Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This Tuesday’s Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation day offered an awesome opportunity to ponder the power of tremendous teachers everywhere.


How cute is this?

As a teacher, I have the good fortune of working with extraordinary teachers. My colleagues in The College of Liberal Arts at Robert Morris continuously inspire me and my teaching practice. My fellow teachers are exciting, creative, funny, and smart. Naturally, all of the regular Turtle bloggers top my list of coworkers whose contribution I hold in high esteem (MSJ, Paul, JJS, Dr. Stern, Mick, Ellen). Many more colleagues in the College of Business, Health, and Design impress me with their ability to encourage and empower their students every day.

My past teaching life in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere in Illinois was equally enhanced with wonderful educators who helped form my curriculum and understanding, many of these past coworkers remain among my most trusted friends.

My personal experience with teachers has been rich and varied. Most of my closest friends currently are or have been teachers (too many to list; we teachers stick together!).  Over the years we discussed, at length, the countless joys and frequent frustrations teachers endure.  Ultimately, teachers are my tribe.

Thinking back on my most memorable teachers calls to mind not precise details, (who taught me fractions? I have no idea). Instead, the larger lessons emerge, and with them the recognition of the ways they suffuse all that I am and do. To honor the teachers who shaped my life, I contemplate and celebrate the knowledge they so generously shared with me.


Mrs. Debbie Bernauer was an incredibly kind and supportive third grade teacher. The woman went so far as to attend one of my softball games. This compassionate commitment is typical of the best elementary school teachers who devote a marvelous amount of their time, talent, and energy to the children they teach with boundless love.

In Middle School, Mr. Johnson taught the behaviors of critical thinking and the importance of the preparation a good education can provide. A history and government teacher, his favorite phrase was “There’s nothing constant except change.” This sort of philosophical wordplay stayed with me across the years. His side job as a farmer no doubt helped underscore his tendency to address the cruel realities each life was bound to encounter.

Many of my teachers at Brecksville-Broadview Heights high school are still vivid in my memory: how extraordinary!bee

My long-suffering Math teacher, Mr. Sycz, worked tirelessly to help us grapple with geometry, algebra, and calculus, which resulted in a much easier encounter with college math requirements.

My choir teacher, Mr. Valley, was a fixture throughout all four years. Choir class concluded my day, and I still highly recommend singing every afternoon. His enthusiasm for music and the program resulted in the growth and development of remarkable range of musical opportunities. He expanded the choir, band, orchestra, and song & dance team, the delightful “Music in Motion” in his time, long before Pitch Perfect made singing cool.

Mr. Chordas’ intense approach to education was endlessly inspiring. A brilliant history teacher, he also taught a psychology elective senior year that offered an intriguing peek into the life of the mind.  The biggest impact on my learning was a result of his model of excellence, curiosity, and openness.

Mrs. Ford was the woman who helped me love language and literature. She planted the seed for my future in teaching. In her class, we read widely, the classics: Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare; moderns and contemporaries: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Alice Walker. Conversations of the texts, followed by writing copious journal entries molded my thinking and my life. I’ve kept a journal ever since her class.

In college, I learned from many different teachers, all of whom knew a great deal, but I did not make the effort to develop a meaningful relationship with most of my professors, the exceptions being Kathy Fagan and Christopher Highley. No doubt the sheer size of The Ohio State University makes creating a personal connection more difficult. I regret not having sought ought my professors for advice and guidance.

In graduate school, the bond between professor and student evolves. The exchange of information tends toward a cooperative learning of equals working side by side. At Cleveland State University, I had the benefit of an extraordinary English Department filled with professors who were thoughtful teachers and accomplished writers: Dr.  Neal Chandler, Dr. Leonard Trawick, Dr. Daniel Melnick, Dr. Rachel Carson, Sheila Schwartz, and the brilliant Dan Chaon.  At Kent State for MLIS, my thesis advisor and favorite professor, Dr. Jason Holmes, guided my every step, a kindness for which I shall be forever grateful.

Teachers create an incredibly positive impact on the individual and the world; I remain humbly in their debt and happily among their ranks.

Cue Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”


By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I’m over 30 and I still eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I like them. They’re delicious, cheap, and easy.

To make one, I follow a routine: first I place two slices of bread on the plate with the bottom edges touching, then I spread the peanut butter onto one slice.


When I first started making PB&J by myself as a kid, my next step was to clean the knife off with paper towel so I wouldn’t get any peanut butter in the jelly jar. Then I would spread the jelly, slap the bread together, cut it in half, and enjoy.

My mom eventually took notice of this routine and stopped me as I went to clean the knife. To save me time, and to keep me from wasting all the paper towel, she instructed me to simply wipe the knife on the clean, soon-to-be-jellied slice.

So I did. Voila. Clean knife. No paper wasted.

This was revolutionary peanut butter & jelly engineering. It was the best thing since sliced bread, happening ON sliced bread.

My little mind was blown.

More than 20 years later, I remember that moment every time I wipe the knife on the bread.

It certainly wasn’t the biggest or most important lesson I learned from my parents; it wouldn’t even sniff the top 10. But as we navigate our lives through education, milestones, and epiphanies, it is nice to remember that the tiniest slice of a moment can teach us a lesson that lasts forever.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Here is the dark secret of the crisis in higher education: many students just don’t put forth the effort required to succeed.

Writing the above makes me a little nervous, mostly because implying that students are anything but ideal causes concern, raises Imageeyebrows, suggests insensitivity. Often at the end of the term, professors are asked to explain why a certain percentage of students failed to successfully complete the class. The reasons are contained in this post. In fifteen years as a college instructor, I have never failed a student who did the work and came to class. Never. Success and failure is the direct result of student work. If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. The 21st century world requires a complex network of knowledge and skills, and too many students are failing behind of their own volition.

There are critical skills for success in academic life, and all professors routinely attempt to impress upon their students the vital behaviors for scholastic achievement. Recently, I created a “Student Empowerment Treatise” that I distribute and discuss at the beginning of the term in all my classes. Item #2 reads, “I understand that if I fulfill the required assignments and attend and participate in class, I can expect to earn a C or better in class.” Therein lays the mystery of success: show up and do the work.

I can encourage students to wake up in the morning, but they themselves must use their own power to get out of bed, and undertake whatever it is they hope to accomplish. I want my students to learn, but they alone must do the work of learning.

Attending class

I was fortunate that when I went off to college, I had six older siblings who shared with me the paramount importance of going to class. Students who attend class regularly succeed at a much higher rate. Also, it is likely that if students come to class, they actually might learn something interesting, or meet someone exciting, or hear about an event on campus, or any other wonderful occurrence that is directly tied to actively engaging in education.

 Focusing in class

Many of my more generous colleagues will blame themselves for students’ inattention, striving to be more charming or inventive. I strive to be entertaining and student-centered, but the notion that learning can always be fun is simply ridiculous. Learning is complicated, and frequently arduous. Granted, it is hard to pay attention, but accomplishing anything requires focus. Even doing the dishes entails addressing the nature and scope of the task at hand. When a student forces himself or herself to pay attention to what is going on in the lecture, the text, or the discussion, he or she is exerting the self-discipline necessary to realizing any goal.

Completing course work

These are the smaller tasks that involve the practice of skills associated with a subject or discipline. These are assignments for whichImage a student can earn 100% just for completing the work. The work need not be perfect or completely correct. It just needs to be done. Each week, there are typically short readings assigned, Discussion Board posts related to readings, and in-class written responses on a variety of topics, either covered in lectures or other content areas. If I did the statistical analysis of the percentage of students who actually accomplish these weekly tasks, it would be horrifying.

Submitting projects on time

Each term, a few large projects are assigned per course. The nature of these projects depends on the class, but all courses require larger, more polished work that illustrates an advanced understanding of central skills and concepts. For example, HUM 120 (Introduction to Literature), consists of three course sections: poetry, short fiction, and drama. Each segment of the course culminates in an essay, exam, or presentation. I do not take late work (unless there is a documented illness) mostly because it would devastate my own grading schedule to let students submit work whenever they wish to do so. To those students who protest that they have paid for the class and should be able to submit late work, I remind them that simply purchasing a plane ticket does not guarantee the plane won’t leave without them if they fail to show up on time. Deadlines are a part of every endeavor, and time management is expected in every professional field.

Using available resources

There are scores of people working at every college in the United States whose job it is to help students in every possible way. There are tutors, administrators, librarians, advisors, counselors, coaches, and professors who are present throughout the week for consultation. Students who utilize the available resources quickly learn that spending thirty minutes with any one of these mentors can radically improve their understanding. I wish more students utilized support services.

Persevering, even when faced with difficult challenges and unthinkable obstacles

Students face day-to-day struggles that make completing studies extremely difficult, which is always the case for everyone. Every student endures a unique set of hardships. College graduates are those individuals who found the power within to complete coursework despite the overwhelming challenges that are a part of life.

I’ve Been There; I’m Still Here

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I learned to practice the behaviors associated with scholastic advancement. I was not a perfect student; I struggled in many classes; I earned bad grades; I went to tutoring. All of my skills improved with time. My academic performance developed as my professors continually pressured me to create meaningful work. I hope my current work in the classroom serves the same fundamental purpose. I do not expect my students to be perfect learners. However, I hope my students begin to achieve their highest potential through consistent and significant effort.

As long as I am teaching, I will continue to require the practice of the fundamentals of academic success in the hopes that students are listening. There are two more ideas I share with my students on the first day of class.

I tell them, “I want you to thrive.”

I also entreat them to stop considering higher education something they buy; a product-based description is scarcely useful. I do not want them to invest in an education.

I say, “Invest in Yourself.”


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

As a human being and a person in the knowledge business both as student and teacher, and as a worshipper of books, and libraries, and book stores, and finally as a great fan of good old Socrates, the creator of the Socratic Method, and founder of western philosophy, I often enough find myself worrying about how the learning process works for I want to continue learning new things as well as hang on to what I’ve already learned.

But you might be asking yourself, my dear, exceptionally sweet, always forthcoming Turtlett, “What’s there to worry about? By your own admission, you’ve got it. You learned what you’ve learned and you’ve then gone ahead and stored your learning where you can summon it up whenever you need it.” “That’s possible,” I might reply, though a more likely response would be that learning’s not quite so easy. Firstly, let me mention that I’m perfectly capable of forgetting things I think I’ve learned; and secondly, if I do forget things, maybe that’s because I didn’t really learn them or learn them as well as I thought I’d learned them. This explanation surely makes a great deal of sense to me, even if my imaginary interlocutor remains entirely unconvinced.


Can you find Peter Stern?

But I also reminded myself that another major cause of my concern stemmed from remembering the example of Socrates and his confession of ignorance. For I can never entirely forget his famous declaimer that he knows he knows nothing. Let’s think about this for a minute. I mean if Socrates says he knows nothing, how can I claim to know so much, indeed, how can I claim to know anything at all? Surely a conundrum of sorts, at least for me, and very possibly somewhere down the road, for you too, my ever thoughtful readers doubling as intrepid explorers and exemplars of critical thinking’s joys.

So, wandering lonely as a cloud over a wine dark sea as more dilemmas leaped out at me like hungry lions waiting for their favorite midday meal, a new thought suddenly flashed in my brain bringing me some small comfort from my concerns. As this new thought increasingly occupied my mind, my worries about learning and knowledge seemed to lessen.

Can you find the dalmatian?

Can you find the dalmatian?

And here’s why. The idea that hit me so suddenly was amazingly simple and yet extraordinarily helpful in sorting out what learning and knowledge are all about, and hopefully you’ll find this idea helpful to you too. Again, the idea is extremely simple or at least simple to state. Here it is. Learning involves seeing patterns in the information or data or material we’re thinking about.

In other words, facts are facts and in theory we can approach each fact as an entirely separate sort of thing and commit it to memory. But that’s not learning; it’s memorizing. By contrast, learning entails seeing the connections or patterns between facts or between different things which in turn tells us what they mean. Reading or listening to stories provides a gazillion examples of this sort of experience.

In a story, we’re introduced to a series of main characters who find themselves in a particular setting with a singular goal they’re trying to achieve or an issue they wish to resolve. They create and initiate plans to realize their objective. And at the end of the story we find out whether or not they were successful. In many ways this sounds like Aristotle’s famous statement about stories having a beginning, middle, and end.

Reflecting on a story reveals to the reader or listener how the beginning is linked to the end and how other elements of the story form a variety of patterns. We can notice how two characters operate either in similar or in very different ways. We might even realize that they do both: they act in similar ways but also in contrasting ways. We can discern patterns with respect to the characters and the setting and how the things the characters say foreshadow the story’s end.

I had just such an experience in class the other day watching a film called “A League of Their Own.” Although I had already seen the movie a bunch of times, it was only this week that I noticed early on how the main character, who was the team’s star, was going to get into an increasingly ugly argument with her sister who felt her star studded sib was hogging the stage—or rather, the diamond. This time around I also understood the ending much better as I saw far more clearly the pattern that linked the sisters and thus could appreciate in a deeper way the twist the ending provided.

The same sort of people patterns we see in a movie or novel or short story can also be found in real life whether in the news, in politics, at work, and/or at play. You might also find them in a painting, in a song, or in an amazing cloud formation as you look over Lake Michigan very early in the morning and see the rosy fingered dawn first breaking through the still largely dark night sky.


By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I agree with my colleagues when they contend that we learn just as much at school each day as the students. The only difference is that my colleagues say this because they are keen, open-minded, lifelong learners. I say it because I’m not very smart and don’t know much.

Therefore, I expect – nay – demand that I learn wonderful and amazing things every day that I come to work. As we approach midterm, here is some of what I’ve learned so far this term:

  • After midnight, Twitter becomes “Twitter After Dark.” According to one student, “That’s when Twitter gets ‘nasty.’” At first, I thought this meant they were tweeting late night delivery orders to Papa John’s. Then I realized what it actually meant. I immediately informed class that, “One: I’m learning way too much about y’all. And two: I need a Twitter account.”
  • Yelling “Hey Girl!” is an ineffective pickup line in an academic setting.
    • And everywhere else in society.
      • Note to self: when I open my Twitter account, don’t use #HeyGirl.
  • Teachers are smartphone hypocrites. We discourage students from playing on their phones during class. But, if faculty get bored during meetings, we text each other pictures of the Samuel L. Jackson dog. And then revise famous Sam Jackson quotes as if they were said by a dog.
"That's it! I'm tired of these motherf--- squirrels in my motherf--- yard!"

“That’s it! I’m tired of these motherf— squirrels in my motherf— yard!”

  • Folding a piece of paper horizontally is called “hamburger” and vertically is called “hot dog.” Students were shocked I didn’t know this, prompting one to tell me, “You’re old as hell!” I knew time would eventually transition me from “young” teacher to “old” teacher. I never thought it would be triggered by cute, food-related paper folding names.
    • I have decided that folding together opposite edges of paper is called “taco.”
      • I haven’t informed my students of this yet.
  • Offering an exemption from the final exam for perfect attendance throughout the term promotes attendance and punctuality to extremes. “I am not missing for any reason,” one student insisted. “If I get sick and I’m throwing up, I’m still coming. I will throw up in your class. On the floor.”
    • Note: This student has already missed a class.
  • Discussions about religion and politics are sure to lead to contentious debates and heated arguments. This I already knew. There are so many opposing beliefs that run deep to our cores. I did not know the same happens to people when talking about the merits of box wine. In a single day, a firestorm of box wine bickering broke out among both faculty and students, and weeks later, the fire still burns. Friendships deteriorated, punches were thrown, and blood spilled like a punctured box of Franzia.


  • The words “Poetry” and “Group Work” produce similarly loud groans of exasperation and hatred.
    • I can’t wait to assign poetry group work.
  • Several students asked me if I workout. I wasn’t sure if that was an observation, a compliment, or a suggestion. Most recently, one student informed me I’m “Swoll.” Thus, I learned that people are finally noticing how much I look like LL Cool J.
I'm on the right. I know - it's like we were separated at birth. And no, I don't mind if you call me LL Cool P.

I’m on the right. I know – it’s like we were separated at birth. And no, I don’t mind if you call me LL Cool P.

  • It is acceptable to take phone calls during class so long as you turn your back to the lecture, whisper, and occasionally glance back at the teacher. Should the teacher call you out, the proper response is to turn to your classmates and ask why they gave you away.
  • Men ages 18-22 will wear sports apparel for teams they do not support simply because they like the colors and design of the jersey or hat. Following their lead, I am going to start hanging various national flags around my desk – not because I support that country, but because I like its look.
Where can I buy a Norfolk Island jersey?

Where can I buy a Norfolk Island jersey?

  • The surest way to get a class to lose its collective mind in cheers, applause, and laughter is to have an short, adorable man named Benito twerk during a presentation. In fact, it was so effective, that I plan to hire Benito to follow me around. Whenever I have a lecture or presentation that isn’t going well, I’ll just hit play on some music and step out of the way.
  • If you yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater, those people will not move nearly as fast as an office full of teachers at the sound of “Free cookies!”
    • Or “Free drinks!”
  • Put a bowl of strange candy near teachers and they will approach it cautiously, eat a single piece, declare it tastes strange and awful, and then proceed to eat the rest of the bowl.
"It's just so...strange," says one professor, as he makes a face like he smells a soiled diaper, and plants his feet firmly next to the bowl.

“It’s just so…strange,” says one professor, as he makes a face like he smells a soiled diaper, and plants his feet firmly next to the bowl.

  • The only thing people have energy for at 8:00am is to tell everyone around them how much they hate being up at 8:00am.
  • Finally, as I put another post on the Flaneur’s Turtle, I have discovered that the best way to get people to read my posts is to assign my students to read them. And when that stops working, I already have an in-class activity planned:


By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

***This post is dedicated to my freshman students, and all of the lovely freshman new to our university. And all freshman at all universities. And people who know freshman, or were freshman. And people who just generally like to smell and feel fresh. Is that inclusive enough? Ok, cool. Let’s do this.***

From comedian Demetri Martin's book of drawings called "Point Your Face at This."

From comedian Demetri Martin’s book of drawings called “Point Your Face at This.”


Hi. My name is Paul, and I don’t know much. And by “much” I mean almost nothing. And by “almost nothing” I mean absolutely nothing.

I was an awful high school student. I rarely studied, rarely did my homework, and never lived up to my potential. My GPA was never even as high as Lindsay Lohan’s resting BAC.

When it was time to apply to colleges, my top choice was the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When my advisor reviewed my transcripts with me to see if I could get in, all she said was, “Oh, honey. That’s not gonna work out.”

She then asked me if I knew how to dig a ditch or work a deep fryer.

My teachers probably didn’t see me as the brightest student. I gave them little reason to. But that didn’t irk me quite as much as being labeled as one of the “dumber” friends in my social group. I knew I was as smart as any of them; I just had no evidence to support that claim.

In college, I got off to a rocky start. I switched colleges and dropped out twice in my first year. When I finally finished a full semester of classes, I managed to make the Dean’s List almost on accident. I hadn’t tried particularly hard, but somehow I earned two A’s and two B’s to just make the cut.

That little victory lit a fire under me and I started to put some effort into school. When I graduated, it was with honors and the distinction of being the co-winner of the “Departmental Award” for the best student in my major.

As I found more academic success, I started to really believe in my own intelligence.

Then I started to believe in it way too much.

By the time I was a junior in college, I was a hubristic little monster. And by the time I graduated, I was even worse. I had no doubt that I was an intellectual giant capable of any mental feat just short of telekinesis.

On second thought, I’m pretty certain I at least tried to move objects with my mind.

I told everyone I would be rich and famous by the age of 25: friends, family, classmates, people in line at Starbucks, the dude on the off ramp squeegeeing windshields with a newspaper. I didn’t have a get-rich-plan; my brain power was simply going to spring forth riches and glory.

Actually, my plan was to be a monstrously successful writer. (I mean, I am NOW with the Turtle….) I thought I was great. I thought I knew EVERYTHING. My success was predestined!

Yeah, not so much.

As it turns out, it’s actually quite hard to be great at something.

And as it turns out, I didn’t actually know everything about the universe by the time I was 22-years-old.

As I went through graduate school and got into teaching, I got the opportunity to meet many extraordinarily talented and brilliant people. I graduated from college thinking I was at the forefront of genius; by my late 20s, I had firmly moved to the back of the genius line.

Now in my department at Robert Morris University, I openly acknowledge that I am the least knowledgeable person on the roster. Even for the subjects I know a lot about – creative writing, movies, music, sports, humor/comedians – I can quickly identify someone else I work with who knows as much or more about those subjects.

I still believe I’m smart. but I eventually learned what most people learn with a little age, that truly intelligent people aren’t the ones who know everything. Truly intelligent people are the ones who are acutely aware of how little they know, and they want to fix that problem by soaking up every learning opportunity.

None of what I’m saying is meant to be discouraging, though it may sound like I’m saying, “Look around and realize how NOT awesome you are!”

Instead I’m encouraging you to recognize how much room for growth you have. Take every learning opportunity you can get so that you can get stronger, smarter, and better. Give yourself the chance to fulfill your full potential. Be confident, but don’t hype yourself to the point that you think you’ve figured the world out already. And don’t discredit any subjects or classes as if you are certain that info won’t come in handy in the future; that’s a terrible decision. Never push away learning opportunities. You’re just holding yourself back and if you do.

But look how preachy I’ve gotten. Ten years from now, I’ll read this post and groan at how obnoxiously sagacious I was trying to be.

And then I’ll groan about using the word “sagacious.”

And if you don’t know what “sagacious” means – take this opportunity to learn by looking it up.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

squirrel1How have squirrels survived as a species?

Walk down a forest trail and nature will envelop you. You’ll hear life all around, but beyond the vegetation and insects, much of the life remains out of sight. Sometimes an animal as large as a deer can be within steps and you’ll never know it was there.

Then there are squirrels.

Squirrels are the loud, drunk uncles of the animal kingdom. They bounce around, crash through leaves, stomp on branches, then run up trees and stop midway to shake their tails just in case you weren’t already aware of their presence. I’ve seen more discretion from bachelorette parties cruising the Mag Mile in a stretch limo.

How can an animal survive when it is A) so low on the food chain, and B) so happy to announce its whereabouts? Think of all the things that prey on squirrels: coyotes, hawks, children with BB guns.

So, I ask again, how have squirrels survived?

Partly, my question is a product of my talent for odd, random thoughts. But the other part is that I have always been fascinated by science. At its root, this squirrel question is about science: animal behavior (ethology). There has to be an answer to my question: maybe it has to do with coloration and how squirrels are naturally camouflaged; maybe squirrels are more evasive than I’m giving them credit for; maybe they’ve developed weapons technology.

squirrel superman

Does this explain how squirrels have survived?

For the first several years I worked at Robert Morris University, rather than Google search my random questions, I would spin my desk chair 180 degrees and ask my dear colleague Dr. Virginia Pezalla, who taught science at RMU and was an animal behavior expert.

Dr. Pezalla always happily answered my questions and it would often lead us to discuss that topic and more as we (unintentionally) eschewed work as we talked. Science aside, I always enjoyed talking to her. She was so nice, incredibly knowledgeable, and deceptively funny.

Though we sat next to each other in the office, it took awhile for us to break the ice and get to know each other. However, once she got to know me, she was well aware of my odd thinking and sense of humor. Given some of the strange science questions I threw at her, I’m sure she wouldn’t have been shocked to have me ask her about how squirrels are surviving. For example, I also asked her, “What are these ‘zombie ants’ I’ve been reading about? Are they real?,” and, “What other animals have the potential to rise to human-level intelligence? Could that happen while humans are still here?”

Some people may have simply responded, “Don’t you have papers to grade or something?” Dr. Pezalla, on the other hand, provided legitimate answers. (The zombie ants exist – it has to do with these mold spores that infect them; it’s incredibly fascinating. And she said humans, eventually, will lose their stranglehold on the Earth, and something else will rise to dominance. [I was disappointed with that answer. I was really hoping she’d say that dolphins are going to eventually be our uber-intelligent cohabitants and that they will open cities in the oceans we can visit.])

Dr. Pezalla passed away late last year, and I miss having her around, and not just as someone to answer my silly questions. But my relationship with her is one example of how fortunate I am to have the colleagues that I do. I am surrounded by great people who are extremely knowledgeable about all sorts of subjects. There are the “academic” subjects like psychology, philosophy, history, science. Then, additionally, my colleagues know about all kinds of other stuff: rap/hip-hop, camping, folk music, Bikram yoga, local brew pubs, thrifting, baking…the list could go on endlessly. Every day I come to work, I get to learn something new and interesting from my colleagues.

A new academic quarter begins next week at RMU. During the first week, two of my classes will be sharing with their classmates what topics they are “experts” on. For this activity, I define an “expertise” as anything a student knows extremely well, even if it’s not something deemed academic. It can be a movie, a book, a TV show, a sport – whatever. It is a chance for us to learn about each other and learn from each other. Just like I learn from my colleagues, my students always know all kinds of things that I don’t and I get to learn from them as well. I’ve done this particular activity for years, and I am no longer surprised by the great variety of amazing things my students know about.

As we enter a new quarter, it’s something I need to remind myself, and that I hope to remind all of the faculty and students about as well – learning isn’t a one way street from professor to student. We are all able to learn from each other. Students should learn from the professor, the professor from the students, and the students from other students. If we open ourselves up to that possibility, we will end the quarter in 10 weeks having learned way more than just the topics on each course syllabus.

We may even learn how those loud-ass squirrels have managed to survive.


By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Why do I find myself watching a movie or reading a book for a second time?  And a third time.  And a fourth time.   And… get the idea.


How many times The Godfather?

Watching a movie over and over again-ditto a book-strikes me as odd, particularly in our day and age when fast, terse, concise, and straightforward serve as lodestar and watch words for writing, and communicating in general.  Once again the adage—less is more—proves applicable.  Whether talking, or writing, or dining, or even shopping, unlike buying—less is more.   Just do it, be done with it, and move on rings in my ears.

Watching a movie several times seems to violate today’s life style and/or world view.  For a) you should have taken in the message the first time;  b) you shouldn’t be reading things where you can’t do this; c) no one should be writing material which takes several reads; and d) you’re wasting your time watching or reading the same thing several times because you prevent yourself from engaging in new combinations and permutations which are more current and thus more interesting.

Nonetheless I find myself reading the same thing again and again.  Can there a reasonable or actually several reasonable explanations for such behavior, I anxiously ask myself, late at night, after waking up in fear and trembling from a particularly bad dream?

The theory of cognitive dissonance forces me to offer a few justifications even if initially I can’t think of any.  Well, my first rationale is that whether right or wrong, I notice I’m still finding new things in the movie (or book) that I had missed during an earlier viewing.  Since I’m still able to learn from the movie, I conclude watching it makes sense.  Also I’ll see again a scene I know by heart yet continue to enjoy its special attractions nonetheless.

Another justification for watching a movie again is very simple, however unfortunate:  increasingly I realize how easily and often I forget all kinds of things, including scenes from a movie or book.  Remembering how frequently I forget even favorite parts of a movie I assume watching it once more may still hold plenty of charms.

A final reason for watching a movie yet again lies in the notion practice makes perfect.  This idea makes great sense to me because I’ve noticed enough instances where doing something over and over allows me to get better at doing it.  Computers provide many examples of this.  When I was first learning how to email, I’d forget what I learned at my last learning session, and realized I had to start over, almost from scratch.  However, after emailing for a month or more, I realized I had become a person who could email with aplomb and even a tad of alacrity.  Amazing, methinks.

Many other examples of practice making perfect come to mind.  Indeed virtually any activity or effort I need to engage in from washing dishes to jogging on a treadmill proceeds more smoothly the more I do it.  This certainly holds true for watching and interpreting and enjoying movies.

Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that doing things more than once—much more than once—makes good sense.  It’s even led me to think repetition could be the real mother of invention.