Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Critical Thinking in Alameda

Mekdes and Jessica on "Police Brutality"
Today was the final day of classes at the College of Alameda. I started the day at 4:30 in the morning and still found myself dashing to school with little time to spare. I was excited to see what my English 5 or Critical Thinking students had prepared for the Educational Forum on Current Issues. It was our second Forum in two semesters and this class focused on Marriage Equality, Food Issues: Obesity, Food Deserts and GMOs; College Costs and Police Brutality.

Peter and Tesfalidet, "Obesity"
Ruitao and Romeo, "Food Deserts"

The presentations were outstanding—I’d read most if not all their arguments—Toulmin, Aristotelian, Rogerian and Definition.  This semester and last the final exam was given in three parts: written, orals, and community forum. To prepare, student scholars annotated bibliographies and identified fallacious arguments; they read multiple topical arguments then reduced them to standard form. They were advised to stay current on their issue by paying attention to local, national and global news. Students also rehearsed arguments and watched and listened to classmates present in class on other topics such as Beyoncé’s performance at Super Bowl 50; Dr. Bennet Omalu on the dangers of football in Concussion, staring Will Smith (as Omalu), and the merits of integration for educational equity in an NPR program, This American Life where reporter, Nikole Hannah-Jones, looks at public education in Normandy, which has one high school, the one that Michael Brown attended at graduated. Normandy borders Ferguson, Missouri.

Alan and Anna, "College Costs"

As guests mingled Tuesday morning, we were all sort of drawn to the presentation at the College Costs table. Alan had a computer program which would tell one how many years it would take to pay off a loan if it knew the amount.  He and Anna’s poster had multiple cartoons with illustrations of the debt college cost were in proportion to graduate income.

Vincent and Stewart, "Climate Change"

At the Climate Change table, Vincent and Stewart advocated for using less carbon fuel to decrease the effects of heating up the earth’s atmosphere, while Stewart shared how global warming affected our food supply with the reduction of insects who pollinate plants. He links his issue to that of GMOs and food supply reduction.

Abby and Riley, "Marriage Equality"
Our next presenters were Abby and Riley: their topic Marriage Equality. One never knows how close an issue is to a person. Such was the case with Riley who shared how emotionally taxing the same sex martial laws were for her parents when it’s seesawed between lawful and unlawful. What was great at this table were the "how to  be a part of the solution" slips which painted scenarios with suggestions on how to respond. I picked up these two: How to remain an ally to the LGBT community—1. Don’t stare at gay couples. It’s disrespectful. 2. If you are a boy, do not assume every gay man likes you. If you are a girl, do not assume every lesbian likes you.

Each student scholar team illustrated the problem, shared its research findings in the surveys conducted this semester (minimally 100 people), fallacies found on the issue (10-20 required which were evenly distributed between both material and formal fallacies), and scholarly and popular research (min. 20 sources). The students were also asked to give visitors something to do (e.g. Abby and Riley), to get involved. Each presentation was to be interactive whether that was the "debt to income predictor" or the analysis of what we ate last night at the Food Desert table. Using the dialectic approach (something students learned this semester) both participants and visitors were changed by the encounter.

Certainly this morning, student enthusiasm and involvement over this past 18 weeks in issues they cared deeply about was contagious.

Sienna, Kapena, Jordan, "Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)"
The students who spoke about GMOs shared important information about the big corporation Monsanto (Roundup), which is the major producer of genetically modified seeds.  Jordan, a part of the a team with Sienna and Jordan shared startling facts about scientific tests which have shown traces of pesticides in the milk of lactating mothers in both Europe and America, with the higher percentages in the US. We also learned about the big corporations' successful campaigns against food labeling; however, advocates for such disclosure are collecting signatures now to get the bill on California’s ballot. Right now we do not know which plants are genetically modified and which are not. Genetically modified seeds cross pollinate or pollute the fields of non-GMO crops. Those farmers are then sued, because such seeds are patented.

Professor Steve Gerstle a.k.a. "Embedded Librarian"
and City Manager, Jill Keimach
Sienna, Jordan and Kapena with GMO Collage,
Political Billboard Assignment (WLTC)
It was great to see Ms. Jill Keimach, Alameda City Manager, once again. She said she was interested in the student's research and was happy to support them. It was also great to meet a librarian from San Francisco’s City College and another librarian from a Peralta Sister College Tuesday morning. I’d expected to see at least one COA manager, dean, vice president or even Dr. Blake, the president, but none came by to support the students. If the mission of Peralta Community Colleges, and by extension, College of Alameda, is to make education relevant and practical, then the students who presented at the Critical Thinking in Alameda Forum modeled this ideal. Professor Steve Gerstle’s work as an embedded librarian gave these students hands-on instruction and access to tools which made their ability to look at issues important to each of them with depth, discernment, and discretion. Each piece of evidence was weighed and measured against a standard as well as set or vetted against other evidence to see how the material aligned in agreement or disagreement. Students also were asked to make sure that their facts were up to date and that their survey samples were relevant, sufficient and representative.  How many students have the opportunity to create a survey? These students did. In fact one of the students in the current class, Abby, presented a lesson in how to develop questions for a survey. She is transferring this semester.  After the Forum she shared that she is waiting to see which of the colleges and universities she applied to accept her.

Ruitao, Food Deserts Political Poster Assignment
Programs such as this public forum lets the community know how valuable student learning is. When we show up for students, we let them know that their hard work is appreciated, valued and noticed.  When we talk about Student Learning Outcomes in a vacuum, put lives on graphs or show such lives as dots on a curve, the flesh and blood of it– the hours spent in the library in the stacks or on the computer or at home at the kitchen table combing through articles on academic websites like EBSCO is lost. This also does not take into consideration the full-time student who is also working full-time, has elderly parents or siblings to care for, or even the student who suffers the loss of a parent during the semester, but decides to not drop the class as he juggles care for grieving loved ones. What about the student who falls in the shower and then misses three weeks of classes while she is in the hospital? There are other students who are underemployed who get jobs while classes are in session. Not many
Police Brutality Political Poster Assignment (WLTC)
community college students are living at home with a benevolent parent or guardian’s care. There are a few, but the majority of students here choose education because knowledge is a powerful tool no one can take it from them. Students in this Critical Thinking class have developed tools to think and walk logically along a landscape littered with propaganda. They can recognize most landmines (hidden agendas, bias or unfair emotional appeals).  This intellectual, yet practical movement saves limbs and lives as student scholars challenge the dominant narrative with questions. Copyrights do not make falsehoods go away.
Marriage Equality Political Poster Assignment (WLTC)
The critical thinkers guests met at the forum have learned to question everything and agree sparingly without adequate proof in a world which would rather they follow along blindly like the fabled mice.

Foxes? Hedgehogs? Perhaps more a 21st century hybrid, nonetheless, these students above all pursue truth.


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