Browse Category: Education

Summer at RePublic

Last week, I started my summer fellowship at RePublic Schools! I’ve mostly been working at Smilow Prep, but I’m going to spend the majority of my time at ReImagine Prep, which was the first charter school to open in Mississippi.

My fellowship is an operations position, and most of the work I’ve been doing is preparing the space and materials for students to arrive in August. On the first day, we unpacked and set up all the Chromebooks, above. Today, I affixed college flags to the walls in all of the classrooms, which was more challenging than I expected.

It’s been interesting to see the ways in which RePublic runs differently than a public school – they face different challenges with their buildings, their curriculum, in relating to parents and building school culture. I’m hoping to use this summer to gain a better understanding of what’s working for RePublic, and try to bring some of that into my school in August.

Cli-fi and Environmental Education


I went to a lecture last week by Helen Mundler, who is a visiting professor to WMU. She spoke about the novels of Liz Jensen, specifically “The Rapture” and “cli-fi,” which is science fiction about climate change.
Mundler started off her lecture by mentioning the way that Jensen tries to write without propoganda. To me, this idea seemed really questionable. In some way, sci-fi is naturally propoganda. One purpose of it is to make the reader question their actions and their views, and if it’s effective, it will cause a change. It seems like Jensen does has a bias and agenda in her writing, and that’s fine – they can still be good novels. I’ve been watching “Call the Midwife” recently, and I joke that it’s socialist propoganda, because it seems like there’s always a baby that would have died if it wasn’t for socialized medicine. That doesn’t mean that I think it’s a bad show, just that I’m aware of the bias inherent in the drama.
The premise of “The Rapture” is that a young woman, Bethany, was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home where she was abused. Bethany killed her mother and was placed in a psychiatric hospital, where she meets an art therapist named Gabrielle. Bethany has an intense inner world that looks like the result of ecological disaster. While in the hospital, Bethany is essentially a prophet of ecological disaster, predicting earthquakes and the like. In a strange connection, one of Jensen’s books, published before 2010 featured an oil spill that was erily similar to the BP oil spill.
I was fascinated by the paralells between fundamentalist Christianity and ecological fanaticism that Mundler discussed. The ideologies are different, but the extremist mentalities are the same in the book. I don’t know enough about either movement to make a statement on the topic, but I’m curious about the similarities of those movements in real life. Do they share rhetorical techniques? Do people become involved in the movements in the same ways?
From everything that Mundler said about “The Rapture” it sounded like the kind of book that would be banned regularly in the U.S. because of the portrayal of religion. However, when I searched, I couldn’t find any articles about it being banned. Books can often be banned quietly, so it very well could have been banned or challenged. I think this book would be great for young people to read – it seems like it would encourage reflection and ask young people to take a critical look at their society.
Applying criticism to young adult fiction is interesting and important, and I wish we discussed it with actual young adults. Personally, I took English classes in high school and was asked to read fiction and respond to it, but I didn’t read criticism until college. Reading different critical perspectives on a work was eye-opening for me, and I think I would have benefited from reading them at an earlier age.
Another interesting aspect of this is understanding how young adult fiction fits into a larger picture of environmental education. I consider myself lucky in that I went to summer camp in the woods as a kid, and ended up working at that camp as an adult. That experience broadened my understanding of nature and ecological issues, and made certian issues feel deeply personal*. However, I feel like I’m still lacking in my understanding of ecological issues – for instance, I know that tar sands are bad and happening somewhere in West Michigan, but the specifics are still very fuzzy. I had some environmental education in grade school, but it was sporadic and not terribly engaging. I’m in a sustainability class right now, and I feel like my knowlege of sustainability issues is pretty low. Is this a huge blind spot for everyone else? I’m hoping that I can sieze the oppurtunity to learn more about sustainability, environmental issues, and find ways that those intersect with other things that I’m interested in.

I really enjoy going to lectures – I think they’re a good way to broaden your understanding of topics that you don’t cover in classes and make the best use of the resources provided to you by your university. It’s a more intellectually engaging way to spend an evening than watching Netflix, at the very least.
If you’re around Kalamazoo, I encourage you to check out Wagatwe Wanjuki’s lecture about Safer Campuses for All: Using Title IX to Provide an Education Free of Sexual Violence in 1920 Sangren Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
From Lee Honors College: “Wagatwe Wanjuki is a survivor, activist and writer who uses social media to campaign for reform of college sexual assault policies. She is founding co-organizer of the Know Your IX ED ACT NOW campaign, which educates students regarding their Title IX civil rights.”
*Don’t get me started about logging.
Affiliate links are used in this post.

Self-Education and Making Stuff

This is a woodblock print I made.
 I think this print might be the best thing I’ve made at design school.
I love it.

I was really busy this semester.  Some of that was school, some of that was me, whatever.  What’s important is that it’s over, and it’s summer now. Summer, for me, means that I have time to do what I want, time to focus on my projects.
What am I doing?
I’m writing. I’m reading. I’m trying stuff.

I’m working on a novel (it’s been going for a while.  Slow going.) and working on a collection of short stories.  I have no idea if I’m ever going to finish the novel, but I’m hoping that I can have something of the short story collection done by the end of June, then edit the blerg out of it in July (and probably August, if we’re being honest) and then publish it.  It’ll be an ebook, pay as you wish sort of thing.

I’m reading a lot of books. I love reading, and while I’m in school, I have very little time to read.  I have a whole bunch of books from the Kendall library (design stuff, mostly) and a bunch of novels that I’ve been meaning to read.

I’m trying stuff. 365graphic is about trying stuff. I’m doing Codecademy too, which is about trying stuff. Both are a bit of a gear switch from writing, which is nice.

How is all of this related to education?
To me, education is about inspiring curiosity. It’s about searching for new experiences, and it’s about making things. In my formal education, I feel like I’ve lost that. Now, I’m trying to find it.

There’s something else too. Some people might call it “passion” but I’m sort of uncomfortable with the term. I feel like it’s more about drive. No one else can make you want whatever thing it is that you’re going after, and some people don’t seem to want anything. You know who they are. They’re the ones who are phoning it in, on everything, all the time. They worry you a little bit. You don’t want to end up like them.

For people who are interested in doing stuff, the first step is just to do it*. If you want to make movies, then just stop talking about it and do it. The barriers to entry have gotten lower or nonexistent – you can make your weird artsy short film with your phone. You can make radio with your computer. You can bootleg a copy of photoshop and start trying your digital art.

Just fucking do it already. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.

An important part of education is connection – connecting yourself to resources, and to others who are interested in things. If you’re someone who’s interested in things, let’s get in touch. Even if you’re interested in doing things that are totally different from the things that I’m interested in doing. I think we might be able to learn from each other.

Oh yeah, my posts are up on the Kendall Blog.  Read it?

*UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE A SURGEON.  If you want to be a surgeon, just starting to cut people open is a really bad idea.  You should go to school or something first. If you want to be a suregon, maybe reading a book about it or interviewing a suregon is a better first step.

Links for Friday, April 12

Anger is sometimes a good thing.  Anger gets you fired up, gives you something in the world to change.  This article made me angry.  The gist of it is “The mystical creative monkey is a necessary evil in your business. Treat them just well enough to get a bare minimum of innovation out of them.”

By “Creative people” I’m assuming that he’s talking about designers.
Designers – Never let yourself be referred to as the “creative” especially not when that word is used as a noun.  Everyone should be creative.  Designers are not the only people who can use creativity.  Design is not magic, it is a craft that you learned how to do.* Don’t let them treat you like a monkey who knows photoshop.
Business people – Designers are not foreign.  Designers are not monkeys.  Don’t be a jerk.
They’ve changed the title since it was first published, saying that this is only about your “difficult” “creatives” but it entirely fails to note that there might be a reason why they’re difficult.  Maybe they feel underappreciated? Maybe they feel like they’re unable to reach their potential in an organization that treats them like mystical monkeys?

This article is about online textbooks that track how much a student opens the book, what parts they read, how they take notes and more. This gives professors the ability to track student engagement and study habits. Problems?  The online textbooks cost as much as a print edition, but you can’t sell them at the end of the semester – instead, you can no longer access them.  If you take notes on paper, or don’t hilight things in the book simply because of how you like to study, that can have a negative effect on the way your professor views student engagement. Do these really help professors and students?  Thoughts?

A long time ago, I used google reader, but I subscribed to a lot of tumblr blogs on it, which made it get clogged, and I gave up on it after a while.  On tumblr, it’s reasonable to post every twenty minutes, but on other blogs?  Not so much.  Anyway, I’ve just started to use a reader again on feedly and it’s pretty nice!  I think the key to using a reader effectively is similar to using twitter effectively – only follow the things that you really want to hear from all the time.  If it’s a twitter account that’s sometimes funny, or it’s a blog that’s hit or miss, unfollow them and just check on what they’re up to occasionally.

SiTE:LAB is happening tonight in Grand Rapids, as a part of Art Downtown.  All of Art Downtown is going to be amazing, and you should be sure to see it.  Especially SiTE:LAB.

*stolen from Mike Monteireo

Sir Ken Robinson at GVSU

On March 27, Sir Ken Robinson spoke at Grand Valley State University as a part of their community reading project, where students and faculty were encouraged to read his book, The Element.
Robinson started by talking about his own experience with education, saying that he went to college at a time when college led straight to a job.  When he graduated, he didn’t want a job, so he was going to go to India, to “find himself”.  However, he ended up teaching English in Sweden instead, and then earning his PhD in England.
The problem that he sees is that people don’t feel that they’re talented.  He thinks that if people could gain a better understanding of their talents and aptitudes, they would be far better at choosing careers. People are very different at seventeen or eighteen, when they’re choosing what paths they’re going to take, than they are at thirty or forty, when they’ve arrived at where that path led.

“We live in revolutionary, unprecedented times.” Said Robinson, talking about rapidly changing technology.  Ten years ago, there was no Twitter, and the rest of the internet was a very different place.  Humans have had to adapt quickly, and in this new and changing economy, everyone has to be creative to be relevant.  Our current education system fails to foster creativity because it is based on training workers for an economy that no longer exists – one of manual, mechanical, labor.  In an industrial system, it makes sense to divide students by age, which Robinson says is detrimental – there is a wide range of ability levels within the same grade, and it’s difficult to teach at all of those levels.  Instead, the system teaches to a medium level, and students who excel are bored, and students who are behind are lost.  
Robinson links passion with education, and connects that to happiness and well-being.  This connectivity got me thinking about design, and really? Education is a design problem.  
What education needs is a system that nurtures students and their interests, teaches necessary skills, and prepares them for the workforce.  This is a big system, and it has limits.  There’s data on what is currently working and what isn’t, and what systems are working in other places. If change was allowed, maybe some big-idea designers could make a difference in the way education works.

Hacking Your Education

Dale J. Stephens thinks that I should drop out of college. A little over a year ago, I found the UnCollege website, which Stephens started after he dropped out of college after his first semester.  Stephens has been unschooled since he was in sixth grade, and he believes that it’s far more effective to educate oneself than it is to go to school, whether it be elementary school, or university.
I’ve been looking forward to Hacking Your Education for a while, and I read it pretty quickly.  It starts out by discussing the expectation that young people will go to college – older adults often ask Stephens where he goes to school and what he’s studying. He also discusses the path that so many people seem to follow in life: Do well in school, ace the SAT so that you can get into a good college, and do well in college so that you can have a successful career/life.  Stephens has opted out of that.  His reasoning is, if the best learning happens outside of the classroom, why would anyone pay $40k/year to spend time inside of a classroom?

Many students go to college without a clear idea of why they are there.  Stephens writes that college makes perfect sense for people who want to enter licensed professions, like nursing, architecture, or law, but for someone who wants to go into either a new, or old profession, there isn’t a need for college. New professions are things that didn’t exist twenty years ago, like social media experts, and old professions are things that have been around for a thousand years, like artists and writers.  If young people are interested in something new or very old, then they might benefit from not graduating college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.  Stephens points out that recent college graduates are often unemployed or underemployed, which somewhat discredits the idea that going to college will get you a good job in your field.

Stephens guides readers through the process of making a to-learn list, which is an exercise that could benefit anyone, whether or not they’re college-aged.  You start out by writing a list of everything you want to learn more about.  This takes a surprisingly long time to come up with, because it’s not a question that people ask themselves very often.

Here’s my list: design, writing, public speaking, how to make websites, French, Spanish
The next step is to further define what each of those items means. I have to ask myself if I want to become fluent in French, or if I just want to be able to ask where the bathroom is.  It might help to consider how you can learn different things, and where they’re applicable.

Here’s what that brings to my list: Become skilled in graphic design and lettering by doing a 365-style graphic project, learn more about fiction writing by writing one short story every month, give a talk in front of 50+ people, learn how to make a WordPress template and move the blog to WordPress, become fluent in French, gain a basic knowledge of Spanish.

Now that I’ve made each item more specific, each thing seems more actionable and achievable.  I’m also aware that it would be incredibly difficult to do everything at once. However, it wouldn’t be much of a time commitment to learn two French words every day, and it wouldn’t take too long to write a short story every month.  If I started those two things right now, in a year I would have learned 730 words in French and written 12 short stories.  That’s not a bad return on four hours of work every week, given that I spend at least four hours every week on Tumblr.

Stephens discusses the idea of collaborative learning groups, which can give unschoolers some of the benefits that college gives.  In a collaborative learning group, people who are interested in a certain topic gather on a regular basis to teach things to each other and discuss the things that they’re learning. For instance, if I was to start a collaborative learning group around literature, I would find people who are interested in joining the group, then we would choose books to read and then meet to discuss them.  This is something I’d be interested in implementing in my own learning – it seems like it has all the benefits of taking a class, but without the students who are unmotivated and uninterested in learning. 
Next, Stephens goes over the different ways that people learn. I’m surprised that he spent the time to explain this idea in his book, because I thought it was well-known concept.  I know that I learn best by reading and writing – in middle school and high school history classes, I would write down my notes, then rewrite them with a different wording and with more information than what we learned in class. I would think that other people have found out how they learn best too.

Throughout the book, Stephens is biased against going to college, which he seems to be aware of.  I think that there’s a benefit to college, when students are motivated and take their learning into their own hands, but Stephens assumes that if someone chooses a traditional university, they expect to spend four years being spoon-fed information. Stephens has been unschooled for years, and he seems to believe that it comes naturally to everyone. I believe that there would be a noticeable adjustment period where students would learn to seek out knowledge and build their own structure for learning. I also wonder about privilege – Stephens is a white man, who probably has some class privilege.  Is is possible for someone who doesn’t benefit from those privileges to succeed in the same way that Stephens has?  Is there some danger in spreading the UnCollege idea to people who aren’t very motivated about college? I know someone who’s in high school now, and uninterested in the idea of college.  It seems like they’re uninterested because they don’t want to do any sort of work, not because they are motivated toward other things. If they read this book, would they take it as a reason to skip college and play video games all day?  Maybe they would.  They’re not the target audience, but they might hear the message anyway, and take it the wrong way.

This book gave me the little extra push to do a few things that aren’t a hundred percent about self-education.  I’ve been thinking about doing a week without sugar for a while, but when Stephens mentioned it in his book, I was motivated to actually try.  I’ve read that getting up at six can do wonders for productivity, and when Stephens wrote about it, that made me try to get up at six today.  I didn’t quite make it, I got up at 7:15, but that’s an awful lot better than getting up after noon, like I did yesterday.

Every college student should be doing something on their own. You could start a blog, get an internship, start a nonprofit, write a book, learn a language, or just learn something that you want to.  If you’re in college, and you expect a degree to be the only thing that you need to get a job when you’re done with school, than you are sadly mistaken.

I enjoyed Hacking Your Education, and I think I’ve learned quite a bit from it.  I’m not planning on dropping out of college right now, but I could see myself taking a semester to go to school part-time and work on my own projects more. I think I’m also placing less value on the degree – I realize that it doesn’t matter all that much if I finish school or not, as long as I can end up doing what I want to do. This book has given me some reassurance in the benefits of self-education and the value of starting your own thing.  I would recommend it to anyone nearing the end of high school or who is in college who isn’t quite sure that they need to go to college.
If you’re interested in buying the book, you can find it at IndieBound, or Amazon.
tl;dr: Hacking Your Education was good and you should try to learn stuff.
Also, if you’re in Grand Rapids and you’re interested in a collaborative learning group about literature, then you should email me.  I want to start something.

Guest Post: Useless

Hello. I am Mr Stonebender. I’m writing a post for Samantha so she can go play in the woods for a while.
Consider these: 

 The iPod, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Fine examples of their craft that have affected the world in fairly significant ways all around.

Now consider this:
Not Awesome.
This shot got kicked around the internet a few weeks ago, listing every major interest I’ve had in my life including two I’m working on making my profession, chances willing. They’re all difficult fields to enter into professionally, often requiring persistent effort, discipline and demonstrable skill to even get started. (Although I suspect architecture is on there due to economically systemic downturns in real-estate sales and all that recessiony bullshit. Not because it’s generally a “bad idea”.) 
But does that make them useless pursuits? Not even a little.
Yeah. I realize this could become a debate about whether you go to University at all, but let’s just table that one for now, k? Let’s make this a discussion about this feeling that studies and disciplines that lack a, let’s call it an arithmetic trajectory are the domain of dreamers, airheads, and trust-fund kids; because those aren’t real jobs that grownups do. Grownups get jobs in their field straight out of college. Grownups do work. 
And I’ve gotten that look, that down-pitched “ah” and a hint of piteous condescension whenever I tell people that I have cancer, when what I really told them is what I studied in school. Generally, after a beat, what comes next is “So what are you going to…” pause “…do with that?” 
Online job postings are packed with the financial side of this phenomenon, too. Companies looking for a Graphic Designer they hope to staff at ten bucks an hour without benefits; or a website/UI design ticket with a budget of $250; or, worst of all, similar freelance jobs being offered as “portfolio experience” for anyone from photographers to musicians/songwriters to film professionals. That tells me two things. One: the idea that creative work is something that can be pursued only for the emotional benefits, never the professional, extends beyond the concerned family member into the fabric of creative work-for-hire. And Two: People are actually taking these jobs. 
That can’t happen.
Listen: the notion of art and design as a profession is somewhat newer to our culture than, say, farming, and it’s this attitude of minimization and apology that contributes to the undervaluation of the skills listed on that NBC screen-cap. Because through that behavior, through accepting minimum-wage work, we seem to say “you’re right. It’s kind of a scam. I should just do it for free.” But we shouldn’t. Because art, design, drama, and engineering require skill, time, energy, and work; and just like farming they produce something we need. Although these purposes are intangible at times, they’re no less real in their contribution to the social fabric and overall quality of life many of us enjoy. 
Still More Awesome.
Architects build the world; designers make it accessible, make it function; and artists evaluate it, interpret it, and pour it back out as beauty, tragedy, comedy; Photographers, Cinematographers, and writers are technicians whose talent lies in taking those ideas that everyone else on the list spends a lifetime considering, and translating them effectively to those of us that have not.
Without these Useless Majors, we are depressed monkeys living in caves, never knowing who we are. 
Thanks, Samantha, for letting me spew into your space. Anyone interested in thoughts of similar temperament on the subject of making and consuming entertainment could visit from time to time. Or you could read a novel by someone famous. Whatever you do,