Monday, April 23, 2012

Interview with writers Peter Taylor and Jeremy Szteiter

Today we welcome Peter Taylor to talk about his collaboration with Jeremy Szteiter and their resulting book Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement.

Jeremy Szteiter is a 2009 graduate of the Critical and Creative Thinking program and now serves as the Program's Assistant Coordinator. His work has centered around community-based and adult education and has involved managing, developing, and teaching programs to lifelong learners, with an emphasis on a learning process that involves the teaching of others what has been learned and supporting the growth of individuals to become teachers of what they know.

Peter Taylor: I am a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where I direct the Critical and Creative Thinking Graduate Program. This program aims to provide its mid-career or career-changing students with "knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts."

The path to this position began in environmental and social activism in Australia which led to studies and research in ecology and agriculture. I moved to the United States to undertake doctoral studies in ecology, with a minor focus in what is now called science and technology studies (STS). Subsequently, I combined scientific investigations with interpretive inquiries from the different disciplines that make up STS, my goal being to make STS perspectives relevant to life and environmental students and scientists. Critical thinking and critical pedagogy/reflective practice became central to my intellectual and professional project as I encouraged students and researchers to contrast the paths taken in science, society, education with other paths that might be taken, and to foster their acting upon the insights gained. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, and so I continue to contribute actively to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. My aspiration is to foster education that supports people to become resilient and reorganize their lives, communities, and economies in response to social, environmental changes. The book reflects more the critical pedagogy/reflective practice side of myself than the scientist.

Welcome, Peter. Please tell us about this new book.

The book started 25 years ago!  About 4 years ago Jeremy, my co-author who was then a student, started to help me convert my course handouts and associated wikipages into a book format. A break from teaching last fall gave me a chance to produce a publishable manuscript and move through the steps to self-publishing.

What inspired you to write this book?
Let’s ask: “What inspired me to teach in ways that ended up reflected in the book?” I think that creativity comes not out of individual inspiration, but from borrowing and connecting. The more items in your tool box—the more themes, heuristics (rules of thumb), and open questions you are working with—the more likely you are to make a new connection and see how things could be otherwise, that is, to be creative.  Yet, in order to build up a set of tools that works for you, it is necessary to experiment, take risks, and reflect on the outcomes. Such "reflective practice" is like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas—it involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change. What has driven me to keep journeying in this way is hard to pin down.

What exciting story are you working on next?
A book that addresses issues that have been overlooked in the more than a century of heated nature-nurture (genes vs. environment) debates.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I began to write seriously when in graduate school in the USA in the early 1980s. 

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like?  If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I need to make space away from my cluttered desktop and all the tasks that come across the internet. I also need to (re)commit myself to writing and make time each day away from the “urgent” that eclipses the important. This works for a few months and then gets drowned by the challenges of supporting students in their life changes and running an unusual program in a public university in times of economic recession…

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Not really a quirk, but I have 30+ years of 8.5 x 11 notebooks in which I have a dialogue with what I am listening to (in talks), what I am reading, and what I am hoping for.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronomer.  (Growing up in the country under the Southern hemisphere skies led me to ask the Big Questions about how it all got there and what came before.)

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
This is the first publication of a new press, The Pumping Station. Established in 2011, this small publishing company was named after a 1980s discussion and dining group in Somerville and Cambridge (MA). The group was named in turn after an old Pumping Station on the Charles River in Waltham with a gesture to a quote by Henry Moore about one of his sculptures: “it had great drama with its big heart like a great pumping station.”

Any net revenue from book sales is directed towards future books and subsidies for participants in Workshops, especially Open Space Workshops on Scientific and Social Change, which run in ways that parallel the original Pumping Station discussion group. 

Peter, thank you for telling us so much about your book...and the additional information - that's a cool story for how the publishing house was named, and being a New Englander, it really jumps out at me.

Readers, you can find reviews and other interviews through Peter and Jeremy's tour schedule. Feel free to stop by the other blogs and say hello. Leave a comment and your email address here for a chance to win a PDF copy of Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement.


Jeremy Szteiter said...

Hello everyone. I'd just like to offer some thoughts around my current experience in using the material in this book to teach research courses. I've come to notice more and more how the practices of "Taking Yourself Seriously" encourage students to acknowledge what they already know and then make that the foundation of their ongoing learning. Early in a course, a student will sometimes make a comment about "not knowing much about research" or that "research was never my strong area". But the tools and processes offered in the book help students to quickly start talking about their interests in a particular way, and this can even be a little startling as students notice that by doing so, they ARE doing research.

Lisa Haselton said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jeremy. I think the topic is very interesting and as I love to learn, this is great for me. :)

Live Chat Services said...

WOW, this'll keep me busy for years. I've been subscribing to your RSS feed for months, but somehow I missed this great list.