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THE ISSUE OF RESPONSIBILITY IN THE TEACHING AND LEARNING OF PSYCHOLOGY
by Irvin Brown, Humanities & Social Science
It would appear that few issues are more central to the study of human psychology than that of personal responsibility. Yet this core aspect of people’s behavior is not always addressed explicitly and given the level of attention in psychology textbooks that some of us believe it deserves. The fact that responsibility is this year’s college theme encourages me, however, to highlight the subject in my classes and to acknowledge its relevance in almost all areas of human functioning. Because of the uniquely human ability to plan and to anticipate the consequences of our actions, we are inclined to hold ourselves and each other accountable for our words and deeds; this includes the failure to act, or to speak out, when such is called for. Having, as we do, the capacity for self-directed action (which ranks with language as one of the defining features of humanity), we encourage, expect, and sometimes even enforce responsible behavior on the part of individuals. We understand, at least implicitly, that personal and social responsibility is integral to the very fabric of society.
Much philosophical and legal discussion could be had about exactly when people are, and are not, responsible for their conduct or for the welfare of others. But such is not my intent presently. Here I appeal to agreed upon and widely understood conceptions of responsibility—leaving the grey areas for others, or at least for other occasions. Most would concur that parents should take responsibility for their young children’s welfare, that college students should be responsible for doing their own school work, that the more fortunate should aid or at least take interest in the plight of the less fortunate, and that functionaries in institutions should function (roles and responsibilities, as we say around CFCC). The point is simply that the issue of responsibility is all but ubiquitous in human conduct. To incorporate the subject into my courses requires mainly that I make explicit that which is implicit in so much of what we already teach in psychology courses.
Let me begin with the Human Growth and Development course, which lends itself quite readily to discussions of personal responsibility. In this class students learn about the ways in which people develop or, as our text states, how people change and stay the same throughout the life cycle. The areas in which people develop include the physical, cognitive (mental) and psychosocial domains. In studying the human life cycle, we explore these three domains of development at each stage of life, from birth to death. In doing so, it is always interesting to identify thematic topics, such as gender roles or play, and examine the evolution of their meaning at each of the different junctures in the life cycle. Thus, it is only natural to add the college theme of responsibility to this year’s list.
It is during infancy, the first two years of life, that the foundation for personal responsibility is laid. During the second half of infancy children develop—along with locomotion skills, language and enduring emotional attachments—something called self-awareness. Self-awareness, which provides the basis for such emotional experiences as pride and shame, is also the basis for human agency. Children between one and two years are not only able to effect changes in their environments; they become aware that they are the doers. They may take delight in switching lights on and off, or they may enjoy enticing adults into playing peek-a-boo or hide-n-seek, those primal games that some may continue playing, albeit in altered form, even into their adulthood. Children also take a special liking to words that serve to express their new found self-hood, words like “no” and “mine.”
Self-awareness and human agency provide the basis for personal responsibility. One of the first areas in which children are held accountable for their conduct is potty training. Although most present day psychologists do not find the
topic as sexy as Freud did, most would agree that this is a notable
responsibility we place on children. There is every reason to believe that this
significant initiation into human society should be lovingly handled.
When children reach the play years, also called the preschool years, more is expected of them personally and socially. Although their play is indeed their work (as Piaget said, it promotes development in all areas), parents do begin to encourage such responsibilities as picking up one’s toys, playing fair and cooperatively, and feeding oneself. Although children generally need encouragement in these areas, by now potty training is usually completed, and most parents expect their year two and three-year old children to be responsible for themselves. In this and other areas we begin to hear preschoolers proclaim, “I did it,” or in completing tasks that warrant special pride, “I did it all by myself!”
During the play years children in North America and elsewhere are also encouraged in areas of learning that will prepare them for school. Once they begin the school years, children are confronted with increasingly higher levels of academic and social responsibility. At home chores and other responsibilities increase as well, although parents vary enormously in just how much responsibility they require of their children.
By adolescence, that peculiar period of transition between childhood and adulthood, the issue of responsibility takes on special significance. The responsibilities that go along with sexual maturity are well known. Handing responsibility over to teens regarding the range of high risk behaviors that can tempt them is scary for parents. Teens are often baffled by hearing, on the one hand, that it is time for them to be more responsible and mature, yet, on the other hand, being told what they can and cannot do. Parents, in turn, are often frustrated by teenagers’ desire “to have their cake and eat it too.” That is, they want to be independent but they also want parental support, financial and otherwise, for pursuing that independence.
It is in early adulthood (ages 20-40), however, that people are faced with the task of true independence and the attendant responsibilities. Often the taste of independence becomes less appealing as young people begin to take on the responsibilities of preparing themselves for a career and the possibility of marriage and familyhood. By middle adulthood (ages 40-65) the expectation is that people will have reached a plateau in their careers and stability in their family lives. Because this is the stable generation we are struck by mid-life crises (which have much to do with responsibility for self and others). Mid life is also called the “sandwich generation” because mid lifers are often pressed between the needs of young adult children and aging parents. Responsibility demands are at their highest. For better or for worse, most of the people that hold leadership positions in the larger society are within this age group.
Late adulthood (age 65 on) brings its own set of responsibilities, even as career and other such responsibilities decrease with retirement. With grandchildren, child rearing becomes decidedly less of a responsibility, and sometimes less responsible, as grandparents spoil their grandchildren and then send them home. On the other hand, there is the responsibility for aging gracefully—perhaps even sage-ing, as some have termed it. Finding integrity, or wholeness, as Erik Erikson put it, becomes the primary challenge of the last season in the life cycle.
Human development, and shifts in responsibility, continues until the very end of life. Numerous issues of family responsibility arise as other family members age to the point of frailty. Who is to take responsibility for caring for the frail elderly? How is one to balance elder care with competing responsibilities? What is the responsibility of the larger society and specific institutions? How might personal and institutional responsibilities conflict in the area of elder care, and elsewhere? Who will make end of life decisions? Living wills, durable power of attorney, euthanasia, and assisted suicide are all matters in which responsibility is a central issue.
As for the General Psychology course, which includes a section on Human Development, there is also no shortage of opportunities to discuss responsibility. Consider, for example, the area of psychology called Health Psychology, which is focused on the relationship between behavior and health. Here students learn about the extent to which today’s fatal diseases, including heart disease, AIDS, and cancer are related to lifestyle. To live a healthy lifestyle is all but synonymous with living a responsible lifestyle.
Another topic in General Psychology in which the issue of responsibility is prominent is Abnormal Psychology. One way of characterizing mental disorders is that they deprive people of personal agency, making the responsibility of caring for the severely disturbed a major cause for concern. The distinction between mental disorder and insanity is also of special interest. Insanity is a legal term that is to be applied when a person is judged (in a court of law) not
to be responsible for a violation of the law. Thus, a person can be judged to be legally sane, and held accountable for harming another person, even when the perpetrator has been diagnosed as having a mental disorder. Such is commonly the case with antisocial personalities, like Ted Bundy and Kenneth Bianchi. On the other hand, a person with no history of mental disorder may be judged to be legally insane if some event (e.g., an accidentally ingested substance) renders the person incapable of self-control and responsible decision making.
A final area of general psychology in which the issues of agency and personal responsibility are especially noteworthy is Social Psychology. Research in this field is known for uncovering the power of social influence and revealing that human behavior is often not as self-directed as many like to believe. The famous Milgram experiments on obedience, studies of conformity, and the Zimbardo prison experiment all challenge the cherished Western belief in individuality and self-direction. In Zimbardo’s prison experiment, thirty years ago, psychologically healthy Stanford students were transformed into brutal, sadistic guards and dejected, defeated prisoners after but a few days of playing these roles. The parallels between this experiment and what took place recently in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq did not go unnoticed by careful observers.
According to social psychologists, we all make what is called “the fundamental attribution error.” We tend to overestimate the importance of personal factors in judging how people will behave and underestimate the power of situational influences. Even psychiatrists who were asked before the Milgram study was conducted to estimate what percentage of people will deliver the maximum amount of electrical shock said that less than 1% would—only the sadists. Milgram found, to the surprise of many, that 66% of normal everyday people went all the way in delivering the maximum amount of electrical shock (while in the underappreciated role of teachers trying to facilitate another subject’s learning—another subject who was not truly being shocked).
Other studies have looked at diffusion of responsibility, including how people are not as likely to help others who are in need when there is a large group of other people present. Also anonymity—subjects in a Milgram type experiment, who were allowed to wear hoods, were much more willing to harm others than those whose identity was known. It should be mentioned, however, that even small changes in situations can result in dramatic shifts toward people taking impressive levels of responsibility for helping others. As long as people have the capacity for agency and personal responsibility we can hope for and even promote circumstances that bring out their best. Research shows that when people are asked in advance to keep an eye on someone else’s belongings, for example, they will consistently challenge another person’s attempt to steal the watched over items. These findings contrast sharply with the level of apathy people exhibit towards the same attempted theft if not asked to help out. The point is simply that we cannot appeal to or depend on personal factors alone (i.e., virtue) in encouraging the best in others, or in ourselves.
I usually ask my students to reflect upon what these studies in social psychology suggest about the general theories they have studied in the course: Freud’s view that human beings are ruled by aggressive and sexual impulses from the unconscious; the behaviorist view that behavior is shaped entirely by people’s environments; the humanistic view that people are basically good and have free will and choice; the cognitive view that we are best understood in terms of how we think and process information; the biological view that human behavior is rooted in neurological and other biological processes; and the sociocultural view that behavior must be understood in its cultural context. Students generally see the relevance and necessity of each of these approaches in capturing the complexity of human behavior. With a bit of assistance they also appreciate that the different perspectives have much to do with different takes on who or what is responsible for our behavior.
I now turn to my Special Topics courses, in which the issue of responsibility is especially intriguing, at least from the teacher’s perspective. The first course is Introduction to Marriage and Family therapy. The field of family therapy emerged in the 1950s as a reaction against the idea of individual pathology. Innovative and free thinking representatives from the fields of psychiatry, social work, psychology, anthropology and communications came together around the idea that problems in relationships are at the heart of human dysfunction and pathology, rather than intra-psychic events or other personal factors. When the founders of family therapy began seeing mentally disturbed patients with their families, an interesting relationship between family communication problems and patient symptoms was revealed. This discovery resulted in a shift to systems thinking. Drawing upon the recent work on both cybernetic and natural systems models the pioneers of family therapy began to conceptualize and treat patients’ symptoms as resulting from patterns of interaction in the family system. In the classical case of a child who misbehaves at school, family therapists are less inclined to look into the child’s psyche, than into family relationships. Interesting things sometimes emerge, like parents who only agree with each other, and work together, when their child’s obstreperous conduct gets him into trouble.
Family therapists became especially enamored by the idea of circular causality as an alternative explanation to linear, or simple cause-effect, explanations. In the classic example of linear causality, a wife complains about her husband’s drinking, and insists that this is the reason she nags him. He, on the other hand, claims that he drinks because of her nagging. From the perspective of circular causality, the couple’s behavior is likely to be reciprocally related, with his drinking influencing her to nag and her nagging influencing him to drink. The implications for personal responsibility are rather obvious. Each would be encouraged to go beyond blaming the other, in order to appreciate the role of his or her own behavior in their troubled relationship.
The issue of personal responsibility took center stage about fifteen years into family therapy’s history, with the emergence of the feminist critique. Systems theory and the concept of circular causality came under attack by Rachel Hare-Mustin, and others, for overlooking the imbalance of power often found in relationships. A power imbalance (physical, financial, etc.) frequently haracterizes male-female relationships in families, as well as parent-child relationships. When people do not have equal power there is not the type of reciprocity described by circular causality and systems theory. This observation becomes especially relevant to understanding domestic violence, in the form of wife battering and child abuse. Feminist informed family therapists insist that there is no reciprocity, nor equal responsibility, in such relationships. One’s degree of responsibility is to be reckoned according to one’s response-ability, or ability to respond.
The feminist critique not only brought more awareness of the role of power in family dynamics, it also encouraged more awareness of the broader social context in both family relations and individual functioning. As one author put it, wife battering and other forms of male abuse against women can only thrive in a society that endorses male dominance and patriarchy. Intervention at the family systems level was no longer seen as sufficient for solving problems that have larger societal origins. Change is also needed in the range of social institutions, including the various media, which promote the “toxic cultural narratives” of male superiority and the objectification of women’s bodies.
Finally, I make passing mention of my Psychology of Religion class, where issues of responsibility abound. It is a class that focuses on the human side of the God-person equation. How people relate to and are affected by religion is of more concern than systematic study of the content of religious teachings (Drs. Olsen, Cooper and others take care of that). Students discover in this class that everything they have learned about human psychology is relevant to understanding the religious pursuit, including personal responsibility. One might ask, first of all, how is personal responsibility, as a concept and as an everyday practical demand, affected by belief in a higher form of agency? I have often said that I know of no religion in which God does all the work, or in which the devil can be blamed for all of our blunders. Yet our history of hiding behind religion to promote our virtuousness, and blaming religion, to detract from our collective vices, is legendary, if not notorious. There is no escape, however much grace and genuine inspiration is ours to celebrate, from taking responsibility for understanding ourselves and managing our lives. The value of studying psychology derives from the fact that we can only know what lies beyond ourselves through ourselves as the medium for knowing. Everything, from our common sensory systems and perceptual mechanisms to our unique personalities, provide both barriers and conduits to what lies beyond us.
Let me end, however, not on a soap box, but back at the podium. What, we should ask, does the research in this field show about the relationship between religiosity and personal or social responsibility? The benefits of religious belief and practice have been fairly well documented in the area of personal health (a recent issue of The American Psychologist was devoted to the topic). Researchers are now concerned about identifying exactly what aspects of belief and practice account for lower rates of heart disease and the like. It is also well known that people who practice their religious faith are less likely to use illicit drugs or to engage in sexually promiscuous behavior (though some of my students wisely question these self-report studies).
In the case of prosocial behavior the jury is still out. None of the studies to date show religious persons to be any more likely to play the Good Samaritan than non religious persons (which does not contradict the Biblical account). Generally speaking, the extant research supports the idea that being religious is less important in promotingprosocial behavior than the manner inwhich people are religious. People who are intrinsically (internally) motivated, for example, in their religious pursuits show less racial prejudice than those who are extrinsically (externally) motivated. On some measures of prosocial behavior, hit and miss church goers fare less well than either faithful attendees or non-believers. Some patterns appear to emerge. Nonetheless, there is much research yet to be done in this re-emerging subfield of psychology, including a pressing need to go beyond the Judeo-Christian context. I share these observations to facilitate thought and discussion, not to—heaven forbid—draw final conclusions.
Hidden Stories of Panama
by Judy Haisten, Communications
Mention the name Panama to most world traveler’s and the Panama Canal is what usually comes to mind. Why not? Built in the days of Teddy Roosevelt, the Panama Canal still holds the record as one of the prevailing engineering feats of all time. The engineering technology developed and tested in building this modern day wonder of the world still impacts us today. For instance, the exact ratio for making cement was defined by those building the locks. Before this time, cement making was a relatively new and unstudied area of construction. The locks are over a thousand feet long and were constructed in the United States before they were transported in sections to the tropical worksite where they were pieced together. Much of the construction and engineering technology taken for granted today was discovered and refined with the building of the Panama Canal.
But the country of Panama is much more than the host of the Canal connecting two great oceans; it is a country rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Some of the world’s greatest dramas that were played out in the jungles and beaches of this tropical paradise rival any other event recorded in history. Yet, like the thick jungle brush that covers most of Panama, many of the stories are hidden …
Pirates! Images of glittering gold, splattering rum, and swashbuckling Johnny Depp come to mind (at least in this author’s mind). Sir Francis Drake and Sir Henry Morgan were only two of the notorious pirates that pillaged the Spaniards and the people of Panama. In 1699 Lionel Wafer, an English surgeon turned pirate, published an account of his experiences in the book New Voyages and Description of the Isthmus of Panama. This important reference provides detailed descriptions of the natural history and people of these times.
The pirates’ interest in this territory is understandable. After the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, vast quantities of gold were transported to Spain passing through Panama. The Spaniards would unload the ships from South America in Old Panama (the Spanish city founded in 1519), pack the gold and silver on mules for the overland trail across the Isthmus and reload ships on the Atlantic side to continue on to Spain. More gold passed through this country than in anywhere else in the world. For some 200 years Panama was the most important trading center for Spain as well as other countries. Two forts were built on the Atlantic side to protect trade from the constant threat of pirates. The ruins of Ft. San Lorenzo and Portobelo are reminders of the magnificent military architecture of the 17 th and 18 th century. To this day, gold seekers still comb the old overland trail (Camino de Las Cruces) looking for hidden gold.
The history of Panama does not really begin with Christopher Columbus who discovered the isthmus on his fourth trip to the Americas any more than the history of New England begins with the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. Archeologists have uncovered a civilization in Panama dating back 11,000 years. These scientists have learned a lot about the various native tribes of the prehistoric societies. Some of these Indian groups were fishermen, some farmers, some nomads. Some were even headhunters! Research has shown that large hierarchical social systems were formed that had sophisticated economic networks. Descendent families of these tribes still live in the jungles today, and my tour guide/driver/father was able to procure a canoe and crew to take us upriver for a little National Geographic experience.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is the largest research facility in Panama. Scientists from all over the world participate in the various programs, fellowships, activities provided there. The Institute is well developed and has labs in many parts of the country. Besides archaeology, scientist are studying topics like environmental issues, forest ecology, biodiversity, tropical rain forest, molecular evolution, paleoecology, plant physiology, tropical marine ecology, and tropical diseases. The vast research carried on there is not to be undermined. I interviewed two scientists; one (from Canada) who was studying the Harpy Eagle, and the other, (from Germany) who was studying the Cutter Ant. Both of these scientists talked about the remarkable sense of camaraderie and collaboration they found in fellow researchers from all over the world housed at the Institute. To learn more about the work, click on to www.stri.org , where various programs are explained.
Florida State also has a branch campus in Balboa, Panama. These classes are taught in English, and students live very close to the campus. American students can study a variety of majors in an international setting. While FSU has been there a long time, other American universities are setting up branch campuses there as well.
My co-travelers and I explored all parts of Panama, and I learned so much of what this paradise has to offer. Visitors can experience Panama City, a cosmopolitan city offering all the comforts and luxuries found in other modern cities (unfortunately, this budget did not afford that kind of trip), or visitors may choose to experience the extreme and stay in a Bohio type hotel complete with bare floors, grass roofs, and Geckos (ours happened to be accessible by boat only).
Except for the one night that we stayed on this tiny island occupied by the Cuna Indians, for the most part we were quite comfortable at the modern Comfort Inn situated on the banks of Panama Canal and on the former US military base of Amador.
While there, we were also able to learn about how the country was faring since the American Canal Zone and all military bases have left. In some ways, Panama is doing quite well, and in others, the American presence is acutely missed. One of the unexpected consequences is the increased drug traffic from South America to the United States. When the American military was a viable force there, the DEA curtailed much of the drug trade. Without that principal stopping point, drug cartels are able to move much more illegal substances in our country. Another weakness is the caring for the Tropical Rain Forest that the United States had vigilantly maintained. Yet Panama is running the canal with great efficiency and has even won several maritime awards. This country is working on the other concerns. Panama, both the country and the people, welcome American citizens both as tourists and residents, and we were treated with much respect and courtesy.
I am truly grateful to the Communications Division for their support with funding from the CFCC Foundation Attie Brannon Endowed Chair in Communications and the Teaching/Learning Institute for professional development funds allowing me to research this country from which I plan to develop several power point presentations thus enlivening my Spanish classes.
In February, I will be presenting one of the slide presentations on Panama and answer such burning questions of why I was bartending in a Panamanian Dive, and what I was really thinking that night I stayed on that tiny island.
( The following is an “inside” view of Judy’s trip, taken from an e-mail message sent from Panama to Diann Stowers and Sandy Pell )
Attie G. Branan Award
Trip to Panama City
Hi Sandy and Diann:
I did not plan very well. I decided to cut costs. I changed hotels
Bathroom to new hotel
Took a part time job
Just kidding. Actually, I am working very hard.
Kaipoe Summer Retreat
by Scott Olsen, Humanities
Held September 7-13 in Little Elephant and Devon, UK, this extremely intense short-course in hands-on compass & straightedge drawings (of root 2, root 3, and golden mean rhombs), 3-dimensional (stick & glue) polyhedron constructions, and a large-scale (10 feet in diameter) group-project construction of a Rhombic Dodecahedron out of bamboo poles, was carefully related to an understanding of Plato’s cosmological writings and recognition of the role of aesthetics in nature, science and the arts. Dr. Keith Critchlow, professor emeritus of the Prince of Wales Institute (and leading student and protégé of the brilliant polymath and renaissance man, Buckminster Fuller), beautifully connected the mathematical constructions and Platonic teachings with the art, architecture and music of the Florentine renaissance, as well as nature’s plant phyllotaxis (i.e., leaf arrangement), and the symphonic and harmonious arrangements of the sizes and orbits of the planets of our solar system. I had hoped for a more exhaustive attempt to relate these principles to the nature and construction of the stone circles of Stonehenge and Averbury, and archaeoastronomical centers like Machu Picchu. But unfortunately, the limited length of the conference only allowed for an overview of the latter. Nevertheless, there were two quite unexpected benefits from this year’s course:
- Brian Goodwin, one of the world’s leading structural evolutionary theorists and author of How the Leopard Changed Its Spots (as well as Director of Graduate Studies at Schumacher College) was present during the Conference. It allowed me to enter into a significant dialogue with him (that shall continue in the future years) over the application of the principles studied during the retreat to the structure of the animal, plant and mineral worlds.
- I was able to arrange for the construction of a polychord for the demonstration of the harmonies of the mathematical musical intervals. When completed, this should assist me greatly by providing the means to give in-class demonstrations of Pythagorean and Platonic harmonic principles.
All in all, I was absolutely stunned by the wealth of practical information I received and will be able to share with my students. Also, I returned with a numbered and signed copy (only 50 were published) of Dr. Keith Critchlow’s portfolio of research material for this Kairos Summer Retreat, titled Three ‘Sacred’ Rhombs, which will be placed in the Scott Brown Wisdom Traditions Collection in our CFCC Learning Resources Center. A sincere thank you to those of you at CFCC who have seen fit to support me in this and other wisdom tradition information gathering endeavors. I cannot tell you how much benefit it brings to our students and college community.
Annual Convention of The Association of Black Psychologists
by Irvin Brown, Humanities
On August 11-15, I attended the 36th annual convention of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi). The theme of this year’s convention, held in Washington DC, was “Meeting The Challenge of Today and Tomorrow” (with a focus on tapping human, educational, and political resources). In his presidential address, Dr. Willie Williams outlined the ways in which the organization has grown stronger in recent years, and called for promoting the visibility of ABPsi accomplishments. These accomplishments include ABPsi’s role in the increase of African-American PhD’s in psychology from 80 to 3,000 since the organization’s inception. ABPsi’s work on AIDS awareness was also highlighted. The workshops and lectures that I attended were excellent. They included a session on the Human Genome project at Howard University; a very lively workshop on sexual abuse; and a workshop on trauma in general. The knowledge I gained is directly relevant to all of my psychology courses. I was also impressed by the student presence. The only disappointment, if I can call it that, was that the conference was so engaging that I had little time to enjoy the city as much as I would liked to have done.
But for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence . . . truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred.
~ Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
Our love affair with technology at this college is no worse than that of our society in general. Question the fascination with the newest trend, however, and you are branded antiquarian or a Luddite. Such reaction is common with criticisms of PowerPoint (PP), the darling of our classrooms, workshops, faculty colloquia, and nearly any gathering of three or more people at CFCC. I have voiced my distaste for PP to friends only to witness their fearsome transformation into fundamentalist apologists sputtering the sort of panicked defenses we usually associate with militia groups. I am not alone in my view that PP manipulates audiences, serves the consumerist agenda, and obscures information.
Philosophers speak of a linguistic turn that occurred in philosophy in the early twentieth century. Shifting their attention from seeking answers to examining questions, most philosophers came to think that the longevity of the big questions in philosophy—Does God exist? Do we act freely?—was due not to the elusiveness of the answers but rather to the confused formulation of the questions themselves. Perhaps these questions flouted the rules of sensible, linguistic construction so much that they rendered themselves vacuous. The job of the philosopher, then, is to provide clarity, not answers. Since the linguistic turn, most philosophers would reject Francis Bacon’s pronouncement that “Knowledge is power” and say instead that language is power. If so, then when the philosopher successfully clarifies language, he or she also reveals the workings of power. Such a mission is especially important in an age in which PP has become the paradigmatic means of communicating information.
A compelling approach to evaluating PP or any other cultural phenomenon comes from the Frankfurt School of critical theory. A founder of this movement was Theodor Adorno, who had much to say about popular media as products of “culture industry.” Education, art, and anything else society values are produced just to keep that population passive. Capitalism creates false needs, Adorno continues, and consumers find themselves wanting products whose true purpose is to preserve the dominance of the status quo at the expense of real happiness. The primary tool in this power play is language. Repeat the praises of a commodity enough times, even for commodities that do not exist, and consumers soon demand them.
Adorno’s fellow Frankfurt School thinker Herbert Marcuse argued that Marx was right to call religion the “opiate of the masses.” Workers break their backs all their lives only to line the pockets of their bosses because, said Marx, those workers have swallowed the capitalist lotus leaf that the poor get their rewards not here on Earth but in heaven. Marx predicted that when workers realize that the wool of clerical vestments had been pulled over their eyes, they would revolt. According to Marcuse, Marx underestimated capitalism’s ability to adapt and to provide new drugs to the junky masses. When the promise of religion was no longer enough to keep them down on the farm, technology became the new tool. Sick of working your fingers to the bone? Here’s a radio to help you forget your sorry life. Feel like a pawn in the fat cats’ game? A dose of television will fix that. Marcuse did not live to see the PC age with all of us dazed for countless hours in front of a monitor, but his likening technological stupors to drug-induced highs may explain the astonishing spread of PCs and why we are all so desperate to get the newest gadget.
An inheritor of the Frankfurt School approach is Jean-François Lyotard, a leading voice in the postmodern movement. Our late capitalist era has redefined knowledge as ownership of data, and the computer’s data bank has replaced the brain (or mind) as the seat of knowledge. What do we mean by “knower”? A consumer of data. What do we mean by “intelligence”? The manipulation of data. If you are a child of the Enlightenment and think that knowledge is sacred and beyond the taint of filthy lucre, think again, says Lyotard. O Mammon, thy new name is Microsoft.
Jean Baudrillard, another postmodernist, adds a further angle to this critique. Baudrillard’s analysis of art is a sharp exposé of how various media images breed incestuously without reference to reality. Ultimately they lose all meaning. The representational image moves through four phases: the image reflects reality, the image masks that reality, the image calls attention to itself as a counterfeit of absent reality, and finally the image bears no relation to reality but is purely self-referent. Baudrillard calls this narcissistic final stage the simulacrum, not a culmination of an edifying process but a negation of all that is outside this hyperreal simulation. The signifier becomes the signified; the message, in Marshall McLuhan's terms, is indistinct from the medium.
Adorno would have been quick to point out that PP was the standard presentation model in the corporate world before it invaded the academy. PP is tailor-made for the sales pitch. Instead of inviting discussion, it hurls slogans. It brooks no objection; it tells the passive viewer what is important. Corporate audiences and many of our students are fed the PP diet so often that they come to crave it and can palate no other. The lights go down, those three or four bulleted lines appear on the dim screen, and viewers melt into their seats, Marcuse would note, stoned as Stephen. Can you recall a single instance of a PP session in which the audience engaged in a meaningful exchange with the presenter much less was encouraged to question the presentation? (Answer as an audience member, not as a presenter. The perspectives are different.)
What is on the screen is a list of data in the possession of (on the disk of) the presenter/knower who demonstrates technical savvy /intelligence, Lyotard would say, by manipulating data beforehand (creating the presentation) and during the session (clicking the mouse). Nothing spells failure for the presenter like a technical faux pas. Skip a slide, go backwards, or even suffer an accident beyond your control (say, the screen will not lower), and you instantly lose your expert status. If you are a frequent PP pusher, you know that this failure cannot be salvaged by dialogue with the audience, not so much because you might be a poor speaker but more because you know that the PP heads will accept no substitute. They cannot entertain the notion of a substitute, because the words on the screen do not refer to reality. Contrary to its defenders’ claims, PP does not supplement a presentation—it becomes the presentation. It is Baudrillard's simulacrum par excellence.
A recent monograph by Edward R. Tufte, Yale Professor Emeritus and the preeminent expert in information display studies, blasts PP for its obscurantism. He points to four problems: Most users follow PP's templates, which force them to present in a certain way. Wherever you go PP slides have the same boring look. Next is PP's sequentiality, or as Tufte writes, "one damn slide after another." This tedious feature is necessitated by the third problem, the small amount of information on a single slide. Tufte complains that ideas must be simplified and sentences shortened until they are drained of content. Finally, Tufte finds particularly irksome the hierarchical arrangement of these bits of pseudo-info into bulleted lists. The lists are unable to offer any analysis of or explain the relations among the bits. Are they related causally? Temporally? Are the dashed items materially generated by the bulleted ones above? Are the items marked by diamonds supervenient upon or logically prior to the nested phrases below? This sort of display hides important correlations, says Tufte, and reading them off the screen while the presenter also reads them aloud to you only gels the murk to mud. I am reminded of Jacques Derrida's deconstructionist dictum that every decoding of a text is a new encoding.
Although I have a strong attraction to poststructuralist thought, I seem to have a certain philological temperament. My usual suspicion is that names are not accidental. Terms of violence and imperialism pervade technological argot. We speak of ancient battle tactics (Trojan Horse), Star Wars weapons (laser printers), defense mechanisms (firewalls), Cold War or Big Brother control (Spyware), religious control (icons), social oppression (webmaster), disease (virus), injury (systems crash), and even the best technology sounds dangerous with its cutting edge. This article is, after all, about PowerPoint, which uses bullets to make its points (hollowpoints, perhaps?). PP is produced by a company whose seemingly innocuous name reveals its stealth, its ability to slide in Softly and unnoticed under your skin and I like a Microbe.
Despite their diatribes, even PP detractors admit that PP has its place. PP offers support for the nervous presenter who wishes to divert the audience’s attention from himself to the slides. Similarly, PP forces the disorganized person to organize. Also, PP helps the mediocre speaker whose presentation is ill researched. The PP presentation stifles analysis and conceals correlations anyway, so those shortcomings will not be noticed. But we should note that these positive qualities benefit the presenter, not the audience.
While slouching towards a conclusion, I wish I shared Yeats’ consolation, in the poem to which my title alludes, that “Surely some revelation is at hand.” Instead, I shall summarize a la mode:
- PowerPoint bad
- Manipulates audiences
- Advances consumerism
- Obscures information (click)
- Linguistic turn
- Language is power (click)
- Frankfurt School
- Technology as religion/drug (click)
- Violence in Technological Language
- PowerPoint good
(Click. Drag. Delete. End of presentation.)
Adorno, Theodor. The Jargon of Authenticity.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulations.
Keller, Julia. “Killing Me MicroSoftly with PowerPoint.” Chicago Tribune, Jan 12, 2003.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition.
Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man.
Parker, Ian. “Absolute PowerPoint.” New Yorker, May 28, 2001.
Stuart, Thomas. “Ban It Now! Friends Don’t Let Friends Use PowerPoint.” Fortune, Feb. 5, 2001.
Tufte, Edward R. The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, (Graphics Press).
STARBOARD: SUPER-DUPER WONDER TOOL !
by Bill Murry, Math
Most of the adjuncts have another job, or at least another life, besides their teaching position at CFCC, and welcome anything that makes their teaching task easier. The latest and best “wonder tools” provided by CFCC are the new classrooms with automated teaching stations with computers using touch-screen monitors and Starboard Software. Several of the fulltime math faculty and at least two adjuncts, Priscilla Dishon and Jerry Meyerson, are using the touch-screens and Starboard Software at the teaching stations as a sort of “super overhead projector.” This minimum level of usage allows them to face the class and watch student reactions, and is infinitely less messy than the dry marker whiteboards.
Beginning with the ’04 Summer B term, I organized my MAT0024 Prep Algebra classes totally around Starboard. For the Fall term, I only needed to sub-divide what I did in Summer B to match my Fall syllabus. It is sort of like doing classes in PowerPoint, but with the multiple advantages (i) of being able to highlight and underline during your presentation, (ii) of being able to make instantaneous changes and adjustments to your lesson slides even while teaching, (iii) of saving your presentation for reuse, and (iv) of making available a more complete set of notes for student use. The disadvantage is that you must do your class preparation in the classroom, unless you have a touch-screen monitor in your office or at home (Cost $4000+). However, CFCC is licensed to provide you with a copy of Starboard software for your office or home PC. In this case you can do your class slides in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., then save them to Starboard and import them into the Starboard on the classroom PC.
I have two MAT0024 sections in my typical teaching day. Starboard allows me to ensure that my presentation to each section is exactly the same, including in many cases incorporating responses to student questions in all following classes. Starboard is a math teacher’s dream tool, but I can see it as equally effective in any subjects. I am a “chalk talker” and I teach best when I am drawing diagrams and pictures and writing what I am teaching while saying it. If you are a “chalk talker” Starboard is for you. Starboard has been installed on the PC’s in most all the new classrooms. Starboard Version 5 was installed, but I managed to get Version 6 in classroom 7-206 because of questions I asked about Starboard capabilities when the vendor technical representative was on campus with a demonstration.
Version 6 is a real “super-duper” classroom tool that adds a page and item copy and paste capability, and a laser pen capability. The copy capability allows you to develop and copy a multiple step slide, copy it multiple times, then erase steps from preceding slides. An example is shown below. The laser pen allows you to highlight, circle, underline, etc. on the slide during the class presentation, and the next time you touch the screen it disappears. Call Danny Johnson at x1622 to get your classroom upgraded to Version 6.
I have the advantage of teaching both of my classes in the same classroom. If I had to take my Starboard classes to another classroom, I would have to “Copy as a file” to a “thumb drive” and then “Import” those files into the Starboard in the other classroom. A “thumb drive” is required because the Starboard screens are bit-mapped, and as soon as you start using Starboard you will find you develop files that are too large to fit on a floppy.
For student notes, I used the “Print Screen” key to copy select Starboard lesson screens onto the electronic clipboard, and then pasted these onto a PowerPoint page. Of all the Starboard slides I used in class, I selected ones that would give a student what I considered a “best” set of notes for that class. I saved each of these into a “.pps” (PowerPoint Show) file in a folder in my intranet folder accessible in the Math Center and the Skills Lab. Next term I will make these notes hidden files or take them out of my folder until after that class has been taught. Students learn better when they scroll through these notes and hand copy them, but they can also print them, if need
If you want to see what Starboard can do, go to the Math Center (room 7-105), the Math Lab (7-104) or the Skills Lab (3-101) and click on the “MURRY’S MATH LABS” icon. You will find a Starboard demonstration in the “Starboard demo” folder under the “Instructor Tools” icon. There are two parts to the demo and there are two versions (html and shockwave flash) of each part. Be sure the sound is turned on. You will find the PowerPoint student notes for my classes in the “MAT0024 Notes” folder. You may also access “MURRY’S MATH LABS” by using the PC in your office or the classroom. If that PC has not been mapped to the S: drive, click on “Start” then “My Computer” and select “Tools” on the toolbar and “Map Network Drive” on the popup menu. Enter “S:” in the drive box, and “\\STUDENT01\VOL03” in the folder box. When you get to the S: drive, follow the path “Skills Lab PROGRAMS”, then “MURRY’S.”
If you want some help in getting started using Starboard, catch me in 7-204f or at X1341 on Monday, Wednesday or Friday afternoon, or email me at email@example.com. If you first need help in using the automated teaching station, call Steve Hill at ext. 1762.
An Update on the Quality Enhancement Planning Process
by Rayanne Giddis, Levy Center
The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Committee has been meeting regularly throughout the fall semester and is nearing the end of Phase I – Research and Analysis. As you may recall the focus of the college’s QEP is the following:
For students who enter the college under-prepared for college level learning success, what is the most effective program the college can provide to prepare such students for college level learning success?
The QEP Committee has researched and analyzed college data, examined the characteristics of our cohort population. This information will be used to determine our baseline performance and will be critical as we move into the next phase of developing initiatives and performance goals, standards and benchmarks.
The Literature Review Study Team researched the related literature on developmental education and instructional strategies and a number of themes emerged that will guide the development of instructional initiatives in the QEP.
The Best Practices Study Team used the information presented in the literature review related to thirteen components of successful developmental education programs to guide their review of best practices at institutions around the country. Their presentations included several very informative conference calls with colleagues at institutions with exemplary developmental education programs. This information will be critical as we begin the plan development phase later this month.
Finally, Dr. Jan Ignash an associate professor from the University of South Florida who has done extensive research in the area of developmental education, facilitated two Faculty Focus Group sessions on October 15 th. In addition, Dr. Ignash will facilitate two Student Focus Groups on November 17 th. The important information we learn as a result of these focus group sessions will be used in the research and analysis phase and guide the development of the plan.
The work of the QEP committee will continue through the remainder of the fall semester and well into the spring. Information such as meeting dates, meeting summaries, data and reports, committee rosters, and timelines can be found on the CFCC intranet at http://inside.cf.edu/departments/sacs/qep.htm . We welcome your ideas and support. And it is not too late to get involved - please contact me at ext. 2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to help or would like additional information.
by Sandy Pell , OPD Coordinator
On November 6, we hosted another successful Super Saturday workshop in the Professional Development Center. Those in attendance were Allan Danuff, Judy Haisten, Pat Fleming, Zinnia Callueng, Maggie Davis, Barbara Anderson, Sally Thompson, Kay Fowler, and Adam Hayashi. Joe Zimmerman, Debbie Towns and Steve Hill answered the call for instruction on PowerPoint, WebCT and Web Page Design; Microsoft Producer, and using a Palm Pilot. At day’s end, everyone regrouped and shared what they’d learned.
Our next Super Saturday workshop will be held on March 5th. Deadline for applications, which can be found on the intranet under Forms, Office of Professional Development, is February 11th. Hope you can join us!
2004 Florida Community College Press Association
Annual Conference & Awards
byLorena M. McCollister, 2004 Editor, Imprints
CFCC'S new Imprints advisor, Cassandra Robison and the editorial staff of the 2004 Imprints literary magazine attended the FCCPA conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on October 14 th-15 th at Rolling Hills Resort.
The two day conference included many useful student workshops about writing, publishing, photography, and editing, and concluded with the awards banquet and ceremony on Friday night.
At the beginning of the banquet the 2004 staff presented a tribute to our much-missed advisor, Professor Debra Vazquez. Along with an accompanying photo presentation provided by CFCC, two poems were read in her honor. Despite how difficult it was, the tribute was a success, and everyone in the room honored her memory.
When the evening was over, Imprints had received nine awards including second place in “General Excellence” for the entire state. As the past editor, I am quite proud of everything we have accomplished.
The conference and banquet was an enriching and rewarding experience for all.
Patriot Press Takes Second Place in General Excellence
by Rob Marino, Advisor
The Patriot Press received 14 awards to finish in second place (one point out of first place) in the General Excellence category of the recent Florida Community College Press Association state convention in Fort Lauderdale. Two staff members received Inner Circle Awards for individuals winning awards in at least three different categories. Awards were received for the following categories:
1st place: In-Depth Reporting, Editorial, Editorial Cartoon and Ad Design.
2nd place: Design and News Story; Sports Writing and Sports Photo; Feature Photo, Feature Story, Sports Column, and Comic Strip.
3rd place: General Column and Humor Writing.
In The Write Mind Has the Right Stuff
by Susan Monier, Advisor
Our Citrus campus literary magazine, In the Write Mind, received the following awards:
1st place: Illustration with text, Illustrations with text
2nd place: Staff Page
3rd place: Poetry (multiple category)
~ Ms. B’s Bits ~
Contextual Teaching and Learning: How Can I Use it in My Discipline?
by Jana Bernhardt, Counseling
Contextual learning is a broad educational paradigm that involves teaching material in a way that encourages students to make connections and apply these connections to real life understanding.
Contextual teaching strategies encourage student engagement in the classroom and address the seven principles of contextual learning that Dale Parnell outlines in his book Why Do I Have to Learn This?
- Purpose – addressing not only the what, but the why of the concept or material being taught
- Building- connecting with prior learning and experience
- Application – connecting new concepts with real-life examples or applications
- Problem Solving - students actively use new knowledge to solve problems
- Teamwork - students work together to solve problems
- Discovery – students are guided toward discovering new knowledge
- Connection - divisions between disciplines are bridged (Parnell, 1995)
What Are Contextual Teaching Strategies and How Can I Use them in My Discipline?
In their book Promising Practices for Contextual Learning authors William Blank and Sandra Harwell describe several teaching approaches that can be integrated into academic disciplines. These teaching approaches encourage student engagement in learning activities both in the classroom and in real life experiences outside of the traditional classroom environment.
Problem based learning – the instructor first identifies the standards and objectives for the unit, chapter or semester, then determines the best way to lead the students to select a current or past real world problem that will necessitate learning and applying those standards or objectives. This problem is grounded in the students’ experiences. The instructor serves as a guide as the students work through solving the problem through a discovery based, research rich learning process. Students solve problems rather than learn passively and take ownership of the knowledge and skills they are gaining. They develop an intrinsic motivation based on the satisfaction of accomplishment. Students also develop critical thinking and analysis skills while engaging in problem based learning. Making connections between new learning, prior learning and experience satisfies the need for humans to organize, analyze and make sense of the information they receive cognitively.
Project based learning occurs where students take abstract, theoretical or academic information and apply it to resemble the kinds of authentic accomplishments achieved by adults in the “real world.” Projects may be used as opportunities for learning or to demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills. Students engage a variety of skills including creativity, problem solving and can see immediate, direct relevance and use of academic and occupational skills and concepts they are learning.
Service Learning - encourages a variety of responses from students including intellectual development, problem solving, basic skills acquisition, communication and decision making development, moral and ethical development, social and civic responsibility, career preparation, multicultural understanding and personal growth.
Cooperative Learning – structures heterogeneous groups that reflect the diversity of the classroom. Individual and group accountability is as much a part of the activity as positive interdependence. Processing each activity engages students in critical thinking, communication, cross cultural learning, flexibility and team building as they engage in active learning in and out of the classroom.
Self Directed Learning encourages learners to learn what they want to learn, in a manner in which they choose to learn, and for some personal reason. Some examples of self directed learning include independent research as preparation for a new unit of information, a major capstone experience, (such as internships), distance learning via the internet interactive telecourses or web supported courses.
Integrating Academic and Occupational Courses reinforces the role of academics in occupational education. Applied academic courses and formally linking academic and occupational courses, units and lessons encourages learners to process and apply skills and academic information in a variety of contexts that relate to “real world” situations. Examples of some linked courses may include: horticulture and biology, chemistry and cosmetology, statistics and accounting.
Work Based Learning occurs when students apply academic knowledge and skills learned in the classroom in a work based setting. Internships, co-operative placements, mentoring, work study, apprenticeships are all examples of work based learning that facilitates student engagement in learning outside of the classroom. Some possible examples of work based learning include social service agency internships linked with psychology, sociology, anthropology, education and political science. Co-operative work experiences at medical laboratories, environmental testing labs, wastewater treatment plants and local electric utilities encourage work based learning in disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics.
Next time: Authentic assessment and contextual learning
Parnell, D. (1995). Why Do I Have to Learn This? Teaching the Way People Learn Best.
Waco , TX . CORD Communications, Inc.
Harwell, S., and Blank W., (2002). Promising Practices for Contextual Learning.
Waco , TX : CCI Publishing, Inc.
Celebrating NASA’s recent Mars Rover landings and the fact that the Red Planet was closer to Earth this past year than anytime in the last 60,000 years, I decided to venture back into Ray Bradbury’s world after a long absence. His Martian Chronicles is a modern science fiction classic and a great re-read for me. I had forgotten what a powerful influence his works have been on movies, television, books, popular science, and even the modern psyche. My odyssey into the mind of Bradbury continued with The Illustrated Man, The Golden Apples of the Sun, and R is for Rocket.
These three splendid collections of short stories, ranging from funny and sentimental to poignant, dark, and even terrifying, will draw you in before you know it and hold your imagination captive for a good long while.
Bradbury led me to another master of the sci-fi genre—Philip K. Dick. Credited with more than 40 books and a cult-like following, Philip K. belongs in the hall of fame along with Bradbury, Asimov, Huxley, and Arthur C. Clark. These are the men of genius whose apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic visions have shaped the whole of the science fiction community and influenced a generation of screen writers and storytellers. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—the inspiration for Harrison Ford’s Blade Runner—and Dr. Bloodmoney offer grim images of a post-nuclear holocaust California, twin dystopias of our worst nightmares come to pass, but broken civilizations that also offer the possibility of human survival and redemption.
~ John Mathews
Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche , Ben McIntyre. In the late 19 th century, anti-Semitist Elisabeth Nietzsche Foster, sister to the philosopher Friedrich, went to the deepest jungles of South America with her husband and a small group of like-minded Germans to found “racially pure” Nueva Germania. Over a century later, British journalist McIntyre braved the wilds of Paraguay to search for the remnants of that racist band. He found them, and he offers an eye-opening biography of Elisabeth and Friedrich along the way.
Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time , David Edmonds and John Eidinow. The 1972 world chess championship battle between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky represented more than the match of the century—it was a clash of ideologies. The Russians had dominated the game for decades, and they bear-clawed onto the world title no less fiercely than they did to the Eastern Block. Edmonds and Eidinow focus on the political intrigue and the crazed accusations from both sides with just enough about the games themselves (which have been analyzed ad infinitum in dozens of books). Since that win, the brilliant but bizarre Fischer has tail-spun into exile and probably insanity, re-surfacing recently on radio broadcasts from the Philippines to praise the 9/11 terrorists.
Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 , Salman Rushdie. With unlimited range, unsettling boldness, and unparalleled wit, Rushdie’s newspaper and magazine pieces offer his analyses of film, international politics, writing, pop culture, you name it.
A Feast of Snakes , Harry Crews. This is the first (but will not be the last) novel I’ve read by UF faculty member Crews. As a small Georgia town gears up for its annual Rattlesnake Roundup, venomous feelings build until someone has to strike. Flannery O’Connor meets Sam Peckinpaw.
~ Ron Cooper
Book Club meeting dates for next semester:
1/28 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
2/25 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
3/25 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
4/29 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
For more information, call Amy Mangan at ext. 1397