Tag Archives: Diversity

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What do bananas, Bonytail Chub, and teaching have in common? Prepare to get my take on life, the universe, and everything…

In my hastily written (and grammatically unsound) post on inclusion, I had two major regrets. The first was the aforementioned text level grammar (my only defense was that I did write it on a phone). The second was that the focus on the importance of inclusion and how it relates to title bias prevented me from talking about a related issue that fundamentally defines my personal world view: Diversity.

I love bananas. They are easy to eat, versatile to bake with, and potassium helps keep my blood pressure regulated naturally. Bananas also served as an important lesson in diversity. Currently, bananas are in danger of extinction. Even though most of the concern is recent, the situation has been long predicted because of the reliance on just a few varieties of the crop. Pre-1950 there were two main varieties in stores. Then Panama Disease devastated the then common Gros Michel variety, which made Cavendish the most likely banana you would purchase in the store today. The lack of diversity in the banana crop made it ripe for an extinction-level problem. There is now a real chance my breakfast of choice won’t be available for the next generation. Foresight into maintaining the diversity of the bananas, even if some of the varieties weren’t as “commercially ideal” as a cash crop, would have resulted in an easier solution to the possibility of extinction.

Bananas in a store (from Pexels image by Kio)
Breakfast is served… for now…

If you haven’t been keeping up on the amazing progress made in science in the last decade, you would be amazed (or horrified) at the godlike possibilities. The good news: those that worry about the human race ending in the next twenty years can take some consolation in the fact that we are a fairly inventive lot, and when push comes to shove can do some incredible things. The bad news: we really work best with templates, and as the banana issue shows, humanity often gets a failing grade in foresight.

Enter the Bonytail Chub, a cute fish native to the Colorado River system. Due to climate change and invasive species this little fellow (and many other native fish species) are also in danger of extinction like my beloved banana. Where the negatives of losing bananas are easy to digest, the negatives of losing the Bonytail Chub (and its many relatives) may not be as clear. Clarity is exactly the problem. Bonytail Chub’s live and thrive in muddy backwaters. Where many fish do best in clean fresh waters, the Bonytail Chub’s ability to live in less than ideal conditions make it unique. Remember how bananas wouldn’t be in their predicament if less ideal varieties had been maintained? With the very real (and aggravatingly rarely talked about) problems of dwindling freshwater supplies and water rights, having a species that contains the genetic puzzle pieces that allow it to thrive in poor water conditions could end up being what is required to save other species (moral questions of genetic manipulation aside).

Image of Bonytail Chub from FWS
Just look at the cute little face…

Bananas and Bonytail Chubs are just two examples showing the importance of diversity in the natural world. Diversity is just as critical in every other aspect of life, including one that most of you reading this might be more familiar with.

Teaching is not a zero-sum game. I spend quite a bit of time every week creating videos for my classes to explain the objectives for the week and recap issues from the previous week. I know from analytics that only a third of my students actually make use of these videos (even less if the videos are too long), but those that do have given me consistent feedback that the videos are a major help to them. In the same respect, some students respond well to written feedback and instructions, and others do best in group work settings. In thirteen years of teaching, I’ve learned that one lecture does not fit all. One assignment or delivery is not the end game. Everyone learns and excels in different ways, so trying to maintain a balance of approaches is important to success. In other words, educational diversity.

Over the last three years of writing on 6×6 I have often eluded to how one of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to be open to new ideas, my hope is that this post will explain my belief structure behind that advice. Simply put: diversity is the answer to almost every problem.

Educational diversity results in higher success rates for students.

Economic diversity fosters resilience during downturns.

Cultural diversity leads to a better more understanding society.

Biodiversity is key to the survival of the planet and the species that reside on it.

So next time you are sipping a cup of tea under a star-filled sky contemplating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything appreciate the fact that there is probably more than one answer and more than one question, and that is a very healthy thing.

 

Wanna Dance?

Do you see yourself? Would you feel welcome in this group?

Diversity: Being invited to the party.

Inclusivity: Being asked to dance

(My invented definitions based on the words of Verna Myers)


While reading-up on the topic of inclusivity, I came upon the words of two of my favorite people, Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah. Here are some insights regarding the term inclusivity.

Thich Nhat Hanh described inclusivity with the verbs “accept and embrace.” This embrace idea connects with Verna Myers’ thought of dancing…close, personal, human…This made me think that inclusivity means not just letting someone in the door, but giving them a hug too. Also, these words suggest close, concrete actions and not just a “nice, far away idea.”

In a 2016 Time interview, Oprah revealed that she had dropped the word diversity from her vocabulary in favor of inclusion. She offered this reasoning, “the word that most articulates what we’re looking for is what we want to be: included. It’s to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made.”

So, when you hear about the term inclusivity- think of asking someone to dance. Think about parties you’ve attended. The people on the dance floor usually seem to be having the most fun.  

 

Let’s Get Critical

Last year I went in depth on one of the most overlooked assessment tools, rubrics. My feelings and thoughts on that important tool have not changed, but rather than repeat myself this year I want to talk about a different type of assessment. Specifically, I want to talk about assessing the critical thinking skills of students.

The specificLightbulb critical thinking ability I have been working on is the ability to analyze and attack a strongly held personal belief. The idea being that a good critical thinker should be able to understand opposing viewpoints.

I have done this through a series of writing assignments in various forms over many semesters. The most recent iteration is a “Devil’s Advocate” series of assignments where students are required to write a defense of a personal belief one week and write a defense of the opposing viewpoint the next.

The reason I always do this type of assignment is because of my core belief that critical thinking is a skill that will be useful to students no matter their future profession. It is also a skill that is sometimes overlooked in the test-driven performance-centric world of secondary level education.

Think Outside the Box

A word of warning, these types of assignments do have issues that will arise and need to be planned for ahead of time. There inevitably is always a group of students who absolutely detest this type of work. I had a student go as far as claim I was trying to “force my liberal beliefs” on them through my position of power. That complaint didn’t go anywhere, but it is an example as to how difficult this can be for some individuals. It also is very insightful as to the ability of students to critically think.

I have only recently started to tabulate the data in any real form, and the number of students that are able to successfully “think from the opposing viewpoint” has varied over semesters. The one constant I have noticed in the last decade is that there is always a significant portion of the class (30-50%) that must change their topic or take a sarcastic tone to complete the task, which shows a lack of developed critical thinking ability.

No matter what the final numbers and assessment show, the need to reinforce critical thinking skills at the college level is, well, critical. There are elements of critical thinking that can be taught in any discipline or class, and if every course made an effort to include tasks that require critical thinking skills, the end result would be students who will be better prepared to handle the unknown, problem solve, and appreciate (or at least respect) the “other”.

Education prepares the workforce of the future, politicians, nurses, teachers, managers, everyone that has a job that requires more than a High School diploma. In a world of percentages, having the majority with a solid foundation of critical thinking skills will result in a better world for everyone.

Graduation Photo

If you have assignments that assess critical thinking, or have thoughts about critical thinking in the classroom, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail!

 

The Strength of the Base of the Pillar

As adjunct faculty, our power inside and outside the classroom is like night and day. We are not full-time; our job is always at the whim of funding or enrollment. We don’t advise students or get the chance to participate in most staff meetings. How can someone with so little power have a positive impact on the workplace when they are, by most respects, the lowest member on the totem pole?

The answer is to use the position to your advantage. As an adjunct there is very little danger involved in sharing your ideas or asking questions. You have the advantage of avoiding workplace dynamics, the so-called “water cooler talks” or “he said she said”. As the lowest member on the totem pole, you have the advantage of being part of the team while also being outside of it. It is tough to make enemies as part time staff, so be brave. If you have an idea, go ahead and start talking it over with other adjuncts to see how it is received. If it goes well, suggest it to your advisor or department head. Making suggestions and taking an active part in trying to help those around you will help you shake any feelings of self-doubt you might have. Not all of your ideas might be used right away, but by sharing them, you are showing everyone that you do have ideas, and you do want to help. The other thing you can do is ask questions. You will find that most educators are more than willing to help you in your hour of need. Helping, after all, is part of what defines us as educators. Asking other adjuncts about their ideas or solutions is encouraging to them. When someone comes to you and asks for your help it shows that they have faith in you, that they trust your opinion. Trust and kindness often go hand in hand.

So don’t be afraid to share ideas and ask meaningful questions. By doing these two things a dialogue and community is created. Support others when you see them trying to reach out, and seek out support when you need to. By moving past your fear and realizing the impact you can have, even as an adjunct, you will encourage kindness and understanding in the workplace.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Gong Xi Fa Cai, pronounced “Gong Hey Fat Choy” in Cantonese, means Happy New Year.  It’s a phrase that I learned early on as a small child.  One of the very few and most important phrases my mother taught me in her maiden language.  She’s from Hong Kong and even though she’s been in the states for over 40 years, Chinese New Year is still the most important celebration for my family, it even trumps Christmas and Easter!

This is not surprising though as China considers this their most important holiday.  In fact, it’s also the longest holiday spanning 15 days total!  Every year is celebrated on a different day since the holiday is based on the ancient lunar calendar, which translates to sometime between January and February.  The tradition started as early as the 14th century B.C. and is still celebrated traditionally today even though China adopted the western calendar.  This year is the year of the sheep although you may hear it being called goat or ram as well.  Since the Chinese language has so many different translations all are used depending on the region you are in.

My family observes several traditions and superstitions which are both hilarious and heartwarming.  These tend to include a very large dinner with only very close friends and family, not washing your hair, cleaning before the New Year, and sleeping with money under your pillow.  My mother will cook traditional dishes including a whole steamed fish, shrimps & scallops, bok choy, sea moss, black mushrooms and other favorites.  The significance in these dishes range from long life to prosperity for the new year. Lucky money is given to all the children for luck and good fortune.  The money is placed in highly decorated red envelopes and then given on both the eve and day of the New Year.  We place the envelopes under our pillow and open them the next day.  I still look forward to my envelope every year!

If you get the opportunity, wish someone a Happy New Year.  It is such an important event to Asians and has so much meaning and tradition associated with it that I’m sure you’ll get a smile in return!!

 

The Beauty of GCC

As this New Year came I found myself needing to make changes and one of those changes was to get out of my chair during the day and walk the campus.  I have found that not only are the walks a good form of physical exercise, but it also has been personally and intellectually stimulating.  If you have ever have the opportunity to explore our campus you will find many lovely little spots. One of my current favorite spots is a mixed bed of flowers that grow in a riot of stunning shades and sizes.

Like the flowers there’s another wonderful spot I enjoy, which is on the main mall.  The other day I took a moment to sit out under the umbrellas and listen for a while.  I soon noticed that as people passed by I could hear several exquisite languages.   I then began to look up and down the mall and I saw all types of beautiful people, from all over the world.  I was filled with an understanding that although our world is in turmoil we of all ages, origins, religions, socioeconomic stratum, etc., can come together and enjoy the “flowers” of this educational institution.