Write a reflection about what you learned about analyzing education/learning systems from the in-class activities and readings. How do you feel about the complexity? Are you starting to see a different picture of your own and other systems and what makes them up? Are you seeing any inherent challenges to understanding even small systems like those of an individual student?

I hired an experienced computer programmer in 2005, when I was a manager at American Airlines.  This guy was amazing. He had run his own software company (prior to September 11, 2001) and had held a variety of management and executive positions during his career. But he really just loved to code and create software that he knew would be used and, lucky for me, was in a position to work for the salary I could offer.

And work he did… it was tremendous.

He brought years of experience to the otherwise young team and served as a mentor and technical leader. One of the things that was most interesting about this guy was how much of an impact he had on the entire department in just a few short months, winning several employee-of-the-whatever awards and gaining a good deal of notoriety in the department.  The surprising thing, to everyone but me, was that prior to joining my team from outside the company, he had absolutely zero experience in the airline business (except as a passenger).  But given his years of work experience, and phenomenally analytical mind, he and I talked about it and we realized that if I fed him the right instructions, he would write the code.  He said “the specifics of this company or industry might be different, but I understand complexity.”


Much of the work my team and I did revolved around automating functions that used to be done manually.  For example, certain international airports had a requirement that the airline send in a daily report of the nationalities of departing passengers.  For years this meant printing out a paper passenger manifest that included the passport issuing country and tallying, by hand, the figures for this mandatory report.  This programmer wrote a relatively simple program to pull up the manifests on a screen, instead of paper, parsed the information on the screen and put it into a database, and created a report that was emailed to the station manager.  This took him about ten hours, including testing, and now, instead of a human employee spending up to an hour per flight per city per day doing this mind-numbingly boring task, they were free to do other, more meaningful, things.

Was there anything complex or even noteworthy about this achievement?  I submit there was not.  But in all the years of this mandate, no one else had thought to write this program.

Why not?

In this case, it was not the solving of the problem that was challenging but rather it was the identification, codification, and change management aspects (“But this is the way we’ve always done it”) that were the challenges.  And I think that is also the case for many of the problems with the education systems that are the subject of this course.

In the case of our nationality report, no one with the skills to write the computer program was ever aware of the need.  And the folks doing the report were just doing what they were told.  And the managers giving the directive to do the report were doing the best they could under the circumstances. No one in this company was doing anything “wrong” per se but neither were they doing it right, until we wrote this program and saved the company 40 man-hours per week.  My programmer“created” the productivity equivalent of one full-time employee, out of thin air, with ten hours of work and a bit of direction. His program was used, alright, and saved the company thousands of dollars annually.

Taken in isolation, it might be easy, perhaps even trivial, to solve any single problem faced by a given educational activity system (Banathy’s EAS).  But that’s not the real world and therein lies the problem.  What problem(s) to solve?  In what order? With what impact on other parts of the system or the whole? At what cost (human, financial or opportunity)?

You asked:  Are you seeing any inherent challenges to understanding even small systems like those of an individual student?

Sheesh!  I’m seeing nothing BUT challenges!!

So what’s the next step?  I believe it’s that we proceed with caution.  We take time to observe and absorb what we can about the system (not forgetting that we’re seeing the equivalent of the theatrical release of Donnie Darko and thus not getting the whole picture).  But it’s especially important that we be realistic and not delude ourselves into thinking we’re having an impact when it might be something else entirely.

Sometimes I get the feeling that as a teacher, I am like the character Skip played by Gene Wilder in this short clip from Stir Crazyhttps://youtu.be/WrJ8iEeq3EY (I can’t do anything about the watermark/advertisement….)

As the scene goes on, Skip is under the impression that he is solving the problem and creating a dialog between the two combatants, much like I sometimes feel like I might be teaching my students something.  But, as the longer clip clearly (and painfully) indicates, there are other, ummm…. “factors” at play in the timely resolution to this particular dispute.  https://youtu.be/pP2n3szu7O0


Skip leaves the scene under the mistaken impression that he has made a difference.  I wonder what percentage of my teaching effort is similarly mistaken.

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Did you really watch Donnie Darko three times on Saturday? (Yes)

This assignment for LTEC6210 is a trap.

The assignment is to watch the 2001 movie Donnie Darko and I contend that it is a veiled metaphor for our largely futile attempts at educational research.

I watched the movie three times on Saturday.

  • Once alone, contrary to Prof. Cox’s recommendation,
  • once with my wife where it was her first viewing,
  • and once again with my wife but listening to the director’s commentary.

I then did some Internet research seeking guidance on the meaning of the movie.

I got theological perspectives and cinematic perspectives and philosophical perspectives and more than one YouTube video that self-described as an explanation of the movie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCGux_3VUjs, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM-o8Wm4s8Y, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9r6BksCcgk).

I learned that there was a director’s cut, different from the director’s commentary that I watched, and that that director’s cut included screenshots of the book “The Philosophy of Time Travel.” I learned that there was a website devoted to the movie that included excerpts of that book that serve to explain some portions of the theatrical release, which was the version that I watched three times. I further learned that on the DVD that I did have there were deleted scenes that also shed additional light on the explanation. But what I realized was that no matter how much research it into the meaning of the movie I did, even if I had all the information I thought was available, and knowing that some of that information would be contradictory, I wouldn’t really have a definitive answer. Ever.

This, in a nutshell, is educational research.

Walk into a classroom. That’s the theatrical release.

Just by watching the classroom (the theatrical release), the observer can’t possibly know everything that’s going on in the classroom (just by watching it). Not even once not even twice not even three times. All the information you need to understand what’s going on simply isn’t there.

Fine… what if I watched the Director’s cut, whatever that might mean in a classroom. That’s a greater investment of time and energy. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the definitive answer will be there. It’s the opposite of Chekhov’s gun. There are still opinions and different interpretations of the same set of facts. Again, this is intended to be a constructive if not wholly un-cynical view of educational research. You will not, I repeat not, have all the information you need to make a definitive statement about whatever educational system you encounter.

One of our assignments this week was to list the various educational systems that touch us. This is akin to Donnie’s multiple parallel intersecting or at least tangential universes. What is true in one may be true or different or wholly untrue in another. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter… We will never have all of the information about any of that.

Even if we do find a highly correlated set of circumstances that are true and even if we do find an actual cause-and-effect in one, specific setting, that does not mean it would be generalizable to other settings. That also doesn’t mean that it will stay true for the one that we have initially observed. See Schrodinger’s cat

It’s like trying to describe the position of an electron, harkening back to the Mindwalk movie from last week.  You don’t know where an electron is, you only know where was and you can only assert with some probability where it might be again but as soon as you know where it is, it is no longer there.

I once had a theologian say to me that the only statements you can make about God are false statements. If you were to make one statement about God, if it’s a definitive statement, it is wrong. And if you make the opposite statement… it is also wrong. He asserted that the only things you can say about God are wrong things. That assertion may be a little extreme for the confines of this course, and that may also be why in educational research we don’t speak in terms of definitives but rather probabilities.

And because education research involves irrational beings, that is to say human beings, research in the social sciences is described using levels of probability that are much lower than in the so-called hard sciences. I contend that that may be enough.

One might be tempted to suggest that the movie is about systems theory and the interconnected nature of people as systems and families as systems and systems as systems. I believe that’s borderline trite. By this time in our graduate studies we have been exposed to those notions and have largely accepted them. I maintain that this assignment was a trap designed to have us focus on just those concepts when the reality is that the lesson of the movie is an experiential one designed to expose us to the futile nature of our chosen area of research.

This is not to say we’re wasting our time. This is to say that we need to be careful when making statements about research, ours or that of others, that we understand, to the extent possible, the systems and forces that impact those systems, and that we are clear and precise about the environment and changes to that environment, intentional and unintentional, measurable and nonmeasurable, and especially about the outcomes. When the medical researcher seeks to develop a vaccine they want that vaccine to be safe and effective, but also marketable to the largest possible population. In our field, it just ain’t so. We will be lucky to come up with a set of clearly defined and clearly communicated circumstances where we can have a positive impact on learning outcomes for a clearly defined segment of a student population. That’s all we can hope for realistically. This doesn’t make it not worthwhile but rather we must make it narrowly applicable,  and recognize it’s not a panacea, it’s not a vaccine that will help 75% of the population. It is a treatment that when properly applied may, may, help 30 to 40% of the target population improve a defined set of learning outcomes.

I’ll call that a win

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Did you really flunk Chemistry twice? (Yes)

Part 1: Write a reflection about your experience in the class discussion during the Week 2 synchronous meeting. What did you learn? What do you want to learn more about? Did you do anything about it and start to investigate on your own? If so, what resources did you locate? If you didn’t, what does it say about your way of learning and motivation? What might you do differently in the future to make your learning and understanding more effective and efficient.

Part 2: Describe the primary educational systems you are involved in currently and your role in these systems. This will include the UNT doc program as one of those systems. The other could be one you teach or work in, a school your kids attend, or some other educational system that is less common.

Part 1:

Upon future reflection, I suspect it’s going to be in this class, if not this precise week, where the value of the cohort model in general, and the characteristics of our cohort in particular, really became apparent to me.  In past classes we’ve gotten to know each other, a bit, and that was nice.  There was some comfort to seeing familiar names on the roster and even in those classes where we didn’t speak during synchronous sessions (but rather contributed via the chat feature) we “heard” each other’s voices.

But by the time we broke into small groups this week, we all knew each other and were able to hit the ground running. We knew, even if the professor didn’t, where each other worked, we remembered comments from past participation in class or during the two weeks we spent together (in NJ and FL).  We knew, or at least recognized, biases in others and, hopefully, ourselves.  We had bonded in the past and, though there’s no photographic evidence, maybe an adult beverage or two had been shared.

I recognize that this familiarity we have with each other is:

  • Necessarily and healthily incomplete
  • A double-edge sword as it may also lead us to make assumptions about the position someone else holds
  • An evolving work-in-progress

In terms of Bruce Tuckman’s notion of Teamwork Theory (Tuckman 1977), this sub-group of our larger group blew through the forming, storming, and norming stages of group formation and got right in to performing.  Jess took the lead and nominated me to be the spokesperson for the group (and the others immediately agreed, thus making a fair election for a spokesperson impossible).  We shared the Adobe Connect whiteboard and after a few moments of wrestling with the tool, we started taking notes and making comments.  Tech-savvy as we are, though, we hit a few speed bumps as when some people spoke there was a lot of feedback and we had to work around that.  I mention that in the context of this assignment because it took both time and mental energy to address those issues and subsequently refocus.  There was an opportunity cost to the time and energy those episodes, short though they may have been, and we had to ramp up the discussion again.

One of the characteristics of this cohort that I really enjoy is the diversity… in ages, geography (though we are Texas heavy and all five of the people in the group live in Texas, even if several had worked in other states/countries), undergraduate degrees and current professional careers.  Our group included teachers in elementary, high school, and higher education, so as we examined the assigned questions, we did so from a variety of perspectives.

I learned that we, at all levels of education (our own and where we work/teach) share a sigh-inducing level of exasperation with government involvement in education, from the youngest preschoolers to those of us whose children who are in college now.  I work in a private school and we are not subject to the high-stakes, state-mandated testing that many teachers must contend with.  But even my students take the recognized college-focused exams like the SAT and ACT.

I would have liked to learn more about how different teachers, at different levels, deal with varying class sizes.  One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed in education is that some ideas work very well in small settings but they don’t scale effectively.  This could be because as you increase the number of people in a system, you also increase the variability, introduce more outliers, and dilute the talent pool of those teachers who were heavily involved or invested in the decision to pursue a particular plan and subsequent “generations” do not benefit from the training and inculcation that the originators and first generation implementers had.

I’ve never been diagnosed formally but I’ve had a number of people suggest, sometimes humorously, sometimes not, that I have adult-onset ADHD.  And I think there may be some truth to that.  I find myself sometimes flitting from idea to idea or task to task, eventually returning to each of them and completing them (usually…).  At my day job I was tasked with testing a wireless camera that we were going to use to make a time-lapse movie of a construction project.  I turned it on in my office and forgot about it for few hours.  I was stunned when I went back and previewed the test movie…. I found that I never sat still for very long at all and was constantly moving back and forth (granted, this was a time-lapse movie).  Similarly, I sometimes step back from my computer at work, where I have three full-size monitors on a stand-up desk, and realize how many windows I have open with files in various stages of completion.  This usually panics me (what if the computer crashes) and I finish up and close as many as I can.  This sort of fast-paced, high energy work motivates me and I maintain I can actually get a lot done, with a relatively low error rate.

So what does this snapshot of how I work at my day job say about how I learn.  Unfortunately, a lot.  I find myself flitting about from idea to idea, with several ideas in various stages of completion and though I have made this approach functional at work, I suspect I am not being as successful in the learning arena.  I was not happy with my performance in Dr. Knezek’s class this summer and my reflective root-cause-analysis of the summer indicated to me that this lack of focus hurt me in the class.

The last question for part 1 hits home “What might you do differently in the future to make your learning and understanding more effective and efficient?”   Well, that’s the $64,000 question for me isn’t it.  We’re nearing the midway point of our classes, our class of 2019 cohort, and you would think that at this stage of my career (academic or otherwise) I would have figured out the most effective and efficient way to learn.  But the material I’m charged with learning now is very different than that which I had to learn in the past, and my own mind has changed over time and the same strategies that were effective when I completed my Master’s degree in the late 20th century simply won’t work now.  When I figure out what does, I’ll let you know

Part 2:

The tagline on this blog is “lifelong learning.”  The man for whom the graduate school of management at Purdue that I attended is named for, Herman Krannert, once said he wished that diplomas could be issued with a statement reading “this diploma is void after 7 years if not renewed.”  I took that to heart and a few years after I finished my undergraduate degree, I undertook the Master’s degree.

  • I got married during that 18-month degree program and spent a few years getting to know my wife and learning how to be a husband.
  • Then a few more years learning about my kids and how to be a good father.

But during this time I continued professional development, earning certificates, though no formal degrees or recognized certifications, every few years.  These were usually vendor-related courses or company-sponsored training sessions that directly (or at least theoretically) benefited me at whatever job I had at the time.  I am particularly grateful to the one vice-president who chose to invest many thousands of dollars in training that applied to the job I had at the time but also gave me skills that were transferable and benefit me to this day.  This VP was a veteran of the airline industry and perhaps he echoed Sir Richard Branson’s feelings on training, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Once my kids were a bit older, I resumed more formal education activities and earned industry certifications in the travel industry (Certified Travel Counselor, CTC), software development (Professional Scrum Master, PSM, level 1) and project management fields (Project Management Professional, PMP).  None of these are as widely recognized as, say, my brother’s CPA, but each had value to me at the time and served as a mechanism to formalize my continued learning every few years and allowed me to keep my implicit promise to Herman Krannert.  This PhD thing takes that to a whole ‘nuther level.

Being a self-professed lifelong learning, I am involved in a number of educational systems.

  • Obviously the UNT LT program as a student.
  • Additionally, I am a participant, with varying degrees of rigor, as a student, in a number of MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) through Coursera, EdX, OpenCourseware (MIT’s initiative that put a lot of their curriculum online), and free Canvas courses.
  • I’m also an educator, teaching and supporting teachers & students at Bishop Lynch High School in east Dallas.  I have a role that touches every aspect of the school, from the athletic trainer to the guidance suite to every teacher and every student and their parents.
  • I’m the spouse of an educator, as my wife teaches at Brookhaven College, so I have a chance to see her interactions (now mostly online) with her students.
  • And, finally, I’m the parent of two college students which means I get to foot the bill, financially and emotionally, for two girls undertaking an academic challenge, engineering at Purdue, that when I tried it (Purdue school of Science admittee ’81), I couldn’t do it.  Both of my daughters have passed the very same Chemistry class (CHEM115) that I flunked.  Twice.  Same for that fracking Calculus class.

I have this dream of finishing my PhD, taking a one semester sabbatical from my job and going back to Purdue and taking, and passing, Chemistry and Calculus.

One day.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. (1977). Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited. Group & Organization Management, 2(4), 419-427. doi:10.1177/105960117700200404


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Did you really work in a convent? (yes)

Tell me about your current perception of the education system that is most relevant to you. What is good about it? Bad? Who makes it up? What are its resources? What economic and social aspects impact it? Give me details. 500-1000 words

In 2008, after a 20+ year career in the business world, my then-employer unilaterally decided it was time for me to make a career change. I don’t you if you remember or not but in 2008 there was this thing with the global economy… you may have heard about it… it was in all the papers, and they even made a movie about it.

Some people who were in my similar situation sought “positions” commensurate with their past title and salary. I had two kids in private school and needed a damn job. And I found one, doing something no one, especially me, would have imagined… I went to work in a Catholic high school < insert obligatory joke about the Jewish boy having an office in what was once a convent >.

It was essentially a technology job and I was a tech guy, working in a school, looking for the next thing. I had an affinity for systems, having tamed the archaic computerized reservation system used by travel agencies (it was the 1980’s…..) and related systems used by airlines (yes, there is one that’s really called “dispatch environment control system,” DECS), so their puny little student information system was no big deal to me. I brought my business analyst and project management eyes to the non-profit world and found a fair amount of low hanging fruit. A report that used to take several steps and nearly an hour to prepare could be, with the right SQL magic and ODBC wizardry, embedded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and refreshed with the mere right-click of a mouse. I was a hero.

My boss had joined the school seven years prior, after his own career in the business world, and he knew what I was seeking to escape. I had one standing meeting a week. That was it. I didn’t know non-profits and I didn’t know education (beyond being a bit educated myself and helping my kids get themselves educated), but I knew computers, and how to unjam printers, so that made me pretty well qualified. Long story short, much as I enjoyed the job, I left the school after about two years for an opportunity with a tech company that provided automation to airlines. It was a BIG bump in salary and I couldn’t really say no. But I should have.

Within a few months it became apparent that this was a bad fit and without going into the gory details, I had maintained my relationship with my old boss from the school, by having lunch every few months, and at one of those lunches he said “you look awful.” I explained a bit about how the job I had was, in a nutshell, killing me and there was little hope for improvement. He suggested I take a dramatic pay cut and save my life. He was right and I returned to the school… but this time with the agreement that I wouldn’t be a tech guy working in a school… I needed their support to reinvent myself as an educator who uses technology as a tool.

The school hadn’t changed too much in my absence and in all candor, it felt good to be back. It’s still the largest, co-educational private high school in Texas and it’s still a college prep school.  My role was tweaked and now, 3 years into my second stint, I’m teaching a class for the first time, I have been invited to attend the Senior Retreat (an annual rite of passage for our high school seniors), and have played a modest role in the implementation of a new teaching perspective at the school (Technology Enhanced Active Learning, or TEAL classrooms, if you must know… Does someone smell dissertation topic?).

I still don’t self-describe as a teacher, though I’m quick to point out that I aspire to be one. I have attended a number of professional meetings and conferences relating to my new chosen profession and each time I return from one of them I hug my boss and my principal and thank them, and my lucky stars, that I don’t work in a public school. Don’t get me wrong… I went to public school, my wife went to public school, and my kids went to public school for grades 7-12…. But in today’s economic, political, and philosophical environment, me and my big mouth wouldn’t last long in a public school.

My view of school (public or private) is that it’s the parents’ job to educate their kids. And my wife and I did that. But we outsourced those aspects of the kids’ education that we weren’t qualified to properly teach… like calculus, for example. I like my math with ya know, numbers… maybe the occasional letter (like X or Y) but none of those Greek letters or squiggly lines. And I don’t know my 18th amendment from my 21st amendment so maybe someone else should teach history. [Lest you think any less of me, I actually do know what the 18th and 21st are…. Do you?].

I disapprove of parents who envisage dry-cleaning education…. They figure they’ll just drop the kids off and pick them up when they’re smart. It doesn’t work that way. At least not effectively. That’s not education, it’s childcare at best and warehousing at worst.

In working for the Diocese of Dallas, I’m essentially part of one of the largest bureaucracies in the world, the Catholic Church. But owing largely to the leadership of my school, decisions can be made and implemented at a pace that’s faster than just about any place I’ve ever worked. And that’s simultaneously motivating and empowering. If I have an idea, I can do it, or at least try it. I have friends in public schools who don’t dare dream of that sort of autonomy. I feel lucky but also recognize that with power comes responsibility and if I make enough poor choices, that power will be rescinded.  For example, a few years ago our school became a BYOD (bring your own device) school and we now require every student to have a laptop computer in class.  Teachers vary in how they use the tool, but it’s available and is one of the things that differentiates us from many public schools (oh, that and the tuition…. and, not trvially, the fact that we can rather easily suspend or expel students who chose not to conform to our community standards).  The students are not homogeneous in all respects, of course, but they all wear a uniform and are held to standards of behavior largely unfathomable in most public schools.

Being a non-Catholic in a Catholic school carries the potential for some awkwardness. I’ve rarely felt insulted or slighted here (honestly, it’s happened far less often here than at the airline at which I spent 13 years). I am open and honest about the things I don’t know and am equally open to learning new things

This is not to say that the job has no negatives or the school has no challenges. We’re in the midst of a slight dip in enrollment, which translates to a challenge to our marketing efforts, and we find ourselves continually challenged with finding the best ways to reach our evolving and dynamic students. Large organizations change slowly and I admit I sometimes feel frustrated by some aspects of corporate culture. But it’s a heckuva lot better than nearly any other place I’ve ever worked.  So I’ll be here for as long as they’ll have me.


word cloud

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And finally, in conclusion….

Write a concluding reflection about what you learned over the course of the semester and what you feel you need more work to understand. Where will you go next? This goes in the Summary reflection blog.

When my children were younger and attended a Montessori day school we would often pick them up after work and instead of asking what they learned that day we would ask “did you ask a good question today.”  We felt then, as we do now, that for most learning endeavors, it is more important to ask a good question and to provide an answer.

This is not to say that answers, and the process by which they are derived, are not important, but rather that with technology today, most answers are two clicks away.  But crafting the right question… that’s another story.  Schools appear to emphasize answers because they are easily measured/tested/graded while it is difficult to similarly quantify the art and skill of asking a good question.

Reading Hollis made my head hurt.  I had lots of questions about the bookalbert-einstein-quote, most of which remain unanswered. Upon reflection, I find that I now have more questions than I started with, so that’s a good thing.

Over the semester break I plan to revisit Hollis and make a list of all the individuals mentioned (Bacon, Weber, Popper, and Hegel, for example) and all of the -isms (empiricism, determinism, feudalism, holism, and pragmatism, for example) and craft a short definition of each.  Then, if I have the energy, I’ll consider re-reading certain chapters in Hollis and perhaps they’ll make more sense as I get more philosophical context.

I really wanted to like Noddings.

It’s a title that should appealalbert-einstein-quote2 to me as a first year doc student, Philosophy of Education.

But, in what may already be a tired refrain, I don’t think I yet have the philosophical foundation to either understand or appreciate her points.  I need to spend more time thinking about the problems.


So where do I go from here?  According to the Plan of Study, next on the hit parade are CECS 6020 – Advanced Instructional Design: Models and Strategies and CECS 6512 – Analysis of Qualitative Research in Learning Technologies.  What has become apparent to me is that program (and it’s a program, not just a random assignment of necessary courses… there’s a plan, an order, and a system to the program) is not about teaching content.  This has come as a surprise to some of my classmates.  Rather, this program is about teaching us a process.  The process, in turn, will lead us to discover the content we seek. I suppose in the long run, this is an appropriate outcome but in the short run, it’s not what I was expecting and I’m still in the process of modifying my expectations.


Is it worth it?  This was not a question on the prompt but I see it as an unavoidable question.

When my wife was doing her PhD (Purdue, Veterinary Physiology) in the late 1980’s, she quit her program every Friday.

Like clockwork.

And then every weekend we would talk about it and she would go back to the lab on Monday.  Then she flunked her prelims.  And we had to get past that (only to find out, later, that every woman in that program flunked her prelims the first time; it was hazing). And we did.

At this level, these sorts of things are rites of passage (which I see as the fancy term for hazing).  If The University is going to brand me as one of their PhD’s, they’re going to be darn sure I don’t embarrass myself (and, by extension, The University).  And this is as it should be.

UNT-LT is going to make darn sure I know my APA style.  UNT-LT is going to make darn sure I can tell my Big “O” Objectivism from my little “o” objectivism.   UNT-LT is going to to great lengths to make sure I can craft a coherent argument, supported by valid and pertinent research, and articulated in a manner that will bring esteem upon The University (and, by extension, me).  And at the end of the day, this is what our tuition dollars are buying.

  • It’s not about the content (I can read the books on my own).
  • It’s not about the degree (I can buy a degree).
  • It’s not about my current job (which doesn’t need either of the degrees I already have, let alone this one)

It’s about setting a goal, finding the internal and external resources to pursue that goal, making the necessary & difficult choices implicit in the decision to take on the task, about learning enough about yourself to discover your own perspective on philosophy, and about setting the priorities and facing the consequences of the undertaking.  It’s a process that will change the individual… it has to, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it.

My plan of study calls for 12 sessions (summer, maymester, and long semesters).  2 will be done when I hit submit on this page.  10 to go.

Bring it on.


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Hail, Hail, Freedonia, land of critical theory!

Week 12: Are there any aspects of critical theory that especially interest you as a budding researcher? Why or why not?

oops… wrong Marx?

The aspect of critical theory that made the strongest impression on me so far is the notion, as described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Critical Theory, that “the logic of social explanation and elides the ‘apparatus of general theories.’”  From my earliest blog posts in this class, for example when I struggled with rationalism and empiricism, I’ve shared my difficulty with applying one theory or framework to explain all (or even much) of what we observe in society.  The overt admission, attributed to Habermas and Dewey both, that there might not be just one singular answer is comforting.

The more I read about critical theory, the more I became convinced that a full and proper understanding of its role in the evolution of philosophy, given its critical nature, requires a more full and complete understanding of the various –isms than I currently possess (and indeed may ever possess).

Owing to what I can only believe can only be a concerted effort on the part of the department, I am now less confident in my ability to complete this program than at any time since I first considered it.  My goal, as originally stated in my personal statement included with my application, is to apply all that I learn here to my real-life job in order to benefit real-live students.  What has thus far been a largely abstract course of study, which I have struggled to apply to my daily work, has been interesting and challenging and I am making progress on  many fronts, it has dawned on me that the program is designed more to teach me a process (of thinking, of questioning, of researching, of writing, and of re-thinking) and I see that as valuable, but I had some expectation of content knowledge that hasn’t yet happened.  This is likely due to a failing on my part as opposed to any failing on the part of my instructors.

In short, the first full semester of this program has served largely to exacerbate the depression I feared experiencing when my two children left for college in August which, ironically, was a prime driver in having me do this program… so I would be busy, with a purpose, instead of wallowing at home, missing my girls.

As I learn more about the aforementioned –isms (pragmatism, positivism, rationalism, feminism, capitalism, constructivism, liberalism, pluralism, skepticism, materialism, naturalism, relativism, fallibilism, fascism, universalism, and authoritarianism to name just a few), I find myself questioning things I thought I was comfortable with and, conversely, also having a number of “ah ha” moments where thoughts I’ve previously had are now given specific terminology and context.

Is this what the next four years will be like?  Is this what the rest of my life will be like? I don’t know if I have the energy for all that.  It’s nearing the end of the 16 week semester and I realize that one of my biggest problems is that in a 16 week semester I have only about 12 weeks of motivation.  That had better change quickly.  But first, I wonder if Duck Soup is on Netflix.


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hee-hee…. He said “mumbo jumbo”

Week 11: Start by answering the following question:

Is there such a thing as a social “science?” Why or why not? What are the goals of a science? What does it mean to know? After reading all this philosophy mumbo jumbo, how do you feel about social research and our ability to understand and know the minds of others?

Based on this, how effective do you believe our systems for designing instruction and assessing learning can be, given the cognitive differences among humans.

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

— James Marshall Hendrix

Is there such a thing as a social “science?”

I believe there is a scientific lens through which to view society in general and humans in particular.  Does this make it a social science?  I suppose it would be reasonable to use the term but keeping in mind that the goal of hard science is to know but, as we discussed in the last blog post, the goal of social science is more to (try to)  understand or (try to) explain.

Why or why not?

Sure, scientific concepts, like the scientific method and objective observations, are nice, as are statistics, graphs, charts, numbers, and other concepts borrowed from the hard sciences, but that’s all more sizzle than steak.  It allows social science to masquerade as hard science, hoping to ride the coattails and be accepted in much the same manner as, say, chemistry.  But, alas, it is not so simple, because the subjects of chemistry study are atoms, molecules, elements, and compounds, all of which tend to behave in expected ways under controlled systems and the subjects of study in our field are pesky human beings who, in the words of Prof. Michael Spector, are only intermittently rational.  It is in these periods of rationality that social sciences exists but those periods are fleeting and, in the vernacular of the statistician, are not generalizable to the population as a whole.

What are the goals of a science?

Just for fun, I Googled this question.  Here are the top three responses:

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Goals_of_science : Science is a body of knowledge accumulated through the use of the scientific method.  There are multiple possible goals for doing science. For many scientists, the satisfaction of curiosity about nature and the desire to share what they have learned about cause and effect relationships in nature are the primary goals. Other scientists wish to improve the material welfare of humanity, to contribute to the security of their own societies, or to increase their own personal wealth. So long as they make claims for truth based on the scientific method, their goals are irrelevant.

http://www.education.com/reference/article/basic-goals-science-education/ categories of goals for science education: scientific knowledge, scientific methods, social issues, personal needs, and career awareness.

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/04/17/understanding-research-methodology-3-goals-of-scientific-research/  science is interested in answering questions and acquiring knowledgeconcerning the observable universe .

The only word that appeared in all three results, other than science and its derivatives, is knowledge.

From this it may be easy to conclude that the primary (or at least the predominant) goal of science has something to do with knowledge.

Is it to acquire knowledge?  Validate that is known? Use existing knowledge to infer things we don’t yet know or can’t yet prove? Is it to give high school sophomores tests about Avogadro’s number? Do we seek to use this knowledge for some sort of benefit or is the acquisition of knowledge an end in itself?

In our field, I believe that the goal is to acquire, validate, and, ultimately, to use knowledge to help facilitate learning.

What does it mean to know?

To believe with a certainty high enough to make useful assumptions about something.

After reading all this philosophy mumbo jumbo, how do you feel about social research and our ability to understand and know the minds of others?

I have my doubts.  As I write this, I happen to be sitting in a first year high school French class, as a last minute substitute teacher, for the high school where I work.  I’m watching the students complete an online research project that I can’t help but think is largely busywork intended to occupy their time while the teacher is away and a non-French-speaking sub (me) is in her place.  Could this be a useful project?

Yes.  The assignment was to pick two cities in France from a list and write about them using structured prompts, such as “Where in France is this city/town? What is this city known or famous for? What makes it stand out from others ? Is this city of any particular historical significance? Did anyone famous live here? Give at least 2 permanent sights that visitors to this city should see or experience (for example, museums, castles, historical homes, gardens, etc.).”

Did the students learn anything?  Anything useful?  I suspect some, those who saw value in the assignment, did.  But I fear that for others, this was just a time wasting exercise with little connection to their class, grade, education, or life.

As a novice educator, I can’t help but wonder what could be done to make this assignment more meaningful (I think that having each student pick one city and then prepare a short presentation about it, answering the prompt questions, and sharing the answers with the class, might have been more interesting (but also a greater classroom management challenge for the sub).  I also wonder if any of these questions will appear on any sort of assessment (formative or otherwise).  Lastly, I wonder if the writing itself, the grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, and word choice, in addition to the content are part of the grade (this is French class but the responses are in English, but I believe that effective written communication isn’t important only in English class and those skills need to permeate the entire curriculum, in all classes, at all levels.

Based on this, how effective do you believe our systems for designing instruction and assessing learning can be, given the cognitive differences among humans.

‘Can be?”  I believe it can be highly effective, for most humans, at most levels, in most circumstances, most of the time.  Not for everyone, not all the time, and not always.  But everyone/always/all the time is not a reasonable standard.  It’s not the standard to which we hold other fields, such as medicine, and even when it is the ideal standard, such as in the flying & landing of airplanes, it’s a standard that is not always met.

Since the variance in students (and their learning) is much higher than the variance in humans and their response to medical challenges or in airplanes and their response to flight, the standard should rightly be lower and “most humans, at most levels, and in most circumstances” is a reasonable standard, in my opinion.  The problems arise when a disproportionate amount of our resources (human and otherwise) are targeted to the few students, with atypical learning needs, and in many cases with barriers that cannot be reasonably overcome, at the expense of keeping the many, the most, and the typical challenged and moving forward.  I’m not saying “don’t help the few,” but I suggest that it should be done not at the expense of the many.






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