education

School Board Endorsements (Part 1)

In a previous post, I detailed four areas of special concern in deciding whom to vote for for SBCSC School Board, along with a detailed rubric for evaluating candidates in those areas. Based on my research -- which consisted in visiting candidates webpages and Facebook pages, reading short biographical profiles in the South Bend Tribune, and conducting interviews in person, over the phone, and via a survey I emailed out -- I'm offering my first round of endorsements. These are candidates for whom I feel there is strong enough evidence for me to make an informed judgment, and for whom that judgment is that they would contribute in an overall positive way to the functioning of the SBCSC School board.

District 3

FYI: The districts for School Board are not the same as districts for Common Council. If you don't know what district you're in, you can check out this vaguely helpful map!

There are three candidates running for one seat in district three. They are:

I'm endorsing Leslie Wesley
 

Ms. Wesley is a South Bend native and attended South Bend schools. You can view her bio here, and her platform here.

Two things about Ms. Wesley stand out to me: (1) her history of effective leadership and involvement in the community, and (2) the detailed and comprehensive proposals that she has made for addressing issues the SBCSC is currently facing.

Ms. Wesley talks about challenges like transportation, increase parental involvement, and community outreach and communications, with the experience of a successful local businesswomen and the passion of an involved parent. She has already been involved in the SBCSC, serving on hiring and advisory committees, and she's demonstrated a thorough understanding of the ways in which SBCSC can catch up with neighboring school districts and local private and charter options. While many candidates express positions and opinions I agree with (end the school-to-prison pipeline, provide better support for teachers), Ms. Wesley has demonstrated in public forums, in conversation, and in writing, how should would put those positions into practice.

For a better sense of where she stands of many of the biggest issues facing SBCSC, and how she plans to address them, check out this document.

When I asked her why she was running after one of the forums organized for school board candidates, she said "The School Board needs to have a voice for parents represented, and I want to be that voice."  Though I cannot vote for Ms. Wesley, I urge those who live in district 3 to do so. 

✊ = 3/4 ✏️ = 2/4 ❤️ = 4/4 ✅ = 4/4

(For an explanation of these scores, see the rubric I created, linked above)

I'm endorsing Ms. Wesley as the best candidate in district 3. I also think one of her opponents, Scott Siler, would also make an excellent school board member, and will likely profile him in a later post.

At Large

here are 8 candidates running for 2 at-large positions. Anyone in the district can vote for these positions. The candidates are:

I'm endorsing Jasmine Brown

Ms. Brown has a palpable passion for public education. She is herself a teacher, and has taught for SBCSC in the past. Her responses at the forum I attended were clear, direct, and well-informed. She knows the problems on the ground in the SBCSC, and is willing to advocate for teachers, students, and parents in the process of addressing those problems. You can read more about some of the positions she's taken here.

I will be voting for Ms. Brown in the upcoming election.

✊ = 3/4 ✏️ = 4/4 ❤️ = 3/4 ✅ = 4/4

(For an explanation of these scores, see the rubric I created, linked above)


I consider the following candidates highly electable, but have not decided who, amongst them, I will vote for...

John Anella

  • 2 years experience on the school board (he was appointed to an interim position)
  • Has practical, concrete goals and policies that he is pushing for
  • Has taken time to visit school and listen to SBCSC teachers and staff
  • For public statements and positions, see his website: http://www.johnanella.com/

✊ = unranked ✏️ = 2/4 ❤️ = 4/4 ✅ = 3/4

Karl Nichols

  • Experience in local business, marketing, campaign management
  • Passion for SBCSC Schools, and first-hand knowledge of issues facing many SB parents and families
  • Willingness to explore creative solutions and open up processes to the public to make the school board more transparent and accountable

My opinions of Karl are based on two interviews I conducted with him, as well as observations of his statements at the various forums. For more information visit his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Nicholsforschoolboard/?pnref=story

✊ = 2.5/4 ✏️ = 2/4 ❤️ = 4/4 ✅ = 3/4


I need more information about the following candidates before I can form a judgment regarding their candidacy...

Rubric & Info Re: SB School Board Candidates

I'm gonna be posting a voter's guide in the next couple of days for the SBCSC School Board race. That guide will be based on my own research and my evaluation of each candidate against the following rubric:

Update (10/12): a previous version of this post included a link to a draft of the rubric rather than the final thing -- the link has been fixed and this picture corresponds to the final, updated draft. 

Update (10/12): a previous version of this post included a link to a draft of the rubric rather than the final thing -- the link has been fixed and this picture corresponds to the final, updated draft. 

My research is based on this South Bend Tribune article, the candidate's Facebook pages and websites (I'll post links to these as I can), and my own survey (which 8 of the 12 candidates have responded to thus far).

I heartily recommend that you read the SBT article (linked above) and find the candidates on FB, Twitter, and the web. It'd also be great to attend one of the upcoming forums that's being held. Here's a link to the info for one such forum that'll be held at 6:30 on October 12th at the Century center.

A Better Kind of MOOC

Been thinking for a while about how to innovate on the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Here are the problems MOOCs face: 

  • Despite having high quality content that is in great demand, virtually no one watches a MOOC past the first two or three lectures.
  • MOOCs are often visually annoying. A camera pointed at a professor's face. We get all the downsides of classroom learning, with none of the upsides.
  • MOOCs too often fail to communicate the sort of excitement of learning that comes with being surrounded by peers who are learning the same material as you are at the same time. MOOCs are insufficiently social.

I'm still thinking about how it makes sense to try and hack the MOOC. But in the meantime, I'm trying out a few things on the God and the Good Life class that I may try to work into a MOOC (if I ever try to make one). One of them is just the format of the class syllabus / website (they are the same thing). It's laid out simply. Students (or anyone online really) can just visit the site, click the topic they want to think about, and do all the readings and assignments. We're also trying to get the course blog to be more active -- to be a social space for those who may be following along and doing the readings. One major thing was missing, though: content. That is, until now! Below is a video we put together for lecture #1 of course content (title: Learn to Live Well). I'm hoping to do this for each of the courses. Links will be available the page for each of the lecture days (example). Enjoy!

 

Professor Meghan Sullivan, "The good life is roughly this big."  

On What's Not Funny

If you're an ordinary American there's a strange war that you might not have heard abou that rages between journalists and academics, on the one hand, and comedians on the other. Usually the battles are fought via Twitter, and they're always about whether or not people today are "too sensitive" or whether "political correctness" is somehow ruining our sense of humor on a national scale.

This discussion is somewhat more personal for me, as someone who is both an academic and (was) a comedic improv actor (briefly, still am at heart, though).

The world of professional comedy is a strange place, with bizarre and incommunicable rules and norms. The only real rule, I suppose, is that you have to be funny. What you say has to produce laughter -- and not just any laughter, but laugher in an ideal audience. When I first started working at Comedy Sportz in the Twin Cities, this fact make for an utterly disorienting experience. My fellow actors would say things that were disgusting by the standards of polite society, or shocking, or racially charged, but the were funny, and the behavior was rewarded. I quickly learned, though, that it wasn't just any crude joke that would draw praise, it was jokes with meaning or purpose. It was jokes that stung. That revealed some tragic inequality, or double standard; jokes that made you laugh, then think, then look inward.

All this is to say: when I see comedians and journalists going back and forth about something like whether we can joke about sexual assault, or whether race has any place in comedy, I don't think either side is obviously right. I think it's a tough question, but not one that I think will likely lead to productive dialogue between the groups since the worlds they work in -- and the conventions they operate with -- are so vastly different. 

Enter Paul F. Tompkins. 

Tompkins was featured in a recent "Big Think" video talking about this exact issue, and I found myself thinking: thank God! He articulates so well what both sides of the endless Twitter war seem to miss: there's nothing you can't joke about, but not everything you say is funny. That's it. War over. (I wish.) Anyways, he says it better than I can paraphrase, and it's only 4 minutes long, so I'll just let you watch it. Let me know in the comments what you think. 

 

 

Update! This morning, after posting this, I came across a great post over at Brain Pickings on the exact same topic! Click through this picture to read that post!

Click on the picture above to read the full post on Brain Pickings (a phenomenal blog that you should really follow!)

Click on the picture above to read the full post on Brain Pickings (a phenomenal blog that you should really follow!)

Course Objectives

I've been thinking a lot about course design lately. One reason for this is very practical: I'm developing a course right now called God and the Good Life with Meghan Sullivan (you can check out the website here: http://godandgoodlife.org/), and course development requires you to think hard about course objectives. Some of the others reasons, though, are more abstract. I'm always really taken with this op-eds and think pieces about the value of a liberal education. I always nod my head while I'm reading books like William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep , I always think to myself: "That's right, the liberal arts aren't and shouldn't be purely instrumental!" But I think that this attitude often leads us directly into what we could call the Ineffability Fallacy. According to IF practices which are pursued for their own sake don't have quantifiable goals; you can't measure intrinsic goodness. I am, of course, sympathetic to the spirit of IF. Often -- especially within the domain of education -- measurable goals are introduced in order to (or eventually lead to) reduce the practice into something you can put a dollar sign on. "GRE scores correlate with higher income. Philosophy majors get higher GRE scores, ergo..."

But, lately I've been growing increasingly skeptical of the way that people employ IF in order to justify bad pedagogy. Significant learning outcomes need not reduce to (or eventuate in) financial deliverables. We need not think that striving to better understand -- in concrete and measurable ways -- what helps students learn must ultimately be justified and evaluated in economic terms.

That's what I've been learning a lot from business lately. Yes, business. Even as someone who favors democratic socialism, is pre-disposed to think markets will tend toward vice and evil rather than virtue and the good, and has professed hatred for the hand-wavy seemingly nonsensical nature of business-speak (probably because I just haven't been focusing enough on my profit-margins and need to directly target bigger and more diverse markets without decreasing productivity...I could do this all day) -- even still -- I've been getting really into business theory and practice. A professor of mine suggested I take a look at Peter Drucker's writings a couple weeks back, and I've been pretty hooked.

Drucker talks about breaking business objectives down into 6 key areas -- each of which has a pedagogical counter part, I think. Those objective areas are:

  1. Marketing
  2. Innovation
  3. Resources
  4. Productivity
  5. Social Responsibility
  6. Profit Requirements

I'll briefly reflect on just a couple of these areas to show you how I think educators -- especially at the college level -- could benefit from thinking about their courses (and course development) in terms of business models.

Marketing

Okay, to illustrate just how surprising the insights from business can be, I'll start with one of the most counter-intuitive objective areas. Marketing. How could marketing possibly apply within the educational context? Like it or not, universities have become marketplaces. Students are consumers. They pay an exorbitant amount of money for accreditation. Pursuing the truth for its own sake is something that, within this context, is actually prudentially irrational. 

So we have to innovate. We have to show students why taking our courses might be valuable for them -- why it might help them accomplish their general life-goals, financial goals, or perhaps enrich their lives in ways they'd never previously considered. All of this requires more than just sitting down and writing up a course description with words like "universal questions, deep thinkers, practical value" -- it means getting in there and learning about your audience. Figuring out who might take your course, and developing resources that are aimed at that group. 

We've been trying to do this with our God and the Good Life Course. Here's a trailer we came up to help illustrate what students can expect from the course:

A Few More Thoughts...

With respect to Resource Objectives: what does philosophy (for instance), as a discipline, have to offer the best and the brightest at our universities? The academic job market is saturated, but employers continue to value the critical thinking that philosophy majors consistently exhibit. Philosophy majors make more money, and are more competitive in many markets, than most other majors. How can we use this -- not as a crude capitalistic carrot, nor as an embarrassing recruitment technique -- but as a data point, something that can help us tailor the courses we offer to those students who will need to critically apply difficult philosophical concepts to realities in sectors like business, secondary education, etc.? The same goes for Innovation Objectives.

And how about Productivity Objectives? This is an area that I think is particularly important. What does it mean for a student to be productive in a philosophy course? Does it mean she absorbs a certain amount of knowledge? Acquires certain skills? It's not entirely clear, but I think it's worth thinking about as we design our courses and write our syllabi. Whatever the answer, I think we need to make sure that it influences the way that we use grades as incentives (rather than ends in themselves) when considering how to assess assignments.

Social Responsibilities Objectives should be one of our strongest suits. We're constantly griping about how many people in our culture seem unable to think critically about the moral dimensions of their actions, or the systematic implications of the way they structure their business or community, but we are we doing as educators to change this? What are we doing to measure the things we're doing to change this?

I've got more thoughts on this, but enough for now. I'd be interested to hear from others on this topic. Do you think it's helpful to think of learning experiences and outcomes in terms of objectives? Do you think the analogy with business models and concepts is helpful? Do you think it distorts the purposes or realities of the educational enterprise? Let me know what you think, and I'll keep sharing Drucker quotes as I come across them...

Fr. Hesburgh on the Balance Modern Catholic Universities Must Achieve

Fr. Hesburgh on the Balance Modern Catholic Universities Must Achieve

Fr. Ted took the relationship between Catholic Universities and the secular societies in which they exist seriously. Perhaps we can learn something about Notre Dame's decision to aware this year's Laetare Medal to two Catholics who exist in the space where that tension is greatest.