Wonk Wednesday: Schools as Vehicles of Legitimacy

An interesting trend in schools is this adoration of charter schools that are just one drill sergeant shy of being military institutions, at least as far as discipline goes. We read Teach Like a Champion in my teacher preparation program and talked a lot about the profound importance of instilling discipline in the younglings. In teacher prep programs and our broader culture, there is a lot of celebration of discipline as a key part of a successful school. In low-income communities, charters are celebrated for their “zero tolerance” discipline and rigidity; they are seen as bringing the savior of discipline to their students.

In the school where I taught, discipline was a constant topic. I was scolded for not writing enough referrals/being strict enough with my kids. At the time, I didn’t really have a specific reason why I didn’t believe in sending kids to the office constantly; I spoke mostly about the fact that I trusted them and wanted to work with them on their behavior and actions, rather than outsourcing it to the office (my students were 15 and 16 years old, so I stand by my belief in treating them like adults who are worthy of respectful discourse rather than ignorant children who need to be given time out). Looking back, though, I think part of it was that I felt that top-down authoritarian discipline wasn’t a value that I wanted to teach my students to love.

Granted, I was basically trying to lead a revolution in my classroom, so my methods may seem strange to others. But bear with me here.

My kids are not in an equal world. Most of them were students of color, most of them were coming from poor families (some were even homeless), and most of them were far behind where they “should be,” academically. Those who didn’t fall into all, or even one, of those categories, will still carry the stigma of being from Oakland until they can get far enough in life to shrug it off (if they so choose). “Oakland” carries associations, the majority of which are not favorable.

My kids have enough of disadvantages. I do not want to train them to be blind followers who rely on external authorities and rigid structures in order to make their way in life. My kids might have been academically behind, but it wasn’t because they aren’t smart. They are brilliant, in a wonderful diversity of ways. They are full of talents, ideas, and righteous anger. But I heard from so many of them so constantly that they were bad at school. That they were never going anywhere in life. That they were bad kids.

It’s possible that an absurdly rigid discipline system might’ve brought up some test scores. Possible (a lot of these vaunted zero-tolerance charters don’t actually score any better than their counterparts; it’s almost as if discipline isn’t actually the problem and that poverty and systemic inequality might be). However, I will feel like I am more of a successful teacher if I can send my students out into the world armed with a sense of self and intrinsic value than if I beat that out of them in exchange for discipline and test scores.

Strict discipline means you get to be someone’s lackey. I do not wish that life on my students.

Self-discipline does not necessarily spring out of externally enforced, top-down authoritarian discipline. Self-discipline is what leads people to be able to thrive through their talents and creativity and values. That is what I tried to give my students (though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I succeeded).

Social legitimacy means that your voice is heard and valued. Schools promise to grant young people social legitimacy through a credential. To get that credential, you must adhere to structures and discipline.*

So what is the value of legitimacy if it comes at the cost of having your voice silenced to get it?

This week’s essay, as you may gather, is about schools as legitimacy-granting institutions and vehicles of social mobility. It’s framed around the foundation put in place by the common school movement, which happened during a really fascinating time in history (the market revolution and the second Great Awakening–good times). The common school movement had the noble goal of bringing education to the masses and providing equality of education for all–huzzah! On the flip side, they also had a not really veiled at all goal of social control. Regrettably, even though our society has shifted away from the context in which we needed schools as places to socialize and discipline, the way that we assign value to schools hasn’t shifted away from that structure because we have to internalized this narrative of what school is and what schools look like. Thus, despite the noble goal of legitimizing marginalized communities, what happens instead is that communities are smothered and neutered in senseless discipline and empty “education.”

I am just really angry about all the ways in which our culture demands that “non-dominant narrative” people have to justify themselves and prove their worthiness before their voices will be heard. From heavy issues such as race down to the lighter issues like the fake geek girl hubbub, I am sick of people being made “less than” based on whether or not they meet arbitrary standards. Truly, one’s worth cannot be measured by a high school diploma, and although I personally think having high school diplomas is great and I want my students to have them, I think it’s a shit way to determine whether or not someone has merit as a person. And yet we can’t seem to stop.

The Common School’s Legacy: Legitimacy and Social Control – PDF

Texts for this week:

  • Cuban, Larry. (2013) Inside the Black Box of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Cuban, Larry & Tyack, David. (1995) Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Labaree, David. (2010) Someone Has to Fail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Apparently, Harvard University Press is getting a lot of damn money from me.

*I know that I mentioned that I would write about why I left teaching. I will, I promise. But this is a little window into one of the reasons–while I came to teaching because of my drive to help people and change lives for the better, I am partially pushed away from teaching because in many ways my values reject the way we do schooling in America. I do not truly believe in the system, so while I tried hard to give my students the best that I could, I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite. That gets exhausting.

10/08/2014. Tags: , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Wonk Wednesday (sort of): The Purpose of Schooling

Ed. Note: Okay, so I am not doing a good job with the whole posting on a schedule thing. We’ll get there, I swear.

Last week, I read Larry Cuban and David Tyack’s book Tinkering Toward Utopia, a history of education reform in the United States. One of the biggest challenges that I saw coming up again and again is the question of WHY we have schooling, particularly universally accessible public schooling.

On the one hand, we want to believe in equality of opportunity; we want to believe that our country is a meritocracy. The idea of everyone having the same chances in life is the foundation upon which we built the narrative of the American Dream and the Horatio-Alger-esque “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mantra.

On the other hand, we want to WIN. So for our own children or communities or what-have-you, we want to have the BETTER equality, essentially. It’s fine for everyone to have schooling–but for our group, we want the best schooling. Everyone can have an opportunity, but we want to have the success.

In my opinion, it boils down to the ferocious individualism that underpins so much of the American ideology–although we are all in this together, as a society, we are more concerned about the success of ourselves and our “people” than we are with the success of our society. If we were worried about our society as a whole succeeding, then welfare and Obamacare and whatnot wouldn’t be so controversial and consistently contested. However, we are concerned that by providing for others, we are lessening our own chances. Rather than seeing “good” as a common pool for all, where the more our society wins, the more we win, we see “good” as a finite resource, and if we are sharing with others, then there is less for us.

This fear of losing comes into play in how we approach education. However, because our country was also founded on the idea of being a “city on a hill” and being an example to the rest of the world, because of our extreme pride in our excellent values and equal society, we cannot actively voice these beliefs. While this is quickly changing–one need only look to a great deal of our welfare debate to see the fact that it is becoming more and more common to loudly proclaim that we are not all equally deserving–it is still fairly taboo in education to admit that we wish a lesser quality upon groups who are “other.”

In fact, education remains so firmly rooted in this idea of equality BECAUSE it justifies our ability to deny welfare or the necessity of affirmative action or anything else like that. So long as we continue to buy into the narrative of equal opportunity that is provided by our universal public schools, then we can blindly insist that because everyone had the same choice to make something of themselves, those who are on welfare or don’t get into elite colleges or so on have only themselves to blame and we shouldn’t be responsible for helping them, as they CHOSE not to help themselves. Education is, when you get right down to it, one of the most basic foundational principles that justifies discrimination in our society.

So what I looked at in my essay for this week is the idea of education as a lofty narrative, but actually a very selfish and grubby purpose. It is our unwillingness to be honest about what we want out of education that makes it so difficult to reform schools and actually succeed in creating quality education in America.

So, it’s a really light-hearted and cheerful read is what I’m saying.

The Purpose of Schooling – PDF

10/06/2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Wonk Wednesday: Teacher Vulnerability

Wonk Wednesday is going to be my new weekly post, in which I will reflect on whatever I am currently doing in school, and most weeks I will post the reflection essay (identifying information removed) for my History of School Reform seminar, based on my readings and reflections for the week.

This week, I’m thinking about teacher vulnerability.

There’s a lot of dialogue around why teachers are so hesitant/resistant to change their classroom practice, despite the never-ending attempts of policymakers to force this to happen.

Teacher vulnerability is my number one explanation for why this doesn’t happen.

1) Teachers are primarily in it for their students. Changing up “how to do school” is risky for students, running the chance that they will become overwhelmed, scared, or angry about the changes. Students can suffer damage to their confidence, as well as to their learning. When the entire foundation of your purpose is helping students grow and learn, that is one hell of a risk to be taking without any guarantee of payoff!

1b) Teachers are strongly emotionally invested in their students and their work. While many professions take pride in their work, there are few professions that involve such an intimate intertwining of practice and personality. When a teacher engages with students, the teacher is making him or herself vulnerable and putting themselves at risk along with the student. Teaching is an act of emotional giving, and how we teach is deeply personal. Thus, not only are we being pushed to change something that is fundamentally who we are, but we are running the risk of ruining whatever rapport, trust, or relationships we have built. Teachers, particularly in extra-demanding districts and classrooms, are profoundly emotionally vulnerable, so our defenses are up a lot.

2) Parents say they want reform, but what they actually want is for their kid to get good grades, go to a great college, and get an absurdly high-paying job. They do not actually two figs about whether or not Junior is having a deeply inspiring classroom experience–that would be dandy, but if it comes at the cost of Junior’s SAT scores, no matter how meaningful and motivating the experience was, almost all parents will consider that a bad pedagogical decision. Curiosity and inspiration is encouraged, but RESULTS are valued. This means teachers are in jeopardy of disciplinary action, up to and including losing their jobs.

3) Admin. See above.

4) Policy trends move so goddamn fast, and often in this ridiculously cyclical fashion. It is entirely plausible that by the time a teacher has rewritten an entire curriculum, completely revamped how they structure their classroom, and managed to promote the deep change within themselves needed to really get into this new “adventurous” teaching, there’s a very good chance that we’ll be back to the old way. Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Because policy is so closely intertwined with elections, things tend to change a lot. Teachers become like rocks, washed in the rain of policy–sure, things might change, but it’s gonna take centuries, so I hope you’re prepared to wait. Because by the time teachers have subscribed to this current trend, they’ll have to switch around and go on to something else if they want to keep their jobs. It’s easier to protect yourself by only adhering in a very cursory fashion.

Ultimately, teachers want to be the best teachers they can be. They want to try new things and they want to learn and grow. However, the opportunities are seldom presented, and they are very rarely presented with the kind of support, resources, and time that are needed. Teachers do work that is so demanding that adding additional vulnerability into their already challenging positions will automatically be met with resistance.

essay1 <–the ugliest ever PDF imbed of my reflection essay on this topic for my reform class

Texts for this week:

  • Cuban, Larry. (2013) Inside the Black Box of Education. Cambridge, CA: Harvard University Press.
  • Cohen, David K. (1988), Teaching practice: Plus que ça change. In Phillip W. Jackson (ed.), Contributing to Educational change (pp. 27-84). Berkeley: McCutchan.
  • Elmore, Richard F., & McLaughlin, Milbrey W. (1988). Steady work. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

09/24/2014. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

I return!

…Not that I think anyone is reading this thing. But nonetheless.

It’s been a long, silent three years, hasn’t it? I wish I had kept up with posting–I had intended to post several days a week during my lunch break while I was teaching, hoping to use it the practice both to be reflective of my teaching and growth as a teacher, and as a bit of stress relief. In later years, I would have liked to have become a blog where teachers could go to discover resources and/or get inspired.

That failed, clearly.

So now here I am in graduate school, getting ready to add another couple letters of alphabet soup to my Social Justice Warrior certification list. Once again, I’m hoping to post regularly to use this as a place to reflect on my growth and process the learning I’m doing, but also to hopefully have some good dialogue about education, policy, teaching, and learning.

I know that to many teachers–oftentimes myself included–the idea of leaving the classroom is tantamount to giving up or selling out, and policy people/researchers are the WORST. So I guess I’m kind of joining the enemy. However, I believe that SOMEONE has to do the dirty work so that the talented teachers can do what they do with the least amount of interference. I far prefer that the person doing the dirty work is someone with experience in the classroom and not just some MBA who thinks they understand schools because they can perform a cost-benefit analysis, so goodbye free breakfasts for students!

I’m hoping to post three times a week, but I’m committing myself to at least once a week. Although education will be the focus, this will continue to be the jack of all trades blog it has always aspired to be.

Later this week: why I left teaching. I know a million ex-teachers have posted their thoughts, but dammit, now it’s my turn.

09/24/2014. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

On Teacher Burnout

It is the third week of the school year, and I am already contemplating the fact that I might not make it through my first year of teaching.

There’s a lot of factors at play here–the stress and difficulty of my cross country move being a large one; not only do I feel lonely, but the majority of my time outside of school is spent in trying to do things like procure groceries, unpack my luggage, buy a lamp, or find the UPS depot to pick up a package (and end up losing over three hours of my night to their disorganization; thanks UPS!). Many of the factors that are burning me out are not school-specific ones.

However, there are several issues that are issues many schools face.

For one, I suffer a significant lack of materials. My curriculum–which was assigned to me by my school–is based entirely around handouts and reading packets. However, I am denied photocopy paper and the machine is rarely stocked with paper. Somehow, I need to make a minimum of ten pages of copies per student per day, but I am not provided with the materials. Without the copies, however, I can’t teach the content.

When I DO manage to make copies, I have to stick to the bare minimum. With ninth graders, you need to give them a lot. They need graphic organizers, note-taking guides, vocabulary lists, hard copies of all assignments and the requirements (right now I have to settle for writing everything on the board), worksheets, etc. I can give them none of these things because I can barely even give them the work the school expects them to do.

So, at best, I can give my students the absolute bare minimum of materials, with absolutely nothing to help them utilize what we give them.

In addition, I have no technology in my classroom. I have a very old over head projector (the kind with which you use transparencies, not the kind that hooks up to a computer) that doesn’t focus the entire page at once. I also don’t have a screen onto which I can project with said projector, so I have to use either the whiteboard (which doesn’t erase fully so whiteboard marker barely even shows up) or the wall above the whiteboard, which is so high up that most of the students have difficulty making out the words of the poorly focused projector. And yes, I know how to focus it–I get it to the best possible setting and then hope for the best. I can’t give my students projects based on technology–such as presentations using Powerpoint or other media–because there is no guarantee that they have access to such things at home, and even if they stayed after school to work in the library, we would be unable to access their efforts in class. Likewise, I cannot use Powerpoint, videos, audio, etc in class. I teach a double-period block class, but I have no way to break up the monotony of the class. Media makes an enormous difference, and it’s yet another resource I cannot utilize.

I’m teaching my students about California geography, but I have no map of California and no way to access such a thing. I’m teaching short stories, but often without knowing if I will be able to hand out the stories or not.

My class has no textbook, and the novel we’re supposed to start next week… won’t be available for another two weeks or so. So I have been told to “fill time.”

Meanwhile, I’m a new teacher, and teaching out of my subject area, so filling time is hard for me. I dislike giving busy work, and I dislike giving work that I cannot collect and grade, and I’m already in over my head. I try to put writing prompts and assignments on the overhead, but that’s ineffectual and difficult. I can’t give the students handouts because I can’t make copies. I can’t have them work in their books because they have no books. Meanwhile, I’m struggling with classroom management, so I end my days drained and empty despite having gotten next to nothing done over the course of the day.

Finally, my classroom is not my classroom. The previous teacher has yet to move out her belongings and materials, so my social studies classroom is full of science and physiology posters and books, and I keep being told “it’ll be cleaned out soon.” I don’t have enough seating for my students, and instead of desks, like every other teacher, I have long tables, which makes arranging the classroom near impossible. It is difficult to create a classroom culture in a classroom that is not yours, regardless of whether or not you are the only one teaching in it.

I have phenomenal colleagues who are working hard to support me and help me, but without materials and resources, I feel powerless and lost. By the end of the day, I want to cry. When I get home, I want so badly to work on getting ahead on my curriculum, creating new materials, improving my systems, but I am generally so crushed and overwhelmed that it’s all I can do to cook dinner and sit on the couch, let alone deal with any of the mess of my personal life or professional mess.

This is where new teacher burnout comes from. People talk about classroom management overwhelming and demoralizing new teachers, and it does, but the thing is that we already have the odds stacked against us before we even have to deal with student problems. There are already so many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that by the time we enter the room, we already feel like we’ve lost the battle, so of course classroom management is just the icing on the cake. It’s not hard to break something that’s already barely holding together.

Hmm. And I swore I was going to be more positive.

09/14/2011. Tags: . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Fielding a Curve Ball

Here I am, in the third week of my first year of full time teaching.

I am teaching a class in which I am not certified (California Studies, when my certification is in English) and I got hired only days before the school year started. I did not start till days after. My classroom is still full of the belongings and decor of the previous teacher. I’m adapting lesson plans and curriculum from another teacher, who has been teaching Cal Studies for almost a decade. On the plus side, he knows his stuff. On the downside, he knows his stuff–most of the materials are little reminders to himself, rather than detailed information. I’m learning the materials only slightly before my students.

I just got an apartment, and I am still moving in. My belongings arrived from Boston only two days ago. Life is getting easier, mind you, now that I have my belongings.

I’m still finishing all my paperwork with HR. My curriculum is almost entire handouts and the photocopier is always broken. I have a severe shortage of materials. I have zero technology in my classroom (I thought Boston was bad, but I was wrong!). My students have major discipline issues and do not do work reliably at all.

All that said, I am fortunate to have a job, and fortunate to have this job. My administration is wonderful, and my colleagues are fantastic. I feel very supported, and the environment is overall positive. While I am often frustrated by my students, there are great moments as well, and there are several students that stand out as particularly delightful. I already have a Doctor Who action figure at my desk that a student brought in for me. That’s a warm fuzzy.

I am trying to learn to better manage my classes–a problem I had overcome in Boston, but must start from scratch here. I am trying to learn California history. I am trying to learn the particular nature of my school. I am trying to learn to write better lessons for really long classes (in Boston, I had about 45 minutes, here I have two hour blocks!). I am trying to learn a new school-wide discipline system, and how to best use it.

Plus, I’m learning a whole new city. That part is mostly exciting, but sometimes stressful. I’m establishing my adorable new apartment, which is mostly exciting, but sometimes stressful. I’ve downgraded from a fairly spacious one bedroom to a studio, so it’s been a challenge. My books are moved in, though, which is always a wonderful thing to see.

Today, I’m just pushing myself to write in this blog again. Starting tomorrow, I hope, I will begin talking more about what I’m teaching and what’s going on in my classes. I want to talk about how I’m creating my materials and what I’m learning about education.

Urban education is a challenge. Being a first year teacher is a challenge. This year is a huge challenge, but one with which I look forward to grappling. I will overcome it, I will do my job well, and I will come out a better teacher.

09/13/2011. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

My marxist feminist analysis brings all the boys to the yard…

Reporting LIVE from writing a paper about the Marxist themes present in The Principia Discordia!

Your vocabulary word of the night is KYNICAL. Screw those cynical hipsters, I am all kinds of kynical, baby. (I’m too sexy for my paradigm. Too sexy for my paradigm. And I do my little turn on the discourse.)

Here’s a lovely little excerpt for you from Slavoj Zizek’s “The Sublime Object of Ideology”:

But all this is already well known: it is the classic concept of ideology as “false consciousness,” misrecognition of the social reality which is part of this reality itself. Our question is: does this concept of ideology as a naive consciousness still apply to today’s world? Is it still operating today? In the Critique of Cynical Reason (1983), a great bestseller in Germany, Peter Sloterdijk puts forward the thesis that ideology’s dominant mode of functioning is cynical, which renders impossible–or, more precisely, vain–the classic critical-ideological procedure. The cynical subject is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he nonetheless still insists upon the mask. The formula, as proposed by Sloterdijk, would then be: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” Cynical reason is no longer naive, but is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness: one knows the falsehood very well, one is well aware of a particularly interest hidden behind an ideological universality, but still one does not renounce it.

We must distinguish this cynical position strictly from what Sloterdijk calls kynicism. Kynicism represents the popular, plebeian rejection of the official culture by means of irony and sarcasm: the classical kynical procedure is to confront the pathetic phrases of the ruling official ideology–its solemn, grave tonality–with everyday banality and to hold them up to ridicule, thus exposing behind the sublime noblesse of the ideological phrases the egotistical interests, the violence, the brutal claims to power. This procedure, then, is more pragmatic than argumentative: it subverts the official proposition by confronting it with the situation of its enunciation; it proceeds ad hominem (for example when a politician preaches the duty of patriotic sacrifice, kynicism exposes the personal gain he is making from the sacrifice of others).

Cynicism is the answer of the ruling culture to this kynical subversion: it recognizes, it takes into account, the particular interest behind the ideological universality, the distance between the ideological mask and the reality, but it still finds reason to retain the mask.

So. I hope you wanna go read some Zizek now. Dude is pretty awesome, and the essay is short. It’s dense, but short, and well worth reading.

Just… process that last paragraph in that quote for a little bit. Cynicism–and, dare I say, a huge amount of our “self-aware” and “ironic” popular culture–is just a big ol’ discrediting of valid complaints and criticisms. Every time someone says that it’s okay to make inappropriate jokes/comments because we live in a post-racial/post-feminist/post-whatever society, that’s what’s going on.

So do everyone a favor and go out and punch an asshole. Then explain we live in a post-violence society, so it’s just FUNNY. A-yep.

P.S. This post has totally inspired me to add a new tag. “Under the influence of academia.” For posting while snorting grad school.

P.P.S. This paper makes me want to stick a hook up through my nose and yank my brains out and then pop out my eyeballs with a grapefruit spoon. I fucking love grad school and I don’t ever want to leave. I am serious. This is what I love.

11/04/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Remember to vote…

…but not just for political office.

The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), is the largest and oldest rape crisis center in Massachusetts. They serve the metro-Boston area and they do absolutely amazing work. They provide a 24-hour hot line for callers in crisis to reach a trained, caring human being; they also provide advocates to go with survivors to the hospital, to court, talk to police, and so on. They provide outreach into the community, going to schools, events, speaking with law enforcement, etc, helping to educate about the reality of rape and sexual violence. RCCs make such a huge difference in both helping survivors and providing valuable education, and BARCC is exemplary.

The work that BARCC does in our community is very important and very real. They have only a minuscule paid stuff, with a large part of the work (including the hot line, advocates, and community outreach) being done by incredibly dedicated, hard-working volunteers. All of the volunteers go through a 40-hour training program, and they continue to be involved in further training and supervision throughout their time with the center. Running the center is not an inexpensive proposition, and how much they are able to do is directly impacted by how much money they have. The Classy Awards represent an opportunity for BARCC to win some more funding to help them further their mission.

Please go to the Classy Awards and vote for BARCC. They are up for the vote in several categories, so please make sure you check out the whole page and support them wherever they’re up (also support some of the other great Boston non-profits, of course!).

The voting is open through November 5th, so please share this with anyone you may know who would be willing to vote. This is such an important opportunity for BARCC and it will only take a few seconds to cast your vote. Thank you!

11/02/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

(echo, echo, echo…)

Hello, internets. It’s been a while.

I’m up to my eyeballs in a masters degree, and applying to PhD programs. I just got laid off from my part time job and am now “up shit creek” as they say in the parlance of the times. I’m also dealing with a pretty serious bout of depression, so maintaining basic human functioning has somewhat overridden my desire to keep this updated.

I’m going to try to write here more often, though, as I would like to keep this going. To that end, I’m going to expand my horizons a little. I’ll be writing beyond strictly current events feminism stuff and instead touching in on things I’m covering in class, general reflections and bookishness, and also roping in cooking, writing, and assorted hobbies I engage in, in order to at least keep some content flowing. It’ll be neat stuff, hopefully (sewing, working with power tools, fun stuff!).

Anyways, this month is both National Novel Writing Month AND the Vegan Month of Food (VeganMOFO!). I will be participating in NaNoWriMo same as every year, and my novel this year has a feminist theme (including vigilante justice!), so I might post about that occasionally. I am not participating in VeganMoFo because I don’t have the money to make post-worthy stuff every day. Nor the time, nor the energy. However, I will be regularly posting about the amazingly delicious things that I make for MoFo and tagging them accordingly. I’m calling this MINI-MOFO. In the future, full-on MoFo action will happen, but for now, I’m just a MoFo aspirer. So, if you really hate vegan food, that’s probably good for you. On the other hand, if you really hate vegan food, what’s wrong with you?

So, there’s that. Stay tuned to see if I survive the PhD application process, write a damn novel, cook some vegan food, get a decent GPA this semester, and not have a nervous breakdown.

*whistle* And we’re off!

11/02/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

A Weekend In Nerd Paradise

Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally up and posting again. I’ve been crazy sick for a while now, and today I was finally out of bed again. Hooray for that. Anyways, over Labor Day weekend, I went to Atlanta, GA, for my annual pilgrimage to the geek mecca that is Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is one of the largest conventions on the East Coast, and I’d argue that we have the most fun. There’s drinking, parties, concerts, incredible programming, and just a whole lot of ridiculous good times to be had.

I attended several amazing panels this year, and as much as I’d love to write a post on each one, I know that I won’t, so I’m going to try to fit my entire D*C rundown into one post. We’ll see how that goes.

Comics in Education: I attended a great panel on Friday in the Dragon*Con Academics track. This panel discussed the use of comics in the classroom. I was so excited about this panel, and while the panelists had a lot of good stuff to say, I was a little disappointed by how they seemed to focus exclusively on college-level classroom use. There was a great discussion about how students can best annotate pages of graphic novels, because that is a significant concern. Bringing images into a normally text-centric classroom definitely requires a different approach. However, in the case of many of us in the audience, we’re coming from the perspective of public high school classrooms, which means that students do not have their own copies of texts, and we cannot rationally ask them to obtain them. So, we have to consider how we can get our students to take effective notes and how much we can supplement with photocopies and handouts. Regardless, there was great discussion going on in the panel (which I regrettably had to leave early due to an obligation to be at a photoshoot), and I can’t wait to see what the track comes up with next year. I’m hoping to get some continued discussion going on through the internet between now and then.

Comics, Gender, and the Body: Another gem from the Dragon*Con Academics track. That has to be my new favorite track, and I’m really hoping to submit when they put forth the call for proposals for next year. Anyways, this panel was just phenomenal. One of the presenters discussed the gendering of superpowers, another discussed why the Invisible Woman is invisible. The discussion that followed was just amazing as well, and we ended up getting kicked out of the room so that the next panel could fill in. What a great panel experience! I’m hoping to look at some of this a little bit more in depth in my “Superwomen, vampires, and cyborgs” class this semester.

Battlestar Galactica: I went to one of the several BSG cast panels during the weekend. They were all amazing (I watched many of them when they were re-broadcast on the Con TV station), and the one I attended was just exceptional. There were brilliant questions about gender, politics, and religion, and the cast was intelligent and fun. One of the most interesting moments, though, was when someone brought up a moment in Season 4 when Chief kills Tori. Aaron Douglas, who plays Chief, commented on how everyone always flips out about that and he gets criticized for celebrating violence against women. First off, I don’t feel that’s accurate–the motivation behind the murder is revenge for Tori having killed his wife. The violent act was performed against a woman, but it wasn’t motivated by her being a woman; it was motivated by his desire to get revenge for his wife’s murder. It was irrelevant whether Tori was male or female. There were several instances of gendered violence, however, and those were almost always portrayed in a very negative light. I’m actually a huge fan of how Galactica portrays gender and gender relations. It’s far from perfect, but I also think that was part of the point; they make the point over and over throughout the series how flawed humanity is and how much we need to improve, and I often see evidence that issues of gender is one of those improvements they want us to look at. I’m hugely biased in all this, though, as I’m such as BSG fangirl and I hope to someday write a dissertation on the show. Anyways, after Aaron Douglas brought that up, Edward James Olmos, aka Admiral Adama, mentioned that any time we portray any violence on TV, we are in effect elevating and glamorizing/celebrating it, and that’s something we should always keep in mind. Brilliant. Such a fantastic panel!

Plus there was an adorable public proposal that was just too cute. 🙂

Anyways, this year’s Con was just huge.  There was also a college football game going on in Atlanta and tons of football fans decided to crash the D*C party. So this year there was an exceptionally high rate of women having problems with unwanted attentions, and some women even had to resort to physical retaliation to get men off of them. I myself had some experiences that really surprised me, as D*C is generally very much a safe space–we’re one big family of geeks and we’re good to each other. For the most part, the “problem people” were not wearing con badges.

So, the really cool thing that’s happening because of this is some grassroots activism. On assorted D*C related forums, people are talking about it. Someone printed up a ton of ribbons to attach to con badges that are brightly colored and say “back up!” so that next year, women can attach those to their badges to indicate to other people that if they’re having problems with inappropriate behavior, they can signal a back up badge person and they’ll come over to help. People have been writing (very polite, considerate) letters to Dragon*Con staff and the host hotels, and people have been writing back. There’s been a huge push of awareness, support within the community, and responsiveness on the part of the “powers that be.”

It’s really inspiring. I’m so happy to be part of a community that is so caring and active. This year’s Con was great, and I know next year’s will be even better. I can’t wait to wear my ribbon with pride and hopefully present at the Dragon*Con Academics track. Power to the geeky people!

Ed. Note: I’ll probably post a lot more about D*C in the coming weeks as I recover from being sick, so please accept my apologies for this poorly written post, but sometimes you just gotta go with what you’ve got!

09/14/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

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