Hello as I wonder yet again,
It is shortly after midnight, and feeling exhausted earlier, I laid down. I feel asleep and awoke more than once listening to the news of the day. Now I am as wide awake as if it was time to get up in the morning, after a restful night’s sleep. As I’ve laid here, my mind has thought of one person after another, wondering how they are, and, in some cases, if they are. I reached out in a couple of cases. I am cognizant of how life seems to continue on, much like a rambling running post-winter stream — cold, and yet beautiful in its own way. We have not had much of a winter thus far, with it feeling more like late March for a couple weeks. I think I have had the shovel out only once the entire season. And yet perception and experience can be so varied. My two young, kind, and intelligent Ecuadorian house guests noted earlier how much they hate the weather. And that was their word at dinner this evening. Of course, I learned when there in early January, it is almost always 28-30 degrees Celsius and humid. So 0 degrees Celsius for them is quite a departure from their continual equatorial experience.
This week we will finish the first third of the semester, and after having an additional class added to my plate a week ago, I am feeling like I started over. I am working diligently to get up to speed, but managing another person’s class with no relational context and no sense of how their CMT was designed as it is has proven to be a challenge, and that is an understatement of gargantuan proportion. And at this point, my want to figure it out is more about the students depending on me than my personal desire to place this jigsaw puzzle into some recognizable image. Later this morning, it is my plan to drive to Mansfield, another of the branch campuses to our new Commonwealth University. It’s a 90 mile drive, and there is a chance the weather could be a bit dicey. So we’ll see what happens. Should make for an adventure. . . the adventure of Mansfield was a adventure of snow-covered highways on my return trip. It was a wonderful trip there, and our (my) colleagues on that campus are wonderful. It has been a wonderful beginning of the semester overall, and I feel like I am just managing whatever gets thrown my way.
What continues to alarm me, however, is how many people struggle with language and writing, but more so that such struggles are just to be expected. The number of students who note the following, with little sense of a need for change, confounds me. The most common statement I hear about writing from my students, at almost every level is: “I am not a very strong writer.” or something to the effect, “I don’t really like to write, and I have never been very good at it.” Either statement is difficult, but what is more consequential is they are not readily aware of what such a lack can create. I do understand some of the reason for their difficulty, but I do not really understand the belief that it is not really something they should be concerned about. Writing is one of the things that make us uniquely human, and I believe writing is what offers us an opportunity as humans to make sense of our thoughts, of our emotions, and even of our hopes. The more I witness our commitment to writing in daily life, in our public schools, in our universities, and even within our professional situations the greater concern I have. Writing is the way we move beyond the surface. Writing is how we make sense of complexity. And yet, even in my daily world, the amount of difficulty expressed by people when you ask them to write thoughtfully, analytically, and with an eye toward some sense of integration, the amount of trepidation that comes from such a request is beyond palatable. What allows someone to claim they are educated? Is it a piece of paper? Is it because they attended classes? It is because they have a particular position? Personally, and with a serious sense of conviction, I will assert it is none of these. I believe education is about what we did with our brains. I think it falls back on the ability of someone to think critically in any given situation; I believe it is the realization that one must engage in thorough analysis of that situation; and finally, I believe it is a commitment to intentionally integrate what is learned into the larger body of knowledge that makes the individual who they are. Sometimes their fear is not wanting to make a mistake. In the beginning of February is the birthday of the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the person who is the basis of my dissertation. That is the reason for his quote at the outset of this post, as well as it is germane.
An ability to think beyond the obvious requires someone to push themselves into that place unknown, proceeding with some fear, but also with some assurance that this is necessary. Thorough analysis comes from thinking, and realizing there is more than meets the eye; there is more than what initially comes to our minds. Again, it is being willing to realize the initial limits of something and wonder how we can achieve more. Too often we are content to take whatever comes, failing to imagine possibilities. And after the fact, we move quickly onto the next thing, seldom considering how it all fits together. I think it is at the minimal some appraisal of what has happened that allows for a different choice the next time. It is contemplating what my responsibility in the outcome is. We have become a world of blamers, of victims, abdicating our own free will when it is convenient and then complaining that we have it or we someone is taking it away when we want to claim it. It is the proverbial “wanting-the-cake.” When I think of some things I have done earlier in life, and then lamenting the outcome, I needed to step back and ask myself honestly what was my responsibility in that situation. Let me be brutally honest about the concept of accountability: it sucks! However, more importantly, it is real.
I remember arguing quite adamantly with my younger sister at one point. She really should have gone back to college as a veteran. She was a brilliant person, much smarter than I am. I believe that with every fiber of my being. However, when she graduated from high school (barely, but knocked her ACTs out of the park), she attended college. But it was private school and she had loans. She dropped out and went into the service, and probably could have received deferments on her loans, but failed to do the paperwork. When she got out of the service, she could not get Federal Financial Aid because of her delinquent loans, but she did nothing to fix it. Her SSN made her accountable. That number makes you easy to trace. In fact, a few years ago, I read an article about people whose SS payments were being garnished to pay their student loans. Consider what that says . . . things have a way of finding us, and with what we can do with technology, the idea of hiding is really quite impossible. Even today conversations with students, comments from students, demonstrate the reality of accountability in our lives. The reality of the legal age of accountability is different than the drinking age . . . 18 opens the floodgates of responsibility in a manner that many are not ready to face. One of the ways I see this on a college campus is with drinking. It is a different world, but if one thinks critically and honestly analyzes the consequence of that beer, that bong, or that briefly pondered action, I believe that many would take a different path. Our willingness to ponder any sort of reverberation of our actions is not something most of us are able to do. And yet, perhaps that is not avoidance as much as it is we are not well versed in how. We are so coddled. Perhaps too often, believing we are protecting the other, we actually make them more susceptible to getting their proverbial come-upense . . . consequence should not be something we fear, but rather something we understand. What does it take? “How many times will it take to get it right?” Luther in his Small Catechism seemed to understand this in the way he offered explanation. His mantra “We are to fear and love God so that . . . ” looked at both the difficulty being the saint and sinner that Luther believed us to be. Indeed, considering the Apostle Paul, he understood the issues of accountability. He understood the concept of hating the sin, but still loving the sinner. What happens in this reality is profound; it is freedom, the incredible freedom to be human. If we have the freedom to make mistakes to learn, then the critical, the thorough, the intentional offers safety. We have an opportunity to push the envelope of being incomplete, imperfect, but willing to make a difference. How do I allow my students the freedom to fail, to make the mistakes without judgment? What can I do to open the doors to growth, growth that does not merely happen, but happens intentionally . . . completely? If I can figure this out, I allow them to be educated, world-changing, individuals. I help in some small way to make the world a better place. That is the most profound pay one can offer. This video reminds me of how hard it is to be true to ourselves at times. Understanding who we are is where it all begins.
Thanks for reading as always,
4 thoughts on “Critical, Thorough, and Intentional”
Hello professor, I thought that this was a really thought provoking and engaging blog post, I really connected with the what you said about thinking beyond the obvious and pushing into the place unknown from an analytical standpoint. It was really interesting to hear your thoughts on critical thinking and I agree with what you said about how more and more people nowadays just aren’t interested in writing, or at the very least don’t believe that they’re capable of “good” writing. Which is of course incorrect, because everyone has the capability to become a strong writer. The greatest thing that I can think of in terms of a solution as a future teacher of writing myself is that we must encourage writing at all costs, of any kind, and emphasize what you referenced as being part of the human experience. On a separate note, I really engaged with what you said about 18 “opening the floodgates of responsibility” because that really is the best way to refer the onslaught of personal and external burdens thrusted upon you at that age. I think people forget how intrinsically insecure in every aspect of your life most people are at that age, and I don’t mean in the physical or egotistical sense, but in the life and human experience sense. Everything is opened up to you at once, good and bad, and I felt like you vocalized that really well within your blog post Professor.
Taking into consideration the first part of your blog, regarding your new class and the state of your students’ writing skills, I find there to be a profound issue. We’ve spoken about this in some of your classes, but so many students find English and the arts in general to be boring or useless, when it reality it acts as a basis for almost everything else we do. How could people research the sciences, form reports, and communicate thoughts to their peers without understanding of how to read and write? I don’t necessarily fault the students for their inability to write, however, because an education is a two-way street. You need a motivated student along with a willing and knowledgeable teacher, which is getting harder and harder to find these days. With funding being taken away from the arts and higher education in general, colleges have begun cutting more and more programs. With the merge into Commonwealth University being one primarily because there isn’t enough money to operate three long-running schools separately, I feel like the future looks pretty bleak. With Bloomsburg and many other schools getting rid of their philosophy majors, we’ve already begun to make an important way of critical thinking that should be a basis for education less accessible. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before the same is done for things like art, writing, and literature. Everybody knows that the money lies in technology, and in a world so bleak, sometimes having a bank account with a big number is the only comfort some people may find.
So I suppose the question is: what will it take to make people realize the importance of the things that are being taken away? How long will it take to feel the consequences of the movement that has already begun to occur. With this being my last semester in higher education, I wonder what impact this will have on my future work. The people that are in my field already are likely well-versed in writing reports and communicating with one another, as that’s a big part of their job. However, change is happening fast, and I feel like in as little in three years we might see a drop in the quality of many people’s work. A well-rounded liberal arts education doesn’t simply make you a better writer and communicator, it makes you a better thinker. Sure, STEM teaches you to be analytical and precise, but that’s not always what’s needed. Not everything has a set formula or an answer carved in stone. Sometimes, your experience and education about how things were before can matter more than any number of hours staring at math problems. I genuinely hope that education of the arts isn’t going to the wayside, but I’m not very convinced. As a single person, it feels almost hopeless that anything could be done to change the course of how things are going. I suppose only time will tell, and whatever the outcome I’ll have to continue acting as an example for how things should be.
As an individual I fall into the category of being scared to write or even avoid the idea at all costs. Writing is shown to be profound in helping to convey thoughts and emotions. The idea to think critical, through, and intentional can be conveyed better through conversation and speech. As someone who struggles to write my feelings, my words in an important paper, or even to explain myself is a challenge. I feel like I can communicate or even clearly convey my thoughts or emotions through the use of conversation. A lot more emotion is shown through conversation rather than writing and you are able to accomplish more in person than you can through writing on a paper or an email. Personally, with more conversation comes bigger results. You can only put so much on paper. I believe a bigger story is written the more you engage with someone, hell, you can form an opinion on that individual immediately. There is more of a personal feeling and connection depending on the person you are speaking to. While writing accomplishes some of these goals and it is important to learn writing I feel to learn the art of conversation just as much as the art of writing.
This blog post resonated with me for many reasons. Not only am I in the class you recently were assigned to teach, but the ideas of accountability, discipline, and mistakes are all things I am struggling with right now. Here is my current perspective on those areas of discussion. As someone who is always busy, taking on change is hard for me. Not only have I disliked the idea of online classes, but I really dislike having an online class change halfway through the semester. However, I am thankful to have gotten such an understanding and flexible professor to take over the class. It is hard to have discipline and be held accountable when class is online because you are not forced to meet face to face with your professor and attend class at a certain time. With online classes there is a lot of flexibility, which means there is a lot of room for mistakes and errors. Recently I made the mistake of overlooking an assignment. I need to hold myself accountable for that mistake and not let it happen again.
Another aspect of this blog post that I related to is the fear of writing. I have never been good at expressing my feelings by word of mouth, let alone on paper. I often struggle trying to find the right thing to say and second guessing myself. In the blog you stated, “writing is the way we move beyond the surface.” This makes me look at writing differently, it should be easier for me to express my feelings and emotions on paper. I should not worry about making a mistake or saying the wrong thing. My thoughts and emotions are what makes me who I am. Just because someone might have a difference of opinion, does not mean I should change how I express my own opinion. Writing allows us to have that outlet to express ourselves. It also allows us to grow and almost vent our feelings. Not all writing must be scary. Even graded writing should not be scary, because that grade will not matter in the future, but being true to yourself will.