Friday, August 30, 2013

Six-word summaries of Appiah's Cosmopolitanism

In class on Thursday I asked my HON 479 students to close with a low-stakes writing exercise in which they summarized Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism in six words. This exercise is designed to encourage students to get to the meat (or vegetarian meat substitute) of the matter clearly and concisely.

The outcome? The students appear to have learned much from Appiah. They might, however, need help in learning to count.

Respect and do good amidst difference.

Respecting similarities and differences for peaceful coexisting

Understanding different values and being curious.

Global Citizenship requires fundamental change and understanding

Humans can learn from each other.

We can agree if we talk

Learn about others, respect their choices

get a liberal arts education, y'all.

Listen to others, don't be isolated.

Be an accepting, open-minded, thoughtful person/

convivencia, living in harmony as humans

modernity in thought action, no ambivalence

The path to coexistence is conversation.

positivism; cultural identity; imperialism; alternative; curiosity

Try your best to understand each other.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


This semester I'm trying out a new activity in the Honors Program, one which is already bearing tasty fruit. I'm asking every student enrolled in one of our five current sections of HON 179 (Honors first-year colloquia) to attend at least one meeting of my HON 479 class, and I'm asking each of my HON 479 students to attend at least one meeting of a section of HON 179.

There's really very little to it beyond this: though I've suggested that HON 179 faculty might ask visiting HON 479 students to give a little presentation, lead a discussion, or engage in some other activity, there's no requirement that faculty make such requests. And so far all I've asked of the HON 179 students that have visited my class is that they join in the small-group discussions in which they've been placed and to contribute to the plenary full-class discussion...if so moved to do either of these things...but more importantly, to observe the "culture" of the classroom, acting like anthropologists in a new social setting. Take a few notes: what's going on here?

This bringing together of the "bookends" serves a number of purposes. It gives the HON 179 students a chance to meet a few folks who've been around the block, more experienced students whom they can ask questions about the Honors Program, about the university, about anything they'd like. It gives the HON 179 students a taste of what an upper-level Honors course, a challenging course based on conversations about difficult readings, is all about. It gives the HON 479 students a chance to share the knowledge they've gained about the program, and a chance to get out of their "senior bubble," interacting with a new group of bright and motivated students. Most important of all, it helps all of the students to build a sense of community.

The feedback I've gotten so far has been fantastic. The HON 479 students have been effusively welcoming (they're a friendly and outgoing bunch), and the HON 179 students have been engaged and open to active participation. The feedback I've gotten from both groups of students has been positive. I think this is going to be a good thing, and it's helping me to feel better about the existence of the Honors Program than I've felt lately...but that's a topic for another post...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fare thee well

Today my HON 479 students had our group meeting over at the I Have a Dream Foundation's headquarters in Asheville, one end of a long brick building at the east end of Pisgah View Apartments. Kieran, the IHAD program's local coordinator, was effusive and outgoing as ever, quizzing the students on their long-term "dreams," discovering passions for dog training, foreign service, and trapeze artistry.

After a brief run-down on daily operations Kieran led the kids on a tour of the center while I hung back and chatted with Eugenia, Kieran's assistant director. I asked after a few of the students I'd remembered working with back in Fall 2012, and was pleased to find some of them doing well. Stephen, one of the most precocious readers of the bunch, is one of a handful now excepted from reading requirements owing to his accomplished skill. Elaine is as stylish as ever, always opting out of kickball for fear of messing up her outfits. And Ulysses is still Ulysses, still heavyweight rock-paper-scissors champion of the world.

I was chagrined to learn, though, that one of my favorite students, an athletic young man who had a legitimate curiosity about math and who often thought about math problems from completely outside of the box, has since fallen out of the program. After choosing to withdraw himself, he fell in with a questionable clique of friends and ran afoul of the law. An investigation into his home life eventually led him into foster care in a nearby town, too far away for IHAD to be able to transport him to and from the program should he wish to rejoin (and wish he does, apparently). They're working out the details now, but it looks as though his days at IHAD may be over.

This makes me sad.

Monday, August 26, 2013


To make up for my breaking my new-semester resolutions on the sixth day of the semester, I offer the following first draft of a poem inspired by Chapter 8 of Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism, about which book my HON 479 students had a wonderfully spirited discussion last Thursday. I'm looking forward to our next discussion, this coming Thursday (tomorrow we meet at I Have a Dream)!


We sit in the back
veiled in incense, wrapped
in kente come from Togoland.
The blackmarketer
sits crosslegged and smiles.

He deals in antiquities,
not Sony TVs like the one
tuned to a telenovela
preaching sermons on fidelity:

be a better boyfriend
or a more faithful wife.

Oaxacan actors mouth
morality lessons in Twi;
he is a strong man,
says our host,
who can say I love you to his girl.

Change jangles in the bottoms
of our swollen pockets.
Our way home is a star-strewn
traverse of rough red laterite.

At the hotel in Accra
we unpack and sit in silent reverence
before the brittle treasure
on our bed.

                   The admonishing hum
of the Coca-Cola machine
keeps us up all night.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Three days in

Linear's now met twice, and HON 479, my honors section of the university's capstone course Cultivating Global Citizenship, once. This is my first time teaching that course (though in Fall 2012 I "interned" with the instructor for the course all of last year), and my first time teaching a course that's so heavily discussion-based. My relative unfamiliarity with facilitating discussion is going to make this course a challenge, but of the first day of class is any indication, the students' outgoing nature is going to mitigate that challenge.

Students like Arturo and Nona, whom I've long known (from previous interactions with them) to be extroverts played that role perfectly, showing no hesitation in opening up about both simple subjects like academic major as well as a few of the fairly touchy topics (race and religion) with which this course will later deal. Other students, some of whom I've met in my dealings as director for the past year, some of whom I really met just yesterday, stepped up too. I'm planning on plying various discussion-driving strategies to help these folks out, but I'm not too worried.

We'll have a lot to talk about. Our first order of business is to pick apart Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism, a text that gets right to one of the central topics of our course, namely the question "how, in a world full of difference and diversity of every imaginable sort, do we manage to get along with one another?" As the aim of the class is to help students develop the skills they need to become informed and engaged citizens in an increasingly interconnected world, answering this question is of paramount importance.

After that we'll move on to readings by Jonathon Kozol, Gloria Ladson-Billings, bell hooks, and others. Cornel West is coming to campus in a couple of months, and we'll ready ourselves for his visit by reading excerpts from his Democracy matters. It's all good.

Meanwhile, I'm getting the Honors Program back up to speed for the academic year. We've got a welcome reception for the first-year Honors students on deck for next Thursday, and we're readying a few of last year's first-year students to help out as a resource for this year's first-years. Tomorrow I'll start reaching out to my colleagues across the campus to try to recruit faculty to teach in the program next term.

Never a dull moment. Avanti!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Day One, revisited, or, Patrick very quickly gets off into pedagogical theory

Back to the grind. Today hardly felt like a school day at all, as my only MWF class is an 8:00-to-8:50 section of Linear Algebra I that was over nearly as soon as it started. (At least on Tuesdays and Thursdays I won't be done in the classroom until noon-thirty.) As first-days-of-class go, it was a good one, though. I've had better, but I've had far worse.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Both other times I've taught this course (including the first time, the iteration of the course that occasioned the founding of this blog) I've started with some variation of the same game, a simulation of a Markov process in which the students shuttle some sort of token back and forth at each iteration of the game. The first run (Fall 2006), the students themselves were the tokens as the class participated in a great big single instance of the game; I switched to pennies (and smaller groups) the next time I taught the course (Fall 2010), and I stuck with that latter version today, though leaving a bit more room than I did before for students to discover and speculate upon the patterns their own damned selves. This time around I also asked the students to take bolder and more unassisted steps toward the next conceptual mile marker, solution of the linear systems that arise from the Markov process we investigate together: not only must the students experiment and then speculate on the outcome of their experiment, they must then find the appropriate mathematical model (a simple linear system in two unknowns) and then back-solve the "run the model in reverse." All in 45 minutes' time!

All in all, it went remarkably well. No one seemed lost ("one in a row!" as my colleague Tip would say), and everyone participated actively. I'm aided this semester by the fact that I've only got 23 student in the class (yay), though they're packt like sardines in a crushd tin box (boo), sitting at single-person-sized tables (yay) bolted together and arrayed in orderly rows (boo) in such a fashion as to discourage all but the most anachronistic teaching techniques (boo hiss).

Interesting facts (yes, there is a train of thought that took me from the previous paragraph to this one): recently, while reviewing the literature on the effect of class size on learning, I discovered that (1) said literature says almost nothing about college-level instruction, most research having been done at the K-12 level, and (2) a number of studies do not, strangely enough, suggest small class size improves student learning in mathematics. It was only after a bit of reflection that I realized why this might be: such studies, while controlling for class size, do not (and, methodologically, cannot) control for instructional method. Thus what I suspect is happening in these studies is large-section lectures are being pitted against small-section lectures, lecture being, until recently, about the only viable instructional paradigm for large-section classes. Of course, it is pedagogically retarded (in the literal...well...until recently literal...sense) to assume that one's instructional method remain the same when smaller class size permits more effective application of student-centered learning strategies: pit large-section lectures against small-section IBL and you're sure to see a difference.

Maybe more about that in a post soon to come (why on Earth was Patrick researching this topic? Edge-of-your-seat action!). For now, I've got reading to do for my first meeting of HON 479 tomorrow!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back-to-school to-do list

Goals for the coming semester, and beyond (a.k.a., gettin' my writing-related shit together):

1. Update this blog thrice a week, regularly, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

2. Spend at least an hour a day on my writing (poetry, prose, or current research-related writing projects).

3. Submit at least one piece of writing for publication per week, regularly on Sundays.