What goes around, comes around.

In case it’s any consolation, dear students, (and I know it is not!) I am staring at a blank screen that I hope will become a first draft of a paper that I can present next week at the National Reading Conference. Oh, it’s not as lame as it sounds. I’ve actually got a paper to present, but a lot’s happened since I submitted it, and I want to use this opportunity to frame up something new. As I look at a 15″ stack of hi-lited journals, overdue library books, surveys, half-full yellow pads, interview transcripts, and treasured books with more margin notes than text, I am am utterly lost as to where to begin. 

So many choices: I could write a report about Hope House–not as a scientific study, but as a descriptive piece. Submit it to a practitioner journal, like the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Or, maybe I have enough lit review content and first hand experience to write a theoretical paper about the unique challenges facing poor researchers like me attempting to “measure” such broad programs as Hope House, with its numerous intangibles. (Come to think of it, this may not be a new problem: how do other programs that purport to affect transformative changes go about measuring themselves?) Maybe submit it to a more conceptual journal such as the Education Researcher.  Or, maybe I could dip into the new data (it is just raw transcripts at this point) conduct a preliminary analysis, and write up my study & preliminary findings. Submit it to a research journal such as the Journal of Literacy Research… 

I am in the brainstorming stage and feeling like I am missing a really important ingredient: the brain. Thank you, readers, for being my sounding board. (Even though I am probably not getting any sympathy votes from you.) (sniff sniff)   B.  

Frank: Really, Not Ideally, Real

One of the things I love about Education Rita is how much good can come of our muck-ups, when at least some of our intentions are good. Being a frumpy old hippie (and a huge Michael Caine fan), I relate to pathetic old Frank, and thus reflect on his role as an adult educator. Let’s think about all the ways Frank positioned himself in ways that were and were not “ideal” for dialogue according to Habermas’ three claims for valid or “ideal” speech:  (a) Truth. This has to do the factual accuracy of speech. Was Frank speaking the truth to Rita, about the content of the courses? I think so. I do not think he lied to her about the criteria for the exams, the significance of an author or text, or the facts surrounding the plot of Macbeth. In fact he didn’t lie to her about his drinking habits, or his initial reluctance to take her on as an extended university student. (b) Rightness. Rightness has to do with the ethical principles and moral content of speech — regardless of it’s accuracy, the ideas embedded in speech can lead to hurtful or helpful, caring or hateful outcomes….Even here, I think Frank scores relatively high marks.  Yes, I ascribe to him some shreds of noble concern about the moral impact of his work. This may seem odd, given his callous and cynical stance toward his students. In this sector of his job, he is anything but moral or ethical. But in terms of his relationship with Rita, I do believe he genuinely does not want to crush her authentic “folk” spirit that would result from transforming her into a preppy clone. He is blind to his own jaded selfishness regarding his perspective, and cannot see how his “Habit of Mind” is in serious need of wardrobe change. Still, when judging him from within his own value system, isn’t he taking a principled stance? (c) Truthfulness. Truthfulness has to do with the motivations of the speaker. Does the speaker have his own or the listener’s best interests at heart? Does the speaker wish to direct or free the listener to direct herself? Here is Frank’s great downfall. He is riddled with ulterior motives from the get-go: first, a lazy, self-absorbed stupor to avoid work; then a paternalistic need to impress her with his authority, and finally his romantic interest. In each phase, these motives permeate his attempts at dialogue and cloud the purposes of his tutorial. As Rita grows toward independence, his motives are exposed. His cruel criticisms of Rita about how her new voice was “shrill”, about how he had created a “Frankenstein”. In real life this mean-spirited and non-truthful speech would likely have destroyed someone even as courageous and talented as Rita. And wouldn’t she have found out about the shallownesses of literary communities eventually? She didn’t need Frank’s jealous smears for that; Trish’s suicide attempt worked quite well in this regard, thank you very much.


Thanks for the feedback

Thank you, all who provided mid-course feedback. It serves as a reality-check, and also as a barometer for how the class is coping with and moving through the course. From the 5 feedback forms submitted, it appears that: (a) most of you like or at least tolerate the blogging — only 1 person said he-or-she “hated blogging, but appreciated the reflective process;” (b) most feel the workload is a bit heavy; (c) 3 felt that one or more of the assignments could have been a little better explained, and (d) 2 would have liked me to provide more clarity about my expectations for the assignments. In addition, the following three suggestions were very helpful: (a) the use of small groups is good, but, regarding paper 3, add more structure to help students support each other. (b) When presenting new material, have students work with the material on their own before presenting the theories of others. (c) Have students make formal presentations using the learning theories.


I will take all of your ideas to heart. For starters, I will attempt to provide some structure for this week’s Writer’s Workshop. Also, in the remaining classes, I will think about ways to engage you in inductive experiences before presenting theories (although, you will have read about them in advance). I will also think about creating a small group student presentation assignment for next semester. For those that require more guidance for either of the remaining assignments, I urge you to bring up any questions you have—regardless of how fuzzy or technical, or whatever…And, as far as the work load is concerned—take heart! Other than a few brief World Within reflections and the blogging, the only major project you have left is Project 3! (Does that help?)   


Resisting Learning Styles

Is my resistance based on a post-modernist aversion to being objectified/ named/ reduced to a typology? Is it based on the glib (and rarely supported with data) claim that these styles are not situated but generalize to any and all contexts? Maybe I resist because I do not want to address areas of weakness? Or because of past scars…


When I was working for the Bureau of Prisons, I took a leadership course in which the MMPI was administered. I actually enjoyed the training and liked the instructor, but, just like with the Kolb, I resisted being labeled as a thinking-sensing-doing-feeling LMNOP-er. But it was all rather amusing (and interesting) until a few months later when I was participating in the dreaded annual refresher training (ART) with about 200 other BOP central office employees. My old MMPI instructor happened to be conducting this ART session too, and she proceeded to blow my cover to the others in the class: “Oh, here is the Bureau’s one and only LMNOP-er!” (I do not remember what type I was, but apparently the Bureau didn’t hire many like me at the time.)  Then she started asking me weird questions that should have been funny, like, “Do you fold your underwear or just throw it in a drawer?” “What color are your wife’s pajamas?” I guess I was taking myself too seriously, because, I felt naked in front of 200 people. I bristled. I’m sure she meant this to be playful; I was the killjoy…


So, there’s that little scar…


Now that that’s off my chest, I want to be clear to the class: I do find enormous benefit to the Kolb cycle. And, as well, the ideas about divergent, convergent, assimilating and accommodating approaches to learning. I hope you do too. And to the extent the learning styles exercise helped expand (or challenge) your schema for adult learning, then I am happy. For me, I’m definitely going to work on my inner-assimilator…



Yikes. I’ve dropped the ball big time. Now I am looking at the blog as a guilty trespasser rather than an engaged learner. Can l slip under the wire?  Will anyone even notice that I’ve been a slacker? When I go to review the student posts will they have crucified me in ether-space? Will they have done a Carl Rove/Lee Atwater on me?  Or worse, will they have followed suit and not posted anything of their own? I can just see their faces, smugly judging me in class on Thursday: hypocrite! idler! ne’er-do-well! skiver! layabout!

OK, got that out of my system. Now on to other worries: wonder how the gang did with finding searchable terms and finding potential citations for project three…The process is always a bit 

wobbly.  Will they tolerate the ambiguities and false starts in the spirit of an Allen Tough “learning project” (entry is foggy, move from global specific, careful use of “planners,” learner as “system integrator”…). In the true spirit of stumbling-toward-the-light?



Our bodies, our selves…

Cheryl raised a good challenge in class: How do the five lenses, critical theory, and feminist ways of knowing shed light on, say, prostitution and women’s control of their own sexuality. For example, how should we consider the UK-based International Prostitutes Collective’s mission statement: “Since 1975, the IPC has been campaigning for the abolition of the prostitution laws which criminalize sex workers and our families, and for economic alternatives and higher benefits and wages.” (See: http://www.allwomencount.net/EWC%20Sex%20Workers/SexWorkIndex.htm )


Using Women’s Ways of Knowing as a framework, we might reject the validity of the IPC organization based on a fundamental belief about the amorality of prostitution.


Or, champion the organization as a subjectivist, jumping into the cause as a way of fighting back against the patriarchy that exploits and rapes women, and then blames them and locks them up.     


We might approach this procedurally, by considering multiple perspectives. We could, for example, validate the sex workers’ voices and their right to appropriate the power of their sexuality, expose the ways they are violated by their pimps, challenge the laws that disproportionately punish the women. (Stephanie Covington speculates that women get longer sentences than men because they refuse (or don’t know how) to play the legal games required to plea bargain.) Simultaneously, we could attend to the voices of feminists (and others) that warn of the destructive effects of pornography, prostitution, human trafficking; the stripping away of dignity when women and girls (and, as well, men and boys) are reduced to sex objects. Using systematic procedures, we analyze and evaluate the claims of all “sides” from within each side’s frame of reference.


Finally, as constructed knowers, we pay attention to the tension caused by the alternative perspectives just described. Where does this dissonance lead us? Is there common ground? What would this look like? Can we work for immediate rights and protections for sex workers (financial, health care, etc.) and also work to problemitize—for them—the long term effects of this line of work? Should we? Ultimately, for constructed knowers, these decisions will be personal and procedural. They will take a stand with head and heart, informed by, and with an appreciation for, multiple perspectives. Sounds so nice and neat, yes? I’m guessing: not so much.

Problem Posing

Freire has been criticized for romanticizing revolution. What’s up with his claim that only the oppressed can liberate the oppressors…huh?  I was frightened by his liberation pedagogy, and the awesome responsibility of “stirring up” marginalized individuals to action.  On closer look, his ideas seem to flow from love, not anger: The oppressed must reflect on their own dualities, and liberate themselves from YPOOPY based on the oppressor. (Kenji Yoshino  calls this “covering”). To become authentic, a marginalized individual must identify the ways she has been domesticated into believing in her own “fatalistic” helplessness and worthlessness. To “name” this interiorized oppression, she needs to critically reflect on the ideologies that underpin policies, establish “hidden” curricula. And, of course, discover the potency of her own voice, within an emancipatory, self-directed dialogue with her peers.

So Freire’s revolution is not based on anger, but on love and respect for the the right to be one’s self.  (Thus, this bottom-up revolution, which liberates the oppressors from their self-imprisoned right-to possess, and replaces it with a higher value– the right to be. ) Freire famously noted: to humanize the oppressed is subversive. I saw this first hand in prison work, where the hidden curriculum was designed to silence prisoners like Anne Blanchard. And if you were an “inmate lover” you were pretty much shunned, or worse.

But is all this too much of a stretch for us to apply to our own worlds? Are our own programs “neutral?” Do they make uncritical assumptions about a level playing field that create microaggressions (or other discriminations) against certain groups or individuals because of the way they look or pray or dress?  Freire claims that all eduators are either emancipatory or domesticating. We  either help our learners validate themselves (“be” themselves) or we move them toward assimilation into the dominant culture (covering). Do you agree? Can teachers be neutral? Is dialogue a relevant method (pedagogy) for all forms of adult education, or is this simply irrlevant to some settings? That’s the problem I pose to you, dear reader, but also to myself. Should this class even be a part of ADLT 601, or is it too exotic for this course?   (PS, I learned much from the conversation this evening. Thank you.)   B. 



In with the in crowd..

The blogging project is a collective effort. From our discussions about what should be posted, to concerns about privacy and audience, this thing is taking on a shape in front of our eyes.  Lave’s ideas about “legitimate peripheral participation” are well suited to this little community of practice we’ve got going here. For instance: (a) In this experience, the social process takes precedent over the content. (B) Moving toward legitimate participation may depend for some of us on the “validating” power of commenting: If no one comments, can I move from the periphery toward “full participation” in the community?  So I am glad we are paying attention to this issue of commenting. And I hope folks will look out for each other and not leave anyone out in the cold. But mostly I am really having fun with the whole blog world. Hope you are too… Bill




This lipstick-on-a-pig thing’s got me thinking…

I was out canvassing this morning (for the first time in my life) and found that most people were not home (or feigned being not home when they saw me coming!). Of those few that answered the door, the responses were about evenly split. I’m not talking about Democrat-Republican, I mean split between knee-jerk-reactions and rational conversations. The responses that were most satisfying to me were the the civil ones, regardless of which candidate the householder was supporting. Not so wonderful were the: angry shout from behind the door, peeved dismissal-with smirk, flash of panic-with throat rash and tremble, and paranoid counterattack (“that’s none of your business what I think!”). I realize I am intruding and empathize with those who resent having their Saturday afternoon interrupted.  (If the stakes were not so high I would not think of doing this, I rationalize to myself.)

But I worry about the state of civil discourse in our country. BF Skinner & the behaviorists provide a good lens for a starting point: Our election rituals (ads, conventions, etc.) may not be so much adult education as operant conditioning. The media, Park Ave., the spin meisters…provide a constant stream of charicatures and over-simplistic reductions.

But that’s not all. It would be one thing if these reductions were at least cartoons with some basis in the present reality. But the cartoons are drawn to evoke old fears, old scars, old hopes, old scripts. (We detour for a moment into the cognitivist universe.) Each of these memories is loaded with pleasure or pain, joy or fear, light or darkness. Thus when a candidate says XYZ, it is spun immediately into silly images of light or dark; images that by-pass the civil conversation corners of our brains and head right for the reptilian brain (fight or flight!). 

I wonder how can we neutralize this operant conditioning so to have rational political conversations…not just with others across the aisle, so to speak, but with ourselves???   

PS ADLT 601 students: Your discourses last Thursday in class were indeed civil. Keep it up; there’s a world out there that needs you as role models! 


Next week we’ll start the class differently by designing and interpreting 30-second vignettes based on the 5 lenses (orientations) from the Merriam,Caffarella & Baumgartner readings and also the lenses presented in Women’s Ways of Knowing. Let’s see if this constructivist approach will create more energy than my old powerpoints (such pre-blog technology…gross).

Speaking of epistemologies and lenses…

While multiple lenses are good, we all have our favorites, I suspect. Humanism is the lens I most identify with.  Does that mean it’s the one I most practice?  According to Donald Schon, there’s often a gap between espoused beliefs and theory-in-action. Last night’s lecture was not very non-directive (at least the first half of class).  Carl Rogers is tisk-tisking down at me from Humanist heaven. Ouch!