Teach a Man to (Bake) Fish

The internet is a great teacher.  If you want to know something, you just have to ask. However, you have to ask the right question.  And then the right follow up questions.  And then you have to pick and choose bits of information to suit the context of your question.  On second thought, the internet can be one of those wise, but confusing old sages, also known as a teacher (who’s probably already tenured).

On Thanskgiving, I prepared fish for my dinner (choosing not to partake of my inlaw’s protein of choice).  I chose salt crusted whole fish and I did plenty of online research to be sure that I was prepared.  After I had carried out my plan, I posted the results with lots of pictures.  Now, my process will become one of the allegedly authoritative sources out there about salt crust whole fish baking.  Since there were lots of difficulties, I included a disclaimer that clarifies my entry as a flawed approach.  Hopefully, anyone who happens upon it will read the whole thing and check my suggestions against others’.  Otherwise, the internet will act as trickster who speaks in riddles and sends you on wild goose chases.

People and Events

In reviewing the reading in class, we discussed the life course vs the life cycle vs the life structure.  I chimed in to say that I thought that events were more important than phases of life, however, during each phase, certain events are more likely to occur (by choice or chance).  In my experience, people need to be socialized or initiated into new identities.  If these interactions do not occur, then development does not continue in important areas.

For instance, I have grown up without my biological father.  Numerous events that are standard for children in nuclear families, haven’t been part of my experience.  Without a doubt, there are aspects of my identity that have been shaped by this missing variable.  On the other hand, I have had supplemental role-models and mentors that have given me different experiences that amounted to similarly crucial events.  In the end, I think I’ve passed through most of the typical phases as anyone else might, perhaps even benefiting from establishing my independence somewhat early in life.

Support Net Worth

Net worth: assets less liabilities

Watching the end of Educating Rita got me thinking about the families the learners who participate in eLearn Virginia.  Often times, the client is heavily dependent on their family to make their participation possible.  There are those who aren’t very computer literate or don’t have web access at home, but studying online is the only way they can fit classes into their schedule.  They need their relatives to help them navigate the web or to give them access to computers on a regular basis.  Then there husband who watch the kids while momma’s online, or the wife who sleeps alone while her husband stays up late burning the midnight oil studying for his GED.

I’m not trying to romanticise the situation.  A lot of things have to come together to allow someone to find the time and energy to better themselves.  And adults are typically tied to numerous other people who can be either supports or hinderances.  The eLearners that I serve face many challenges.  When they aren’t able to put in an average of 3hrs per week, then we have to let them go and ask them to come back when they have time.  I often don’t hear a lot of specifics about why they couldn’t prioritize their education, but I think it’s safe to assume that the social and personal relationships of each learner plays a big role in their success or failure.  Personally, I don’t feel qualified to address this kind of thing when it comes up.  I’m not a counselor or a case worker, but there are elements of those professions in my work and I’m wondering how if there isn’t more that could be done to get learner friend/family on board.

Educating Jason

Educating Rita got me reflecting about what it’s like to “go back to school” and how it feels to enter a seemingly foreign group, attempting to ascend the social ladder.  The first time I enrolled in classes of my own accord, and not because it was what everyone else was doing, was the VCU Public Administration program.  Taking graduate courses made me feel like an outsider, not just the first time I attended a 600 level class, but each and every class I go to.  My program has little infrastructure or organization to it aside from the courses we attend.  Socialization in this context is very stilted.  Most of my fellow students have different aspirations and backgrounds.  I generally feel as bewildered at the end of the semester as I did at the beginning.

Even though I work in adult education, taking an adult education course leaves me feeling a little vulnerable.  My strength is with my day to day experience as a practitioner.  The theories and concepts underlying the education of adults have thus far been a gap in my understanding of my work (although I find that social justice perspective and leftist politics has served well in place of such knowledge).

For the prospective GED test takers that I serve, it must be a similar feeling.  They walk into the classroom with YPOOPY going through their heads.  They probably don’t want to admit what they don’t know on a daily basis, much less the fact that they didn’t complete high school.  And yet, the people around them aren’t so different than them.  The same probably goes for me in my graduate classes.  And where we differ, we probably each have a leg up on one another indifferent ways.

Accommodate This!

In a past entry, I wrote about learning styles versus thinking styles.  Adult education employs these concepts very peripherally in GED and literacy classes.  Customization of content, curricula, or the classroom experience is pretty hard to come by in my context.  So, we don’t generally apply the labels of left brain, visual learner, global thinker, kinesthetic, etc.  However, my workplace is another story.  Meyers Briggs comes up more often than I’d like, but not so much in between.

In the past seven years with the VALRC, we’ve had two Meyers Briggs workshops just for the staff.  I think the point was to encourage us to understand each other better and learn to value each other’s traits.  We took the survey, interpreted the scores, and entered the room with a four letter label (and it didn’t spell anything exciting).  The rest of the workshop had us lining up based on our traits, facing each other so we could see who is where on the continuum.  I have to admit that the exercise was interesting, briefly.  A handful of people rally seem to adhere to the concepts and embrace the label.  Personally, I didn’t notice any mention of “type” on a professional level between or after those sessions.

My experience with the Kolb survey wasn’t too much different.  Answering the questions made me very conscious of my answers.  It seemed as if I was being given the same options on repeat.  I already said that I’m not a visual learner.  Do I have to keep putting experiential learning at the top and listening and seeing at the bottom?  What I wound up with was a cartoonish extreme characterization.  Although, I can freely embrace an extreme with the best of them, I know these labels rarely hold true, especially for someone as inconsistent as me.  Nonetheless, the labels and the analysis behind them can really provoke some interesting debates.

Singing Pratt’s Praises at VAACE

On Thursday, October 16th, my office mobilized several of us to the VAACE conference (Virginia Assoc. of Adult and Continuing Education). (this is why I missed class, in case anyone’s wondering) We typically put on at least half of the workshops at most adult education gatherings in Virginia.  I usually spearhead trainings around technology, teaching strategies, and other innovations.  This time around, I presented on the eLearn Virginia program, which I manage from day to day.

This was the third time I’d given the presentation and I was looking for ways to improve my shpeel.  Since the bulk of my message was dedicated to describing the ideal candidate for online distance learning, there’s plenty in there about self-directedness.  Our discussion in class came to mind as I reviewed my Powerpoint and I realized that Pratt’s discussion of dependency, support, and direction provided a great breakdown of the issues that characterize the self-directed learner.  So, I took the slide from Dr. Muth’s class notes and dropped it into my presentation, ready to sound scholarly in front of my colleagues.

Thursday morning, I made my copies of handouts and headed to Williamsburg for the conference.  We got there late after my coworker got lost and I had to miss lunch.  This was bad news as all I’d had was coffee for breakfast.  My presentation went well.  As usual, when I present, I see a different drama unfolding in the room than those in the audience.  In essence, everyone enjoys my talks except for me (or at least that’s what they say to my face).  But there are all of these faces looking back at me and only a few of them AREN’T scowling.  Adult educators are a tough crowd, I tell ya.  Nonetheless, the androgogy topic raised some eyebrows.  It’s still not clear to me if the crowd was more or less familiar with Knowels than I am.

Afterwards, I waited for my ride and found the only place in the hotel where food was available: the bar. While waiting for my quessdilla, I had a beer to calm my nerves.  After the beer, I was still waiting.  The guy next to me chatted me up about politics.  He said no one should be allowed to be president unless they’re retired military.  This caused me to order a large hard liquor beverage and contemplate the irrelevance of red, blue, or purple in the most militarily invested state in the country.  Adult education is generally provided by retired K-12 teachers, and I really wouldn’t recommend other fields follow that model, especially not the executive branch of our government.  With my empty stomach full of booze, I wolfed down my food and headed back to the VALRC display table where I gave away freebees with unusual gusto until I spotted a coworker heading west on 64.  I had to get out of there before I got into any trouble.  It was a good day’s work and I was lucky to be able to quit while I was ahead (but I still didn’t get back in time for class).

Blogging About Blogging and Blogdom

When I think about our paper about a “practice” and how it has evolved as it has been informed by different kinds of learning, my first thought was “blogging.”  What do I do that I can relate to different kinds of modes of learning and how has this changed over time as it has passed through different hands.  My first thought was blogging, because I really enjoy it and my approach has changed significantly in the two years I’ve been a blogger.  Also, there are so many ways to do it – my RVA Foodie site representing only a fraction of the fully realized destination site potential that other blogs have achieved.  And yet, there I am in the Dine insert of this month’s Richmond Magazine, identified as “a local food expert; a gourmand.”

When I look at my blogging closer, I can’t help but think that my published thoughts and blogging style is shaped by others and by the knowledge that I’m exposed to.  How am I influenced by others?  When people read my site, what impression are they left with?  Do they take my advice and march to the store or restaurant to carry out my suggestions?  Does my class analysis approach to eating nudge them toward membership in the working class revolution, or are my provokations dismissed?  It seems like any practice can be analyzed by how it is influenced and how it influences others… fertile ground for research, if you ask me.

Let’s Talk/Fight About Sex

Our discussion about gender and feminism reminded me of one of my favorite distractions: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), also known as “ultimate fighting.” There is a hot topic in MMA that is ripe for analysis (aside from the homoerotic spectacle of two men performing no holds barred S&M in a cage for thousands of voyeuristic fans). Even though most critics of the violent competition are slowly coming around to accept that strict regulation has turned the spectacle into a sport, the debut of female MMA still seems unsettling to the public and even some MMA fans.

Female MMA has been around about as long as the male version, but it’s popularity is a recent phenomenon. The apparent reason for the increased attention is Gina “Conviction” Carano. Whereas many female fighters elicit little response from the mostly male MMA fans and the casual viewing public, Carano turns heads like a Victoria Secret model. If it weren’t for her impressive record and strong Muay Thai kickboxing skills, her rise to stardom could easily be written off as pure sexual objectification (and yes, that’s her as “Crush” in American Gladiators)

The Hottie and the Fattie

Gina Carano

MMA fans and male fighters are divided on female fighting, often saying that they don’t think it is a woman’s place to fight or they don’t want to see a woman getting hurt. Although the skills utilized by female fighters are equivalent to the male fighters, seeing a woman physically dominating and/or being dominated (especially if the fighter’s face is bleeding or swelling) seems to unsettle fans and critics alike. This isn’t unique to female fighting, but it is pronounced. In Gina’s last fight, which happened to be the debut of MMA on primetime network TV, she battered Kaitlin Young’s face until one eye was slightly gruesome. In a men’s fight, the competition would have continued. But, in this case, the doctor decided to call a stop at the end of the 2nd round. Young has consistently protested, demonstrating her “heart” and fighting spirit, despite the fact that she was losing badly. She was not concerned about her appearance or her safety. Instead, these standards were put upon her.

Roy NelsonOn Saturday, Oct. 4th, Gina will step back into the cage on primetime network TV. Despite her relatively demure demeanor, she will receive excessive attention for her looks. Gina will be treated as the first and only relevant female MMA fighter, while other women have been cast aside for appearing too manly or not pretty enough (Tara LaRosa is the #1 ranked female fighter and can’t get a deal with a major promotion).

If it isn’t clear enough that body image plays a significant role in the sport of mixed martial arts, the same is actually true for men as well. Roy Nelson is an up and coming fighter who has been refused opportunities to fight by promotions because he is not appealing to look at and he openly mocks athleticism. Ironically, he is competing on the same card as Gina this weekend, likely as a spectacle intended to appeal to viewers interested in cartoonish contrast (his opponent is built like a greek god). I know this is last minute notice, but I dare my classmates to watch this event on Saturday and respond with some analysis of your own. Is Gina a liberal feminist? Is her opponent a radical feminist for “fighting like a man”? What will the response be if Gina’s popular facial features get rearranged? Response comments will elicit more salacious tidbits.

To be continued…

Race and Regionalism, the Politics of Privilege

Having missed the last class, because I was in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (where there are only 3 black people), my entry is a little late.  However, I would like to mention that I attended a meeting about the possibilities of regional cooperation in the greater Richmond area.  Hope in the Cities convened the meeting and facilitated it in the most fascinating way.  Each of the 50 attendees was given a hand-held keypad and we used those to signify where we stood on various issues.

It started with some basic demographic questions, and we compared our race, class and gender make up against the region’s.  This helped us determine if our collective opinions are likely representative of the region at large.  As the 2 hour meeting wore on, we specified our thoughts about good regional cooperation vs. bad.  We talked about the prices vs. the payoffs of the current state of regional cooperation.  Folks from the counties were most worried about transportation and sprawl.  City dwellers were concerned about substandard schools and concentrated pockets of poverty.  The disparity spoke volumes about the position of privilege that is enjoyed by most outside of Richmond.  Their income level is significantly higher.  They’re predominantly white.  They’re glad they aren’t exposed to the crime and violence perceived in Richmond City.

85% believe that our current low level of regional cooperation is a significant lost opportunity. 80% see historical experiences with annexation, school desegregation and construction of public housing as having eroded the trust necessary for greater regional cooperation.City dwellers seek help on schools and public housing; suburbanites seek help on smart growth and transportation; and each needs the other to succeed.

We spent most of the time between questions comparing perspectives at our intentionally diverse small group tables.  One of our facilitators wrote a book about “Dialogue for Difficult Subjects.” The results of the questions have been laid out on a Powerpoint presentation at the link in the first paragraph.  The discussion on regionalism (and how it could benefit Richmond to collaborate on community problems that affect everyone) will be continued and broadened to a larger group at an upcoming event:

Metropolitan Richmond Day Breakfast and Forum:
a community conversation on regional collaboration and reciprocity with
Mayor Richard Vinroot from Charlotte, NC .

Date: Thursday, November 20th

Time:  7:30 am—9:00 am Breakfast and Keynote Address

9:30 am—11:30 am Community Forum

On Header Hegemony

I think I’m having a bit of a reaction.  In class, I saw the professor turn from a mad-social scientist cultivating creativity and self-expression into a rigid drill sargent enforcing an arbitrary code of conduct. Yes, I’m talking about APA style. Is this the same American Psychological Association that diagnosed homosexuality as a mental disorder up until 1973? I wonder what kind of dementia underlies my affinity for informal script like contractions (i.e. don’t, wouldn’t, ’twas). Maybe I’m just a ne’er-do-well.

Aside from the irony, the handing down of the writing conventions behind scholarly articles provides a little insight into learning styles. It seems pretty clear to me that no one would choose to adopt such constraints on their own. The practice is not humanistic and maybe not even humane. It might be possible to conform one’s prose to APA through the social cognitive method of learning, as academia does require groups of learners to socialize each other into the elite role we know as “educated.”  But the real puppetmaster who is pulling our strings to adopt proper header hegemony and citation styles is the coersive art of behaviorist teaching/learning. If we demonstrate the skills associated with APA in our graded papers, then the behavior modification will be deemed successful.  An improperly formated citation or reference page, and we must not have been paying attention.

Well, I’m gonna swallow this bitter pill, but only because it’s a skill worth having.  If you can make your writing appear respecable merely by adjusting the aesthetic details, that’s probably a good investment of time.  The appearance of my “scholarly” writing will trigger a schema in the readers’ mind that places me in the upper echelon.  Heck, I may even go with an executive summary and a preface to the first edition just for good measure.  Cheers!