Category Archives: Teaching

The story behind the picture

education-is-everything

In the late 60s, early 70s Walter Mischel, a Stanford psychologist and researcher, conducted the famous marshmallow tests with children.  These experiments sought to understand children’s abilities to delay gratification [Click here for Wikipedia article].  The resulting articles that came out of the experiments claimed that children who could delay gratification would be more successful in life because they could delay gratification and understand long-term gratification or reward over short-term gains of a smaller reward. Mischel followed up with these pre-school students and found that the ones who delayed gratification fared better in life. Hence, this study has been taken up by people who want to fight against a lack of willpower, temptation and promote the latest psudo-psychology craze grit [click here for TED talk on Grit](Urist, 2014).

The study even noticed how poor children weren’t able to delay gratification whereas the more well-off children could wait the 20 minutes and receive the additional marshmallows. This section of the study also helped promote some of our most harmful tropes or “poverty myths” about poor people, its their fault. If the poor parents, like poor children, could overcome their need for instant gratification and delay then they could “lift themselves up out of poverty”.  These myths, like stereotypes are not harmful because they are untrue, but because they only tell a single story or a partial truth.

It is true that the children in the study did not delay gratification and wait 20 minutes to eat the marshmallow in front of them in order to get the additional marshmallows promised to them by the researchers.  The researchers can prove that is exactly what happened. But is it simply a lack of willpower? This wasn’t the only test that showed these results.

“Time and again, poor children have performed significantly worse than their more fortunate counterparts. A 2011 study that looked at low-income children in Chicago noted how poor children struggled to delay gratification. A 2002 study, which examined the physical and psychological stresses that accompany poverty, did too. And so have many others.” (Ferdman, 2016)

The above quote came from a piece on The Wonk Blog which is run by The Washington Post called “The big problem with one of the most popular assumptions about the poor“. This piece examined studies that took children’s heart-rate and other bio-metrics into account as they made decisions about whether or not to take a treat now or wait for a promised increase in the treat later.  The study found that children seemed to be making calculated decisions and not acting impulsively. In 2012, researchers at The University of Rochester decided to do a new marshmallow test study. This time the groups were put in reliable and unreliable situations.  The reliable group was able to delay gratification and the unreliable group took what was available now because the researchers had proven themselves unreliable.

“The new marshmallow experiment doesn’t discount the old one—willpower still does breed long-term success, as far as we know. But it suggests that when children are in an environment where they trust in a clear long-term gain, they are more likely to pursue it.” (Severns, 2012)

Which brings me back to the picture. I snapped the picture at a store called I was shot in joburg in the Maboneng precinct in Johannesburg.  You can read about the current program on their website, but the website doesn’t give you the full story.  I got the prologue on a tour during the study abroad trip I led over winter break.

As with any good story, there needs to an exigency for the protagonist to act. In this case it was a DUI the founder received while in the Western Cape. When he went before the judge he asked if he could do the community service back in his hometown of Johannesburg instead of Cape Town.  He said he would like to serve the community using his talents as a photographer.  The judge agreed to this request and he went back to Johannesburg to teach children in a poor neighborhood photography.  He showed up to the school and thought he would be greeted with open arms by grateful children who would flock to this white savior. (This part was told to us by the tour guide with a smile on her face because now he knows how ridiculous his original assumptions were.) However, when he got to the school to teach the children photography they had no interest.

Why?

For a couple of reasons, but mainly because they didn’t trust him that he would deliver on what he said he would.  So, the effort took time. First, he played soccer with the kids and, eventually, won them over.  Then he brought them disposable cameras so they could take pictures in their neighborhood.  He spent time with them week after week. Then it was his last week of community service and he told the kids, “Bye!” They said, “Okay! See you next week!”

There wasn’t supposed to be a “next week”. His community service was over. These kids though had opened up to him and trusted him. He realized that he was not going to be another in a long succession of people who let them down.  This is where the story on the website picks up [click here to read more].

Now, the company is building an avenue of trust, work, and long-term opportunity for success. If Bernard had only done his community service and not come back to the students after it was no longer required by the courts then he would have re-emphasized the pattern of mistrust and instability for the kids. This helps build the calculation in people to weigh what they’ve been told, what they’ve experienced, and what they need to make a calculation for what’s best for them in each moment.  Hopefully, what we can learn from these newer marshmallow test studies is that people whose lives are different from our own have lived experiences that are valid and they make decisions based on their own calculus with a valid logic.

 

 

 

 


Beginner’s Mind

beginners-mind-image-newAs instructors sometimes it can be difficult to remember how disorienting university life can be to students. First year students have unique challenges that differ greatly from the transfer students, while first generation students have their own challenges throughout college.  However, as professors we are quite comfortable in this environment with our own specialty.  The corporate speak for what happens too often in these environments is silo thinking, each person operates in their own silo without interacting with other people. So, how can professors get the feeling of a beginner’s mind? Culture shock.

For two weeks I taught students a short-term study abroad program in South Africa and the theme of the course was social movements in South Africa. This was my 5th time in South Africa, but my first time teaching and leading a study abroad program.  I did not have culture shock while teaching my students. I did have new experiences and of course just visiting the country in this new role was a new experience, but I did not experience culture shock.  I knew the money, local customs, and had done almost all of the activities on the itinerary for my students, which is how it should be for the academic leader of a study abroad. It can make it difficult to remember what the feeling of culture shock is like both for the study abroad student and the new university student.

I felt disorienting culture shock my first time in South Africa, which was only a nine day visit.  I was trying to absorb every single sight, sound, and smell. I didn’t know the currency and felt unsure with each encounter. But! South Africa was a place I’d wanted to go for a long time and I knew a lot about the country. Before my trip there I read everything I could, watched all of the movies about South Africa on Netflix, and scoured YouTube for South African music.  Also, South Africa itself is very British still and you only have to be as uncomfortable as you want to be. You can always retreat into the comfort of familiar food, music, and TV shows.  I mean, I even made pimento cheese spread while I was in South Africa. When I traveled to Namibia and Botswana I was slightly disoriented, but not full on culture shock.

Then I traveled to Tanzania.

I left the massive O.R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg and I flew into the country on lovely South African Airlines.  I had not fully researched the country because this was a vacation and not a work trip.  I did what most people do for vacation.  I looked up things on Trip Advisor, talked to friends who’d been here, or had connections to the country.  I had my accommodations booked for my time in Zanzibar but I didn’t have a detailed plan because I only booked 3 full days. I thought I was totally good. I had the taxi booked from the Zanzibar airport to the other side of the island where I was staying. I was totally set.

lol…I was not prepared!

When we landed in Dar es Salaam I could tell the airport was smaller than the one I’d just left, but the size of the airport only scratched the surface.  So, with the little research I’d done I didn’t think that I needed a visa for Tanzania upon arrival, but you do.  Thankfully, the visa can be obtained upon arrival and you don’t have to go through your embassy.  The fee for the visa is $150 in USD. And they want those dollars! So, when I walked into the airport I noticed the wall of customs and immigration forms.  “Okay” I thought, “You’ve done this in several countries. No problem.” I was even excited at this point that I had the address for my accommodations.  I thought that it was going to be smooth sailing from there.

However, I started to feel overwhelmed as I tried to make sense of the mass of people in front of me.  There was no organization to the lines. There was obvious confusion with little care being taken to impose any order on the situation.  I stood in one line and a guy came up to me and asked if I had my “yellow card”. No, but I have a letter saying that I don’t need it. He told me that he was just sent from one line to another to get vaccinated. He was coming into the country for business and I thought well, maybe I’ll pass since I’m just here for a few days. Then a man in a military uniform came up to me and asked if I was here for business or pleasure. I told him just three days of vacation. So, he sent me directly to customs. I finally reached my turn for the booth and she went through the process of taking my finger prints. I could barely hear her and she didn’t seem to have any desire or intent to make being understood by me (or anyone else) a priority. We went through this whole process and she asked, “Visa?”

“No”, I replied “I’m just here for only three days.” I tried to de-emphasize my time here as much as possible in that one sentence. It didn’t matter I needed a visa. Like I stated above the visa was $150 in USD. I don’t carry cash at home much less while traveling. So, I asked the lady where to get cash and she told me the ATM. Sounds simple, yes?  Again, I was SO confused. By this time I was shuffled over to the visa area and another man in uniform took my passport. I asked him where I could get cash because I did not think that I could go outside. Well, that’s exactly what I needed to do. So…before even getting my passport stamped I went in and out of the immigration area twice and outside of the airport once.  I went into the ATM room and there was a big dude hunkered over one of the machines.  I walked in and said, “I am so sorry and I hope this doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, but how much money equals $150 USD? I have NO idea!” Without looking up he walked me through what I needed to do. Then I went back inside, asked someone else where to exchange my Tanzanian shillings for USD, and proceeded to complete the transaction.

It was about this point when I thought, “This is how our students feel.”

I know not everyone can travel to a foreign country, but teachers do need to find ways to get outside of their comfort zones and navigate new spaces and systems. If we can be reminded of what it means to be a beginner we do a service to our students.

 


Meet South Africa

Meet South Africa and discover yourself.

After yesterday, I think my students feel like they are finally meeting South Africa.  Yesterday, we spent the day in Soweto and really saw the city. This was the first time I felt like I had an appreciation for the true span and scope of Soweto.  I’ve had the typical experience in the past of first the Apartheid Museum, then driving to Mandela’s house, taking a tour, and seeing the street performers who make a living from the tourist coming through. Then next it was Hector Pieterson Square.  But this time we took time to spend the day there.   The difference is like an appetizer sampler at a restaurant or sitting for a full meal.


First, I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time at the Apartheid Museum and so we blocked off 3 hours.  Our guide said that we could block off three hours and at the end of the three hours we would still want to come back another day.  I think some students definitely came away with that feeling. There’s an interview with Winnie Mandela that always amazes me. She’s asked by the interviewer if South Africa will ever have one man one vote and without a single hesitation she replied, “Yes.” Interviewer, “Who will be the first black president of South Africa?” Winnie Mandela, “Nelson Mandela.” Period. I believer this interview took place in the 1970s, when Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island. There were no signs then of the Apartheid government falling or letting Mandela out of prison. Her resolute response floors me.

Second, we went to lunch in Soweto at a lady’s house who does this as a business. On the itinerary it was simply labeled “lunch with locals”.  However, it was timed perfectly because I think we all needed this lunch after an intense and emotional morning at the museum.  When you’re in a museum space sometimes you only come away with the heaviness of the past. The oppressor can still reach through the exhibit and grab a hold of you and drag you back.  However, the South Africans that we meet lived through those experiences and are here, now, and looking forward.  The food was expertly prepared. The mamas were so warm and welcoming. After we finished eating we sat in the circle where we asked each other questions (the visitors and the hosts). It was an interesting dialogue. Like everyone else I’ve encountered they wanted to know about Trump…we all felt a little closer with both country’s political situation feeling disconnected from the people in the cities. By the time we left I didn’t realize we’d been there for several hours, but  I think we would have been happy to stay for several more!


The mamas talked openly to use about their experience with the xenophobic riots.  One of them had a migrant worker renting from her in 2014 when violence broke out. She said that she protected the man by telling the guys that they just were not going to harm him, period. This echos what I’d heard from Mama Aziba, when I stayed in the township in Cape Town. It was also interesting to hear how the women are all practicing Christians (some in church some not) but they all also honor/talk to their ancestors.  One lady said, “Why would I forget them? Without my ancestors I would not be here.” True for all of us. I’d asked them if they were Christian and still practiced their cultural traditions.  All of them said some degree of both. If they’d asked me I would not be able to answer the same way because my people assimilated too well.

Once the conversation reached a natural lull the mamas said that they were going to give us Zulu names.  I felt and still feel deeply uncomfortable with this. I talked to our guide about it, but communication was not clear between all the groups and it happened.  I haven’t completely sorted through the many reasons why I find this deeply problematic, but I know I will marinate on this, talk through my thoughts aloud with some friends, and write more about it later.

No matter what, when you leave South Africa you’ll be a different person than when you arrived. 


DCA–>ATL->JNB

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I leave this afternoon for a unique trip and I’m SO excited!

I’ll get to Joburg just in time to check into my accommodations, freshen up, and get dressed for New Year’s Eve. For the first few nights in Johannesburg im staying in my hometown neighborhood of Maboneng at Curiocity Backpackers. Hopefully this will give me a chance to get over my jet lag, get a bit adjusted, and do some reading before Tuesday.

Tuesday is when the study abroad program starts. I’ll check into our hotel that morning, get settled for the week, and meet our guide for tea before heading to the airport and collecting the students. We have a jam-packed 14-day program in Johannesburg and Cape Town (don’t worry there will be plenty of posts!).

Once the study abroad program is complete I’m taking a long weekend in Zanzibar before heading back this side for spring semester. There will be much to write about over the next month…stay tuned!


South Africa’s bestselling books are mostly about South Africa’s political dysfunction — Quartz

If South Africa’s non-fiction bestseller list is an indication of the zeitgeist, the country has had an anxious year. The nation’s bookstands reflect a country trying to make sense of a tumultuous political environment, high crime statistics, and an unreliable power grid. Apocalyptic titles like How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The looming crisis and…

via South Africa’s bestselling books are mostly about South Africa’s political dysfunction — Quartz


Orientation (What do you wish you’d been told?)

Today the Mason Study Abroad office hosts an orientation for all of the Winter and Spring Break programs. They’ll go over general safety and insurance, culture shock and mental health while abroad, and behavioral expectations while abroad. After the general orientation I’ll meet with my students, as a group. This will be the last time I see them as a group until January 3rd when we pick them up from the O. R. Tambo airport. 

This morning I’m still trying to figure out the balance between what I should tell them and what I should let them discover on their own on the trip. I’m wondering what other people who’ve studied abroad which they’d known before their trip?


A step closer

11403446_10153500936899887_3506925557172214450_nI wanted to revisit my first post. I thought that I had actually started this blog for my first trip to South Africa in March 2013. But my first trip to South Africa was SO fast! I took time to write in a paper journal but not in an online blog.
It makes sense that this was my first posting about the internship and semester long program I was about to embark on. There were many ups and downs getting to the point where tickets were purchased.
Initially, my proposal was denied, but then I was able to meet with the head of NMMU’s international office and make an argument directly to him. But the “No” I received from SCSU’s study abroad office seemed final when they sent me the email. But…when have I EVER taken a no like that?! You’re just gonna tell me no when this is something that I know can be done and that I am the one to do it? lol! I don’t think so!
Now, the student is becoming the teacher (literally). And the pattern repeats itself. I didn’t want to start blogging about my experience starting a new study abroad program until it was actually going ahead. There were plenty of ups and downs creating the program, going through the proposal process, recruiting students to apply, hoping that I had enough students for the program to get the green light.
Finally, it happened! Green light! We are a go!
The first study abroad program that I created, from the syllabus to the itinerary, is going to South Africa in January where the students will study Social Movements in South Africa!
Rarely, does life come full-circle in such a short period of time. My first trip to South Africa was in March of 2013 and was only nine days. Now, just under four years later I am going to lead a study abroad program.

Star Thrower

Tickets have been booked! Today, I got an email notifying me that my reservations had been made for South Africa! I need to pick my seats on the plane and then I’m set. One step closer to leaving for the semester abroad. We are flying out of Minneapolis and connecting to our international flight at Dulles Airport in D.C. From there we fly into Joburg which is a 14 hour flight. I’m really excited because right now we are scheduled to spend a day in Joburg. Hopefully, all of our flights stay on schedule so we can keep the day of sight-seeing. I know previous groups have visited Soweto, Mandela‘s house, and other historical sites.

Before I left St. Cloud for winter break, I got a thick envelope from NMMU. It had my acceptance letter from the university, information about health insurance and other items…

View original post 129 more words


What will be your South African story? — Social Movements in South Africa

I woke up to a powerful and unsolicited endorsement this morning for why students should study in South Africa. Having lived and studied in South Africa for six years, unsolicited, I’d attest to ‘Social Movement in South Africa’ by Prof. Ferguson, to have the prospect of providing a priceless opportunity to any student or person […]

via What will be your South African story? — Social Movements in South Africa

On the first day of school every semester there are students and instructors who appear slightly lost as we all try to find our classrooms. The first few weeks are a bit disorienting, but soon a pattern develops and routine settles in. However, there are students who bravely challenge themselves to breakout of their campus routines and find learning experiences that defy routine. Study abroad turns the world into your classroom and short-term programs offer students a unique academic experience of a focused instructor-lead program where every aspect of the trip is geared towards achieving learning objectives.

Explore South Africa and discover yourself.


Gabby Cohen on Bringing Yoga to Children in South Africa:How One Yoga Mat Can Change a Child’s Life, Studying Abroad, and More!


6: Protest Action on University Campuses — A podcast about critical issues in higher education.

https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F264710913&visual=true&color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false

Dr Prishani Naidoo joins The Academic Citizen to discuss the politics of protest action within the context of university campuses in South Africa. The conversation centres around the university as a microcosm of society and the legitimacy of violent and non-violent forms of protest. The Academic Citizen also gains insight into students’ perspectives on protest […]

via 6: Protest Action on University Campuses — A podcast about critical issues in higher education.


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