Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ocular Recollections

Alright, I feel as though this topic earns the esteemed “ I TOLD YOU SO” award. Golf claps. Why? Wait for it..we’ll get there. Be patient, you know you want to read all of the super important things I have to say.

Remember when you were a kid and you collected pogs and slammers, baseball cards (big league chew optional), and comic books? No? Umm, then you’re either old-er or you’re a liar because if you’re clearly nerdy enough to be reading blogs on the internet, you participated in the previous three nerdy things..or something of the alike (think marbles or jax or something). I’m just sayin’, sorry. But seriously, at least when I was a kid…that is what kids did. Now nobody really cared about the pogs and baseball cards because naturally…pogs were a fad (thank God..really, it was a stupid game people), and baseball cards will always be appreciated. However, I always got shit for the comic books…although reading the comics in the Sunday paper was always okay..bite me hypocrite.

Anyhow, I remember being asked (which is a disguised way of telling) why I didn’t read something of substance, something that had purpose; comic books much like television will rot your brain…apparently. What’s funny about this..paradoxical if you will, is that sitcoms turned comic such as The Simpsons is not only highly hilarious, but remarkably intelligent and well written. If you do not know this, it means you are stupid and wouldn’t get the references throughout the show anyhow. Sorry dude. My point? Glad you waited around. My point is that some comics are not simply junk. Some are incredibly smart, well written and can even be..wait for it…educational.

As W&W point out for us, ask a kid today what their favorite book is and it’s not going to be (small tear) Moby Dick, but more like Naruto or Watchmen. However, watch out…comics and graphic novels are gateway drugs, I mean books. Kids that read these things are more likely to go on to read things like Moby Dick. This is clearly a genre of literature we cannot ignore. Comics and graphics novels are not simply entertainment anymore, so we must embrace them as literature. Let us not forget about Maus or the new Persepolis, I’ve even seen Macbeth done as a graphic novel…I dare you to say something about any of these not being of literary quality or having no purpose or substance. Surprise! The comic book and GN are here and are becoming the new wave of kid interest (look everyone…the students are reading!), and are showing up in classrooms all over the place because of their relevance and accessibility (look everyone…the students are reading!)…not because they are worthless. Comics and graphic novels are becoming such a huge thang that there are an endless number of afterschool clubs and programs that focus on exactly these things. This is difficult to ignore people. Yeah that’s right, just like the thespians, chess players, and physics club nerds. While they may still remain a rite of passage of sorts, comics and GN’s can also be a very powerful learning tool that isn’t only limited to teaching literacy skills. Insert “I told you so” here. Golf claps.

Two of the biggest money words in education are accessibility and differentiation. Many times these go hand in hand. I’m not just trying to pay my tuition here folks, I’m saying that that Gardner guy was on to something; straight lecture rarely works anymore (did it ever?), so we’ve got to give our kids other options to be successful. Different strokes for different folks..err somethin’. Example: I taught an eight-day creative writing class to 6-8th graders, God help me. Their goal over the eight days was to keep the fucking around to a minimum, and to submit some sort of creative piece to be published within the class book. The possibilities were endless. I heard some nonsense once about variety being the spice of life..I like to think it’s espresso but each their own. Nice pun huh? My students were allowed to draw, write, create, perform..whatever blew their bubble. I had more comic strips, graphic novels, artwork, and Manga, than I did short stories, poetry, plays, etc. However, I did end up with a nice collection of pieces, and I ended up with so many submissions because I left the options open (I think they call this creativity, or maybe we can call it an interdisciplinary learning experience), and didn’t make everyone write a damn haiku. The kids created what they wanted, not what I wanted-although the tricky part here is that this was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Yay. It’s fun to trick kids. They embraced what they were good at, were totally engaged and involved, and very serious about what they were working on as they had the choice and chance to showcase their skills, and were proud of their work.

Accessibility and differentiation. Money. Hey, lots of people think money=success so I’m riding that train.

I had many kids whom were into the whole Manga scene thank me for allowing them to create their own for credit, as apparently many of their teachers had banned “cartoon” drawing in class because it was not academic. Not academic? How so?? Comics have always helped kids read and write whether or not you want to admit it. They tell a story too. Ever picked up a “kid’s book?” What are those? Pictures??? Pictures with words??? Kinda similar if you ask me. Think of what people used to help tell stories back in the day, if you will. I’m thinking hieroglyphics here. Jeez, some of you people still only prefer books with pictures. This is art ladies and gents..last time I checked art was a required class in most schools, just like English or Reading. Not only is it art but it’s communicative. Comics, GN’s, etc. are a harmonious marriage between words and art…and I bet this is one that won’t end in divorce like the other 60%. Jealous much?

I wised up and got away from 6-8th graders and moved on to teaching 10th graders..wised up huh? Subjective. I kid; I heart all students of all ages. This spring they will have the opportunity to read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. This is not simply a GN-the book is filled with substance like the history of Iran, our involvement with Iran, and the role religion plays as a political entity. How educational…with pictures. It’s historical, political, sociological, religious, multicultural, humanistic and feminist literature all rolled into one…now that’s a buy one get one if I’ve ever seen one. In fact, graphic novels aren't that different from teaching traditional prose books unless you want to really focus on art, art styles, why things are drawn the way they are, paneling, etc. And..why the hell not? Is there not value in this? The answer is yes, yes there is. It’s called purpose. Again, it’s another book that can support a variety of academic disciplines. How nice, who doesn’t want to kill multiple birds with one big ass stone?

Relevant and accessible? Persepolis shows how the ordeals of teenagers throughout the world have common elements, while at the same time driving home the contrasts of a society that represses freedom of expression. Uhh I teach 15 and 16 year olds…enough said? Hope so. What about that other money word you ask…differentiation? During an interview the author, Marjane Satrapi says of the GN,"...unfortunately you know, most of the people, they consider animation much like comedies, as a genre. It's not a genre. It's a medium." It’s a medium of instruction, exchange, creativity, intervention, expression, communication, and a tons of other “ions” in which we as teachers can make ideas and concepts more accessible ($0.75) AND relevant ($0.75) to our students. That’s $1.50…I just bought a small dark roast to get me through 4th period. Marjane also states of her purpose as an author and of her intent, "I'm not a politician. I don't know how to solve the problems of the world. But as an artist, I have one duty: To ask questions." To ask questions. If you can get your students to do this (this is called critical thinking..i.e. the purpose of education) you have done your job and then some. Congratulations, inside the teachers’ lounge you will find a sheet cake with pink flowers and an incorrect spelling of your name on it..however, someone has drunk all the coffee..again.

Oh…and I told you so.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I'm Just Sayin'

Props to one of my students for introducing me to this so-called "ghetto reporter." Thanks lady.

Speaking of news...I don't think it gets any more REAL than this. May as well just tell it how it is folks.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Counterfeit Communiqué

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud-loudly-when I was writing this post sitting in my favorite little java spot. Writing, people watching, drinking cup after cup of coffee, I noticed this little plastic, obviously an ID badge of some sort, hanging off of someone’s purse. I was distracted by this because the plastic coating on the badge was reflecting this God-awful light on my computer screen as it swung around in the café’s light. Craning my neck like a fool trying to read it from my chair as it spun around, the woman in ownership of this purse/badge turned around before I could actually read it. Who cared at that point; I immediately knew who she was and for whom she worked. It was Esme Murphy from WCCO. In my coffee shop? Okay it’s not mine, but the ass print in this chair from numerous sittings certainly is. Regardless…my first “celebrity” sighting?? Ha. Actually before I noticed Esme (we’re now on a first name basis although perhaps she doesn’t know), I saw Pam Borton, the coach for the U of M women’s basketball team, and her significant other. Clearly my local coffee shop is where all the important people hang. Obviously why go..right? No. And yes, Esme does look just as "extreme" in person. Startling actually. No offense Ms. Murphy..I get's a news thing.

Anyhow, back on topic (riiight), I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony at seeing this woman, whose job is to relate the local and worldly news to the rest of us less informed-living under rocks people, while I’m thinking about how I hate the news and news people alike and much prefer “fake” news. I was half tempted to ask her what her thoughts were on news vs. fake news but alas, I didn’t really care enough to hear her p.o.v., and inevitably be force fed the notion that real news is honest and reliable and The Onion is an annihilation of such. Although she probably wouldn’t even go there and merely smile her Ch. 4 smile, being a bit of a nihilist-you could imagine my thoughts on this. I like onions-eating, cooking, newsworthy and the alike. Besides, talking to people before they’ve had their coffee is mean.

Whether or not TDS or TCR are recognized as legitimate..let me ask you…what the hell is legitimate anyhow? Isn’t this a personal preference? People are going to believe what they want to believe whether or not it is “truth.” Truth is subjective; it’s what you believe and after all, poorly lit. At least what someone has deemed as “fake” news offers another perspective. This should be what we’re after anyhow: perspective. The ability to think critically is the ability to take on or at least see another perspective. Are these shows funny? Yes, ridiculously so. Are they informative (as should “normal” news-whatever that is), yes they are. Plenty of people out there don’t watch the other news because it’s terrible and you have to watch what other people deem as newsworthy. It’s like the morning and evening version of daytime television with just as much hairspray, stupid names, makeup and drama- God help us all. However, I believe it’s still important to be informed, so at the very least, the “fake” news is still offering the same kind of news as WCCO but with more of what is missing: humor, wit, honesty, criticism and cynicism. Not to mention that THEY mention all of the things that “normal” news would never. People…read between the the things that aren’t written…they are left out simply because they are important! Shouldn’t we all be critical of news anyhow?

TDS and TCR aren’t necessarily “reporting” false news, they’re still discussing the same news goings-on, and still providing a medium for which young adults and adults alike can be informed-whether or not it’s “legit.” Imagine if we didn’t have such shows, either we’d have to rely on local news or none at all. Gross. I find it hard to believe that local news is any more informative, nonetheless in the “real” sense. “Fake” news may simply inspire a viewer or listener to further investigate what’s happening. Ta da! Mission accomplished. I have only ever searched for the remote to turn off WCCO (whatever, I prefer Kare 11 anyhow), and have never been inclined to further scrutinize an event.

We’re all news consumers whether or not we recognize or admit it. What’s more important to consider is whether or not the public can adequately make an informed decision. Are we smart enough to decipher what is true, what is false, what is worthwhile and what is bullshit? At least “fake” news offers an alternative to the norm, another platform on which to stand, and actually forces one to think about the previous. How nice. No single source of information should be the only source a person should have to work with. A satirical source of news is simply a subsequent source, and it doesn’t make me yell repugnant comments at the television-weather jokes or not. “Fake” news has the balls to question, analyze, and excoriate. I didn’t even have the balls to question Ms. Esme, even after she had sipped her coffee. What if we all believed what we were told? We'd all have blonde hair and blue eyes, have bangs and be wearing hot pants living underground in Montana still afraid of Y2K, and we'd all think George W. Bush is smart and well spoken. Or we could just watch TCR occasionally. I vote for the latter.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Babes In Toyland

Speaking of toys...

Sonic Youth

Advertisements on buses? Wait. We already do that. City buses. This makes sense to me. Like everything else in America isn’t a moving billboard…except for those that are stationary I suppose. But school buses? Doesn’t anyone else see the cry for help here? Shouldn’t a school bus full of children off to school be advertisement enough? NO??? God help us all. Schools are so broke that they have to reach out to advertisers to buy space on a school bus (that’s funny enough) to help raise money to keep the damn buses running…and the controversy is whether or not the ads should be in black and white or color to be more lucrative…I’m sure there are segregation/racist jokes in there somewhere but I have more tact than that people…really. This is a sad day for education. This, in my opinion, is not pop culture meets education, it’s no money + the necessity of education = plain and simple desperation. But I guess, dance monkey dance, do what you have to do, because goodness knows that buying space on a school bus to advertise for God knows what makes more sense than to stop skirting the fucking issue at hand and provide the money where it WILL ALWAYS BE NEEDED, NECESSARY AND BEST SPENT! Alright. I’m done. Sorry. Okay one more…seriously then I’m done. Perhaps I should make a paper sign that says not “Kick me” but “Tastes Great, Less Filling” and stick it on my back as I walk around because I’m a broke ass teacher and student..would you give me money to support “the cause”? Oh..I’m advertising beer...not myself. Deal breaker?

My goodness. Why not just call it what it is: psychological tactics able to subvert an individual's control of his own thinking, behavior, emotions, or decisions. Wait. Let’s just insert ad here instead:

Dear White and Walker: I feel as though I’ve been having this conversation for the past 9 months. It haunts me. Kid culture is often scrutinized, deemed as illegitimate, etc. but honestly; it may be the secret to lasting educational success..if we ever give kids some credit. Instead of trying to stop this irrepressible force (remember Sisyphus?) let’s meet them half way. Let’s see…engaging students and making text more accessible/relevant by reading Poe’s The Raven only, or pairing the text with watching The Simpsons “The Raven” Treehouse of Horror, Season 2: Episode 7F04. Hmm…I hope I get this answer right.

We can either ignore, feign knowledge of, simply close our eyes and cover our ears to the fact that kids say shit, fuck, and damn, or we can bring in a copy of the latest and greatest rap song (oxy moron?) and dissect why an artist felt the usage of selected words to be effective or necessary, what they accomplish, how they convey meaning, intended audience, etc. Let’s tally shall we? Critical thinking…check. Validation of students and their culture…check. Textual analysis…check. New/critical literacy…check. Stepping/thinking outside the box/comfort zone for everyone..check. Making lessons relevant and connective to lives…check. Totally engaged/interested students…check. Coolest fucking teacher award…check. Awesome. Whooda thunk Tupac could have provided all of the above? Nah. These kids would rather read Faust.

Okay, okay. I didn’t stumble upon an English major, it wasn’t accidental, nor was my desire to become a secondary English teacher. I heart the cannon. It’s just that I am also a student (please don’t read to me from your PowerPoint), have been one for 20 years almost non-stop (please show me and do something new..I’m dying here), and I’m a realist. Noooo. I am. My favorite book is Moby Dick. When most people hear that they vomit a little bit in their mouths. It’s okay..I get it’s not for everyone. Different strokes for different folks I think it goes. I realize that not all of my students are gonna be like yay! 300 pages of whaling! even though there is so much more going on in that book than harpooning…I just get that there has to be more for some kids. I am willing to accept that not all students in my class are going to be English majors, and that some are going to downright detest it. I cannot brush this off as simple ignorance (or can I? ☺ No.) I have to reach out and pull those other kids in. I’m not saying down with the cannon and staple curricula..I’m sayin get with the times folks. Deal with it and be smart about it. Play some Tupac. Show some Simpsons. Please. I believe the money word is access. Cha ching.

This goes for toys too. Although I am an adult..I suppose…I still am very proud of my collection of marbles and bouncy balls. Yes, yes, thank you. They are divinely displayed in Mason jars around my house, and not one fellow adult who has entered my abode has not commented on their awesomeness. Old people still like toys. If old people still like toys, how do you think age appropriate, suggested age and recommended for ages aged people would respond to toy usage and the like in the classroom. Probably pretty well. What? We’re finger painting in art? We’re using building blocks in design? Magnetic poetry in literature? Sweet man…this sucks less. Well, then..that’s half the battle. Making it suck less. I think they call that engagement. That’s two money words. Maybe I won’t have to wear that paper sign after all.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I would like to use the creation of avatars with my students to get to know them better. For the reasons I explained in my previous post: avatars are a creation, extension, projection, and I'm sure a laundry list of other "ions" of's identity. I think it would be extremely interesting to see how my students portray themselves, and how they would use their animated identities. Again, there is an anonymity to it. I'd like to explore this with my kids.

I have a fantastic colleague with whom I love to converse about my Somali students. We recently spoke about how many of these young people, ladies specifically, have a difficult time expressing themselves uniquely due to traditions, customs, and expectations. Avatars, and spaces such as Second Life, allow for more personal freedom without persecution. Yay! I would like to see how my students would recreate themselves and behave in such an environment. A little experiment if you will. I feel as though this would lead to a wildly lively conversation about identity alone, and student personal choice and the reasoning behind it. I would enjoy a good knowledge dropping on behalf of a bunch of middle schoolers. Seriously though, how better a way to teach kids than to also be taught by them? Education should be a reciprocal relationship. Educaré. Look it up.