“We All Bleed Blue”: An Interview with Greg Bridgeman

Greg Bridgeman guarding his office door

Greg Bridgeman guarding his office door

I recently sat down with Greg Bridgeman, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, hoping to learn how he incorporates different types of pleasure in teaching his classes.  Greg is a popular figure on both Hopinsville Community College campuses, and the criminal justice program has flourished under his leadership.  Students and colleagues know him as a literal and figurative straight shooter who always has time to share a good laugh or to offer a word of encouragement. However, I wondered how the principles of pleasure in the classroom could be translated into the pursuit of bad guys (and gals).

  • We all bleed blue.” Bridgeman noted that once students enter the criminal justice program, “we’re all family.”  Students take many on-ground classes together, so they are able to feel part of a community in online classes as well, responding to one another’s comments on discussion board.
  • “Students take my classes because they want to, not because they have to.” Greg observed that his students, like nursing students, have clear career goals and are motivated to obtain a degree that they know to be valuable. Graduates of the criminal justice program are in high demand by local local law enforcement and security agencies.
  • “My classes involve the senses in doing practical stuff.”  Greg says he rarely lectures for more than 15 minutes at a stretch.  “Then we do something….like learning to use fingerprint powder.”   He has a “batch of chemicals that smells like a decomposing body” that he uses to introduce them to one of the jobs harsher realities.
  • “Students are often surprised by my classes.”  “They’ve all watched CSI, which is useless—except as a recruiting tool—so they are surprised to learn that real policework is different.  Mostly they are surprised by the way I teach.”Fingerprint (PSF)Greg likes to pose a deliberately inflammatory topic and then “stand back and watch what happens.”  The students are surprised by his emphasis on using  negotiation instead of force to obtain compliance. “I’d rather talk than fight.”
  • “I use a lot of humor in my classes.”  Bridgeman finds that many of his classes develop their own insider jokes. (He shared a story involving “oink, oink” too long to recount here.)  He also uses self-deprecating humor, including a favorite yarn about an elderly shoplifting suspect that he failed to handcuff.  She subsequently grabbed a frying pan from a display and beaned him.
  • Adult Criminal Justice System

    Adult Criminal Justice System (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    “I expect a lot from my students.” While Greg solicits input from his students about the content of his classes, he assures them that “the book reports and research papers are NOT going away.”  He also expects them to participate in discussion boards.  While noting that textbooks may not offer a real-world view of law enforcement, he still expects his students to master that material “as a starting point.”

At this point in our conversation, I was ready to enroll in Greg’s classes myself.  How had he mastered the art of teaching?  Who were his role models?  So I asked him to share:

  • What was your favorite class?  I expected to hear about marksmanship or crime scene investigation, but Greg surprised me by replying, without hesitation, “Band.”  It seems Greg played the tuba “not because I was good at it but because I was big enough to carry the thing.”  He related that his band teacher was a man of great personal integrity who cared for his students in remarkable ways. Greg clearly learned from him the value of going the extra mile, and HCC students benefit from that lesson every day.
    Euphonium and Tuba brass instruments
  • What was your least favorite class?  This question yielded another surprise….chapel!  Because of a complicated chain of events, Greg attended several colleges, most of them religiously affiliated and therefore requiring chapel attendance.  While he had no quarrel with the doctrinal aspects—he actually earned a minor in theology— he bristled at the “forced compliance.”  (Greg came up with an innovative solution to this problem, but we’ll save that story for another day.)

A Little Christmas (or Xmas?) Pleasure

English: Christmas postcard picture with Santa...

English: Christmas postcard picture with Santa Claus and holly, with message, “I bring you a Merry Xmas from” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the Christmas season rolls in, so does the inevitable debate about the use of the abbreviation X-mas. For many people (especially in our texting lingo world), this is just another way to use fewer characters when texting or writing. For others though, this is an insult to their celebration of the Christmas holiday and season. By removing the “Christ” part out of the word Christmas and replacing it with an “X” seems to echo much of our society’s commercialism of the holiday instead of the original reason for the holiday.

However, when one looks into the origin of the X-mas abbreviation we get a much different perspective. The symbol at the beginning is really not our letter “X”. The original use of Xmas used the Greek letter Chi….which looks like a fancy “X”. The Chi in the Greek language was not only one of their letters, but the word for Christ. Therefore in the Greek language, the word X-mas is their way of writing our word Christ-mas. I doubt that most people that use the Xmas abbreviation really know that they are using the Greek form of the word Christmas. However, now that you know it you can use it to help diffuse any sticky conversations that come up between family or friends……though be prepared for some to still be upset about the usage as I’ve found out myself.

English: Greek letter chi. Português: Letra gr...

English: Greek letter chi. Português: Letra grega chi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what does this have to do with pleasure in education? In the statistics class that I teach, we work out a type of problem called the Chi-square. It has this name as the letter Chi is used as the variable notation in the problem. When I introduce this, I playfully tell the students that they may need to refresh their memories about how to work out the problem when it comes up in later courses…..but to PLEASE make sure they pronounce it correctly! It is pronounced like the Ki in Kite and not like the Chi in Child or the Chee in Cheese. I then share with them that the Greek letter Chi looks like our X and is where we get the Xmas abbreviation from. Then I use that as a reminder to pronounce it like the Ch in Christmas.

Plot of the chi-square distribution for values...

Plot of the chi-square distribution for values of k = {1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9}. Accurate plotcurves. Labels are embedded in Computer-Modern font. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I tell this story, I seem to notice that many of the students are paying more attention than usual. Maybe it is because what I am explaining has more to do with holiday or Greek than statistics…….actually I’m pretty sure that is the reason! So why do students seem much more interested in this story than the explanation of the course material that I am teaching? I’d be willing to bet that at the end of the course if I asked two questions (1) work out a Chi-square problem and (2) explain where the X-mas abbreviation comes from that more students would get the second one right! I think this has to do with the aspect of pleasure in learning dealing with giving them something to take with them. It is a little nugget of information which will most likely come up in the future (as it has probably come up in their past already) and they see that as valuable.

I also think these little deviations from the traditional class information is a welcome change of pace. It gives me as an instructor a chance to take what is going on in my class and tying it to another discipline. When we can do this in our classes, I think it helps the students to see us as more than just an expert in our field. I wonder how often students look at me and think “he is just a statistics teacher….he doesn’t know anything beyond his subject”. These little deviations help to show them that we are really well-rounded. I think that helps them relate to us better when they can see we have knowledge, interests, and the ability to go outside of our subject material.

Wishing You a...

Wishing You a… (Photo credit: premasagar)

So be looking out for little nuggets of information that are loosely tied to your material. It might be in a piece of trivia, a TV commercial, a scene in a book, or some other area. Sprinkling these into your class can help keep the attention level high and help students to see how the material in each class intertwines in many others.

Have a very Merry Christmas!!!…….or Merry Xmas for all of my Greek friends.

Related articles

Is There a Media Machine?

GladstoneThe idea of a media machine seeking to establish control likely comes up to any speculating person. How could such a notion be discussed? Maybe it’s as difficult to verify as UFOs, but maybe not. Not even intending it, a book caught my attention at a meeting on reading strategy when our coach, Denise Perdue, invited us to pick up a couple of books to review from a table she set up in order to get book recommendations for campus-wide reading. A comic book, The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone, appealed instantly, especially since it said “New York Times Bestseller.”

 Leafing through the book, I immediately found the format fascinating: here was a serious work, a real book, done not as a written text with supporting illustration, but as a text accomplished in comic book style with additional innovations:

  • The number of panels per page varies, as well as their size; and characters from history up to the present speak to each other and to the reader while they say famous lines from speeches, revered documents, poems, and a wealth of sources.
  • Brooke herself is the cartoon character binding all together, and she keeps a narrative going without being intrusive. She is reporting, as it were, on media’s history, with its roles and perceptions.
  • The topic could sound dry to someone with a reflex reaction that media is a rude, combative, political entity akin to an adult in diapers. Brooke, however, creates with the first touch of the page, a whole new climate—one artistic, philosophical, historical, and poetic. It gets at the question, “Who are we really?” and “How would we know?”

    A woman thinking

    A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Another disarming feature of the book is the probing of human nature realistically but not in a scary way. All the ills and foibles of thinkers, politicians, and media get exposed but in a way not making humans constitutionally different now than any time before. Changing technologies and mass awareness haven’t dumbed us down or killed off moral capacities; and stratagems tried by people of influence to sway the masses are pretty consistent over the centuries.
  • The procession of cartoons varies in the size of the panels, but the colors are always black, white, and faded turquoise. The effect is non-alarming, even soothing.
  • The characters are not anything like the caricatures of political cartoons, where the poor victim is abused by the cartoonist to the glee of those with an appetite for mean humor. Rather, the brilliant illustrator, Josh Neufeld, depicts them with childlike simplicity, yet with sophisticated graphic skill. He’s an artist who knows how to reach the part of us we knew as children that never needs to disappear with maturity.
  • Brooke also knows that “In fact, as far back, as Caesar’s Acta Diurna, news has always been entertainment” (154), which gets at the very heart of this blog, Pleasure in Learning.

The book keeps an engaging stream of interesting questions going: Is there such a thing as a mind machine? Can there really be objectivity? How has war reporting changed? What limits do reporters have now compared to in the past? Is it safe for the masses to know the gory details? Should some things be kept secret? Gladstone poses many more such intriguing questions.

The Influencing Machine: How The Media Shape O...

The Influencing Machine: How The Media Shape Our View of Politics, with Brooke Gladstone (Photo credit: rappaportcenter)

Is the book, however, a good candidate for a common read at a community college seeking to increase reading awareness and pedagogy over the next five years? Let’s look at that.

  • Without a grasp of US history highlights, the book would be inaccessible. But many students at Hopkinsville Community College take one or both of the U.S. history courses, and many also take American Government and World Politics.
  • The book fits the stream of wanting to know where we came from and where we are in the current of history and thought. It could make a great common read, and the more so with its depth of philosophical thought and touches of poetry and oratory.
  • With this book, the possibilities for discussion are limitless. A halfway seasoned discussion leader could take any chapter from the book and enjoy a feast of animated and intelligent discussion from a reading group, and free food might not even be necessary. The book at least could easily make it to the three book challenge, and most certainly should be an addition to the college library.
  • It’s a book compelling enough to be read two or three times and kept for reference when certain discussions come up. Not only has Brooke produced an eloquent textbook, she’s authored a marvelous inventory of topic igniters.

The copy I just read belongs to the college, so I guess I’ll be hitting Amazon shortly, and my Christmas list got easier as well for a few people in my family.

Gladstone, Brooke., Josh Neufeld, Randy Jones, and Susann Jones. The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone On the Media. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

pleasureteam note: We can’t resist pointing out the obvious connections to pleasure in learning that Brian has noted in his review: the sensual pleasure of the format, the surprises the author has built into her book, the achievable challenge of understanding a complex subject, the value of owning a perspective on an important topic, the invitation to become a member of the group of people who ponder these matters.  Thanks to Brian for a good read, and to Denise for her hard work on our reading initiative.

Phrase of the Week: SMH (and why I’m doing just that)

Student texting during class

Student texting during class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of us who were not born with our thumbs already programmed to text, internet slang is an easy target for derisive comments.  Still, I received a lot of positive feedback for our explanation of  “TIL,” so I  thought I’d push my luck with this one:  “SMH” means “shaking my head,” as in “can you believe this?”  Alternatives included SMHID (“shaking my head in despair”) and /O\ (frustrated, hands on head).  So why am I /O\?

I’m a huge fan of Gawker‘s Caity Weaver (full disclosure: she’s also a friend), and I chuckled my way through “America’s Dumb 4th Graders Don’t Know What ‘Puzzled’ Means (Don’t Worry, They Can’t Read This).”  [WARNING: Strong language, typical of Gawker posts.  Do not click link if you have tender ears…er…eyes!  You will, however, miss a good laugh.] The study that Ms. Weaver references is yet another in the Chicken-Little-ish series of proofs that we may not be doing quite as well as we should with the whole education thing.  For those college instructors who have mastered the sigh-and-move-on technique for dealing with these harsh realities, this study did not qualify as big news.

Gawker Media Big Board

Gawker Media Big Board (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

The deeply unsettling part of the post proved to be the “comments” section, where readers offered a plethora (use of prissy word is intentional) of vignettes (oops) recounting demands from mentors and administrators to “dumb down” their vocabularies.  Apparently words like “erudite,” “misconstrue,” and “glacially” are just too rich for students and colleagues to digest.  /O\

Here at HCC, we are literally posting the Word of the Day on the inside of restroom stall doors in an effort to improve our students’ vocabularies.  (OK, we put the Word on the LED display at the entry to the college, too; but that’s not as vivid an image, is it?) How disappointing to hear that there are insurgents, to use a recent Word of the Day, within our own ranks. Lexophiles, arise!

Vocabulary - Words Are Important

Vocabulary – Words Are Important (Photo credit: Dr Noah Lott)

Having a broad vocabulary covers many of the pleasureinlearning bases.  My anatomy students are surprised (1) by the sensual pleasure (2) that they derive from being able to rattle off a phrase like “pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium.”  Being able to do that is an achievable challenge (3) that lets them feel part of a special group (4) which possesses valuable knowledge (5).  And it’s a lot more fun than saying “tall cells with hair on top that line stuff,” which is what it means in words of four letters or less…five letters, if you count “cells.”

Friends, there’s a reason that you start with seven tiles in Scrabble.  Let’s use them all.

Clever Clip of the Week

OK, so maybe “clever” is not the category for this video.  Some viewers might suggest “cheesy” or “syrupy.”  But….if you are a teacher facing a pile of finals to grade and administrative tasks to finish, it’s just possible that this might encourage you.  Commercials from other countries offer a sharp contrast to some we see in the U.S.  What do you think of this one?

Baby Steps: Making the Research Paper an Achievable Challenge

Research Paper on Microsoft

Research Paper on Microsoft (Photo credit: acordova)

Although we, as educators and lifelong learners, know the value of writing a research paper, I have yet to hear a class cheer with joy when given the research paper assignment. Instead, students view it as an arduous task or an insurmountable challenge, and thus respond with groans of displeasure, sighs of resignation, and attacks of panicked anxiety. However, we can turn the challenge into an achievable, even pleasurable, learning experience by breaking it down into four baby steps.

Step 1: Brainstorming Topic Choices

Determine three or four topics that you would like to see your students explore in a research paper. Displaying one topic at a time, ask your class to share what they already know about it. If you have chosen topics that have been brought up in previous classes, this sharing time serves as a great review as well as a means of whetting their learning appetite. After discussing all of the topics, have each student choose one and write a short five-paragraph essay on it. Let your class know that this particular assignment is not a research paper; instead, it is a paper that comes entirely from their own brains and expresses general knowledge and life experiences in an organized way. By giving this assignment with a specific due date, your students cannot put off beginning the actual research paper assignment until the last minute. They have already begun it—albeit unknowingly.winkerbeanlaffoon

Furthermore, you have greatly reduced the chances of your students writing nothing of their own and merely producing a cut-and-paste job from various internet sources.

Step 2:  Preparing to Add Sources

Divide students into small groups to read each other’s essays and discuss how they can improve them. Next, have students exchange papers and draw a star at any spot where the paper could be strengthened by either adding support to a claim or providing some specific data (e.g., statistical information). Explain that since that they have searched their brains on a specific topic, they are now ready to research—which means to search again—and find outside sources to use at each spot where they have drawn a star. Let them know the minimum number of sources you require. If some of your students have not yet taken English 102, it’s a good idea to have a discussion on credible and non-credible sources. Demonstrate how easy it is to find non-credible sources by doing a Google search on something that will lead to a bogus website (e.g, male pregnancy or cities in Antarctica); then demonstrate how easy it is to find credible sources by going to HCC’s library databases.laffoon2


Step 3:  Incorporating Sources

Play “Plain English, Please.” Display one paragraph from your textbook or another source. Ask your class to paraphrase the first sentence by using their own words and their own sentence structure. After they paraphrase another sentence or two, ask them to summarize the whole paragraph in one sentence using their own words. Next, have them look at a page or two of a sample research paper and highlight direct quotes in one color and paraphrases or summaries in another color. Ask them how they knew when a sentence was a paraphrase and when it was a statement from the student writer’s own brain. They should observe that each time the writer paraphrased a source, she gave credit to that source. Ask how the writer did that. They should point out that she named the source in the sentence itself or put the source in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Finally, ask them to incorporate the sources they have found at the starred spots in their essays; use a mix of direct quotations, paraphrases, and summaries; and give credit to their sources each time they quote, paraphrase, or summarize them.

Step 4:  Writing the Bibliography

Play one of the following bibliography games: “Teach the Teacher” or “Bibliography Bloopers.” To play the first game, display a source on the overhead and have your class teach you how to write the source’s information on the bibliography page, walking you through the exact order and punctuation (“First write the author’s last name, comma, first name, period”) as you type the page.


Bibliography (Photo credit: gadl)

The dumber you act, the more fun the game becomes. To play the second game, give each pair of students a bibliography page with two or three sources, each containing three errors which they must identify, such as missing quotation marks around an article’s title, the publisher’s state instead of city, and a missing period. With both games, students get to use a “cheat sheet”: their reference book. Their final assignment is to correctly type their bibliography page, alphabetically listing the sources they used for their research paper.

My Pillow Got in the Way of My Homework

Day 4/365- Books Abound

Day 4/365- Books Abound (Photo credit: thekellyscope)

I was five minutes late, but Denise didn’t scold me. What class can you go to where the response is, “Get some pizza and join us”? The Lunch and Learn Wednesday sessions are like that. Today when I dropped in, Denise was already perched centrally between the tables and making a point about reading things we’re not interested in, but things assigned to us.

On top of a piece not stimulating our interest, other obstacles occur such as unfamiliar vocabulary, the realization of “Yikes this is so long!” and the short amount of time  hoped to dedicate to the reading. Such obstacles can lead to shut-down and stopping soon after starting, whereas the need is to press on and plow through.

Denise was practical about this and didn’t try to say, “Oh, you just think it’s not interesting.” We have to start where we are, so then what? Her next exhortation was to create a study place. It sounds trite, doesn’t it? But think about how normal it is to try reading in bed or in the kitchen. In bed, a boring book does what a boring book should do, bring on sleep. Kitchens, on the other hand, get our eyes roving toward the refrigerator or cabinets. “Gee, the food might get on the book, so I better close it and concentrate on just the snacks.”

Where I Read This Summer: 50's Prime Time Cafe

Where I Read This Summer: 50’s Prime Time Cafe (Photo credit: MrSchuReads)

Denise emphasized how a set study place, one that is quiet and designated for study, can bring consistency. The will firms up with each part of that special place and ritual, and soon you’re underway reading –that is until new vocabulary words cause frustration. Keep that dictionary nearby and your discipline specific vocabulary list that you started. Take it in small bits and keep adding those words.

Next, when a reading assignment is large, think in terms of breaking it up into smaller pieces. It’s can be effective to read fifteen to twenty minutes and then go do a quick task elsewhere in the house and come back for another piece of the whole.

When reading, think not only in smaller pieces, but ask, “What is the author trying to say and how would I retell this same thing to someone else?” I myself find this a rewarding approach to lots of ideas. When I make myself answer the question, “How would I clearly state this to someone?” it helps me get a sharper focus.

Picture of Millionaire gameplay from Season 7,...

Picture of Millionaire gameplay from Season 7, with a contestant faced with a question about Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In situations where clarity just keeps evading us, we can do like the television show that used to air, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It became a cliché from universal familiarity with the show to speak of “using lifelines” in situations where an answer is needed. Denise said, “Don’t be afraid to call or email your instructor. Your instructor wants to do more than just pass on information to you as a student. Your instructor wants to build a relationship.” Use your lifeline.

My grandchildren love losing a tooth. They may not know who the tooth fairy is, but they know a tooth under the pillow is money in the pocket the next day. If you put your book under your pillow, nothing will appear in your head the next morning. But if you dig through that reading and get the ideas into your head, somewhere between closing your lids and waking up, those ideas may have settled in. You may wake up with them still there and even ruminated upon. But remember it’s dangerous to read with your head on the pillow—no guarantees there. Denise is onto something in recommending a special study place and strategies to break big tasks into smaller ones with planned breaks in between.

She’ll be back in room 158 of the Academic Building (known as “the blue building”) next Wednesday as usual. Students are enjoying the sessions, and lots of students commented today during the discussion.

pleasureteam note: Brian Coatney has been recapping HCC’s “Lunch and Learn” sessions for pleasureinlearning.  This initiative is part of HCC’s Quality Enhancement Plan, entitled Literatzi: Get Caught Reading a BookIf you have attended the sessions or have comments on Brian’s observations, please comment!