Tag Archive for: emotion


Big Boys Don’t Cry

The 21st century transformation of education is profoundly emotional, but why is “emotion” such an uncomfortable subject?:

The idea that we might acknowledge emotion directly in education runs up agains a taboo for men (in many cultures).  From an early age, men are urged to suppress their unhappiness, sadness, or other negative emotion that leads to the emotional display of crying.  Sometimes this is done with understanding and concern, but oftentimes boys are shamed if they do cry, and the shame continues until they stop.

Read more, here.

Do Engineering Professors Want to Be Brains-on-a-Stick?

I went to a small reception for a staff member in my former department and met quite a few of my now-retired colleagues.  It was really a pleasure tripping down nostalgia lane with them, and the surprise of all of us showing up for the same fifteen minute period (in a 3 hour reception) did not go unnoticed by one of my colleagues.  He said, “Dave, you know that the chance of all of us showing up in this way is highly unlikely and is difficult to explain rationally.”

I said, “Yes, I know.  It’s a mystery,” and a I meant it in a authentic way as I’ve been contemplating the things we don’t know, different ways of knowing than we teach in engineering school, and even the things that we can’t know.

He said, “There must be some deterministic explanation. To think otherwise is surrender.”

His use of the word “surrender” rocked me back on my heals, but it seems to me the bias revealed by the word, a bias that all can be known, and that all is subject to rational explanation, although expressed somewhat extremely, is held by many who teach engineering today.

This attitude is increasingly a problem. Many who would make successful engineers shun or leave an engineering education because (1) it treats students as (left) brains on a stick, (2) anything non-cognitive, actually anything not subject to logical scrutiny, is treated as nonsensical, and (3) emotion, body sense, and any form of intuition are not permissible topics of discussion, let alone subjects of study and learning.

Increasingly employers and students alike want more wholeness as part of the engineering educated and educational system. The medical profession has struggled and is struggling with similar issues, and one might think that the pretense of objectivity might be easier to drop in a “naturally” caring profession, but this has not been the case.  Rachel Naomi Remen has written two books that tell stories from her journey as pediatrician to cancer counselor, and the lessons she shares are possibly applicable to engineering education.

Take a look at Kitchen Table Wisdom (here) and My Grandfather’s Blessings (here) for moving accounts that might help us achieve a more whole, human approach to engineering education.

Getting to the Heart of the Educational Matter

In my work with iFoundry (www.ifoundry.illinois.edu), Olin (www.olin.edu), and now ThreeJoy (www.threejoy.com) and the Big Beacon (www.bigbeacon.org), I’ve progressively moved from thinking about education as starting from the head to increasingly feeling and believing that it starts from the heart.

Educational theorists and devotees start to get at this when they talk about the various X learnings (where X is an element of {active, experiential, project-based, challenge-based, problem-based, etc}), and experiences and projects and problems and challenges elicit emotions and discussion of human motivation more so than the usual pedagogical approaches, but the various X learnings are particular practices or techniques and invoking one or more of them doesn’t really get to the core of what it is that we are trying to achieve or the fundamental processes that might achieve it.

A recent Huffington Post article (here) takes a different tack by identifying trust, courage, connection, and joy as the pillars to successful educational transformation.  If I were to focus on one of these as primary, I would suggest that educational transformation is about moving from educating a student who shuts up, listens, and obeys to one who has the courage to take initiative, even in the face of resistance (see this article here).

These four largely cultural and emotional variables are rarely discussed, but once these distinctions are made and introduced, it is hard to stop reflecting on them and how we can enhance their presence in educational settings undergoing change.

Engineering Education and the Power of Vulnerability

The more I’ve worked with schools around the globe for the transformation of engineering education, the more I’ve come to understand that all the important variables in that transformation and in the process of change itself are emotional ones.  In the following video, Brene Brown discusses her work on shame and how it led her to a greater understanding of the role of vulnerability in happiness.


The lessons of this video (here) resonate with successful change practices at Olin, at Illinois, in Asia, Europe, and South American, and part of the secret sauce to effective education change is to pay more attention to the compassion, connection, courage, and vulnerability as discussed by Dr. Brown.