Saturday, July 10, 2010

FYI, this will be my last post here

I've moved my web activity to my new website, making edible playdough is hegemonic. Please update your bookmarks!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jon Stewart on "should Muslims be allowed to build their mosques in the neighborhoods of their choosing?"

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Sometimes Jon Stewart is just so on.

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turns out Gallagher has become an evil clown.

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The Seattle newspaper The Stranger is a free alternative newsweekly, so I suppose that explains the strident anti-conservative tone of a recent piece about the aging comic Gallagher.

The primary target of this piece is Gallagher himself; the author describes Gallagher as "a paranoid, delusional, right-wing religious maniac," then offers up some pretty convincing evidence:
Gallagher is upset about a lot of things. Young people with their sagging pants (in faintly coded racist terms, he explains that this is why the jails are overcrowded—because "their" baggy pants make it too hard for "them" to run from the cops). Tattoos: "That ink goes through to your soul—if you read your Bible, your body is a sacred temple, YOU DIPSHIT." People naming their girl-children Sam and Toni instead of acceptable names like Evelyn and Betty: "Just give her some little lesbian tendencies!" Guantánamo Bay: "We weren't even allowed to torture all the way. We had to half-torture—that's nothin' compared to what Saddam and his two sons OOFAY and GOOFAY did." Lesbians: "There's two types—the ugly ones and the pretty ones." (Um, like all people?) Obama again: "If Obama was really black, he'd act like a black guy and get a white wife." Michael Vick: "Poor Michael Vick." Women's lib: "These women told you they wanna be equal—they DON'T." Trans people: "People like Cher's daughter—figure that out. She wants a penis, but she has a big belly. If you can't see your dick, you don't get one." The Rice Krispies elves: "All three of those guys are gay. Look at 'em!" The Mexicans: "Look around—see any Mexicans? Nope. They'll be here later for the cleanup." The French: "They ruin our language with their faggy words.

Holy crap. With hate speech like that, Gallagher deserves as much disgusted critique as writer Lindy West can dish out. But she doesn't stop there; the audience, she explains, are "rabid, frothing conservative dickwads" who lap up Gallagher's racist, xenophobic rant. Okay, so the question becomes: Is West responding in kind? Is she unloading hate speech on the group she dislikes in a similar way to Gallagher's anti-gay, anti-liberal "act"?

First, I want to make clear that while all hate speech is abominable, hate speech that targets marginalized groups is more abominable than hate speech that targets dominant groups. Why? Because of power and inertia. Marginalized groups--the LGBTQ community, for example--in lots of ways exist at the mercy of dominant groups--in this case, the heteronormative community. "Should we give them the right to marry?" "Should we pass laws to protect them against anti-gay violence?" "Should we let them claim each other on their tax returns?" It's taken for granted that American society needs to decide what rights to "grant" gays. The alternative would be to assume that the LGBTQ community already has the same rights as everyone else, and laws that violate those rights need to be struck down.

Power. Inertia.

So calling a language "faggy," advocating "girly" names to avoid giving daughters "lesbian tendencies," finishing up an act by, as West describes it, smashing a plate of fruit cocktail and an Asian vegetable mix and announcing "This is the China people and queers!!!"--way more abominable than calling Gallagher's appreciative audience "rabid, frothing conservative dickwads." It's an audience, as Gallagher himself points out, filled with white people, and the risk of getting beaten, killed, or legislated against for being a conservative white person is fairly low relative to the risk that goes along with being gay, African American, Mexican, or any of the other ethnic and cultural minorities against whom Gallagher is stirring up the pot of hatred.

Which makes West's response understandable but still not quite okay. I say this as someone who absolutely adored this article, who is aghast that hate speech like this attracts any audience whatsoever, and who has the same impulse to rage against anyone who would even chuckle at Gallagher's diatribe (which, by the way, doesn't even seem particularly funny).

Anyway, you should read the whole article, which is fairly short and extremely well crafted, then let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

message to twitter community: be cool, you guys.

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I've noticed an increase in meanness and vituperation lately among the people I follow on twitter. I'm not completely sure why this is--certainly it's due in part to the steady increase in the number of people I follow, but I also suspect the tenor of twitter has changed as it has increased in general popularity and ease of use.

The behavior I'm talking about breaks down into two loose categories:

Personal attacks. Twitter is not a tool that affords deep, substantive conversation, but it turns out 140 characters is just about the perfect length for slinging fallacies back and forth. And people leverage this affordance to build up a catalog of fallacies that would have made your high school logic teacher proud:
  • ad hominems ("stop being such a dickhead, @twitteruser. anyone who paid attention past 3rd grade knows Glenn Beck is a p.o.s.")
  • poisoning the well ("where's the intelligent debate about affirmative action? God knows we can't ask the feminists to weigh in--all they do is bitch.")
  • spotlight fallacy ("gay people seem incapable of arguing for gay marriage without eventually getting hysterical & irrational.")
  • hasty generalizations ("law students are more ignorant about the law than any group I know." )
Bigotry. I don't know exactly why people feel comfortable making disgusting generalizations about entire groups of people on twitter. I just know it happens an awful lot. Most typically it appears to come from members of some dominant group complaining about ethnic, political, or cultural minorities (though I'm also willing to consider the possibility that I only think this is true because it pisses me off so much more than when it comes from someone who's part of a minority group).

I'm tired of it. I want twitter to be the space of coolness that it used to be for me. This is not, though certain lawyers may disagree, a desire for a "happysphere"; this is a desire to surround myself with the most civil discourse possible, in the highest possible number of communities I frequent.

Srsly: be cool, you guys. Try being exactly as nice on twitter as you would be in person. That way, when the twitter community makes decisions about which users to follow, they can decide what level of kindness or pettiness they're willing to put up with, on twitter just as in real life.

Being both a witness to and target of meanness and pettiness has made me reflect on my own behavior, too. I will grant that I have been known to vituperate, from time to time, on twitter and in other social networking spaces (primarily in the form of so-called "vaguebooking"). I'm sorry, and I'm going to try to do better, so that you can fill up your life with as much intelligent, civil discourse as you want to fill it with. I ask that you do the same for me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

the sleeping alone review of films: Surrogates (2009)

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summary: I liked it better when it was District 9; I, Robot; and the middle third of The Matrix. And I didn't really like District 9 or I, Robot all that much.

The 2009 film Surrogates wonders what might happen if we started letting technology do the living for us. It creates a world in which war is treated as a video game, physical characteristics are treated as malleable, and real-life human interaction is treated as an oddity.

Boy, that sure would be a terrifying existence, wouldn't it? I can't even imagine what it would be like to live in that world.


Surrogates stars Bruce Willis as The Good Cop Wracked With Guilt Over the Death of His Son. He mentions his son's death about 20 different times over the course of the movie, and also, judging by the surprised reaction of his partner at the first mention, has never once mentioned his son's death before the start of the film. It also turns out that the invention of surrogates (which are basically what you think they are, so I won't bother explaining) could have prevented his son's death, so you can think of him as a sort of monosyllabic Dr. McCoy.

There's a conspiracy. The surrogates aren't all they're cracked up to be. And not everyone who seems like a good guy ends up acting like a good guy.

Why, oh why, do we have to put up with only one really original action flick every year or two? I don't know if I'm just getting cranky in my old age, but it seems like forever since I've seen a mainstream action film that really blew me away. I did really enjoy Live Free or Die Hard (2007), also starring a rode-hard-and-put-away-wet Bruce Willis; I thought War of the Worlds (2005) was pretty neat, loaded as it was with the dynamic combo of killer special effects and an emotionally harrowing plot. But it's been a dry run since then. I haven't seen Iron Man 2 yet. Christopher Nolan's Inception, due out mid-July, looks pretty good. But if I had a dollar for every movie I waited for with joyous expectation, only to leave the theater feeling swindled, I'd be a rich, rich man.

Surrogates (2009) stars Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, and Boris Kodjoe, with appearances by James Cromwell and Ving Rhames. It's rated PG-13 and contains some violence, mild profanity, and a brand of when-I-was-your-age nostalgia that nobody under 13 should be forced to endure.

twinning injustice, one social structure at a time

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My sister, who just finished absolutely destroying her first year of law school, recently announced an interest in pursuing criminal prosecution. Once I overcame my instant misreading of her announcement (don't blame me; I'm not a morning person), I figured out pretty quickly that my twin sister and I are pursuing vocations that spring from the same moral impulse. To wit: I must serve and defend people who have suffered or will suffer at the hands of others.

It's just the name--prosecution--that throws us off, makes us think prosecutors are out to punish the bad guys. In certain respects, of course, that's exactly what prosecutors do--that's exactly the power we confer to them. But the public interest in punishing the bad guys is an outgrowth of a deeper public impulse: To maintain the social order, to protect our citizens from injustice and victimization, to fight for the good guys.

Protecting people from injustice and victimization. Fighting for the good guys. That's pretty much what I like to think I'm doing, too, by working in the service of working class kids and kids who are deeply undervalued and underserved by a system that is not designed to help them. I work in defense of those kids. And another way to frame that work is to say that I am a public prosecutor, building a case against a system that's criminally unjust, criminally cruel.

But here's where I think Laura and I part company: I believe we need to demolish the social order. I believe that the public education system is deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed, especially for poor kids and minorities, and I believe we need to work to tear it down. That's the wheel I'm throwing my shoulder against.

Though we haven't explicitly talked about this, I'm pretty sure my sister believes the criminal justice system is similarly deeply, deeply flawed (see here, here, here, and here)--but it seems to me that her stance is something like "this is the best system we have right now, the only system we have, so we need to use it to protect the innocents and the victims."

I'm all, fuck the Man and the horse he rode in on! And my sister's all, yyyeah that's nice but lookit all these victims who need protecting and defense right now. And I'm all, Yes! And let's muster up an army made up of those victims and march with them right to the gates of hell if that's what it takes! And my sister's all, um, okayyy but this woman was raped and that guy's son was murdered and this woman was stabbed by her partner and what if we put aside the anger and try to take care of the people who need us right now?

Details, details, right? Laura and I agree that the world is all effed up, and we agree that we are therefore bound to the work of un-effing up things. The rest is just planning.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

when the internet implants childhood memories

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Here's my beautiful niece Morgan playing in her grandma's backyard:

I spend an awful lot of time wondering what it's going to be like for Morgan, growing up surrounded by a digital footprint that already includes more photos and videos of her than her mother and aunts had of their entire childhood. They say that our brains aren't very good at knowing the difference between something that happened "in real life" and something that happened "in media." I have some childhood "memories" that I know were implanted through family stories; but knowing I don't actually remember these events doesn't make the memories any less vivid.

And those memories--'authentically' remembered or not--make up the fabric of my identity, so that it doesn't matter how the memories got there. I imagine the same will be true of Morgan, except to an exponentially greater extent, since huge chunks of her life will be indelibly imprinted on that greatest of collective memory tools, the internet.

Lord knows how differently she and other members of her generation will remember their childhood. For anyone over 30, the terrain of childhood feels fleeting, tough to pin down, and dependent on the memories of people who loved you and paid careful attention to what you were doing. For lots of people under 30, the memory of childhood will no longer be so intergenerationally woven. It will exist independent of family, friends, and collaborators in experience. It will even exist from a neutral, third-person perspective: the perspective of a detached observer (the camera) capturing a scene. When our memories feel like movies, when we feel like we're watching ourselves experience something instead of being inside of the experience ourselves, how does that change how we see ourselves within the world?

I'm not necessarily worried; I'm just wondering.

People tell me to stop wondering about these sorts of things. A lot of the people who tell me this are parents of young children, and this probably means that my biggest mistake is in bringing this issue up all the time to people who just want to post videos of their kids to YouTube. And I'll admit that I don't want my sister to stop capturing my niece's every milestone. Another phenomenon of the 21st century is increased mobility paired up with increasingly cheap and ubiquitous tools to keep in touch with the people whose lives have touched ours.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

entering graduate school, quitting utopia

I just spent several hours revising my curriculum vitae, which I can't imagine is very interesting to you. I do want to share with you my revised research statement. When I looked at the statement I wrote about 10 months ago, I found it embarrassingly utopian and a little bit silly. Also, it didn't really say anything.

Here's that version of my research statement:
My interests lie at the intersection of media studies and education. I'm fascinated by the promises inherent in the emergence of new valued participatory practices and cultures, and specifically on the potential of these to transform how we think about and approach teaching and learning. I'm also deeply obsessed with the Free/Open Source Software Movement, the movement toward open education, and what I've started to refer to as the social revolution: A deep, cultural shift in values and practices that enables us to rethink issues of social justice and the ethics of participation.

Ridiculous, right?

Here's the new version:
Research as activism: All educational research is social activism, and all educational researchers are social activists. There is no such thing as politically neutral educational research. All statements of research findings are statements of a belief system about the role of education, and all researchers must therefore conduct research that both aligns with and serves to articulate that belief system. Further, all researchers must make their belief system clear, to themselves, to the communities they work for, and to policymakers who make decisions about those communities. They must always ensure that their belief system aligns with the needs and interests of the communities they work for, and if there is a conflict then the community's interests always trump the belief system of its researchers. If the ethical conflict is irreconcilable, then the researcher must find another community to serve.

The community I serve: I work in the service of working class learners, on whose backs our education system has been built. While ongoing efforts toward “educational equity” sprung from honest and honorable impulses, the dominant conversation about equity promotes ideals that too often fail to serve the needs of working class kids. It’s also premised on a lie: That anyone who works hard enough can escape even the most desperate of economic conditions. We might call this the “bootstrapping myth.” If it really was true that anyone who works hard enough (i.e., anyone who pulls herself up by her own bootstraps) can achieve academic and therefore economic success, then it would also be true that everyone could, in theory, achieve academic and economic success. But if this were true, we would no longer have a working class, would no longer have people to work in the service industry or take jobs in manual labor. Our economy cannot operate without a working class; if working class kids started matching the grades and test scores of the middle and upper class kids, we’d simply adjust accordingly.

I accept but do not embrace this reality, and I therefore want to work in the service of learning communities for whom mainstream markers of academic success are either unrealistic or inapplicable. I wonder: How can we make a college education a possibility for every student while also preparing every student for trajectories that may not include a college degree? How can we empower working class learners to confront the Great Lie of the bootstrapping myth, and how can we help them to make informed, meaningful, and satisfying decisions about their educations, their careers, and their lives? How can we educate working class kids in their own best interests?

My research focus: I agree wholeheartedly with the assertion by Schwartz & Arena (2009) that assessment is a normative endeavor. What we decide to assess, and the strategies we employ in order to assess it, become our belief systems about the nature of learning and about what is worth teaching. I’m interested in developing alternative assessment systems and frameworks that can make explicit an educational approach that empowers, values, and supports working class kids. Currently, my focus is on developing assessments that support learning gains on traditional educational benchmarks while also making it possible to make claims about students’ preparation for future learning contexts and about their proficiencies in areas not measured by traditional assessments.
Now we're cooking with gas!

I guess now that I've revised my research statement,  all I need to do is wait for a Reputable Research Institution to call me for advice and pay me for my thoughts. I'll just be over here waiting for my phone to ring.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

paintball sonnet

You realize right away that if it didn’t hurt we wouldn’t call it fun.
“Fun”: horseshoed knots skimming slim skin, the harder your muscles
the tighter, the brighter the bruise. Cartoon pops
paint like blood bombs but tastes like those silicon beads that come
in vitamins that you’re not supposed to eat. All for the chance to _________.

So much sweat your facemask fogs on its smooth trip down your face.
I shot my boss right in the nuts: that was fun. Sort of. I felt kind of bad.
All for a reason to say now do you get why boys go to war? If it didn’t hurt
we wouldn’t call it fun but if they didn’t give us facemasks and rules and referees
we also wouldn’t call it fun: We’d call it that horrible game. Anyway. I got hit square
in the breast and it hurt. I awoke the next day with a headache for the ages.
That part about the paint’s taste? I made it up: I really don’t remember.
Advil cut the headache some.
I took pictures of my bruises and sent them to my friends.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

you don't need to be that tough

Here's a commercial that ran in Norway. The text at the end reads:

You don't need to be that tough.
Helpline for gay youth / We guarantee we'll answer.

In my opinion, this commercial, which the creator has said was developed as part of an advertising competition, sort of fails. Its target audience, gay youth, are supposed to feel affinity with that kid, right? But though the commercial attempts to convince us otherwise, the kid's behavior isn't brave--it's kinda stupid. First of all, whether the other boy is straight or not, he's clearly into the girl sitting next to him. Even if this is the Most Progressive School Dance in the History of Western Culture, asking someone to dance when he's clearly into someone else is just begging for public rejection. And given the purpose of the commercial, we can assume this isn't the Most Progressive School Dance in the History of Western Culture--it's the kind of school dance we're all familiar with, the kind at which asking someone of the same gender to dance is an act of extreme bravery, even if that kid isn't already sitting with someone else.

And what makes this an act of extreme bravery? Well, the fact that it's insanely risky to publicly present yourself as gay. And what makes it risky? The fact that, according to this commercial at least, straight kids are not to be trusted--they're dangerous. And coming out to the straight kids is the stupid kind of bravery, at least according to this commercial.

So the messages of this commercial include:
  • If you're a gay adolescent, coming out to your classmates is extremely brave but kind of stupid and also unnecessary.
  • If you're a gay adolescent struggling with coming out, it's better to talk about it privately with people who promise they won't reject you than it is to talk about it openly with your (straight) classmates, who will probably reject you.
  • If you're a gay adolescent, the straight kids you go to school with are dangerous for you.
  • Coming out is brave but also dangerous, and before you do something stupid you should talk to us about how to do it right.
  • If you're a gay adolescent, your impulses about how to perform your orientation are probably wrong, and we can tell you how to perform your sexual orientation appropriately.
Imagine you're a 12-year-old boy struggling with coming out. You see this commercial where a boy with whom you're supposed to identify not only behaves really stupidly but then also gets his actions judged by the very people who say they want to help him. "You don't have to be that tough"--translation: Call us--we can tell you the right way to come out.

Queer kids deal with enough judgment from their families, their friends, their classmates, their culture--they don't need more people telling them how they should behave, and they certainly don't need a support agency for gay youth telling them whether they're behaving appropriately.

Friday, June 18, 2010

MIT quits open-source Kuali project

What happened: Recently, MIT announced it would discontinue partnership with the Kuali foundation on an open-source project called Kuali Student. This came, according to an official press release, after extensive discussions with board members and people and groups directly involved in developing this student-administration software.

What the press release didn't say is why MIT made this decision. It seems likely that the decision was financial. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, MIT is the second higher education institution in the last several months to pull out of Kuali Student; Florida State University withdrew in February due to budget cuts.

Why it matters: MIT has been a strong and vocal supporter of openness in higher education and research. During my employ at the Institute, administrators officially adopted an open access policy which was designed to support the widest possible circulation of ideas, projects, and research generated by MIT-affiliated researchers. MIT has embraced the open education movement, investing copious time, energy, and dollars into its OpenCourseWare project.

If MIT's decision to withdraw from Kuali Student is primarily a cost-cutting measure--and again, we don't know for sure if this is the rationale--this does not bode well for open education. It's all too easy to treat the idea of openness as a luxury worth pursuing during times of plenty and simple to abandon during times of famine. But the openness movement, in all its iterations (software, hardware, education, access, and so on), is not a luxury. It's a necessity. Transparency problems are part of what got us into this mess in the first place, especially in higher education where access to high-quality learning is still sequestered off behind a series of wrought-iron gates that cost too much--too much time, too much money, too much sacrifice--for many of our learners to be willing or able to gain entry.

We are no longer in an era where we can afford to make powerful, empowering education available only to the few. Indeed, one can easily argue that it's not openness but opacity that is the luxury.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

omg I just talked to Howard Rheingold

You can keep your Robert Pattinsons and Miley Cyruses and whichever other beautiful prepubescent sexy people you young people idolize these days. My idols are people like these folks:

That guy in the lower lefthand corner is Howard Rheingold, who is by just about all accounts one of the kindest, happiest, most curious, most fascinating, most colorful, and most thought-provoking media theorists around. (If you want proof, take a look at this little gem of his writing.)

Because Howard is kind and supportive of other aspiring intellectuals, I've had email conversations and twitter conversations and blog conversations with Howard. There's this interesting feature of the new technologies that swell around us, see: They efface the distance--perceived and real--between our idols and our selves. If you're patient enough and quick enough, you can use these new technologies to climb right up on the pedestals your heroes are standing on and tap them on the shoulder.

And today in a webchat I got to talk to Howard--with my voice--about crap detection, participatory culture, and pedagogy. It. Was. Awesome.

It may soon enough be the case that the structures and norms that allowed us to toss up celebrities and intellectuals as cultural heroes--well, it may soon enough be the case that those structures crumble, leaving our heroes in the rubble at our feet. I'm young enough to hope it'll happen in my lifetime but old enough that I may not be able to fully shake the notion of the celebrity as icon. After all, I grew up alongside this:

And yes, I know that a huge chunk of Americans have never even heard of Howard Rheingold (or Lisa Delpit or Paulo Freire or Jim Gee or Henry Jenkins or Yasmin Kafai) and that these people don't count as 'celebrities,' as least not in the "zomg the paparazzi are everywhere" sense. I don't care. As Intel explains, our rock stars aren't like your rock stars.

how I kicked the email monkey off my back

I receive about 100 emails a day, which from what I can tell is typical for youngish, tech-based professionals like me. Also typical is my struggle to manage my email inbox. Like a lot of people, I spent more time wringing my hands over how full my inbox was or studiously avoiding dealing with my email or doing email-filter acrobatics than I did actually responding to email.

No longer, I tell you! My PLN has come through for me once again!

After a long weekend away from my email, my higher-than-average email stress levels led me to call out in anguish for help:

I got lots of helpful advice, but the most helpful of all came from my Twitter pal Matt Thomas, who directed me to Gina Trapani's solution: Control your email inbox with three folders.

I spent a few hours yesterday implementing this solution, with one important result: I got my inbox down to zero for the first time in literally years. As anyone in similar straits can imagine, the sight of an empty inbox left me feeling gloriously unburdened and a little giddy.

Who knows if it'll last? But just in case it does--and just in case Trapani's strategy can help someone else deal with inbox overload--I'm passing the news along.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

how Jim Gee and I soothe our guilty consciences

In the video below of a presentation to the Education Writers Association 2010 Annual Conference, Jim Gee says this about how to introduce innovative ideas into education:
There's a choice of strategies here.... One strategy is: Let's take our innovations to the center of the school system and spread them as fast and quickly as we can. People believe that this current school system as it is will just co-opt those innovations and make them ... just better ways to do the old thing. Another strategy is: Let's make these innovative learning and assessment tools and put them at the margins, in places that will tolerate innovation, and then show it works. Now if you think about it, in technology outside of schools, going to the margins first and then to the center--that's always been the way innovation happens. The only place we've ever tried to keep putting the new thing right in the center at once is in schooling, and it's never worked. What i would love to see is that we hive of some of the (Race to the Top) money for a national center that would trial these new assessments, show they work in places that tolerate innovation, and then spread them there, just the way you would want if we have to keep coal and oil--let's at least have something trying out new forms of energy, so that we're ready for these markets but also we can prove they work. if we don't do that, we're just gonna get a better mousetrap.

I absolutely agree with the sentiments in the quote above, except for the BP oil spill. Let's say there's some innovative energy research going on in the margins, ready to prove it works and to take over where coal and oil left off. That's fantastic, and it doesn't do a single goddamned thing to help the birds, the fish, the sea mammals, the tourist industry, the ecosystem, the fisheries, and the human residents of the Gulf Coast. Those are simply casualties, not a single thing we can do to help them now no matter what awesome innovative fuel source we finally embrace, no matter how much more quickly we may embrace a cleaner fuel source as a result. Even if tomorrow's birds are safe from Big Oil, today's birds are drowning right in front of us.

Working at the margins of education is a fantastic way to innovate and offer useful evidence that innovations work. I fully support this approach--but not at the expense of the kids who exist at the center of our education system today. Yes, the school system can and does and maybe always will co-opt any innovation we try to introduce. But that doesn't excuse us from trying anyway. That doesn't give us license to give up on today's children, even if it keeps tomorrow's children safe.

And of course this isn't what Jim Gee wants to do, anyway. But the Jim Gees of the world who urge us to work at the margin live in symbiosis with the Jenna McWilliamses of the world who believe we must also work from the center, where--ironically--the most marginalized kids in education commonly reside. I can't innovate as much as I'd like from the center, maybe I can't help tomorrow's marginalized kids as much as I'd like either.  And Jim Gee can't help today's marginalized kids as much as he'd probably like from the edges. So we need each other, if for nothing else than to assuage our guilty consciences for being unable to do more of what we know must be done.

I should probably also note that Jim Gee is one of my absolute all-time heroes, so I hope he's not mad at me for this post.

This video also stars Daniel Schwartz, who I believe is one of the smartest guys thinking about assessment and learning these days. I had the great luck to attend an assessment working group with him and a big crew of assessment-focused researchers, and I was amazed and blown away by just about everything he said.

In a recent publication, Choice-Based Assessments in a Digital Age (.pdf), Schwartz and his co-author Dylan Arena make this argument:

Educational assessment is a normative endeavor: The ideal assessment both reflects and reinforces educational goals that society deems valuable. A fundamental goal of education is to prepare students to act independently in the world—which is to say, to make good choices. It follows that an ideal assessment would measure how well we are preparing students to do so.

I can't remember when I've agreed more emphatically with the introductory sentence of a scholarly article about education.

Here's the video, which is well worth a watch.

things I'm trying to do this summer

  • Cut down on my caffeine consumption
  • Wash my dishes before bed each night
  • Step away from my digital communication devices from time to time
  • Read more novels

I believe that it practically doesn't matter what changes you decide to make, as long as they help you become more reflective about how you live your life. I'm not a spiritual person, which is to say that I don't have religion and don't feel a need to get some, but I do believe in the holiness of the moving body. I do believe that moments of total presence in one's life are rare and sacred and therefore are to be pursued with all one's might.

So little things--not letting dirty dishes stack up, reminding myself how to sit still and silent, re-learning the natural rhythms of my body and brain--can be tools in the pursuit of those sacred moments.

Friday, June 4, 2010

a poem by Khaled Mattawa

Khaled Mattawa

The trick is that you're willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you're doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you're providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they've come too late.
The trick is that you're willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say "too much,"
give them a plan.

And when they say "anger" or "rage" or "love,"
say "give me an example."

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don't care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.

Read this poem at

Thursday, June 3, 2010

on learning how to STFU

I argue with people. A lot. Sometimes I raise my voice and shake my fists while I'm arguing. I say inflammatory things and I swear a lot. Often, I'm told, I seem very, very angry while I'm arguing. This is usually because I am very, very angry.

I get mad because there's a lot to get mad about. I argue because certain issues matter to me. And I say inflammatory things sometimes because I'm impulsive, and I'm impulsive because the things that make me mad pop up spontaneously and unexpectedly. If you're not mad, after all, then maybe you haven't been paying attention.

I'm also a woman, by the way, and one who was successfully inculcated into a cultural belief system that prefers its women to STFU. Good job, patriarchy: You did your job well. I want people to like me. I don't like making waves. And I hate making people mad.

But I'm also doing my damnedest to kill that part of me that wants to be seen as cute and polite and deferential and modest. I've written before about the challenges of choosing this path; over in that blog post, I wrote this:

If you're a woman and you want to be heard, especially in academia, you have to knock on every door, announce your presence to everyone, and holler your qualifications at everyone in earshot. And if you do it right, people will hate you.

I've been thinking recently about the extent to which "doing it right" leads to silencing of other people or groups of people. I'm such an enormous loudmouth that I suspect that, for example, my presence in an argument means other women in the room are less likely to be heard. When I speak to my experience of prejudice or oppression, I always run the risk of silencing someone whose experience is different from mine. I understand oppression from the perspective of a queer woman, but as a white, thin, able-bodied queer woman I often speak from within the tower of privilege that comes with these features.

So how do I balance my desire to kill the deference I was enculturated to embrace while still knowing when and how to STFU and let others speak?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This I Believe: informed citizenship and informed citizenry

Here's an inalienable right for you: the right to informed citizenship.

Citizenship, the informed kind, has two distinct angles to it. The first is the personal: We, all of us, have an absolutely inalienable right to the information that allows us to act in a civic and socially responsible way, and Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The second is the social: We, all of us, have an absolutely inalienable right to live in a society populated by informed citizens. We have a right to live among an informed citizenry, and any policy, law, or practice that restricts this right exists in opposition to a free and functional democracy.

In America, we embrace the right to informed citizenship; or, more accurately, we shout our support of informed citizenship up to the very rafters. Then we give Big Business a million incendiary devices to burn down that house.

There are explosives, like the recent SCOTUS decision knocking down campaign finance laws and giving corporate lobbyists unfettered access to our legislative and executive branches (and, by extension, the judicial branch as well).

Then there's the kindling, the petrol, the oxygen that keeps the fire blazing. Among the most powerful of these is the news paywall, which sequesters off information to which citizens have an absolute right. In theory, paywalls are no different from their precursors, subscription fees and newsstand prices. But two things have changed--our model of citizenship, and our access to circulated information--since those pre-internet days.

For example: In 1990-1991, during the first Gulf War, news was circulated fairly evenly across multiple platforms. An American who didn't want to pay for a newspaper could still gather information through television and radio. She could walk into a library and read the news for free. Certainly this wasn't a utopian ideal of a free press on every street corner, but the news that enabled a citizen to act was available through multiple outlets.

Today, the speed and reach of internet news sources make them by far the dominant news circulation platform. Indeed, the speed and reach of internet news are part of why a new model of citizenship is emerging. If there was ever a time when it was possible to measure civic engagement by looking at voter turnout on Election Day, that time is long past. Today's civically engaged citizen is the one who is aware of Facebook's abominable approach to privacy and has made decisions about how (or whether) to use Facebook as a result of this knowledge. Today's informed citizen may not know how many electoral votes are needed for a candidate to win the presidency, but she knows how to find that information when necessary. She votes on Election Day, sure, but she also votes with her feet and her eyeballs and her fingertips, constantly making informed decisions about how to parcel out her energy and time, when to dance along with corporate and political influences and when to resist, when to leave the dance floor entirely.

Paywalls make it harder for an informed citizen to stay informed, which in turn restricts my right to live among an informed citizenry. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the news that sticks is the news that spreads--via blogs, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and news aggregating sites like Boingboing. News that's stuck behind a paywall is news that can't spread and is therefore news that dies.

And that's not all: I believe that news paywalls are likely to have long-term effects on citizenship, as well, since I agree with James Seddon's point in his recent Wired article that young people who grow up without unfettered access to local news are likely to grow up without a sense of social and civic connection to their communities.

I recognize that the current business model for print journalism isn't working. I recognize that newspapers need to do something if they want to try to save their jobs. But in America, the eight-year reign of Baby Bush notwithstanding, we don't let business interests trump fundamental human rights.

I'm rooting for newspapers, I really am. I hope they survive this challenge. But news paywalls are in direct opposition to our fundamental right to informed citizenship, and my message to the print media folks is this: Find another way.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pink, "Funhouse"

This is Pink's video for her 2008 song "Funhouse," from her studio album of the same name. Apparently, this album's original title was "Heartbreak is a Motherfucker," which would have made me so happy if it had stuck.

This is such an awesome video that it makes me want to light things on fire. I can't help but point out my two favorite moments, both facial expressions, at  :43 and 2:40.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Aurora Alternative High School's final commencement ceremony

Tonight will mark the final commencement ceremony for Aurora Alternative High School, a public school in Bloomington, IN, that has served its community well for 15 years.

The Bloomington Herald-Times ran a nice article about Aurora this morning. I'm pasting it below instead of linking you to it because the Herald-Times requires paid subscription to access its online content.


Seniors say tearful goodbye to Aurora
School's last class graduates tonight

331-4215 |
May 28, 2010
Expect more tears than usual, for more reasons, at tonight’s Aurora Alternative High School graduation ceremony.

Lindsay Smith, who will deliver the welcoming remarks for today’s 7 p.m. ceremony at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, referred during Thursday morning’s rehearsal to the term “commencement” meaning a beginning rather than an ending.

But everybody attending tonight will know Aurora is ending.

The Monroe County Community School Corp. will run its alternative education program out of Broadview Learning Center this fall, under a new name, with plans for Aurora’s current facility at 524 N. Fairview St. not yet finalized.

“It’s a shame it’s ending,” Aurora senior Austin Clayton said after the rehearsal. “I think it’s good that the new program will be at Broadview instead of North (as originally planned). Something is better than nothing.

“But it won’t be Aurora.”

It’s difficult to adequately convey the depth of appreciation for the school felt by the Aurora students interviewed Thursday, whose words came with clear conviction, and who talked literally of lives saved.

“When you got a chance to experience this school,” Clayton said, “you ended up feeling deeply about it.

“It’s disheartening to know it’s going to be shut down, but it did a whole lot of good for 15 years. I feel it literally saved lives. I was in bad shape when I got to Aurora.”

Annie Hackett, who intends to study photography at Indiana University this fall, said, “Aurora saved a lot of kids, from themselves and from outside forces. Without that sense of support and family, a lot of kids will go astray — and when we didn’t get it elsewhere, we got it at Aurora.

“I’m incredibly disappointed they’re shutting it down.”

That’s a clear consensus among Aurora’s 2010 graduates who, reportedly, already had some good cries during the school’s senior luncheon Wednesday.

Hackett noted Aurora’s staff is feeling it, too. “Commencement will be very emotional, and not just for the students,” she said. Aurora teacher Becky Rupert joined principal Chuck Holloway in helping guide students through Thursday’s rehearsal and said, afterward, “This graduation ceremony will be especially poignant, obviously, and it’ll stick with us. I’ve been through a lot of commencements, but I’m sure this will be the one I remember first and foremost.”

Mallie Stevens’ daughter Sophia, 3, might be just old enough to remember what it was like walking hand-in-hand with her mother as Aurora’s seniors practiced their processional Thursday. Stevens, a 2010 “Comeback Kid” honoree by the Northside Exchange Club of Bloomington, was pregnant with Sophia when she arrived at Aurora and gave birth to a second daughter, Mariah, two months ago. But she is ready to graduate and to study nursing at Ivy Tech.

“I never, ever dreamed I could make it this far, but Aurora made it possible for me,” Stevens said. “Graduation will be very emotional for everybody, but there will be pride, too, being part of this final class for this amazing school. ”

And, as Kiah Jacobs pointed out, he and his colleagues will carry Aurora on in their hearts.

“Everything comes to an end, even good things,” Jacobs said. “But it isn’t over for Aurora, really. It will continue within all of us, and positive ramifications from it will continue in the community for years. As Chuck has said, Aurora isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind.

“It lives.”

Aurora Alternative High School

2010 Commencement Ceremony

WHEN: 7 tonight

WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater

Number of graduates: 25, eight of whom will speak at the ceremony.

Aurora Class of 2010

William Earl Baker, Brentney Campbell, Austin Clayton, Michael A. Colussi, Steven L. Cunningham, Cody Fleener, Sarah Marie Godsey, Annie Rose Hackett, Aaron Mark Hardy Hansen, Mackenzie Janáe Harding, Tristani NaShay Hawkins, Kiah Jacobs, Tarra Raye Mayle, Cheyenne Kylie McCune, Ben P. Odongo, Haley Lynn Ramsey, Aaron Michael Rivera, Kelby Lee Roberts, Sam Malcom Schroeder, J. Micheal Sullivan, Nich Kane Watkins, Jacob M. Wicker, Mallie Carmen Williams-Stevens, Natalie Marie Wineinger, Kasie Zaayer.

a call for businesses to boycott the Bloomington Herald-Times

Tonight will mark the last commencement ceremony for Aurora Alternative High School, whose doors will shut at the end of this school year after 15 years of serving the Bloomington, IN, community.

The Bloomington Herald-Times ran a nice short article about Aurora this morning, which I'm posting in a separate post. I'm posting it here instead of directing you to the article because the Herald-Times has stuck its online content behind a paywall, a decision I oppose deeply. The paywall seems even more wrongheaded and socially irresponsible during times of community crisis, as in, for example, when an economic recession paired with terribly short-sighted and heinously pro-rich tax laws force local school boards to make excruciating decisions about which programs to cut.

The publisher of the Herald-Times, Mayer Maloney, has stood firmly behind the paywall decision from its inception, arguing that it guarantees advertisers' access to local readers who, because they live in the community, are far more likely to purchase the goods and services being advertised.

Let's analyze this stance. First, the paywall is not an effort to recruit local readers; it's an effort to keep non-local readers out. Which means that what happens in Bloomington stays in Bloomington, since the vast majority of readers live or work in the region.

Second, the economic value of a local newspaper is directly related to its community value, and community value is directly related to the newspaper's penetration into the community it serves. As I've mentioned before, the Herald-Times is pretty much the only game in town, which perhaps explains why Maloney feels justified in prioritizing the paper's value to advertisers over its value to community members. But eventually, I believe this approach will fail the Herald-Times. It's inevitable that one of the following will happen: Another news outlet will provide good (or good enough) local reporting that will be made freely available to all community members; or, in the absence of another quality news source, a community whose primary news source is sequestered behind a paywall will be a community to whom local news matters less and less. Maloney has said that subscription rates have been steady since the inception of the paywall, and this may be so; but it won't be so forever.

And even if business remains good at the Herald-Times, this doesn't justify the social irresponsibility of making news available only to those who are willing to pay. Especially during times of crisis--and let's not mistake this time for anything less than crisis--access to local news is essential for an engaged, politically active community.

If the Herald-Times refuses to stand down from its short-sighted position on news paywalls, then I call for local businesses to boycott the paper for the good of the community these businesses serve. If the Herald-Times will not heed the needs of its community members, then perhaps it will listen to the groups whose interests do seem to matter.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

the sleeping alone review of films: Robin Hood (2010)

summary: I liked it better when it played as Braveheart, The Patriot, Lord of the Rings, and Saving Private Ryan.

I wondered after watching the new Robin Hood if there was ever a point during filming when someone slipped up and accidentally referred to Russell Crowe's character as William Wallace instead of as Robin. It's also entirely possible that someone accidentally referred to Cate Blanchett's Marion as "Eowyn"--dye Blanchett's hair blond and you have a dead ringer for Miranda Otto's version of the handsome noblewoman-warrior of Middle Earth.

I swear to you that there were even hobbits before this film's end.

And that's not all: There was a beach-storming mission, complete with what appears to be the exact same landing craft props used in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. There were villagers locked by soldiers in a burning building: All of the smoke and fire, with none of the crisis of conscience or emotional gravity played out the first time around in The Patriot!

This version of Robin Hood is presented as a prequel, focusing on the details of the lives of Robin and his Merry Men leading up to their days as outlaws. Usually a prequel tells a different story than the one you already know, but this version of Robin Hood doesn't tell you much you didn't already learn from watching the previous 7,000 versions of the Robin Hood story. And of course, any details that are new to the Robin Hood canon are cribbed from the movies I listed above and probably a few other films that I haven't thought of yet.

The hobbits rode ponies when it was time to do battle with King John's orcs.

It does make a valiant attempt to be epic, and it does this primarily by plunking down sweeping shots of the English countryside accompanied by orchestral music. These scenes are, as you can probably imagine, completely gratuitous; they serve absolutely no purpose except perhaps as proof that, unlike the vast majority of epic films, this one was filmed in the actual region where the story takes place.

Bully for them, I guess. But as director Ridley Scott ought to know by now, authentic scenery doesn't equal an authentic story. An authentic story--an epic--is achieved through authentic details put together in a way that engages, surprises, and moves the audience. Homer knew this, which is why he had Achilles chain Hector up by the ankles and drag him in circles around the city. Tolkien knew this, which is why he had the smallest, simplest characters of his story raise themselves up to giants' height. And Peter Jackson knew how to pay homage to the epics that came before LOTR, including but not limited to Tolkien's trilogy itself, and still surprise and move us through the choices he made in adapting the story to the screen.

Ridley Scott knows something about how to tell a good story, as he showed in The Gladiator, the Alien trilogy, Alien,* and Thelma & Louise. And you might argue that these films are, at least to some extent, epics in their own right. But these films succeed on the strength of their characters, and because we care about the characters we care about their struggles against overwhelming odds. But epics generally tell a story through the characters that's larger than any single character--you might say that the primary character of the epic story is the story itself. Scott has not done as well in his attempts to tell this sort of story, as Kindom of Heaven and, now, Robin Hood attest.

I don't know: Maybe I'm quibbling here in my attempt to divide a good character-driven film from a good epic-driven film. I'm just trying to understand why a director who is as good at making films as Ridley Scott is can still come up with a film as gloriously, clunkily terrible as Robin Hood. If we can figure out what makes him fail, then we can just get together and tell him to stop making that kind of movie and keep making the kind of movie that proves his cinematic brilliance. Let Bartlet be Bartlet, I always say.

Robin Hood (2010) stars Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, and---oddly enough--Max von Sydow. It's rated PG-13 and contains some violence, mild sexual content, and a storyline so plodding that anyone under 13 is not likely to be willing to sit through the whole 2 hours and 20 minutes.

*Correction, 5/24/10, 8:40 a.m.: As Andres G. points out in the comments below this post, Ridley Scott was responsible for only the first film of the Alien trilogy.

VozMob: a neat project working in support of immigrant rights

I just got back from a work-related meeting in Arizona, and I'm therefore feeling a need to counteract my willingness to visit a state whose newly passed anti-immigration law is one of the most deeply and overtly mean-spirited, evil-minded, and willfully ignorant pieces of legislation I can imagine.

Here's a neat project I heard about while I was in Arizona: VozMob, or Voces Moviles, which I was introduced to by Ben Stokes, in comparison to whom I feel woefully inadequate. Here's the description of this effort to give voice to undocumented immigrants and day laborers, according to the VozMob website:
Voces Moviles (vozmob) es una plataforma para que trabajadores y trabajadoras inmigrantes en Los Ángeles puedan crear historias sobre sus vidas y comunidades directamente desde sus teléfonos celulares. Vozmob le ayuda a la gente lograr una participación más amplia en la esfera pública digital.

Here's a rough translation into English:
Mobile Voices (VozMob) is a platform for immigrant workers in Los Angeles to create stories about their lives and communities directly from their mobile phones. VozMob helps people achieve wider participation in the digital public sphere.

According to Ben, one of the goals of this project is to fight bigoted, anti-immigrant rhetoric of the sort exhibited by the site, whose members drive around looking for groups of immigrants, then taunt them, call them names, and otherwise antagonize them by engaging in incredibly juvenile and embarrassing behavior. When the targets of their abuse respond in anger, someone takes a picture and tosses it up online, using it as proof positive! that immigrants are rapists and murderers!

This is a beautiful project, one that appears to do real, important work in supporting immigrants' ability and willingness to name and claim their experiences.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(self-)sabotaged by my email program

file under: goddammit, everything's ruined.

I discovered yesterday that my email program's settings were misconfigured, leading to this result: A subset of the email messages I've been sending out were never received by the intended recipient. They were never received by anyone at all. Worse, the emails that I know I sent simply no longer exist anywhere in my email archives, even though I double-archive everything through multiple email accounts.

I don't know how to even begin to deal with this mess.

Because god knows how these dropped emails have shaped my personal and professional relationships. How many people think I've ignored them completely, because they never received the email response to their single request? How many people think of me as basically dependable, except for the handful of times that they were waiting for something that never came? How many people think of me as the kind of friend who usually responds to email?

And this doesn't even touch on how my misconfigured email program has undermined my work at crafting my email identity. Like most people, I make decisions regularly about when and how to send email based on how I hope to be perceived by others. This is an important aspect of building a professional identity these days, and if you don't spend time thinking about how your email use colors your colleagues' perceptions of you, you damn well better start thinking about it.

So that's down the toilet for me too. I had to reconfigure my settings, which meant that every email I was holding in my inbox as part of my ongoing to-do list has also been sent to the archives. Which means that the hundreds of smaller things I've been saving to follow up on when the time's right--those have disappeared on me as well.

I can hear you techno-skeptics now: That's what happens when you rely too much on technology. That's where blind faith leads you. That's why nothing beats good old face to face communication.

Which would be fine, if digital communications tools hadn't led to an explosion in sheer numbers of personal and professional relationships that need maintaining. There's simply no way to keep up with those relationships without tools like email. I've had days characterized by dozens of email conversations maintained over hundreds of emails. Say what you will about the "richness" of in-person communications as compared to email conversations, but there are times when rich conversations are unnecessary. There are times when shit just needs to get done.

And email can be a fantastic tool for getting shit done, especially when the tool is working as we've come to expect it to work. When emails get dropped, though, the tool turns into the exact opposite of a shit-getting-done tool. It becomes a tool that complicates things exponentially.

For me, the lesson here is not that I need to rely less on digital communication tools, and it's not that I need to approach these tools with a consistent attitude of skepticism. The lesson is that effective use of digital communication tools must be supported with a critical computational literacy approach to those tools.

Because I'm the one who misconfigured my email program in the first place. I trusted the program to autoformat itself instead of using the manual setup feature. Then, when it first became clear several weeks ago that some of my emails were not being received, I assumed the fault lay with others' programs. I even wondered if someone was hacking into their email accounts, because I trusted my email program.

Even now, I think but am not positive that I've resolved the issue. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I've never spent a lot of time learning about the language of these sorts of things. IMAP, POP, SMTP--none of those letter groupings mean very much to me (though they certainly mean more to me now than they did before I spent a day repairing my broken email program). But the email programs we use don't really bother trying to explain those terms to us. They figure it's information we don't need to know, since we can trust the programs to know how to set themselves up.

Trusting auto-configuration is one of our biggest mistakes.  I can't do much to repair the damage I did to myself by allowing auto-configure to misconfigure my email program, but I can commit to never again allowing auto-configure tools to override me. From here on out, I'm committing to always choosing the manual setup option for every new tool or program I use--not because I believe this will lead to smooth sailing from here on out (it won't), but because I need to learn how to manage the tools I use in order to maintain control over how, when, where, and why I use these tools to interact with others.

Twenty-six years ago, Apple told us it would help us stand up against an Orwellian future. Somehow, in the intervening years, Apple stopped being the solution and started being part of the problem. In fact, if we've learned anything at all, it's that no major technology-based corporation exists to help us think more critically about the tools we use. This is why it's up to us to make smart decisions. It's up to us to be the chainsaw--or, if you wish, the flying hammer--we wish to see in the world.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

principles for ethical educational research

I've been thinking lately about the burden of speaking for others.

Because I'm an educational researcher, and speaking for others is the heart of what we do. We walk into a classroom, watch some things happen for a little while, then make decisions about which stories are worth telling, and how, and why, and to whom. And this is precisely what we're supposed to do. This is precisely why we head into the classroom in the first place: to tell stories about what learning looks like.

But it can be such a heavy burden, this speaking for others. You know the burden is heavy when the simplest challenge is finding a way to represent what happened in a way that everybody would agree is reasonable and accurate. But that's not where our responsibility ends, because no research findings are politically or socially neutral. Every representation of research is an articulation of a belief system; it's an expression of a worldview; it's a document that leads people to act in ways that can help or hurt the populations we hope to represent.

And the burden gets heavier for researchers working with marginalized, oppressed, or disenfranchised populations, since speaking for these groups can so easily fall into a reproduction of the oppression that rains down on them from all around. Paulo Freire warns us against the "false charity" that so often comes from members of dominant groups who wish to help the oppressed:

False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects of life," to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands--whether of individuals or entire peoples--need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.
It seems to me that false charity emerges when a person becomes too confident that she knows and understands the needs and interests of the oppressed groups she hopes to represent. False charity can therefore look like an awful lot of things: Research focusing on vocational education for poor kids. (Why would we dare to assume working class kids wouldn't want to go to college?) Research showing working class kids are capable of doing college-level work. (Using college readiness as our measure of 'success' allows policymakers to continue to make decisions that assume that college readiness is the most important goal, thereby continuing to marginalize kids for whom college is neither desired nor possible.) Research documenting the learning trajectories of immigrant students. (We're at a cultural point at which nearly anything that's said about immigrants, especially in America, can be twisted to hurt the very populations it's intended to help.)

I've been working in a small alternative high school populated primarily by lower class and working-class kids. I've seen miracles happen in this school for many of its students, and I've met graduates of the school who talk about their time in the school as the most powerful and important educational experience of their lives. Sitting in a classroom in this school, or walking down its halls, or talking to its students, reminds me of how powerfully transformative an education can be. I wish you could all spend a day at this school. You would walk out joyful, hopeful and optimistic about the future of our children. You would walk out with a renewed faith in human beings.

But you won't get the chance to visit this school, because the school board decided to shut it down. I probably don't need to tell you that I think this is a mistake. I further believe that the decision to close this school was motivated by a deep cultural prejudice against poor kids. We don't often say it out loud, but we hold a cultural belief that a child's value is largely determined by the likelihood that she will go to college; our culture is embarrassed by its children who are poor, who live in rented houses or youth shelters or foster care, who are not college-bound. Our society is built on the backs of these kids; we need their labor to keep our society running--and this need only embarrasses us all the more.

It's the job of researchers who work with marginalized populations to represent their research in a way that not only serves the best interests of those populations but also helps to rewrite the cultural narrative that keeps these populations oppressed. It's not easy work, simple work, or quick work, but it's necessary work.

With these things in mind, I want to offer a set of principles for educational research that I hope can help guide researchers in our work with marginalized populations--and maybe our work with all sorts of learning populations.

1. We exist in the service of the communities we work for. I have to believe that when we forget this, it's on accident. But we must never, ever forget that our work should first of all support the needs and interests of both the learners and the educators working inside of our chosen learning communities. This means that we have to actually talk to the learners and educators to find out what they want, and we have to take them at their word and not, for example, guess that if they knew more about the world they'd want something different.

2. We exist to serve the needs and interests of the communities we work for. It is not our job to decide whether a community's interests are good or right; it's only our job to work in service of those interests. If a researcher can't get behind the stated needs and interests of the members of her chosen research community, then she needs to find another community to research.

3. It's our job to represent our work in ways that support ethical decisions by policymakers and external stakeholders. Educational researchers serve as an important bridge between learning communities and policymakers who make decisions about the futures of those communities. One of our most essential roles is to represent research findings in a way that is clear and useful to policymakers while also representing to those policymakers findings that support the needs and interests of the communities we serve. I'm not saying this is easy. I'm just saying it's essential.

4. All educational research is social activism, and all educational researchers are social activists. There is no such thing as politically neutral educational research. Let me say that again: There is no such thing as politically neutral educational research. All statements of research findings are statements of a belief system about the role of education, and all researchers must therefore do research that both aligns with and serves to articulate that belief system. Further, all researchers must make their belief system clear, to themselves, to the communities they work for, and to policymakers who make decisions about those communities. They must always ensure that their belief system aligns with the needs and interests of the communities they work for, and if there is a conflict then the community's interests always trump the belief system of its researchers. If the ethical conflict is irreconcilable, then the researcher must find another community to represent.

Here I want to crib a quote from Jim Gee, who laid out his own set of principles for ethical human behavior in his book Social Linguistics and Literacies. After describing these principles, he made this declaration:

I would claim that all human beings would, provided they understood them, accept these conceptual principles. Thus, failing to live up to them, they would, for consistency’s sake, have to morally condemn their own behavior. However, I readily admit that, should you produce people who, understanding these principles, denied them, or acted as though they did, I would not give up the principles. Rather, I would withhold the term ‘human’, in its honorific, not biological, sense, from such people.

This declaration was made in the second edition of Gee's book; if you own the third edition, don't bother looking for the quote--for reasons that are unclear to me, he removed it and instead simply asserts that we really shouldn't bother trying to change the minds of people who disagree with these ethical principles. I want to call for a return to the stronger language. Given the incredibly high stakes of public education in America, we don't have time for politeness. We're in a fight for the very lives of the students we serve, and it may be that too much politeness is what got us here in the first place.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jay Smooth on people who act like they don't pay attention to politics because they're smarter than the rest of us

Here's Jay Smooth smacking down people who say they don't pay attention to politics because every politician is the same, nothing changes, etc.:

"You can’t be on the Know-Nothing team all season and then put on the Know-Everything jersey at playoff time. That’s your team. Stay over there. If you never pay attention to politics, then you don’t get to come over here and tell me how politics affects my life."

Get mad at ignorant people. Visit Jay Smooth's site, ill doctrine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

against 'tolerance'

I want to share with you a beautiful piece of prose I encountered via Out Magazine. The essay, "Riding in Cars with Lesbians,"  by Helena Andrews, is the memoir of a woman who grew up with a pair of painfully abusive mothers. Though they mainly directed their abuse at each other, the scars crisscrossing the writer's emotional terrain are evident everywhere you look. Here's an excerpt:
A 99-cent store dry erase board saved my life. I’d never given the thing much thought before using it to slash manic slaps of marker onto our Frigidaire. The grown-ups were in the living room arguing during the commercials, trading insults to a soundtrack about sunglasses. Frances, we need to talk about this. My name is Geek, I put ’em on as a shocker. Do whatever you want, Vernell, leave me out of it. Man, I love these Blublockers. I hate you. Everything is clear. Keep your voice down. They block out the sun. Why? Helena knows what a bitch you are. Oh, yeah, I gotta get me some.

I also love this piece because it presents a clear-eyed picture of an abusive household that happens to be headed by a pair of lesbians, though really, the author treats the gay issue as a secondary thing. Sure, the teenaged daughter is embarrassed to have two mothers--but her embarrassment is depicted as on par with the range of things our parents can do to embarrass us. A trashy car, embarrassing wardrobe choices, the fact of a mother and a stepmother with no father in evidence--it's all approximately equally embarrassing.

We need this sort of narrative.

We need people who can talk about members of the LGBTQ community in terms as human as those we've traditionally reserved for mainstream (straight) people. Gays are neither the vile, depraved and hellbound pedophiles that religious and far-right political groups would like you to believe; but neither are we the perfect angels who only have missionary sex at night with the doors locked and the lights out, who want nothing more than a house in the suburbs and our allotment of stock options and children, who pray to the Lord Our God each night before we go to sleep. Like most people in the world, most LGBTQ people fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum. Sometimes we want to act up and act out; sometimes we want  to toss up our queerness like a flaming red mohawk:

And sometimes, like my friends Elaine and Nancy, we just want to get married:

And sometimes, as in Helena Andrews' essay, we're far less generous and kind than we wish we could be. Sometimes we can't help but talk shit about our partners, even in front of children. Sometimes we're mad enough that we can't help but take a swing or two, even at the people we love.

It's not okay to behave badly, but it's okay to acknowledge that gays could be better or worse people, depending on the day or the circumstances. It's okay to acknowledge that gays are decent people, beautiful people, sometimes heroic people, but mostly gays are just average people who are trying to live their lives as fully and kindly and with as much joy and love as they can.

I'm not a fan of the notion of "tolerance," mainly because I believe it suggests that the people who are supposed to be "tolerated" must be proven to be acting "tolerably." That's not equality; that's patronizing. That's a power differential that favors the status quo. That's charity, handed out to the trembling hand held up in supplication. That's a stunted revolution that permits only the most limited type of dancing.

I prefer multiplicity, openness, dialogue. I prefer that we strike down the cultural narrative of gays as a monolithic group walking together in lockstep, especially since that narrative is not borne out by the truth of "gay culture." I prefer--I propose--that we craft a new narrative, one that presents members of the LGBTQ community as exactly as diverse, as variable, as perfect and flawed, as everyone else in the world.

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