Iron sharpens iron – meeting of the minds

Iron sharpens iron – The meeting of the minds. This essay is a developmental sequel to a previous SPARK submission: “Canned or Substantive Response” – August 10, 2020. Updates are student feedback, additional supplementary material for the student, and greater in-depth intellectual interaction between  the instructor and the student. The following are my responses to a students’ submission of a three-part assignment.

Student: One key idea that interested me (and I had already discussed this with the defense mechanisms assignment) was of distractions as a defense mechanism. Everyone uses a defense mechanism in one way or the other, whether they are being accused of something or someone disagrees with their ideas. It is amazing to me that I know what a distraction was before I read this chapter. However, what I did not know it was a defense mechanism to psychological issues and a person’s personal issues going on in their life. Another key concept that really caught my attention was the levels of thinking, specifically that of experience. I had read that without experience, there could be no thinking. That specific sentence had got me thinking, because at first, I said to myself, “No way, we still think even without experiences.”. I had realized that my original statement was not true, and it really blows me away that people are so different based on their experiences.

Instructor:  Yes, I did read and reflect upon your comments on the defense mechanisms which can be used, however, if used to an extreme they can become psychologically problematic for us and distort reality and our pursuit of the truth. In addition, I appreciated your thoughts on experience and thinking; in chapter two the author explains the three levels of thinking which are our daily experiences (all knowledge “usually” comes through the 5 senses,) then we interpret the sensory input, and analyze it as to its meaning which leads to our understanding. Interestingly, experience is the only time we take the test before we get the results!

Student: After reading this chapter, I realized that I see distractions a lot more than what I used to, now interpreting them to be defense mechanisms. For example, I see that turning up the music in your car can be a distraction from your own personal thoughts, or even turning on a television to just scroll through your phone. Some people hate silence because it causes (most likely) negative thoughts to run across their mind. Breaking that silence brings them peace, even for a little bit. The experiences relate to my life because as I previously mentioned reading “without experiences, there could be no thinking”, I was surprised that it was true. Our experiences in life are the building blocks to us as human beings. Experiences shape how we communicate, how we present ourselves, our morals, everything about us (physically and mentally). I often find myself looking back on past experiences that I have had that went horribly wrong and wonder what I could have done differently to make it a more positive experience. I cannot change the past and I accept that, I just must take those experiences with me and learn from them because that is all I really can do. 

Instructor: I think I addressed in number one some of your thoughts and analyzes relative to silence, experiences, and interpretations to further our understanding of an issue, concept, or experience. Interestingly, our thoughts, ideas, and memories are stored in cells, and when we draw upon these sources as they exit the cell into which they had earlier entered, the cells are changed; thus, what you remember may not be the same as it was initially.  Is not that fascinating!

Student:  My question after reading this chapter is, if everyone has different experiences, why can’t all people try to recognize their negative defense mechanisms and turn them into positives? People carry their experiences with them for the rest of their lives, but that does not mean you have to be a negative person. 

Instructor:  This is a good question; in part, it is problematic, and why cannot we change habits of our mind more easily? This is what chapter 2 is about – our erroneous thinking, which is habitual and difficult to change, which means we must live more consciously; and 95% of the time we are living at the unconscious level as experiences wash over us unconsciously instead of consciously. In part, that is why silence is so valuable because it frees us from the millions of distractions that come our  way through experience, and override those opportunities to sit in silence to examine our thinking processes.  There is a famous quotation by Descartes, a philosopher – “Cogito ergo sum– I think, therefore, I am” and Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  These quotations address the importance of reflecting upon our thinking processes. What I just shared with you was because your assignment responses were substantive and insightful, and your examples gave evidence of the depth and breadth of the key concepts of chapter 2 on Moral Reasoning of this Ethics course. Consequently, your assignment submission was a trigger for me to dip into my brain cells and to ferret out a response to you that I normally would not have thought of. For that I am appreciative and grateful. Thank you for the time you invested in this assignment.

General CommentsRegarding chapter 2 on Moral Reasoning – further reflections on the role of reasoning in ethical decision making:

Foundations for Rational and Ethical Judgments:

1.     How can I clearly define the issue?

2.     What are the different points of view on this issue?

3.     Are the arguments sound? The reasons true? And Do the reasons support the conclusion?

4.     What are the consequences?

5.     What is the conclusion?


1. Make a special effort to analyze issues thoughtfully before reaching a conclusion. Avoid making quick decisions based on incomplete information. Instead, ask questions, think carefully, and develop well-supported conclusions. Encourage others to become more thoughtful by asking them why they think what they do and helping them to clarify their analyses.

2. Develop the habit of analyzing the key arguments in articles, information from television and internet, and conversations with others. What are the reasons? What is the conclusion? Then evaluate the soundness of the argument. Are the reasons true?  Is the reasoning valid? Is the conclusion supported by the premises? This may seem time-consuming at first, but it is an invaluable activity, and before long you will find yourself arguing in a much more accomplished fashion.

3. Make a point of applying the knowledge and skills to surveys and opinion polls that you encounter. Determine whether the sample is known, sufficient, and representative. Also evaluate whether the questions are constructed in a way that is likely to lead to intelligent results, or whether the findings are destined to be oversimplified and misleading.

4. Seek out the details of scientific studies that are reported in newspapers and magazines and critically evaluate them using the skills and knowledge you have developed. Since the results reported on television and in some newspapers are virtually useless because they are so brief, find more detailed descriptions in other resources.

Student feedback: This has been a wonderful and very informative course for me. I have learned such a grand amount of intriguing and useful information to such a point that it makes me wonder why taking an ethics course is not mandatory for all high school and/or college students. This has been a very pleasurable experience and has widened my world and self-understanding views. In addition, because of your kind and constructive grading comments on all my assignments about my writing, I have developed an interest and slight desire to someday become a member of a bioethics committee or hospital/research center ethics board. Thank you so much for being such a fantastic and knowledgeable teacher and for your feedback on my assignments and emails. I very much hope to stay in contact with you and be able to send and receive interesting articles and discussions related to the vast realm of ethics. Thank you again for this wonderful learning opportunity and experience, and I hope you have a great fall semester.

Mottos and Mascots: Lessons Learned

   At our academic institution, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, I propose that the motto (“Soar Higher”) and the mascot (Eagle) be combined into a more unified and comprehensive meaningful whole, offering lessons learned for our life-long journey.  

When I read “Soar Higher” without knowing the identity of the mascot, I initially think  of Icarus and his dad, Daedalus.  To escape from imprisonment by King Minos, Daedalus constructed two pairs of wings on which he and Icarus could escape and  fly away from Crete. However, Icarus “soared higher,” too near the sun and the heat melted the wax which held the feathers in place. Tragically, he plummeted into the sea and drown, while Daedalus flew on, and landed safely in Sicily.

   “Fly Like an Eagle”  encompasses more than “soar higher”. Eagles do fly at high altitudes as opposed to some of the low-flying birds. We are all unique and gifted, for  I am different like you, but not from you.  Is soaring necessarily better or more productive?  The act of becoming and creating is as important and  meaningful as the finished product or the end of a journey.  Soar we must, but not always higher.

   When storm clouds gather, eagles become excited, using the winds to lift them higher; they catch the winds of knowledge which may expand their pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We can use stormy periods to rise to even greater heights. We can embrace the SOOS theory, that is, the stormy periods of our lives offer us a choice, to use these challenging times as a Stepping Stone or a Stumbling Block.   We can also use these  stormy periods as an Opportunity or an Obstacle to our physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social growth, as well as the development and quality of our overall ethical character.

 While eagles soar, they also dive toward the water, suddenly skimming the surface with talons outstretched to snatch a fish – for you will not be given a fish, but will be taught how to fish. Eagles feed on fresh prey, not on decaying food. Vultures eat dead food, but eagles will not. We are to be critical thinkers, skeptical but not cynical. Beware of feeding on false information, be discerning and feed upon facts and reason. The philosopher, Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “Everything we hear is more opinion than fact, everything we see is more perception than truth.”

  Speaking of seeing, eagles have acute vision, being able to focus on objects up to three miles away; it stays focused until it has attacked its prey.  In pursuing our goals and dreams, it certainly helps to have a clear vision, and to remain focused despite the obstacles and challenges we may face.  Keep in mind that “Everyone looks at what I look at, but no one sees what I see.” –Baudelaire, the poet.

 Eagles prefer perching on the highest limb of a tree that is hundreds of years old, for when we learn, we perch on the “shoulders of giants” as the physicist, Isaac Newton observed. It is important in the learning process, that we have an historical context to understand the rest of the story in our search for the truth.

   The parent eagles hover over their eaglets watching them and feeding them; at times two eagles will perform acrobatics in mid-air to develop their coping, courting, and survival skills. In our pursuit of learning, we are challenged to be open-minded, flexible, curious, and having intellectual humility.

   An eagle tests before it trusts. When a female eagle meets a male and they want to mate, she first tests his commitment. Then and only then, will she allow him to mate with her. If we are to soar higher, we are to assimilate the virtues of honesty, integrity, altruism, and the pursuit of right-mindedness in developing our social and interpersonal skills.  

   During the time of training her young ones to fly, a mother eagle nudges the eaglets out of the nest. Because they are scared, they jump into the nest again. Next, the mother eagle pushes the eaglets off the cliff into the air. As they shriek in fear, father eagle flies out and catches them up on his back and brings them back to the cliff. This goes on for some time until they learn to start using their wings to fly. In the learning process, we are challenged, tested, and engaged in practical hands-on experiences, for experiences are the only time we receive the results before taking the test. It is time to spread your wings and fly like an eagle.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.  Martin Luther King Jr.

Charity of the week – A pathway to ethics

   In my ethics classes, each student is assigned to research and present a charity worthy of consideration and potential participation in such a charitable cause, using the following guidelines:

This charity has earned  a four-star overall rating from “Charity Navigator” which rates not-for-profit organizations:

  1. on the strength of their finances
  2. their governance practices
  3. the transparency of their operations
  4. the potential positive impact on individuals and communities
  5. four stars is the group’s highest rating

Here are a couple of examples of charities highlighted by students:

Cultural Survival ( founded in 1972 as the opening of the Amazon put the survival of the peoples and cultures of the Amazon basin at great risk.  The charity awards grants of up to $10,000 to indigenous communities for development of projects that are locally conceived and fitted to the communities’ own needs. Since 2007, the Cultural Survival has awarded nearly $3 million to more than 450 projects in 65 countries.  This charity has earned  a four-star overall rating from Charity Navigator which rates not-for-profit organizations on the strength of their finances, their governance practices, and the transparency of their operations. Four stars is the group’s highest rating.

Childhood Cancer( About 11,000 children under 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, and more than 1,000 die. Founded in 1975, it funds effective cancer cures and provides support to families(individual and family counseling sessions at a low cost, emergency financial assistance, lunches and dinners for inpatient families and caregivers, and instrumental in promoting legislation that requires insurers to cover experimental treatments for children’s cancers. In the past 10 years, the charity has funded $32 million of research and provided more than $1.6 million in financial aid.

Such an exercise is in line with the ethics course competencies by:

  1. Challenging students to explore their personal values as foundational to ethical decision-making, and  learning to defend their ethical principles via charitable organizations.
  2. Introducing students to the theory and application of ethical principles as operative in these charities by addressing and problem solving at local, state, national, and global levels.
  3. Learning to discern the inherent integrity of various and sundry charitable organizations.

Canned or Substantive Response?


   How does one stir the embers within the hearts and minds of students in their search for knowledge and their quest for understanding?  If a student’s assignment submission is substantive, thought-provoking, and uses examples to give evidence of the depth and breadth of the subject matter, hopefully my response to the submission will not be canned.  If so, the students’ embers will soon die, whereas if my response mirrors their submission, the embers will burst into flames. Continue reading

Earth Day: What is your legacy?

Earth Day – April 22, 2020 –  Earth Day —  Living in Harmony with and Interactions among human beings, non-human beings, and the natural world.

          One day a child, Sarah saw an older man digging a hole in the earth. She asked the man, “Must you do such heavy work at your age? Have you no to help you?” The man kept digging. “This work I must do myself.”  Sarah asked, “What kind of tree are you be planting?” “I am planting a fruit tree. “When will your fruit tree bear fruit?” asked Sarah. “In 20 years, the tree will bear fruit” responded the man. Sarah asked, “But surely do you think you will live that long?” “No, I do not think so, but I must plant this tree. When I came into this world there were trees here for me. It is my duty to make sure that when I leave this earth, there will be trees here also.”  What will your legacy be? Continue reading

Know Your A,B,C’s – Virtues and Vices

We use language in part to enable reasonable persons to distinguish acts that harm from those that enhance human welfare and the well-being of other sentient creatures. In Ethics class try this exercise regarding virtues and vices.

In your small groups, using the alphabet, think of a virtue that begins with each of the letters of the alphabet; secondly, using the alphabet, think of a vice for each letter of the alphabet. Do not use any technology, such as a smart phone  unless outside help is needed. When the groups have finished, have each group share their vices and virtues. Continue reading

Model, Mentor, Motivator, and Messenger of Hope

Model, Mentor, Motivator, Messenger of Hope

In my ethics’ classes, I begin each class by inviting anyone to share, for the sake of discussion, any recent events that may have ethical/moral implications, challenges, and/or dilemmas or any individuals who gave evidence of moral courage or even moral outrage regarding unethical behavior or practices.   One of the students mentioned Greta Thunberg who, at age 16,  appeared before European Leaders and the United States Congress; and she was instrumental in being a catalyst for over 4 million individuals throughout the world who marched as a united moral force on September 20 to express their collective concerns and warnings about the dire consequences of global warming. Continue reading

Building Character and Aspiring to Academic Excellence

What would Aristotle say about employability skills?

Employability Skills: In addition to specific job-related training, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has identified core abilities that are transferable and go beyond the context of a specific course. 

  • Communicate Effectively
  • Work Cooperatively and Professionally
  • Think Critically and Creatively
  • Solve Problems Effectively
  • Value Individual Differences and Abilities
  • Demonstrate Personal Accountability
  • Demonstrate Community and Global Accountability

Continue reading

Trauma Informed Teaching

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a two day training offered at NWTC called Crisis Intervention Partners. The training covered difficult, but important topics like mental health; suicide; special populations: veterans, children, and autism, and crisis deescalation; however, the component that really stayed with me was the topic of trauma informed care.

Trauma informed care is a response to ACES (Adverse Childhood Experience Study) that was conducted between 1995 and 1997. The study looked at the effects of childhood trauma including exposure to abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), neglect (physical and emotional), violence, substance abuse, mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and incarceration of a household member. The results of the study are truly staggering.  The more ACES that a child was exposed to, the greater their risk for

  • Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Impairment
  • Adoption of health-risk behaviors (smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity)
  • Disease, disability, and social problems
  • Early death

While researching more about the topic, I came across a documentary entitled Paper Tigers (Available on Amazon Prime). This documentary looked at students in an alternative high school in Washington State that had very poor student success outcomes. However, the school made a 180 degree turn around in student success when they moved away from a penal system of addressing behavior problems in the classroom to a trauma informed teaching methodology. The statement that really stood out to me was that instead of looking at a student and wondering/asking “What is wrong with you?”, the question becomes “What happened to you, and how can I support you?”

When you consider the results of ACES, more than two-thirds of participants reported at least one ACE, with 87% of those individuals reporting at least one additional (referred to as co morbid or co-occurring). When you think about that statistic, that means that potentially two out of three individuals that we encounter on a daily basis struggle with overcoming past (or present) traumas in their lives. Some are aware of these traumas and their triggers, while others may not be as self-aware.

One poignant quote from the training that stood out to me was, “It would be wise to assume that trauma may play in a person’s current life difficulties and that our job is to insure that our policies, procedures, activities, environment and ways that we relate and talk to each other creates a safe and trusting environment.”

Thankfully, there are guiding principles to help us respond to those in need:

  • Listen Actively
  • Validate (“That must be hard”; I am sorry you were hurt in that way”)
  • Normalize
  • Assist (Make referrals)
  • Avoid re-traumatization

We can do this by promoting an environment where we “understand the prevalence and impact of trauma; promote safety; earn trust; embrace diversity; provide holistic care; respect human rights; pursue a person’s strengths, choice, and autonomy; share power; and communication with compassion.”

When I consider these actions, I can see a lot our NWTC values. We have access to all the tools and services we need to effectively serve our students. We must each do our part to ensure that we all – students and faculty alike – enjoy a positive, successful experience at NWTC.



The Wise Choice Process: Proactive or Reactive

The wise choice process is an exceptional tool to use with struggling students. If you are not familiar with this process, it is introduced in the text On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life by Skip Downing.

The Wise Choice process has six steps:

  1. What is my present situation?
  2. How would I like my situation to be?
  3. What are my possible choices?
  4. What’s the likely outcome of each possible choice?
  5. Which choice(s) will I commit to doing?
  6. When and how will I evaluate my plan?

My first experience with utilizing the wise choice process was with a student after they had stopped persisting for a time and had returned to class. In other words, I was using the process as a reactive tool after a student had already experienced the consequences of making poor choices.

The more I considered the wise choice process and what it represented, I decided to utilize the process as a proactive exercise earlier in each semester.

During the first week of each course, I now ask my students to consider any “fork in the road” they MAY encounter during the semester. This could be transportation concerns, financial hardships, loss of childcare, assumed difficulty with the academic rigor of the course, etc.  I then ask the students to work through The Wise Choice Process making a plan for addressing their circumstance – in advance! As part of that plan, they are provided with a copy of all available students services and are asked to include at least one student service they could utilize to aid in their situation.

Note: the purpose of this activity is to encourage the students to make a plan for how they will respond in advance of the hardship actually occurring. I have found when a student has a plan for how to deal with a possible “fork in the road” in advance, they are less likely to be thrown off course when the circumstance happens, then if they had made no plan at all. Additionally, is a circumstance does cause the student to get off course, they generally stay off course for a shorter period of time.