When there’s no line at the library…📚

I use to think reading assigned readings in my courses was unnecessary. Many of my peers assumed that as well because we can get by while only doing a fraction of what’s expected; 3 hours of work a week for 1 unit enrolled, yeah no thanks. But after 5 years of STEM college education, I realized that reading is extremely necessary to unzip the foundational knowledge many of our professors expect us to do. Here are some categories to creating significant learning experiences from L. Dee Fink’s writing.

Taxonomy of Significant Learning Experiences by L. Dee Fink

In fact, as I’m in my upper-division coursework, it’s required to read deeply, just to pass. Gosh, that would have been nice to know earlier on – a huge mission to TLC is to allow you to know earlier. This realization challenges the work of educators and students alike who have long assumed that learning how to learn – is something we all will figure out during our right of passage – that are the letters after our name – in our education. However, the data of college dropout rates in STEM disciplines challenge the work of all parties involved, when we do not explicitly teach the science and art of how learning works. 

But who really cares? Who besides The Learning Code, and a handful of serious educators – which include but are not limited to parents, tutors, mentors, fellow associates, colleagues, and teachers – have a stake when we drop out from college? By focusing on outdated metrics and celebrating the ‘few’, I think many of us overlook the deeper question of, what in the world are we actually learning? The truth is, it’s on us the learners to study with purpose, because very few professors have the ability or freedom to do that for you. At the very least, the people who formerly believed that learning how to learn with intentionality doesn’t matter, I invite you to begin changing your minds.

If any other establishment I worked for was loaning their most valuable items, say less – an urban phrase derived from say no more – there would be lines even more chaotic than the ones we witness on Black Friday as a nation out the door. The retail shop, burger joint, even the electronics store * when we probably would be better without the surplus of digital anythings brainwashing us on a weekly basis * would have a line wrapped around the block. But not the library. I never saw a library with a line out the door. 

Now that we’ve moved many school textbooks and readings that could be loaned through the library or openly accessed online, it’s even more convenient.

A century ago, information was scarce and books were far harder to obtain than they are now. A couple decades ago, obtaining instructions on “how to do” something was difficult. To this day, my parents still think I’m doing black magic when I reset our router and modem. 

“It’s too pricey,” or “I can’t get access to a solution” used to be really good excuses for not reading. But we have obscured the truth. The truth is, it’s hella work to change our minds

That’s why there is no line out the library, who is giving away their most prized possessions. It’s too much work to change our minds. It’s hella scary to fail, especially when we don’t have any safety nets there to catch us. It’s too much work to plan, act, and reflect. It’s hella work to develop concept images. It’s even more work to go from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. It’s just too much work to imagine walking through the world with multiple/critical/intersectional lenses, knowledge, and empathy.

That doesn’t have to be the case. We can refuse to be brainwashed into accepting the existing conditions, beliefs, and mental models, and we can commit to finding the human / resources, engaging with them and learning significantly.

If we care enough.

Somehow I’ve gone through two decades of formal education, without ever thinking about what it means to study or learn – which are two different words & verbs. The conclusion I came to about four years ago when Conquering College by Jeff Anderson was presented to me as I had no idea what I was doing to study. For an introduction on Conquering College please read the article: Deep Learning

And for extra credit, the credit is a small deposit into your own learning bank, look through Reading Mathematics and it’s comment field. 

The National Youth Poet Laureate, a bold black woman wearing a bright yellow coat who is honored with an award for outstanding creative and intellectual achievement presented “The Hill We Climb” after the siege on the Capitol. Here are the final words from that poem:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to BE IT.

So go ahead, begin reading for yourself and your mind, you get to skip the line.

Community Engagement:

What comes up for you when you read this?

How have you or are you changing your mind this year?

How do you learn with purpose


3 thoughts on “When there’s no line at the library…📚

  1. What up Henry. Nice work on this post. I love that you integrated a PodCast and a video in your work. I also see that you left the reader with some challenges. I’ll see if I can respond to each one.

    1. What comes up for me when I read this post?

    The first thing that comes up for me as I read your post is the name of a book I want to read. The book is called The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger. Maybe you’ve already listened to him speak about this on a PodCast (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/cm-166-jonah-berger-on-changing-peoples-minds/id1049183266?i=1000485525478)?

    In that book, the author highlights proven strategies to change people’s minds. Your post makes me think about that book. As a college educator, I’m in the business of inspiring deep and lasting changes in students lives. But I don’t know that I’ve ever studied the mechanisms to do this effectively. I’ve spent a lot of time studying how learning works. I also try to read deeply about how white supremacy and racists policies have effected my own learning. My hope is to re-educate my mind so that I can be better serve my students and create equitable learning environments.

    The next major topic I want to sink my teeth into is how to create cohesive team learning structures in my classes. My hope is that I can have students form triads and work to complete the course as a learning team. I also hope to learn how to have students engage with other staff.

    All of this work is essentially dedicated to helping students pick up the challenge you laid down: to actively engage in their learning and to take the reigns of their education. I believe that Jonah Berger’s book highlights very useful information in this quest. Thus, as I read your post and think about the call to action you give your readers, I feel a strong urge to read Berger’s book ASAP. Maybe we can put that on our deep reading list for the TLC.

    2. How am I changing my mind this year?

    Well… I am in a constant state of change and learning. I try to be an avid reader and to pick up new ideas from everywhere I can. I also work hard to iterate my teaching skills. I can speak for a very long time about all the changes I’m making just this quarter.

    But, let me be a little more personal. When I was in college, I used to box. My fighting weight was 168lb. My normal weight was about 175lb for all four years of my undergrad. By the time I got to graduate school, I beefed up to a solid 180lb which is a good weight for my 6’1″ body. I basically maintained that weight for all of graduate school through the birth of my first son.

    But in the four years since my first son was born, I have gained somewhere between 20 – 25 lbs. Some of my friends who are also dads call this the fatherhood fat tire: it’s a layer of fat right around my hips. I believe most of this comes from long-term sleep deprivation. My wife and I had two kids in two years which, at present, makes me the very proud father of a 2-year-old and 4-year old.

    In the first four years of my life with kids, it was not uncommon for me to get no more than 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep and also to get no more than 4 hours of sleep total. I made a pact with myself (and my wife) that I would change every diaper at night. I also promised that I would burp the kids after nighttime feeding and put them back to sleep. I felt strongly that since my wife gave birth and breast fed, I wanted to do everything in my power to contribute to our children’s night-time needs. For the most part, I stuck to my promises. True, my wife would change an occasional diaper but I took responsibility for the vast majority of our kids’ night time needs outside of breast feeding.

    One challenging reality for our family is that we lived in a small apartment in Redwood City. This scenario meant that we had little choice other than to sleep in the same room with our kids. I loved this situation for the closeness to our sons and for all that went along with that scenario. But it was also brutal for getting good sleep.

    Two things have happened in the last six months. Over the summer, we moved to a larger home where my sons have their own room. And in January 2021, my younger son just started to sleep for more than 4 hours at a time.

    So… my answer to your question is: I am currently learning how to sleep again. And by doing so, I find myself with extra bandwidth to think about my workout habits. Last week, I started every morning with at least a 1-mile walk. Instead of getting up at 4am and starting deep work immediately, I tried to sleep in until 5am and then to walk at least a mile as soon as I got out of bed. I even did this before coffee. I plan to continue this trend and really change the way I engage in my life. With my kids sleep habits finally kicking in, I can prioritize self care a little more routinely. This is one set of goals in 2021 that I am really excited about. I miss the crisp, sharp feeling of a well-rested mind.

    3. How do I learn with purpose?

    Slowly. Very slowly. At this point in my life, I like to think that anything I really want to learn deeply has to be challenging enough that it will take me at least 5 years to make small progress on and interesting enough that I will be willing to dedicate at least 10 years of hard work towards. This is one way that I try to focus my mind on big, hard problems. This also implies that I have to be very selective for my projects. I don’t have too many decades of my working life left and I want to make sure I spend those on projects that I believe deeply in. This is one of the reasons you hear me say: slow and steady so often. That is as much a reminder to myself as it is to anyone else.

    That kind of reminds me of Jo Boaler’s book The Limitless Mind. Here Learning Key #5 states “Speed of thinking is not a measure of aptitude. Learning is optimized when we approach ideas, and life, with creativity and flexibility.” Thus, instead of trying to be a jack of all trades, I have decided to focus my energy on a small number of projects that I feel strongly about. Most of these are all about student learning in undergraduate mathematics since that is a field that I want to push to new places.

    I hope those answered your questions. My last note is about a YouTube post I left you yesterday. I’d love to connect and start editing some of your TLC posts together. I think you have a lot to say. In fact, you are now one of my favorite authors on this planet. I know that I have really benefited from the work of good editors in my young career as a writer. I’d love to spend some time with you sharing ideas about editing and writing. At some point, I’d love to point you in the direction of some of my favorite books on writing.

    One example of the type of feedback I’d love to share with you is below:

    The first line of this blog post that I read went as follows:

    “I used to think reading assigned readings in my courses was unnecessary.”

    I might suggest changing one of the appearances of the word “reading” to a different word. You might try:

    Option 1: “I used to think that finishing all of my assigned reading was unnecessary.”


    Option 2: “I used to believe that I didn’t have to do all of my assigned readings. So much of this work seemed unnecessary.”


    Option 3: “I used to think reading all assigned content in my courses was unnecessary.”

    In general, I try hard not to re-use the same word or phrase in a paragraph unless it’s absolutely necessary. I like to avoid re-using the same words/phrases too often because I think it keeps things fresh for the reader.

    Sometimes, it’s impossible to get around repeating the same word multiple times. This is particularly true if I’m writing technical content or defining a new use for a word. And this rule usually takes lots of editing time. If I’m writing under a tight deadline, I sometimes ignore this rule just to get content pushed out.

    One of the reasons I like to work towards this rule, though, is that it forces me to spend more time editing. If I’m serious about this rule, I have to re-read my work multiple times. While I do so, I think deeply about what I’m trying to say and the words I use to say it. I’m always amazed at how often I can find other ways to express an idea if I try hard enough.

    I have a bunch of these little nuggets that I use in my own writing. I also actively work every day I live to improve my skills as a writer. One way I do this is try to read every day I live. While I read, I look for writing that makes me smile or prose that I think is remarkable. Whenever I find these little nuggets, I file the structures away in my mind for a future date. Another habit I do is to read at least one book on writing each year that I live. This year, I think I want to return to Strunk and White’s Classic entitled On Writing. Would you have an interest in cracking that open with me? No pressure. Just an invitation to have fun learning together. Every time I hear your thoughts on a subject, it pushes me to see something I hadn’t seen previously.

    In any case, I hope we can do this. I think you’re ready for that next stage… I look forward to chatting with you about this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What up Henry. Sorry for the delayed response. This has been a busy week. I just finished editing my PodCast narration from my last post. Just in time to start again for my post tomorrow.

    This is a big accomplishment!

    In the last three weeks, I was able to:

    1. Write one post.
    2. Write thoughtful comments on both posts from you and Steve.
    3. Record, produce, edit, and upload a PodCast narration of the post.

    Given how much work this takes, I like the pace of doing this once every three weeks. I hope I can refine my skills here so that this now becomes the habit I maintain moving forward. Eventually I think I’ll be ready for the next challenge. I think you suggested filming some video content for each post, right? I’m not there yet but I’ll keep that on the back burner as I continue to build.

    I did want to follow up about our discussion of editing from last week.

    I have a huge interest in our team becoming kind, compassionate, patient, poignant, and effective editors for each other. In my life, I have a team of editors I use when I’m writing content that I plan to push out into the world. These people include my wife, my brother, my parents for most things that matter and also trusted colleagues for individual projects.

    I believe that one of the greatest gifts an author can receive is the gift of good editing. This reminds me of that Ezra Klein PodCast with Michael Lewis (https://www.vox.com/podcasts/2019/6/5/18654486/michael-lewis-reads-my-mind). In that interview (I’m not sure the exact time stamp at this moment), Michael Lewis talks about the team of people he uses to edit his work and also about how important choosing the right people is.

    I think we can learn how to edit each other’s work. I have been very slow to push for this on our TLC team because good editing is hard. I tend to like to partition the skill building process into pieces. We are doing a lot of growth right now and I felt strongly about living by the motto “slow and steady.”

    However, I definitely want to be able to have editing conversations with you and Steve and Katherine (when she’s ready). I could imagine a small portion at the start of each meeting dedicated to discussing possible edits for the latest blog post. These discussions would be designed to catch spelling or grammar errors, suggest ideas on how to edit that might make the work pop a little more, and build larger discussions of strategy for our long-term vision.

    I know that I highly value this type of discussion for my own writing. Both you and Steve have ideas and perspectives that I want to incorporate into the way I write. And as we grow, I know I will learn to trust you both as editors. I also have a ton of experience to share with you and Steve about academic and nonfiction writing. I know Katherine does too.

    So I suppose I want to pose the questions below to each member of our team:

    1. What will I do to improve my own writing capacity?

    2. What will I do to improve my own editing capacities?

    3. How can we (the TLC team) engage in shared experiences around writing?

    3A. One idea is that we can join TAA (https://www.taaonline.net/) and plan to attend their conference every year as a team. We can gear up for that together, attend together, and debrief together. We don’t have to attend all the same workshops. This is where the principle of 4 > 1 comes in: each of us can build specialties that make the group stronger than the individual parts. If I attend a workshop on how to get a writer’s agent and you attend one on copyright law, we can share in ways that would be hard for one person to do alone.

    3B. We can read each other’s work and comment. This process involves consciously building trust together and building systems to share in the joy of this work.

    4. What can we do to build our editing capacities as a team?

    4A. On the last three blog posts I wrote for the TLC, I spent a minimum of 12 hours during the writing process. I spread that out over many days so that I can stay effective at my day job (veggies before dessert). Of those 12 hours, I bet that I spent over 6 hours dedicated to editing: reading, revising, re-ordering, deleting, etc. In my comments, I try to simply write. But in formal posts, I try to push myself to refine and clean up my work to make sure my words capture my thinking in a cogent, clear, and precise style. Someday, I hope to build in humor also. That is a stretch goal for the future.

    During all my editing, I try my best to catch all my errors but I often find spelling and grammar issues in my work after I’ve published. I would so value the chance to have other eyes on this work to catch spelling and grammar issues.

    I also have a ton of ideas and feedback after reading each post that you and Steve publish. I tend to focus on the content rather than the writing. I do believe though that being able to talk deeply about writing mechanics will push our team to new levels.

    5. What other questions do you, Steve, and Katherine think we should be asking ourselves and the team about our writing processes?

    No need to respond. At some point, I’d like to share this with the group, not this week though (this next meeting will be all about deep reading Flow I hope). Let’s keep this in the back of our minds. Maybe we can have Steve and Katherine read this comment also so that we all can meditate on these questions over the coming weeks, months, and years.


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