Category Archives: Big Questions

Punching monsters.

 

https://johnkenn.blogspot.com/

Years ago I read The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I didn’t have anyone to share my thoughts about it with, until later a friend casually mentioned she hated it. It never occurred to me until that moment that someone I loved wouldn’t love the book, too, or at least find some worthwhile metaphor. Those little moments, when we don’t connect with someone we love, are odd…but it happens. Life would be unbearably boring if we all thought and believed the same things. The thing that nags at me, though, is when we realize someone we love believes or has a different opinion, we often awkwardly dismiss the moment, and don’t ask their point of view or perspective. It’s like we’re trying to be polite and not come off as challenging or argumentative. (Because especially us ladies…oh boy do we ever get in a pickle when we state our opinions…)

But these are not discussions about literary preferences, or who prefers microbrews to martinis. Some have a chemical hatred of cilantro, while others find its presence the only thing that matters. (I am the latter.) This is about something that cuts, and has cut us all, much more deeply, and perhaps left some scars. There is no denying in our nation’s point in history we are in deep, deep trouble, and not necessarily all because of who’s in office. We hate each other now, and if we don’t hate, we are suspicious to a terrifying degree.

This afternoon I found some of the advice I needed reminding of, and how much I failed in a recent exchange: How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail published in Scientific American, written by Michael Shermer almost a year ago.

If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

Numbers 1 and 2 are where the wheels came off my bus, so to speak. And, in fairness, I am wondering if I’m now experiencing my own media saturation, or “availability bias,” jumping at every shadow — because there are so many now–

From :

The psychology of why 94 deaths from terrorism are scarier than 301,797 deaths from guns

 

Rothschild blamed politicians for overstating the terrorist risk. Media saturation is also to blame. Having ready access to images of every atrocity known to mankind makes us prone to what behavioral scientists call “availability bias,” the tendency to give weight to what comes to mind most easily. The blanket coverage of the Sept. 11th attacks successfully seared the images of terrorism on our brains; shootings, which happen every day and—with the exception of a few mass shootings—are largely ignored, have less of an effect.

We are all jumping at shadows, but unfortunately, many of those shadows have weapons.

It is one thing when strangers have unfounded beliefs, but a whole ‘another issue when it’s a relative or close friend.

Here is the conversation with my annotations:

Part I:

Someone I know, a family member I considered the closest thing to a brother I could have, posts about Trump’s EO (the fully annotated version here), which confuses my husband and me because first “they” say they don’t want anything to do with Obama, and then they bring up a (false) comparison between Obama’s 2011 issue and Trump’s. Their point is that Trump’s is not a “Muslim Ban,” although Rudy Guiliani is on tape telling the world how he helped Trump do it legally. So, those of us millions who are against this call it out, and especially in light of Bannon’s appointment to National Security Council, and he’s a self-proclaimed Leninist (aka “some just want to see the world burn), that causes a huge amount of concern.*

 

Part II

The Politifact source is called “fake news” by my relative, although it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning site. It must be convenient for those who actually believed fake news to now use that as a false counter-argument for everything they disagree with.

And that is when I lost my stuff. Calling Obama a “fascist” is so distorted and wrong– and I had the painful anagnorisis** that not only was my relative living in some distortion field that so many of his race, gender, background, and beliefs led him to.

“‘Hope and Change’ is over.” ***

Taking a pause here: I stand by the Politifact article:

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2017/jan/30/donald-trump/why-comparing-trumps-and-obamas-immigration-restri/

It does what I wish all students and citizens would do: take a step-by-step analysis and provide CONTEXT AND COUNTERARGUMENTS. Yes, big all-caps. Without context no discussion is possible.

In this entire post, there is one nugget I want my relative, and others, to take away–and this is discourse 101.

  • Do your own damn homework.

That means:

  1. Analyze the facts, truths, and opinions in a piece. Facts are quantifiable data: truths are personal beliefs, and opinions are positions. Sometimes truths and opinions can get a little muddy. Anecdotal evidence is not facts.
  2. Annotate the sources and statements, and find three credible resources that support and refute the claims. And consider: how is it being supported? To what gain? And how is it being refuted, a “because I told you so?” statement or other findings?
  3. A credible resource: finding and curating credible resources does not mean that the source can’t be argued or debated. It can be an opinion piece that uses data and facts to support claims. Often reading what is NOT there is the critical piece.

Part III

About this time I turned off notifications, so I didn’t see his comments asking if I had read the EO: in truth, I had read some of the highlights from various news sources, including his preferred sources.

His anecdote about the Somalian Uber driver isn’t a lie, of course. Anecdotes don’t require proof.  There were many who voted against their interests, and there is a psychological effect of “I’m here safe, so the hell with the rest of them.” And, his Somalian driver did not weigh in with all the white terrorists who have killed more folks than Somalians living here.  He won’t believe CNN because his leader called them “fake,” but I’ll post it anywayA couple who voted for Trump appeared on the news recently for having regrets. People vote against their best interests all the time because they go on anecdotes, fear, and misinformation. People have a bent for authoritarianism, too. 

So, yes. I lost it. My husband weighed in calling my relative’s original source out, though. And that’s where I left it. Until tonight.

But this contention that ‘it’s not a Muslim ban’ is clearly transparent, and a big, fat lie. The one woman who could put a stop to it did, and was fired:

As acting attorney general, Ms. Yates picked the fight of her life on Monday when she ordered the Justice Department not to defend President Trump’s executive order blocking refugees and restricting immigration to the United States. Ms. Yates became convinced, based on the president’s own statements, that he had intended to unlawfully single out Muslims, senior officials said.

“We have comments from the president about what this is supposed to do,” Ms. Yates said in one meeting on Monday, according to two people involved in the discussions. She later added, “The intent was clear from the face of it.”

And here is John Green, who somehow manages to do the smart, calm thing, and provide a piece about this EO:

Here are my opinions (just a few, I have more):

 

  • Little, little men, with little little hands are capable of changing who we are, who we want to be, and all the laws of the land may not be able to stop them.

Part IV

What is my conclusion in all this? Am I feeling more heartsick and discouraged, or calmer, with clarity? Yes, the latter. I am not going to engage in these pointless battles. If the person on the other end wants to reach clarity and purpose, understand that we can disagree, but have to do so with facts and strong listening skills. (My “grow up” comment does not fit this category.)

So yes, that is the president’s press secretary rationalizing why it was important to our national security and safety to handcuff a five-year-old. Most of the things happening now come from their own mouths, on tape.  They can try to gaslight us all they want, but we are not the same 20th century generation– we are far worse, and far better. It’s about understanding the onslaught of information, and not allowing their lies to stand. It isn’t fake news. If anyone wonders why most Americans are fighting so hard to end his time in office before he and his ilk destroy the Constitution, maybe you’ll join us, too, once you see for yourself.

But I won’t hold my breath: I’ll breathe and keep working to make things right.

 

*Not sure how The Daily Beast stacks up. To research later.

**Anagnorisis is a moment in a play or other work when a character makes a critical discovery. Anagnorisis originally meant recognition in its Greek context, not only of a person but also of what that person stood for. Anagnorisis was the hero’s sudden awareness of a real situation, the realisation of things as they stood, and finally, the hero’s insight into a relationship with an often antagonistic character in Aristotelian tragedy.

In other words: OH, snap. Things are much worse than I thought.

 

*** “are” over, but that’s Grammarly talking.

 

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Doing our part (so we don’t fall to pieces).

 

One Woman (and Dog) March

This month has been rough.

I’m still recovering from my winter break gall bladder removal: the big incision pinches, my diet has changed, and it’s January. And this particular cyclical January has millions of us in the U.S. and around the world incredibly anxious. This month was the ’17 TechExpo and proudly a few Minecraft Club members rallied and represented.

Ethan, Hannah and me

This year the Minecraft Club hasn’t been as big as it’s been in the past, and I’m not sure if it’s because we have a new staff and it needs some promoting. Regardless, we have some hardcore fans. The students have to provide it for themselves, but I’m still working to change that.

One thing that struck me as odd, and irksome, was a woman, (not sure what her role was, etc.,) asked me if “all the kids were doing was just playing Minecraft” for the booth, and yes, basically, that was it. The ‘l’esprit de l’escalier‘ moment came when I thought of all the things I should have said, namely, ‘Go ask the students yourself.” I learned later she asked an IT person who was helping in the general area the same question. It put me on the defense: I’m constantly educating other educators about the benefits of Minecraft in terms of coding, narrative, resource management, etc.

My inner voice screams: WHAT THE HECK DO YOU WANT?! Manage thy expectations, ma’am.

But honestly, sometimes…I just get a little burnt out. It’s exhausting constantly meeting others expectations. Or falling short.

One thing, though, that wipes away a snooty lady who questions the existence and right of students to share a passion they love was a visit from a former student.

I didn’t recognize him at first: when students grow from 8th to 12th grades, they change a lot. We talked, and he shared that he was going to college, he was working, etc., but he seemed kind of down. When he told me of his college plans, I asked him if he remembered my promise to him and his classmates that I would be there for them, long after 8th grade, if they needed help or guidance. He said he did–and then he skipped a beat and said how disappointed he was that he was graduating under Trump’s presidency.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I swallowed and said I was struggling to find silver linings in things, now, too.

But.

Think of it this way: he’s the first one graduating under his own rule– and that is the most powerful thing of all.

His shoulders lifted, and he seemed ready.

That was Thursday night, January 19.

Friday was the inauguration. I made a point to let it go for the day.

On Thursday in class, I tried something slightly new for Part-Time Indian. I took ten theme seed ideas, wrote them on large Post-It notes, and put them around the room at four table stations. The students counted off, and then rotated and discussed which idea out of the group per table. They kept track of their ideas in their composition books. We’ll use this for their own writing about the novel this upcoming week.

The big ideas of Part-Time Indian.

Friday we talked about the arch of one positive idea, and how one positive idea is often conflicted by negativity. I had them draw the diagram of ‘dreams’ and the betrayal idea versus the racism in the novel. On one side, his tribe and community see him as a traitor, but when he goes to Reardan, he is met with constant aggressive and casual racism.

Then I had the students list positive things about themselves. The number of things was determined by one student choosing a random number between 1 and 10. Next, they had to write the same number of negative things, and then determine how those negative things caused obstacles for the positive thing. They can also use this as part of their final reflection about the novel.

And then on Saturday, I was too exhausted, in pain, and sick to get myself to Seattle and march.

And the guilt was overwhelming.

From Love, Teach

 

So when I get this call to service, to do something else, something more, am I allowed to say “no?”

I write this blog, I plan new, original lessons. I meet with colleagues. I try to walk the dog with my husband. I try to keep up with book club reading choices and read new books for my students. I run two clubs. I am a union rep this year. I stay up on news and curate articles. I watch documentaries. I look and curate new resources. I spend a ton on new books. And this is all part of my personal passions and pursuits. But when I get one more ‘call to adventure’ it’s overwhelming. When I commented on Love, Teach’s post, another commenter told me my service as a union rep was “a good place to start.”

Can someone hand me a Dixie cup of water on this marathon, please?

No one can determine or judge what we do or don’t do. You know why there were millions who marched on Saturday? Because women get it done. Men, good men, do too. We all do our part: we write, draw, take photographs, bravely post our own opinion (even if it doesn’t match others in our circle of friends), and try to come to understand. Listening to understand, instead of responding, is critical, and something I could work on. Concurrently, however, I am not going to back away from my beliefs that are based on deep research and reading. If new information or actions occur that help all Americans, I’ll listen. So far nothing but “post-truth” or “alternative facts” in some Orwellian nightmare has seen the light, but I’ll still look.

And working together as classrooms and community is the best thing of all. Love this idea from Ethical ELA:

In class, we talked about the concept of betraying one’s community. We took a stand up vote:

How many think Arnold betrayed his community?

(no one stood up)

How many think his community betrayed him?

(most students stood up)

I asked those who remained conflicted or neutral to share their thoughts. It is in that ‘third place’ where a lot of truth is told. It is hard to see the community made to feel ashamed that they weren’t able to provide the life and education Arnold/Junior deserves, and understand why they don’t cheer him on when he leaves.

This is our shared conflict: stay in the tribe and ‘go along’ or speak up and question? How do we share of ourselves and our gifts? If we want something different or break away, do we risk losing our past?

For now, this is what I share, and what I do. Many of my social media contacts have hidden me. That does hurt, just a little. But it’s also their choice is they want to read my message or not. I read everything — echo chambers are boring. I can’t control whether or not they want to curate or prune me from their feeds. And as uncomfortable as that is, it is.

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Absolutely True Attempt at Journey of the Hero

Illustration by Ellen Forney Students decided she was one part of supernatural aid on advice.

Ah, the never-ending struggle, challenge, and balance with what has proven to work with what’s new.

Teaching Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero structural pattern works — it works because students understand truly what plot is, they can apply it to multiple mediums, stories, and their own lives, and wait…no more needs to be said. They can apply it to their own lives.

Having to let go of my curriculum baby — you know that baby–the one you work on for months, craft, shape, support with standards and engaging lessons, scope-it, and sequence-it and tie it all up with a bow, and share it with the world, only to have the world think it’s slightly funny looking or outdated. Well, I still think this baby, the Journey of the Hero unit, has merit and value, so thought I would try something different a few years ago and ‘chunk the Hobbit.’ No, that’s not some new Lord of the Rings drinking game, but I broke down the Hobbit into bite-sized pieces for groups of three chapters each. It kind of worked, but kind of didn’t. (Recently, though, I had a sibling of one of my former students ask me on behalf of her sister if I was still teaching that — she loved it.)

We have a full class set of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so this month I’ve devoted time to reading this extraordinary novel through the idea of the monomyth.

http://writerswrite.co.za/the-heros-journey

 

So far…it’s kind of working. I say kind of because there have been some obstacles, our own Road of Trials:

  • Too quick of an introduction of what JOTH is and entails
  • Jumped right into reading, and students not getting the message they need their books with them every day, to class and to home. They are allowed backpacks in my room so the carrying of a $15 paperback may be too much…but they have all gotten the message again.
  • We had two mornings of ice delays, so that threw off our schedule a bit.
  • Students are still not looking to Canvas for work, or at least the majority are not.
  • Students are still expressing too much “learned helplessness” (and it’s making me a little crazy). In fact, I gave students their first quote as scaffolding and one student stopped dead in her thinking tracks and said “I don’t get it” and then kept talking over me when I said let’s work this out. So now I need to go back and teach a lesson on what ‘central idea’ is. Never again will I not have multiple lessons on the basics at the beginning of the year. 

Here is what is starting to work:

We walked through the first three sections together, scaffolded and intentional:

Smartnotebook file (which I can’t embed here, but if you need it email me or contact me in the comments)

JOTH Reader Response Tracker

After we worked on it by hand, this weekend I’ve given them a scaffolded digital version that displays the work they’ve come up with : JOTH Part Time Indian Support

Laura Randazzo’s Prezi:

So we’ll see. We’re on our own journey through the novel, trying my best to allow them to discover what they think and find. I’ll keep you posted.

 

PS It’s not an accident that Penelope is named Penelope. Think about it.

Google Docs Links:

Journey of the Hero Support Doc

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5Wng1M2YyaVZ3NW8/view?usp=sharing

Journey of the Hero PowerPoint

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5NVc2ZVZwbHkweGM/view?usp=sharing

Archetypes PowerPoint

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5c0pFd1dRNGh6NjQ/view?usp=sharing

 

 

 

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Elements of Structure Series: Part 11: Tough questions: students and humor

This video is PG-13. And no, the number doesn’t work.

A student shared this with me a few weeks ago. To spark a conversation, I thought it would be interesting to see what other students thought about it, too.

Students also watched this one, too. No commentary from me, just questions.

As this writing, they’ve only seen it once in the context of notes, but haven’t had a chance to do a QFT or discussion about it.

But — I have my own questions. A lot of them.

  • Would I have shared this with students who were predominately white? Or would it just increase potential racism?
  • Who owns humor?
  • If some students understand parody, and that not all parody works — and what is the function of parody?
  • Does this ‘punch up, down, or in the middle?

Molly Ivins articulated the distinction in a 1991 People magazine interview:

“There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” [1]

  • Are these ads “foibles and our shared humanity?” or something much deeper, or worse?
  • Is it racist?
  • Is it funny?
  • Can something be racist and funny?
  • Is humor inherently classist, racist, bigoted, and if not, what are the characteristics of innocuous humor?

As a teacher, how do you address when a student brings humor to the classroom — determining these questions? Do you encourage students to discuss it?

From Nerdy Feminist: 

It reminds me of an awesome Fresh Air interview with Hari Kondabolu that I caught recently. Kodabolu is a comedian (check him out, if you’re unaware) who is able to make his audiences roll without playing to oppression. Definitely a student of the “punch up” philosophy. One of the things he discussed with Terry Gross was how he no longer parodies his father’s accent on stage. He said,

The idea that when maybe my father says something and he walks away, the idea that people are laughing because what he said is funny to them because of how he sounds crushed me when I thought about it. And the idea that I was contributing to that, it was hard. 

 

A few years ago the Youtube meme was the young boy who mistakenly answered a math question with “21.” Kids in class would pop up and say “21” at random, or if the number 21 came up would parrot it back. (Click at your own risk — this is a mocking song of the original video.) I told my students that particular meme wasn’t allowed in my class, just like the words ‘ghetto’ and the ‘n’ word. It’s just mean-spirited, and making fun of a kid saying the wrong answer doesn’t make us better people.

If students see humor used in a racist and bigoted way, what effect does it have on them? If they identify with the person depicted (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) are they offended, try to save face, do they speak up?

Well, currently probably not. Anyone who challenges offensive or racism is called a “snowflake.” But another damning idea is the one of ‘inspiration or poverty porn.’ Is not addressing worse, in other words?

Which leads to another question: how do we learn to speak and challenge while someone is attempting to gag us?

From Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?

Second, humor is not always positive and fun. We tend to think about humor as something that is innocuous, something that might be good for our health, moods, relationships and so on, but humor also has its dark side, and we should all be aware of it. Sometimes humor can lead to negative and harmful outcomes against others, and we should be conscious of when and how it can happen.

Some articles (note: not posting because I agree or disagree, just reading)

Punching Up and the Rules of Comedy by Liz Labacz

When Did We Lose Our Understanding of Satire? 

Does racist humor promote racism?

Punching Up/Geek Feminism Wiki

Truth In Comedy; Or, The Myth of ‘Punching Up”

 

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Don’t be afraid.

“Lead by example of hope, and never fear.”

Fear: fear, an anthropomorphic, personified monster, has been the tool of many politicians for decades since we were told “The only thing to fear is fear itself” by Roosevelt. We were brave. We were strong. We may not have agreed, but we began the hard work on building again. But now that’s all torn and shredded apart. We have a president-elect whose social media use is as immature and disgusting as any #gamergate troll. And now, once again, it’s up to teachers to support parents whose job it is to raise moral, know-right-from-wrong humans. Just like we can’t assign credit, we can’t assign blame, either. Something, however, is going on and has been for some time. Students have been taking videos of fights and uploading them to Youtube, and other social media outlets, for years.

These aren’t ordinary schoolyard turf wars. These are marked by an exploitive purpose and showmanship.

Recently I’ve been posting how-to videos on a Youtube channel, and my students gently tease me about how many subscribers I have, and are very interested in making me ‘famous.’ (I’ve gone from 4 to 23 in a week—woot!) It’s all about the points, the numbers, the amount, the likes–that’s all that seems to matter to them. And why wouldn’t it? That’s what they’ve been raised on; video games and school for points points points points. More points = Success.

The beating was captured on cellphone video by one of the assailants and has since been viewed millions of times on social media. The footage shows the suspects taunting the victim with profanities against white people and President-elect Donald Trump.

Prosecutors offered new details of the assault, explaining that one of the suspects demanded $300 from the mother of the victim, who is schizophrenic and has attention-deficit disorder. They also said the beating started in a van when the same attacker became angry that the mother had contacted him asking that her son be allowed to come home.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/suspects-attack-mentally-disabled-man-due-court-44591779

So when a terrible story comes to light, and everyone is blamed, everything is blamed, I’m asking for one light to shine — please — please stop making everything about points.

Please.

If we need to help our students find their voices on social media, can we please show them a hundred positive examples, and show them that when they film fights they are exploiting themselves? Teach them about how they can control their reputation, their narrative, and their emotions. No one at the top of our government is going to do it for them, in fact, they will be working hard to do the opposite. They will promote and normalize racism, sexism, and hate.  It’s not amorphous or abstract. The men in charge have clearly stated their positions on their white privilege. We need to put a name on fear– when Michelle Obama asks us not to be afraid — we need to help our students name their fears, identify the monsters, and make a plan. And this plan never includes beating each other up.

More of this, please:

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