Wednesday was different than most. I spent the morning wondering what I can do to help my students engage more in the material I teach.
I've taught on a college level for almost 7 years. Only part-time which means my official title is "Adjunct Professor". I don't have a PhD which means I will never be a full time "Associate Professor".
It's ok, I concluded a few years back I don't need a PhD in order to have an opinion. And after all, I regularly win arguments with PhD level psychologists, educators, and therapists. 😎
Which means a title like "Master of Public Service"--which I have--does nothing to strengthen my argument. What increases my credibility, and an ability to articulate truth, is a simple understanding of how things work; or what I often call the mechanics of truth.
Adhering to the mechanics of truth allows me to place weight in evidence rather than a title.
For example, I once argued the nature of a medication known as Tramadol with a PhD level neurologist. As a police officer, I observed folks taking too much of this medication; like they took too much of other medications. I expressed my concern with this "addiction expert" hoping to better control the drug in an effort to slow abuse. The PhD sat on a governing board which decided which medications should be tracked or scheduled; based on dangerous qualities. I was arguing a need for greater control. He argued the impossible nature of people abusing Tramadol because of how this medication works in the brain. My evidence was simple; folks were taking too much of this drug. He could not refute my evidence despite a higher level of education--at the time I didn't even hold a bachelors degree. With tenacity, I presented a compelling argument which secured an agreement to track Tramadol.
I won this argument because I did not simply accept my opponents "credentials" as evidence he was right; and I was wrong. Not that I'm always right and a PhD is always wrong. Just the opposite... folks with "credentials" tend to understand more than some; but this does not mean they know more than all.
I've met many "fancy folks" who require they be called by a specific title. I tend to exercise caution with folks who place emphasis on titles; especially PhD's who require others to address them as a Doctor. Because, after all they did not spend all that time in "evil medical school" to be called anything but Doctor. 😉
I mentioned Wednesday was different. On this day, I resolved to ask why my class why they've been so quiet during the semester. I concluded fear was standing in the way of successful conversations.
I was right.
After introducing a guest speaker, advertising a very prestigious internship opportunity, I asked my students why they hesitated to speak in class. The first to answer was a visually confident student who often voiced her opinion during lectures. She said she doesn't speak more becasue she's afraid she's wrong. Understanding there's always a deeper meaning to any verbal response I asked permission to ask a hard question.
She quickly said she's an open book and I can ask her anything...
This particular young lady falls between the age of 18 and 25. Her every action displays a certain "spunk" or tangible confidence suggesting she'd be down to try just about anything. I suspected she would bite on my original question. I was glad she did because she appears, in every sense, to be deeply confident. So I asked... "on a scale between zero and ten--with ten being the highest and zero being nothing--how confident are you". I wrote the following scale on the board: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. She paused for a moment and "confidently" said "2".
I circled that number.
I expected she was not as confident as she appeared. I have found, more times than not, confident people intentionally hide or mask who they really are. I first recognized this tendency in myself. I found I often acted far more confidently than I felt. The funny thing... I wasn't intentionally trying to show confidence in order to fool people. This is just how I was.
My class was surprised by the response of my confident student. For the same reason many are surprised when I say I lack confidence. Most simply take for granted that what's shown on the outside matches what's felt on the inside. Meaning, my students assumed their peer was confident, in everything; because she carries a natural tendency, even a desire, to try new things. She's down to try new things. In this sense, she has the heart of an explorer willing to walk into the darkness of the unknown. But that does not mean she has the confidence to engage in the task. This surprised the others students.
Armed with this "confession", I looked to a timid student who always sits on the back row. One who communicates, with every action, a lack of confidence. In every sense, she communicates the exact opposite of what is communicated by my confident student.
She said people cause her anxiety because she feels judged.
Based on this response, we engaged in a quick discussion of how the human mind is hardwired to judge, people and events, because this is how we are created. Without even thinking, our subconscious absorbs huge amounts of data; which it collates intending to draw conclusions regarding the nature of our environment, and more specifically how we fit in our environment. We do this to find purpose. We naturally "judge" people, places, and things. Some of us judge the nature of these things correctly. Others judge incorrectly based on what they think and feel. Meaning, my current belief tends to dictate what I will believe in the future. Which means I look at the world through my own bias of what I believe can and can't be true.
We all do it. It's as natural as breathing.
The past experiences of my timid student taught her she's always wrong; but my confident student expressed the same thing. They both said they don't speak up in class because they are afraid. My timid student says she doesn't want people to know how "stupid" she thinks she is.
Last week our class engaged in a friendly debate regarding the "rule of law". The debate simply asked if laws can be damaged; yes or no. One side debated yes. The other side debated no. She was on the no side. She said nothing during the back and forth conversation. Until I looked squarely in her eyes and asked... "what do you think". Despite being on the "no" side, her response carried strength. She said yes, laws--or the rule of law--can be damaged if laws are not enforced.
Did you catch what happened. She did not speak in class because she was terrified people would judge her as "stupid". Except, she was right. So much so she intentionally ignored directions to argue against her belief. After all, I did ask her to argue on the no side. Except, she had the correct answer the remainder of the class struggled to outline. My timid student sat listening to both sides, and in her mind concluded laws loose strength when they are not enforced. This made sense to her but fear silenced her voice.
Until she was given permission to have a voice.
With time, my timid student spoke of why she was pursuing Criminal Justice as a career. She said she loves crime and police shows. She said she's always had a desire to be a police officer; but one show solidified the choice in her mind. She watched a series of investigative reports that discussed the effects of being wrongly convicted of a crime. In her mind, she felt how unfair it would be to experience failed justice. She spoke of wrongly convicted "criminals", spending years in prison; finding no solace in a law suit which paid them money, but did nothing to restore lost time. Despite being timid, she said she decided to do something about this injustice and enrolled in college. When she spoke she communicated a deep passion to help people. When she spoke she communicated confidence in her desire. I simply responded... "you are better than you give yourself credit". She began to cry.
Crying was not my intention but I knew the reaction was evidence of a change in core-belief.
Since day one, I have tried to reinforce a need to develop evidence-based opinions or conclusions. In this, I often communicate my "love" for each student, as a person with tremendous value; but my utter dismissal of poorly founded conclusions based on little to no evidence. Contrary to popular belief, it is very possible to disagree with someone with zero animosity or hate. In fact, I have created great success in challenging false perceptions by separating the value of a person from the value of the belief.
Perhaps now is a good time to give my beginning of semester, new class, introductory speech...
Ahem... there is a difference between "my" truth and "our" truth. In this context, my truth is only true for me; but our truth is just as true for me as it is for you. More often than not, my beliefs hold value inside myself; alone. My belief make sense to me based on my own observations and my investigation of how I fit inside my environment. My belief is my truth. But what about our truth? This simple concept accepts what's true for you may not be true for me; and what's true for me may not be true for you. But there is universal truth; a truth that is true for everyone. Some try to force their truth on others. Truth can't be forced; it can only be accepted. So much so, truth does not change based on my perception or belief.
And herein lies the problem....
Truth does not change; I change to match truth. But I wont change until truth makes sense to me. In fact, if I have to force my idea on you; if I have to force you to change to match my ideal; that seems the farthest position from truth. Meaning, truth exists; as does sufficient evidence allowing anyone to logically conclude a concept is true. In this context, truth takes time, energy, and study to understand what it is and why it's true. It has taken most my life to learn the truth I now cherish. I can honestly say I was dead wrong about concepts and ideals I once held as true. The time I spent in law enforcement taught me to investigate truth with a firm resolve to discover what truth is. With intentional effort, to avoid my own bias blinding truth, I now possess more truth than I ever have.
You understand this is the crux of the problem; right!?!
Far too many force their truth on others because they think this gives them value. Think about it. If I am right then I am perceived as being intelligent or capable. Some spend energy trying to convert, or even force, others to their truth; with little investigation to discover if their truth has any merit outside themselves.
For the last 20 years I have intentionally "looked past" what I believe is true so I can be open to what is actually true.
My success is what qualifies me to teach college level courses. And where I advocate higher education as a viable path of truth; I intentionally teach my students that truth has nothing to do with a college degree. Some students do not like this truth because they believe a college education gives them value and worth. The degree does nothing; what I do with the degree determines my value to any organization.
In short, I have adopted a system which requires solid logical, and emotional, evidence before I embrace any new idea. This is what I teach my students. I also teach I am not always right. But my willingness to spend tremendous energy, and countless hours, looking for evidence to prove or disprove any thought, idea, or belief system is what brings me closer to truth.
It's ok, we're all wrong some of the time; and we're all right some of the time.
My buddy recently said, even a broken clock is right twice a day. 😂
The real question asks how I can know when I am right and when I am wrong. The simple answer requires a willingness to explore the true nature of any concept, belief, or idea. In this sense, I can squarely and emphatically change a belief system--known to be wrong; by first accepting the value of the person holding the belief, and then providing sound evidence why the belief does not pass the test of logic; or emotion.
When I challenge a belief I never challenge the value of the person who holds the belief.
This is how I teach my college courses. Over time I gain the trust of my students. And with trust I can teach truth. My timid student trusts what I teach and how I teach. She cried because someone she trusted told her she's better than she believes. I successfully challenged her truth. Her tears are evidence she believed what was said and was grateful it was said.
I later spoke with my confident student who disclosed she had a similar belief regarding her inability to succeed. In fact, she said she has to earn an A in every class otherwise she experiences an emotional break down that threatens her ability to continue with her studies.
Toward the end of class, I described the difficulty of the career they were choosing. I suggested, backed by 20 years experience, a passion is vital to success. This is true in all walks of life. I explained my task, during this semester, is to teach how evidence is properly collected and presented. I said we'd be more successful if they developed the strength to engage in the material.
Remember the guest speaker who came to announce a prestigious internship opportunity? After she left, I encouraged each student to apply for the limited opportunity. I even offered extra credit on our class final if they provided evidence of the application. At the beginning of class, I looked around the room and saw three types of students. Those who would not apply because they saw no value in the experience. Those who would apply and likely have a strong chance of being accepted. And those who wanted to apply but did not believe they could create this success. My timid student was one who wanted to apply but would not because she believed she'd fail.
She left, at the end of class, with an application in hand and a determined look on her face.
As I reflect on this experience I can see truth in a few things. First, outward appearances often fail to accurately reflect what's really inside. For example, a student assumed to carry strength and confidence did not feel confident; and a student who communicated fear having the courage to try. Second, regardless of what's outwardly communicated inward passions drive anyone to engage in something they fear. For example, a student who has to earn an A choosing to return to class despite tremendous emotional barriers; and a student who fears the judgments of others looking past her fear to communicate what she knows is true. These experiences are not isolated to just my students. I have found, through 20 years of observation and study, what my students expressed is something everyone has felt or continues to feel.
To be clear...
My intentions today were meant to increase engagement in my class. The outcome was a willingness, on the part of at least two students, to increase engagement outside my class. I could not be more pleased with this result. Because I care about the success of anyone who wants more from life.
I often find I care more than some.
This is ok because I know real barriers stand in the way of real success. Most of these barriers, in some cases all barriers, are emotional.
I know a thing or two about overcoming emotional barriers.
With this in mind, I ask... how can we ever know what can be done if we never try. My goal, my purpose in teaching, my reason for this blog and this website, seeks to ignite a fire deep inside. A fire strong enough to overcome any fear.
I have found anyone can overcome fear!!!
I discuss these concepts in greater detail in a book I recently published.