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Cultivating the gross mindset

Tonight at dinner, my sons asked me what I was planning on writing tonight. I think I said Well, I’m busy. There’s a document I was supposed to write today that I was going to turn into an essay. That’s probably not going to happen. I got really annoyed filling in some recommendation forms, and I might rant about that. But I thought I’d try something funny. Middle son said something like Don’t! They suggested that I write about the Tigger outfit, but that’s an essay for tomorrow. So, what am I doing? It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m even more behind on work. I’ll just try to be funny.

My colleagues in academic advising keep telling me that the faculty should be helping students develop something called a gross mindset. I’m not quite sure what they mean, and I’m too lazy to look up articles or read a book. As is my wont, I’m writing this essay to learn more. In particular, I’m trying to figure out the gross mindset, and how it applies in different disciplines.

Teaching a gross mindset in Biology seems pretty straightforward. If a student says something like Biological processes are so cool, you just emphasize the blood and guts. If they think blood and guts are cool, you have them dissect decomposing things. If all else fails, you make everyone dissect decomposing things. Even if they can bear the smell, peer pressure will win out. Alternately, you can have them eat dinner with ER doctors and med students [1].

In 2016, teaching a gross mindset in any foreign language seems nearly as straightforward. A student might think that It’s so amazing that I get to learn a foreign language! I’ll develop more insight into another culture, expose myself to new literature, and probably even learn more about my own culture and language. However, we need only remind them that in the upcoming Trumptatorship [2], evidence of foreign language knowledge will be considered so disgusting that anyone who speaks anything other than ’murcan will be waterboarded and then deported [3]. We need to convince our students now that foreign languages are gross, before it’s too late!

How do I teach the gross mindset in my own field, computer science? I think the following might help [4]. To determine whether a pointer variable points to a valid area of memory, I set a global variable to false, set the signal handler to change that variable to true, attempt to dereference the variable, unset the signal handler, and check the value of the global variable. Alternately, I could just teach them convention over configuration [5].

Okay, maybe teaching the gross mindset isn’t as hard as I think. In Polisci, we can discuss the techniques that dictators use to stay in power. In Anthropology, we can discuss sacrificial rituals of certain civilizations. In English, we can insist upon a prescriptive approach rather than a descriptive approach [6]. Alternately we can teach [fill in your most despised literary theory]. In studio art and tech theatre, we can show them accidents in the shop.

Math may be the easiest. Why am I learning math? Math is gross. Right! [7]

Physics seems similarly easy. You do realize that Physics is just math, don’t you? Gross! [8]

What’s left? Psychology? Have them replicate the Stanford Prison Experiment. Music? Make them transcribe Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music for performance on Hurdy Gurdy and Piccolo. Education? Standardized testing. Film studies? Un Chien Andalou. Philosophy? Ayn Rand. American Studies? The 2016 Presidential Race.

Yup, I think I can do it. I can teach the gross mindset. Whaddaya know? I may be an old faculty member, but I can develop new skills and approaches and maybe even help my students do so, too.

What? They said I should teach students a growth mindset?


[1] Those of you attached to ER doctors and med students (or former med students) will understand.

[2] Not to be confused with the brand-new Trump ’tater chips.

[3] In case the unlikely happens: The text associated with this note is my attempt to pander to my liberal audience. It does not reflect my own opinions on our soon-to-be-great nation.

[4] If you don’t program in C or a similar language, this may not make sense to you. If you are Ian Atha, it may bring back terrifying memories.

[5] Whoops! I actually do that.

[6] Or vice versa.

[7] As a former mathematics major, I can tell you that math is awesome.

[8] While Physics is just math, the appropriate response is awesome!

Version 1.0.2 of 2016-10-30.