Quotations

Link to Michael Loui’s Aphorisms

March 2021

In today’s political climate, too many people . . . believe that anyone who thinks differently from them is stupid or just doesn’t know the facts. That’s a devastatingly wrong point of view. You have to start by understanding that smart, rational people might disagree with you, and they have good reason to do so. If you disdain the opposition, you will never persuade them of anything.

Trish Hall, Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side, New York: W. W. Norton, 2019 (p. 71).

February 2021

[His] teachers . . . showed a sadly mistaken valuing of abilities. Quickness was taken as cleverness, memory for ability, and submissiveness for rightness. . . . Even today, teachers can easily underestimate their students – and students can underestimate themselves.

Barbara Oakley, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), Penguin, New York, 2014 (p. 196).

January 2021

We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goals is to find truth . . . or to produce good public policy.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, New York: Vintage Books, 2012 (p. 105).

December 2020

Grades stigmatize failure in ways that are unrecoverable. They increase the kind of competition among students that distracts from the goals we are trying to achieve in our classrooms. They become prizes for students to win rather than signs that point to actual learning.

Joshua R. Eyler, How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching, Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2018 (p. 213).

November 2020

What we experience as "certainty" – the feeling of knowing what is true about ourselves, each other, and the world around is – is an illusion that the brain manufactures to help us make it through each day. Giving up a bit of that certainty now and then is a good idea.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 (p. 288).

October 2020

The fundamental assumption of democratic life is not that we are all automatically capable of living both freely and responsibly, but that we are all potentially susceptible to education for freedom and responsibility. Democracy is less the enabler of education than education is the enabler of democracy.

Benjamin R. Barber, An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America, Ballantine Books, New York, 1992 (pp. 13-14).

September 2020

The humble mentor is perceived as approachable and real. In owning and even highlighting blemishes and imperfections, the mentor offers the protege some real texture. “Perfect” mentors, or more accurately, those who feign perfection, are distant, untouchable, and therefore, unlikely to receive the protege’s reciprocal confessions of anxiety and struggle. A defining feature of humility is an appreciation of one’s limitations. The more accurate people are in their self-assessments the more this is a reflection of humility. . . . Excellent mentors are highly accomplished and competent. So there is no contradiction between humility and competence.

W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley, The Elements of Mentoring, New York: Palgrave Macmillan (pp. 104-105).

August 2020

Courage is contagious. From historic protests to everyday acts, from the civil rights movement to an employee asking a tough question, this is the lesson we’ve learned: It is hard to be courageous, but it’s easier when you’ve practice, and when you stand up, others will join you.

Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017 (p. 193).

July 2020

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. . . . We read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, New York, 2000 (pp. 145-147).

June 2020

The mentor will probably be the only person in the protege’s life who takes time to accurately and affirmatively acknowledge growth and change. This mentoring function builds protege esteem, enhances confidence, and strengthens the mentor-protege alliance. Good narration demonstrates caring and commitment. Mentors who narrate well forever hold a special place in the lives of their proteges.

W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley, The Elements of Mentoring, New York: Palgrave Macmillan (pp. 30-31).

May 2020

Whether they were really high, or really low, no one will ever again care what grades you got in high school. . . . So decide right now to hold yourself to a standard — a much higher standard — that’s not related to letter grades, praise or recognition. Demand more from yourself than anyone else could ever expect, embrace criticism and don’t expect anyone to care about your feelings. . . . Other people get uncomfortable when you set big goals and work incredibly hard to reach them. Don’t let those people slow you down, even when they’re your friends. Most of what you think are the limits of your potential are illusions, so never, ever, apologize for having and pursuing big dreams.

Jason Patera, Head, Chicago Academy for the Arts,
Article here

April 2020

As academics, we are trained to learn from our failures, to use each as an opportunity to refine our hypotheses and to advance our understanding . . . Why is it, then, that our educational systems stigmatize failure so profoundly for students themselves? We ask students to take high-stakes exams where the consequences for error are serious. We often design courses that privilege correct answers rather than exploration and discovery.

Joshua R. Eyler, How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching, Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2018 (pp. 172-173).

March 2020

Whether we’re talking about massive systems development or conservation efforts, the engineering profession must go beyond its traditional analytical trappings and embrace disciplines like cultural anthropology as partners for better understanding society. The wisdom of anthropology can help engineering take a more enlightened approach in appreciating our interdependencies. . . . Cultural considerations are powerful determinants of a technology’s success. . . . That’s why mindlessly privileging efficiency and productivity while not considering other native factors is a flawed approach.

Guru Madhavan, Applied Minds: How Engineers Think, W. W. Norton, New York, 2015 (pp. 170, 175).

February 2020

"All the movies are bad at first." . . . [Ed Catmull] sees the disaster and the rescue not as improbable companions but as causally related. The fact that these projects start out as painful, frustrating disasters is not an accident but a necessity. This is because all creative projects are cognitive puzzles involving thousands of choices and thousands of potential ideas, and you almost never get the right answer right away.

Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Bantam Books, New York, 2018 (p. 219).

January 2020

This is the great trap of life: One day rolls into the next, and a year goes by, and we still haven’t had that conversation we always meant to have. Still haven’t created that peak moment for our students. Still haven’t seen the northern lights. We walk a flatland that could have been a mountain range…. What would it take to motivate you to create a Perfect Moment?

Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017 (p. 68).

December 2019

Creating more memorable and meaningful experiences is a worthy goal–for your work, for the people you care about, and for you personally–independent of any secondary impacts. What teacher would not want to design a lesson that students still reflect on years later?

Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017 (p. 256).

November 2019

If you don’t know what your customers need, they will never pay attention to your ads, your product, or your service, no matter how good it is. Teaching works the same way. You are marketing your knowledge to students no differently than executives at Wieden+Kennedy are marketing to Nike customers.

Norman Eng, Teaching College, Self-published, 2017 (p. 26).

October 2019

If you have ever attended a conference talk where the presenter stood stock-still behind the podium and read off notes or slides without making eye contact or varying his or her tone, you are familiar with how necessary nonverbal immediacy behaviors are for a good presentation. . . . Imagine than being subjected to hours of such presentations, several times a week for fifteen weeks or so. Don’t do that to your students–not just because it is unlikely to translate into learning, but also because it is cruel.

Sarah Rose Cavanagh, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2016 (p. 100).

September 2019

Education is a training in a middle way between the dogmatic belief in absolutes and the cynical negation of all belief…. Well-taught students learn to suspect every claim to truth and then to redeem truth provisionally by its capacity to withstand pointed questioning. They learn that somewhere between Absolute Certainty and Permanent Doubt there is a point of balance that permits knowledge to be provisionally accepted and applied (science, modestly understood, for example) and allows conduct to be provisionally evaluated in a fashion that makes ethics, community, and democracy possible.

Benjamin R. Barber, An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America, Ballantine Books, New York, 1992 (p. 124).

August 2019

So much changes when you get an education! You unlearn dangerous superstitions, such as that leaders rule by divine right, or that people who don’t look like you are less than human. You learn that there are other cultures that are as tied to their ways of life as you are to yours, and for no better or worse reason. You learn that charismatic saviors have led their countries to disaster. You learn that your own convictions, no matter how heartfelt or popular, may be mistaken. You learn that there are better and worse ways to live, and that other people and other cultures may know things that you don’t.

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, New York: Viking, 2018 (p. 235).

July 2019

Used well, the semicolon makes a powerful impression; misused, it betrays your ignorance.

Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, New York: W. W. Norton, 2015 (p. 142).

June 2019

Don’t feel bad about not having done enough [library] research. In the twenty-first century, it is no longer possible to be comprehensive. As knowledge expands and ways to communicate that knowledge explode, accelerating ignorance is an inevitable state. The best future researcher will be someone who learns to make a path through this immensity without getting overwhelmed.

Wendy Laura Belcher, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009 (p. 29).

May 2019

At a few times in history, people have hit on technologies that multiply indeed, exponentiate, the growth of knowledge, such as writing, printing, and electronic media. The supernova of knowledge continuously redefines what it means to be human. Our understanding of who we are, where we came from, how the world works, and what matters in life depends on partaking of the vast and ever-expanding store of knowledge. . . . To be aware of one’s country and its history, of the diversity of customs and beliefs across the globe and through the ages, of the blunders and triumphs of past civilizations, of the microcosms of cells and atoms and the macrocosms of planets and galaxies, of the ethereal reality of number and logic and pattern–such awareness truly lifts us to a higher plane of consciousness. It is a gift of belonging to a brainy species with a long history.

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, New York: Viking, 2018 (p. 233).

April 2019

The all-too-familiar stresses of ordinary life are multiplied and magnified in high-stakes leadership positions. . . . The responsibilities of leadership present significant new sources of difficulty, and these sources are exacerbated because moments of difficulty are often played out in public, thereby making leaders more vulnerable to criticism and embarrassment . . . everyone seems to have a strong opinion, often cutting and mean, about how shoddily you’re doing your job.

Jerome T. Murphy, Dancing in the Rain, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2016 (pp. 18-19).

March 2019

The decisions engineers make in solving design problems are not morally neutral . . . It is not a morally neutral decision to emphasize cost over efficiency, for instance, or ease of manufacture over safety . . . Different design solutions embody different sets of harms and goods. Those different solutions, when instantiated into artifacts, are going to have different sets of effects, and engineers have an obligation, at a minimum to minimize the harmful effects.

Wade L. Robison, Ethics Within Engineering: An Introduction, London: Bloomsbury, 2017, pp. 125-127.

February 2019

Whenever you are tempted to come down hard on a student for any reason whatsoever, take a couple of minutes to speculate on the possibility that something in the background of that student’s life has triggered emotions that are interfering with their motivation or their learning. Just a few moments of reflection on that possibility should be enough to moderate your tone and ensure that you are offering a response that will not send that student deeper into a spiral of negative or distracting emotions, thus potentially preventing future learning from happening in your course.

James Lang, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016 (pp. 189-190).

January 2019

In engineering education today, students prepare for professional careers by correctly solving artificial problems on timed exams in arduous sequences of technical courses taught by academics with limited knowledge of actual engineering practice.

Michael Loui

December 2018

When people sit in a room to listen to a speaker, they are offering her something extremely precious, something that isn’t recoverable once given: a few minutes of their time and of their attention. Her task is to use that time as well as possible.

Bruno Giussani in Chris Anderson, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

November 2018

The nature of the content and activities you plan are important, but so is the style with which you present said content and activities. . . . If at the front of the classroom you are not conveying enthusiasm for your material with at least a reasonable level of energy, how can you expect a class full of sleep-deprived, distracted students to eagerly tackle whatever you have planned?

Sarah Rose Cavanagh, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2016 (pp. 63-64).

October 2018

Students may simply not be doing the work we are asking them to do because it is difficult and perhaps time-consuming and because there are not sufficient accountability structures and incentives in place. To learn, one has to physically change, break old habits, and foster new connections in the brain. No wonder humans sometimes resist learning!

Joan Middendorf and Leah Shopkow, Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks, Stylus, Sterling, VA, 2018, p. 105.

September 2018

My primary strategy as a teacher is to structure situations in which students have as many opportunities as possible to acquire wisdom for themselves; that is, to own the discovery of a new learning insight or connection and to express that discovery to other. In this way their substantive learning is increased and their self-esteem is enhanced. How we plan the start of class is crucial in achieving this goal.

Peter Frederick, “The dreaded discussion: Ten ways to start,” page 114

August 2018

Not everything that is thought should be spoken aloud. Not everything that is spoken should be written down. Not everything that is written should be published. Not everything that is published should be read. Not everything that is read should be believed.

Larry Lennhoff. http://llennhoff.blogspot.com/2008/02/

June/July 2018

All the institutions I’ve worked for operate on the assumption that teaching and learning are controllable and predictable and that we can set objectives for which student progress can be measured. Despite the system’s apparent rationality, the one thing we can expect with total confidence is uncertainty. For me teaching is full of unexpected events, unlooked-for surprises, and unanticipated twists and turns. It is also a highly emotional reality, a marvelously and frustratingly complex mix of moments when our hopes and plans are gloriously realized interrupted with episodes in which we feel lost and flailing.

Stephen D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher, 3rd ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015 (pp. x-xi).

May 2018

Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.

Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, New York: HarperCollins, 2010 (p. 5).

April 2018

Finally, despite positive findings that support the use of inquiry to teach concepts, changing methodology alone is not a panacea. Without carefully planning to integrate the entire student population, and without serious commitment from instructors and institutions, reform-based efforts can backfire, favoring the students who are more immune to deficiencies of their instructional environment, and may actually increase achievement gaps–typically disadvantaging exactly those students whom we wish to interest and motivate.

Brian Coppola, in Svinicki, M., and McKeachie, W. J. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers, 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (p. 286).

March 2018

Nothing is as collaborative as good writing. All texts depend on other texts, all writers stand on the shoulders of other writers, all prose demands an editor, and all writing needs an audience. Without community, writing is inconceivable.

Wendy Laura Belcher, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009 (p. 8).

February 2018

It may seem counterintuitive to argue that in order to achieve practical improvements in teaching, we need to develop a theory, but that is exactly what is needed to transform teaching into a coherent set of effective practices. Currently, faculty development consists of presenting teaching techniques with no theoretical framework, as if procedure equals pedagogy. As a result, techniques are interpreted and enacted in a wide variety of ways. Grounding practice in an accepted theory would bring much needed clarity to the definition of terms.

Stephen L. Chew and William J. Cerbin, "Teaching and Learning: Lost in a Buzzword Wasteland," Inside Higher Ed, December 5, 2017.

January 2018

Even an excellent traditional lecture on complex and relatively unfamiliar content equips students to do what the instructor is describing as well as a lecture on diving would equip them to do three and a half somersaults off a ten-meter platform. The procedure could be meticulously laid out in the lecture, but the implementation would probably not end well.

Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent, Teaching and Learning STEM, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015 (p. 112).

December 2017

This approach to writing therefore has an ethical dimension since it asks writers not simply to keep proving and reasserting what they already believe but to stretch what they believe by putting it up against beliefs that differ, sometimes radically, from their own. In an increasingly diverse, global society, this ability to engage with the ideas of others is especially crucial to democratic citizenship.

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, "They Say / I Say:" The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, 3rd ed., New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2014 (p. xxvi).

November 2017

To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough. Careful planning is not enough. The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can. They are sprinting forward, while others are still waiting at the starting line.

Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, New York, NY: Crown Business, 2013 (p. 115).

October 2017

You are a professional writer. If you are a college student, a graduate student, faculty, research staff, or an administrator, you write for a living. . . . Even though writing represents THE most important tool in the academician’s toolbox for professional advancement, we . . . treat it much as we do our gardening tools: shoved to the back of the toolshed or garage, stored among the other dusty, rusty tools, and used only sporadically, when absolutely necessary. As many of you who love to have the right tool for the right job already know, certain equipment–when used infrequently–deteriorates and loses its efficiency.

Patricia Goodson, Becoming an Academic Writer, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2013 (pp. 16-17).

September 2017

Skilled professionals routinely receive training before being certified to practice independently. Electricians, machinists, and chefs get preliminary instruction and then serve for months or years as apprentices. Accountants, psychologists, physicists, and physicians spend years earning degrees in their fields, and the physicians spend additional years in supervised internships and residencies. It would be unthinkable to allow people to practice a skilled profession without first being trained for it, especially if their mistakes could cause harm to others . . . unless they are college faculty members.

Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent, Teaching and Learning STEM, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015 (p. 1).

August 2017

Learning from experience can take a long time, and campuses can use activities to speed up the learning process. Additionally, learning from experience can result in mistakes that might seriously compromise the change process. So while experience appears to be the most powerful teacher, it may come at a significant cost if solely relied upon.

Adrianna Kezar, Sean Gehrke, and Susan Elrod, Implicit theories of change as a barrier to change on college campuses: An examination of STEM Reform

July 2017

Whenever readers of a manuscript find something unclear, they are right; by definition, the writing is unclear. The problem is that readers themselves do not always recognize or identify the unclarities explicitly. Instead, they misunderstand what you have written and then make a criticism or offer a suggestion that makes no sense. In other words, you should also be able to interpret reviewers’ misunderstandings as signals that your writing is unclear.

Daryl J. Bem, Writing the empirical journal article

June 2017

If intelligence means quick-wittedness, then an author can hardly afford to be intelligent. Writing is necessarily a slow and deliberate process. Even the quickest hand or fastest typewriter or word-processor cannot move at the speed of ordinary thought, or even ordinary speech, let alone as fast as the speech or thought of the quick-thinking mind. To write is not to speed up, then, but to slow down.

George Watson, quoted by Dydia Delyser, Teaching graduate students to write: A seminar for thesis and dissertation writers, p. 171.

May 2017

What strange lives we would lead if, except for very immediate needs, we stopped learning new ideas after our formal education. . . . The reality is that when we stop down off the platform with degrees in hand, most of what we need to learn still lies ahead of us. This includes not only areas of academic knowledge but also understanding in professional realms, interpersonal dimensions of life, encounters with the ideas and arts of other cultures, and so on. Not only that, but exactly what it is we as individuals might even eventually need to know is unknown. For one thing, much of it is likely to be very different from person to person. For another, in our rapidly changing world, nobody or hardly anybody knows yet what in a decade or two many of us will need to know.

David Perkins, Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education, Jossey-Bass, 2009, pp. 210-211.

April 2017

Coach Wooden is unabashedly an advocate of drill when it is used properly with a balanced approach that also attends to developing understanding and initiative … "The 4 laws [of learning] are explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition. The goal is to create a correct habit that can be produced instinctively under great pressure. To make sure this goal was achieved, I created eight laws of learning, namely, explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, and repetition." (Wooden 1997) However, drill for Coach Wooden is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Drilling is intended to achieve an automaticity or mastery of fundamentals that opens up opportunities for individual creativity and initiative.

Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp, "What a Coach Can Teach a Teacher, 1975-2004: Reflections and Reanalysis of John Wooden’s Teaching Practices," pp. 132-133.

March 2017

Your approach (inevitably) led to attacks from anxious, confused, disruptive, angry, self-centered, insecure, power-hungry, or just plain skeptical people. As a result, some drama was added to what could have been a boring meeting. A few sparks flew around the room. A virtue of drama and sparks is that they attract attention. When people are paying attention, their minds become engaged. That’s a crucial requirement for understanding an idea and for overcoming incorrect impressions. You can then use that attention to your advantage in gaining the intellectual and emotional commitment that is at the heart of real support.

John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead, Buy-in. Harvard Business Review Press, 2010, p. 91.

February 2017

[Students] are always relieved to see that even those of us who have been writing professionally for many years still don’t get it completely right the first time around. In the end, the best thing that can come of modeling good revision is the realization that though revision is an inherently humbling experience, it should not be a humiliating one.

Patrick Bahls, Student Writing in the Quantitative Disciplines: A Guide for College Faculty, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2012, p. 61.

January 2017

Good coaches accomplish what they do not only by teaching skills but by fostering dispositions. They project high expectations and build the confidence and commitment of every member of the team. This does not mean that people are all alike. Of course they are not. However, aptitude is not the same thing as attitude, and attitudes–both teachers’ and students’–turn out to count for a lot!

David Perkins, Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education, Jossey-Bass, 2009, p. 70.

December 2016

A teacher’s words–even those we think to be insignificant, whether after class, in the margins of a paper or in an email–what we say and how we say it can have a profound impact. Our words can open up previously unconsidered options, putting students on a trajectory of achievement that makes it possible to become more than they dared to dream. But words can also dampen one’s prospects. So it’s always, always better to err toward the former.

George Kuh, You Don’t Have to Be the Smartest Person in the Room

November 2016

Engineering is the art of designing imperfect solutions to meet incomplete specifications by applying unrealistic theories to produce incomprehensible calculations that use inaccurate data based on imprecise measurements taken by inexperienced technicians who have inadequate training to operate unreliable equipment.

Michael Loui

October 2016

Most professors and administrators overestimate the role that academics plays in student culture, and as a result they magnify the impact of teachers and classes on student life and decisions. For instance, it is widely assumed that more contact time between professors and students will raise student retention rates, and that faculty counsel and advice is an essential part of a student’s freshman transition. . . . There is no doubt that special professors do make a difference in the life of specific students, but overall, I’d suggest, student-teacher relationships play a relatively minor role in the experience of undergraduate life in a large university.

Rebekah Nathan, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2005, p. 140

September 2016

Is there anything at once so routine and so loathed as the revelation that we were mistaken? Like the exam that’s returned to us covered in red ink, being wrong makes us cringe and slouch down in our seats. It makes our hearts sink and our dander rise…. We don’t get things wrong because we are uninformed and lazy and stupid and evil. We get things wrong because we get things right. The more scientists understand about cognitive functioning, the more it becomes clear that our capacity to err is utterly inextricable from what makes the human brain so swift, adaptable, and intelligent.

Kathryn Schulz, The bright side of wrong

August 2016

People, far more than programs, majors, or classes, are decisive in students’ experiences of college. Without the motivating presence of friends, teachers, and mentors even the best-designed, potentially most valuable academic programs will fail.

Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs, How College Works, Harvard University Press, 2014, p. 163.

July 2016

Scientific writing is hard work. Granted, it’s not as physically exhausting as swinging a pick or as mentally demanding as solving a nonlinear differential equation, but it requires concentration and patience. Moreover, the solutions are not exact. You don’t draft a document and sit back and say, "Perfect." No matter how many times you revise a document, there will always be phrases that won’t sound right, as well as sentences where you feel compelled to state about ten details at once.

Michael Alley, The Craft of Scientific Writing, New York: Springer, 1996, p. 228.

June 2016

If we become so goal oriented and task focused that we end up treating students and faculty members as though they are obstacles in our path rather than fellow travelers on our journey, we make our long-term tasks more difficult to complete and our ultimate goals more difficult to attain. It’s not that we intend this result; it occurs because our tendency has been to view student credit hour production, increased efficiency, and assessment as goals rather than as ways to achieving the more important goal of improving insight, wisdom, and understanding. Ironically, all our focus on key performance indicators and benchmarks can end up creating an environment where student attrition increases, numbers of applications decrease, and the quality of education and research declines. The lesson we should learn from studying maximum collegial flow and the peak-end rule is this: improve your environment first and document your success later. If we reverse those priorities, our students and programs will suffer.

Jeffrey L. Buller, Positive Academic Leadership: How to STOP Putting Out Fires and Start MAKING A DIFFERENCE, Wiley, 2013, pp. 56-57.

May 2016

Any instructor could benefit from learning from the highly developed communication practices developed in medicine. . . . At the highest levels of practice, teachers aim to listen carefully and communicate clearly in ways that change students’ behavior and thereby literally change students’ lives.

Ed Nuhfer et al., Reflections on the pedagogies found within the metadiscipline of technology, National Teaching and Learning Forum, vol. 22, no. 4, May 2013, p. 10.

April 2016

I believe that feedback thrives in cultures where the goal is not "getting comfortable with hard conversations" but normalizing discomfort. . . . At first, I was terrified by the idea that if education is going to be transformative, it’s going to be uncomfortable and unpredictable. Now, . . . I always tell my students, "If you’re comfortable, I’m not teaching and you’re not learning. It’s going to get uncomfortable in here and that’s okay. It’s normal and it’s part of the process."

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, Penguin Group, New York, 2012, pp. 198-199.

March 2016

You are going to venture out into the world and find that what you thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and your feelings. Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours. You can be wrong or ignorant. Reality does not care about your feelings. Education does not exist to persecute you.

Jef Rouner, http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/no-it-s-not-your-opinion-you-re-just-wrong-7611752

February 2016

Readers judge your argument not just by the facts you offer, but by how well you anticipate their questions and concerns. In doing so, they also judge the quality of your mind, even your implied character, traditionally called your ethos. Do you seem to be the sort of person who considers issues from all sides, who supports claims with evidence that readers accept, and who thoughtfully considers other points of view? Or do you seem to be someone who sees only what matters to her and dismisses or even ignores the views of others?

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, 3rd ed., University of Chicago Press, 2008, p. 117.

January 2016

I said no to a lot of opportunities when I was just starting out because I thought "That’s not what my degree is in" or "I don’t know about that domain." In retrospect, at a certain point it’s your ability to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters. One of the things I tell people these days is that there is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.

Padmarsee Warrior, quoted by Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, New York: Knopf, 2013. Chapter 2

December 2015

What mattered from professors was the sheer fact of their paying attention … Students learn from this attention paid by an important person. They learn that with careful work, their writing can improve; that writing is a craft; that what they say counts … The real issue, then, is motivation, which is heightened by knowing that audience–really, a person–cares.

Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs, How College Works, Harvard University Press, 2014, p. 112.

November 2015

The use of consistent grammar reassures a reader that the writer has exercised care in constructing his prose, which in turn increases her confidence that he has exercised care in the research and thinking behind the prose. It is also an act of courtesy.

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, New York: Viking, 2014, p. 197.

October 2015

Too many students approach doctoral education as if it was a continuation of the prior sixteen to eighteen years of schooling, with the student as the relatively passive recipient of the knowledge ladled out by faculty members, and success measured by correctly completing well-defined assignments in a fixed timeframe. Instead, doctoral students must be active managers of their own careers, purposefully charting a course and asking for what they need.

George E. Walker, Chris M. Golde, Laura Jones, Andrea Conklin Bueschel, and Pat Hutchings, The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008, p. 116.

September 2015

No matter how clear and precise your writing is, readers can still fail to understand it in any number of ways. Even the best writers can provoke reactions in readers that they didn’t intend, and even good readers can get lost in a complicated argument or fail to see how one point connects with another…. Because the written word is prone to so much mischief and can be interpreted in so many different ways, we need metacommentary to keep misinterpretations and other communication misfires at bay.

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, 3rd ed., New York: W. W. Norton, 2014, p. 131.

August 2015

Students who took risks within the context of a supportive learning environment … graduated as more competent … self-assured … imaginative and resourceful professionals… [A] theater student elaborated, “One of the school’s philosophies … is only by attempting the absurd can we achieve the impossible. And students are encouraged to do … that around here…. I’ve tried risky things and I’ve failed, but it was in failing that I discovered my own voice and the impact I can have on an audience.”

Jennifer Grant Haworth and Clifton F. Conrad, Emblems of Quality in Higher Education, Allyn and Bacon, Boston, 1997, pp. 81-82.

July 2015

Most undergrads, far from being the complex and unique individuals they think they are, fall into a few discrete categories…. The Legacy. When grading the Legacy’s first exam, you’ll notice that (a) the Legacy is as dumb as a box of frozen waffles, (b) the Legacy conveniently wrote his or her middle name on the exam, and (c) it happens to be the name of the new stadium on campus. The Legacy expects items (b) and (c) to compensate entirely for item (a). If you fear that this student could someday end up as your boss, relax: This student is your boss right now.

Adam Ruben, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School, Broadway Books, New York, 2010, pp. 90-93.

June 2015

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows – that they haven’t mastered the patois of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is a clear as day. And so she doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, New York: Viking, 2014, p. 61.

May 2015

After all the miles and the memories of the last two years, now I see the biggest sign of hope: You, my friends, my fellow graduates, not because of what we have done, but because I know we have more work to do. In your hands as well as mine lies the hope for a new generation of business leaders in which each of us becomes a pioneer, in which each of us commits our time and talent not just to the treasures of today, but to the frontier of tomorrow where new dreams and new hopes and new possibilities are waiting. As we leave this place for the last time, some as Baker Scholars and some by the seat of our pants, we take up the work of not just making a living but of making a life. For if all we have learned here are Four Ps, and Five Forces and Six Sigma, we will prove William Faulkner right, that we labor under a curse, that we live not for love but for lust, for defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, for victories without hope, and worst of all without pity or compassion, that our griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars, that we live not from the heart but from the glands. No, my friends, we have more work to do, hard work, frightening work, uncertain work and unending work, work that may test us, work that may defeat us, work for which we may not get the credit but work for which the whole world depends. The time is short and the odds are long but I believe that we are ready nonetheless, with the love of those who raised us, with the lessons of those who taught us, with the strength of those who stand beside us as we face what lies ahead. I say let us begin.

–Casey Gerald, Commencement Speech, Harvard Business School, May 2014

April 2015

Viewing values conflicts in the workplace as a normal and expected part of our professional lives enables us to more easily understand, identify with, and communicate with those who place us in these challenging situations…. Those who present these conflicts don’t have to be seen as villains. They may well be just like us.

–Mary C. Gentile, Giving Voice to Values, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010, p. 79.

March 2015

Teachers often feel like impostors. They feel that they don’t really deserve to be taken seriously as competent professionals because they’re aware that they don’t really know what they’re doing. All they’re certain of is that unless they’re very careful, they will be found out to be teaching under false pretenses…. Teachers who feel like impostors have a destructive tendency to accept all the blame for failure in a particular situation. Sometimes teachers’ feelings of impostorship are communicated to students, inducing in them an unnecessary anxiety and level of mistrust or doubt.

–Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 229.

February 2015

You’ll see that without theory, we’re at sea without a sextant. If we can’t see beyond what’s close by, we’re relying on chance – on the currents of life – to guide use. Good theory helps people steer to good decisions – not just in business, but in life, too.

–Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life? New York: Harper Collins, p. 17

January 2015

Teachers fall easily into the habit of thinking they are both the cause of, and the solution to, all the problems that arise in their classrooms. This leads almost inevitably to unbearable accumulations of guilt about their inability to make everything perfect. The belief that they are the cause of everything bad that happens in the classroom has such a hold on teachers because of the predominance of individualistic ways of thinking about their work…. What is perceived as an individual problem is usually structurally caused and therefore only addressed by collective action.

–Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (pp. 202-203).

December 2014

I think the single most important thing we can do as teachers is to make every single student feel he or she is incredibly important. How did I arrive at that seemingly simple answer? Well as I thought about all of those remarkable teachers in my life, yes, they knew a great deal, cared about me and pushed me to achieve, but there was something more, something far greater. It was simply that in their presence I felt special, important and valued. They made me feel I really mattered and that feeling made me work harder, learn more and fulfill that perception as best I could.

–Peter Loel Boonshaft, Teaching with Passion, Purpose and Promise, Meredith Music Publications, Galesville, MD, p. 68.

November 2014

The best learners—people for whom learning a skill comes entirely naturally—often make the worst teachers. This is because they are, in a very real sense, perceptually challenged. They can’t imagine what it must be like to struggle to learn something that comes so naturally to them. Because they have always been so successful in their learning, it’s impossible for them to empathize with learners’ anxieties and blockages.

–Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 62.

October 2014

On the other side of the door
I can be a different me,
As smart and as brave, as funny or strong
As a person could want to be.
There’s nothing too hard for me to do,
There’s no place I can’t explore
Because everything can happen
On the other side of the door.

On the other side of the door
I don’t have to go alone.
If you come, too, we can sail tall ships
And fly where the wind has flown.
And wherever we go, it is almost sure
We’ll find what we are looking for
Because everything can happen
On the other side of the door.

“On the Other Side of the Door” by Jeff Moss

September 2014

What makes a fire burn is space between the logs, a breathing space. Too much of a good thing, too many logs packed in too tight can douse the flames almost as surely as a pail of water would. So building fires requires attention to the spaces in between, as much as to the wood. When we are able to build open spaces in the same way we have learned to pile on the logs, then we can come to see how it is fuel, and absence of the fuel together, that make fire possible. We only need to lay a log lightly from time to time. A fire grows simply because the space is there, with openings in which the flame that knows just how it wants to burn can find its way.

–Judy Brown

August 2014

So let us plant dates even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. That is the secret discipline. It is the refusal to let our creative act be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience and is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints, the courage to die for the future they envisage. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.

–From "Tomorrow’s Child" by Rubin Alves

July 2014

[If faculty] think teaching excellence is mostly a function of natural ability or the mastery of a few techniques, or if they believe development is best approached by emulating others, those beliefs stymie the kind of growth that sustains teachers and makes their teaching inspired. For career-long growth, teachers need to see learning to teach as an ongoing process with more challenging than easy answers and with authenticity better grown from within than from emulation.

–Maryellen Weimer, Inspired College Teaching: A Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2010, p. 157.

June 2014

Life in the academy for me has been consistently alienating and lonely. Initially, I interpreted this estrangement as a personal flaw, but I have come to understand that the academic world of higher education has been structured in such a way so as to normalize and promote alienation. Under the guise of academic freedom and professional autonomy, we close our classroom and office doors physically and metaphorically. Perhaps most troubling is that our students seem to mirror these same feelings of fear, loneliness, and separation. They have little confidence in their own native intelligence and wisdom, and often distrust one another’s knowledge and experiences. We teachers have been active participants in alienating students from us and themselves, perhaps because this is the only model of teaching and learning that we know. After all, we live in a society that eroticizes individualism and often pathologizes connection and collaboration. It is not surprising that we as teachers learn very early in our careers to be skeptical, suspicious, and even fearful of a deep connection with our students.

–Patricia Owen-Smith, "Knitting through the Hallelujah," In The Heart of Education: A Call to Renewal, by Parker J. Palmer and Arthur Zajonc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2010, pp. 157-158.

May 2014

Our pedagogies must have the power and precision to clarify some of the world’s messiness and help students find their way through it rather than multiplying the mess and leaving students more lost. For example, accountants should be thrown into simulations of Enron-type messes while they are still in school and taught to identify anomalies and unravel the kinds of problems that are not named in the text or solved at the back of the book. But they should be thrown in only after they have been taught how to keep their heads above water in dangerous currents, like a kayaker going down a whitewater river through Class 6 rapids.

–Parker J. Palmer, The Heart of Education: A Call to Renewal, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2010, p. 39.

April 2014

Teaching is serious business. We have wonderfully bright and talented students … They have almost unlimited potential. For most, this is their one shot at college; they deserve nothing less than an excellent education, an academic experience that challenges them to excel from their first day to their last. Faculty members have a responsibility to the world to coax the very best from their students because they will certainly become the next generation of leaders. Where they go from here, what they accomplish, how they impact the world, depends in large part on how much we are able to push and nurture their development. I want every student to leave my class at the end of the semester saying, “I didn’t know that I could work so hard, and I didn’t realize that I could learn so much.” Anything less is unacceptable.

–Joe Ben Hoyle, University of Richmond, Essay, Richmond Alumni Magazine, 2005

March 2014

For many academics, “stylish academic writing” is at best an oxymoron and at worst a risky business. Why, they ask, should we accessorize our research with gratuitous stylistic flourishes? Doesn’t overt attention to style signal intellectual shallowness, a privileging of form over content? And won’t colleagues reject as unserious any academic writing that deliberately seeks to engage and entertain, rather than merely to inform, its readers? In this book, I argue that elegant ideas deserve elegant expression; that intellectual creativity thrives best in an atmosphere of experimentation rather than conformity; and that, even within the constraints of disciplinary norms, most academic enjoy a far wider range of stylistic choices than they realize.

–Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2012, p. vii.

February 2014

Instructors need to understand that not every student objection is a mandate for change. In some cases, the instructor still knows best or has good reasons for proceeding with something not highly valued by students. Across my years of teaching, I’ve always had a strong commitment to essay exams. Students have never “liked” them…. Once I got past the “like” issue and started asking if and how essay exams contributed to learning, the results enabled students to see some of what makes this assessment method valuable…. When the goal of formative feedback is improved learning, the approach teaches students about learning at the same time faculty are learning about teaching.

–Maryellen Weimer, Inspired College Teaching: A Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2010, pp. 101-103.

January 2014

To learn most skills of value, we must engage in deep practice that includes struggle, errors, and learning from errors. Expert performance requires building … [a] neural network that is myelinized (a state that results when the brain wraps frequently-tasked nerve fibers with insulation, and thereby increases the signal strength, speed, and accuracy to the levels needed for expert performance). This cannot result from any single semester-long course, no matter how good the course design or how accomplished the instructor. Aspirations to produce high-level thinking capabilities with single courses are largely delusional.

–Ed Nuhfer et al., “What do I most wish my students knew about their learning?” National Teaching and Learning Forum, vol. 20, no. 4, May 2011, p. 10.

December 2013

In the end, the world that we create is determined, to a significant degree, by the quality and boldness of our individual and collective questions. Encouraging students to become fearless questioners means applauding them not so much for the correctness of their answers as for the audacity of their questions. For teachers, transforming the contemporary classroom’s pervasive fear of questions and preoccupation with answers into a school culture that celebrates and delights in questions is a monumental, yet utterly worthwhile, task. The work begins by cultivating the belief that each student has buried, deep inside, important questions that are worthy of attention.

–Christopher Uhl, Teaching as if Life Matters: The Promise of a New Education Culture, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011, p. 75.

November 2013

A computer is as close as you can get in this world to magic. [Computers] let you manipulate things without physical constraints…. [In a computer program] you just describe something, and it comes true. That doesn’t happen with anything but computers. The only limit is the cleverness of the programmer, and cleverness is a virtually boundless resource.

–Nathan Myhrvold, quoted on p. 35 by Herb Brody, “The Pleasure Machine,” Technology Review, vol. 95, no. 3, April 1992, pp. 31-36.

October 2013

So in critical reading we pay attention to our emotions, as well as our intellect. In particular, we investigate our emotional responses to the material we encounter. We can try to understand why it is that we become enthused or appalled, perplexed or engaged, by a piece of literature. As we read work that challenges some of our most deeply held assumptions, we are likely to experience strong feelings of anger and resentment against the writer or her ideas, feelings that are grounded in the sense of threat that this work holds for us. It is important that we know this in advance of our reading and try to understand that our emotional reactions are the inevitable accompaniment of undertaking any kind of intellectual inquiry that is really challenging.

–Stephen D. Brookfield, Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2012, Chapter 6.

September 2013

Schools are important loci of socialization, and the socialization that occurs in schools is often in lockstep with the dominant culture with its emphasis on competition, materialism, individualism, and speed. We believe that such cultural values are antithetical to the flourishing of life and that the confusion that permeates educational institutions, as well as the anger and anomie evidenced in increasing numbers of students, is not fixable with more technology, more money, more reform, more time in the classroom, or more cleverness.

–Christopher Uhl, Teaching as if Life Matters: The Promise of a New Education Culture, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011, p. 14.

August 2013

The scientist who gives up too easily is unlikely to reap any great harvest, but on the other hand it is also possible to be too tenacious. It is a wise man who knows when to abandon a research or a field of research. No one can ever exhaust any field completely, but there always comes a point where further work, with existing techniques and ideas, is relatively less profitable than the same effort turned in other directions. Perhaps even earlier there comes a time when the field had better be turned over to new blood. No one can be so obstructive of progress as the "expert" who has worked all his life on a single subject.

–E. Bright Wilson, An Introduction to Scientific Research,
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952, p. 3.

July 2013

Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

–Roger Ebert, Life Itself

June 2013

The greater degree of structure and closer faculty supervision generally characteristic of graduate study in the sciences encourage both lower time-to-degree and higher completion rates. In the experimental sciences, in particular, the laboratory environment provides both support for students and a setting in which progress is monitored and help is (usually) available if problems arise. In contrast, students doing library research are more independent and more likely to pursue unproductive lines of thinking for considerable periods of time. As Jacob Viner, a former teacher of one of us, used to warn his graduate students, "There is no limit to the amount of nonsense one can think if one thinks too long alone." Prolonged periods of discouragement are also more likely in the absence of structured contacts with colleagues and faculty on a day-to-day basis.

–William G. Bowen and Neil L. Rudenstine, In Pursuit of the Ph.D., Princeton University Press, 1992, Chapter 7.

May 2013

There once lived a man in a country with no fruit trees. A scholar, he spent a great deal of time reading. He often came across references to fruit. The descriptions enticed him to undertake a journey to experience fruit for himself. He went to the marketplace and inquired where he could find the land of fruit. After much searching he located someone who knew the way. After a long and arduous journey, he came to the end of the directions and found himself at the entrance to a large apple orchard. It was springtime and the apple trees were in blossom. The scholar entered the orchard and, expectantly, pulled off a blossom and put it in his mouth. He liked neither the texture of the flower nor its taste. He went quickly to another tree and sampled another blossom, and then another, and another. Each blossom, though quite beautiful, was distasteful to him. He left the orchard and returned to his home country, reporting to his fellow villagers that fruit was a much overrated food.

–Michael Quinn Patton, Qualitative research & evaluation methods, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2002, p. 3.

April 2013

When I die give what’s left of me away
To children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone,
And give them what you need to give me.
I want to leave you something,
Something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.
You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
And by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die, people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
Give me away.

–Meditation before Kaddish

March 2013

There is no formula for discharging the academic duties involved in being a good mentor. Knowing when to be demanding and when to be flexible and forgiving is a skill possessed by the best. But there are successful mentors who are either consistently tough or reliably supportive…. Apprentice scholarship is a time of trying out new ideas and testing creative limits. Sometimes the new ideas are bad or even silly. Veterans become used to the harsh public fate of bad ideas, but neophytes can be scared into a kind of unproductive trance if one of their first real creations is treated roughly. Criticizing with respect and turning a poorly structured question into a good one are among the skills that good mentors are able to utilize regularly.

–Donald Kennedy, Academic duty, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997, Chapter 4.

February 2013

Most people never encounter much thinking in a typical introductory college course. Instead, their professors feed them a plate of well-barbequed facts to memorize, never offering many hints about how these morsels had been cooked, how anyone came to believe them, how anyone had talked ill-structured problems. Introductory courses rarely offer mysteries, reasoning opportunities, or challenges other than the necessity of stuffing it all in your brain before the exam. Students typically develop little understanding of how the discipline raises and answers questions. They seldom examine messy, complex questions or even hear how anyone else does so.

–Ken Bain, What the best college students do, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 159.

January 2013

If you set about trying to teach, whether through lectures, classes, or even writing, you will be doing one of the most difficult and frustrating things a person can do with other people. Do not watch films like Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams or Stand and Deliver with Edward James Olmos. These films do not show the misery and boredom that went on in all the other classrooms, where dull, uninspiring teachers fail distracted students day after day after mind-numbing day. Nor does it show all the bad experiences the teachers endured and fought through to become the (semifictional) brilliant teachers the films portray. Ever wonder why many school teachers seem so tired, so mean, so burnt-out on life? They didn’t start that way. Teaching anything year after year, while watching so many students struggle to grasp your lessons, eats away at your soul and can’t help but overtake the love that drove you to teach in the first place…. In the United States, most teachers are paid so little to do so much.

–Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker, O’Reilly, Sebastopol, Calif., 2010, p. 129.

December 2012

Critical reflection is an irreducibly social process. It happens best when we enlist colleagues to help us see our practice in new ways. For many teachers, the best chance they have to learn critical reflection is through conversation with peers. When our peers listen to our stories and then reflect back to us what they see and hear in them, we are often presented with a version of ourselves and our actions that comes as a surprise. Colleagues’ perceptions help us gain a clearer perspective on the parts of our practice that need closer critical scrutiny. They also help us realize the commonality of our individual experiences. Although no one lives the teaching life in exactly the same way, there is often much more that unites us than we realize.

–Stephen Brookfield, Becoming a critically reflective teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, p. 141.

November 2012

Innovators are told: "think outside the box." Qualitative scholars tell their students: "Study the box. Observe it. Inside. Outside. From inside to outside, and outside to inside. Where is it? How did it get there? What’s around it? Who says it’s a ‘box’? What do they mean? Why does it matter? Or does it? What is not ‘box’? Ask the box questions. Question others about the box. Find documents related to the box. What does thinking have to do with the box anyway? Understand this box. Study another box. And another. Understand box. Understand. Then you can think inside and outside the box. Perhaps. For awhile. Until it changes. Until you change. Until outside becomes inside–again. Then start over. Study the box."

–Michael Quinn Patton, Qualitative research & evaluation methods, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2002, p. 2.

October 2012

Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special…. Your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it…. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

–David McCullough, Jr., commencement speech at Wellesley High School, June 2012

September 2012

A teacher’s ability to make clear what it is that she stands for, and why she believes this is important, is a crucial factor in establishing her credibility with students. Even students who disagree fundamentally with a teacher’s rationale gain confidence from knowing what it is. In this instance, knowledge really is power. According to students, the worst position to be in is the sense that a teacher has an agenda and a preferred way of working, but not to know exactly what these are. Without this information, they complain, how can they trust the teacher or know what they’re dealing with?

–Stephen Brookfield, Becoming a critically reflective teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995, p. 23.

August 2012

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor. Be honest. What do you make? … You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face. How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best. … You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read…. Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true: Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

–From What Teachers Make
by Taylor Mali

Performance on YouTube

July 2012

If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. And if you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.

–Isaac in "The Hungry and the Hunted," Sports Night, by Aaron Sorkin, 1998

June 2012

Alexander von Humboldt … observed that there are three stages in scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

–Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, New York: Broadway Books, 2003, p. 421

May 2012

You don’t pay back the gift of a Punahou education. You pay it forward by helping others to live their dreams, to reach their aspirations and to fulfill their full potential. The diploma I am about to hand you is more than a piece of parchment stating that you have fulfilled Punahou’s rigorous requirements for graduation…. Rather, it is a promise. It is a promise to your families, to your teachers, and to your classmates that because of the gift of an uncommon education, you will ultimately pay that gift forward.

–Jim Scott, President of Punahou School, Commencement Address, 2011

April 2012

[From these experiments] we learned that people cheat when they have a chance to do so, but they don’t cheat as much as they could. Moreover, once they begin thinking about honesty–whether by recalling the Ten Commandments or by signing a simple statement–they stop cheating completely. In other words, when we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty. But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest.

–Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, New York: HarperCollins, 2009, p. 213.

March 2012

It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege. The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out there in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope that they people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny that he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned. That is the phantasmagoria that haunts his nights and dogs his days.

–Herbert Hoover

February 2012

We don’t beat the reaper by living longer, but by living well, and living fully–for the reaper will come for all of us. The question is: what do we do between the time we’re born and the time he shows up…. It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not. Find your passion and follow it. And if there is anything that I have learned in life, you will not find that passion in things. And you will not find that passion in money. Because the more things and the more money you have, the more you will just look around and use that as the metric–and there will always be someone with more. Your passion must come from the things that fuel you from the inside. That passion will be grounded in people. It will be grounded in the relationships you have with people and what they think of you when your time comes.

–Randy Pausch, Graduation Speech, Carnegie Mellon University, May 18, 2008

January 2012

Structural failures and surprises might all be ended if we were to stop innovating altogether. Every new bridge could be an exact copy of one that already has stood the test of time, but traffic on the new bridge could never be allowed to surpass that on the old. No new materials could be used, and no new bridge could be located on a river that did not possess the exact foundation and wind conditions of existing successful bridges. We could virtually end all risk of failure by simply declaring a moratorium on innovation, change, and progress. And it would be a moratorium on progress, for without allowing change we would in effect not allow any bridge to be built where one had not been built successfully before. For no place is quite like any other, no traffic pattern quite like any other. Even should we convince ourselves that we could reproduce a bridge with an equivalent batch of construction materials and with the equivalent quality of construction, we could halt progress of commerce in the region served by the bridge, for that would load the bridge beyond its prior experience.

–Henry Petroski, To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1985, pp. 170-171.

December 2011

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

–Michael Jordan, Nike Commercial

November 2011

Structural engineering is the art of assembling materials whose properties we do not fully understand into arrangements we cannot fully analyze to support loads we cannot fully predict.

–Henry Petroski, The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems, Knopf, New York, 2010, page 186.

October 2011

As technologies become more complex, engineers will find it increasingly necessary to take human performance and, eventually, organizational factors into account in their designs. It will not be enough to design a machine that works in some abstract world where the people are no more real than they are in textbook engineering problems. The best designers will be part engineer and part social scientist.

–Robert Pool, Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology, Oxford University Press, 1997, page 287.

September 2011

We have more information now than we can use, and less knowledge and understanding than we need. Indeed, we seem to collect information because we have the ability to do so, but we are so busy collecting it that we haven’t devised means of using it. The true measure of any society is not what it knows but what it does with what it knows.

–Warren Bennis, in Focus Groups, 3rd ed., by Richard A. Krueger and Mary Anne Casey, Sage Publications, 2000, page 1.

July-August 2011

In some cases … we learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.

–Lloyd Alexander,The Book of Three

June 2011

Taking heart means overcoming the fears that block good teaching and learning. Fear is a driving force behind objectivism, that mode of knowing that tries to distance us from life’s awesome energies and put us in control. Fear is a driving force behind the kind of teaching that makes students into spectators, that pedagogy that tries to protect both teacher and subject from the give-and-take of community, from its rough-and-tumble. When our fears as teachers mingle and multiply with the fears inside our students, teaching and learning become mechanical, manipulative, lifeless. Fear, not ignorance, is the great enemy of education. Fear is what gives ignorance its power.

–Parker Palmer,
"Good Teaching," 1990

May 2011

In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress, offered some advice to President John F. Kennedy. “A great man,” she told him, “is one sentence.” Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” Franklin Roosevelt’s was: “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.” … You don’t have to be a president–of the United States or of your local gardening club–to learn from this tale. One way to orient your life toward greater purpose is to think about your sentence. Maybe it’s: “He raised four kids who became happy and healthy adults.” Or “She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.” Or “He cared for every person who walked into his office regardless of whether that person could pay.” Or “She taught two generations of children how to read.” As you contemplate your purpose, begin with the big question: What’s your sentence?

–Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009), pp. 154-155.

April 2011

One way of making education more holistic is to get outside the classroom and off the campus…. the change in environment changes everything. The class becomes a social unit; students become more fully rounded human beings–not just people who either know the answer or don’t know it. Inside the classroom, it’s one kind of student that dominates; outside, it’s another. Qualities besides critical thinking can come to light: generosity, steadfastness, determination, practical competence, humor, ingenuity, imagination. Tying course content to the world outside offers a real-world site for asking theoretical questions; it answers students’ need to feel that their education is good for something other than a grade point average.

–Jane Tompkins, A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned

March 2011

It seems to be one of the unfortunate facts of life that no mathematics book can be published free of errors. Since the present book is undoubtedly no exception, each of the [four] authors would like to apologize in advance for any that still remain and take this opportunity to state publicly that they are the fault of the other three.

–Donald L. Kreider, Robert G. Kuller, Donald R. Ostberg, and Fred W. Perkins, An Introduction to Linear Analysis

February 2011

"Well, that is his loss, not mine," answered the Rocket. "I am not going to stop talking to him merely because he pays no attention. I like hearing myself talk. It is one of my greatest pleasures. I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying."
"Then you should certainly lecture on Philosophy," said the Dragon-fly.

–Oscar Wilde, "The Remarkable Rocket"

January 2011

This time Elizabeth Ann didn’t answer, because she herself didn’t know what the matter was…. The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and was ever so startled to get a glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind so she could take care of herself when she came to be grown up.

–Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Understood Betsy

December 2010

The spirit of generalization should dominate a university. Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. Knowledge does not keep any better than fish. The really useful training yields comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of contexts.

–Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education

November 2010

Engineering is fun, and similar to the creative arts in providing fulfillment…. In making the point that existential pleasure is to be found in engineering, I do not want to imply that the practice of engineering keeps one in a state of perpetual ecstasy…. There are moments of great elation, … but such moments are rare. Indeed if they were not rare, they would cease to be precious.

–Samuel Florman, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, 1976

October 2010

As teachers, we are professionals who get paid to learn and to share that learning. When we share that learning with our colleagues it is called research. When we share it with our students it is called teaching. Teaching versus research is a red herring–learning is the real issue, and the central activity of an academic community.

–Stewart A. Denenberg, SUNY at Plattsburgh

September 2010

The monsters in Miss Moist’s class are excellent students. Daydreaming, counting the minutes until class ends, and making faces are their favorite activities. And they are the best in the school at not paying attention.

–Malcolm Bird, The School in Murky Wood

August 2010

A good mathematician may know the truth about numbers, and a good engineer may know how to make physical forces serve his purposes. But the engineer and the mathematician are human beings first–so for them, as well as for me, what matters most is not one’s knowledge and skill, but one’s relations with other people. We do not all have to be engineers or mathematicians, but we do all have to deal with other people. And these relations of ours with each other, which are the really important things in life, are also the really difficult things, because it is here that the question of right and wrong comes in.

–Arnold Toynbee in This I Believe, ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, Holt Paperbacks, New York, 2007, pp. 241-242.

July 2010

“Look,” said the old sheep, “next time you go to the dump, Templeton, bring back a clipping from a magazine. Charlotte needs new ideas so she can write messages in her web and save Wilbur’s life.”

“Let him die,” said the rat. “I should worry.”

“You’ll worry all right when next winter comes,” said the sheep. “You’ll worry all right on a zero morning next January when Wilbur is dead and nobody comes down here with a nice pail of warm slops to pour into the trough. Wilbur’s leftover food is your chief source of supply, Templeton. You know that. Wilbur’s food is your food; therefore Wilbur’s destiny and your destiny are closely linked. If Wilbur is killed and his trough stands empty day after day, you’ll grow so thin we can look right through your stomach and see objects on the other side.”

— E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

June 2010

We need to teach the highly educated man that it is not a disgrace to fail and that he must analyze every failure to find its cause. He must learn to fail intelligently, for failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.

— Charles F. Kettering

May 2010

“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Rhyme; “but it’s not just learning things that’s important. It’s learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters.”

“That’s just what I mean,” explained Milo … “Many of the things I’m supposed to know seem so useless that I can’t see the purpose in learning them at all.”

“You may not see it now,” said the Princess of Pure Reason, looking knowingly at Milo’s puzzled face, “but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way … And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”

— Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

April 2010

But my greater concern is the education of children. Too much of their formal education is dull and rote — the learning of formulas and methods. Some of this is useful and necessary, but it often dominates the school day and most of the school year. Teachers often devote little time to the fascinating human-made and natural phenomena right around us. Exploration just for its own sake, and manipulation just because something is beautiful and fun, seem to be left at the school door.

— Bernard Zubrowski

March 2010

So far as the mere imparting of information is concerned, no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth century….The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning…. The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have but slight experience, and those who are experienced have feeble imaginations…. The task of the university is to weld together imagination and experience.

— Alfred North Whitehead

February 2010

Ofttimes we tend to be so taken with the accuracy, insight, and eloquence of our lectures that it takes reading student examinations to remind us how far short we have fallen of achieving the goal, which is, after all, not to perform an entertainment that gives the impression to us or to the students of being uplifting or edifying, but to bring about specific changes in the minds of the students. If we do not succeed in changing the interiors of students’ heads, then our universities are simply overpriced day-care facilities for late adolescents.

— Samuel Gorovitz, Syracuse University

January 2010

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes,” explained Reason quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

— Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

December 2009

The best thing for being sad … is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, … you may see the world trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.

— Merlyn in The Once and Future King by T. H. White

November 2009

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

— J.K. Rowling

October 2009

It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all of the answers.

— James Thurber

September 2009

Education boils down to acquiring the desire, confidence, and courage to question the answers.

— Louis Schmier

Michael Loui’s Aphorisms

I don’t claim complete originality: most of these aphorisms are variations of ideas that I have heard from others.

Teaching and Learning

If the student has failed to learn, then the instructor has failed to teach.

The great tragedy of teaching is believing that every student can succeed, but knowing that some students will fail.

Critical thinking is an unnatural act.

Ignorance is not a sin. Remaining ignorant is.

Those who can’t do it, teach it. That’s why I teach a graduate course on college teaching. And I teach courses on professional ethics.

In an undergraduate course, it’s not hard to teach a subject that you know nothing about, because students usually know even less. After all, we expect undergraduates to learn the subject. How hard could it possibly be?

The best way to learn a subject is to teach it.

Many people think that to teach a subject, you must be an expert in it. I disagree: we become experts in a subject by teaching it.

According to the Roman philosopher Comenius, the more the teacher teaches, the less the student learns. Conversely, the less the teacher teaches, the more the student learns.

Graduate Study

In my course, I take first-semester doctoral students from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, from not knowing what they don’t know to knowing what they don’t know. Eventually as doctoral students, they achieve conscious competence, and finally as experts, unconscious competence.

The whole point of graduate school is to make as many mistakes as possible, because no one expects anything from you yet.

The dissertation is not finished until you are completely sick of it and never want to see it again. By the time you complete your dissertation, you will utterly loathe it.

Engineering

Engineering is the art of designing imperfect solutions to meet incomplete specifications by applying unrealistic theories to produce incomprehensible calculations that use inaccurate data based on imprecise measurements taken by inexperienced technicians who have inadequate training to operate unreliable equipment.

In engineering, we have a vision of the ideal, but we settle for the practical.

Engineering students prepare for professional careers by correctly solving artificial problems on timed exams in arduous sequences of technical courses taught by academics with limited knowledge of actual engineering practice.

Academic Life

The Perverse Law of the Academy: The reward for good work is more work.

The Dirty Little Secret of the Academy: Professors often teach outside their expertise.

Faculty are almost as busy as students.

It’s so simple that even a professor can do it.

Among academics, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.

For faculty committees, the only thing better than a short meeting is a canceled meeting.

Scholarship

A senior (undergraduate) thesis is acceptable if it does not set science backward.

The lowest threshold for accepting a paper submitted to a conference is “not embarrassing.”

Your conference paper has no intrinsic value: it’s just your ticket to attend the conference.

An academic paper is a one-sided two-way conversation: the writer should anticipate and answer the questions of the reader.

Churchill said that democracy is a bad system of government, but all others are worse. Similarly, peer review is a flawed system of evaluating quality, but all others are worse.

Every manuscript should progress through three phases. In the first phase, you write for yourself, working out your ideas. This phase ends after you reorganize the entire document. In the second phase, you write for others, seeking peer review. This phase ends when you rewrite to improve the clarity and flow. In the third phase, you write for posterity, polishing each sentence and choosing the best possible words.

General

Wisdom requires uncommon sense.

Everyone has the same 168 hours per week.

It is important to disagree without being disagreeable.

There is only one cure for lack of experience: experience.

There is no substitute for ongoing professional development.

Concision is a virtue, but terseness can be a vice.

Teams: When we each contribute a little, we together accomplish a lot.

Careers: You can have it all. Just not at the same time.

Careers: The opportunity of a lifetime comes every two or three years, if you have a good professional network.

Acknowledgment

Thanks to Julianna Ge for reminding me about what I said (which is often not what I meant to say).