The Prepositions Matter

A favorite colleague and I have been talking lately about prepositions in higher education, specifically that:

  • As learners, learning is often provided (dare I say “done”) to us or for us – by our universities and colleges, our courses, teachers, texts, etc.
  • Our most meaningful learning experiences, however, are likely achieved by us and with us.

The prepositions matter, as they likely describe or create our intentions and actions. I’d like higher education to start using by and with more when referring to student learning instead of for and to.  I think we’ll all be better off for it.

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Hello New Day

Recently, the good folks over at University of Venus posted Deconstructing Proverbs. It’s a good read if, like me, you rely on proverbs to get your points across. I felt myself wanting to contribute to the list, so here are three (why stop at one?):

  1. You made your bed and now you have to sleep in it. Meaning: we all need to take responsibility for our actions, even when they come back to bite us. Own it – and learn from it. (Notice how when I say this proverb, I avoid the lay/lie confusion? Even for this English major, that one always stumps me!)
  2. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. I’ve often said this to colleagues who start worrying about potential institutional changes well in advance of them needing too. A few weeks ago I said this to my 3-year old who was worrying up a storm 3 days before a swimming lesson he was going to. When I said this, suggesting that we postpone his worrying until a more relevant time, he said, “Which bridge Mama? Ross Island Bridge?” Funny, that boy. Good reminder that proverbs don’t always translate well.
  3. Hello new day. Ok, so this isn’t really a proverb, it’s a lyric from one of my favorite Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers songs. It’s a nice and happy rock & roll song. I say it every morning (sometimes out loud and sometimes in song) because I need the reminder that I get to have a fresh start every day; that yesterday’s “stuff” doesn’t necessarily have to follow me. Check it out – you’ll want to sing along:

See? Sing along:

Well I feel lucky, I feel cool

What can I say?

Every time I give away a dollar or two

I find three more on the way

Now for better or worse, the whole Universe

Is singing along with every song I play

Hello new day!

Of course when I am not feeling so happy and optimistic, I might be heard grumbling this one, which actually may not be a proverb.

Yet. . .

My Third And Final Major Was English

David Brooks has written an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times called History for Dollars in which he advocates for studying the humanities, and it has me nogging.

Thanks to quinn.anya on Flickr for making this image available.

Brooks argues that studying the humanities will make a person more employable because they will be able to read and write well, will deeply understand human emotion, can think analogically, and can “befriend” what he calls “The Big Shaggy,” behaviors and phenomena that are difficult to explain. Of the latter, Brooks writes:

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

I object to his implication that blogs “lack the heft” of critical thought and inquiry, but I have to agree with almost every other proposition of his editorial. Let me tell you why.

My first major in college was journalism. I had spent the previous 3 years in high school tirelessly advocating for Freedom Of The Press and a separation of advertising and editorial (my main objective being to convince the school administrators that placing a Planned Parenthood ad in the student newspaper paper was not an endorsement for having sex). It made perfect sense that I would be a journalism major: I had prior experience on the newspaper and yearbook, passion, and it could be practical. I could get a job.

My second major was speech pathology and audiology. I changed it from journalism about a month into college because I decided I wanted to try to do something different from what I had been doing. It wasn’t an analytical decision at the time; it was more like wanderlust meets “I want to be employable after graduation.”

I liked this new major because I was learning in multiple disciplines: anatomy, language development and linguistics, psychology, neurology, etc. We also got to look at cadavers, which was scary and horrifying and amazing, all at the same time. However, in my first session in the speech clinic, when a distraught but forceful mother of a child with a bilateral lisp was insistent that we “FIX HIM!!!” in time for a speech he had to give at his church, my clinical supervisor turned to me and said, “Welcome to your future.” An off-the-cuff comment, but I listened.

My third and final major was English because I liked to write and I liked to read, and I didn’t want to spend time taking courses that I didn’t like. I temporarily set aside my pragmatic paycheck-oriented concerns and decided to focus on learning. And with that came great freedom and deep engagement and, as Brooks argues and I fully believe, marketability.

I have applied lessons from my English courses — from all of those Australian novels and Middle English Prologues and poems and essays and tree structures and Latin roots —  to every aspect of my work. From supervising and supporting employees, to preparing and monitoring budgets, to writing grants, to giving presentations to friendly and challenging audiences, to teaching and mentoring, to learning new computer programs or programming my voice mail, to communicating with various stakeholders and advocating with fierce grace, I call upon my English major skills and capacities of mind each and every day.

Brooks implies that there is money associated with a humanities education; I suspect that might be true (it has not been, for me). But what I DO have is compassion, creativity, energy, communication, and, in general, happiness with what I can and like to do.

My third and final major was English.  And as for The Big Shaggy? I’ll continue to nog on it, with heft (eh hem!), because, as Brooks asks:

…doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Yes. Yes it does.

One Cool Tool

Here is some information about a cool new tool that I just learned about called Wordle. Wordle creates “word clouds” — you can copy the body of text (a memo, an essay, a strategic plan, etc.), paste it into Wordle, and you get word clouds. According to Wordle:

The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

My strategic plan team co-leader and I copied a draft of our “Mission” team’s draft strategic plan into Wordle and got a lovely cloud that emphasizes what Marylhurst is about. It helped us to see particular themes that emerged from our 8-page document and to consider how to finalize our plan. Here’s what one version of ours looked like (click on the image to see it in the large format):

Marylhurst_Mission_draftPOSSIBLE OTHER USES:

  • Copy one of your essays into it to see what words you are using frequently (maybe too frequently). Use the results to help you revise accordingly. (If my money is right, I suspect that the word “very” might be very prominent, for example.)
  • Copy your resume into it to help you see if you are using the language of specific careers or industries effectively. Analyze your resume with the results accordingly. See an example of a before and after resume HERE (scroll down to #3: How Others Do It:  Elon University Repurposes Online “Toy” to Help Students Improve Resumes)
  • Likewise, copy a cover letter into it.
  • Copy your business plan into it.
  • Use it to turn a love letter to your significant other into a lovely piece of word art.

I think the other reason I like this tool is that it helps us see differently; we don’t get enough opportunities in our lives to do so.

Off Kilter

You know how sometimes things don’t come together as you think they will, or as you’d like them to? In my family we call this “off kilter.” We’re not Irish, so I am not sure how we came to use this term for this feeling, but so it goes. It is a phrase that has sufficiently and with no blame explained times when the universe hasn’t been watching over us.

Here are a few examples of how things are shaping up to be off kilter for me this week:

1) At 3am this morning my kid woke up screaming and crying and didn’t really stop all day — he’s off kilter.

2) Then my computer froze and I had to restart it about ten times before it would even let me move the cursor — it was off kilter.

3) Our lovely spring weather went backwards a few months and those of us in Portland, Oregon felt like we were living in January again — the weather is off kilter (though many natives say it’s just spring in Portland, so what do I know?).

4) And something went wrong with dinner — totally off kilter, no more explanation required.

Then, in thinking more about what “kilter” and “off kilter” meant and doing a bit of Googlestalking to feed my habit, I happened across this video, the band “Off Kilter” singing Whiskey in the Jar, which is one of my favorite Irish jigs. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t recognize it at first.

No offense to these guys — I mean, they’re brave enough to wear kilts and get up on stage and sing and dance  — AND VIDEO TAPE THEMSELVES DOING IT — but really, they’re a bit off kilter, too, which explains their name.

And yet today, my totally off kilter day, I really rocked out to this. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?

A Solution Waiting to Happen

I ran across this quote the other day:

“There are no more prizes for predicting rain. There are only prizes for building arks.” -Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM

It reminded me of a story that one of my PLA students told in an essay she submitted last term. When her employees came to her with a problem, she would only say to them, “That sounds like a solution waiting to happen.”  She told some good stories in her essay illustrating how, over time, her employees started thinking differently. Instead of coming to her with problems, they started coming to her with solutions.

I wonder if this technique will work with my toddler.

waaaaaa