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Recently, one of my students in my online History of Higher Education summer course presented a short summary of her final campus history project to her classmates and myself during a videoconferencing meeting at the end of the session. The student presented her topic on the Tougaloo Nine. This historic moment at this college was an event that was not part of my higher education knowledge. In short, the Tougaloo Nine were a group of African American students who attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. Denied access to the city public library to complete class assignments due to segregation, the students decided to hold a “read in” at the library as a protest of the segregationist policy in place at that location. Hearing my student’s presentation fascinated me since I was actually becoming the learner, becoming aware of an important part of higher education history (in my opinion).
After hearing the presentation, I immediately texted my close faculty colleague in my program to ask him if he ever heard of the Tougoloo Nine. I asked him since we both share a passion for knowledge on student activism and social justice actions in higher education. As soon as I sent the text, he immediately responded that he didn’t know and that he wanted to learn more. In the same time as he was typing his response, I shared with him my excitement in learning about this very interesting history event. As soon as he read my second response, he asked to send him more information. I could sense his deep interest when he typed “please fill me in!” I read the text message and when I came upon his request to fill him in on additional knowledge, my response was almost immediate.
In a quick moment, I typed the message, “Google it.”
Today, in our vast world of information technology and quick access to zillions of pieces of data and facts, we have privilege of accessing this information in effortless and fast means. It just takes a few moments in a search bar to open the door to this vast land of knowledge. Often when I’m researching on a topic, I reflect on how I did the practice of finding information when I was a college student. I recall going first into the library to seek out which drawer to use to find my materials in the *card catalog*. I recall if I really wanted to be “cutting edge”, I would sign my name on the list of other students to use the ERIC database on one of two computers connected to a dot-matrix printer that would provide the results of your searches in many folders of perforated printing paper (I would love to rip off the holed-strands of paper on the edge of the sheets!). I recall if I didn’t get good results from my searches to remind myself that there were always the many sets of encyclopedias sitting on the shelves waiting to be used as a last resort.
My, how times have changed since then….or has it?
Going back to my colleagues request to learn about the Tougaloo Nine, I knew I had the information he was seeking. I was the one who heard the information from my student right then and there, right? I was the one who initiate the question of “did you know?” So, why did I tell him to “Google it?” Honestly, my response in my opinion wasv – excuse my language – a bit of an asshole-ish response.
Why? I felt that I was not only being a good colleague and friend by not helping him more, but also not a good teacher. I had knowledge. The knowledge excited me. In turn, I wanted someone else to know. Once that interest was shown, I left my friend and colleague hanging. I felt like bum.
To make myself feel better, I immediately gave a short written summary of the presentation and did a quick internet search using some of the reference information provided by my student and sent him via email a website where he could find more information. I hoped that this would satisfy his curiosity and I would feel good that I gave him new knowledge. As I reflected on this situation, which truth be known only lasted maybe ten minutes or so, I started to think about how my current role as a faculty member provides an interesting characteristic.
I am able to start the chain of information gathering and learning for individuals. When you think about it, this is a very important role to fulfill. As I write this, I am currently attending the Digital Pedagogy Institute (http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/institute/) on the beautiful campus of the University of Mary Washington. So far this week, we have discussed the many definitions of learning, teaching, and instructional delivery. What makes these discussions unique is that they occurred in critical lenses. Among the discussions with my colleagues have been how to we create communities and networks within the learning spaces we are asked to fill and direct. As an online instructor, the task is extremely challenging since first, one must first debunk the myths one can have when you mention the words “online learning”. Second, some students may not want to seek out community within an online classroom. They might just want to be told what is needed to complete the course and that is it. In any case, my role as a professor is to work with these challenges to create a learning space where one not only learns new knowledge, but also leaves hopefully with a new perspective in their own worldview.
Throughout the week, I have reflected on these tasks and how we as a society have approached the act of “learning”. In my opinion, we have become a society where we have, in a sense, become more educated in that we now have access to resources that we not available to us ten or fifteen years ago. If you do an internet search on “The Tougaloo Nine”, you will in most cases find several sources at your fingertips in a matter of seconds. We are now able to find knowledge with great ease. In addition, we have our own life experiences. These experiences give us insight on how we should approach situations we encounter in our lives. In the higher education arena, Love (2012) made the case that lived experiences provide what he called “informal theory”. Informal theory served as an important bridge between theory and practice. We are able to adapt formal theories from what we learn and observe in our daily lives. Without sounding too theoretical, I understand his argument to be equal to stating “don’t underestimate what you already know!” We know more than we realize. However, in this age of technological advances, we fail to expose and optimize that knowledge.
“Just Google it.” No offense to the brilliant minds (although some work is currently needed with their mindfulness of diversity) at Google, search engines like those at Google and others have allowed us to become lazy teachers. Instead of sharing the wealth of knowledge possessed from our experiences, we instead take the easy way out when one seeks to tap into our knowledge. It is easy to just tell our students and friends to “google it” when they need help. Our educated selves are now filled by proxies located in boxes on the top right hand of our computer screens. When we excite another person with our new found knowledge on a topic, instead of telling the person what we have just learned, we often go with the easy response of saying, “google it!”
I find it a bit humorous that even knowledge that we know about our cities and communities are sometimes responded by a quick “google it” statement. If a friend asks me about any recommendations on great places to eat in Houston, I will sometimes find myself telling them to consider a general area of the city and to then “google it”, even though I know a few places. I guess I could be seen as the local expert of my current city, but instead, I trust instead the knowledge of an internet search. In doing this act, I transferred my role as a trusted knowledge source to another entity that doesn’t know the personal needs of the person seeking my advice. I removed myself from the learning process and in a sense, the relationship I have with the person asking for my help.
I titled this entry “De-‘Google it‘”. This isn’t a manifesto arguing against the presence of the internet and to wish its demise. I value what the internet has given society. There is much to demise from the internet but one cannot argue how valuable it has become in education today. If the internet should suddenly disappear, we would still be okay as a society. I am certain that a degree of inconvenience will occur, but I would politely say “Welcome back to the 80s”. However, we can do better. By “de-googling”, I am making the argument to share what you know readily. Start the process of unearthing the knowledge that you possess from your lived experience. You have theories to put into play, as Love (2102) suggested in his article. When someone asks you a question, first try to engage in dialogue with the individual(s) asking a question. What do you know? Make an attempt to talk about what you already know. Learning is an active process and some would argue that if one does not show some level of effort in sharing and obtaining information, effective learning has not occurred. “Google it” avoids this dialogue.
Returning back to my Tougaloo Nine scenario, I have followed up with my colleague and confessed that I felt like – again, excuse the language – “a total dick.” In explaining my response, I felt that I as educators, I didn’t fulfill my role in his learning. In that brief moment, I did feel the impact of what it means to be a teacher. By not doing what good teachers do, I failed at educating. After my confession, I did feel better. We both understood that we would eventually discuss more this piece of higher education history and continue to learn about social justice in higher education. While this hasn’t occurred just yet, I know now that we will do what Google cannot – to listen and hear what we know. Maybe not or maybe so. Hmmm, let me ask Alexa (just kidding!).
Love, P. (2012). Informal theory: The ignored link in theory-to-practice. Journal of College Student Development, 53(2), 177-191.
Yesterday, I started my second season with a local running club. At 7:00am, I committed myself to seven months of insanity. I assume most people in the Houston area will think that this group is indeed crazy since the month of July usually does not provide welcoming weather for those who run. Despite early morning start times, temperatures here can still be in the low 80’s with humidity percentages up in that same level. Despite these conditions, the running club saw many new and returning members ready to begin their season in preparation for marathons and half-marathons in the upcoming months. I started this new season thinking about what makes me and my fellow runners crazy enough to get up early to run several miles in these awful weather conditions (well, at least for me, it’s not the best weather). On the second half of our first scheduled 4 mile run, I began to self-reflect on why the heck I was torturing myself to run in these conditions for the next few months? I then started to observe my fellow runners around me and made note of behaviors that helped shaped some response to my question. After a day of processing, I began to see my sport as a analogy to a topic I have a deep passion for in my education career: leadership.
For twenty-five years, I have worked in higher education in a variety of roles at several different types of institutions. During the course of my career, I have also held a variety of position levels that provided me skill and knowledge development in my work on college campuses. Northouse (2016), in his comprehensive overview of leadership approaches and theories, starts his book addressing a question that many of us ask when we talk about leadership: “Are you born a leader?” In its earliest form of scholarship, this question was addressed by first looking at traits held by individuals that prone them to become leaders. However, as we began to understand that it takes more than charisma and influence to guide others to a goal, the knowledge was apparent that everyone had the ability to become effective and strong leaders (Northouse, 2016). As you can read, even when I am in the midst of a sweaty morning run, my academic brain usually goes straight into action giving me interesting perspectives on how ordinary life becomes fascinating theory-to-practice scenarios. So, in those last two miles of my club’s first scheduled run for the season, I developed an informal theory on leadership based on my experiences with the club (for those who want to know, it is Bay Area Fit) and what I see from my fellow runners. Running truly does provide more than just miles for individuals. My informal leadership theory focuses on six areas. Over time I am sure that this list will grow, but in the meantime this is what I noted during the first run…and I have probably 100 more scheduled runs ahead of me until January!
- We all can do this
- Encouragement always
- “Waddle on”
- You are just one of us
- Surprise yourself
- The community
Short descriptions follow. I hope you consider these ideas next time you lace up your shoes!
LEADERSHIP & RUNNING
- We all can do this – One of the first things I notice in my running club is that there is not one template on who can run a half-marathon or marathon. You see all ages, you see all body types, you see killer athletes, you see individuals who are improving themselves. Like running, leadership is right for everyone. In my previous administrative work in student success, I used to do this short activity with my student advisees. I would ask one student volunteer if they knew how to run. I would ask them, “can you run?” The answer was always yes. Then I would ask the student to show me how to run. I would then encourage the student to show everyone by running around the classroom or auditorium. So, this proved that they knew how to run. Then I would ask the student, “could you run a marathon?” For this question, the answer usually was a very quick “No!” I would challenge the student by saying isn’t doing a marathon just running? Eventually, I would make the point that doing a marathon isn’t meant to be easy, but with the right mentality and commitment, you could do a marathon. Leadership is the same way. We all in a general sense know what it is. We likely know what it might possibly looks like. But doing it right? We likely freeze up. Leadership isn’t meant to be easy and with the right mentality and commitment to understand what works best for your organization, leadership can be achieved by anyone. Unlike the “Great Man” idea of leaders of the past (Northouse, 2016), leadership is an opportunity that is everyone can aspire to reach. Like the members of my run club, there are those who have likely ran a marathon every year and those that are just working to complete their first 5K. What brings them together is aspiration. Leadership is aspiration in action.
- Encouragement always – In my last few miles of my first run this season, I appreciated the support I received from my fellow runners. It did not matter is you were in the pace group or the last group crossing the finish line. What mattered is that you finish. In order to do this, others would tell me “looking good Ric!”, “Keep it up”, “Nice job!”. In return, I would pass others and say similar things. These little words of encouragement are all that runners need to dredge through those hard last miles. Leadership requires the same thing. In using a feminist perspective of organizational behavior, interconnections with others and emphasis on collaborations between members provides a communal approach to getting tasks done (Manning, 2013). In hearing the supportive words from my fellow runners, once the finish line is crossed, the timing and the pace come second to knowing the fact that you accomplished a task from the group: to complete a run. Leadership is the same way, you have to encourage your strong performers to keep their effort high and your learners aware that their effort is just as important and that improvement is always within reach.
- “Waddle on” – John Bingham is a marathoner and author of several motivational books specific to the running community. The nice thing about Mr. Bingham is that he prides himself to not be an elite runner. He is just your average Joe who likes to run. One of his favorite phrases that he shares with his readers is the the message, “Waddle on!” Mr. Bingham’s nickname is The Penguin, reflecting his running stance and pace. A penguin does not immediately bring thoughts of speed to mind. Mr. Bingham is quick to let others know that he is slow and he knows it, so get over it. Leadership can be viewed in the same mentality. Some of us are superstar leaders that turn everything we touch to gold. Most of us are still learning the art of leading others. While we should emulate the skills of the superstars, we should not feel ashamed that we are still learners. We will get there, but right at this moment, feel comfortable on where you are at and know that over time, you’ll get to the levels of leadership you aspire to reach. Much like Mr. Bingham, a sub-3 hour marathon may not be where we are at currently, but we will are capable of running 26.2 miles. It just might take use just a little bit longer!
- You are just one of us – Last year before a race, I had an interesting experience with a member of the running club. As we were warming up, he noticed the name I had on my running bib. On it, I had “Dr. Ric”. My running colleague noticed and asked if I was a medical doctor. I informed him that I wasn’t that type of doctor but one with a Ph.D. I then informed him about being an assistant professor in my field. The exchange was interesting because at that time, we have been running together for over four months. I began to think it was interesting because for me, I had no idea what he did as a career as well! Our mutual love of running was all we needed to know about each other. The other stuff, like what we did for a living, was secondary. Leadership has to have a similar quality. In complex organizations working towards a goal, there really should not be emphasis on who is the “star” among the group. Every member has an equal share in the group’s goals. One thing that should be known is their level of commitment. My colleague and I shared the similar commitment to do our best that morning on our 5K. Leaders need to let their members know that their commitment will get the job done and that is not necessarily the work of just a few.
- Surprise yourself – As I type this blog entry, my sides are hurting! They hurt because I was reminded of something our club loves to let members know about post-run workouts and weekly ab & core workouts – each will include 10 sets of 30 sit-ups. Yes, that is 300 sit-ups! Yesterday, the last time I did 300 sit ups was probably the last group workout several months ago. However, I didn’t complain. I surprised myself and did my best to complete all the sets. Leadership can hurt as well with experiences of not everyone appreciating your work or being on the receiving end of political nastiness. As an effective leader, you have to surprise yourself with your resiliency and willingness to fight for what you feel is best for your organization. You may think “I can’t do 300 sit ups!!”, but you push yourself. In the end, you can. Leadership is a journey of surprises.
- The community – The last characteristic of running that I absolutely love is knowing that I am part of a community of runners. I can speak the language (have you ever spoke to a runner about their pace? Try it!), I know where to find the right tools and equipment (ask me the last time I bought running shoes at Macy’s), I even get excited watching marathons on television (well, at least during the Olympics)! My point is that I am lucky to be part of a very unique community. Some days, I run at Memorial Park near downtown Houston. Each time I run there, I see the same individuals who run during my same preferred time at the park. I do not know their names but I know that we are part of the Memorial Park running community (the ones that meet from 5-6pm). I feel some degree of belonging because of this. Leadership is a community. Leaders learn from each other. If you study leadership, you also know that there is a unique language spoken by effective leaders in your field. Leadership, like running shoes, comes in differenty styles and brands. You have to shop around for the right fit and speak to others to learn from their experiences. Doing all of these actions makes you part of an exciting community, one that creates change for organizations and individuals. Running does the same thing. When you participate in a 5K or half-marathon, you know that while you may not be able to say “good luck” to every participant, you know that you all share similar experiences in learning how to improve your skill and finding out the best strategy to accomplish the task. In becoming a leader, you have membership in a community that is dynamic and innovative and knows how to move from a “5K” to a “marathon”. All you have to do is ask your fellow members!
In my twenty years of running, I learned a great deal about how to transform myself to become a better leader and follower. In my process to be the athlete that I am now, I have allowed myself to be taught, I have allowed myself to fail, I have allowed myself to be humble, and allowed myself to show off just a bit (oh, I guess now is a good time to let you know I won my running club’ color group’s “Runner of the Year” trophy last year!). My running has provided me good advice and observations that I carried over into my leadership roles in higher education administration. I am honest when I say that it is not the amount of miles that is important to me. What matters the most is how I am becoming a different me and how that improves those that work with me and most importantly, the students I teach.
As I start my first blog, I thought it would appropriate to muse about something that is important in my personal and professional identities. Directly in front of me is an autographed poster of Carlos Santana’s album artwork “Supernatural”. Next to it is a vinyl copy of U2’s “War”, which I’m proud to say was given to me by my older brother when the band was just getting noticed. “Keep an eye on this band” I remember him telling me in the early 1980’s. Just below it are the soundtracks of my college youth, New Order’s “Technique” and Depeche Mode’s live album “101”. As I type this, I’m wearing a Joy Division t-shirt with an image of its iconic lead singer Ian Curtis, who’s suicide is one of those all to familiar “what if?” tales of a gifted singer gone too soon. Looking over my shoulder, there’s a framed signed and numbered poster of M83’s 2016 Houston concert produced by a local graphic artist commemorating the opening of a local live music venue (which I snatch one of the last prints for just $20!). In the background on my Spotify, I’m listening to my recommended daily mixes featuring the likes of Stereolab, Lush, The 2 Bears, and Talk Talk, just to name a few. It’s a good morning in my home office!
However, my music interests reminds me that what I listen to often goes against what others think I should listen to when I am just being myself. As a Latino living in Texas, one of the things about living in this part of the country is experiencing this weird, wonderful, and sometimes surreal thing called “bi-culturalism”. In my daily lived experiences in this part of the country, I am keenly aware that many individuals I interact with see me first as a “Mexican”. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely proud that my cultural identity is noticed and I am proud to be Latino. However, I often sense that being bicultural or multicultural is something others have a hard time recognizing. Navigating the worlds contained just in the state of Texas is something that has always tried to understand and fulfill. I vividly recall this navigation largely occurring in the rural town of Somerville, Texas where my Mom’s side of the family resides. As a kid, I was fortunate to attend many family reunions and weddings where conjunto, two-stepping, and disco (well, it was in the late-70s/early-80s) co-existed within the DJ table. My cousins and I never got bored since we were constantly dancing a cumbia one minute, doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe the next, followed up with the hustle (again, disco was big in the Orozco family!). My curious self always made noticed that we just weren’t Mexican-Americans listening to Little Joe y La Familia, we were a large family whose background and identities were represented by the wonderful tapestry of American music.
Jump forward to the current, my cousins and college friends all contributed to who I am now with regards to an important part of my identity – post-punk, new wave, goth music aficionado. Which goes to my point about what others think my music tastes should be. A couple of months ago, I attended a concert by the band The xx by myself. Once I arrived to my single seat by the aisle, two young college age women were sitting next to me. After a few minutes, one asked me if I was all alone and I answered “yes” but I really was a fan of the band. Her friend joined that conversation and asked how did I know about the band, which I showed off my knowledge of their repertoire (e.g. “‘Intro’ is the coolest two minutes of music ever!”). The conversation was good and soon, one of the young ladies made the comment in her nicest voice, “I didn’t know someone like you would like this band!” At the time, I brushed the comment aside since the show was about to start, but when I heard it, it did make me wonder. What was the meaning behind her comment? “Someone like me”…was that a remark about my age? My profession (I did say I taught at Sam Houston State University)? Or something else?
I have a good college buddy who has similar musical tastes. When we were undergraduates, we connected with each other through our shared interests in alternative bands popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s like New Order, The Cure, Nitzer Ebb, Ministry, Xymox and others in the same dance-goth genre. As two Latino men, we at times go against the grain. The past few years, we have attended some of our favorite bands from this era together wearing our t-shirts from other similar bands and when we do, we often look around and wonder if other individuals are asking “what are these two big Mexican dudes doing at this concert?” Yes, we sometimes are two old brown specks in a young sea of hipster white, but our love of this music allows us to be who we are and to debunk how others perceive us. Usually after a couple of beers, we’re the ones giving shade back since we actually know the lyrics and make fun of those who think they know the band. My musical tastes allow me to further navigate a world that sometimes does not think we belong for whatever reason. However, my presence in that world allows me to let those who question to realize that yes, some Latinos do love new wave, post-punk music. We are full of surprises and we are often in spaces where you think we do not exist. Once there, you should take that information with you to debunk those stereotypes that you likely have about myself and other diverse groups. We do not just exist in one space, we exist in many. When you least expect, we just might pop up in the most unlikely space to remind you that we are more similar, than different.
At the M83 concert mentioned earlier in this post, I noticed a Latino family sitting near me. I thought it was awesome that the concert was a family outing. Mom and Dad were there, their teenage and pre-teen kids, and most surprisingly, their grandpa. After a few minutes, I kept wondering what if they were all there on the request of their grandfather? What if this man, probably in his late-50s or early 60s, saw the band on his iTunes and proceeded to download one of their albums? Maybe after, he was soon a fan. I connected with this group because in a way, I saw myself. Three generations of Latinos all together to hear a good band. It took me back to those days in Somerville where music brought together entire families and crossed boundaries.
With this first blog post, I hope to share my thoughts to cross boundaries and to put to words my thoughts and ideas on the areas that are highlighted in my blog title. Ideas are constantly floating in my head. I hope to share them often using this tool to connect.