Open Appreciation For A Workshop That Changed My Life

Dear Jane,
I’ve had a great time recalling our time at the workshop and putting into practice the techniques you shared. Stoplight breath practice has been replaced by hand signing (No, really. I’m taking an ASL class). But I frequently use ‘found time’ to return to breath and center myself and check in to release tension in my body.

RelaxthroughbreathingThought you might like to know that I did start my class in darkness with only the sound of my voice for students on Day 1 of the semester. It’s made a qualitative shift not only in the way I experience teaching but in the community of scholars in the classroom. Students definitely seem more relaxed, connected and attentive. Thank you for making that possible.

Here are the things I put in the survey CAPE sent out:

6. What did you learn in this CAPE session that is most important/valuable to you?
It was the fruitage from the practice more than learning something particular that has already proven valuable to me. An idea surfaced during one of our quiet times that I wrote down and implemented in my first class of the new semester. It made a qualitative difference in the way teaching and learning happens in my 20 year career.

7. How do you plan to use the information you obtained in this session?
I remind myself to breathe from time to time and intend to make and share the practice widely by integrating more formal (with breath) and informal (with time to write / reflect)’breathing spaces’ into each of my classes and days.

8. Please provide any additional feedback:
This was one of the best CAPE sessions I have ever attended. Thank you for remembering that those who “take care” of others (aka serve or teach in the public eye) need time and reminders to take care of ourselves. Everyone benefits!

Slowing Down to Ramp Up

Today I held Preparatory Composition for men only. Women will come to class Wednesday. A break to catch up and regroup after the Midterm may be a good thing to incorporate from here on. We’ll see what the women make of it. Today’s discussant gave us a choice of freewriting topics. The men chose to write about the drug Krokodil which “eats” users in lieu of writing about industry giants’ fight to squash a California referendum requiring all foods to have labels disclosing the chemicals used in their production.

From the discussion following seven minutes of freewriting we went to pairs answering the question, what has learning been like for you as a male, and then back to group discussion before revising the concluding paragraphs of each midterm to serve as the introduction to the revised one, due next Monday when both men and women will be in attendance.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.        Alvin Toffler

I’ve got more thinking to do about the effect of cohort education, technology and hybrid classes on the teaching and learning of composition. But this is a good start. In the meantime, one of my kids isn’t sleeping. I say ‘one of my kids’ because I consider them mine on loan for at least the semester. And this one while, like the majority who are young enough to be mine chronologically, is an island child and homesick. I mention that I noticed he seemed more quiet than usual as we emerge from opposite sides of the lavatory after class. He says he hasn’t been sleeping and that it is beginning to interfere with things. I listen as he elaborates, fighting his emotions. I tell him a few of the island resources available to him in this often unbearable desert and promise to shoot him a direct message on edmodo as I find more. For a moment, we are able to believe he is not alone. For a moment we are able to imagine there is something for this kind of displacement. I look over my shoulder as our paths diverge once down the staircase and outside. I see him disappear as if through the years of my own experiences with displacement, internal exile I have called it. These are the ones for whom I want to build and staff a dormitory even though we are at a commuting community college. These are the ones I wish never had to leave home, those precious members of a global diaspora who know who we are, who we miss and will.

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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.

Writing as Liberatory Practice

Recently, the best teacher/mentor/friend of my life inspired me to think about inner and outer forms of writing. When I attempted to respond with my thoughts related to teaching on the subject, I was asked to rewrite and resend. Below is that effort.

I agree that wonder and transcendence of self are part of the surrender process that is writing as discovery and ultimate [comm]unity. Further, that they are not readily accessible to most learners or teachers due to the conditioning we are exposed to daily and therefore require the disciplines of attention, intention and constancy.

I have come to understand that I must start with the common or familiar and that turns out to be pain in more than a majority of cases. Beginning with shared experience allows me to forecast the pain that accompanies our use of Freewriting-as-a-discipline.  When practiced as the concurrent, intentional movement through disbelief, fascination, boredom and resistance born of the learned helplessness of the conditioned existence misappropriated as the self, such writing practice is liberatory.

Presenting the terrain (inner landscapes) we will encounter in such a way, helps to diffuse the experience of it as pain. This process was very aptly framed in the Matrix as ‘seeing for the first time’ when the main character ‘awakened’ outside of the reality pulled over his eyes as a newly recruited member of the revolutionaries.

At the same time, I believe our appreciation of form is inherent. And, with enough writing practice (hard work/anguish) to destabilize the habits of mind and being we have grown accustomed to, we can escape, and replace the models of teaching and learning that require parroting and herd mentality with envisioning what wants to emerge from a primordially shared and ever-present stillness. This process, known as Presencing by Peter Senge et al. is always as encouraging as it is instructive.

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.”

Finding A True Question

To get a true answer you must find a true question. Sadly, they don’t grow on trees. If one posits the trouble with capitalism run amok is not those indifferent few among the haves who give the otherwise benevolent, though similarly shrink-wrapped in patterns of learned helplessness, remaining members of the owning class a bad name, but the many colluding have-nots who, in a tragic twist of equally oppressive self-delusion, would simply trade places with the haves they outwardly despise yet secretly -until recently- seek to emulate, what then? How does one replace myopia of either strain with a compassionate, dynamic, engaged, informed self-interest? Is that closer to a true question?