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,