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Faculty Learning Community: Agenda and Notes (December 14, 2009)

Lewis Hyde, Chapter 3: "The Labor of Gratitude." The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.

Lunch served in Dorothy Vernon Room of Haffner Dining Hall

Agenda (from Alice Lesnick):
For the portion of Monday's session that follows the planning portion, I would like to explore the idea of education as a gift culture, using Chapter 3 of Lewis Hyde's book, "The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property." This chapter, entitled "The Labor of Gratitude," discusses how gifts mark deaths and rebirths of various kinds, and how "teachings" work in the manner of transformative gifts which, in causing the receiver to "suffer gratitude," engender change in the receiver and recreate a community in which the gift can continue to circulate.

Hyde is a poet and cultural critic; this book, which recently came out in a 25th anniversary edition, came about as he was struggling to make a living by poetry and running into a conflict between commerce and creativity.

You'll see that the book is part about ethnography, part spirituality, part cultural criticism. Clearly not centered in STEM education! I'm hoping it will be a usefully different approach to some of our concerns, and, in its focus on gifts, season-appropriate, as well! In particular, I look forward to conversation about some questions suggested by Hyde:

-- What are the implications for our classrooms of the idea that to pass on a teaching is the final step in appreciating it?

-- Is our teaching labor part of the system of gifts, the system of commodity exchange, both?

-- In what ways do we imagine students (and ourselves) changing/transforming through our shared work?  Is it possible to imagine this change without seeing students (or ourselves) as lacking?


Looking forward,



A meeting summary (Howard and Alice)
We began by discussing several topics for our spring meetings: cross-visits, ideas for leading sessions, thoughts on some expenses for the spring, and expanding the group. With cross-visits, we discussed the possibility of having one or more member of this community observing, and possibly participating in, one or more lessons that are taught. Participation would be voluntary, the person who is facilitating the class could ask that specific things be focused on, and more discussion surrounding these possible visits would take place prior to, and after, the visits. Related to these cross-visits was the idea that there might be new technology we could use that might allow us to observe and participate in lessons from afar and record class visits (enabling us to watch them later, watch them together, and/or watch them from a remote location). One concern was raised that the technology should not adversely impact the lessons we wish to teach and we would need to investigate the technology more fully. One additional use raised for this technology was that it could possibly allow us to more easily collaborate with and observe K12 teachers and researchers or faculty members at other institutions.

For the presentations next term, we agreed to continue to present in pairs. Like most sessions thus far, we would ask that one reading be distributed before each meeting. Additionally, people agreed to start bringing an additional classroom artifact or exercise/activity each session, which could more purposefully ground some of our discussions in elements of practice.

When we discussed ideas related to expenses next term, we discussed the idea of seeking registrations to attend one or both of the following upcoming events: the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) annual meeting in Philadelphia (March 17-21) and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching’s (NARST) annual meeting in Philadelphia (March 20-24). Both of these conferences will be in Philadelphia this year. Another idea was to consider putting some monies towards potential speakers.

Alternatively, we might simply want to open the group up to additional people from outside the Bico community. People will send Howard the names of people who they might wish to have speak with our group. These people can have various connections to math/science education and might include K12 teachers, administrators, student groups, education researchers at other institutions, or math/science faculty from other institutions. Similarly, people discussed possibly opening the group to additional people for more than just one-shot speaking events. There was interest in considering inviting students, K12 teachers, and people from other institutions to participate in our group in additional ways and perhaps more regularly.

After this planning discussion, we briefly spoke about technology in education as Steve will be out of the country the first week of the spring term and was considering different ways to teach his class and communicate with students during that period. We then transitioned to Alice introducing us to a student poster that displayed this student’s visual representation of research in education, research in her major (psychology), and her ideal view of what she would like to research. This assignment was for a course Alice leads with students who are pursuing the Minor in Education. We discussed whether these representations were critiques of different disciplines and what these understandings meant to us. For example, psychology was seen as compartmentalizing students and Alice’s student recorded that in this discipline people ask, “What factors best predict my academic achievement?” Conversely, education was seen as looking at students from a too-distanced perspective that did not see individualized nuances and this student recorded that in this discipline people ask, “How do you engage me to learn most effectively?” The student’s idealized view was what she called “human development” in which people would ask, “What enables me to grow?”

We discussed how this poster exercise could challenge some paradigms for students and faculty and briefly talked about if/how such an exercise, or even the general activity of poster creation, could be used in various courses. This dialogue transitioned into the Hyde reading as the poster was seen as part of a (hoped for) gift and led us into the topic of gift culture. We discussed Hyde’s idea that gratitude requires an unpaid debt and people will feel motivated only as long as the debt is felt. According to one view Hyde raised, if people stop feeling indebted, they quit. The question was raised, “How can you provide someone a gift without obligating them to pay the debt?” Similarly, we discussed how/if we could structure or develop assignments and exercises in ways that make them opportunities where students engage in acts of teaching (passing gifts forward). Many problem sets, essays, or other tasks students complete involve students displaying their knowledge or mastery of something but these presentations are made to their professors and are rarely completed or presented as acts of teaching. Such processes might lead a potential gift-giving cycle to be halted, stalled, or taken “off track.” Although gift giving might not involve such immediate returns, might there be ways these course-related activities can provide more opportunities for students to continue moving the gift onward to other people?


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