Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Letter to Jean Anyon

This is a letter in dialogue with and memory of Jean Anyon, whose students opened a "letters to Jean" blog in her memory last month.

Dear Jean,

I first read Radical Possibilities about seven years ago when I was teaching kindergarten at a public school in a large urban district. I have been rereading the same copy this week and found a bit of marginalia on the first page of chapter one: "Okay, schools are part of that [the proactive role of the federal government in maintaining poverty]. So do I subvert from the inside? Is that the only way? How long can I maintain?"

The question remains for me today, especially knowing that I taught in the public school classroom for only another year and a half after I wrote that note to myself. I wonder about the toll and possibility for teachers when the work of teaching feels and materially exists as so isolating and individual. I think that your message in Radical Possibilities for collectivity and public discourse are crucial to social change and it has left me wondering about the interplay between the narratives of teaching that are "on the airwaves" right now. I wonder about how to remake the idea of what teaching is to include an activist agenda.

Last week Steve Forbes wrote in his op-ed piece in the LA Times about the "heroic effort of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker" to diminish labor union rights. The article is titled, "Trampling the Rights of Teachers," and spins the unions as separate from and not supported by teachers. This is certainly the story of teacher unions I have long heard in the south. Here in North Carolina, a right to work [for less] state, the idea of collective action seems distant. And yet in other parts of the country labor union issues are alive. I am imagining that if the labor movement was really as dead as it sometimes appears, there would be no Steve Forbes articles hyping up anti-labor.

Just over a year ago the Chicago Teachers Union massive striking made the deal for a contract with pay raises and continued honoring of higher degrees and years of experience (and concessions for portions of teachers' evaluation to weigh student test scores per state law).

In the face of the current cuts to teacher pay in North Carolina, how is Chicago an image of possibility for teachers here? I wonder without labor unions what power is possible in our Moral Monday protests?

At the end of the Chicago strike Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said, "“This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children.” I wonder about the mayor's purpose of schooling as separate from the action on the streets. In Service and Solidarity, John Trimbur names the need for seeing schools as sites of labor rather than places to get "ready" for work. Schools are already deeply entrenched in issues of work and workers and this is a source of learning and engagement in the authentic context of social struggle for teachers and their students. I wonder how we might name new counter narratives for the purposes of schooling.

In an article in International Socialist Review David Harvey says that to create social change we have to appropriate or create social institutions for the purpose of change with the idea in mind that these institutions can become the organs of a different social organization. What are the possibilities for appropriating or reclaiming spaces and time chunks inside schools and re-narrating these as sites of collective action? Teachers meetings? The teachers lounge? Three minute walk throughs? Peer observations? Parent-teacher conferences? Advisory committees? Teacher preparation?

In imagining what this could look like, I'll take on the last one for a moment. There was an article in Sunday's New York Times, "An Industry of Mediocrity" in critique of teacher preparation programs. It seems university teacher's colleges are another place in danger of private takeover and one that like the public schools could be a site for social action. The article calls for more rigor, higher standards for program entrance and training in entrepreneurial charter schools not college classrooms. These are interesting demands for pre-service teachers in states like North Carolina whose pay is being cut and where there are no pay increases associated with further university scholarship. So I wonder, rather than more "rigor," what if teacher preparation engaged students in understanding labor rights, community organizing and macroeconomics? What if Chicago CTU Local 1's 2012 striking was an image of possibility for teaching and learning? What if pre-service teachers found and considered together a history of teacher activism and engaged together in the kinds of critical literacy work that their students and no doubt they themselves if they become public school teachers will need.

Jean, your work has shown me images of (radical) possibility for social change in schools. And these beginning images seem to fodder more images, like that of Chicago. Since this counter story has come into my frame of reference, I can name it more easily as part of the work of teaching and learning. The stories are out there. I see one role for me as a literacy teacher and teacher advocate is to collect and share these stories and name them as teaching and use them as mentors to my own teaching practices. I am left wondering, though about my old question about sustainability. And maybe critical pedagogy's answer is that this struggle must continue resurfacing over and over, with no utopian ending available. Maybe another answer is in a shift in the question from how long can I maintain to how long can the social protest maintain? To focus on my own role and primacy is probably to continue the thread of teacher martyrdom. I wonder about striking the balance then, between an important focus on people, their lives and experiences and the systematic and collective-bound story necessary to unwind the grasp of individualism, private ownership and surplus value.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Make Cycle 2 Newsletter for 1103

Hi students and more readers,

I want to take a moment to reflect on some really interesting work in our writing classes. This work is mostly framed around a make cycle, in which we try to unravel our understandings of truth, science and literacy.  I am pointing below to some class artifacts that really attend to some of the core values of the class.  These posts and makes have pushed my thinking and hopefully yours!

 Author’s Craft: If you haven’t already, check out the craft involved in RC’sminecraft make.  He made a virtually simulated map of his one page experiences and then narrates us through the space.  As you experience the space and hear RC talk about his process you can pick up on how intentional he was in the small details of craft, from the texture of blocks to the layout to the symbolic expressions in each room.

Process: Many of us really enjoyed David’s ukulele composition during this make cycle.  If you haven’t read his corresponding reflective blog, check it out.  In the first paragraph he tells us how his work connects to a mentor.  In the second paragraph he shares in some detail his process for creating the music.  He explains what he was thinking and what his actions were.  This is the kind of reflection I encourage everyone to try for in make cycle 3.  Put us in the moment(s) of creation with you.

Multiple Drafts: I was really intrigued by Spencer's Lego Make and the accompanying blog.  Not only is this a really great segue into our toyhacking, but you can see in the blog post how Spencer moved from his beginning map to a more fully developed lego map.  We could see both the map and the lego make as drafts here.  They are both interesting but do different things.  I definitely encourage all of us to consider following Spencer’s lead in creating multiple drafts.

Extending thinking: One of the goals of our blogging is to extend thinking began in other places, like in our daybooks, in class discussion, etc.  Henry’s prezi make really does this!  He took the tape badge make and ramped it up and pulled out the threads of ideas with the text and visualizations in prezi.

Reflection and Depth of Thinking:  Kaleb’s midterm reflection is a really great example of complex thinking generally.  Read to see how he digs below the surface to unravel some his ideas by considering his own history and experiences.  I think what makes this post work so well as a reflection is that he is asking real questions about his identity and learning and his position in the world.  He brings the reader into his own experience with examples. 

Voice: Reading Lukas’ blog, particularly this midterm reflection, you can totally hear him talking to you.  This is really what “voice” is in writing: the feeling that you can hear the writer.  Back to our discussion of

Presentation of Self: Check out the revisions Lauren Price has made to her blog.  You can get a feel for who she is as a learner and writer with a few clicks and without having to scroll all the way back to the beginning posts.  Her “about” and “current projects” pages do a big part of this work along with her title and background choice.  How could you tinker with your blog settings to upfront more about who you are as a writer and learner?

Connecting to Others: The conversations in g+ are really showing the connections between ideas in the room.  I hope that more of this shows up in our blogging as we continue.  Particularly, Austin Meyer’s posts seem to generate some great convo!  Here are screenshots from some specific and in depth thinking shared by Kempson, Nhadreik and Briony in response to Austin.


~Dylan Miller
And finally, here is a golden line from Dylan’s blog: “I also noticed that in my blog posts that I can sometimes be a bit stiff, and by that I mean I don't really express myself, but more like, I express the assignment I was given. Noticing this made me want to change it of course. I don't want to be a robot, I want to be an alien.”

I am totally inspired to be an alien not a robot, too.  Thanks writers and makers,


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Harvesting Electronics to Become English 1103

"Does this vacuume thing have a motor inside!!??"

I stood holding a broken hand vacuume yelling this across the house late last night. I had an emerging plan for the next day's writing class, which involved some electronic items, like motors, batteries, and wires, and I was scavenging the house for any spare electronics that more handy household members might have stashed. When I saw the broken vac, it occurred to me that I was surrounded by electronic parts! I just don't usually see them that way. It was one of those shift moments. The vaccuume was a little red pill and I was seeing the world without the veil of coorporate plastic casings. All the noisy toys I had previously rolled my eyes at, now seemed like treasures chests. Inside there would be more motors! In fact inside the vacuume was not only a motor, but the wires and a fan!

A confession: I have been thinking about the maker movement for a few years. I think of myself as a maker... of text based writing, digital movies, website code even. This summer though in a workshop on e-textiles with Kylie Peppler I sort of woke up again. Oh!!! This is the part of making I want more of! The tactile tinkering around. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do believe that all the other stuff is making and that it is embodied, too- I mean words don't float out into the universe from nowhere- they are generated by fingers moving along keys, gripping a pen held to my daybook or clumsily keyed onto my phone- in conversation with other people and as part of activities bound to the politics of labor. Still it can be easy to forget the bodily experience of making and writing, when words and even photographs or movies can seem so two dimensional. This is why I have been so intrigued by the integration of improvisation into the teaching of writing... it gets us thinking about how our bodies are deeply connected to language.

That evening of preparing for class at home was another knot-making moment in my maker identity. I knew that I wanted to use this second day of class to identify with, engage as or become makers ourselves. Students would have already watched parts of Connected Learning TV's Webinar Writing as Making/Making as Writing and Dale Dougherty's TED talk, We are All Makers and we had taken science photos on the first day of class.   As part of our fledgling maker space, I really wanted to offer at least one possibility with electronics, but I had hedged all summer on buying all the stuff I thought I would need to make it happen. Then finally planning for class I was looking through websites and images of maker ideas and projects and hacks and realized we really needed some stuff, like leds and motors and battery cases. Finally I found the Scribbling Machine from the Exploratorium's Tinkering Lab, and I had all of the materials at my house- except the motors.

And this is just what my tinkering with Kylie did. I played with alligator clips and leds and sewing conductive thread. I made some plans, ditched my plans, watched other people seem to have working plans, tried my planning again, ditched my planning again, jumped into sewing, went back to alligator clips as tactile planning, tried sewing, watched other people, handed my project over to Kylie, took out stitches, sewed more, took out more stitches, went back to drawing plan, and eventually didn't finish!  This tinkering with electronics was giving me yet another layer to understanding myself and others as makers. I am wondering if for some students this layer coming along earlier might create another point of entry into the conversation on writing as making and making as writing. We'll see what they think about that as they write reflective blog posts over the weekend!

 Hack on writers, teachers and makers!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rapid Eye Movement

This is the poem I wrote during Erika's demo in Summer Institute today.  I was playing around with her question of what a workable democracy could look like.  I sort of chickened out by writing about a dream, in which as Kendra pointed out all of Hamilton's elite must have poofed away.

I dream democracy
Not that
I have a dream
But a dream, like in
la la land
of the free thinking

As Jefferson's sleep turns REM
This democracy dream
Collides with itself in
Popular belief
But not contained
In popular plastic packaging of
Corporate market philosophy

Beliefs held tight to
What (the) people
know about our, and thier and her
history of
tribal life
labor groups
world cutlures
women's circles
grassroots collectives
sci-fied futures
and Hamilton's past life

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Wrapped in Cape: Whose Stories Are Covered Over in the Primacy of the Hero

Who is on the other side of the hero narrative?  We (and I mean I) spend a lot of time thinking about and problematizing and wondering about heroes.

Another interesting and maybe more equitable and participatory approach would be to concern our selves over re-seeing the stories of the saved.  I mean they are the ones whose stories might be hidden away in rippling layers of cape swooshing over the possibility until they are lifted safely out of danger of being heard or given any credit.

So what if...

We moved our conversation from loving or hating the he--- who?  Toward considering the storied lives of the swept off her feet- lifted to safety poor thingified person, who might give insight into the fluidity and tension of lived experience, especially for those of us often peeking over the flexed muscles of Superman.

Where I Write... Poem from a Demo

Mary Ellen's demo inspired some poems about writing...

Deadline closing in
And the words flow
I write late at night
By myself
But for the notes in Skype
To be read tomorrow
By my sleeping writing group

And at Jackson's Java
(it's quieter than Amelie's)
With coffee cup
Tea cup
Water bottle
Fully hydrated

And in institutes
Fretwell, Cameron, Portland, Las Vegas (even), Denver
Murray cards, freewrites, mentor texts and sticky notes

And in airports
Hotel rooms
Conference nooks and crannies
With Cindy
Papers sea around us
in waves of qualitative