New blog category needed? “Pope Francis is awesome”

Okay, I’m not actually going to start this category.  But, even though I shouldn’t be by now, I’m still amazed at how awesome this pope is.  The idea that such a true man of God could actually make it to the top of the hierarchy in today’s Catholic church is (depressingly) shocking.  His pronouncements today on the excesses of capitalism– in no uncertain terms– were just awesome.  Here’s some excerpts from Yglesias‘ post:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape…

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system…

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

This is not just taking on the excesses of capitalism, but a specific rhetoric of capitalism as espoused by right-wing parties in the US (and elsewhere).

And, yes, the Church has always been quite liberal on issues of economic justice, but the Atlantic’s Emma Green explains how this is genuinely a major break with the past:

In light of this long-standing tension between the Church and communism, Pope Francis’s aggressively anti-capitalist posture seems all the more remarkable.  The bishop of Rome hasn’t just condemned what he sees as a failed free-market—he’a condemned the ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies. “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” Francis writes. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

This is more than just a lecture about ethics; it’s a statement about who should control financial markets. At least right now, Francis says, the global economy needs more government control—an argument that would have been unthinkable for the pope just 50 years ago.

But, I’m going to go back to Yglesias on just why I think this is so important:

I remember very clearly having been an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office and attending with the senator, some of his staff, and a wide swathe of New York City political elites an event at St Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal to Archbishop John O’Connor. His successor, Archbishop Egan, delivered an address that went on at length about O’Connor’s charitable work, but on a public policy level addressed almost exclusively the Church’s support for banning abortion, for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples, and for school vouchers. That was a choice he made about what he thought it was important for people to hear about. Pope Francis is making a different kind of choice.

Exactly.  And Amen.  This continues Francis’ direct rebuke to those who think the mission of the church should be more to worry about the sexual behavior of others than for the care for the poor and oppresses, about which Jesus constantly preached.  Pope Francis’ Catholic church is one to which I am proud to belong.

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Photo of the day

I love cool looking storm clouds, so I thought this Twisted Sifter gallery of incoming storm clouds was awesome.  Among my favorites:
Scary clouds over New York City!

Adnan Islam

 

In defense of the lecture

This semester I’ve been participating in a faculty book club on Learner-Centered Teaching.  In many ways, probably the best book I’ve read on college teaching– and I’ve read a lot.  The phrase that really sticks with me is “the one who does the work, does the learning.”  Implication: students passively absorbing a lecture just aren’t getting as much.  This book fits in with much of the research calling for teachers to be more “guide on the side” than “sage on the stage.”  One question I brought up during our discussions was, “what if you are really good at lecture and only average at facilitating discussions and small-group work?”  I.e., me.  Sure, I can improve at being a “guide on the side” with work, but I’m quite sure I’ll never be as good at that as I am at giving a lecture (which, at the risk of being immodest– a risk I frequently take– I’m pretty damn good at).  Comparative advantage suggests I should therefore lecture.  But what if students really would learn more from me as an average facilitator?  Hmmm.  I do like to think– and don’t think I’m fooling myself– that in my lectures, which are highly interactive, the students are decidedly not just passive consumers of information and that they really are doing some of the “work” of learning.

Thus, I was particularly happy to come across this piece in the Atlantic defending the value of the lecture:

The tendency to see lecture-based instruction as alienating and stifling to student creativity is not altogether new. In Paulo Friere’s 1970 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the lecturing teacher was cast as an arrogant imperialist. Alison King coined the flip expression “sage on the stage” in a 1997 article and, although more than half of King’s article consists of ideas for working small group approaches into otherwise lecture-centric courses, demonstrating that she was in no way looking to eliminate the lecture entirely, everyone from Common Core advocates to edtech disrupters has co-opted “sage on the stage” as license to heckle the “out-of-touch expert.” Nevertheless, there is immense value in lecture, and it must not be written off as boring and ineffective teaching.

In the 2010 study from Harvard’s Kennedy School “Is traditional teaching really all that bad?,” Guido Scwerdt and Amelie Wupperman tried to quantify the “sage-on-the-stage” model of education as compared to its counterpart, “guide-on-the-side,” in which a teacher designs an activity or learning experience for students and steps back from direct instruction. According to the data, students exposed to lecture more than other classroom activities showed more significant learning gains than their peers. The authors were careful to point out that this data need not be proscriptive. One of the study’s faults is that there is no way to account for the teachers who gravitate more towards lecturing because they excel at it, and those who encourage group work because they are comfortable managing such dynamics. If the community of educators has agreed to value student learning styles, why not allow adults the freedom to play to their own strengths as well? [emphasis mine] I certainly know that while I am articulate in facilitating student discussion, my communication breaks down and I am a weaker teacher in a noisy room…

There is a reason TED talks are popular with students and adults alike. They are delivered on engaging topics, by engaging people, and they offer time for reflection by the audience…

Is the teacher devoted to conveying serious concepts the best manager of a noisy, interactive classroom? Does it make sense to assume that a quiet student is always a disengaged student? There is no one method of education that fails across the board, only the occasional rigid ideology that criticizes “one-size-fits-all education” while discontinuing a few of the less popular sizes.

I really don’t think we need to be either or when it comes to good teaching.  In my Intro class yesterday I delivered a bang-up lecture on Civil Rights in which I guarantee you nearly every student in the large lecture hall was engaged and in which they actually learned some key concepts about Civil Rights that they will be able to recall in the future.  In my afternoon class, the whole period was small-group and whole-class discussion about women and men’s changing roles in society and the workplace.  I felt great about both classes yesterday.  I think that as long as a lecture is a dry recitation of facts, sure it has to go.  But I think a dynamic, engaging lecture from somebody who knows what their doing should always have a role (though, surely not the sole one)  in education.

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