call... & response - attempts to make sense of beating, death, violence among youth

call: the beating

response: the questions...


"kids w/o education = the real weapons of mass destruction"
language makes me shudder
- wanting to problematize education; image of kids as weapons
but how are we (the collective we = educators, parents, elected officials, other youth, ...)
complicit in and also able to interrupt these moments.
off-handed mention of "having nothing to do after school"
images of arrested youth - mugshots; (un)wittingly reinscribe existing tropes
- of desperation, of incarceration, of violence, of masculinity
how will the story go on?
(when) will this story end?



"are heels oppressing or empowering?" -> what passes for 'debate' over morning coffee...

bio-anthropologist versus (talk show host + magazine editor + sexist stand-in co-host) = very difficult to watch morning segment.

storying and the storied

last week was strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which involved a meeting of faculty that was not a faculty meeting, or a department meeting, or any other configuration of faculty members who convene for largely administrative purposes.  we had convened voluntarily, in response to an invitation to inquire together about the nexus of globalization, education, and citizenship.  my feelings can be summed up in the tweet i twittered as i walked to my office after leaving my colleagues with whom i felt like i had engaged in something unique:

finding my way back to play from TwitterBerry

we were asked by our colleague and facilitator to reflect on a moment of transculturalism or transnationalism that we had experienced, either in our recent or distant or anywhere-in-between past. and here's where the strange quotient increases - the first story that popped into my mind was the great dosa tale of 2nd grade. i will write that story down at some point - i've certainly shared it verbally enough times! - but the story for right now is about why my mind went there, to that particular moment when i was seven. a moment that, by all means, could only be characterized as mortifying and emotionally scarring.  but given the previous events of last week, this tale became reframed in my mind as evocative of something different: a profound moment of self-definition and inquiry into identity that resonates with all subsequent invitations to inquiry and identity work...

i began to think about my grandmother early last week.  at the end of class tuesday night i gave a brief preview of the book we'll discuss during the next class, the magical life of long tack sam. the author of the text, and documentary filmmaker, ann marie fleming, composed the book and a film of the same name following from her inquiry into her family's history and learning of her great-grandfather's magical life as a world renown acrobat and magician.  the texts are worth more than a few pages of reflection themselves, but i'll just say here that in both form and content, fleming's storying of her family history evokes images of transnational migration, strength, personal and collective triumph, war, family, and peace among many others.  as i offered a brief preview in class, inviting us to attend to both form and content and the collective meanings fleming offers the reader, i continued to think about my own acts of personal storying, which flourished when i was in graduate school and which have largely diminished in the five years since...

the following day, i found my way back to a public library.  i was so moved by the realization that i blogged about the at-once new and familiar rush of emotions that swept over me.  i was again transported to a practice so dominant in my youth; to a space and structure that held deep personal meaning for how i made sense of myself in the then-present, and how i imagine my younger self now. i tweeted about the boy who shared a table with me, and allowed me to understand another dimension of public library life:

hair aflame w/a mop of orange. eyes focused on math puzzle hw. in silence, until rendezvous w/mom. she asks abt his day; he beams. #twitpoem

so in our faculty seminar, when presented with the invitation to engage in sustained inquiry - with thought and emotion, with storied reflection - about the intersections across otherwise banal terms such as globalization, education, and citizenship, my mind immediately flooded with images, feelings, details; i understood what fleming meant when she concluded her film by saying "memory is magic" and noting in writing that "history is relatives."

i have a working title for my inquiry: a is for assimilation.  there is a simplicity in that phrase that captures the nuances of learning to speak english from my floppy haired neighbor; constantly negotiating a very full identity dance card; pursuing language and literacy-based study in my studies and professional life; confronting the vestiges of my own identity work, begun nearly thirty years ago with trepidation and which is still very much under construction.

it isn't often when multiple strands of inquiry align, but when they do like they seem to have recently, the effect is awe-some. i concluded my week by attending a screening of fleming's film, originally released in 2003 but being rescreened to celebrate a new exhibit at the moca.  during the q&a, fleming mentioned that she began research for her film 10 years after her grandmother, the daughter of long tack sam, had died.  this year marks the tenth anniversary of my paternal grandmother's death; the person for whom i was named and with whom i shared a bedroom for the first several years of my life.   i've begun tweeting questions that i would have asked her if i had thought to do so at the time (#q4gma).  i think about the way she is storied in family lore, and how storied her siblings, parents, and ancestors.  hers was an unexpected transnational narrative that she negotiated for the last twenty years of her life.  so when i find myself undoubtedly mired in writing, revision, and analysis already on the schedule for the next several months, i will rejoice in the occasional opportunities to let my mind explore, making the familiar strange again, and play within the loosely facilitated structure of a seminar... just like grad school.  (i even became a bit giddy when reading and questions to guide our thinking were assigned...) 

this time, i'll take my namesake along for the ride. 


trolling the web... a text rendering of cme09 haps.

i've been reading posts and tweets from members of this fall's culture, media, and ed class and thought i'd do a virtual text rendering - a collection of phrases that stood out to me, in no particular order:

But what about the stereotyping?
the therapy of production is part of the intangible value that comes out of that work/process of creation
I also want to spend a moment defending teachers
this wondering just led me to go to twitter ... and be met with my school's filter/firewall.
I think I’m in between phase I “Honeymoon” and phase 2 “What am I doing?”
Globalization is irreversible and nobody is in charge of it.
Abt ten min into watching the video, The Day My God Died, a mascara commercial popped up
Holy Twitter Batman! Kanye went there!?!
connected/disconnected, isolated/related, and openheartedness/a bunch of lies
structured through styles and voice long forgotten
Suddenly, I began to miss Nankai...
Who says texting has to be the enemy of the 21st century teacher?
how young people who have no role models in their lives use figures in the media as role models
loooved fam guy. cleveland show... not so much
Crowd Sourcing: Internet as democratizer or impersonator.
Now I know why IronChef can run right after knowing the secret ingredient
i need a hug.

good stuff happening in cme this semester.  makes me think more about the collective work we're trying to do, especially with this year's focus on social issue media.  in other words, what stories are we trying to tell?  who are we storying with? who are we storying for? and about?



new ela & math standards released

i've progressed in my thinking about standards. i understand them differently from when i was early in my path of teaching and learning, when i viewed them as oppressive and as symbolic vehicular boots that stifled educators creative inclinations.  (i now realize that the obsession to test children - and by proxy their teachers - to within an inch of their life is the real villain, perpetrated by willing accomplices in grey and navy suits and answering to the various titles to which they have been elected or appointed...)

so when the new standards for english language arts (ela) and mathematics were announced this week, i brought a renewed eye to reading them, thanks to my time spent observing and spending time in classrooms and ongoing conversations with current teachers whose efforts to provide myriad educational opportunities for the eager bodies that file into their classrooms every day are not necessarily diminished, and are sometimes even bolstered, by a fuller understanding of the national standards.  so as i read these standards anew, i began to imagine what "meeting" them might mean from a pedagogical standpoint. for me, the ela standards - divided into 'reading,' 'writing,' and 'speaking & listening' (regardless of ample, ample, oodles of research that understands them to work in concert) - evoked images of what it would look like for a kid to have achieved each bullet-pointed goal.  for example, in reading:
  • Support or challenge assertions about the text by citing evidence in the text explicitly and accurately.
and the questions began: what types of texts? citing in what format? who determines what is explicit and accurate? (that last question pertains to some of obtuse 'texts' i've encountered lately, which are neither explicit nor accurate in their 'reading' of others' texts...)
but these questions are the natural byproduct of a mind set to 'hyper' on the inquiry cycle, which, i agree, can become paralyzing when someone 'just wants to go and teach.' but without these questions, and the next few that i'll raise below, how do we ease ourselves out of the jaws of complacency.  questions need not be paralyzing. in fact, i have found them liberating. questioning what we mean by text can suggest a new range of compositions - film shorts, photo essays, anime, family photo albums - to consider inside the classroom. these new texts, sometimes foreign to the routines of classroom and school life, might open up the boundaries that too often (aim to, but can never really) separate children's in-school and out-of-school lives.  questions about text, indeed a critical stance on texts, can suggest new teaching and learning relationships as the children who suggest new texts can be engaged as the experts on their texts.  i could learn some things about manga, but to hear a true expert eagerly describe narrative nuances that would have certainly escaped me for the first 50 or 60 readings is where educative possibility really lies. 
hence, the new questions - question, really.  just one, as i worked my way down the standards for reading, writing, and speaking & listening.  and then made my way through the mathematical standards.  my hypercurious mind wants to know where the 'we'/'with' standards are.  that is, while all of the existing 'todos' implicate what a student must be able to do, and consequently what the teacher must make sure the student can do, there aren't any standards that talk about what kind of community teachers and students might co-create in which to engage in education together.  so i want to know: "Where are the standards of 'with'?"

yes, this is a false question in way, b/c i would truly cringe if there were classroom community standards.  (shudder, literally, to think about this...)  but when the good people at the "National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT and the College Board" came together establish standards that are "research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills," i just want to know what kinds of conversations went on about what spaces would be generative of the kinds of teaching and learning that might lead to national proficiency across the "core standards" laid out this week?  and if there was any talk, even whispers, about resources, class size, unholy testing schedules, and time to build community, might i ask - nay, plead - for the revered insiders to leak these conversations to the press? or someone who might listen, especially when the left hand is ready to act based on the findings of the right hand...

feedback on the standards is welcome until october 21st. after reading the standards, click on the link that says "Submit Feedback >>" along the left-hand menu.



public libraries

going to our public library was a ritual for me when i was a kid growing up in a suburban new jersey town.  almost weekly, either parent or the parent of one of my friends would drive a carload of us kids to the (what seemed to me then to be) sprawling free public library campus, which also housed a version of "safety town" - a mock town where busloads of kids could spend an afternoon learning about traffic safety from "officer friendly."  on the green lawn out front sat two bronzed figures back to back, one engrossed in reading and the other saying something over his back to his companion.  sometimes i would sit next to them with a book of my own while i waited for my ride or others to finish up inside.

i never left the building with any less than the maximum number of books you could take out at once.  if it wasn't an armload, then i clearly had wasted a visit.  slowly, i would venture from the children's section into the main section of the library, and this would bring me indescribable joy.  once i got the hang of the dewey decimal system, i would look up topics in the card catalog just to prove i could find it.  astronomy, botany, civil war, women's rights, mythology... the card catalog was like a choose-your-own-adventure story that never led to the same place twice.  up stairs and down the elevator, books in hand.  no matter where the journey led, however, i always landed back in the far corner of the children's section.  there, the tables were round and wide and could accommodate books of all shapes and sizes.  i liked to spread them out - a practice in which i still i engage - like a painter assembling her paints before delving into them to construct that afternoon's perfect story portrait.  i think about the multilayered narrative that capucine weaves in this video and feel a kinship to what might have been going on in her mind to bring those threads together.

i felt some of the same energy and magic when i wandered into a different public library earlier this afternoon.  i hadn't been inside one in a very long time.  i was instantly aware of how unfamiliar this environment was to me, even as the sensibility of the concrete structure was inviting.  i had become so used to working in academic libraries, coffee shops, and my office, that i found myself unaccustomed to the ongoing interactions between librarian and the diverse population of patrons; the dialogues about whether the printers were working and where a mom could find some good graphic novels for her 11-year-old.  the librarian had responses for these and many other queries.

i took a seat at a rectangular table on the second floor, presumably near the young adult literature section.  across me was a bookshelf full of graphic novels.  just typing that sentence makes me realize how things and times have changed since i was last actively present in a library - that is, in a library to "use" the library.  a bookshelf full of graphic novels didn't exist even 6 or 7 years ago when i spent nearly every week in or near a library while collecting data for my dissertation with a group of adolescent boys.   librarians, often women, act as sage guides, patient listeners, and occasionally ornery public servants whose buttons have been pushed one too many times.

for a while, i shared my table with a red-headed boy who looked to be no more than 9.  he worked studiously on what appeared to be a math assignment - i'm assuming math based on the pyramid made up of triangles on the worksheet he was writing on.  a group of slightly older girls walked up the stairs together and, leaning on each other like teenage girls tend to do (literally and metaphorically), made their way to the back where the young adult romance and mystery books were.  their dialogue was about which book to check out next, amidst giggles - i probably wouldn't be entirely off base if i guessed they were going toward the twilight display...

there was one other reason i kept bringing my haul back to the children's section of my hometown public library: the giant lion that was propped up against the corner.  i probably couldn't get away with it now, but even as a teenager, i would sit and lean against that lion and read for hours on end.  i was comfortable, in a familiar surrounding, where i had relatively autonomy and authority to manage my own textual explorations. 

i began to remember some of those lessons this afternoon as i watched library patrons, old and mostly young, make their way through this structure.  card catalogs have been replaced with computer kiosks and the library cards and books are read by barcode, but the stuffed animals and large tables remain... signaling a welcome to a new generation of inquiring minds and adventure-seeking storytellers.


and on a happy note, relief for the free library of philadelphia ...  for now...


challenging homophobia in schools - new text from tc press

Coming in november, 2009: Acting Out! Combating Homophobia Through Teacher Activism
by: Mollie V. Blackburn, Caroline T. Clark, Lauren M. Kenney, and Jill M. Smith
Foreword by JoBeth Allen
Part of the Practitioner Inquiry Series
Book Description: In this volume, teachers from urban, suburban, and rural districts join together in a teacher inquiry group to challenge homophobia and heterosexism in schools and classrooms. To create safe learning environments for all students they address key topics, including seizing teachable moments, organizing faculty, deciding whether to come out in the classroom, using LGBTQ-inclusive texts, running a Gay-Straight Alliance, changing district policy to protect LGBTQ teachers and students, dealing with resistant students, and preparing preservice teachers to do antihomophobia work.

Book Features:
  • Examples of antihomophobia teaching across elementary, secondary, and university contexts, and discussions of the consequences of this work.
  • Concrete discussions of how to start a teacher inquiry group, and the challenges and rewards of engaging in teacher activism.
  • A comprehensive annotated bibliography of texts that address homophobia and heterosexism.


reading "Knock Knock, Who's There?" - a selection of the 9th annual media that matters film festival

showed this film in class last night - a psa about domestic violence: Knock Knock, Who's There

was surprised by some of the responses to the question: what stands out?
- role of the boys in the clip
- the meaning(s) behind a single gendered, and boys in particular, group as the ones engaging in the social action
- how to read the ball playing, specifically the cricket game in progress at beginning of clip
- the agency of youth
- the unspoken interactions between the man and the boys

pres. obama's speech to kids - video


Words and thoughts...

Just because I can, doesn't mean I have to

Just because I won't, doesn't mean I can't

Just because I can't, doesn't mean I don't want to

Just because I want to, doesn't mean I will

pres. obama's speech to kids - full text

the white house released president obama's prepared remarks that he will deliver to schoolchildren on tuesday.

at first blush, this is very much on the order of obama's campaign speeches or more recent statements about education, in which he urges a collective sense of individual responsibility, and strives to ignite fires of innovation in his listeners. but there are some important distinctions that stand out, like the reference to specific pop culture artifacts and texts, perhaps to resonate with his intended audience:
e.g., "I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox."
"Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class."

and he weaves his own narrative through this address, not to deliver an unexamined "bootstraps" message, but rather to illuminate the ways in which his individual determination and educational success was mediated and informed by the communities through which he traversed. the personal narrative is a tale of many cities...

i hope teachers and families not only share this speech with school-age children in their charge, but they engage with it critically. perhaps they'll wordle it, like @librarybeth has done here. or maybe they'll hold a debate to argue against or for some of the subtler points embedded throughout. i hope we engage with that which we find unfamiliar, if for no other reason than to be able to identify what it is that bothers us. but perhaps in that journey, we find things that we can agree on and we move forward. together.



making sense of public reaction to (the not yet aired) president obama's speech to kids about education

neal mccluskey, of the cato institute, explains what some parents find objectionable about the speech president obama is scheduled to deliver this coming week. the focus of the proposed address: the importance of education and staying in school. mccluskey notes that some parents are worried that this speech will espouse 'socialist' ideas, and more specifically that the curriculum guides provided by the dept. of education - intended to scaffold discussion following the president's speech - may encourage "national service and things like that..." when asked whether, if the speech turns out to be on the order of a 'pep talk,' mccluskey may soften his view toward the speech, mccluskey responds by posing the question: 'do parents have legitmate concerns that their kids will be exposed to?'

now, i've tried - against my initial reaction of disbelief - to understand the concern and grassroots-like antagonism that has spread and is being reported across news outlets in response to this scheduled speech. but i keep returning to a gnawing feeling that what may really be at the heart of this response - beyond the knee-jerk and politically motivated reactions - has to do with the meaning and purpose of education. this is not new nor earth-shattering, but brings to the surface the disdain towards an approach to schooling (and perhaps education, more broadly) that transcends the scripted teaching and learning opportunities that many adults are familiar with from their schooling experiences. the invitation that will purportedly be extended to children to consider their own role in their education - as connected to the wider global realities of employment demands of jobs that don't yet exist and innovations yet to be imagined - does not strike me as quite the tinderbox some folks are making it out to be.

still, mccluskey's response - primarily aimed at the curriculum guides - seems less obtuse in light of the conservative pundits and elected officials featured in the following clip:

and then there's the clip that includes this curious quote:
"obama shouldn't force anybody to make decisions...for themselves. that's the right of the individual."

some argue that this is about parents' rights to protect their children and to know about what children will be exposed to in school. but is that what this 'controversy' is really about?