecturers have the same degrees, and often times work harder than their tenure track coworkers.

All I’m asking is that instead of running a university like a business (with extremely unnecessary amounts of overhead), maybe we should all be demanding to have the university run as a university.

Just a thought though.

Accomplishment, Action, Attack

Today. Goodness gracious today. You have some days when you really feel like you’re doing your best and then life craps out on you. That was my day today. And because I am in a sharing mood, would you like to hear a story?

Today started by me waking up, asking my husband if he was going in today. He said no. That means: I drive myself to and from school. If you’ve followed me since the “Here be Dragons” post, you’ll know that driving is a big stressor for me. But I knew I could do it. So I took the dog out and went to work. I made it!

Half way through my shift, I get a text from my husband telling me that he actually had to go in today, and that he had to be on campus before 5 to turn in a form. So I email my professor and tell him that I will not be in class today. He calls down to the office where I work and we have the following conversation:

Professor: Hi Michelle, is there any possible way you could walk with me to class today? I’m having some problems with my kidney stones and I want to make sure someone is there to keep me from falling.

Me: Yea, of course! I’ll be down a few minutes before class starts.

And so I arrive with ten minutes to spare and hear him. The man is obviously in pain. He has his cane, and I’m on the other side of him. We make it about half way down the hall and he goes down. Now, I’m not proud to admit this, but I was really no help. I made sure he didn’t hit his head, but that was about the extent of my capabilities. I called for one of my bosses, who came out and with him came another professor. I was instructed to cancel class and keep things to a minimum. I did my best there. (I knew he would be in capable hands-I would not have been able to pick him up anyway, and my boss knew how to contact his wife.) So I ensure that that happens and I prepare myself to drive home.

timeforaction

I drive, and guess what? I make it! Without incident. And it was my first time ever driving home too:) I switch my husband seats when I get there though (because I hadn’t eaten and he brought me a snack) and we head back to campus. I recount my tale and we arrive. He bolts off to his building, having switched places again and I commence driving around in circles to wait for him. It takes about 6 go rounds, but he returns and we switch one final time, preparing to head home.

On our way to the line of cars, we chat about dinner, and how I don’t want to eat out because we have leftovers. Once we are in the line, it’s very much just stopped traffic. Then out of nowhere BAM! We’ve been rear ended. I really wish I was making this up, but I’m not. My husband gets out of the car and looks at the damage. As it would turn out, the guy who hit us (who is LAUGHING at us, btw) has more damage than we do, so we leave to come home. No, we’re not going to report it, because that would just raise our rates and that’s just no good. (i made sure he was okay, and I made sure I was okay, and that’s the important part!) I’m thinking we’re both gonna take it easy for the next few days regardless. So we get to the gas station that we frequent by our apartment and try to fill the tire with air only to find out (after the fact) that the pump is only letting air out of the tires, not putting air in. So we give up, grab some food and head home.

fender-bender

(This is NOT our accident, it’s just the best representation of what happened. They suffered a pretty obnoxious front end issue and we managed to not really have any damage, except a slight crack to the bumper.)

I literally don’t know how today could have been anymore adrenaline packed, but all I can say is that I am glad that today marks the first evening of spring break, because I really have had quite about enough. I will email my professor and see how he’s doing soon. Maybe we all need more chocolate today.

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I guess the deal with today is that sometimes you are the lucky one and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes the money comes, and sometimes the money goes. When you do everything right, something still might go wrong. And it’s okay. Life will throw curve balls at you when you least expect it-because you least expect it. But at the end of the day, you can either tame your dragons or be eaten by them. Because life isn’t going to just take it easy on you because you’re “disadvantaged”, it’s going to force you to rise above. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing.

You Cannot Possibly

There is a professor, whom I have not had, but I will try my hardest to before I leave campus. He speaks with an accent that I cannot identify, but there are no malicious thoughts that pour from it. Several times a week he will bring in chocolates or donuts or the like and pass them out, or leave them for people to indulge in. Upon asking why he did so, the man answered,

“I’m collecting favors.”

He of course laughed about it, and as I said, he is in no way bitter about life. But when asked for a second time his answer was a little different.

“You cannot possibly be having a bad day when there is chocolate.”

And I appreciate that. I may not always take what is offered, but I can say that they way that he cares about the wellbeing of the office, the way that he seems so chipper all the time, that infectious spirit makes all the difference. 

I remember watching a video interview of a woman who was in a camp during the holocaust, talking about how her mother was able to bring two pieces of chocolate to the camp for her and how she ended up giving her piece to a pregnant woman after she birthed her child. The woman was later greeted in life by that very same child who then in turn gave her a piece of chocolate. I remember watching intently when the woman said her mother told her that she would save the chocolate for a moment when they really felt hopeless.

It would seem that perhaps there are a million reasons in which to bring chocolate into a moment: to regain hope, strength, to lighten the mood or to bring joy to someone. But I think it is the act of giving with the intention of making someone smile that has the greatest meaning.

  

The Day I Was Honest

I’ve held onto this post, mostly becuase I couldn’t give it all it deserved. I had to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not entirely sure it’s today, but I think I’ve got a good grip on what I want to say and I think it’s a lovely way to open the new calendar year.
Last semester (and thusly last year) I had a lot going on, as we’ve discussed. I had just transferred to the big city, made new friends, was working on establishing myself in the ways of the world. And I began to blog seriously. I watched this video today of an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith, which I absolutely loved and the idea came bubbling up in the back of my head. That’s why I’ve decided to blog on it today.

In the interview, she was talking about how to balance your life. That’s something I really struggle with. I live too much in the future and not enough in the now. I think about how to fix the problems I may encounter and not so much on how to prevent them. So when she said “focus on yourself. Do what makes you happy.”I really felt like we were approaching a revalation. Her argument was that if you do not find a way to keep yourself in balance, to take care of yourself, you will look to others to do so. You will blame them for sacrificing your entire life for them and not getting happiness out of it. And it blew my mind (metaphorically, of course). 

Now that you’ve had some background info, on to the actual point.

Last semester is by far and away not the first time I’ve had to take sick days. I’ve had bronchitis, strep, the stomach flu and a host of colds throughout my life. But I don’t skip irresponsibly. I take pride in my ability to attend school and work with punctuality and integrity. But last semester was the first time I was honest with myself. As I was crafting my email to my professors for the day, I began to reason out what my excuse for missing class was. Was I suffering from a 24 hour bug? Had I awoken with a flat tire or a low battery? Had I merely slept in? And I realized that I needed to stop kidding myself and respect myself as much as I respected the professors.

 

 

Good morning!

I will not be in class today. I need to take a mental health day and will return to class tomorrow. Thank you for your understanding.

Best,

Michelle BB.

For the first time in my entire life, I used that excuse. I’ve always been ashamed to, like it was some sort of cop-out excuse for being lazy. But it isn’t. And in fact, when I returned the next day, my professors went out of their way to make sure I was alright. Two of them even stopped by the office where I work and made it a point to see if I needed anything. They didn’t see me as a lazy, incompetent student. They saw me as an individual who responsibly needed a day to regroup.

  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at their reactions. Mental health has been quite a large topic lately, and I was taking a bunch of anthropology classes, so they all understand the value of psychobiological health. And as I said, I do not skip irresponsibly. There is always a reason-a real reason. But it got me thinking. How can I stand here (or sit) and tell you all that we need to take steps to mental health help and then be ashamed of the fact that I have to use that reason myself? Why was I ashamed in the first place?

Because it still carries the connotations. I don’t want anyone to see me as weak, unbalanced, incapable. I fight hard for people to see the bright, driven, passionate individual that I am. But I guess I got caught up in being a super heroine, without flaw or needs. And I viewed my own mental health as something along the lines of an excuse to be used as a cover up for the fact that I didn’t have the motivation to do something. That isn’t even the case. But I’m glad I learned that. Because mental health isn’t separate from physical health. It’s a facet of the same diamond. I was scared that my professors would use that against me in the future. But all that happened was me finally letting go of the fear and replacing it with the statement “I have to take care of myself-holistically.” And once I did that, I think I managed to do just that.

  So thank you, Jada Pinkett Smith, for reminding me that I do indeed need to find my balance and stop sacrificing myself away. No one else is responsible for my happiness and health.