Cory Leonard

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

On Good Teachers

In career on August 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

What is it precisely that good teachers do? A new book by someone who may (or may not) be a “real teacher” explores this worthy question. To get a sense of who the author is, read Mark Edmundson’s piece on how to deal with “bores”–a great start.

Students, whose “spectacular hunger for life” is both promising and dangerous, must “slow it down and live deliberately.” There’s no better place than the college classroom to do so, Edmundson says.

Teachers, in turn, must remember their “primary job is not to help our students acquire skills, marketable skills, bankables. …We’re not here to help our students make their minds resemble their laptops, fast and feverish.”

His approach to the tension between career and professional training and broad education and learning, or a “real education”:

“It’s an education in which the student follows the Platonic injunction: Know Thyself,” Edmundson said in an e-mail interview from Nova Scotia, where he recently vacationed. “And also seeks to know the world. It’s not about career planning or preparation for success. When you know yourself career and success can follow with ease – if you want them.”

via Mark Edmundson’s new book calls for renewed emphasis on teaching | Inside Higher Ed.

He has some harsh words for college life.  His book is also a reasoned critique of the modern university, where:

students spend less time than ever on their classwork, and he writes of an implicit pact between undergraduates and professors in which teachers give high grades and thin assignments, and students reward them with positive evaluations. After all, given all the other amenities available through the university, the idea that “the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd.”

via Mark Edmunson’s Essay Ask, “Why Teach?” | NYT


The inputs may also be a problem. How prepared are students that are the products of No Child Left Behind for university life?

Even during those times when I could assign work that required proper writing, I was limited in how much work I could do on their writing. I had too many students. In my final year, with four sections of Advanced Placement, I had 129 AP students (as well as an additional forty-six students in my other two classes). A teacher cannot possibly give that many students the individualized attention they need to improve their writing. Do the math. Imagine that I assign all my students a written exercise. Let’s assume that 160 actually turn it in. Let’s further assume that I am a fast reader, and I can read and correct papers at a rate of one every three minutes. That’s eight hours—for one assignment. If it takes a more realistic five minutes per paper, the total is more than thirteen hours.

Further, the AP course required that a huge amount of content be covered, meaning that too much effort is spent on learning information and perhaps insufficient time on wrestling with the material at a deeper level. I learned to balance these seemingly contradictory requirements. For much of the content I would give students summary information, sufficient to answer multiple-choice questions and to get some of the points on rubrics for the free response questions. That allowed me more time for class discussions and for relating events in the news to what we learned in class, making the class more engaging for the students and resulting in deeper learning because the discussions were relevant to their lives.

From what I saw from the free response questions I read, too many students in AP courses were not getting depth in their learning and lacked both the content knowledge and the ability to use what content knowledge they had.

via A warning to college profs from a high school teacher.


Back to School Insights | Haters Gonna Hate TED

In career on August 21, 2013 at 3:42 pm

The TED backlash is real, or as Evgeny Morozov called it, “an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering”–but don’t discount the idea factory too soon.  The primary advantage is that these storied Talks take less time that you spend on Facebook in the morning and give you a new source of career advice and ideas to stew about as you plan your next steps.

From the importance of persistence or “grit” from former seventh grade teacher Angela Lee Duckworth, econ prof Larry Smith on why you will fail to have a great career, or Margaret Heffernan on why disagreement is essential.

So disagree with them–hate them even, but they are pretty hard to ignore and can be a very useful tool in your professional arsenal.

via 15 Inspiring TED Talks Every Freshman Must Watch.


Notions of Success and Why Liberal Arts Really Matter

In career on August 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Plato answered the question on the end of a liberal education.

I have posted about Mark Edmunson previously, and recommend his reframing of the debate about the value of a liberal education.  He suggests that “skills” are not the real value-added component.

But the humanities are not about success. They’re about questioning success — and every important social value. Socrates taught us this, and we shouldn’t forget it. Sure, someone who studies literature or philosophy is learning to think clearly and write well. But those skills are means to an end. That end, as Plato said, is learning how to live one’s life. “This discussion is not about any chance question,” Plato’s Socrates says in “The Republic,” “but about the way one should live.”

That’s what’s at the heart of the humanities — informed, thoughtful dialogue about the way we ought to conduct life. This dialogue honors no pieties: All positions are debatable; all values are up for discussion. Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks for the spirit of the humanities in “Self-Reliance” when he says that we “must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” He will not accept what the world calls “good” without consideration: He’ll look into it as Socrates did and see if it actually is good. When Montaigne doubts received opinion and asks himself what he really knows and what he does not, he is acting in the spirit of the humanities. “Que sais-Je?” or “What do I know?” was his motto.

via Why major in humanities? Not just for a good job — for a good life. – The Washington Post.

He also elevates Socrates as the spokesman for this view of a humanities education, where the goals are to “question those values” [in society] and to “help them work their way to insight and virtue” rather than merely helping them climb a ladder.

I cannot agree more fully with Edmunson’s distinction. The educators who influenced me the most were at various levels of accomplishment within their respective systems. They has a wide range of professional credentials–some impressive, others more pedestrian. They all had one thing in common: a focus on the need to question, think, explore, and consider what was really happening.


George Saunders Has Some Advice: Watch out for Monkey Poop

In career on August 6, 2013 at 4:25 am

I am not the first–not will I be the last to quote it. (I will be trying to find someone like him to give an equally magnificent commencement speech,). He is the “Writer of our Time“–the person responsible for the book to read in 2013. He is someone to heed.

His point is that as life progressed, he regretted few of the difficulties but wished he had cultivated more kindness.

He speaks directly to the soon-to-be-minted graduates, whose expectations, fears, and parents are all assembled:

When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….

And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

Jump to the end:

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

How Not to Be Alone: Technology and Human Interaction

In tech on August 5, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Simone Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly. via How Not to Be Alone –, a 2013 Middlebury College commencement address by Jonathan Safran Foer

Thinking about how technology threatens and reshapes the experience of travel. In particular, when wi-fi is more important the breakfast, you know that today’s study abroad travelers think differently.