“To Dethrone Ourselves From The Center of Our World”

Team-teaching has its moments. This semester’s Migrant Literature presentations have had many high and teachable ones. One such moment occurred today when a team selected ‘language illiteracy’ as the form of oppression their team would provide steps to eliminate. Because they included understanding another’s feelings among their Steps to Living a Compassionate Life (part of our community guidelines inspired by the Charter for Compassion and the source for the title of this post) I was able to offer a course correction during the Question and Answer period after they’d finished.

I asked for their understanding of oppression and one member offered that it was something that kept someone down. Building on this I made a distinction between prejudice and the power to limit another person’s life chances. It also provided the opportunity to discuss blaming the victim. One by one the light went on for each student. I look forward to reading their Process Papers.

In an online College Success class, their team presentations are due next week, Tuesday. As can be expected online and off, teams run into setbacks, snags and slackers. One despairing member emailed her feelings yesterday and, receiving no response (until now) wrote again this morning asking if she could proceed on her own. The text of my reply follows.

While it’s all right to work on the midterm alone, Dear Student, you’ve put in enough time on the midterm as a team to benefit from it without making more work for yourself. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation are par for the course in school and at work. Working through them, forging new possibilities, and sticking together teach different lessons than soldiering on alone. Lessons of both kinds are valuable.

If it provides any comfort for you or reduces your stress in any way, know that only 20% of your Midterm grade depends on what you / your team actually ‘produces’, so whatever emerges is likely to have only a superficial impact on your grade. Responding to two other teams presentations (20%) and writing your own Process Paper (60%) comprise the largest portion / weight of your Midterm grade.

I hope this helps. Thank you for contacting me with these very valid concerns. To answer your ‘unasked’ but hinted at question in a previous email, one or more course objectives per person is acceptable. It’s up to each member to decide which will serve as the best organizing tool or theme around which to build a presentation and write a Process Paper.

Though it may not feel like it, you are doing very well and are in the home stretch. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember, it’s all small stuff!


And an imperfectly perfect day was had by all.


Lit Crit a la Carte

In an effort to get us thinking outside the box about literary criticism, I ask students to  come up with a bumper-sticker about one of the schools not represented in a short YouTube video. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab is a great resource.

After several semesters of this assignment, today I found a site that will actually produce the bumper-stickers! Well all right now!

Belaying the Mantle of the Expert

Class has ended and a Latina student has stayed behind again to ensure she understands the details of her part in the Collaborative Midterm Presentations taking place next week. We do this after almost every class, reviewing in Spanish what was presented in English so she can own the material. Today, for the first time, I heard another classmate respond to her in their mother tongue after the groups had disbanded. Progress. Our classroom is safe enough for more and more of us to be ourselves. She is wondering how she will present her themes of literature using an Octavio Paz poem, Between Going and Staying. The themes she has been focusing on while reading are displacement, the importance of family, and integration. She leaves relieved at the thought of presenting a portion of her material in Spanish.

In a Migrant Literature course it makes sense if one of your goals is perspective-taking. It makes sense if establishing an emotional connection with the material offers a valuable efficiency. It makes sense if flipping majority and minority ‘authorities’ for a few minutes will teach more in those moments than a lifetime of telling. It makes sense if you want the Course Objectives to walk off the page and into our lives the way the medium is the message.

As we walk down the hall discussing everything from Mitt Romney’s connections to Mexico and teachers who embarrass students whose first language is not English, she says she doesn’t think discrimination will ever end. Ending discrimination was the response to the day’s freewriting topic that received the most frequent and energetic response. I’m certain that the student who posed the question, If you could change anything about immigration history, what would you change, didn’t think he was skating on a volcano.

I was humbled and encouraged by the reasons students gave for the things they would change. Needing to reserve enough time for teams to organize, I simply summarized the comments gathered during discussion by asking for the assumptions behind the statements made to water a seed for their work together.


Today, September 11th, in Migrant Literature

I wanted to share a moment of silence and share a poem, Alabanza, by Martin Espada as a way in to preparing for the Collaborative Midterm. I ended up talking about how September 11th was a defining moment for me as an educator. I had no idea that the topic the discussant would select would give me time to process and explore what was underneath this desire. He’d simply asked:

What era was the most interesting to you and why?

I began writing and found at once that pre-911 is the most important era in the life of my heart. In my life as a teacher, it has become the line in the sand I can not cross over. Now, it is the questions that I find most compelling, not the answers. Why do we believe what we believe, not what. How do we know who we are? Does who we think ourselves to be have to come at another’s expense? The Lesson Plan that went, for all intents and purposes, out the window is pasted below. And yet, perhaps my mission was accomplished after all.
Lesson Plan
Date    11 September 2012
Class    ENG 223
Action Items: Building Community Through Contradicting Conditioning
Course Objectives Purpose (Objective)
By the end of this activity, students will understand how to complete and submit Background Research and why each element is required.
Demonstration of Mastery
Evidence of mastery includes ability to identify and discuss:

  • choices they have made based on conditioning choices they have made based on free will, rational thinking
  • elements of the Team Teaching / Collaborative Midterm
  • the impact of who they are and how they see the world
  • interplay of key ideas, attitudes and social justice issues related toBig 8 social identifiers
  • literary vocabulary
  • apply schools of criticism

Modalities Visual, Auditory
Intelligences Verbal-linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal
Seven Habits    1 Be Pro-active, 2 Begin with the End In Mind, 4 Think Win/Win, 5 Seek First to Understand, 8 Voice
Methodology    Large Group & Cooperative Groups
Freewriting / Anticipatory Set
Anais Nin Quote: We see the world not as it is but as we are.
Individuals select a number from 1-12 and a letter from A-E these correspond to Steps to Living Compassionately & Community Guidelines on Syllabus. Small group or paired discussion.
Teaching & Learning Activities

A moment of silence is observed to remember September 11, 2001 Several examples of Background Research are discussed Teams address various aspects of upcoming Collaborative Midterm. Report to Group.
Group reviews Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism.

Individuals anticipate and list remaining questions regarding Collaborative Midterm assignment.
Survivor & Bystander Summaries
Address brainstormed questions.

Question & Answer
Clarify or expand on answered questions. All of 4MAT cycles engaged.
4MAT Cycle    Why? Imaginative Learners, What? Analytic Learners, How? Common Sense Learners, If… Dynamic Learners

Links to Resources
Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism

Conditioning and Freedom of Choice

11th Anniversary of September 11th

Dear Lucille

After a long weekend I begin the teaching week heavier than usual. Even my glasses feel tight. So I turn to your latest volume for inspiration before facing class and open to photograph. Your poems, memories of your classes, are among my favorite things.


keep them turning    turning

black blurs against the window

of the world

for they are beautiful

and there is trouble coming

round and round and round

You dedicated this poem to your grandsons, spinning in their joy. What do I have to do for some of that joyous spinning to rub off on me today? I arrive on campus late, yet find a parking space close to the building that houses the office they have told me is mine yet will not allow me to arrange my books or desk in ways that suit me.

The trouble you mention is closer now. where, oh where, is the saving thing?

On my way in and up, I pass a license plate holder proclaiming “only great moms get promoted to nana.” We know otherwise. Yesterday was my birthday. Unlike you, I did not write myself a poem. I made a list yet did none of the things on it. I did not go swimming. I did not read. I have not yet learned the art of celebration. Perhaps that will be this year’s lesson.

The NCLR sent a text this morning asking us to complete the following:

Our economy won’t work without me because…

I responded reflexively something about teaching generations but the trouble is that the dysfunctional economy IS working for someone and the psychological wardrobe of Horatio Alger is paraded as sufficient and possible for everyone else. That’s why this myth has not been revealed, dismantled or replaced. Too many people will settle for changing places with the oppressor.

Though I miss you sorely, I am glad you got out when you did.

Classroom Without Walls

As a lifelong learner celebrating 20 years in higher education classrooms, I decided to try some new technology for my preparatory composition class this year. So I attended an edmodo webinar and created a profile for each of my incoming students using profiles of various activists that I had seen in a Yes! Magazine article.

The idea was that students would research information about their activist identity having plucked it out of a hat on the first day of class. From there we would brainstorm interview questions for an oral history project based on what they had in common with their activist. A personal narrative, a book report, and the culminating activity, a “Come As They Were” party would become part of their portfolios.

As this is the seventh day of the semester and a holiday, I thought I would report the wonderful news. So far, I count it a personal best to have a 100% submission rate on the first assignment, 60% submission rate on the second assignment, freewriting analysis – a standing assignment and often the most complicated for previous classes – and it’s not due until 5 PM today, and two assignments already in that are due Tuesday at 5 pm.

Nice work if you can get it. So I sent the following in a post on edmodo:

I wanted to congratulate all those scholars who have submitted their first freewriting analysis. I see wonderful evidence of analytical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and commitment to excellence in your work. I can’t imagine a better birthday present. Thank you.

Reclaiming Identities Through Migrant Literature

For as long as I can remember – at least since I began implementing servant leadership in the classroom to increase engagement – students have served as Discussant, Oracle, Colombo and Mr/s. Rogers. This semester, wanting to underscore activism, I changed the names of the roles to Perpetrator, Rescuer, Bystander and Survivor. Originally, perpetrate simply meant ‘to commit’. My goal is to inspire myself and others to commit to scholarship, compassion and transformation. A short description of each role (from the syllabus) is included at the end of this post. The purpose for this writing is to share what today’s Perpetrator invited us to consider and my response to her question.

What do you expect to learn about the culture / background you identify with?

“I identify with a culture of once-apathetic-now engaged activists. I hope to learn the steps from apathy to activism so I can blog about them and make a scalable model for educators who want their disciplines to matter to the species beyond the 21st century. (Note: It’s freewriting, so nothing is too off the wall to include.)

Why is being a species-level thinker so important to me? First I should define what a species-level thinker is. A species-level thinker is one who knows who she is as well as who she might appear to be in various contexts from various Big 8 Little 4 perspectives, and continues to think about the whole and moving toward pro social ends using pro social means.

It’s one thing to be a do-gooder but another to make a greater difference than sleeping with a clear conscience. Wrecked, by Jeff Goins, helps to clarify the distinction. I wonder if the Gipsy Kings-like music is distracting to others’ writing. So why is it that important to me that I and other educators unleash such initiative in the most effective and strategic ways possible? Because I believe life is beautiful and that the challenges we face as a species will require all of us to solve or take all of us out.

I look to the clouds and see the footprints of God in all His glory. I wonder why people don’t look up and take notice in much the same way [Shug] in the Color Purple said:

I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.  Shug

It’s a pity when lives are so embattled and people so submerged that we don’t notice the beauty of everyday things around us and within one another. There’s loud drumming in the next classroom drowning out the Alto (?) sax crooning in ours through Pandora…”

We went on to discuss the identities people hoped to learn about and whether what we believe is as important as why we believe it.


Service Roles Described:

  • Perpetrator: Selects in-class writing & dyad (paired discussion) topics related to the assigned reading /activities for the week. Moderates class discussion.  See Conversational Roles in Course Resources.
  • Bystander: Summarizes daily activities and upcoming assignments 10 minutes before end of class. Opens Thursday class by following up on Tuesday’s Discovery & Intention while Perpetrator is writing topic on the board.
  • Rescuer: Takes notes during class and posts to Service Notes discussion Board in Angel; collects week’s attendance, emails absent members. This prevents absentees from asking the instructor, what did I miss.
  • Survivor:  Serves as translator, time and peace-keeper to keep class on schedule. Observes class to identify random acts scholarship to be celebrated and muddy moments to be clarified. Reports before Bystander’s summary.