Personal Page for Paul Sutton

(This page currently under construction)

Musings on Teaching

            My first job out of college was teaching High School Chemistry, Physics, and Math at the Anacapa School. I distinctly remember being interviewed for this position and having one of the board of trustees of the school ask me, a completely inexperienced, fresh out of college, Chemistry major,  the following question: ‘What kind of innovative pedagogical approach are you going to use as you approach the challenge of  teaching high school Math and Science?’ I responded with something akin to the following: ‘I am in no position to develop innovative new approaches to the teaching of high school. I will teach my subjects in a manner very similar to how I have been taught for the past 15 years or at least try to emulate those methods. Perhaps after some years of experience I will develop some ideas of my own as to what works and what does not work with respect to my teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach.’  Perhaps not surprisingly I find that some of my best teaching techniques and approaches have been borrowed from my best teachers and colleagues. I have now been teaching science for over 20 years and I have developed a teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach based on my experience and the experience of peers and colleagues over these years. I actually find it a pleasant task to reflect on what my teaching philosophy is at this point in my career. The following are some principles and practices that I have developed over the years that constitute essential elements of my teaching philosophy:

1)      Respect for my students and the Golden Rule

2)      My Role as a University Educator: 1) Developing an appreciation of, and capacity for, the life of the mind (old school ‘Ivory Tower’ ideas of a University education), 2) Producing informed and engaged citizens of our university, local community, nation, and world, and 3) Providing our students with a set of tools and skills that prepare them for rewarding and meaningful careers.

3)      Learning Outcomes as opposed to Course Evaluations

4)      Modalities of Learning

5)      Evaluating Student Work and the issue of Grade Inflation The false impression of competence that grade inflation creates contributes to a precariousness of civilization characterized by the following three quotes:


“Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”                                                          Alfred North Whitehead


“We are also always only one failed generational transfer of knowledge away from darkest ignorance.”                                                                                                                Herman Daly


“I don’t know how world war III will be fought, but I know how World War IV will, with sticks and stones.”                                                                                                                   Albert Einstein


I believe our function as teachers and mentors contributes to both the advance of civilization and to the transfer of existing knowledge that staves off darkest ignorance. This is a profound privilege and responsibility that we have as university faculty. It is my opinion that grade inflation contributes to an entropic decay of our collective knowledge and competence while simultaneously contributing to a false sense of competence that often does not exist. We are nowhere near number one in international comparisons of Math skills but we are number one in our confidence in our mathematical ability.

6)      Incorporating my research into the classroom

7)      Avoiding “Parrot Training” and using The Socratic Method

8)      Walking the Walk and being a Lifelong Learner


Musings on Research

I have been interested in the Human-Environment-Sustainability problematic since I was a child. As I finished my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry I hoped to work in the area of environmental remediation but serendipitously ended up teaching high school. In my 20’s I did volunteer work as the president of the Santa Barbara Chapter of Zero Population Growth (ZPG). As a ZPG activist I organized public seminars with speakers like Garrett Hardin and Paul Ehrlich and ran booths at the popular Santa Barbara Earth Day celebrations. During these days I was fortunate to make friends with students in the Geography Department at UC Santa Barbara. They were working on interesting problems such as climate change, deforestation, and urban growth modeling. Little did I know that UCSB Geography was one of the best Geography departments in the country. I applied to graduate school at UCSB and discovered my passion for Geography. UCSB Geography is known for a quantitative scientific perspective. This perspective integrates a spatial analytic approach with geo-technology such as GIS and Remote Sensing to a greater extent than most Geography Departments. I share this UCSB perspective in my approach to geographic problems as evidenced by my journal articles and research methods textbook:          An Introduction to Scientific Research Methods in Geography. Despite my quantitative and scientific disposition I love the diversity of Geography and enjoy working with colleagues that have very different approaches to geographic inquiry. I try to have a vibrant, multi-pronged research agenda that serves my interests and provides opportunities for my students to make significant contributions to progress in Geography.