The Conversation Is the Point

The Conversation Is the Point

The joy of being a professor is getting to share what I love with a mostly rapt, albeit captive, audience. Whether the course is a requirement they begrudgingly take or an elective they happily attend, the contract of the classroom is the same. We will read the Baldwin or Ehrenreich I assign, the main purpose of which is to instruct them on how to think and write. Though my students influence the semester, I do the bulk of the steering, ensuring we hit the landmarks I have designated en route to a final destination I have, however loosely, predetermined.

At Books@Work, however, the readers are not my students.

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Exploring Our Personal Stories: Professor Brock Spencer on Books@Work

Exploring Our Personal Stories: Professor Brock Spencer on Books@Work

We recently had the chance to speak with Brock Spencer, who recently retired as the Kohnstamm Professor of Chemistry at Beloit College where he taught environmental and interdisciplinary courses in addition to a range of chemistry courses. Brock has been involved nationally in NSF-funded projects to develop and disseminate an inquiry-based approach and instructional materials to better engage students in their introductory chemistry courses.

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Breaking an Academic Taboo: Professor Laura Baudot on Books@Work

Breaking an Academic Taboo: Professor Laura Baudot on Books@Work

We recently had the chance to speak with Laura Baudot, an Associate Professor of English at Oberlin College who has facilitated Books@Work sessions at a private high school and an adhesive manufacturing company. Among other things, we discussed her experience as a facilitator and how it differs from her experience teaching at a university. How do the humanities translate out of the academic world?

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Memory and Narrative: Finding Common Ground

Memory and Narrative: Finding Common Ground

As a shy, dreamy teenager who wrote poetry and often lived more fully with the fantasies in my head than in the real world, I could easily relate to Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical Another Brooklyn. The opportunity to talk about the book with a diverse group of paraprofessionals from two suburban schools intrigued me. Would they take to a book with such a poetic, impressionistic writing style?

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Embracing the Interrogative: Vulnerability and the Power of Unanswered Questions

Embracing the Interrogative: Vulnerability and the Power of Unanswered Questions

The interrogative is a dying form – not only of grammatical expression but of life. At a time when efficiency and productivity seem the driving forces of culture, it makes sense that emphasis should lie on the generation of answers rather than the formulation of questions. Answers, after all, mean closure – answers grant one permission to put one thing to rest and move on to the next, and that seems the very definition of progress. Questions, on the other hand, are messy, imprecise things that tend toward the propagation of their own kind, leading ad-infinitum to heaven knows where.

How do we get a group of strangers during a Books@Work session- many of whom do not consider themselves “readers” and for whom being in a room with an English professor evokes unpleasant classroom memories – to embrace their vulnerabilities and enter into an interrogative mindset?

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A Special Lens: Science Fiction at Work

A Special Lens: Science Fiction at Work

We recently had the chance to speak with Professor Robin Zebrowski, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Beloit College. Among other things, she studies artificial intelligence and embodiment. Robin recently read and discussed science fiction as the facilitator of a Books@Work session with a group of engineers. We asked her to share her experience: What in particular does science fiction bring to discussions in the workplace?

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Books@Work: It’s All About Relationships!

Books@Work: It’s All About Relationships!

We are thrilled to include the voices of individuals who have experienced the Books@Work program. Today’s post was written by Kevin Williams, a Senior Service Supervisor at Fairbanks Morse Engine:

“Books@Work (B@W) is using a small piece of writing to foster easy conversation between team members to gain some mutual understanding of how we as individuals think and perceive different situations. We use stories and characters to trigger random conversations about similarities to our own experience, or point of view. We might explore alternate choices characters might have made, or maybe alternate endings. It’s always fun and interesting to see where the conversations go. A participant might just be having fun talking about a character or something, meanwhile the rest of us are learning a little about how to better interact with them.” Learn more about how Kevin’s Books@Work experience has helped him build better working relationships with his colleagues.

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New Opportunities, New Perspectives: The Value of Books We Dislike

New Opportunities, New Perspectives: The Value of Books We Dislike

I recently had the chance to speak with Professor Sabine Ferran Gerhardt about her experience leading several programs with Books@Work. Sabine is an Associate Professor at the University of Akron, where she specializes in Criminology and Justice Studies, with an emphasis on the children of incarcerated parents and school shooter prevention. Sabine found that reading and discussing texts in the workplace – even texts we don’t like – can be a transformative experience. How can a book we’re not sure about bring us closer to our colleagues?

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Hungry for Conversation: How Literature Inspires Personal and Intellectual Discussions at Work

Hungry for Conversation: How Literature Inspires Personal and Intellectual Discussions at Work

I recently spoke with Professor Homero Galicia about his experience leading the first bilingual Books@Work program in a Texas manufacturing plant – he and the participants read and discussed literature in both Spanish and English. A native of Texas and a graduate of Stanford University, Homero has worked to promote dialogue in a number of settings – and he found that using literature as a platform for a bilingual discussion provided a unique experience. How can a bilingual Books@Work program help colleagues share their personal experiences and ideas?

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Surprising Ourselves and Others: A Conversation

Surprising Ourselves and Others: A Conversation

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Lela Hilton, Program Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, Inc., about the element of surprise in our respective programs. Founded by the late Earl Shorris, Clemente brings free humanities education to people living in economic distress. The foundational ideas for Clemente may be found in Shorris’ powerful 1997 article in Harper’s Magazine entitled “As A Weapon in the Hands of the Restless Poor (On the Uses of a Liberal Education).” I was fortunate to speak to Earl Shorris before he died about Books@Work. He inspired me deeply and supported my then-fledgling idea of partnering with employers to reach working adults. When Clemente and Books@Work became co-grantees in the Teagle Foundation’s special initiative, Liberal Arts Beyond the Academy, Lela and I were introduced. What follows is a snippet of our ongoing dialogue.

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