Diversify Your Narrative

*Draft @ 5/16/21 @ 6:30pm*

As a straight, able-bodied, bilingual Chinese Californian male citizen with an associate degree, who will not be evicted if I lose my primary source of income, it’s good practice to under claim rather than over claim. here I am baby, no shade, but shade. Please verify the claims I or anyone else makes in your life for yourself, I have hope you weren’t planning to treat this as a social media clickbait, or the truth anyway. Remember just because writing with our voice or writing in the text is published, doesn’t mean it’s etched in immutable stone. 

Shareholder supremacy and the Market World capital at all cost, have man-spread their way into our public school classrooms by controlling the dominant narratives.

Caution: Manspreading occurs everywhere and anywhere

These narratives become pseudo-truths that lead to de-centering the learning needs of the students who are most vulnerable in our system of education. 

This is influencing our collective aspirations in achieving the ideals of democracy. I’m beginning to deeply believe then invest in public purpose, public services, and public goods. I’m learning how to defend and support the idea of public institutions as militantly as the Koch brothers, and the plutocrat class has fought for anti-government principles with lobbyists and policies. I need to stop internalizing the idea that governments are more inefficient than businesses. The reality is:

many businesses are faster at doing things because they do things that are way less important than what public institutions do.

My friends with 4.0 GPAs may boast to me that they can finish their homework in two hours, play video games (skewed because I’m a CS major), and barely have to study for their exams… from that viewpoint, they never forget to remind me that they are so much more efficient than I am. Why? 

Maybe it’s because multiple times in a single week: I have to deal with housemate drama, critically think about how CS curriculum matters beyond the grade and my employment, read between the lines of technical lectures that oversimplify without the guidance to verify just about everything, help my parents become better Chinese tutors which has of recently become essential to keeping our lights on, spend ~20 hours a week prepping and hosting my Supplemental Instructional sessions for Data Structures and Algorithms (side bar: student-centered teaching is more demanding than the Gates and Zuckerburg foundation markets their missions to be), work shifts at In-n-Out, do paid research in the College of Education and McNair Scholars, and read, (sometimes take the time to) think, write for The Learning Code. In that purview, my 4.0 friends still come up to me and say hey you should just focus on your studies and just get the answers to what your teachers are looking for… like why are you so slow… it’s like um yeah, I’ve got a lot on my plate, but thanks for the advice homie. “We have a natural nature to try to do things differently than before, that’s the heart of experimentation” – Po-Shen Loh, an award winning mathematician that is implicitly stating students need differentiated engagement opportunities, since… yesterday

I mean seriously I have classmates who boast about the knowledge they have in computer science, where they will literally build a 2-dimensional car on a screen that moves only on one axis and will say in perfect sincerity “you know, why do you care so much about your students teaching and learning and education? You should just focus on getting the answers in your classes, and a high GPA.” I’m like Hello I’m trying to figure out how to empower my cohort of learners in my discussion sections so they can actually feel like they belong, leave with joy, and a sense of freedom each and every time we work. Significant learning cannot happen without significant relationships and psychological safety. Ubuntu. 

People don’t learn from people they don’t like. You’re making an application where your 2 dimensional car moves back and forth on a computer screen. Please remind me again how inefficient I am, like we’re not doing the same kind of work. So instead of internalizing this prejudice and narrative that public services such as peer education sucks, having been in the same room as so many silicon valley tech start up people I hear talking, because they all enjoy talking about their work so loudly, but why do I rarely hear “John” having anything intelligent to say… the conversation usually goes like this “yeah charles just make sure you copy me on that email to Sarah, don’t want her to read it with any surprises, and oh yeah you just want me to reuse last week’s powerpoint? How about we do a different icebreaker for this?” *laugh* like what is John doing that’s adding social value for the communities he’s manspreading over? How many techies in silicon valley are adding tremendous social value? I don’t know, like my guess is peer educators at public schools are adding way more socially to the United States of America every day than most bros in silicon valley. “We have to fight back against this silly uninformed caricature of public action – wanting the wellness and success of the people in our country is patriotic,” said Anand Giridharadas author of Winners Take All.

The longer I work in higher education the more I experience plutocracy, a class governed by the wealthiest, influencing the ways our classrooms are funded, taught, and led – effectively influencing whether or not students become actualized, have agency in their professional networks, and efficacy in their ability to learn anything they see value in. I’ve never met a teacher who’s been teaching for a dozen years of their life, then go to some tech company and suggest changes in the way their production line of how electric cars or smartphones are manufactured. That’s probably because the teacher is asynchronously dehumanizingly grading – not because they feel that’s what’s most helpful for the 100 students they are responsible for, but legally required to. As if the process of learning can be compressed to a single letter. But more so now than years before, it seems like the billionaire class not only has more opinions about the future of education, where they lobbied us to use the technology they built, which will supposedly solve problems in education. However, anyone that’s been an actual educator knows that tech does not solve the most demanding problems that exist in a classroom. I trust with some critical reflection and research led by you, my reader, you will realize the production life of a product is far less complicated than investing in teaching as a process of change and positioning students to discover truths for themselves – not merely skill acquisition. We are all feeling the effects of when society does not fund and value teaching and learning as actual science.

Our education is marketed to help us develop the ability to hold multiple truths and complexities, to understand micro and macro, and society’s second-order effects of things such as where genuine civic discourse occurs. Straight up the business of teaching a novice learner to engage and value the subject matter is the hardest business I’ve been in. When we focus on strategic deep learning within our education, we defend against harmful policies and the people enforcing such policies in our shared reality. We will not stand by while we let the capitalistic greedy mercenaries and the pursuit of money at the cost of humanity, dictate how narratives shape our education. As a supplemental instructor, who hosts weekly discussion sections centering community before active learning, it is clear to me how much time and energy is necessary to develop learning trust, creative lessons, projects, and thought activities that reflect the diverse histories, identities, contributions, and experiences of the students in the room. If I were to solely regurgitate what I understood from class content, or force students to exercise active learning, before I co-constructed a space that was psychologically safe for learning to happen, my proposition would be drowning them in domination and control. I teach students, not content. Fear-based motivation for action is not how deep learning works compared to dream-building activation during the little shared time we have together in a week. It is time to reclaim our narrative, study our history and engage in civics. Your education should reflect you, but no institution, (traditional) curriculum or individual can ever do that for you. You have to see yourself and your dreams in the curriculum. But this is extremely hard when so many public institutions are operating under huge structural deficits. Pretty sure my teachers paid more income taxes than Amazon last year. 

Growing up I really struggled in learning anything in a classroom setting. I remember how dehumanizing, unengaging, or irrelevant the lesson plan for the day was. Especially when our precious shared class time was dominated by a lecturer that seemingly had no interest in their student’s lives. The representation of diverse racial ethic backgrounds exists in a classroom, not in the traditional STEM curriculum. This has been a way racial minorities do not identify or engage in educational institutions STEM departments. 

There’s so much cognitive and conscious dissonance paired with zero sum thinking that keeps us from acting in solidarity with one another. Are there Havard business case studies written from the vantage point of a warehouse worker, a laborer, a uber driver? Business schools should re-examine how they continue to churn out people when unleashed on society, show sociopathic instincts at scale. Profit at all cost is killing us. If we want a philosophy to be a foundational aspect of our lives, we have to consider critiques and alternatives. It’s within these dialectical clashes where intellectual roots can grow deeper. There’s a difference between Exposure vs. Knowing: how do we model for students 1) how to engage in long form consumption 2) challenging with the best critique and 3) comparing with the best alternative. 

Ultimate growth and engagement in learning starts with knowing ourselves. To build relationships to a level of unconditional trust, at times we must be willing to take a stand and bring the narratives in the room, to the forefront. Here’s a quote from a crazy math professor and learning doctor,

“We’ve never had a school system designed to teach students how to transgress. But I believe that is what we need if we’re to transform our society to empower the underclasses.”

– Jeff Anderson

How do you make sure history includes your story -> how might you design a career where your history makes an impact for a public purpose and the public good? Think about what makes public institutions so important in society. Healthcare: Keeping 350 million people alive vs. Tech: building an app where you share photos with your friends are two very different missions.

There are no woke points for being the first to merely share other narratives. There are no brownie points for being the first to update your truths. Being Current ain’t a thing to perform while others are doing the work or pitted against each other. Express what you need to, but here I remind myself to not turn this page into a stage.

Every billionaire is a policy failure. 

Every 4.0 student not guided to tutor their peers is a policy failure. 

The only person who’s better than you is embedded in you. – Chris Emdin from HipHop Ed.

Diversity your Narrative

Droppin’ some light on y’all Spoken Word Therapy

Dreams

Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Where our Story Begins – Be a Good Ancestor

When we receive our education while engaging in deep learning, we are interrupting 400 years of inequality. We are interrupting lies that have been told about who we are as 1st generation, international, black indigenous students of color. We are interrupting lies that others have told themselves about who they are. We are interrupting what stands in the way of our collective humanity and achieving the ideals of democracy. To do so, we must see ourselves not as victims but victors because we have to face who we are, what our dreams are, and think about how we are raised. The Learning Code, and all student-centered educators, are trying to interrupt the 400 years lie about what underrepresented, marginalized members of society are capable of learning and achieving. This country has shady receipts of when our civilization goes beyond 400 years too. America is very young. The legacy that lives within us humans of color, has cultures that go back from hundreds and thousands of years. So when we were dropped in our first school, where they suppressed our authenticity and creativity, that’s not where our story begins. 

One of the most cowardly things a person can do is awaken the love of a partner without the intention to ever love them back. That’s what schools have done. Schools that sold off the narrative that to be educated you gotta pursue these credentials, it’s a path towards possibility. It awakened the imagination of international, 1st generation immigrants, black indigenous students of color, that if we just pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, school is gonna lead us to the path to freedom, not just a W-2 paycheck. The system of school awakened our love, they sold us to the institution that never loved us back. As students we have to realize, when we enrolled in classes, we signed into this… now we are an appendage of the system. We can either follow it along or we can forge it to where it should go by focusing on our stages of deep learning. We have the responsibility to push the system we’re part of to fulfill the promise of love, liberty, equity, and justice for all. 

Loving back our original dreams and aspirations brought us curiosity into the world. We gave our schools curiosity, what did they give us back memorization and a few citations?

What are we teaching for, replication or activation?

Are we learning for admiration or inspiration? Are they teaching us for toxic competition or liberation? propagation or salvation? Taxation without representation is a real thing y’all. 

We came in with so much energy and hope to pursue something bigger than us, and they told us to sit down and take a test. I came here to have my world opened up and you said, what’s the standard? I came with the question of what the world is about, you gave me a rubric. So I keep bringing to you something bigger than my universe, and you keep bringing me back something that cannot quench my thirst for knowledge. Standards are so basic, real dreamers don’t have standards, we have pursuits. There’s no ceiling for pursuits. We came in with our shoulders back, and reached out for something bigger than the world, and you’re forcing us to bend over and take notes… all while not telling us how you truly learned these subjects. The only way to surpass this reality is each one of us has the responsibility to reveal that the bamboo ceiling is paper. 

There is ‘nothing’ an initiative, a foundation, or a school is creating, that’s gonna save international, 1st gen, black, indigenous, students of color, that does not exist in the imaginations of the hearts and souls of those populations already. My work like brother Jeff and Steve’s, along with sister Katherines, and the respective villages that have empowered us to find our voice and engage in deep learning, is to uncover the structures of traditional schooling that have made it so that deep learning could not occur. More often than not institutions have created the normalizing of oppressive practices, such as the myth of meritocracy, grades, technical/theoretical/abstract lectures without any guidance on previewing or understanding such events, and standardized testing, through our institutions that are supposed to be the salvation. This salvation was marketed to us as “the American dream”. We want to highlight the hypocrisy of institution-centered curriculum, and the notion that education is a path towards emancipation, in a system that was founded on ensuring certain members of our population will never be fully actualized. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, come sit into my computer science courses. 

We want to give truth with our words and voice to the gaslighting, that is part and parcel of the system in education. We want to do all this by helping you create deep learning experiences within your academic pursuits. When we have pursuits, we have no limits, whereby the definition of standards there are limits. I want us as a collective community to realize we can have a focus on academic rigor concurrently with a focus on humanity. I want to help each other operate with the paradigm, to where we see students as scientists and mathematicians undiscovered. Our job is not to force them to learn the material in a one dimensional way from us, but to help us collectively ignite the fire that exists within us so they can learn deeply. My work is an extension of TLC when we speak to the mission of helping you all learn anything you want to learn to achieve your dreams, in the underbelly of the powers that be. 

I am a reflection of all of your stories, rhetoric, and narratives. I do so through computer science, in humanities, through service and culture, through truth telling, but at the anchor of it all, I’m a peer educator, because you, are my peer connections. 

How do we get folks to get their hearts right? How do we get people to stop enacting violence on us through curriculum or standards driven by the unconscious biases and flawed assumptions they hold about us. Be a good ancestor – find out your origin story.

Below are questions from the Common Application that I encourage all of us to reflect on.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Woke References: 

Conversations and mentorship from Katherine Lee, Steve Silva, Jeff Anderson, Scott Lankford, Cynthia Rostankowski, Valerie Fong, Brian Cheung Dooley, Ellen Middaugh, Mark Felton, Sonya Bennett-Brandt, EOPS, MESA, College of Ed., OpenStax, Foothill, SJSU and many others…

Podcasts and other media by: Chris Emdin, Kimberly Crenshaw, Zaretta Hammond, Jennifer Gonzalez, Tara Yosso, and also many others…

To understand two key ideas I was building off of in this post here they are:

5 Stages of Deep Learning

What is Deep Learning?

Support for Victors 🛡️ not Victims ⚔️

Over the past 5 years, my experiences in STEM operate under a cycle of instruction and teaching that has done more harm than good for myself and my closest friends, many of whom have been weeded out. We cannot interrupt the cycle unless we face that the cycle exists with nimbleness and critical reflection, to which Jeff, a learning doctor I discovered by going into office hours, calls system navigation. The entire narrative about the underperformance of students in college is required when there’s a financial structure that is based on saving those students.

If everybody in my CS courses received a full score on their ACT and SAT, then the billion-dollar industry of test/college prep is gone. If all the students in the CS department received a passing grade, then it is likely that the adjunct or assistant professor will receive shade from their colleagues, for conducting a class with not enough rigor. To which I would say: rigor doesn’t have to be rigor-mortis; if we had brain activity monitors on during in class meetings, it wouldn’t take long to see how engaged we really are during technical lectures without dialog around motivation, prior knowledge, and feedback.

Sadly these methods of instruction and grade distributions become the norm even when tenure is awarded, to where we really only allow the most privileged or remarkable students to create significant learning experiences during this out-of-date right of passage. I will continue to call out some of the truths I’ve experienced in my college journey in hopes of resonating with your experiences. However, I will also present a solution that has empowered me not to be weeded out, earn +$30,000 in scholarships, complementary travel around the world due to my mediocre ability to write personal statements, and ignite a career path in community college teaching I never knew was ever a possibility. 

Imagine if everybody in our neighborhoods feels fully actualized, graduated college and earned a stable middle class job within a year of graduating. If that were the case, a whole scholarly body of work around community-focused interventions would be broken. “These cats construct hills of our downtroddenness, then they can create industries about our victimhood, so they can perceive themselves as savior and make it a generation of income and about status” said Chris Emdin, one of my favorite speakers of all time.

As students, if we’re lucky and gritty enough to have made it this far, we understand that we have an opportunity to interrupt the cycle by not being complicit in the articulation of these stories. It helps to experiment in setting clear goals for ourselves so we learn how to learn, and complete our course work with genuine fulfillment. If haters are always telling and publishing stories of our downtroddeness, they will always see us as victims and never see us as victors

We will NOT be a victim of poor STEM pedagogy where we gotta act that way, dress this way, speak a certain way, and perform STEM only in this particular systematic way that our teachers are barely staying above water to grade, anyway. Bars, dat rhymes right dur. Education was never meant to be institutionalized or systematized to begin with – say no to the banking and labor model of education, that grinds our most precious resource, human capital, to dust. 

When we (keyword: we) do this, they make us complicit in the dominant narratives, so the students who become weeded out, become the marketing scheme of the brokenness. 

The restoration of our collective humanity is the most essential piece of any revolutionary work. 

This is why there’s a dozen students who continuously show up to my Supplemental Instruction Sessions for Data Structures and Algorithms because we restore humanity by co-learning at a healthy pace that is revealing just how flawed and constrained traditional methods of teaching are in the very little shared meeting time we have together. For more on this please read “How Learning Works: 7 Principles to Smart Teaching by Ambrose et al.”

Oftentimes, it’s about the psychological work first. 

Harriet Tubman “I freed XYZ amount of slaves, I would have freed so many more if they knew they were already free.”

When our minds are free and our souls are fed, our brains will follow. 

When our school system, meaning the classes we are in, does not feed our sense-of-self or belonging it’s no question we will replicate these types of oppression. #FreeOurTeachers to #FreeTheStudents. Replace 50% of an educators teaching load, with time they can spend developing out their course:

  1. Why critically thinking about their students prior knowledge matters?
  2. how to help them organize their knowledge?
  3. what students true motivations tangental to the curriculum or syllabus may be?
  4. how to design and scaffold their course for evidence based mastery (such as a portfolio of work), not drill and kill or regurgitate information (which is no longer scarce) only to be dumped out when the grade is given?
  5. how to facilitate goal directed practice with critical feedback?
  6. how to create a social, emotional, intellectual climate that is conducive to learning, but more importantly belonging?
  7. how to empower their students to become self-directed learners?

For more about these 7 Principles here check out a 50 minute workshop by an Author of this work: https://youtu.be/9-an_8tN_mA . Until teachers are incentivized, funded, respected, acknowledged, empowered, finally heard… to do this work above, it falls onto the shoulders of students. It has taken me four full years of experimentation in my teaching roles to realize, each one of these principles demand to be a full time research job, to be able to truly design meaningful educational experiences for students who will run our world, with or without their degrees, in the (very) near – future.

Here is my proposal for y’all: generate help-seeking practices and find support for each and every single class you struggle with. Without doing this for the past 5 years, I would have 100% been weeded out, fallen off the rails, or have gone away.

Implicit here is the collective healing work many people in academia, including myself, haven’t done yet… due to the attachment of systems to policies rooted in the gut of dominance & control (from our GPAs to our teacher’s Salary Caps and workload). The incentives passed down by the systems act as if they were the only ones to grant us affirmation, value, and success… as if those elements cannot be created by ourselves and with our students and learning communities collectively… This is taking its toll on everyone. Just look around, how many people in higher ed. have a spark left in their eyes? 

The blind pursuit of capital – or curriculum/syllabus – at the expense of humanity is the underlying flu that robs all of us of our collective worth. By virtue of growing up in the Bay Area in the early 2000’s and having friends who live in the marginalized communities we label in higher ed… we have the genius to share, that is suppressed in our traditional schooling practices, because personnel and policy do not want to invest to see our light. We gotta empower Young folks to find then understand their humanity and identity… to position them to see that you all are inherently wealthy. Contemplate this: The more we repeat a behavior, the more we you reinforce the identities associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin word essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness.’”

Take a moment to reflect on what growing up in your communities, on planet Earth means? Research the famous people that grew up in your neighborhoods, or have a deep conversation with people who have played a huge role in your life and what their upbringing was like.

Schools have to reimagine what they think of as curriculum, to incorporate community cultural wealth and capital to be just as essential as Computer Science, Math, English, Physics, if not more quintessential. 

The moment a student registers for a class, from four principles of the book How Learning Works by Ambrose et al: 1) given their prior knowledge, 2) how they organize knowledge, 3) their motivation, 4) their current ability to be a self directed learner- BEFORE they even meet their teachers or begin the course, they will very likely be either an A student or a student who’s about to get weeded out, given the inequitable game of grades. As CS professor Seshadhri Comandur who earned his Ph.D in CS from Princeton University, states: when we blindly pursue the curriculum or syllabus, we are expecting our students to run a marathon at the end of a semester, when some can barely run a mile to begin with.

It’s when we center the human dimension, learning how to learn, incentivizing the advanced learners to engage and inspire the less motivated students… in the very little amount of shared class time we have… where we might begin that healing work for the marathon. Yes, educators are healers. And yes students who are hyped about class content and have stronger learning foundations, in our very classes, could lead mini small group lessons if given the proper guidance and human (not capital) incentive. This happens in every S.I. session I host for two dozen students in a Computer Science class by the way, this can be designed. If I can do it, you can do it too. 

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is building a small support team for each one of your courses. From strategically going to office hours with a focus on human dimension before content, to tutoring centers, to reaching out to students in the class by stating: where you are with the course, what’s going well, and what you’re struggling with, and whether or not they’d like to set up a time to study together.

From research on: habit formation, Plan Act and Reflect portion in a learning doctor’s syllabus, and 100’s of office hour meetings with Jeff Anderson here is an image I created that you may save, print, or better yet, re-create for yourself in your own words.

Here’s an example focused on help-seeking practices using this table above.

  1. Do: Make it Obvious. We can all use help in our learning journey, that much is obvious. Lead with intentionality that you are willing to be vulnerable and be willing to communicate. Share what is going well for you and what you’re struggling with in the class and multiple dates & times you are willing to study with your peer, go into office hours, go seek tutoring services. 

Don’t: Make yourself invisible to your professors, peers, and support services at your college. Don’t Do It, please. 

  1. Do: Make it Pleasant. Think about the most fruitful experiences you’ve ever had in your life, there’s a good chance it’s with another human being. We are surrounded by fascinating people in our college journey, and we create the culture where we occupy. 

Don’t: Reach out for help only 1 time with your peers, going to office hours, trying out tutoring, then giving up on that service and interaction completely. Learning how to create healthy help seeking practices will require finding the sweet spot (link), and a willingness to remember the reward at the end is much greater than content knowledge. 

  1. Do: Make it simple. If you’re messaging your classmates on what’s going well and what you’re struggling with, along with your availability on when you could meet, copy and paste this message and send to classmates you believe in – base off their behavior and attitude in class. If you’re going into office hours, in the first week of school, put office hour times and locations into your weekly calendar to reduce friction. If you’re going into tutoring, make an appointment and follow through. 

Don’t: overthink what reaching out for help really means. Remember people thirst for a human connection especially in academic settings, so lead authentically and learn together. 

  1. Do: spend time reflecting on what you enjoyed about the help seeking practice you tried. Think about what you can do differently and what you can do better. How to prepare, how to experiment, how to adopt a growth mindset about seeking help. 

Don’t: operate with a deficit lens by focusing on only what went wrong or was unsatisfying. 

Fall 5 times, stand up 6. 

Please share in the comments below what help-seeking practices mean to you, and what your best help-seeking practice story is! 

Please try implementing the habit table above and let me know how it goes.

What are 2 useful things you found in this post – if 1 isn’t the table I drew, how can I improve on the table so it makes more sense?

What’s your number 1 habit you attribute your successes to?

What’s your habit table look like?

What if we were free?

reflecting as a peer educator hosting Zoom meetings for over a dozen students throughout the week
Credit: @WokeTeachers IG

I have so much joy seeing my peers learn from each other in their supplemental instructional sessions for data structures and algorithms. I am dedicating this post to why creating a safe, then productive learning environment equates to being free. If you are an educator, recognize the answer has always been in the room. Here is a draft of what I presented to my peers in three 1-minute chunks, with breakout room activities asking for what they understood out of my objective as their peer educator, on earning trust and building community. 

If I do not help you feel more connected with your classmates so that you have at least 1 peer you can reach out to throughout the week, I should be fired. My goal is to ignite the love of communal learning because that’s what’s gonna change your life and our communities, that’s the algorithm I’m passionate about. Teaching without passion is just talking, learning without passion is just doing, so I wanna help y’all, me included, create the conditions to be passionate. People ask me, Henry, why are you so intense about education? Well, it’s because I’m passionate about the possibilities. I recognize the privilege of freedom. I realize the urgency of justice & citizenship. I’m passionate about y’all. I go to sleep at night thinking about what it’d be like for a CS class to be interactive for 60 minutes out of 70. Look at how far we’ve been able to come with a whole system designed for us to be disengaged and misunderstood. A whole system that denies you of your own form of expression and cultural intellectual capital. Could you imagine all the possibilities that could be, if y’all were genuinely, free?

Play the what-if game: What if we broke into small groups and did the coding activities together in collaborative teams for the majority of synchronous shared class time. 

What if the advanced learners could be incentivized to teach their peers the content, with an agreement that their peers deliberately take notes, give credit where credit is due, and share them with their friends, for the betterment of the class.

What if educators, myself and y’all included – because no one can ‘teach’ you computer science, this has to be learned – understood their connection to their students was more about authenticity than what they know? No one (really) cares about how much you know, what we’ve all been waiting to feel, is how much you care. 

I would rather any day of the week have a teacher who doesn’t understand the content, but has a passion and love for their students, to teach you geniuses by virtue of your existence and grit, how to co-learn. Then we extract the conceit & ego around who gets what content. This is: Shared Responsibility for the acquisition of knowledge. This, is what transforms teaching and learning & transforms the future of learning. What’s crazy is y’all know this already. This has happened to you in your life in some way shape or form when you’re learning something. 

Let’s see how to design learning experiences and environments, so that the passion and curiosity becomes awakened. Sometimes when I’m in a role of instruction, I act like I have no clue what to do. “Henry what do we do with this data structure or algorithm?”, bromeo (brother & romeo), fammm, I don’t know – we gonna have to figure this one out together. I mess up on purpose, I struggle with a purpose (credit: Jeff’s intellectual brilliance), and before long I start modeling for them what it looks like to not give up.

When I figure out how to edit and share the magic that is in this type of learning environment, I will update this post with what that looks like in practice. 

Conversations around intelligence quotient or IQ lends itself to objectivism which lends itself to an agonist way of looking at the world. Folks who claim to be agonistic align with the concept of agnosia: an inability to see what’s already there, an inability to interpret sensations and hence recognize things. This is why I know the answer has always been in the room. 

Healing the damage that’s been caused in spaces not designed for us. Divorcing our authentic self from the pursuit of knowledge. That traditional educational structure and mode of instruction has robbed us of our cultural intellectual capital. With our belief and spirit compromised, we’re inevitability broken. Let’s help each other create the spaces, where we celebrate the answer that’s in the room, and be free. 

Shout out to all educators, who consistently read the room, reflect on who,why,what,how,when their students are learning, who flipped their classrooms, and continuously innovate in their methods of instruction. Take care of yourself, take care of others. See you next week.

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

Human Capital

I suck at learning in school settings, especially in the math and sciences, but I still transferred to SJSU for computer science after 4 years at Foothill Community College. 

I suck at English – thank you for bearing with me – but I still made thousands of dollars for writing scholarship essays and tutoring dozens of students, who went from barely composing 1 sentence, to multiple A grade papers. note: grades do a poor job at measuring authentic learning – the learning you document, organize, track, and make use of, does a much better job at doing so.

I suck at public speaking but I position myself to share my story, learn through discussion, and actively listen to save my peers headache and heartache. 

I suck at developing human capital, but I’m working day in and day out to do so, because I believe in harnessing strengths that are inimitable to humans

This is a blog piece that will be followed up with one on how I get paid $ to study and write. Writing personal statements and statements of purpose with deep reflection and metacognition have led me to a dozen scholarships, 4 internships, 2 research opportunities, but more importantly an awareness of self that keeps me centered on how I show up in the world. 

This is a supplemental post to Jeff’s on Goals (which has a podcast of Jeff filled w cilantro & spice!). Even though there’s a psychological cost to writing a goal and not following through with it, that doesn’t mean that we should give up on writing SMART goals completely… Being centered with who we are, where we’ve been, where we want to go, and what goals we have is essential to developing our human capital. You know, so we don’t forget to cultivate abilities like empathy and imagination along the way in the robot age… Our idolatry of billionaires equates wealth with virtue, but segmented tech & wealth doesn’t equate to humanity or commonwealth moving forward.

I do not agree with everything Chamath is saying here, but I do want to highlight what he says from 9:47 – 11:00 min, because it’s directly related to our collective goals in education, who we want to become, and how we obtain & sustain our needs in that journey. 

Below I render Chamath’s response he gave Andrew in the video above.

The single biggest problem America has right now is, we have a few large companies, that suck up the enomority and the overwhelming majority of all “traditionally” educated humans with human capital – often equipped with technical or rare skills that influence – potentially oppress with algorithms that decide who sees what, how often, and from whom – the masses. If you are a privileged young college graduate, how do you turn around to say I’m gonna work at a non-profit, create a career in: education, activism, civics, climate change, sustainability, agriculture, health, opportunity equality, in my local community… versus half a million dollars a year at one of these big companies. When Chamath graduated all he could think about was the student debt over his head… So it’s quite natural to work at one of these large companies. But when human capital goes there, what products are they working on? It’s like unfettered free agents. Imagine you had a pro sports league with no salary cap. What would you do? You would go and hire and sign every single ‘great’ player and stick them on the bench (lol). You’d be guaranteed to win a championship, you’d be a monopolistic championship winner year in year out.   

Lets zero in on the products that privileged / educated people are working on nowadays… Are the products many of us are finding ourselves on more often as these companies grow larger, creating or hurting citizenship?

Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

― Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

In conversations of what an education is for, I noticed they are primarily designed to address the need to become financially independent and move out of your parents home (in the USA anyway). Most of the people around me defend that education allows us to have more opportunities in our lives. However, when opportunities that actually do align with our values, are not well defined or researched, it is difficult to be ignited to then sustain motivation during the course of our education. Although some people believe that it’s not worth investing the time to research what opportunities may come from earning an education, others insist that it’s essential to do so by reflecting deeply about our personal stories. 

The striking arrogance of our American exceptionalism allowed us to ignore the virus of fringe ideas fueled by algorithms and profit.” – Galloway

The happiest and healthiest person I know is my professor Jeff Anderson. While I realize his work ethic could have made him an amazing mathematician working in industry designing algorithms for profit, his work in community college education allows him to lead a life that he will be proud to remember – by generating scalable teaching and learning algorithms that empower his students to 1) learn: how to learn all while 2) obtaining career capital. 

I know he has done a ton of work reflecting on his story and writing about it regularly, so he doesn’t fall in the trap of the dominant narrative – industrial mathematics. Instead he has crafted a career that would align to his values and the impact he would like to make on our planet for the next generations. I recognize that the conversation about values comes from a place of privilege, because I’ve lived and worked with people who have to work essential physical labor 10 hours a day (compared to studying) to put food on the table and keep shelter over their heads. Which means their ability to make time to think about values and apply the lubricant towards upward social mobility and human capital, is constrained by the life & environment they are currently living in.

However, as we are navigating our education and asking ourselves wtf am I gonna do with this degree or with my life, I have found thinking and writing about my values, which requires deep thought about my story and reading (which includes listening and observing others), to be an untapped vessel of direction & motivation. We all know motivation comes and goes, but with a stronger understanding of our personal stories, our values, and where we want to go, by SMART goal setting with horizons of focus in mind, we (know we) will live happier and healthier lives. Ultimately this will position us to work with/for/on “products” that may be most meaningful, especially in the scope of a lifetime.

Scott Galloway Prof of Marketing at NYU – after watching minutes 9 – 11 of this video here’s a Q for future educators: before you count a peer out, due to their insufficient ability to learn something, how may you provide significant learning support to address their culturally diverse skills-based learning needs for what you’re requesting of them? How many students do not graduate because we are not willing to look in the mirror to see what rigor is really doing for the majority of students?

Here’s what Scott had to say: “the worth of a society isn’t the opportunities that it offers to it’s remarkable – born with tremendous opportunities and resources. Do we continue to funnel more and more of our spoils to the small segment blessed and born into wealth? Or isn’t the worth of a society what kind of opportunities it gives to it’s unremarkable? To the kid who doesn’t have access to the test prep, had challenges at home, doesn’t at age of 15 have a patent, isn’t building wells in Africa, and isn’t captain of the lacrosse team – kids who get into these schools are 2 cohorts, the children of rich kids, or children who are freakishly remarkable. The ivys are more spectacle than historic, UCB will graduate more kids from low-income households than entire ivy leagues combined. But where America fundamentally changes, is at these land grant public schools that educate 2/3s of our students.”

note: I do not agree with Scott that tier 1 or ivy league graduates will produce great leaders, simply…

because authentic leadership that is representative of, and serve the population in the local community requires humility by lived experience, many tier 1 institution graduates did not live to endure.

Imagine having the wherewithals: from resources and skills to help others, and not doing it. We can not depend on charity and philanthropy – epidemics like harmful services & products must be cauterized. Let’s build our human capital together by reflecting on our story, our values, where we want to go, and who we want to be – that way we may generate ‘products’ that are more marvelous than the ones our mainstream media or big tech popularizes.

Let us harness our human strengths, for those that came before us, and with those that will come after.

Community Challenge:

What “products” are you working on, and would you like to be working on? you’re welcome to use a flexible definition of products here

How are you developing your human & career capital?

What’s 1 thing people can not tell by looking at you?

What would you like to be proud to be remembered for? 

What is a problem you had, what actions did you take, and what was the result?

What does privilege mean to you? pls contemplate on the word privilege, not regurgitate from what you heard in passing.

What was a pivotal moment in our life where you overcame a challenge and that experience helped you develop values that you were unaware of?

Lying Hiding and Faking – Learning Needs Hierarchy Battling the Great Leap

How’s flawed pedagogy, where teaching methods and philosophies center seemingly irrelevant content in a way where the majority of class disengages… relate to the Great Leap Forward of the People’s Republic of China led by the Chinese Communist Party from 1958 to 1962? Let’s preview how unachievable expectations matter… 

Weeks ago a faculty member who has been advising me in my literature review on learning skills required to succeed in STEM shared: in the College of Engineering, over 80% of students were shortcutting their own learning by ‘cheating’ in some way. Stunned when I heard this percentage, while also empathizing with all who suffer from this reality: students and their families, to educators and our local communities ALL angst when academic integrity is infringed upon.

I recognize the importance to protect the integrity of the subject matter, curriculum, the students, educators, and school. This village is trying their best to prepare the minds of the next generation to develop a career and contribute to society, but how will they be able to do so, if they are bound by the realities of flawed pedagogy, which is one avenue that leads to academic dishonesty? There are prudent questions and problems that arise when students are copying and pasting answers they found online or through a friend to obtain a grade. Frankly, I believe no human benefits in this situation of dishonesty which creates a psychologically unsafe space that leads to no trust therefore no learning. Amy Edmondson writes and presents (podcast/video) on the idea of psychology safety extensively.

Are we asking the right questions as to what’s leading to these outcomes?

When students have unhealthy learning habits… coupled with little to no belief in what they are learning to be learnable or meaningful… compounded with the need to put out immediate fires (AKA arbitrary deadlines on a syllabus)… I am not surprised that 80% percent of students in the College of Engineering struggle with staying true to the learning objectives their professors with good faith and integrity set for them. Truthfully, the ones who suffer the most here are the students and their families.

When Chairman Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward to reconstruct the country, he decreed to increase grain yields 🌾 and steel production 🏗️ while turning the countryside to a systematized industrial production machine. Local officials in the countryside were fearful of Mao’s wrath and judgement from his unachievable claims such as collecting surpluses of grain (which did not exist) to repay Russia, all while millions of people in his own country were starving to death. County officials nationwide, over 80% of them, did not dare to report the economic disaster caused by these policies, while officials, blaming bad weather for the decline in output of supplies, took little or no action. 

I listened to 7 hours of various podcasts on The Great Leap Forward and below I share an episode I’ve listened to on repeat for 5 times over the past week. Learning Note: Podcasts are similar to lecture in this sense, where even if you’re super engaged and finding the information relevant, until you can slow down the processing of the information, you probably will not be able to make use of it in a meaningful way… It wasn’t until I sat down and started writing the keys from the episode, then comparing it with readings, could I be able to hold on to what the podcast was highlighting.

From The China History Podcast by Laszlo Montgomery who’s been publishing for 10 consistent years on China’s antiquity to modern times states at around 13 min 20 seconds:

“The whole system was an utter shambolic to the maximum; from the top down, and back all the way to the top. Mao would show up to the cities on his train, where the whole visitation would be staged. From the communal dining halls, overflown from the food to the crops, that were moved and replanted closer to the train station so when he came into town he could see with his own eyes how abundant the whole harvest would be. And when these local officials would get their moment with Mao, they just pulled out their shoeshine box and spilled their guts to the chairman about how great their policies were and how fabulous everything was… How there would be no problem to meet or exceed targets handed down from the party center. Each stop at each commune, Mao not only saw how well things were going with agriculture, he was also about to see how the steel production was thriving. But in reality the majority of the people at these steel factories had no idea what in the world they were doing. Those around Mao knew the truth, not a single one dared to speak up. Top down from Beijing, down to the provinces, to the individual communes, no one dared to speak the truth about travesty that was occurring.”

People would mix trash into the bags of grains they were supposedly needing to produce to meet Mao’s expectations.

The Great Leap resulted in ~50 million deaths, making the Great Chinese Famine the largest in human history. 

Who are the ones who suffer the most here?

I hope we can all remember this historical moment when we experience lying, hiding and faking, because there’s critical value in thoroughly understanding what is leading to these outcomes, what’s honestly achievable, what type of support & leadership people need.

At The Learning Code we work to make learning meaningful, achievable, and purposeful, so that you are less likely to be in a position to feel like you have to compromise your own integrity and short circuit your own learning. We believe deep down to the bottom of our hearts, if we do our job well, you will not only be able to stay afloat in the demands of a course, but learn more than ever imagined possible in school related work! We work so you have tested & proven practices to adopt, so that you will not have to lie, hide, or fake your own learning, but instead be eager to learn and engage with the challenging, abstract, theoretical content. 

While colleges around the nation are graduating enough students to keep the equilibrium, are we really creating the leaders that we need to solve the problems we see in our societies? (check out a letter a CS professor wrote in 1988 on this matter…comment-able google doc) Or are we merely trying to blindly increase our “industrial output” like Mao, when millions of his own citizens died right in front of his eyes, and the eyes of who survived (AKA graduated in our academy).

I am fortunate to have been introduced to a comprehensive definition of learning by my community here at The Learning Code. With this working definition I can then focus my efforts and time on my learning, while suppressing the urge to infringe on my integrity to pass a course. 

I’d like to share with you a practice I’m using to track my cognitive deep work time. Let’s define intellectual deep work as reading/writing/thinking that we know needs to get done, and doing so without distractions. I really suck at this type of deep work, unlike being present in conversation, because I am too easily distracted and have so many less cognitively demanding desserts to choose from all the time…

However, this practice helps me address the multiple tiers on the hierarchy of learning needs Jeff Anderson presents in this talk to community college educators here starting at 4 minutes.

I’ve rewatched and taken notes on the first 25 minutes of this video multiple times for anyone that would like to have a discussion with me on what’s being presented 😀
Open to your feedback on tracking Deep Work this way!

When Spring starts I will begin a new sub-sheet within this sheet and I will also look into how to represent the dates, times, and duration to visually see my deep work.

I have 6 active projects that I need to work on over this winter break, and to make progress on each of them weekly, requires that I am cognizant and deliberate of what I’m working on. 

Thomas Kuhn argued that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions,” and in those revolutions “one conceptual world view is replaced by another”

For students: Let’s replace our views and messages of: “I can’t learn this, I can’t learn that” which exist in our head with these new perspectives such as defining learning as change in each tier on the hierarchy. I trust that if we may build and continue this habit of tracking our deep work, we will be able to address multiple tiers of the Learning Needs Hierarchy while not losing any of our horizons of focus on our path to becoming ‘scientists’! 

For professors: If you’ve ever had to deal with academic integrity issues with your students, I recommend you to lead with empathy and see if you can find the root cause of the problem. You may also forward them to our blog posts on Belief, Writing Goals and Scheduling, as we see these to be some skills to reduce the likelihood of lying hiding and faking. If you’re super courageous please see if this video by Jeff on lecture note systems, you’re welcome to play at 2x playback speed, is worth sharing with your students.

Because the plural of anecdote is not data, the plural of data is not science, the plural of science is not truth -> lets reflect together on how we may help each other.

🏵️ don’t let your dreams die – by taking goal setting, scheduling, and learning more seriously 🏵️

Community Challenge:

  1. how does academic integrity relate to the Great Leap Forward?
  2. when have you addressed lying hiding or faking?
  3. how might you track your deep work hours to meet your learning needs hierarchy?
  4. I welcome any questions/comments, areas of improvement, what you’d like me to research on next, or what you’d like to see change in my work – because an important goal for this writing is for it to be valuable to you.

please submit your response in the comments below – to allow for multi-generational communication across multiple disciplines! I trust your response will influence the past, present, and future viewers of this piece; and what’s neat about this is: it’s not just a book sitting on the shelf – those are more well written than this – but here you may engage in fruitful discussion!

Spoiled Education

What does spoiled milk have to do with education?

Frederik Douglas (1818-1895), from his Narrative of the Life as an American Slave, written by himself, tells us that:

“If you teach that n**ger, speaking of himself, how to read there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy”

When educators uphold their limited rudimentary definition of ‘rigor’, this leads to dehumanizing learning experiences for the masses. There’s nothing new about this phenomenon if you’d like to take a gander at the origins of IQ tests and how ideologists leveraged it to exterminate others. Q: After watching the 6 min video, how do IQ tests relate to your experiences with exams? please let me know in the comments! Rigor is not “managing” your students after dumping incomprehensible content-centered work onto their 🍽️. Rigor is not actualized when there is no modeling on how to break apart teacher-directed requirements which are not centered around the students reading & learning needs. Rigor is when ➿relevancy meets ➿engagement coupled ➿ with authenticity➿. Rigor is when students are sitting at the edge of their seats 🪑, eagerly waiting to do the heavy lifting that is learning 🧠: investigating the abstract theory 🧮, collaborating with others the techniques being displayed 🧪, critiquing the methods 🥼, challenging creating ⌛ and leading. This is where real change happens; when we empower students how to learn, beyond our anecdotal experiences and content knowledge, so that they have the momentum and skills to solve the demanding problems that exist in our world.

When educators are not positioned and do not invest time to model for their students “how to read” the content delivered – this leads to the spoiled 🥛 that is injustice ⚖️ . To unravel our teachers’ expectations in college requires an understanding of how learning works. Many of my teachers, especially in STEM, assume we know what they are talking about and are following along just fine, because many of us “pass”. As someone who’s taken over 20 STEM college courses, formally tutored & mentored 100s of students over the past 5 years, and spent the last 2 years doing research in the science of learning and student advocacy, let me tell you 50% of students at least, have no idea what’s going on in (zoom) class, and 80% aren’t learning anything *significantly (click to hear what I mean)* Don’t cite me in a peer reviewed journal, do an anonymous poll for yourself: warning, the reflection in the mirror is almost always a tough one to swallow, if you’re a noob like me. We can’t have yesterday back, but we all can suck a little less tomorrow than we do today, thanks to neuro-plasticity fused w curiosity.

When we don’t explicitly teach the skills that are required for students to learn the material, that is ⚖️Injustice⚖️. As soon as our teachers assume away our learning needs, this leads to a spoiled education ☠️🥛☠️. Without demonstrating to students how to have a growth mindset and sustainably learn, only the most advanced students benefit in that environment. I refer to my advanced friends who are straight A students, and a bit out of touch with how learning works (like we all are), my ⚔️ conquering capitalists ⚔️. They’re really gritty at getting things done and covering their own butts, but don’t count on them to help you when you send a poke. More so than before, in Colleges of STEM in particular, we are churning out students to practice exactly what we are teaching them to do – individual gain at the expense of others. No judgement or blame for those peps, because the system incentivizes this since that’s the scoreboard 🎯. I also recognize a prerequisite to helping others is helping yourself. However, I contend that it is at the detriment of our collective fate, when we condition the majority of students and professionals to be ⚔️ conquering capitalists ⚔️. 

There needs to be a balance of covering our own butts, while bringing each of our peers up and with us, and not only is that balance no where to be found in my courses, it’s at times not even allowed.

yes, this was from an assignment of mine Fall semester 2020

Learning how to address the challenges that inevitably arise during our time in college, by unreflective failure AKA failing and retaking a class, leads to statistics such as: 2018, 42.8% of all persons between age 16 and 24 were not enrolled in school. This means the educational system is perfectly comfortable with holding the keys to upward social mobility.

I know if I hadn’t met educators who genuinely helped me learn: how to learn in STEM and recognize I can leverage my skills to bring about justice by becoming an educator, I would have dropped out completely. Because when we have a dehumanizing experience in just a few courses, this easily leads to feelings of doubt, depression and fear for our entire education. 

In Michael Sandel’s book on: Justice – What’s the right thing to do? He critiques the value perceptions of our dominant culture. An example, a value dispute is whether scientific or technological pursuits are superior to humanistic pursuits. Certainly these do not have to be mutually exclusive, but when engineers at a tobacco company may make multiple times the amount of money educators can make, there’s a problem. “The humanistic territory that philosophy lives in, harmonizes well in way of thinking about philosophy, critical thinking or logic,” said my professor Cynthia Rostankowski. So a logical problem (that I challenge you to find a solution, 1 which is investing time to learn how to teach yourself, A.S.A.P. like yesterday…) is, as soon as educators have more than 50 students on their roll call, it’s super challenging to address the individual learning needs of those students because as highlighted in my previous post on Cognitive Fitness:

“It makes no sense to expect all students to take the same amount of time to achieve the same objectives” – Ben Bloom

Michael Sandel’s starting point in his book is that

  • We live in society and we have conventional views about what a society should do for us 
    • What might we do for society as well?
    • Sandel claims that the majority of us want a ‘just’ society.
  • ⚖️Justice⚖️ is all about the distribution of things we value, but this could also be intangibles, not just goods)
    • Income wealth
    • Duties & rights & 🥛 from the teat of the 🐄
    • Powers and opportunities
    • Offices and honors
  • If society is ‘just’ bc it distributes the things we positively value in a good way, then what sort of way is a “good way”?
    • A just society gives each person their ‘dues’
    • 3 ideal approaches of ⚖️JUSTICE⚖️ to distribute good things of society:
      • Welfare
        • If we agree that prosperity (i.e. the good things of our society) matters, then justice requires that we maximize welfare in society
        • The well being of us as a collective society
      • Freedom
        • If we agree that we each are entitled to basic freedoms (w.o infringing on others freedoms), then we must figure out how each person’s freedom is best realized in society
        • But the nature of freedom is not an unconstrained license (it’s not, I can do whatever I please)
        • Real freedom means we have to keep in mind each other’s freedoms
        • How can each person’s freedom from that moment, be actualized
      • Virtue
        • If we agree that we all seek a good life and that getting a good life means that we have to think about being good as well, then we have to consider:
          • What becoming good requires and means
          • What society will be required to contribute to make a good life possible for us
        • All of this relates to developing character, making it possible for each one of us to get closer to a good life.
How does all the above fit into EDUCATION & LEARNING?

Poor teaching and learning practices are not merely what is said or what is done, but also what is not said, what is disregarded, ignored, and willfully neglected. *feel like you’re in a detox juice blender yet? Well yep, that’s how abstract theoretical lectures feel like too* As a student it’s never too late to teach yourself to learn: how to learn. Truthfully the first person you need to teach is yourself, if you would like to be liberated. The Learning Code and student centered educators create content on learning how to learn while accessing the deficit mindsets of our dominant narratives: to save you energy and time. Please see if you may learn from our mistakes and perspectives, go to the office hours of your professors who you admire and have a conversation around learning, and remember that you can learn any skill you want to, no matter what anyone tells you!

For educators: it’s not too late to churn out a batch of fresh milk – before the people we conditioned to become ⚔️ conquering capitalists (link)⚔️ realize they been spoon fed the spoiled milk, and diarrhea all over us, including themselves. Oh by the way, that’s already happening at scale… So what may you do to make your community more ⚖️ ‘just’ ⚖️?

What matters most in education?
Thank you Lurie College of Education at SJSU for sponsoring me to attend the STEAM symposium! I witnessed the most powerful and authentic keynote performance by Chris Emdin I still reference on a weekly basis. Teaching and Learning deserve to be respected, funded, and acknowledged as a legitimate science, for the future of our country. Who’s with me?

A Vote for Cognitive Calisthenics

While gym memberships cost around $30 a month, upper division undergraduate college education in America may cost anywhere from $300 to $3000+ a month… After 5 years of living through that, I (sadly only recently) realized: lectures, sections, homework, exams, are merely ‘opportunities’ for increased critical thinking, citizenship, integrity, humanity, justice, compassion, curiosity, and autonomy AKA learning how to learn, to become more cognitively fit. Similar to how weights in a gym are merely opportunities for increased physical fitness and identity.

While professors do good work in presenting us information while designing assignments and exams to assess our learning, the truth is, majority of those ‘opportunities’ cognitive fitness, without proper technique, coaching, guidance, and mindsets, lead many students consequently backpedaling towards our collective mission at a university. 1 difference between the gym vs. lecture, aside from the cost, is we can’t visually see how our peers are developing their cognitive fitness, whereas, we can more transparently see how people are becoming more physically fit. When someone is jogging or doing a pushup, pullup, or a squat, I can leverage mirror neurons and mimic their movements. But when my peer gets an A+ I rarely will get to see what / why / how someone is learning to measure up to what our professors are expecting.

An open ended petition to rethink lecture in 2020 and moving forward.

“It makes no sense to expect all students to take the same amount of time to achieve the same objectives” – Benjamin Bloom
fooo reaalll

While many classes may seem disengaging, irrelevant, or abstract… remember that we are fully capable in developing the practices as well as mindsets of learning how to learn to equip ourselves with the vocabulary, tools, principles and armor to make the most out of our classes. 

There are musicians who can understand each note in the image below just like how there are computer engineers who understand computer code and math. But they didn’t have these concept images the moment they were born – they developed cognitive fitness around these languages, just like you have, if you are able to read or understand the words I published here.

Some surface level facts about the brain. Our nervous system has cells called neurons where information from one neuron flows to another across a synapse. Our brain has over a billion synapses. Any time you learn, which we may define as a process of changes involved in: beliefs behaviors attitude or knowledge, your brain is creating synapses. Sleeping refreshes updates and develops these synapses creating stronger more myelinated brain cells. 

Learning is demanding and uncomfortable; we learned from Newton’s 1st law of inertia that an object at rest stays at rest. Learning hard skills cause anxiety and stress, not to mention you have a million more entertaining things you could potentially be doing – reading this blog post isn’t 1, but I appreciate you and want to help you learn. This discomfort activates areas in the brain which will direct you to do something more pleasant. However if we remind ourselves we can learn anything we want to learn, and just start, that cognitive discomfort begins to go away.

The more abstract or irrelevant something is, the more important it is to develop neural connections to bring abstract ideas to reality. There really is not much of a short cut to onboarding yourself to musical notes, math, language, computer science, so just remember hard & abstract concepts require more time. You are not alone here, no one gets an exemption from this. The only reason computers are not as abstract for Bill Gates was because he was hella interested in computers, had access to them when he was a teenager, and had mentors or significant people of influence that encouraged him to learn about computers.

Concept images, neuroscientifically speaking, bond together through exploration, understanding and application. They may grow and become more complex and can become part of your working memory and daily function. Walking reading speaking listening are examples of concept images at work. The elephant not in my room is, classes are boring and hard, so: how do we build concept images most effectively, then efficiently? 

  1. Reduce Distractions
  2. Solve the problem yourself 
  3. Focus on 1 thing at a time
  4. Ask yourself what did you learn, understand the illusion of competence
  5. Space out the practice 
  6. Active Recall with Reflection
  7. Ask yourself what did you learn, again, and write those thoughts down
  8. Unlearn old ideas and challenge your intuition 
  9. Interleaving practice 
  10. Deliberate Practice 

With finals coming up here are some questions, I hope will guide you to learn more in your courses

  1. How may you create mini-study guides / synopsis for each class meeting you have?
  2. What questions would you ask if you were the professor?
  3. While so much of what we’re required to learn is more boring and demanding than watching food videos on YTube, what are some different ways to perceive this material?
  4. What are the key objectives of the class today?
  5. Are you investing some time for self care?

On exam day here are some strategies introduced to me by Jeff that have helped over the years

  1. Invest time to look at the exam in the beginning 5 minutes 
  2. Track and Solve the questions that are easiest first, to build momentum and confidence 
  3. Shift your thinking from “I’m gonna do poorly on the test” to “I’m going to do my best because I focused on the learning”
  4. Schedule time to breathe deeply into your stomach and channel calm thoughts if you are stuck

Remember when you arrive at your upper division courses, it is common that tutors, resources, study groups will become more scarce just like they have for me this semester. Therefore, the sooner you begin focusing on your learning and investing time to be metacognitive of learning how to learn, the more cognitively fit you will be! 

Not a Chinaman’s Chance

Me Reading this Blog Post

The phrase Chinaman’s Chance from 100+ years ago is related to “The Unrest” that is 2020; my claim (I welcome you to stand for or against in the comments) is we can connect Chance and Unrest to examine how students like myself are learning (or not) this academic year. One origin to the phrase Chinaman’s Chance may be traced back to the development of the U.S. transcontinental railroad. During construction, volatile bottles of nitroglycerine were used for blasting, and often Chinese workers would be lowered over cliffs by rope to place the nitroglycerine. According to a newspaper article in 1870, 20,000 pounds of bones (remember this number for a later paragraph) from Chinese workers who died building the railroad were shipped to China (you may use the ‘find’ feature in your browser for the word “bones” in the summary). Another origin of the phrase Chinaman’s Chance is from the California Gold Rush of 1849. The time it took for the news of the gold rush to reach China, most of the mines were already taken. These Chinese immigrants who arrived late only had lands which had already been exploited, meaning these late arriving immigrants had a spare chance of success. Therefore upon arriving California, “Not a Chinaman’s Chance” of making it. There’s a 3 hour long video PBS is currently hosting in Amazon Prime Video that showcases some of this story. Does the idea of lacking genuine chance resonate with you and your story? This not a chance woe combined with unrest is something I felt & experienced in many (STEM) college courses.

The vast majority of my peers from Foothill College to SJSU are not white, and many of us found ourselves in one way shape or form affected by the gush of racism and plague of covid in 2020; along with the unprecedented fires and choking smoke that made all of us hold our collective breath… so the question is could we have done anything differently to protect ourselves? Simplifying our understanding of race to just be the color of our skin is dangerous due to the hierarchical nature & narrative of that simplification. I recommend you listen to this Curious Minds podcast episode by Gayle Allen if you’d like to learn more about how that viewpoint leads to detrimental dehumanization. Visceral reports of Anti-Asian, Anti-LatinX, Anti-Muslim, Anti-Semitic incidents flooded the Bay Area as they did on our respective campuses. The dehumanizing “rhetoric coming out of the White House” not only “made it hard to concentrate,” for doctor Scott Lankford to empower his students at Foothill, but made it increasingly difficult to derive meaningful value from our online educational experiences out of our bedrooms on Zoom. Some of my international peers found themselves threatened with the sudden message of deportation. My undocumented friends were told that their Dream Act Protections would be gone. All of this was the reality of thousands of students trying to keep up with the expectations of the syllabus or curriculum, all while not having a fair “chance” at learning, in an environment and system that has always been rigged against the ones with least power & wealth. Therefore, pedagogy, the method and practice of teaching matters (most), especially when that’s all what many students have.

Co-Generative Learning Environments Restore Faith in Humanity

How does chance, unrest, and pedagogy relate to learners and students who are (dis)engaged with their course work and The Learning Code?

The director of the Ronald E. McNairs Scholars program Maria Cruz shared with me on multiple accounts for The Learning Code equity and learning grant “in 2019, less than 20% of first generation SJSU students graduated within 6 years.” 

If 🚀 astronomical alarm 🔔 bells 🔔 are not ringing here in terms of systemic issues at play, please re-read what Dr. Cruz researched above with the McNair’s Scholars team. This to me, after insights from the heart of educational professionals that I’ve worked with over the past 4 years, is a clear indicator that the ~80% non-completion rate after 6 years statistic is a manifestation of some surface & shallow thoughts of:

a) 1st generation students just have more challenging lives and responsibilities…

b) they lack healthy sustainable learning habits, or effective study skills…

c) they just aren’t motivated and don’t know how to manage their time to do the work…

d) how can YOU be under privileged or under represented in Silicon Valley?

*okay dominant mainstream narrative, sit your donkey down*

Would you have those thoughts about your mother if she couldn’t learn how to edit a pdf document?
What type of offspring would you be if you BELIEVED those thoughts when you could have showed her how to edit a pdf, and wrote some notes for her on how she might do it next time?
How about if it was your best friend who dropped out of school due to substance abuse compounded with the flawed & narrow minded thinking of (a) – (d) above?
Fact: Drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of death in the US for those under 50 years old.
think about it

~80% of students unable to complete their college degree after 6+ years, when many advisors and administrators, state and federal authority policy & funding, expect us to finish in 4… if that isn’t a prescription for a nuclear disaster and untapped familial & societal potential, please tell me what ‘else’ is? Turn on your phone and open your email, but don’t forget to open your 👁️eyes👁️ – do you not feel the consequences when teaching and learning are not treated and funded as legitimate 🧫 petri dishes of cognitive kindness & sciences 🧫? When the DMV warrants drivers licenses (at least back in 2008) without ever guiding drivers to learn how to drive on the freeway, there are serious ramifications of this… There’s a concept of “Linked Fate” that I’ll expand on in a future post. But just because you have the driving skills and habits to be a safe vigilant driver, doesn’t mean you will be immune to the people who lack these skills when you’re on the road. Just because majority of your students pass, does not mean you have given them the lessons they need to thrive in the near future. Just because you live on higher ground, doesn’t mean you aren’t also needing to hold our collective breath during the record breaking wildfires of this year. Lets crown just-because-isms phenomenon as – JFIO Just Figure It Out.

What would it look like for our system to genuinely support the ~80% of students who do not finish in 6 years, systemically? Spoiler alert, want smaller student to teacher ratios, vote. Extra Credit Spoiler, focus on how to learn because the first person you gotta be teaching & leading is yourself… because when “the going” gets rough, we better hope we’ve set the foundation of sustainable learning habits and help seeking practices in our current college rhetoric, to fight the good fight. JFIO.

Why is there not a learning habits and study skills “funded” open access course (club, organization, support center) that leverages the social-cultural capital each and everyone of us embody, to develop agency in our challenging coursework? Who are the students who have the wherewithals to learn by failing multiple courses, and to re-enroll? Who really are the A students besides hard working, disciplined, and interested in the subject? More importantly, how do we not ostracize them just like we do our students with F-C grades? Isn’t infringement on academic integrity a symptom of JFIO(just figure it out)? How many learning disabilities arise due to JFIO? How many students drop out due to JFIO?

Why not give more of us a fair chance? Last spoiler alert, it’s up to us, as students to 1) slow down and critically think about our own academic plan & 2) find reasons to study the material beyond the learning objectives our professors have set for us.

There are ~5000 1st generation students at SJSU, 20% of that number is ~1000. A thousand first generation students who do not graduate per year at SJSU is on the smaller side of the ledger. If we multiply ~1000 by 20 pounds of bones per student body, that number becomes eerily close to the number in the first paragraph. Shame on me, Henry Fan, not graduating college should not be compared to tragic deaths due to merciless physical labor, but I argue they are similar, in a sense of a Death of a Dream. When my ancestors came here to help build the railroad or mine for gold, they were sold a dream for a better future. When my peers started their college education, they were advertised a dream they’ve been told can be achieved in 4 years for a brighter future, too.

Sobering Fact: I’ve interviewed 3 senior engineers that told me it took them 6+ years to get their undergraduate degree 12+ years ago… So why in the world are we being advised & pressured to graduate in 4? The truth is, many people (unfortunately including ourselves) are navigating college as if we were a Toyota Corolla in a production line. However we are all human, we are not cars.

With the developments in the digital age, I’d like to make a bet our STEM curriculum and course of requirements only had more stuff crammed into it, since. Solution? Teachers JFIO (just figure it out): Speak Faster *Jeff can you add your goofy sound byte here of, “don’t dooo ittt”? that would be perfect* We all been in those rooms when the only person in the loop is the speaker, that environment is not friendly and directly contributing to the ~80% of students who do not obtain their college degree…

This begs the question: do we have a “chance” at a college education? Do people in positions of power have our learning interests at the top of their minds or are they simply preserving rigor? Why do startup companies get more attention & assistance than the thousands of college students who do not complete their degrees? How do we get our demanding learning needs met, assuming we have our basic needs already? How the *bleep* do we JFIO?

Here’s some insights when vailent students try to advocate for themselves in addressing their learning processes in a standard computer science class. 

Summary Dialogue on Learning 

Student: *right after lecture in office hours* wow, that was a lot of content

Professor: Yes, and?

Student: How am I supposed to remember all that material, for my exam?

Professor: wow, I hope that’s not why you are trying to remember it

Student: what should I do then?

Professor: Come on Henry, I thought you knew better as a returning college student after working for 6 years after high school. You should be trying to learn something here. That way when you go off into the “real” world, you’ll understand how to apply this stuff

Student: hmm, I’m certainly trying to learn something… may you give an example?

Professor: You know like learn data structures, algorithms, and programming languages and then be able to apply it to your life and in the professional world.

Student: But I’m talking about making sense of lecture and making sense of the material you delivered along with the other 4 hours of non-trivial lectures today… rote or applied, how do I unpack that?

Professor: Tutoring, form study groups, revisit your lecture notes, ask questions, gotta spend the time, the standard stuff you were suppose to have learned in high school.

Student: *Inner Thoughts: 1) why do you have to throw less engaged students in the deep end then point to these bandaid services? 2) how might you address the issue of failing students at it’s source for genuine enlightenment for all parties involved *hint: pedagogy & TLC*? 3) the ethos of college is to toughen us up before industry, but who is that really serving and harming? As I flash back to high school experience, but never having practiced any of those skills my prof. recommended* Okay got it, thank you for your time. I wish our class was not overenrolled, because it’s conversations like these, where students stories may act as a catalyst, for real change to happen.

The End of a 2.0 GPA Drop Out

Before I met really student centered professors and staff members like Jeffrey Anderson and Katherine Lee at Foothill College, I felt there wasn’t a chance for me to graduate with a STEM degree because each STEM class was like a high intensity crash course in a whole new language. What ultimately relieved a ton of pressure from these oppressive dehumanizing feelings were deeply pragmatic ideas & methods of how learning works all while unpacking my social cultural identity to develop effective reasons to study, beyond the grade.

 

A primary motivation for all the work we do here at The Learning Code is help students feel and experience – AKA begin developing a track record of study skills & learning habits that can be leveraged term after term – that whatever it is they want to learn in their life – specifically in their courses they are investing thousands of 💵💵💵 for – they may learn and utilize in their professional & personal lives for many years to come. We genuinely believe you all are some of the brightest (AKA most hardworking) students on our campuses… not because of your GPA or how many clubs you’re involved with, but rather the humility through lived experiences we know so many of you embody. We can all use more people in our lives that believe in us, so let’s continue to build trust, to seek guidance and counsel on reimagining purpose and happiness, all while developing career capital, in our lives. What I am working to achieve through every bit of content whether it be blog or any form of media is to give you all an insider look on just how difficult yet fulfilling learning may be. Fair or unfair, we do have a chance, and The Learning Code exists to provide you skills, tools, mindsets, and encouragement that you can, Yes You Can.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s bold vision I recommend you read out loud:

“I have a dream that one day right here in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”
What’s your Dream?

I have a dream that students will make the most of their “chance” to transform otherwise not engaging or relevant material in their lives either in or out of school, into profound pieces of knowledge to be benefitted from, for rest of their lives. I have a dream that no matter the “unrest” or academic performance anxiety students encounter, they will be seen as intellectual beings, who simply haven’t figured out the habits necessary to play the academic game. I have a dream that one day students of any race ethnicity gender socio-economic class will be given a fair “chance” to engage in discussions & intellectual collaboration around STEM and other disciplines, not because knowledge work is the magic bullet, but rather, it’s within those dialectical clashes and curiosity filled thoughts, are where our roots of quality and character have a chance to grow deeper. Those roots will emancipate us to solve problems we otherwise would not be able to solve in the world, abundant with growth & opportunity only to be realized by focal skills & thinking that requires deep contemplation.

Besides supporting yourself and your family what problems do you want to solve? What degrees or skills do you need to unlock, to position yourself to solve those problems? Is that pursuit one you’d like to be remembered for when you’re 80 years old? What is your safety net if you were to fall short of that aim?

I want to inspire you all (by extension myself, lol) to become self-regulated learners, not only because it’s one of the most important aspects to my education, but it is a valuable outcome that will pay us and our families (by extension our communities) in spades. Truthfully the journey to becoming a self-regulated learner requires a ton of independent heavy lifting, but research what that takes and continue to follow TLC to not be alone in that push. No, we do not bet on Tesla or Facebook or their shareholders to solve some of the most demanding problems that exist in our communities at their roots. Our bet is on YOU, the most important shareholders to the future of our cities!

I’ve worked in hospitality long enough to understand the differences between transactional vs. transformational service. The more student success equity committee meetings I participate in, the more I feel STEM education is becoming far too transactional in terms of standards, grades, and what they are aiming to deliver. I fault myself for not having the study skills and learning habits needed to see beyond the transaction-ality of grades, and I have the wherewithal to learn through failing class after class, and the great fortune of meeting life saving people at Foothill College, but what about the ~80% of maltreated students? What if those were your children?

I’ve been led to read some of Milton Freedman’s work in consumerism economics, by my all star Humanities professor Cynthia Rostankowski, and I’d like to paraphrase what she said during my check in with her today:

“…what Milton Freedman misses is that to be able to be as free as capitalists think the people in a economy should be, it requires others to have a duty to allow them to be that free – when they do not acknowledge the duty of others for them to have a right to make a pile of money, this leads to a failure of libertarianism in turn neoliberalism, and much much more…”
Words like: duty, right, free, will require me some time to wrap my head around

I encourage you not to pursue STEM (or any college degree) for the sole sake of obtaining rare and valuable skills for deeper pockets, but to realize your pursuit of a college degree allows you to exercise cognitive calisthenics long form thinking: all while actualizing your coexistence with the others around you, challenging with the better critique, comparing with a stronger alternative, deep research … you know, processes you’d normally practice on Yelp or Amazon but for your own personal vision & mission… because it’s within these stages of thought where we develop mindsets & skills that will ignite & propel our drive to become better version of ourselves – a global citizen.

I wrote this post instead of studying for my midterm to empower us all to focus on our learning, so that we develop more “chances” and opportunities in our lives to live out the potential we know we have. I see a ton of youth & adults without the ability to engage in long form contemplatory thought… and live in a whirlwind of anger, regret, and loneliness due to it. This is a very complex problem, and online-keyboard warriors screaming and bashing everything is a small warning sign. However, The Learning Code and Foothill College community has opened my eyes on what learning and living can be, so the least I can do is remind all of us: we have a chance, and the earlier we focus on what/who/why/how we’re learning while restoring our faith that 1) we need each other to thrive and 2) we are as hardworking and intelligent as our out-of-touch counterparts, the higher that chance will be.