Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Category: Teaching

The dangers of hubris

I’m currently at an academic conference, the sort of event I once adored and increasingly find to be somewhere in the neighborhood of insufferable. To understand why, I share this sentiment expressed by a researcher on a panel I just left, sporting an unattractive scowl: “Sad to say, I’m increasingly convinced that the American public can no longer perform its democratic duty.”

Now, I will hardly claim to be the most optimistic or rose-colored-glasses-sporting observer of the state of American public opinion, but I’m hardly ready to throw up my hands and declare defeat. Instead, I feel pretty strongly that we must double down on our efforts to create open lines of dialog among those with different perspectives on politics. There is no less-effective way to do so than by starting with the intellectual commitment to the futility of it all.

The more often I sit in academic research panels, the more often I find myself grasping to understand what, if anything, this endless hamster wheel of effort actually accomplishes. I look over the conference program, at the same panel titles and same research topics that I’ve been seeing since I first attended a conference in 2005 or so. I’ve sat in on about five presentations today, and other than some interesting graphs showing things that FiveThirtyEight or the Washington Post could have published, I don’t know that I’ve heard a single thing that I didn’t already, on some level, know.

One might say that’s because I’m at one of the lesser regional meetings of my discipline, but even at the premier regional meeting of my discipline, the last two times I’ve got I’ve been wholly unimpressed.

What are we doing, academics? What are we contributing to the world when we spin our wheels around the same old, same old tired research questions that have little impact on daily life? Who is gaining? How much money are we spending to come to these conferences and have the same conversations we’ve been having for a decade? Is there a better way to spend our time and intellectual energy?

I’m not down on academic research writ large. I’m reacting instead to an acute sense that we have too many people in academia, that there is little hope that the graduate students dominating the conference program will all find good jobs, that there is a lot of mediocrity (and I count myself among that).

This is a stream-of-conscious reaction to my instinct that these disciplinary conferences no longer hold the same value for me, and that my time might be better spent going to teaching-specific conferences that help me hone my craft. (I’m thinking about The Teaching Professor.)

Now excuse me while I go to a teaching-specific panel that I hope (fingers crossed!) might yield some useful takeaways.

Best reads of 2017

When I realized last January that I’ve never blogged my favorite books of the year, I was horrified, and I immediately put together a few recommendations from 2016. Thankfully, this inspired me to keep much better track of what I read in 2017, and I’m happy to share my favorite reads of last year.

Although I now understand I chose colors poorly, the green dots are eBooks, the blue dots are audiobooks, and the purple dots are printed books. Those with hot pink dots encircling are the ones on this list. Each slice represents a month, starting with January in the leftmost piece of Quarter 1 (also quadrant 1) and working clockwise around.

I began the year with an ambitious goal to read 100 books in 2017. I fell far short, clocking in at just 65. These were a mix of Kindle reads (mostly bargain chick lit novels that were unremarkable except that they gave my mind something to decompress with), Audible audiobooks, and traditional printed books, both fiction and nonfiction. I began this best-of-2017 list by reviewing my Excel spreadsheet (#nerdsunite) and creating a nifty visualization of my year in reading (see picture). Clearly, I read in June, July, and December. Not so much the rest of the year. This makes some sense, no?

Without further ado, here are my favorite books I read in 2017 (not, let’s be clear, my favorite books published in 2017). There are twenty of them, so pace yourself.

Best Fiction

  • Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, was a book club read in June, and it was the best book by Patchett that I’ve read. Others have described this novel as more autobiographical than her other work, and the characters felt so much more real to me. I really enjoyed it, and I found the story and characters lingered with me long after I put the book down.
  • Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty. Before it was made into an HBO miniseries, I purchased this book (on the Kindle, so it’s an eBook best read) because I’ve adored every Liane Moriarty novel I’ve read. When Blake, then Doug, binged on the HBO series and wanted me to watch, I knew I had to make reading the book a priority, which I did in August. Once I’d finished, I exclaimed a bit of surprise to Doug about something that happened somewhat late in the book, and he admonished me for spoiling something we don’t yet know from the TV series. Whoops. I’ve only watched one or two episodes of the TV series, but I can assure you that the book is far, far better.
  • The Fifth Letter, by Nicola Moriarty. To be honest, I probably bought this eBook originally because I thought it was a Liane Moriarty novel, but I gave it a shot even after I realized it was a different Moriarty (side note: Nicola is Liane’s younger sister). The thing I loved about The Fifth Letter was how four friends from school reconnected, with all of their baggage and drifting apart, and found a way to become closer. To be sure, it was a bumpy ride, but I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I read it in November, on roughly day one of Thanksgiving break, when I probably should’ve been grading. (Whoops.)

Best Nonfiction, International Affairs sub-category

Many of you know that I’ve become rather immersed in thinking about the most vulnerable in the world over the last two years. Being tasked with teaching World Politics and wanting to do it in a way that keeps my interest did that to me. Here are some of the most moving books I read this year to help me teach this course better.

  • The Lonely War (Iran), by Nazila Fathi.  I loved this book so much because it gave me a new perspective on the more moderate (or even progressive) voices in Iran today, as well as how the Iranian diaspora continues to hope for political change in their home country that would allow them to remain in closer touch with the people they love still in Iran. I think this book is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand Iran, and I assigned it to my World Politics (honors) students in the fall semester. I read it originally in early February. (See also books by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.)
  • A Hope More Powerful than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel (Syria), by Melissa Fleming. Every single person should read this book. If I could send everyone I know a copy, I would. It traces the story of a young woman terrified of the sea (she never learned to swim) as she makes her way from Syria, to Egypt, across the Mediterranean, trying to find a stable life with her husband. This story will break your heart and help you understand the very real challenges faced by those in Syria. Do you stay in a country where you have zero quality of life and risk death with every outing for food (which is scarce), or do you flee and be treated as a sub-human by a world unsympathetic to your plight? There is no good option. If you don’t want to read the book, please watch Melissa Fleming’s TED Talk about Doaa’s story.
  • A Very Expensive Poison (Russia), by Luke Harding. You may not realize you’re reading nonfiction and not a spy novel if you pick up this book by Luke Harding. It reads with the pace and intrigue of a thriller, but it’s unfortunately all true. This book tells the story of the poisoning of Russian whistleblower-turned-British informant Alexander Litvinenko in London by two unlikely assassins. I hear it’s being made into a movie, so get the real scoop now before Hollywood finds a way to distort it. (Read my blog about this book.)
  • No Good Men Among the Living (Afghanistan), by Anand Gopal. Had I read this book earlier in the year, and not in July, I would’ve made it the first narrative nonfiction book for my honors World Politics students to read. It was profound; it was infuriating; it was heartbreaking. Gopal writes with compassion, fearlessness, and gravity. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about our involvement in Afghanistan until I read this book. This is another I think everyone — everyone — should read. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to figure out how to get Gopal to my campus to share his insights.
  • The Girl with Seven Names (North Korea), by Hyeonseo Lee. My fascinating with North Korea continues unabated, and the accounts of those who have escaped and found refuge elsewhere are both heartbreaking and hopeful. This one particularly attracted my attention when I saw it has 1,882 (and counting) Amazon reviews and fully 5 stars. That rarely happens, and the book deserves it. Lee’s courage and tenacity are the stuff of legends. As you read this book, you won’t believe what she endured. You’ll feel humbled by the so-called “challenges” of your life … but that’s really not the point. No, the point of her book is how resilient the human spirit is, how strong we can be when our lives are on the line. Ultimately, this is a profile in courage, and I loved it when I read it at the beginning of my December holiday break. (You can also watch her TED talk here… but there is a LOT more detail in the book, and I wouldn’t watch the TED talk in lieu of reading it. Just whet your appetite, then go read it.)

Best Nonfiction, American politics sub-category

I don’t tend to read a lot of polemic political work, but I do enjoy memoir-y books and things that make me imagine a world where people can disagree without hating one another. I long for that.

  • The Snowden Files, by Luke Harding. I read this only because I realized it was the basis for the Oliver Stone movie, Snowden, and I figured Harding’s perspective would be interesting. I was right; this book reads quickly and keeps your interest. I’ve become rather fond of Harding’s writing style. This is a reasonably fair account of Edward Snowden’s actions and the results of them. It’s less of an advocacy piece than Glenn Greenwald’s account (which I enjoyed, particularly the first couple of chapters). Regardless of whether you think Snowden did the right thing, understanding his actions, his stated motivations, and their impacts is critical if you want to have a reasoned debate on the virtues and pitfalls of privacy in a digital age.
  • Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work at the White House, by Alyssa Mastromonaco. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I would recommend doing the same. Mastromonaco narrates, and her voice conveys so much more than just the words. This tale of her work as an advance team / logistics planner for President Obama is hilarious, insightful, and just plain fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Far more so, I have to say, than Reggie Love’s Power Forward in the same vein.)
  • Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, by John Nixon. Okay, this book was just plain fascinating. I loved it. Loved isn’t strong enough. I found it to be thought-provoking, utterly compelling, and well-written. Nixon is a former CIA senior analyst who was the lead on questioning Saddam Hussein after his capture by American forces. For someone (Hussein) who we thought we understood so well, Nixon reveals how two-dimensional our portrayal of the leader was. I will probably read this book several more times over the rest of my life. It was just a wonderful little reminder of how people are almost always more complex than our soundbite-infused media world typically can convey (says the recovering journalist). (Read my blog about this book.)
  • Three Languages of Politics, by Arnold Kling. You can buy this book, but you can also read it for free as an eBook from The short book sets out a theory of the three dominant themes in political discourse and how they prevent us from ever really having a useful conversation. Kling argues that conservatives emphasize Western values and moral virtues/traditions over those who are indifferent to these things; liberals/progressives emphasize the protection of the oppressed and the under-privileged; libertarians speak in terms of individual rights over government intrusion on personal choice. When we take an issue and approach it with these different ‘languages,’ we talk right past one another. It’s a great, resonant, and timely read, and one I encourage picking up.

Best Nonfiction, everything else sub-category

There was a time not that long ago when 90% of what I read was fiction, but as you can see … times have changed! Here are a few other nonfiction books I read and loved this year.

  • Shrill by Lindy West and Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker. Every single woman needs to read these two books, no matter your political or personal perspective, your size, your inclination, your experiences. These books speak hard, brave truths about the lived experiences of women in the 2010s. I love Lindy and I love Jes and I think they are brilliant, hilarious, and brave. I want to be more like them.  (Read my blog about Jes’s book.)
  • In the same vein, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay is a brave telling of what it’s like to live through sexual assault and do everything in your power to make yourself as unattractive as possible to prevent future harmful male attention. It’s very difficult to hear Gay grapple with her life’s experiences, and I don’t always appreciate her pathologizing of her weight. But I was honored to read (well, listen to) her story and connect with the raw and powerful emotions she expresses. This book is hard. So, too, is being a woman in a larger body in 2017.
  • How We Learn by Benedict Carey and Teaching with Your Mouth Shut by Don Finkel. I read a number of teaching-and-learning books this year, but these were the best. Carey’s book summarizes a whole lot of the research on how people think, learn, and remember. It’s a wonderful, readable synthesis of a LOT of great information. Finkel’s book fundamentally made me reexamine the assumptions I make in teaching my classes. At several points, I had to put the book down and stare off into space to think. I put several of his suggestions into action this fall, and in the spring semester, I’ll be leading a book club of my colleagues at Chattanooga State in discussing his ideas. This book will be with me for a long, long time. Educators — read it. Seriously. (But skip all the Iliad stuff if you, like me, yawn at Homer. You won’t miss anything critical.)
  • The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I’m not quite the huge fangirl of the Gaines family as I know many others are, but I listened to this as an audiobook and LOVED hearing Chip and Joanna banter, rather than just reading it on paper. If you can listen to this, and you have any love at all for their work on Fixer Upper (HGTV), you will love this audiobook. I’m not sure I’d recommend it in print, though.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy. I also listened to this one as an audiobook (read by Levy), and ohmygoodness itwasSOgood. It’s an incredible story. An unbelievable story. An incredibly strong and tenacious woman. And her voice just brings the whole thing to life in a visceral way. I would recommend this as an audiobook, but if you don’t listen to things, read it anyway. This one is worth the time regardless of the medium.

Honorable Mention (not on graph): Best Chick-Lit Series

There were many great contenders, but I give this to the Willoughby Close series by Kate Hewitt. There were five books in this series, and I devoured each of them over the summer at breakneck speed. Highly recommended for those who like breezy and heartwarming “women’s fiction.”

What my students taught me this week

We the PeopleAt a political science conference last January, another professor and I started talking about civic education and civic engagement among our students. This is something I’ve read about a bit, but it’s not something I’ve honestly made all that much of an effort to incorporate into my classes before.

I’d trace the lack of effort in this regard back to two things: First, political scientists often argue that they are teaching their students the theories of our discipline, which help our students develop critical minds and a reliance on empirical evidence. The prevailing wisdom of our discipline is that teaching students how to become competent citizens isn’t our job. Second, while I certainly make an impassioned plea each semester on the importance of voting, I haven’t before felt the emphatic need to encourage active engagement with government before.

But … well. Things are different in 2017, aren’t they?

So over the summer, I piloted a semester-long project in my online American Government course. (Aside: I’m a fan of a semester-long project; I’ve incorporated one into almost every course I’ve taken, as a way to focus the week-to-week material on a larger theme.) This Civic Engagement Project asks students to (1) identify who represents them in government at the national, state, and local levels, (2) research the broad strokes of each representative’s background, and (3) make an effort to reach out to each representative with a question or statement of policy preference. They then reflect on how this project changed the way they think about government and the strength of citizen voices on what government does.

To be honest, I expected the impact of this project on students to be neutral, at best. It was easy to imagine college students finding this project a hassle, tedious, and uninspiring.

Thankfully, though, the summer students surprised me. In their final reflections, they repeatedly wrote about how the mission of this project became evermore clear to them as they worked through the levels of government. One had coffee with her city council representative. Another decided to intern for her senator in DC next summer. And in perhaps the most fulfilling moment I’d had as a teacher in a long, long time, one wrote in the final reflection paper:

Since the completion of this semester-long project, I have formed a new sense of self in my community. I feel more connected to my country, and I can only imagine how empowered I could feel if I continue to be active. My learning experience was much greater than I expected initially. Not only did I grow as a citizen and learn new information, but I was able to better understand the material I was studying. Having a place for real-world application expanded my knowledge. My attitude towards government has changed, in that I do think some representatives do value my thought and opinions. Despite this change in attitude, I still believe there is an overall political agenda that takes precedence over things citizens are concerned about. I think it takes a loud, persistent voice to head and acknowledge. The best place to start with real change is probably my local community. Without Washington and high politics being involved, I think the chances of change are higher. Even though I believe that I, alone, am not enough to influence a decision or create true change, I still hold value to being an active and informed citizen. I stand a little taller when I am out in public knowing that I have played a small role in keeping my community flowing. I have encouraged my friends to become interested and involved; because if we want a government by the people, we mustn’t forget that WE are the people. I strongly recommend this assignment be kept in the course in the future. It makes the textbook material easier to comprehend and it brings empowerment.

This fall, I’ve kept the same basic structure, with one major change: I’m now also asking students to attend a public meeting or event with one of their elected representatives — be that city council, school board, a town hall meeting, a hearing or session of a legislative body, etc.

I’m very curious to see how students in a regular (fall) semester react to this project, but I can tell you that in the first two weeks of classes, my students have taught me an enormously important lesson: Knowing how to identify your elected officials is hard.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t spent literally hours over the last two weeks explaining the difference between US senators from Tennessee and Tennessee state senators. Or explaining that local governments have both city and county representatives / councils / commissions. Or helping students understand that while Paul Ryan is a member of the national government, he’s not their representative. And so on.

I’ve been politically attentive long enough to find these questions easy to answer. You want me to tell you who represents me? Before Trump was elected president, I could name my national representatives, and I knew one person who represented me locally, but I was completely ignorant of my state legislators. But I at least knew HOW to find out who they were.

My students have taught me that this is a privilege, and it’s not one that many of our peers share.

When my friends lament how politically unaware others are, or how complacent Americans have become, or how ignorant voters in this country are, they are operating from an assumption that Americans know HOW to engage with government and simply choose not to. My students have taught me that we’re all wrong. We know most Americans don’t know who represents them at the various levels of government, but we assume that they could find out. And we’re wrong.

Incredibly, the first part of this semester-long project — namely, identifying the people who represent you … just finding their names! — is the single hardest part of the whole damn project. Let that sink in. Just finding out who is advocating on your behalf is harder than researching their background, contacting them, or going to a meeting at which they preside.

Theories of political science are endlessly fascinating for many of us, no question. But if we want our students to engage in critical thought about how groups of representatives make decisions for the rest of us, we’d better start by ensuring they understand, at a FAR more basic level, how this whole thing works. If we want the American public to trust our institutions, believe that our elected officials work on our behalf, and live a more informed and engaged life, we’d better start by demystifying what feels, to so many of our compatriots, like an impossibly opaque system.

There are those in my discipline who would say that I’m taking a rigorous academic course and making it a civics class, the likes of which they should’ve paid more attention to in eighth grade. Honestly, at this juncture, I’m beyond caring what those critics would say. When learning is centered on making the seemingly opaque more relevant to the life of the learner, long-term impacts are possible. When students understand who is working on their behalf, and start to see those people as … well, people, the salience of everything else we want to teach gets a boost.

I’m eager to see how this semester goes, and be sure that I will let you know. I’m also going back to that political science conference next January to report my findings and hopefully inspire other lofty academics to reshape how they think about what our students do or do not know.

I belong at a community college

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've ended up where I needed to be -- Douglas Adams

Whenever I pause to think about how fortunate I am to work at a community college, and then probably feel a little bit guilty that I’ve found a place that so thoroughly makes me feel the good feels that come when you do something you genuinely love … I have to remind myself that sometimes we fall into the right place, and other times, we decide to make the place we are the right place. There’s something powerful that happens when you decide to love where you are for all that it does provide you, even if it’s not where you thought you would be.

I feel that way. I never expected to have a full-time job at a community college, teaching section after section of American Government … but you know what? It’s the PERFECT place for me. I love my job. I love my students. I love my work. I love my coworkers. I feel insanely lucky that I get paid to do things that genuinely fill me up.

Today was one of those days. I had the chance to write a letter in support of a student who I admire tremendously. The students I meet in the community college setting are a diverse mix of dual-enrollment high school students, freshmen who have come straight from high school, and adults who are coming back to school after a few years — or even decades, and everything in between — out in the workforce.

This cauldron of diverse experiences means our conversations in class are richer, with more viewpoints represented, people who can share their lived truths in ways that resonate strongly with important themes in the study of government.

So when one of these students hits a bump along the path, I feel so fortunate to be one of the people there to help them move past it. I’ve written impassioned letters on behalf of many students in the past, and I feel a sense of satisfaction after each one, but there is a special kind of wonderful that happens when you can help someone who you know hasn’t had a lot of help in his or her life.

When I interviewed for my job at my current institution, the committee did not ask me the right question to elicit the answer I wanted to give, so I just demanded they let me give it anyway. It is the story of my single most rewarding moment as a teacher, one that still damn near moves me to tears, roughly 12 years later. I was teaching remedial college writing at a community college in Texas; after taking my class, my students were asked to write a persuasive five-paragraph essay, which a team of us would read (anonymously) to assess whether they were ready for college-level writing courses.

I had a student that semester who made significant improvement in her writing. At the beginning of the semester, I remember so clearly her coming to me after class one day and saying, “I don’t understand. I was a straight-A student in high school. How am I behind in college?” (This was the moment I decided No Child Left Behind was BS.) Once she figured out what we were looking for in an essay, she found a formula that worked for her to present her points clearly, forcefully, and proficiently. She used that same formula on her exit test, and both she and I were confident in her success.

And then … a heartbreaking call. The director of our writing program called to say that her essay and another student’s essay were nearly identical, and because the assessment team couldn’t be sure who was the original author, both students would fail. Adrenaline pumping, I asked him if I could provide him with examples of my student’s writing, as I was confident she had followed her formula on this exit essay. Within minutes, I emailed him a scan of her most recent essay.

A few days later, I was on campus, grading essays from other students, and that director came in with the plagiarized essay and the email I’d sent. The structure of the paragraphs (transition words, etc.) were identical. There was absolutely no question that she was its author. The other student eventually confessed to having found my student’s essay on the computer in the testing room, changing a few words, and submitting it as his or hers. Exoneration! Vindication!

But my sense of triumph turned into something far deeper when my student called me on my cell phone. She said, “I have NEVER had ANYONE fight for me like that. You are the first person who has ever believed in me. Thank you.”


I was stunned silent.

Can you imagine reaching the age of 18 (or greater) and having NEVER have someone fight for you? To feel like nobody has ever believed in you before? It breaks my heart. At the same time, being the person who could do that for her? It is a humbling experience, without a doubt.

These are the stakes we work with at a community college. Some of our students come through our door having been told their entire lives that they aren’t smart enough for school. They don’t know whether they will succeed. Some don’t even try, because if they try and fail, that seems like it would be worse than not trying at all.

But if we can inspire trust, and maybe even a spark of hope, and genuinely BELIEVE in the promise of our students? They can do magical things, and we then get to behold their magic. It’s like that old Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.” If we believe in our students, and if we can somehow reach them enough to help them believe in themselves, they will be successful. It might not be the vision of success we had, but they will find their own success, their own path.

I’ve worked at public 4-year universities; I  spent a year teaching at a private, liberal arts college. But despite what I might’ve told you a decade ago, I wouldn’t “trade up” from my job at the community college for anything — prestige, money, or a lower teaching load. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best job in academia, and I’m grateful, daily, to have earned it. To spend time with my students is to spend time being humbled by their work ethic, grit, and hope.

Synchronicity & current events

The human brain is a magnificent thing. No matter what you’re currently mulling over in your free time, there’s a good chance that it will pop up in other areas of your life in unexpected ways.

And so yesterday, when I was furiously trying to finish my latest book, A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West, by Luke Harding (a reporter at The Guardian in London), I came across this passage:

A Very Expensive Poison coverThe Kremlin’s aim was to avoid an evidence-led inquiry … and to confuse the public mind. The numerous ‘versions’ of [one man’s] murder … were part of a sophisticated media strategy with its roots in KGB doctrine. … There were multiple explanations. How was one supposed to know which one was actually true?

In fact, the aim is to blur what is true with what is not, to the point that the truth disappears altogether. By noisily asserting something is false, you create a fake counter-reality. In time this constructed sovereign version of events becomes real — at least in the minds of those who are watching. (pp. 386-387)

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that a book about Putin’s efforts to disrupt democratic society in the west would turn up something that was so incredibly relevant yesterday. But then, just a couple of hours later, I was listening to one of my staple podcasts, Slate’s The Gist, and the next episode included an interview with NPR’s On the Media hostess extraordinaire, Brooke Gladstone. She was there to talk about her new book, The Trouble with Reality (which I’ve now ordered). In this episode, she talks about the many ways in which the truth is obscured by the “baubles” the current political climate generates (crowd size, anyone?).

This calls to mind something I’ve found myself sharing with students with alarming frequency in recent years — a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former US senator from New York (who, sadly, died in 2003):

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

It’s almost quaint, isn’t it? How cute. How the world has changed.

I think many of us, especially those who have — at one time or another — been drawn to journalism as a career option / opportunity / vocation, want to believe that there is The Truth out there, waiting to be discovered. But unfortunately, we increasingly live in a world where commonly agreed-upon facts are harder to find. When you have someone as cunning as Putin (or as inept as Trump) deliberately trying to obfuscate the truth, and a segment of the mass public who is willing to defend their support of that person to preserve their own cognitive sanity (which I understand — I really do), then the opportunities for mass misinformation run rampant.

And that’s the world in which we now live, I fear.

It’s the world in which I now teach, sadly.

And it makes reasoned, rational, informed discussion nearly impossible.

To wit: Last night, a former student who is (well, was) a Facebook friend sent me a message. I won’t share it with you, but suffice it to say it was (at best) marginally tethered to the truth, a lengthy rant about how Trump can solve all our economic and political problems with a few “common-sense” solutions not even remotely feasible or (in some cases) legal. I sent this person a quick message asking her to leave me off distribution lists for these sorts of messages. She immediately replied: “I tell you what I will delete you and we never have to worry again.”

The world will get no better when we cannot talk across differences; in fact, it will get worse.

When we inhabit bubbles of our own facts, we lose so, so much — compassion, common ground, any hope of resolving differences, and ultimately the very foundation of our small-D democratic (and small-R republican) form of government.

I don’t know how to end this. I do what I do because I have hope, and as an educator I must believe in the power of knowledge to make the world a better place. I keep fighting the good fight (educating my students) and hope my efforts at understanding, compassion, and kindness grease the wheels for true connection.

Carry on, friends.

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