Saturday, January 13, 2018

Adrian Monk and the Paradox of Mental Illness

My husband likes to watch the reruns of the TV show Monk.  In fact, they are on quite frequently at our house. The Randy Newman theme song is deeply imprinted on my soul.  It was clever and they are a good way to waste an hour after a debilitating day at work.

However, I have a lot of problems with Mr. Monk (or the writers) and you people are going to hear about them.  (to quote Mr. Costanza on Festivus day).

The main issue is the portrayal of his mental illness, which seems to be extreme OCD and anxiety.  First, he is called the "defective detective," which is about as insulting to people with mental illness as you can get. Second, the illness is played for laughs and scorn, not for compassion.  His friends have compassion, most of the time (OCD people can be frustrating) but the audience is given permission to laugh.  Third, his OCD is selective and only shows up when it helps the plot. Fourth, he doesn't take medication, because it changes his personality.  This is not always true and misrepresents medications and how they can help. 

Fifth, and what is most telling, is that he is a jerk with no compassion for anyone else.  Absolutely no empathy or concern, even for the people who care for him the most.  No social filters, just like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good as It Gets.

This pattern in Hollywood of portraying people with mental illness as jerks, and as jerks as people with mental illness, is particularly disturbing for me.  Just like Hollywood writers and producers and directors have proven they are incapable of understanding the psychological pain of sexually abused through their longstanding practice of it, and just like this same group is incapable of understanding many Americans reject their extreme leftist ideologies, Hollywood does not understand mental illness and rarely gets it right. It is a plot device; it is Oscar bait; these "characters" are irredeemable, they are stock; they are tropes, not people.   

On the subject of autism, I suggest this article: 

I have done a good bit of research on autism (my brother and great nephew are on the spectrum, and the child of a colleague) and unless one deals with it in a close family member, one really doesn't "get it."  Yes, they, or should I say, their behaviors, can be incredibly frustrating, and there are many gradations and iterations of the "disorder" if it is such.  But their minds are not defective in the sense of being unable to function or learn.  They are advocating for themselves now, and we are seeing more and more in college (something academia is trying to ignore, trust me.)  I end with this quote from the article linked above:

Is there really an autism paradox? Or is this actually a paradox of human difference, and of what it means to delineate human types while also offering people the best opportunity to thrive. If we are to think creatively about how to identify difference without stigmatising it, it pays to think historically about how autism research got us to this point. Such history offers a rather humbling lesson: that it might very well be impossible to measure, classify and quantify an aspect of human psychology, without also muting attempts to tell the story differently.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Think - Pair - Share - Maybe, Maybe Not

Faculty developer types always encourage faculty to get students engaged with a think-pair-share activity.  I'm ok with that; I've done it, it's a good conversation starter.

But it's overused and not always effective.  The worst teaching technique is the one you do to the exclusion of all others.  Just like all lecture is bad, throwing in a think-pair-share to pretend to get engagement or to take up time is bad.

First, the question/prompt must be good.  Second, there must be a deliverable or accountability.

A version I have used is think-pair-share-square-cube.

1.  Students individually write down some ideas that they are processing about the topic of lecture/unit/etc.
2.  Each share with a partner, usually a seat partner (which is not always great because they may be sharing with the same person all the time);
3. That pair shares with another pair to get more input and perhaps with guided questions or an added tweak.
4.  That quartet engages with another quartet (obviously, the cube only works if there are enough students or it works out mathematically, more of less).

This way they have to take more ideas into account, a real discussion, and are presenting ideas to more people publicly. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Taxonomy of Reflection

First, to reflect is NOT to communicate.  Reflection is metacognition, not communication.  When we ask students to write a reflection paper, we are asking them to communicate, not reflect.  They are two separate things.

Yes, writing can be and is usually an excellent reflective device (not for everyone), but we don't really grade them on the reflection, but on how they write it up.  If they use writing to reflect, the product will not be in a form that necessarily follows rhetorical forms and makes sense to a reader.  If the reflector is too concerned about making sense to another, he/she will miss out on the depth and truthfulness of the reflection.

Reflection must first examine the experience fully, then do something with it.  In reflection papers we really want students to evaluate, not reflect, so they are skipping the real steps of reflection.

When we think of reflection, we should think of a mirror.  How many of us have looked at every pore and wrinkle and freckle on our faces?  Not every time, but over time we have.  I know the brown patches and white spots on my forehead, and you do too.  Reflection is first close inspection.  The reflector must first look at an experience, either in real time or in retrospect, in detail.

And let me add, this reflection of our pores and wrinkles takes place in private!  (or should!)

Then the reflector can do something with it.  In fact, once the reflector has really examined the experience, what to do with it will be pretty clear, probably.  Such things as contrasting, comparing, taking apart, applying, predicting, assessing, evaluating, and creating something new can come from the examination, and will probably logically grow from it.

When we reflect on a text, we are reflecting on our experience of it as well as what is really in the text.

Deep reflection of one thing may be worth shallow reflection of five or more things.  Reflection takes time and we value output and speed rather than depth. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

What is College Good For? Linked article

One more voice in a repubtable publication calling for educating young people for technical careers rather than liberal arts education.  If that's all that college is about--getting a job--then it's foolish to send everyone to college.  Trust me, they aren't getting it and are wasting their time.