“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!

Cheers!

And an imperfectly perfect day was had by all.

Today, in Preparatory Composition…

The person serving as Perpetrator, whose task it is to select the opening freewriting topic and lead discussion afterward asked: What’s the best way to get help in edmodo? The person serving as Bystander set her phone for 10 minutes and we began. I wrote the following with a mind toward interrupting lemming-like behavior in evidence on the Introductions Discussion Board where not a single post made the distinction between listing responses to each question in the Is eLearning Right For Me survey and reporting their score on the survey as requested.

The best way to get help on edmodo is to ask a question. To ask a question, one must know what they don’t know. To know what you don’t know requires humility, engagement, care, and being awake in the world. To be any of these things means that we have, against all odds, managed to maintain and inhabit a corner of freedom in our minds despite all the hostile attacks of the media and capitalist society run amok.

To be awake in the world means to have broken free of the Matrix, to have liberated one’s self by thoughtful, disciplined, consistent, pro-social action. When one is awake in the world, one takes responsibility for the challenges reality places before us and does whatever makes sense. To know what makes sense, however, requires collaboration and a flexibility and resourceful resilience that many possess yet few call upon.

We have all suffered great, unspeakable losses, but having that in common should not require us to keep silence. We need to learn to grieve the losses and move on the better to celebrate what life remains. The life of our families, communities, generations depends on our relationships to ourselves, our Source and Origin, and one another. How does one maintain and cultivate such connections when media is pulling our attention toward things that matter less, away from things that matter most?

Edmodo is a microcosm of society. To flourish in either context requires self-directed learning and a persistence we have all mastered but that yet remains to be transferred. It is one thing to come to class and be marked present. It is another to be accounted for with actions that contribute to the whole and bring your goal a little closer than it was the day / class / moment before. We have all been conditioned to see differences. What if instead, we decided to see similarities and built on those?

I did get to ask students to consider thinking for themselves about instructions given before submitting any and each assignment, and several teachable moments opened up to discuss the format of the Freewriting Analysis that was submitted, the affective and unspoken curriculum that includes 21st century skills, but the Syllabus Quiz that they were eager to take at the beginning of class was given short shrift and so I will have to provide another opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery and discover where opportunities for growth yet remain.

Thoughts On Textbook Selection

Textbook selection is not among the least of our responsibilities as a member of the faculty. Years of hearing from students that their “money is funny”, their financial aid didn’t arrive in time to purchase the required text by week three of an eight-week semester, or the edition they bought secondhand didn’t have the assigned sections, I decided to go with electronic texts available in the public domain. As an avid reader of books one can hold in one’s hands and hopefully soon to be gainfully published author, I was deeply troubled with this compromise. It too proved unworkable however. There were problems with access codes, confusion between free versus paid options of the same text, and deceptive instructions for accessing the completely free resources. Still, I kept reviewing titles in hopes of finding ones worth all the hassles I knew would come with adoption. In the meantime, I decided to try something preposterous. I decided to teach an entirely online class without a required textbook. I lost one student who found the format described below “boring” and withdrew before Week 1 ended. Those who remained wrote things like the following in their Legacies:

Utilize everything because it will only make you a better student not only in this class but in future classes as well… I really did not find any part of this class useless.  It was all useful and I will take away a lot from this course, more than any other course I have taken that is for sure. (J.I. SP12)

There are many course objectives, but the ones that helped me the most were; setting realistic and attainable goals, reading texts with improved focus, comprehension, and retention, presenting clear oral and written reports, and managing priorities effectively. While you are doing your Resource Research you will have to read a lot of different articles.  Some of them, I had to read a few times to comprehend.  This class definitely helped me to read and be more focused on the subject.  For a lot of the assignments you will be responsible for writing paragraphs with fresh insight you gained.  You will also be responsible for writing feedback to your fellow classmates.  For the Midterm and Final you will have to write a Paper.  This has helped me to think about the structure of my writing.  Of course because things are due at a certain time and some assignments require more time than others; this has helped me with setting realistic goals and managing priorities effectively. (T.F. SP12)

The following is excerpted from an email sent to a publisher’s representative regarding a book I considered but declined to adopt. It is offered in hopes of shedding light on one thought process during book selection.

At long last I am able to send a few words of feedback on the text, Z. Deep apologies for the delay.
I was considering the requested title for my College Success course but find the text too dense and layout unappealing. This spells disaster for new and novice-readers breaking it into the academy.

Last semester, I did not use a textbook. Instead, I posted a weekly topic and had students post links to different resources (conduct & contributeResource Research)on the same theme with a proposed assignment. It worked well. This Fall I will require students to complete one assignment from a different classmate each week in addition to reading and responding to classmates’ posts with comments about the assignment’s usefulness and suggestions for transferability beyond our class.

Moving in this way from theory to practice of ‘college success’ and several course objectives seems to build critical reading and thinking skills and expose students to a broader cross-section of resources than using a textbook does traditionally. At this juncture, where the rubber hits the road, learners must polish their decision-making, time management (to avoid duplication of links) and process-writing skills (in order to communicate the assignment) while at the same time get into the minds of multiple ‘teachers’ (fellow learner-leaders) at once.

This approach worked well enough in one subject-area that I am going to try it in Composition come Fall. I’d love to hear how others approach this issue.

If I’m So Happy…

A funny thing happened while preparing for this evening’s Women’s Ministry class at 4:15 this morning. Among other things, I took the Joy Bubble Quiz in chapter three of Choosing Simplicity and found I’ve got enough joy to place me in the top third of respondents. Then, I reflected on how different today looked and felt compared with yesterday, in which I was sure had I lived anywhere but in the desert, I would have found a bridge to jump off of though all appearances indicated a successful, meaningful life. Alternating bouts of curiosity, faith and exhaustion keep me hanging around. But that’s the subject of another post. This one is about a question that so piqued my interest that I text it to myself for later (now) consideration. Not only did I decide to revise the key question so it was about my teaching life, but I decided to share the exercise publicly.

Key Question: As an educator, how do I want to spend my time, talent and outcomes?
 Who will serve as my accountability partner?

Funnier still, when I read the question this morning, it seemed there was no end of answers, ideas, and energy for classroom-related responses. Now that I look at it again with you, an unnamed, unknown public looking over my shoulder, I can’t seem to think of a single response. Maybe it’s time of day. Maybe the afternoon slump is having it’s way with me. Maybe since I turned off the classical piano in iTunes radio I’ve lost steam. Maybe grading those process papers was more than I could bear. Bingo! Maybe that’s the beginning of my answer – what I don’t want to spend my time doing.

I don’t want to spend my time grading papers. Something about it doesn’t seem quite right at least as far as I’ve reached in 20 years of its practice. I’ve tried ‘strengths-finding’, positive regard, writing two appreciations for every ‘correction’ offered, and it still feels like ick. I no longer even want to think about it. I used to find it at least mildly interesting to search for new approaches but now, time is more precious than ever and I’d rather do other things with it. Or, at least, that’s what my fingers are saying at this moment. What my feet, eyes and mind do when no one else is looking however is another story entirely.

I don’t do things that I tell myself I’d rather be doing when I’m not grading papers. I thought I’d rather be putting the final edits into the collection of letters my Father wrote my Mother when an ocean separated them for most of my third year on planet Earth. That binder has been sitting at the corner of my desk for the better part of this month.

I tell myself I’d rather make a quilt for the upcoming baby shower. I even fantasized about asking the proud soon to be parents for an article of clothing each to include in said quilt. But in fact, I picked fabrics out of my basket, measured the batting, and paired the non-squares I was going to use for the last newborn at the end of the last year, and still haven’t moved the pile from the corner of the room in which it collects dust. Twice a day if not more, I pass by the open closet that keeps my sewing machine safe from use.

So, if I’m not doing what I want, and not doing what I have to, what am I doing? Molting? Wasting time? Growing underground? And, should anything be done about it? Mike Dooley, my much admired, secret and virtual mentor and author of Notes From the Universe, would have a good answer to that question I’m certain. Until I get up the gumption to ask Mike, however, I’ll just keep blogging along.

BTW, I did conduct background research for a thesis I’ll be reading / advising, and decide to use Project Happiness‘ 7 Doors as the outline for the bookless Preparatory Composition course that’s due to start after Spring Break. Attempting neither is small potatoes when one steps back and looks at the range of choices available to someone interested in Critically Reflective Teaching and learning though situated in the compromised context of turbo capitalism with the resulting subtle and aggressive oppressions aimed at our lives. I guess what my eyes, mind and heart do when no one’s looking isn’t so bad. Guess I am happy after all.

What America Must Become

In honor of missed opportunities, rather NOT missing the next one, the one that may in fact be saving Ethnic Studies in Tucson, I offer the following inspiration from James Baldwin‘s letter to his nephew, known elsewhere as My Dungeon Shook.

And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.  For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.

February 1st was the day of compliance with the ban on Mexican American Studies in Tucson’s Unified School District, not coincidentally the first day of the shortest month in the year and the month allotted to celebrating the human history and contributions of African-Americans in this nation. Martin Luther King Jr.’s caution is as noteworthy today as it was when he was alive: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Choices As Consequences

A not-so-random slice of life in the day of one educator might look somewhat like this:

Her husband makes her laugh without even trying. An actual conversation at the breakfast table:

Are you looking?

Yes, Love.

You give me the eyes that I love. They say, “off with your head”. Instantly, my head rolls to the floor, smiles, says, “thank you”.

Are there marriages worse than ours? He continues.

No, Love. They both begin laughing uncontrollably.

She runs out of gas as she pulls into a parking lot to pay a disconnected cell phone bill, lodges a sign in the drivers window: GONE FOR GAS. She goes from door to door along the strip mall plaza, stopping a few motorists between doors, to ask if anyone has a container she can borrow to bring gasoline back to her car. The Indian at the Hookah store, interrupts his call to come outside to see if the owner of the store next door is in yet. He has a gas can. He’s not in yet so they part company and she enters the Taco shop, hoping against hope that she can depend on the machismo of Latinos to come to her rescue. Not. She returns to the parking lot and heads toward Wal-Mart, certain to find the driver of the CAT bus. The Indian finds her, flags her over. He empties the remaining ounces of wiper fluid into a small juice bottle and tells her she can have and rinse the large one at the Chevron on the corner.

Leave it outside. They won’t let you fill it if they know you’re going to use it for gas.

Still clueless, she asks, how much will this hold?

A gallon will be enough, he responds gallantly, not rolling his eyes at the obvious limits of the gallon container he has provided.

She leaves his store without thunking her head, chuckling to herself, at the day “perfect for running out of gas”.

She strolls up the thoroughfare having rinsed the jug in Wal-Mart, wondering if she cares if she is seen by colleagues or students or not. Strategizing, she twists the cap far enough so all she will have to do is lift it to insert the pump’s nozzle and removes a debit card whose pin she  has committed to memory from the small pocket inside her handbag and drops it into her right coat pocket. She weighs her options. Should she approach the pump from in front of or behind McDonald’s? Will there be a truck at one pump to block her from view at another opposite? Is that adrenaline priming for fight or flight should anyone challenge her intentions or actions if caught in the middle of dispensing gas?

Someone on a moto is just pulling off as she gets to the gas station driveway. Otherwise, the pumps are abandoned. Not wanting to call attention to herself, she resists the temptation to run toward the cyclist and explain her situation, knowing that opening her mouth will dislodge the panic hidden there, so she maintains her pace, and decides she will attempt what she has come to do and, like Esther, prepare for the worst. Amazingly, all goes off without a hitch. She walks back along the road, stopping along the low wall to return the debit card to its safer place inside the handbag. Reaching her vehicle, she sizes up the opening to her gas tank, its angle and the mouth of the jug with the gasoline in it. It does not look like a good match but it is all she has so she takes her jacket off and attempts to position herself at an angle to the sun with the best view of the opening, prays, pours. To her faithful glee precious little spills. She caps the now empty jug and rests it on the floor of the passenger seat. The engine turns over so she reverses and pulls into the closest parking space, relieved to no longer be blocking three; enters the store, waits in line to pay her phone bill and leaves with a promise of restored service within minutes. The slight hiccup she had while being attended has subsided. She is not half an hour late for class but half an hour early.

A student is attempting to decipher her office hours as she enters the suite of offices that houses hers. She greets him. They enter. She boots up her computer as they exchange pleasantries. She mentions that she has noted his many missing assignments and asks if he has a plan for completing them noting as well that the last day to withdraw passed some 17 days ago. He says more than time it’s confidence he lacks. She says, borrow mine. I have every confidence in you and your ability to do the work. He agrees that the work is easy, for the most part. It’s just that he feels like he’s in a class all by himself (she affirms that he is) since when he goes to post an assignment there’s usually only one other student posting. I’ve never witnessed such a phenomenon in 20 years of teaching, she says. Me either, in all my years of school, he shakes his head. They agree that he will return, as much before 3 p.m. as possible, with his plan for completing specific assignments at specific dates and times mapped out on a calendar that she will be able to photocopy. Noting that they are late, they exit to the classroom down the hall only to discover that the computer there is not working and the team that is presenting needs it in order to project their slideshow and grammar video.

She returns to her office for dry-erase markers and calls the Help Desk for an intervention, pausing at a colleague’s door to announce that she is having a faculty crisis. Her colleague deftly, if unwittingly, reminds her that her students are not more important than his and asks if he can chat with her in 10 minutes. She agrees knowing she will be well on her way to the next crisis in the classroom by that time.

The crisis? She short-circuited when, after asking how students who could not discipline themselves in the small things like getting to class on time, completing assignments, and not bringing food and drink with them, one student answered, after licking her fingers sticky with whatever she’d been picking out of her sandwich, that her laptop had been broken for the past two weeks and that she hadn’t used the computer lab because she hasn’t been on campus. She had no response for that, nor would she for that matter have a response for anything else for the next period of time. That she could tell this was the case short-circuited her.

Returning to class with a guarantee that help would be soon on the way, she set about responding to the freewriting topic of the day, writing a sentence. The 20 or so words that came immediately to mind with the minutes remaining in the five the team had set aside for this portion of their presentation were as follows:

Are these students writing a life sentence any more restrictive for themselves than the oppression has already created for them?

When parts of the presentation allowed, she continued writing.

If I don’t police them, they don’t tow the line. If I police them, I create the marshal state I abhor. If they don’t toe the line the consequences increase. What must be done differently? Perhaps I can skip teaching 098 for a semester or more.

It was a perfect day to run out of gas. I had the right shoes on. The desert sky was mercifully cloudy and the November temperatures unseasonably warm.

Blindsided in Church

With all God has poured into me in the spiritual and natural realms I remained speechless and dumbfounded. The elder had shown nothing but concern for me in our previous conversations. Yes, I had thought it a bit odd that she brought me pantyhose and kept volunteering to exchange them for the correct size when she didn’t see me sporting them after a couple weeks. But I just laid that to the charge of generational differences. We live, after all, in a dessert and I rarely wear skirts above my knees so I don’t see the point of wearing stockings even if they’d give my uneven skin a bit more polish. The same can be said for make-up and you’d be hard-pressed to remember a time when I was found sporting anything beyond lipstick and that rarely.

So when she made that remark about all those Hispanics lined up for immunizations at some grocery store or other and that she was now debating about paying her taxes as a result, I was caught off guard. The only thing that came to mind after sharing Christ Jesus’ command that we love one another was the great festival my husband and I had seen on a recent furniture-hunting expedition to the East Side. It had been similarly wall to wall Latinos enjoying the games and getting their kids’ shots. She said she’d only been joking and turned away.

What I might have said was, yes, isn’t it wonderful what great care Latinos take of their children! Or, after more than a decade of being a practitioner of the NCBI model, I could have pulled a Columbo and asked her what exactly she was getting at, the better to hear her into action. I might even have invited her to tea so I could have the chance to dust off more than 14 years of my Re-evaluation Counseling Art of Listening skills. But no, I became a smiling deer in the headlights, and stood there, blinking.

I wonder this morning at her motivation. Was she inspired to make the comment because she saw me sitting with my husband and thought perhaps he was only a love interest and therefore she had time to stop the presses, derail the union? Or, was this part of Jesus’ plan to answer the tearful prayer offered up on the way home after church while listening to the gift He’s given Whitney Houston, that I more effectively give to others what He’s given to me?

Or, is it His way of allowing me to understand better and to live what Oswald Chambers discusses about reconciliation in today’s devotional?

“First be reconciled to thy brother . . .” Our Lord’s direction is simple, “first be reconciled.” Go back the way you came, go the way indicated to you by the conviction given at the altar; have an attitude of mind and a temper of soul to the one who has something against you that makes reconciliation as natural as breathing.

Whatever the reason, I accept this challenge as a call to go up higher in my daily walk and talk as an ambassador for Christ.