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Showing posts from 2015

Shallow Optimism, Deep Hope: a quick formula for resilience in education

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"I am not an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope." --Cornel West

Three quick points:

1. Apparently only 31% of students nationwide agree that "I can find many lots of ways around any problem."

2. We always ask: why aren't students more invested in their own education? The answer is because they don't own the goals that are set for the educational system. As Jessica Lahey put it in a recent tweet: "we don't wash our rental cars."

3. Hope is another word for resilience. Hope comes to us, and it sends us over and over again into situations where failure is possible. It is grounded in a durable concepts like justice, goodness, truth, and love.



Students are optimistic that they will do well on the next test because they studied over the last few days. [low resilience]

Students hope that their education makes them genuine human beings, capable of carrying out full, just, and independent lives. [high resilience]

Our school system is designed for op…

How things generally go

Mornings feel best to me. The vagueness of consciousness mirrors the early dawn and portends lucidity. There is a wariness to morning, the small fear that we all feel when at the beginning of something. I like most the mornings that stretch out not quite timelessly before days that have not yet been planned. No one else is up; no one else would be moving; the relaxation that is possible in the morning is the unearned kind and thus most itself, most fully present.

The coffee is finished, the scraps of reading are read, and into our day clothes we step, one leg at a time, like putting on armor. On opening the door, the day makes itself known -- the first breath, autumn smells, leaves scattered and thrown across the driveway.

Day is so much interaction and movement. The people come at you with their faces and their lively eyes. Small requests uttered, and the larger tasks always left unsaid. We walk by each other, holding ourselves somewhat tightly to our chests, not letting too much of …

On Teacher Autonomy

"It is ... advisable that the teacher should understand, and even be able to criticize, the general principles upon which the whole educational system is formed and administered. He is not like a private soldier in an army, expected merely to obey, or like a cog in a wheel, expected merely to respond and transmit external energy; he must be an intelligent medium of action." -- John Dewey
Teacher autonomy is critical to good education. This (like everything in education) is of course most obvious to teachers, as they are the ones most intimately involved in the educational process. Students (especially adolescents) are suspicious of contrived situations and most open to connection when they sense there is an authentic person on the other end of the line. Autonomy is the path to authenticity, as only the teacher who is free to explore and experiment can find the pedagogy that allows full expression of the self in practice.

However, autonomy is poorly understood by many teache…

On Vitality, Schooling, and Training

An acquaintance told me a week ago that there is a deep connection between training for a marathon and good schooling and encouraged me to draw this connection.

The connections at first seem obvious. Perhaps school is like training. You put the work in and then get results out. Effort over the long haul leads to incremental changes in the body, mind, and spirit that allow the runner/student to do something which perhaps seemed impossible. I suppose this is the association my friend had in mind, and it works at a certain level.

Runners recognize, however, that equating training with effort and work takes an external view of the whole thing. From the inside training never feels primarily like a goal-oriented activity. In order for it to work and work well, it must mostly be immediately satisfying.

Sure, there were moments when there was a lack of satisfaction and I could invoke an external goal (running under 2:30 in the marathon was mine) to get myself out the door. But my training at …

Twin Cities Marathon and the Black Lives Matter Protest

Black Lives Matter in St. Paul has planned a protest to block the finish this weekend at the Twin Cities marathon. Here are my thoughts and hopes for how this goes.

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We all know that running is an expression of great individual freedom, which is why we value it so much.

A marathon race boils down so many of our values and creates a pure space for their expression -- hard work, execution, effort, risk. Because all distractions have been cleared away, and the course has been marked off from the chaos of life and the politics and all of that, the individual runner is freed to maximize his or her potential.

It's interesting to reflect on how artificial the conditions of a big city marathon are: how many roads have to be blocked, how many policemen enlisted in the effort, how much work and resources goes into creating this clean slate for achievement, especially when it is mapped out over a normally chaotic public space, as in the case of the big city marathon.

Reflection brings t…

On the necessity of anxiety for education: the wild and unholy learning of adolescence

I've just finished Jessica Lahey's The Gift of Failure, and it inspired this post in a sideways sort of way. It's a great read for parents and educators, highly readable and very wise -- but what if the failure she writes about is really just a means to an end that looks more like play...

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Anxiety is a condition of learning. It's a feature of adolescence, not a bug.

Schools these days are worried about anxiety, and with good reason. Young people are very anxious, and it's impeding their learning. We've been asking how to reduce that anxiety, using techniques like mindfulness with some effectiveness, and rethinking emotional support in schools so that we can keep anxious young people tracking down the path we've set for them.

While anxiety is a real problem that must be addressed by schools, it's also clear that we haven't gotten a grip on the problem. Perhaps this is because the whole idea of reducing anxiety is problematic. Maybe the problem i…

On Education as a Human Act: a report from the trenches

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The process of learning is call and response. It's back and forth. It is flow and rhythm. It's a method of measuring -- how much can I take in without being overwhelmed. You can't gulp the glass; you have to drink deeply but breathe while you are doing it. You have to digest.

In short the process of learning is a process of relating. In learning we establish relationships with each other and with the object of study.

Much of the contemporary discourse around education forgets this basic fact. When we think of students, we think of individuals with clear boundaries, as disconnected wholes, and our educational system tends to consider itself as the accretion of many isolated data points. Each individual accrues a transcript, which marks the ascension of a single atom through a clearly defined path. When we speak of whether our educational system is working or what it is doing, we understand the whole "system" (we are in a mechanistic metaphysics) as an accretion of…

Pretending to be Nenow

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The runner I thought about most when I was training hard was Mark Nenow. He's not known by many runners today, but he ran under 28 minutes for 10k something like seven years in a row back in the '80s. He held the American Record in the 10000m for 15 years, from 1986 to 2001, when Meb ran seven ticks faster. Ritz never beat Nenow's best time. He still holds the mark for 10k on the roads at 27:22.

Nenow was a total running bum. He was known as the "White Kenyan" as he was slight and had legs up to his elbows. He lived and trained during his fastest years in Lexington, KY. His training schedule was simple: 140 mpw in 13 runs: 10am / 10pm Monday through Saturday, with a 20 miler on Sunday. Apparently he would head out for his evening run at 10pm. Most of this running was at "moderate" paces, which for Nenow was probably sub 6 minute miling. He did little to no interval work, sometimes running for a year without getting on the track -- but his best times came…

Running Dreams

My suspicion is that most runners do not dream -- or at least do not remember their dreams. As a runner, my sleep had the quality of ink; absolutely black and immediate. It could be that runners simply do not need to dream, as in waking-life they are able to inhabit an intermediate phase of consciousness, skimming underneath their minds as they roll down the road. Or perhaps the narcotic fatigue of training drags runners into sleep so deeply that by the time they re-emerge they've left their dreams unconsciously behind.

Lately, without exercise, I have been dreaming more, and I often dream quite vividly that I am running. Some hours later, I have to point my consciousness to the fact of my injured ankle and construct a counter-factual argument: I cannot run, and so therefore the run that I am remembering must have been a dream and did not happen.  That's how vivid they are.

Upon recall these dreams are are very bodily. The run comes back as vibrations and sounds. The images ar…

The Depressives

Disclaimer: this post is not about running -- it's been over a year since I've run! But it was motivated by a perfect evening for running, as the Tennessee summer somewhat incredibly loosened its grip, letting the crisp of fall in through the cracks in the clear sky.

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It's come to me slowly and over time that almost all of my literary/philosophical heroes have been depressives. The three philosophers I've spent the most time with -- James, Emerson, and Nietzsche -- all struggled with and at moments succumbed to depression. There's a way in which their depression is a key to their writing, particularly Nietzsche's writing. Much of his work on human motivation -- the will to power -- could be seen as motivated by the depressive's question: how can I will myself to will?

James' philosophy as well so often rotates around questions of what makes experience flow and run. Depression is like a large and stagnant body of water, and we see James through the s…

On the Smallness of Running

"As for me, my bed is made: I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of man's pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on the top."  --William James, in a letter to a friend

The smallness of running:
the strike of the footthe curve of the paththe agonizing secondthe race rememberedthe step out of bedthe moment of decis…

Death, Singularity, and the Memory of Running

"... as my father was receding from human circumstance, so, too were all of these particulars, back to some unknowable froth where they might be reassigned to stars or belt buckles, lunar dust or railroad spikes …  I am made from planets and wood, diamonds and orange peels, now and then, here and there; the iron in my blood was once the blade of a Roman plow.”  — Paul Harding, Tinkers
Injury has kept me from running for more than six months, and I finally decided last month to go under the knife, hoping that the surgeon could somehow make elastic again a right achilles tendon that had been chewed by my calcaneus over the course of thousands of miles into a ruptured mass of inchoate flesh. The surgery was a success; he took the flexor hallus longus — a tendon that runs the length of the bottom of the foot to flex the big toe — and somehow used it to reinforce and stabilize the achilles. Just yesterday I began to walk awkwardly without crutches. It will be a few more months until I c…

"Running as Art: Tolerance, Temperament, and the Ineffable"

Here is an open access link to the post-prints of "Running as Art: Tolerance, Temperament, and the Ineffable." This essay was first written in response to a call for papers on the topic of the ineffable by the American Philosophies Forum.

I think that readers of this blog will enjoy it! Any institutional use of this work should credit the Journal of Speculative Philosophy.

My Dad -- how I knew him

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When my daughter was born, my Dad would look at her to try to gauge whether she was an Edmonds. He always concluded that she was. Lourdes and I saw it too: from the beginning the first person she looked like was my father. Panambi was a difficult infant. I remember looking down at her when she was just months old, and she stared back up at me with animal wildness in her eyes, twisting and straining in a body that didn't fully respond. That's when she looked like my Dad.
When we would talk about how difficult Panambi was as an infant with my family, everyone would say that Dad was the most difficult infant they had ever seen. I of course didn't see that up close but I saw it in my own daughter. She came into the world restless and straining at its limits, just like my Dad.
When I think about who he is, that's the first thing I think of -- a sort of unsettled, straining, and restless energy that was the quality of his soul. My Dad was a little bit crazy and very much alive…

Eulogy for a Great Coach: Van Townsend

"...if an unusual necessity forces us to press onward, a surprising thing occurs. The fatigue gets worse up to a certain critical point, when gradually or suddenly it passes away, and we are fresher than before. We have evidently tapped a level of new energy, masked until then by the fatigue-obstacle usually obeyed. There may be layer after layer of this experience. A third and a fourth "wind" may supervene. Mental activity shows the phenomenon as well as physical, and in exceptional cases we may find, beyond the very extremity of fatigue-distress, amounts of ease and power that we never dreamed ourselves to own, — sources of strength habitually not taxed at all, because habitually we never push through the obstruction, never pass those early critical points." --William James, "The Energies of Men"

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange th…