My father’s heart sank when he descended the basement stairs and found me, at 1 PM on a Saturday, still in my pajamas, watching cartoons. Only a father can understand the despondency of seeing his only son lazing about on a fine Saturday afternoon wasting his life away. Only with my easement into fatherhood did I understand the sense of failure, worry, and helplessness that swamps you when confronted with the spectre of a failed fatherhood. Today, forty years later, I know how much my father is proud of me and loves me. I also have a deep appreciation for the long road he traveled to get there.
Setting aside the otiosity that drove my father to despair, I took away from those many long hours a keen appreciation for the subtle lessons Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbara tried to impart in between thirty-second spells spent selling me sugary breakfast cereals. In contrast to the cartoons of the 40’s and 50’s, the 60’s cartoons introduced a self-awareness, an ironic appreciation that the kids weren’t as glassy-eyed as directors may have thought.
Every rabbit hunting season, Elmer Fudd donned that plaid two-peaked cap and carried his shotgun into the forrest. “What’s up, Doc?” wise-cracked the carrot-munching self-aware Bugs Bunny. “Sssshhhhh! Be vewy vewy quiet. We’re hunting wabbits,” Elmer Fudd replied. Bugs would then lean on Elmer, chomping away at the carrot, and say, “Rabbits, huh?”
We are in budget season. At our college, that means that departments are working to justify new projects and projects from the past they want to continue. I have pushed everyone to think bigger about what we can do for students. There is fear and opportunity, frustration and fecundity in the air. I spent the afternoon reviewing plans, both encouraged by many of the creative ideas making their way into our plans, and concerned that we were not thinking big enough.
If there is a theme to the plans, it is that we have a lot of good ideas that need analytical support to strengthen the case for implementation. We seemed constrained by our past. We have hopes of achieving great things, but are weighed down by the knowledge of past efforts.
The Reinvention team brings no such burdens to their efforts. Every issue they take up demands rigorous data analysis. Out of this analysis springs new initiatives, unconstrained by the weight of past efforts attempted with middling success. Everything is a new shiny opportunity.
I straddle both worlds. I share the guilelessness of Reinvention, bringing a hope that the answer lies within the data. If we study the problem enough, we will come up with a solution. I also have an appreciation for the hard work many in the College have put in to solve many of these same problems. Our College faculty and staff have confronted these same issues, sometimes for years, and have met with successes and failures.
As I reviewed the proposal for expanded activities for CAST (Committee for the Art and Science of Teaching), I was reminded of the Reinvention conversations in which we discovered that one key to improving academic outcomes was to improve the teaching and learning capabilities of faculty. The Reinvention team charged forward, deciding that a pilot program to implement Centers for Teaching and Learning at the colleges would tell us if this approach merited further investment. I agreed. I found out later, after a few months at Harold Washington, that we had a similar effort already underway in CAST, a subcommittee of Faculty Council dedicated to helping faculty improve their craft. The answer, I believe, is that they are both right, and both CAST and the new Center for Teaching and Learning have things to learn from each other.
I have a small worry, as we work through solutions to our many challenges, that we will be hunting for solutions when the answers are right there along side us. I know that many of these answers are incomplete, or not supported by the analytical rigor that will stand up to peer-reviewed academic journal scrutiny. I also appreciate that many of our staff and faculty have worked long and hard on initiatives that will deliver on the goals of Reinvention. My ask of faculty and staff, when I am hunting my own rabbits, that instead of leaning on me and saying, “Rabbits, huh?” that you instead grab me by the collar and show me the work of the past. I will listen. And together, marrying the two approaches, I am confident we will get to better answers.