June 10, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Part I

I wish I could say Summer Reading has started for me for real. However, it seems to be overlapping with cleaning up Spring Term (which was rough) and starting my Summer Session class. I have theme for last week: women in science.

I read Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys Club followed by Rachel Swaby's Headstrong: 52 Women that Changed Science and the World. Very different books. Glad I read both and one after the other. I'm plotting on how to get as many students in our county as possible to read Swaby's book.

The Only Women in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys' Club by Eileen Pollack

I'm glad to see that Penguin Random House has this book listed as biography/memoir, because my main disappointment with this book is that I was expecting something different. When I received the advanced review copy the book was listed as nonfiction with no other specifier. Given how the book was described I expected more analysis exploring the question of why science is still a boys' club. Because of this, I was impatient with the first two thirds of the book because it was the author's personal narrative from early schooling through graduate school. The last third of the book she goes back and interviews teachers and peers from her past to see what their perspectives were (What did her teachers think about her abilities? Or about women in physics generally? What did other female students in the sciences experience?), as well as interviewing some successful women in science (Note: Author gets major kudos for noting that Meg Urry sounds a lot like Meg Murry.)

So I definitely would suggest this book if you are interested in better understanding many women's experience in science (from young children in school to trained professionals), but go into it knowing that Pollack is sharing her experience as the foundation for asking questions and exploring a complex issue. Recommendation: This is a validating book for women who have had similar experiences. Like me. [At a former men's only private high school, I was one of three women in AP Chemistry... somehow we were all dropped from the course within 3 weeks. I ended up in a course where the man who was teaching said, "I'm sure you're good at English or Art or Foreign Languages." [Gee, thanks. By the way, I wasn't.] In college, as a double major in Physical Anthropology & Human Biology and then Russian Language & Linguistics, a chemistry (again!) teacher asked me why if I was studying anthropology I needed chemistry, "surely social scientists don't need chemistry..." Just want to say, I had an awesome Honors Bio professor in college who was a renaissance sort of person who wanted us to connect scientific inquiry and knowledge with the arts and humanities and would call out sexism and discrimination without any compunction. But that person was the exception, not the norm.] I also wish some (not to be further specified male family members who don't read very often) would read this book so they would understand how wide the chasm of understanding is when they say something like, "Women have the right to vote, so there already is equality." It is the small, pervasive stuff that drags you down... well, that and people in the privileged group not have any idea that your experience isn't the same as theirs.

Here we are with 7000 different posts and articles about getting more women into the STEM fields in the US... It sounds like a priority. I hope those interested read Pollack's book. Just throwing money at women in science programs is not the same as fundamentally changing men and women's social expectations.

Pollack's Only Woman in the Room will be out in mid September. Not quite summer reading, but here is a taste of Pollack's writing:
Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? by Eileen Pollack, The New York Times, Oct 3, 2013

Headstrong: 52 Women that Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby

Onward! I loved this book. Watch out family and friends, you may get a copy for whichever holiday with requisite gift-giving comes first. And if you are not a ready reader, Swaby was nice enough to organize this book in short chapters featuring one person, and she notes that there are 52, so you can spread them out across the year. Nice try. I made it two days.

Rachel Carson
I appreciated the author's voice in how she described these women, and also how she chose to contextualize these people's experience since she is focusing on women from the 1700s through the 2000s. Part of contextualizing their experience involves highlighting important relationships (some with research partners, mentors, formative experiences learning and working along side parents, and some were spouses), because life is all about relationships, and honestly, when not made invisible, so is science. Swaby highlights how these women standout for their accomplishments (even when they weren't or haven't been given much credit), but she does so without hero-izing them to the extent that are seen as separate from their time and context. These women are exceptional people in terms of their curiosity, vision, dedication, focus, drive, or likely some combination of those. What sets them apart from similarly exceptional male peers is that they had more road blocks to their learning, research, and professional engagement and acceptance. [Insert familiar quotation about Ginger Rogers here.]

Sally Ride
Sort of freaks me out how many of these women worked as instructors or professors in academia without getting paid... that seemed quite common. Or just being denied jobs or entrance into doctoral programs. Denied lab space. Or if you go back far enough, a man would have present their data or findings for it to be taken seriously. Or that one person who decided to marry a friend because she knew he supported education for women, so she could get out from under her father's thumb, be married, but married to someone that would support her goals. Kinda hard for me to relate to either my father or a husband so overtly having that power. While reading I kept doing the grandmother test, which is how I anchor history for myself. I think how old would my grandmother be at that time? Is this women in her generation or her mother's generation ... or my mother's generation?

Jane Wright
                           Biography on Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, National Library of Medicine

So when you read this book, imagine what it would be like to have had these women and their experience as just a normal old part of your history books, science classes, and primary school (on through) education. I know Rachel Carson, Barbara McClintock, Sally Ride, Ada Lovelace, Florence Nightingale, Rosalind Franklin, and Heddy Lamarr get airtime in other places, but really, what do you know about them other than maybe their name and roughly what they might be noteworthy for?
Hedy Lamarr
By the way, Florence Nightingale is not on the list as the parent of modern nursing or as the iconic image of a nurse tending wounded and sick soldiers during wartime, but because she was a data hawk and statistician.

One other decision that Swaby made was to only include women who are no longer alive. I think this was a good idea. Any currently living women in science who have similar achievements will have to be wait to be in Headstrong Part 2 or 3 or 4.

I definitely think this book should be on your summer reading list. Enjoy.

Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Winner, Dies at 103 by Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 2012

Just in case you missed this:

Nobel scientist Tim Hunt: female scientists cause trouble for men in labs on June 10, 2015 UK News on The Guardian.com. Falling love and tears. Wonder what Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini would have said to that?

May 31, 2015

Service Learning Pitfalls I

"What's with whoring us out to community partners?"

Teacher fail.

Yep. Someone actually asked me that in a 300-level course when I solicited feedback after a service-learning project. Upon reflection the comment shouldn't have surprised me. The student wasn't one of our majors. I let him into a course that generally only serves students in our program. Therefore unlike other students in the class, he missed years of explanation for why we value service-learning and have different types of community engagement experiences woven throughout our program providing skill-building in a developmental sequence. It is all by design, which makes thinking of it as "whoring out" really startling. Fortunately, the other students in the class understood what program faculty mean when we use the SL/CE acronym (Service Learning & Community Engagement), and also they understand why we value it both for improving their learning and for supporting our community partners. And they could explain it to their classmate...

New to the idea of SL/CE?: What & Why: Service Learning and Community Engagement (earlier post)

Collaborative Projects & Mutual Benefit

In the 300-level Social Psychology course where I got the "whoring out" comment, small groups of students were matched up with community partners and used social psych principles to design a fund-raiser or a public service campaign for the partnering organization based on the organization's needs. The community partners get some assistance with designing and (if time allows) implementing a campaign, but they also spend their time teaching us about their organization and its goals, the challenges they have accomplishing certain projects or getting certain messages out (given limited time, resources, knowledge). Throughout the term they consult and give feedback as students work on their campaign project. Community partners and their organizations benefit, but they definitely invest their time and share their knowledge too. Students benefit from these projects that have all the messiness of real world constraints and challenges and the time and care needed for successful collaborations.

As a teacher, I am acutely aware that even though we (students and I) help the community partner with a project, the community partner is taking their time to help educate us. In these collaborations, we're all contributing our time and service, but we also should all be gaining from the experience. I'm so steeped in all the Maine Campus Compact trainings that I take for granted how SL/CE projects benefit students far beyond what tests and papers alone can accomplish. So, I tend to be more concerned about making sure our community partners feel that these projects are invigorating and beneficial.

This is why even with community partners work with us annually, I alway check to see if they have time in the upcoming term. Major project and grant deadlines and staffing changes happen. When a community partner says, "Not this fall... but next year definitely", I understand. Community partners' time is just as valuable as students' time, and the more intensive the project, the more time is required from all of us. These projects and collaborations are not thoughtless. I don't want students or community partners feeling used, drained, or exploited. That would be an unacceptable teacher fail. One way to prevent this is cultivating an expectation of feedback and reflection, sharing my own feedback and soliciting others', and having the group utilize the feedback gathered.

By definition, our local model of SL/CE is that these collaborations include students, faculty, and the community partner; however, depending on the nature and level of the project, one or the other group may have more responsibility. Some projects are a single meeting event or organized ahead of time by the faculty member and community partner. This is usually the case for SL/CE projects in 100-level courses where we are trying to build awareness and basic skills. By the time students are doing their Senior Project, the teacher steps back and the focus is on the student and community partner. The teacher is still involved in a consultative role, as are the students' peers in class.

It should come as no surprise that the major set of intended learning outcomes associated with most of our SL/CE experiences is based on practicing skills needed for successful collaborations. These include listening for multiple perspectives, improving ones own communication skills (for clarity), conflict resolution, planning, leadership skills, and giving and receiving feedback (and utilizing it!). Students frequently complain (or sigh) about group projects, but for most of us after college group work is the norm, not the exception. Group projects are not teachers' way of torturing students. They are more of a lab for life after college than students may realize.

[...Says me who just had one of those cringe-worthy experiences where I had to decide between ultimately withdrawing from the group or steam rolling the person who was put in a leadership position despite their lack of skills (which is my perspective on the issue). Major dilemma. And I thought a great deal about what I would say to students in this situation (could I follow my own advice?), tried a few different productive angles to address my concerns with the group, and then ultimately decided it wasn't worth my time. See? This stuff doesn't go away.]

You know who you usually are. :) 

Other student benefits of SL/CE projects (when the teacher facilitates them well):

  • Major networking opportunities: You know people after these projects. They may become internship supervisors or Senior Project partners. They become viable references for future employment opportunities. And I swear that employers would rather have a volunteer/internship supervisor reference than an academic reference from faculty. Faculty (at big schools) might only be able to report on attendance and grades, which doesn't transfer into job settings the same way punctuality, work ethic, ability to work in groups, leadership skills, responsibility and ethical behaviors, etc. do. Don't discredit the notion of networking and building connections within the community. [I used to when I was younger because I was uncomfortable meeting people. I got over that and definitely understand how important social connections are, so much so I'm trying to help students appreciate it much earlier than I did.

  • Sense of purpose and impact: Come on, be honest, you think of your teacher as the sole audience for your papers and tests, right? As a group, we're not a very inspiring audience. Your efforts don't make a change in your community when you take a test or write a paper for your teacher... but in a SL/CE project you have a "real" audience and goal for your work. Your efforts make an impact. Sometimes that impact is small, but that doesn't mean that is not vital or appreciated.

  • You end up ahead in your learning (as compared to book and test/paper classes): When the academic learning is applied in the "real" world (outside your classroom) and is dynamic and collaborative, not only do you learn more in terms of practical collaboration skills, but the relevant academic content is more likely to "stick" rather than just be forgotten at the end of the term. 

Tide Mill Chicken Hoop House

Recent SL/CE - Farm Visits with ELA 112

So, this idea that SL/CE is "free labor" to community partners comes up now and then (Thanks Fb!) and reminds me to write these posts and talk more to my core classes that have students who aren't in our Psychology & Community Studies program. This last Friday students from my ELA 112 Community & Place (subtitled Food & Community) went to Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds, Maine. Watching during the day, I have to think that the number of folks who enjoyed themselves and look engaged far outnumbered the few that maybe didn't enjoy or get the value of our time there. But I still need to have this conversation about why SL/CE and that students' time is not free labor (and why it is value-added learning.) SL/CE is collaborative. When these projects are working well we all contribute and benefit.

The question of who gives more and who benefits more on farm visits is tricky for me. I know farm work is 24/7/365. No ability to clock out. When a farmer or farm staff gives us their time, something else on the farm is not getting done. We had Carly Delsignore of Tide Mill, Daphne, and Regina Grabrovac of Wash Co Farm to School and the Gleaning Project with us during the three hours visit talking with us about the farm and local food systems, answer questions, and teaching us to prepare organic vegetable beds and plant onions. I'm not hearing free labor in that. I'm hearing an exchange, in which I still think we (students and I) got more about of it than the community partners in this case. Luckily, most of our community partners also see outreach and education as part of their personal and professional role too. This is especially true for those who work on food systems issues like increasing farming and local food production/distribution, food insecurity, increasing nutrition and healthy food consumption, and concern for environmental impacts of food production practices.

When I read through the ELA 112 students' posts (from last time I taught the course and this time) a common theme was surprise at the business aspect of farming, including that work was on the animals or crops' time, which is impacted by uncontrollable and unpredictable things like the weather. [Not at all like a 9-5 job in a cube.] And that farming is a lot of work and expensive, so even when farms are doing well financially (and are successful from the outside), they may not be making as much money in profit as people would suspect because the expenses associated with small scale farms (feed, equipment, labor, utilities, vet bills, shipping livestock for processing, etc.). These are important points for students to realize. Most of the time, students (and others) will say organic food and/or local food is too expensive. I'm sympathetic to that, but as we go through the course hopefully we unpack factors that contribute to the sense that organic/local food is too expensive, why conventional/industrial food is so seemingly inexpensive, and where the costs have been externalized to allow conventional/industrial food to be sold for low prices. Hearing from a local farmer who is committed to local and organic food helps students understand the choices that are made and the associated tradeoffs.

Remember this? Thank yous to community partners from another term: Food & Community Thank You Notes (2013) Big thank you this year to Carly at Tide Mill and Regina! More to come.

3 day old chick from Tide Mill

Thank Yous

Big thank you this year to Carly at Tide Mill and Regina! You guys are great!

January 22, 2015

Thanks G Stanley

That is a picture of G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924). He was an American psychologist who I think we have to thank inserting the "storm and stress" version of adolescence into the American discourse on human development. I'm kinda irritated with him, which is probably unfair. I think the idea of adolescence as a time of risky behavior, conflict with your parents, and moodiness is a well-loved script now, even if it professionally fell out of favor because it doesn't affect everyone (or even most people) within society or across cultures. Erik Erikson, another psychologist, and/or a misinterpretation of his work also contribute to the broadcast US society's role for adolescents. You've heard the phrase "identity crisis?" That's his. I wished he used a different word. Crisis seems so loaded. Thank you psychoanalytic theory. For some reason, now it sounds like someone is going to burst in two or feel like crap and completely fall apart, though I don't think that was what Erikson was going for.

Identity Crisis: When you speak another language?

I'm about to start my PSY 324 Lifespan II class. I start by asking students what they already know about adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood. Their answers are really freaking predictable. We've all absorbed media-supported, G. Stanley Hall and Erikson inspired folk beliefs (which can conveniently be used to get you to purchase things). What kills me every time is how much people seem to love those ideas. But hey, a period of time where you are sort of aimless, enjoying partying, don't have to really figure out what you need/want to do... maybe that sounds good. Yet the price of that idea is that you aren't responsible or mature, and you are not to be taken seriously. So, why did you take out those students loans? If people needed 4 years of experience in the world, surely there are cheaper ways of getting that then paying for college and goofing off. Perhaps this seems harsh and unfair, but non-trad and trads know these scripts. Sometimes they happily identify with them or sheepishly. Other times they resent the implications.

Thank you Hollywood. (That was sarcasm.)

Don't confuse having lots of options and opportunities with not knowing who you are. Don't confuse disagreeing with other people as aimless "conflict with authority figures." Definitely don't dismiss your feelings as moodiness. Go ahead and wrestle with ideas and possibilities and your feelings. That is probably part of the life the whole way through. [Of course, if you're not leaving your room and shutting down that's a problem.]

Another crappy side-effect of the synergy of poorly applied developmental psych and consumerism is that adulthood is becoming something to be avoided or disdained. That is a useful script for some people... Now that the problem has been created you can be sold the solution.

Here you go men! Apparently you too should plastic well into your... 30s and 40s...

Did I jump too far away from developmental psych as a field? Am I in sociology-land? Or just social criticism-land... veering off down personal opinion side roads? Just checking. The other reason why these fairly predictable conversations bug me is how damaging certain popular beliefs are, especially within their invisible and ever-present social and commercial context. We are going to age, if we're lucky, and hopefully mature too. I'd rather go the other direction and anticipate and revel in it than dread and fight it. This is not dispassionate observation.

Is this just adulthood? Or adulthood in a certain society at a certain time in history?
As for older adulthood, what representations and ideas do you have about people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond?
Meet Barbara Beskind. She says "Embrace change and design for it."
NPR's story on Barbara Beskind: At 90, She's Designing Tech For Aging Boomers