Tag Archives: series: elements of structure

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”

 

Series: Elements of Structure Part 10: Top Ten (But it will go to 11…)

Not in any particular order, this is my own curated list of what I perceive as the hugely influential, double-edged swords of structure from 2016. Warning: I will not apologize for analyzing politics in this post (see #4). If you’re fed to the teeth and just want some ideas, skip over words. We’re all feeling like children whose parents are in the beginning stages of a dysfunctional divorce: still a lot of yelling, we don’t know if we want to live with mom or dad, lawyers have been contacted, and broken glass to clean up. And no one’s seen the family pet for days.

Ah, well.

  1. Twitter
  2. Fake News
  3. Click Bait
  4. Comments in Political Posts and the Great Unfriending
  5. Relabeling
  6. Repeated Article Loop
  7. Children’s/YA Literature
  8. Book Lists and Reading Challenges
  9. On-line Shared Annotations
  10. TedTalks

Twitter

Perhaps one of the most telling of all is the P-E’s use or misuse of Twitter.

Though he’s tweeted hundreds of misspelled, egregious, taunting and terrible tweets, for some reason this one sent me over the edge, well the original version, not the sarcastic People for Bernie Sanders version:

Perhaps what did it (sent me over the edge and all) was someone’s comment about how we all just need to suck it up, he’s our president now, too damn bad, stop crying, stop whining, etc.

And I need to point out — what he said, what he tweeted, clearly says he is NOT my president by HIS WORDS. He called me his enemy, someone who fought him, “lost so badly” that now I’m in a fog, whimpering and wandering around like a lost child at a county fair.

What exactly does he “Love!”?

Twitter is as high or low as humanity brings to its 140 characters. It’s been a good source for me to add to my PLN, tweet out random #haikuoftheday for fun, and things of that nature. Now I don’t know if I can look away, or look more closely. I don’t have an idea.

Fake News

At this point, there are probably fake news stories on how to combat fake news. Teach media literacy, make it relevant, make it matter. Liken fake news to a fake rumor, and how devastating that can be personally, and imagine a whole nation being harmed, literally and figuratively, by fake news on a grand scale.

The Smell Test

Click Bait

We’re all guilty of it, clicking on what we know is click-bait. That easy lure of outrageous headlines promising some juicy reward while our cheeks are pierced by sharp objects. It would be a great mini-lesson or mini-unit to have student analyze the structure of click bait and how it changes their psychological views.

You’ll Be Outraged at How Easy It Was to Get You to Click on This Headline

Comments in Political Posts and The Great Unfriending

I went to tag someone on a teacher post the other day and noticed I lost another Facebook acquaintance, and have no hard feelings. How could I? I use social media for a variety of purposes, but mostly, and unfortunately for some, it’s my ‘thinking out loud place’ and sometimes my inner voice is pretty damn loud.

We’re all going to have to set our own journalistic best practices as we move forward and be clear that our posts are ours, and if you comment, do so at your own risk. If you decided my (over)posting and sharing of information is not for you, then I completely respect that. If nothing else it is my contention that we are in control of our own narratives, and if we don’t want to blend our colors into one another’s then we should never feel obligated to do so.

But you might miss out on that great cocktail recipe. Just sayin.’ Passing up the details of my recent gall bladder surgery, well, don’t blame you.

Relabeling and Code Switching

This is one structural/literary choice/device that needs to be examined much more thoroughly. This is Orwellian doublethink at a mastery level.

  • Alt-Right means NazSupremacistsemicists/Domestic Terrorists.
  • “CITE EVIDENCE” means “I’m firing my misdirection shotgun to make you try to spend the time to prove something I’m not going to believe anyway.”
  • Mansplaining: A misandric term meaning when someone patronizingly “helps” to fill in the background knowledge for someone else. It is observed by a man or woman who explains to another woman what is happening.

Repeated Article Loop

The repeated or republished article is an interesting device– I included it in this structure series because while reading any narrative, flashbacks and foreshadowing are regular solid tools to move a reader through a narrative–and the repeated article, and I’ll include Facebook’s “Shared Memory” device, does the same purpose. This can be good and not so good, especially not so good when it plays house with Fake News. Some stories are repeated so often, and intentionally they use an old photograph from another incident.

Note to social media and big mega software folks: Please bring back i-Google. Okay. That’s never going to happen. But invent an organized way people can read an article, and then share it to an album and organize it, and it won’t go back in their feed. Yes, something like bookmarks, and folders, but in that media source.

Children’s/YA Literature

Lest you think I’m all doom-gloom (hey, I didn’t make this mess!) I have some heartening news, too. Turns out my master’s thesis of using children’s literature to engage students wasn’t too far off the mark. (Insert a mini-eye roll emoji here.)

Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

How Reading Literature Cultivates Empathy

Book Lists and Reading Challenges

I have fallen in love with BookRiot and Nerdy Book Club. The format and structure of these sites are simple: curate lists of books that a reader might love. This type of literary world-wide book club is dangerous for my budget, though, because I want all the books!

The word choice of “challenge” is interesting to me, as well as the choice of ‘lists.’ Challenge and lists implies plowing through, and not necessarily joyfully. I use these words, too, but wonder if there will be another approach that is less perfectionistic, completism, or competitive.

My students’ Reading Road Trip got a flat tire this year, punctured by too many tests, agendas, and chaos. But I have Mrs. Darcy’s list again, so we’ll see!

See above link.

On-line Shared Annotations

As we move toward bigger and grander conversations, it’s my hope we use our technology for idea and question sharing — stil think Genius and other on-line share annotation tools and sites are pretty cool.

And annotations on real books — too.

Annotated Bible

TedTalks

TedTalks, Crash Course, VSauce, etc, are specific structures that have become my second life in terms of the lecture hall with great professors.

Yes, please. And thank you.

These ten formats are all worthy of some analysis and thought: we’re speaking in shorthand more than ever, and being adept at all forms of communication are going to be critical.

And getting good recipes for cocktails. Want to see my surgery scars?

Series: Elements of Structure Part 8: Zines and Chaps

From SheRa
From SheRa

Zine magazines and Chapbooks – two formats that have specific structures that speak to the urgency of getting something out there, fast, with beauty.

In this recent post, The Resurgence of the Zine Culture, the writer makes a strong case for zines returning popularity.

“It’s as simple as folding some paper and letting your creativity flourish. Splatter paint on it, write words haphazardly across the page, photograph everything. You can write about cats or “Doctor Who” or the ways media is suppressing black voices. There are no rules and no limits.”

Seriously: the potential for this!! Students crave a balance between making things and screentime, though these can be published on- line too, and distributed to a wider audience.  But how intimate and urgent is the passed note, the quick shout?

I am curious, though, what would be the learning target and success criteria wording?

Something to the effect, “SWBAT…

I mean, just how do I translate “But, as Rookie Magazine said, “Zine-making isn’t about rules or knowledge; it’s about freedom and power.” to a learning target?

Magical paraphrasing will come to me, no doubt.

In any case, I’m thinking this is a great idea to spark January or add to my Burning Questions unit (whenever that happens…).

But maybe that’s the point of a zine: it needs to happen right now. Maybe I’ll make one this afternoon.

 

Series: Elements of Structure Part 7: World Building

Open Culture: Annotated Map
Open Culture: Annotated Map

Recently my arrival at some conclusions has left me feeling a bit off, beginning with my inability to make decisions or plan, as if I thought I knew what my destination was, only to find out I am on the other side of the rails. In conjunction with the dawning light that while I work at a Title I school, my judgment, motivation, professionalism and even integrity will always be criticized at worst, and questioned at least. Can I build up my students’ learning with the help of colleagues and collaboration, or will continue to be singled out?

Which is why I’m sitting here questioning if this idea is a good one or not. If I’ll get support or buy-in, or not. And if not, does it matter? Not all ideas are good ones.

*Inner voice: “Stop. Stop writing about your process. Just spill it: what’s the idea?”*

Okay: World Building.

Think about it.

This unit would cover every single content area, including health/fitness.

  • Social Studies: What better way to understand the world and history than to create one from scratch?
  • English/Language Arts: What better way to familiarize oneself with archetypes, monomyths, plot, setting, structure and creativity?
  • Math: What better way to understand how the boundaries and shapes of things influence our lives? Productivity, consumerism, population and exponential thinking and real-world problems?
  • Science: What better way to look at the impact of disease, oceans, pollution, land masses, air to breathe and inventions influence culture,
  • PE/Health: What better way to explore the kinetic movements of cultures, tribes, groups, cities, as well as health and well-being? Do you think for one moment Thorin Oakenshield wasn’t buff?!

(Just needed an excuse to post a picture of T. O.:)

thorin-oakenshield_in_the_hobbit

  • Exploratory: Cooking, making, building, music, technology: all the ways we’re connected and engaged.

fifth-season

I read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin recently, and it’s amazing. It does have some graphic sexuality, so wouldn’t recommend for anyone younger than 17-18. Her world-view and creation are sublime. It took me some time to understand what was happening, but once I fell into the setting it felt like I had lived there forever, and now. And isn’t that the true beauty of a new world, a fantasy world? It feels more truthful than the real one and helps give context to what’s known and believed.

And please: don’t forget women in your world.

I often tell students that the best thing about writing is getting to play god/goddess: you create the world and control the characters, and this is empowering. At this writing, I’m not sure what the end product will be, or the essential questions/enduring understanding. Units weren’t built in a day, you know.

One idea to help students get started is to take a few ‘micro’ pictures of land, and see if they can create a world from it:

Except for the giant beastie's leg, this might be a good place to start.
Except for the giant beastie’s leg, this might be a good place to start.

So, as I’ll map out my ideas later. The essential piece is the questions, and take a page from creation and origin myths. What needs to be made first, and how to make it?

If you have any ideas to share, please do so.

Series: Elements of Structure Part 6: It’s like…

redcap

 

Analogies.

Anecdotes.

Allusions.

How do we connect with readers?

I am cursed with reading. I used to love it: diving down deep into a novel or story, sprinkling my mind with pixie dust and faraway vistas. It seems all I read lately are op-ed pieces that make my blood pressure rise. My tether to fantasy and imagination frays and twists: reading for pleasure is challenging.  A recent article in the Washington Post by Charles Lane, “Griping about the popular vote? Get over it.” Lane begins his piece as any hack, by using a sports analogy.

I hate sports analogies.

Sports analogies are accessible to the majority of readers. However, I contend that the use of a poorly-ironed out sports analogy is dangerous and defective. The sports analogy he uses doesn’t make sense: he states that the election is like giving the presidency to the yards gained, not the points scored. How about explaining the laws on the books and the Constitution? Oh, perhaps that’s too rough for his audience and his purpose: he wants to give Trump supporters the ‘feel good’ moment of a football analogy to make them feel smart and nod in understanding and agreement, not realizing how flimsy it all is. The article is embedded with links and other ideas that counter the writer’s. It’s easy to see how analogies can misdirect and overwhelm. Why look up any counter argument when the sports analogy is right there?

Today the Electoral College will decide if the president-elect is qualified or not, treasonous, or not, and fit to serve the American people. (He’s not.) And this is how using a cliche or analogy that is false can be dangerous.

One of my friends, (we don’t see eye to eye politically, but we do enjoy the conversation: a rare gift these days) asked me about what kinds of analogies are useful. I’m not sure.

My mind’s been wandering and created this list of (cliched) analogies:

  • Sports
  • Pregnancy/giving birth
  • Ship/Sailing
  • Journey/enlightenment
  • Gaming
  • Winners/losers
  • Quest
  • Family/kids
  • War/Battle
  • Magic/Entertainment
  • Cooking/baking
  • Gardens/growing

What other ones can you think of?

The difference between an analogy and an anecdote in this instance is the analogy misdirects the reader to feel that some parallel logic, while an anecdote, being personal, speaks to larger themes and questions, and in this instance would provide greater credibility and connection.

This information is from the http://bhsenglishdepartment.files.wordpress.com/ blog:

Simile: A comparison between two DISSIMILAR things, using “like” or “as” – e.g. Her face is like an ice cream cone

Metaphor: An implicit comparison between two DISSIMILAR things – e.g. He is a warthog ***In both similes and metaphors, the second item takes the place of the first item.*** In other words, the face has the qualities of an ice cream cone, the man is a warthog. ALSO NOTE: The meaning of a simile or a metaphor IS NOT LITERAL. Her face is not triangular or cold to the touch, and he does not smell bad or have pointy teeth coming out of his face.

Analogy: A statement that shows how someone or something IS ACTUALLY LIKE a second thing. In an analogy, unlike a simile or metaphor, you do not use the second item to replace the first, but rather, to highlight some unseen quality. Instead of saying “He is a pig” (a metaphor), one might say, “Watching you eat is like watching a pig roll in mud”

Cliché: A simile, metaphor or analogy that has been overused. The reason for using the above devices is to bring some NEW insight to a piece of writing. Using old, threadbare similes, metaphors and analogies add little, if anything to the writing.

e.g. like a rock (simile), she is an angel (metaphor), dead as a doornail (analogy)

Easy, right?

The trick is to avoid using cliches, but that’s not an easy trick to pull off. (So very meta in the cliche department right now.)

Here are a few other sites that may prove useful:

http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/cliches.html

http://www.metamia.com/analogize.php?q=cliche

When you have a purpose and message for speaking, my advice would be to use anecdotes over analogies.

We had a former admin who used to show us this scene from Remember the Titans. It was his theme “song:”

I remember this, but more importantly, I remember a personal story he shared about a teacher who held him up to higher standards and kept him accountable. I remember his personal story more.

My current admin plays us this, (and it scares the mess out of us):

We’re still in the process of getting to know one another, but the more personal stories she shares and her vision, the stronger the whole staff is. We don’t need to be scared into coming to work — it’s not motivating. We know how important it is. We just want to get to work.

Neither of these is wrong, inaccurate, or without merit and feeling. They are short-cuts to a broader message, and that’s the purpose of analogies, anecdotes, and allusions. They help connect the reader quickly to ideas. Just be cautious in that the ideas are connected well and strong.