Teaching Sciences to the Exclusion of the Arts

To emphasize the sciences and neglect the arts is like emphasizing the sterility of a delivery room while ignoring the miracle of birth that happens there.

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A not so chance encounter

I had a wonderful discussion with a man from Rwanda that I met in the parking lot at the FDA where I am serving as a senior business systems analyst. While my French is atrocious, I could see that the book he was carrying was a history book dealing with the struggles between blacks and whites in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994. I asked him if he had seen the movie Hotel Rwanda and if it was accurate. He told me that he had and unfortunately, it wasn’t. We started talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis and racism. He asked about the origins of racism. I talked to him about Dutch and British colonialism, the caste system in India and the Untouchables in particular, and also the treatment of the aboriginal people of Australia by the British settlers and even more contemporary Australians. Then he asked me a very poignant question, “what do we do to get rid of racism in this country?” I told him that the best things that we can do are to dispel falsehoods by teaching the truth and to show ourselves as friendly and respectful toward those of different people groups. We have to dispel the falsehood that there is a unified hatred of one group by another by proving that at least one person of that group doesn’t hate them.
We discussed what sort of teachings might change people’s minds. I spoke to him about the common ancestry of humanity as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. I told him stories of Moses and how his own brother and sister were upset with him because he married an Ethiopian woman. I told him of the Jewish people from Ethiopia that stood as a testimony to the fact that we are truly one race of people, a message he echoed to me earlier in our conversation. I told him of the origin of humanity being from North Africa and drawing the conclusion that if all people came from one place, then the essence of all humanity is identical and we simply have different appearances.
I asked him if he was familiar with the Gospel story and how when the edict went out to kill the male children two years and younger that Mary and Joseph fled to North Africa. He knew the story well. Being a Jew in my heritage and my pedagogy, I asked him a question versus presenting my conclusion. I asked him, “would parents of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy hide in a place where everyone had brown skin and black hair?” He smiled and said, “no.” Then he surprised me. He pulled out a book and asked me if I though it was legitimate because he had a friend that only spoke French who needed this book in French. The title was, “Nouveau Testament.” He knew there were versions floating around that had slight changes to promote the doctrines of certain cults. I opened the book to Jean 1:1, recited John 1:1 in English and asked him if that’s what it said. He confirmed that. I asked him to look at the phrase, “and the Word was God” and make sure that there was no indefinite article there, a trick of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to substantiate their Arian (not to be confused with Aryan) doctrine of Christ. He said there was none. We did a similar drill with Jean/John 3:16. He confirmed that what it says was what I recited. He was very happy because now he could give his friend what he was asking for.
We both ended our work days with a wonderful encounter. I have been telecommuting for five years. While I dislike making the drive, I love meeting people face to face.

An Independence Day Letter to my Students

I am privileged to be an adjunct professor for Everest College.  The opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of students is something I greatly relish.  On Independence Day, 2014, I wrote the following to my current students.  If you are a former student of mine, or if you just came across this blog for some other reason, I hope that you’ll take to heart the following:

Dearest Students:

As we go into this holiday weekend, I hope you all remember what we are truly celebrating. The independence that our nation gained over 200 years ago is something that allows us to be studying as we are here today. We don’t need any sort of royal decree to allow us to teach. In slightly over two centuries of existence, our great nation has accomplished many wonderful things. We face challenging times, as is often the case in any great nation. What makes America truly great is not only our great freedoms, but how we deal with struggles and the hard times in life.  We are an exceptional nation made up of exceptional people.
It’s important that you are always aware of the great sacrifices that it took to get to where we stand today. If while you’re watching a parade, you happen to see a veteran, go up to that man or that woman and express your thanks for that person’s service to our great country.  Having been a soldier, I can tell you that the greatest challenges are those we face when we get back into the “real” world. While many of our veterans don’t bear their scars on the outside, a great number bear scars on the inside. One out of every four homeless people is a veteran. On any given day, 22 veterans die at their own hands. If you started counting the number of veterans who died this way from New Year’s Day until Labor Day, the number would exceed those who died in the entire Iraqi conflict. Independence is something that we enjoy freely, but it didn’t come cheaply.
You have great things waiting for you after this class is done. College is one of the few places where you have the ability to determine almost everything that happens to you. You choose how much to study, you choose how hard you work on assignments, and you choose how much you participate in the discussion threads. If there is anything that I can tell you about your educational experience to come, it’s this; it doesn’t get easier. I have a dual Bachelor’s, a Diploma in Military Science, two Master’s degrees, and I’m working toward a postgraduate degree, and it is as hard today as it was when I was a college freshman 35 years ago. It’s always a challenge, but it’s always worth it. During the introductions to class, we ask you about those who will be your greatest supporters. It’s wonderful to have support, but remember one thing, the only one that you need to impress with what you do at school, is yourself. When you look at your grades, don’t gauge yourself so much on the letter grade as you do on the level of effort that went into achieving that letter grade. If you get a C in a class, and you put every bit of your being into earning that, then feel good about it. The size of the diploma of a student that carried a 2.9 GPA is not any smaller than that of a student who earned a perfect 4.0.

Best wishes to you all,
Andy Knaster, BA, MA, MSIS
Adjunct Prof., Everest College Phoenix Online

The repository of all knowledge…

A student in one of my introductory computer applications classes asked how she could learn more advanced functionality in the Microsoft Office while continuing to deal with working and going to school.  I pointed her at the repository of all knowledge, YouTube.  There are many professional software instructors and instruction organizations out there.  Many of them offer a select number of high-quality lessons for free.  Some do it out of a sense of community, others, with the hope of having you purchase their products.  When you put all of these free offerings together as samples in the world’s biggest mall, you are bound to get a complete set. Nonetheless, you can be the beneficiary.  Here is a simple two step process that works for just about anything in the Microsoft Office.

using YouTube to learn Microsoft Office

Clothes don’t make the blog

I was on a Web site devoted to providing instruction in a gamut of subjects (instructables.com).  I was looking for instructions on how to properly wear the keffiyeh I bought earlier in the year (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-wrap-a-Keffiyeh/).   

A keffiyeh is a garment of Middle Eastern origins.  My reason for wanting to know how to wear one follows.  The sad thing I discovered in looking at the comments that followed the simple keffiyeh wrapping instructions was some people trying to politicize the simple presence of a page instructing people how to wear a garment that some people associate with terrorism.  Instructables.com is an apolitical site.  It is there to show people that don’t know things how to do them, period.  This was my response to the post:

Thanks for the instructions.  The keffiyeh is an extremely practical garment.  I am going hunting tomorrow and it is supposed to be unseasonably warm.  I have a cold weather hunting balaclava, but it will be a bit too warm to wear.  I have a bright orange and black keffiyeh to go with my blaze orange and black hunting camouflage.  The first time I used the keffiyeh was at an outdoor garage sale where I was manning a booth in the sun for three+ hours.  It kept my very Caucasian skin from getting very burnt.  Its gauzy structure kept it from getting to be too warm.

For those who are trying to make this political because of its Semitic origins, please don’t go there.  I am a Jew, an American patriot, and a Zionist.  As much as the world tends to forget, Arabs and Jews have a common parentage and a common region.  The keffiyeh is not a religious garment, it is a garment of the desert nomad.  At one time, most of us Semitic folks were nomads in desert areas.  I was in the US Army and was stationed in the desert for three years.  I wish I knew how to wear one of these back then. We wore gauze cravats like keffiyehs but they didn’t stay in place as well and were not so easily converted back and forth to face covers.  My wearing of a keffiyeh does not make me any more of a Palestinian sympathizer than my wearing of an ushanka (the Russian ear-flap hat) makes me a fan of Vladimir Putin.  As a person of Ukrainian heritage, I despise Putin because he embodies the egotistical oligarchical leader who seems to think he is better and smarter than everyone else.  That doesn’t make me want to trade in my ushanka for a ski cap or ear muffs.

When I was a soldier, the Army implemented the PASGT, styled after the German Bundeswehr’s Gefechtshelm (helmet with ear covering that is favored by bikers).  That didn’t me a Nazi.  We wore ponchos too.  They have their origins in South and Central America.  

The bottom line is this, in America, we have a creole culture.  We see it in our arts, cuisine, language, and clothing.  Our nation has been fortunate enough to be able to borrow from the hundreds (if not thousands) of cultures of our citizens.  Let’s not be so ignorant and naive to think that we Americans should avoid cultural garb because it has its origins in cultures some of us might not agree with.

One reason why I am changing careers

I am changing careers.  After 25 years as a technologist, I am going into instruction and training.  I resigned my position as a business analyst in early August and stepped out in faith.  Originally, it was because my former employer could not place me in a business analyst position.  As I began to look for business analyst positions, I found that the fact I had been working in a different aspect of Information Technology for over one year severely impacted my ability to get a business or systems analyst position.  Instead of lamenting that, I have chosen to make a change.  Those who know me know that my passion is for education, particularly adult education.  I am devoting myself to changing to a career that involves instruction, training, and instructional design.

I have an application for a full time instructor position at a college that offers online instruction.  In a discussion with the recruiter for that position, I explained that one of my burdens for going into education is the plight of the combat veteran, who after leaving the service, finds that combat skills are not highly prized in the civilian workforce.  I wrote the following to her:

Sadly, the greatest danger to combat veterans these days is not the battlefield; it is coming home.  By Labor Day, more veterans will have killed themselves in 2013 than died in the entire Iraqi conflict.  When I was in seminary, I volunteered to serve in the first conflict as a chaplain.  The law does not allow seminarians to deploy overseas, but I was allowed to serve as a chaplain at Ft. Hood as part of the recovery effort in 1991.  I was on the ground for 18 hours when I was called to the Psychiatric ward of Darnell Army Medical Center.  One of our soldiers tried to kill himself by taking 400 Tylenol because he couldn’t cope with life after war.  One in four homeless people are veterans.  Remote education is a weapon to combat those problems.  Veterans can start to learn before they leave the service.  Veterans that have returned but are facing unemployment or underemployment can go to school after business hours.  Not having a meaningful job can lead to despondency.  Despondency is dispelled by hope.  Hope comes from a knowledge that something better is possible.  Career-focused education can provide hope.

There are three types of occupations: jobs, professions, and callings.  A job is something you take to put food on the table, regardless of what the duties are or if there is room for advancement.  You have obligations and are committed to meeting them.  Having a job is a fine and noble thing.  A profession is an occupation that your are committed to for the long haul.  You work extra hours, go to school for it, attend seminars and workshops to improve your skills, and take risks to demonstrate just how good you are.  Professions are also fine and noble.  A calling is a profession that is so all-encompassing that you cannot be satisfied with anything else.  A calling drives you to sacrifice.  A calling keeps you up at night and makes you excited for the next opportunity to operate within it.  My calling is in education.

I have made many applications and have some solid leads, but as with any career change, especially when you are older, finding positions is challenging.  If you know of an opportunity, please let me know or pass along my résumé (the link is below).

Andrew Knaster – Resume