A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays 2014

Image from http://graphitestudio.deviantart.com/art/Christmas-Wolverine-303873828 

Who knows what 2015 holds? From this blog, reviews of This One Summer, The Wrenchies, and Bitch Planet #1 (maybe) are in the works. In the meantime, may your holiday season be one of merriment, hope, rekindling of loves and passions, and renewed beneficence to your fellow beings. See you in 2015!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Message from Electric Literature On Comics and Reading

Star Lord and Rocket aren't the only space cowboys who thing comics are serious literature. Regular cowboys think so too, according to this great cartoon from Electric Literature, a site you should check out.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Peter Quill and Rocket Know Comics Reading is Real Reading!

Need a quick holiday gift idea?: Walmart has $5 Marvel Graphic Novels! As well, if you pick up the store's Guardians of the Galaxy-themed trade, you'll see a nod to all of us working in comics and literacy and to all of us who know the power of comics:

That last panel might have been doctored. ;) 

Thanks to Brian Michael Bendis for writing this pertinent dialogue. And remember, no one likes a Scrooge when it comes to gifts and no one likes a Krutacking Flaaknard when it comes to elitist notions of pleasure reading! ;)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Review: Cece Bell's *El Deafo*

El Deafo is the imaginary super-hero persona of young Cece Bell, an upper-elementary student who identifies herself as deaf/hearing impaired. While Cece is shy, anxious about her hearing and how people will view her, exceptionally eager to make friends, and contemplative in her relationships, El Deafo exudes confidence and charm and encourages Cece to take the big chances and see things from alternative, can-do viewpoints.

Perhaps given her super stature, El Deafo earns the eponymous title for the book which details her and Cece's story. But, Cece isn't too far behind. Grown-up Cece is the author!

Endearing and accessible to its intended young audience, El Deafo has a rolling pace which can get tedious after seeing Cece again and again over-analyze things which she can't control. Furthermore, as someone previously corrected after sharing his assumptions about deaf culture and accepted terminology, I worried about the blurring of definitions regarding "deaf" and "hearing impaired," which I'd come to see as a faux pas.

Had I read the short essay after the comic narrative, however, my worries would have been waylayed and my reading experience more enjoyable. For those interested in accepting the book into their classroom collections or gifting it to a reader, reading that section first may make for a less turgid reading experience an is my recommendation. And as for Cece's anxieties, how much more empathy can be built for her by realizing as tedious as those analysis sessions may be for us (but surely made less tedious once understanding Bell's own take on deafness as construct), they must have been torture for a young girl growing up decades ago when people weren't taught to be as accepting of "difference" and when signifiers of such difference took the form of bulky, testy technology?

Cece and El Deafo eventually merge when Cece, who has long framed her hearing in terms of a super power, has her social circle embrace the metaphor on their own -- with hilarious results guaranteed to tickle (or is that "tinkle?") young readers.

What is one of El Deafo's tech-assisted super powers? Let your imagination wonder. ;)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Comics and Post-Secondary Pedagogy Issue ImageText Now Live!

Click here to read essays from folks teaching comics across a broad array of fields and disciplines. Thanks to co-editor Najwa Al-Tabaa for asking me to guest edit the issue. I'm thrilled with how it turned out and know -- whether you're a K12 teacher, a teacher educator, a librarian, a graphic designer -- you'll learn from this issue.

Great essays; great reviews, and great resources for all interested in comics and education! What are you waiting for? Read! Read! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eval Has a Name...

As I eagerly await the arrival of my Spring 2014 evals at Washington State University to see if what my students told me in person -- that they enjoyed the classes, felt comfortable with me, etc. -- matches what they put on paper and correlates with quantitative equivalencies, I note a previous employer still has me listed on one of its major faculty info pages.

While I'm a little loathe to post it here since I know I have readers from El Paso check in from time to time, and I sort of like having access to the page and don't want anyone to get it removed, you can see basic eval data for every class I taught there from June 2008 to Spring 2013 by looking for the "Previously Taught Courses" here.

I'm happy to say they illustrate a sincere, reflective educator who learned how to navigate the best and worst of that campus & departmental/program culture. I hope for 3 things from my evals from Spring 2014:  1. They do indeed match up with anecdotal comments from students 2. They show how I quickly navigated that new campus/department culture after a tough, shell-shock of a first semester experience (possibly designed that way, as I reflect) and 3. They have not been unduly influenced or tampered with by outside influences.

Once I have the info and can see which of my hypotheses are correct or wrong, I'll post another reflective statement. I hope it'll be one in which I can detail changes made between Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 which paid quantifiable dividends in my teaching.

In the meantime, you can view some qualitative feedback on my courses via my Google Drive public folder (especially in the "Appendix" document).

Friday, May 02, 2014

Brian Michael Bendis on Diversity in Comics

He has a pretty interesting quote here, does the man who has probably made one too many white jokes in his comics but has done a great job of addressing the issues as he sees them. I'm using this post as a placeholder, because I've got something coming up for which this will be great, but you can enjoy it for whatever reasons float your boat.

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day!

May 3, 2014. Visit your local comic shop, pick up some comics for you or some friends, and enjoy this multifaceted literacy event.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

@ The Chalk Face Plays "What If" w/ Standardized Testing

Over at.. um... @ The Chalk Face, there's an amazing, well-written article on the new slate of education "reform" and its accompanying reification of standardized tests as ultimate measures. Please, please read.

The author asks and answers the question "What if we knew the tests are WRONG… and still used them? What reasons could there be?" 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Want to be Teacher of the Year Someday? Get Ready to Shill for the Common Core.

Click this link to see the connection between being a TOC and a CCSS-stoker. Recoil in horror if you assumed this was one process not yet tinged by corporate/political influence. All education is political, yo.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who Wrote the Common Core State Standards?

Diane Ravitch has a post giving us the most-accurate list yet of who actually may have crafted the CCSS. Click here to get the link to the list, but please read some of the comments on the page before the jump.

English teachers and teacher educators -- especially those of us not behind the curtain -- might gain valuable information from Bob Shepherd and Yvonne Siu-Runyan especially, who discuss naming, authorship, NCTE, IRA, and how some education scholars and "experts" get paid more for their reputation than for their actual work.

MLA Commons K16 Education Committee Taking Up the Common Core State Standards. Time to Help Them Know Where to Stand

A K16 Education Committee associated with the Modern Language Association (MLA), "Inspired by Michael Holquist’s challenge to the MLA to dialogue about the CCSI, what it means for us, and our relationship to secondary education," has created what they term "a space for discussion of standards, assessment, and our role in this process."

Only a few comments have been posted so far, but one poster seeks to brainstorm ideas about how to help teachers implement CCSS. I pray the comment is not the start of a slippery slope.

Folks, if you are against privatization of K12 education and do not want to see MLA infiltrated by Big $-, Big Business- and Big Politics-CCSS support, like some of our other educational organizations may have been (not to say MLA hasn't been influenced by these forces regarding other topics already. I wouldn't know), I encourage you to contact this committee or speak to whomever you know who is a member of MLA and can get your concerns about the CCSS heard. Especially the ELA CCSS.

Do not assume the MLA membership is as informed on the CCSS like the Network for Public Education might be, or Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, or the Badass Teachers might be.

Further, please note  it is entirely possible many professors of literature and rhetoric & composition look at the ELA CCSS and see a dream come true.

You see, the CCSS's focus on rhetorical modes of writing help reify the "importance" of rhetoric and composition and obscure the different philosophies on K12 student writing found in the larger English Education, Literacy, and Ed Studies communities.

As someone who has seen rhetoric and composition faculty take over English Departments or at least exert unduly influence on English Education matters at two different universities -- I'm looking at you, UTEP and Washington State --  sometimes with the support of the rest of the department and sometimes at the chagrin of it, I've seen how easy it is for folks who are college-level humanities educators -- especially rhetoric and composition professors --  to assume that means they also know best for K12 English teaching and assume what so many others are assuming/politically working to their advantage right now: That K12 teachers aren't smart or capable enough to handle pedagogical and curricular matters on their own anyway.

 The ELA CCSS's call for focus on argumentative modes of expression could be music to the ears of these same folks. Now they're doubly important. The K12 teachers didn't know what they were doing before, and now their specific areas of expertise align to K12 curricula, especially high school English curricula.

As well, there is a rationale to be made that the main exemplar texts suggested by the CCSS ELA documents actually represent a curriculum, one which is very narrow and prescribed. Some proponents and opponents of the CCSS ELA will say that's not the case, that the exemplars are just that: Really good examples of texts teachers might use but not the only ones. Regardless, the ELA CCSS focus on American literature and Shakespeare at the expense of global and multicultural literatures, and, sadly, many college  English Departments are still so conservative they still see the resident Shakespearean as king or queen.

 Do you think Shakespeareans -- especially Shakespeareans who are also department chairs,  the leaders of English Departments -- will look at the CCSS ELA, see their preferred literature is also its preferred literature, and be willing to critique it? Fight against it?

I'm telling you there is a very real possibility that the college-level Literature and Rhetoric & Composition faculties across America are salivating over what the CCSS means to them:

Its language suggests a new level of import and necessity -- a rationale for continued relevance and existence -- for which they've been searching for decades. 

We've seen college exert control over K12 curriculum before, especially at the high school level. Indeed, in 1911 NCTE was founded on the radical belief that K12 teachers understood best what K12 students needed, not the college professors crafting hegemonic reading lists to help secondary teachers make sure some students were "college ready." We can't count on NCTE to be that radical this time, not as an entire organization, anyway, especially not since CCCC is one of its most powerful sub-organizations and its members may stand more to gain from the CCSS than anyone other than corporations and privateers.

 My hope is this MLA committee will thoroughly research the many arguments for and against the CCSS and will look to the history of how they came to be and how undemocratic that process was. My hope is their communal sense of equity and social justice will lead them to join other organizations opposing the Common Core State Standards and what they truly represent.

But I'm jaded. Working under two English Department chairs who ran their departments into forms of receivership will do that, as will seeing the cut-throat tactics of rhetoric and composition faculty who seem exceptionally eager to claim their ground, stake their claims, and expand their empires. (Thanks a lot, dismissive Literature faculty, for all those generations of looking on those r&c folks as second-class citizens. You've created a group of folks who may see opportunities like this as justifications, revenge, retributions, and absolutely acceptable, the proper evolution and changing of the guard). I just don't think we can assume the members of that committee will see what Diane Ravitch sees, what Paul Thomas sees, what thousands of Badass Teachers see regarding the entirety of the CCS, let alone the ELA CCSS.

Unless we help them.

Click the link embedded in this post, and also click on the administrator and member icons for more contact information once you're there. Then get to emailing and tweeting. Take to twitter via tweeting @MLAcommons and sharing the link and your worries so they know how to direct your input. If you're an English Ed or teacher educator, contact the English Department and find a sympathetic MLA member who can pass along your concerns.

But don't stay silent. Assuming I'm right about how the CCSS ELA document can be a boon for certain college-level professors,  and given the might of MLA, it is a necessity to share our knowledge to help them see the CCSS and its backers are banes to our K12 students and teachers.

I could be over-reacting. I could be skewing or skewering certain professors' and organizations' sense of themselves. If so, my apologies. Certainly I do not mean to slander MLA or this K16 committee. But if there is even a sliver of truth in what I fear, that the MLA could -- wittingly or unwittingly -- become a pro-CCSS organization, can those of us who know better afford to let its considerable membership and sway contribute to the reign of error dominating contemporary K12 school reforms like the CCSS?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Live Twittercast on YA Novel *The Fault in Our Stars* Later Today.

Students from my YA lit class at Washington State University will be twitter-casting thoughts on the first 18 chapters of John Green's masterpiece The Fault in Our Stars today (4.22.14) starting around 4:15 Pacific.

Ellie and Emily will facilitate the discussion, and you can join them via #FIOSCoogs.  I think those two see the text much differently than do I, so I expect an intriguing discussion. I've even invited the author himself, so who knows who might show up!

At the very least, I expect the twittering to be....

Thanks to Teri Lesesne for putting the bug in my ear about twitter-casting. I know I'm late to the game regarding using twitter in education settings, but there has to be a first time for everything. The discussion is scheduled to run around an hour.

Monday, April 21, 2014

SANE Journal: Sequential Art Narrative in Education Now on Facebook

The peer-reviewed, open-access, internationally-boarded, online journal on comics and education/literacy I founded in 2010 with absolutely no financial support from UTEP, my home institution at the time,  is now under new management and has a new host happily providing appropriate assistance.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will go live with the journal shortly, taking over from the originating  hosting organization, to which I'm eternally grateful, Scholarly Exchange (University of Pittsburgh; previously Harvard), and adding to the more than 50,000 downloads the journals' texts have experienced.

While the new hosting pages might not have gone live yet, Dr. Richard Graham, the new managing editor, has created a Facebook page for the journal, and I encourage you follow it. Great stuff is on the way, and previous great stuff will be archived once the new URL is ready for prime time.

Hear/Read Interview w/ Me on Comics and Education

Hot off the interweb presses, this article from Spin Education, written by David Cutler, includes an interview with yours-truly in which I talk about -- what else? -- comics and education. Take a look.

And, since Cutler integrated audio from our interview, you can listen as well! A multimodal literacy experience detailing comics and education: My favorite types of pedagogical experiences!

That he plays off the James Bucky Carter/James "Bucky" Barnes thing adds to my personal jouissance, but maybe you'll see it as "BONUS WIN!" too. :)

                                             (see more art like this from MisterHardTimes here)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Statement for President-Elect of ####

Recently I was asked to run for President-Elect of a major literacy organization, and while I just learned I did not make it past the latest round of cuts, I think sharing my statement is worthwhile. Below, you'll see what I submitted as my "platform," so to speak. This isn't a mad post. I was happy to run and would have been thrilled to serve in the capacity of President-Elect. Kudos to whomever made it to the docket.

But, I just felt my statement was too good not to share. :)

Here it is:

James “Bucky” Carter, visiting assistant professor of English Education at Washington State University, serves ###’s Public Relations-, Censorship-, and “###-” committees and reviews for The #### Review. He began his service years ago as a state representative for Mississippi and Texas. He completed a three-year stint on the Board of Directors last year and served three years on the elections committee, chairing in year two. He served ######'s President’s Advisory Committee. He has published in ### and guest-edited the Summer 2010 issue.  Frequently, he moderates the always-popular graphic novels panels at #### Workshops. He has published with NCTE, ASCD, MLA and others. He advocates for YA literature, the right to read, multimodal forms (especially comics/graphic novels), and free, high-quality public education. He believes to remain a relevant, cutting-edge, leading organization, #### must evoke its revolutionary roots and embrace two hallmarks of revolution: Resistance and Advocacy. Resist strongly reforms which do not increase equity, harm students, families, and educators, and endanger public education; Advocate for reforms which acknowledge teacher expertise and YAL, embrace democracy, and strengthen social justice.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Help NPE Call for Hearings on Abusive Testing!

Click here to download a PDF of a form you can mail to help the Network for Public Education pressure political leaders to hold hearings on the current state of high-stakes testing in American public schools. 

NPE will deliver the letters "to the offices of our friends at the Education Opportunity Network in Washington D.C.. On May 17 - the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision - we will deliver our letters to members of Congress."

Further, they ask "Friends & Allies to take an extra step - print out a copy, slap on a stamp and drop it in a mail box. You might want to make copies and bring them to PTA meetings or pass them out to your friends and family. In this age of email and electronic media, mail in campaigns are not very common. This will make our presentation to Congress that much more effective."

I'm using my very last envelope with a certain logo on it to mail my letter later today and hope you'll do the same. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Follow Me on Twitter, if You are so Inclined.

Handle of "@JamesBuckyCarte" is what I'm using.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

See Some of the Documents That Didn't Get Me Hired at Washington State University

I'm sharing the versions of the cover letter/teaching statement, vita, and Appendix I used to apply to the English Education position at WSU. See my previous post for how well that worked out. Click this link to access my Google Drive public folder. The items are PDF's and are labeled clear enough for you to find them. And if you have to dig through my other, non-application-related documents, well, I put them there for sharing, didn't I?

The Appendix shares letters of recommendation from students and colleagues, sample syllabi, and student evals.  I wanted to upload my writing sample as well, but since it will be published in a few months, I decided against it. Further, the five or six confidential references sent along to the search committee are not included. But I can tell you three women and two men wrote on my behalf, for what it's worth.

Marvel at my ineptitude! Point out any and all spelling errors! Sentence fragments too. Care to brazenly point out split infinitives? Be my guest. Ask yourself, "What the f**k are these people looking for if not someone like Bucky?" Tut-tut as you see how my blatantly-activist, anti-corporate reform stance may have been my undoing! Consider how your opinions of this change when you realize the search committee consisted of absolutely zero people with terminal degrees in English Education! "But some of them had public school teaching experience," you say? I've taught Shakespeare to students from middle school on up. Think that'd qualify me to be on the search committee for a British Literature professor?

Live it up.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Hell of a Way to Know; A Hell of a Way to Go

Many of you may know I took a Visiting Assistant Professor position at Washington State University over the summer and started that job this year. This Spring, WSU advertised for a tenure track position in my field, and I applied, the only caveat being that I asked the Department Chair and Search Chair to inform me the moment I was considered a candidate no longer.

They didn't follow through. Instead, today I learned that Skype interviews have been scheduled.

I was not asked for an interview.

Thank you, Academic Jobs Wiki.

A phone call to the Search Chair beginning with "Are you familiar with Academic Jobs Wiki?" soon lead to a confession and a quick end to the phone call.

I'll keep you informed of what happens next, how much agency I had in the actions taken, and whatever the fallout for me may be.  In the meantime, I have to go stock up on rice and beans, I guess.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Online Comic Urges Action Against Coming TransPacific Free Trade Partnership

See Economix Comix creator Mike Goodwin's comic on the in-process, secretive TransPacific Free Trade Agreement and why the US's corporate interests are pressuring politicians to agree to some things that might help line the pockets of the 1% but might prove unhelpful to the rest of us, like most policies supported by our two-party system and their profiteering puppet masters.

OK, maybe reading the comic has me cynical (Me?? No....!). Read for yourself and decide what actions you'd like to take. Here's the link!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Data the Dehumanizer: "New era of accountability: Reducing students to 'anonymous data points'"

Please click here to read an excellent editorial from renowned English Education Professor Peter Smagorinsky in which he discusses what the new landscape of English teaching entails for a beginning teacher in the age of big data, where the whole child can be reduced to a series of dots on a page. One point made: 

"This process of dehumanizing students and teachers also reduces them only to what is convenient about them to justify policy decisions."

Others follow. Click the link, already! ;)

Personally, I think Star Trek television shows and comics had a much better plan: Data as humanizing factor. 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Education Reformers: The New Segregationists and the Assimilationist Ethic

 What more proof do you need that the current rash of corporate education reforms is designed to destroy public education than the fact that Bill Gates and others supporting the Common Core State Standards also push for charter schools? If the testing supposedly accompanying CCSS reveals nationally what it has revealed in New York -- mainly that students fail these tests at higher rates than they passed others -- the big "reveal" will be that Gates and other reformers double dipping in public education and pseudo-private charters have custom-created a market, with our children as the victims and the public as the pawns.

"Failing" public schools with faculty forced to meet standards that are illogical and not developmentally appropriate -- especially in the delicate early elementary grades -- are, essentially, in a double-bind such that they exacerbate their own demise. Stakeholders who see schools as failing may be more apt to seek alternatives. So, public schools assist reformers like Gates by accepting and implementing  models designed to decenter them from their "monolopy" (rather than what I see as "the right") that is public education.

More charters open, maybe even with public support. They are less regulated (if regulated at all) than public schools, so they get to pick and choose who they accept. Even if charter leaders use a lottery system to pick students at random, they can implement policies and practices to drive out students who are difficult to serve or do not measure up somehow. As well, they can decide where and when the lottery is held, possibly limiting access to potential "undesirables." Where to send the kids who won't illustrate excellence and hold the charter school's scores down? Back to public schools, where the better-performing and less-needy students may have been skimmed from the enrollment already and where they may once again act as illustrators of the schools' "failing" based on tools designed to create the market for the charters in the first place.

As more public schools fail, new charters move in. Perhaps they focus on special populations and keep class sizes small. Or, perhaps they plop kids in front of computers and beside unqualified, unlicensed teachers and call it education. Charter operators get to define their own definitions of success, which may or may not be comparable with the definitions foisted/self-imposed upon public schools.

Charters under-serve the most vulnerable students in public schools. Generally, they do not serve special needs students or those designated as ESL/ELL. These students may also be the ones who, regardless of how much work is being done to assist them, can't have true growth measured via CCSS-model standardized tests but have to take them anyway. While there are charters which exist to serve special needs students only, they do not constitute the rule but rather the exception.

Here is the Gates model to school reform: Segregate and Conquer.  It is a model used to some degree by most corporate-centric school reformers:

1. Claim schools are failing.
2. Use influence to craft and implement curricular standards designed to further prove the claim (define the problem and create the tools to prove the problem you defined).
3. While public schools are exacerbating their own demise, build up the new resources such that once the claim is "proven," you control the alternative market.
4. More schools "fail" based on the definition you asserted and states accepted.
5. Advertise your ready charters as better alternatives.
6. Skim least-risky students from public schools to ensure your success in charters.
7. Watch as public schools do worse based on remaining students who are less capable of succeeding under your imposed and accepted definitions.
8. Offer more alternatives for students in those schools, alternatives you control.
9. Rinse, wash, and repeat.

Somewhere in there is work that convinces politicians that this new free market education system will be good for the economy overall, which may be the only thing politicians think the public cares about anyway or see as that which will best help them get re-elected. Convince the power politicos that opening up the new market will improve the bottom line regardless of the social carnage or the rejiggering of values associated with the public good and the right of a free public education. Add a president and his partners who make accepting the CCSS mandatory to even be considered for a new pool of government funds at a time when states are reeling to make ends meet -- a "thank you" gesture to some of the president's earliest backers --  and you have your new pauperizing process.

In the meantime, as the corporate clock-maker gods sit back and watch the system play out as devised but under false aegises of public demand and public accountability, the divide between the have's and have-not's grows. This too is part of the overall economic reform system, but with children as the central victims. Other people's kids: the easiest gloss.  The goal is reform for profit, not reform for improvement. Certainly not for equity.

Make no mistake: The reform movement is the New Segregationist Movement. All of us accepting these reforms or not actively fighting them are part of the movement. As a teacher educator in a CCSS state about to experience a charter market wave (click here for a scholarly source on who is supporting charters in Washington State), I am part of the movement. NCTE, IRA, AERA, NEA -- all organizations that have not directly, boldly challenged the system and new market? They are part of the movement.

All stakeholders in this nation, especially teachers, teacher educators, and their professional organizations, are in an exigency where they may feel  they must assimilate or die.

I propose a different possibility: Assimilate and die. 

I have to teach my students how to deal with CCSS. I try to counter this by making sure they know  their daily goals and objectives are not synonymous with meeting standards. The phrase "teach the standards" keeps popping up in high-profile places, making the distinction between goal-oriented teaching and standards-based teaching harder to make to young people who know the jobs they'll seek may require an assimilationist attitude, but I attempt to get my students to see the standards as a tool to meet the needs of their students and to get them to see teaching and learning as a situation in which the learner comes first and standards are at least secondary to daily and annual teaching goals.

When I discuss the CCSS with my students, we read works offering support for them and works detailing problematics.  I chant the mantras, "You don't work for the standards; make the standards work for you and your students" and "Use the tool of standards; don't be the tool of standards," but my efforts feel less and less revolutionary as I accept the perceived fact that I must accept what I want to disavow. I'm assimilating out of perceived necessity, but my soul and conscience are dying.

I'm not sure what I do is near enough. I've engaged in "Facebook advocacy" by sharing resources with my network. I've joined the Badass Teachers (BATS) and The Network for Public Education (NPE).  I try to follow those who are speaking out about these rhee-forms or deforms or whatever the reactionist phrase de jour may be, but perhaps I need to be more public in my worries, writing my elected officials and working to influence which ones find themselves with power.

But as a public employee at what is essentially a government-sponsored institution, do I put what little privilege I have on the line by speaking out?

If I feel this way as a visiting professor not yet on the tenure track, how do my TT colleagues feel and why aren't they speaking out more too or taking actions to influence their national organizations?

Many of us in teacher education have much to gain in terms of professional comfort by continuing to give our money to the organizations that have yet to take a hard stand against the reform movement. We have what feels to us much to lose by speaking out. And our tenured professors? Perhaps they're just too comfortable overall, too removed from the pressures of failure that the New Segregationist movement have spawned. They're the success stories and power-players of the profession, after all.

I can conjecture at best regarding these questions, and there are folks fighting the good fight and embracing the consequences, I know; but let it be said: the New Segregationist Movement, just as it feeds on double-binds regarding K-12 schools and forced acts of desperation from state leaders,  feeds on contemporary notions of success and visibility and viability accepted by those in the field of teacher education, binding professionals who should know better to systems of self-preservation and organizations that may no longer have all of America's children at the center of their values.

 I know I'm part of the problem. I can't rebel against the system such that I can ignore the presence of CCSS and other reforms, and I'd prefer not to scare my most-promising 22-year-olds out of teaching, hoping instead maybe they'll be able to fix this mess the rest of us, those too far in even as we scream to get out, make and remake even as we resist from our precarious perches with just enough privilege to placate us from taking stronger actions against our oppressors, who, to a degree, are us by design.

In short, any battle against the New Segregationists is a battle against forces stronger than any one of us, forces that can control our comfort and careers and the definitions of our profession and our viability within it, and against forces that have ensured we have to fight our own demons before we can tackle the new quagmire they continue to create as we struggle under the forks of their wealth, influence, and power. The enemy is us, and them, and the us they've helped us create. The right to a quality public education for every child and to the kinds of reforms that are necessary to make that a reality are at stake.

Make no mistake about it: "Public education" is an entity being reduced, redefined and devalued every day the public school reformers are the same people supporting public school alternatives like charters, a key cog in creating the machinery of their New (true) Monopoly of K-12 education (not that they're stopping there).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The White Privy Ledge

As any good little boy and girl in academia must do nowadays, I spend a lot of time thinking about the construct of white privilege. Recently, I've been reflecting on what it means to be a professor (albeit untenured and currently Visiting) who is white and from a working poor background. Or, perhaps, more accurately, what it means to be a doctorate who is white and from a working poor heritage, because we are no longer in the reality where a Ph.D. equates to tenure streamed positions for many, and stories of working poor Ph.D's are getting much attention (well, notice, anyway).

As well, I keep thinking of the other poor white kids I grew up with in my hometown, in the foothills of Appalachia; I think about the K-12 school in the mountains of North Carolina where I completed an internship and the students served in poor, rural areas; I think about Chris Rock talking about how scary poor white people can be and how his mother used to consider folks who were both white and poor and think there was "no excuse for that." Rock says being white in America is like always having $5 in your pocket. Being black, he says, is like always being fifty cents short. No word on his (or his eponymous character's) thoughts on the rest of the color spectrum, I guess.

So, I decided to Google "does white privilege undermine white poverty?" Part of my motivation is because I do wonder and worry that it might be a reality that so many academics, even white academics, are so adamant about acknowledging white privilege and whitewashing all white people as advantaged in the same way, and to the same extent, because in their lived experienced, they've never seen or experienced white poverty as a tangible realness. Most professors come from middle class backgrounds or "higher," after all. And while volunteering at the soup kitchen is admirable, it's not the same as knowing persistent hunger.
Now, let me clarify my position on white privilege: 

I acknowledge white privilege and even acknowledge that there have been times in my life when it must have helped me and it probably helped me more times than I'll ever be able to know and recognize. This fact does not preclude the fact that I have experienced discrimination, racism, prejudice, and other forms of othering and poor treatment. 

What I do not accept is the idea that white privilege exists for all white people all the time to the same degree all the time for all whites always. Sure, perhaps white privilege is "always, already" there for the accessing, but that doesn't mean it is accessed or abused equilaterally.

So, the first substantive Google result led to a PDF of a presentation entitled "McIntosh as Synecdoche: How Teacher Education's Focus on White Privilege Undermines Anti-Racism."

Oh, yeah, if you didn't know, currently I'm an English Education professor (well, VAP).  Certainly my field and the broader field of education is digging into the construct of white privilege and how it relates to social justice, critical pedagogy, multicultural pedagogy, etc.

Anyway, you gotta see this thing. It details an autoethnographic study about whiteness, identity and privilege and claims that Peggy McIntosh's widely-accepted notions in "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" can be dangerous if applied without a critical edge.

Indeed, a lack of critical edge is part of my problem with how white privilege gets played out in lived academic spaces. It's as if we must acknowledge how white privilege helps us critique power structures and reveals inequities and inequalities, but the concept of white privilege itself must never be questioned, for fear of one being labeled closed-minded, or, worse, racist.

The authors argue that confession is a large part of white privilege pedagogy:

"[W]hite privilege often takes on the role of being  a “Racism Detection Device” (RDD)—it acts as a test or screen to identify those who will not confess their privilege and who are therefore racist.  Those who resist might be asked again, be given another chance to confess, but if they continue their resistance they have shown their true selves."

So where would that leave someone who does not accept the idea that many academics seem to hold that white privilege exists for all white people all the time to the same degree all the time for all whites always? And is willing to say it? I worry it leaves such a person in a precarious place. But, perhaps those are selfish concerns. I'm willing to state that too. 

The recommendations of the study are two-fold: 1. Scholars, particularly those in Education,  must "re-conceptualize white racial identity in ways that are generative for anti-racist teaching." I think doing this would not eliminate white privilege from the discussion, but it might allow an acceptable space for the critique of it as yet another social construction (as are race, poverty, and gender roles).

 Secondly, the authors espouse "the need to displace white privilege from the center of anti-racist work in teacher education, and to focus instead on dismantling white supremacy."  

Yes. That is the real issue, isn't it? Not some carpeting notion of white privilege as omnipresent and equally distributed. A focus on white supremacy could engage in all of the arguments associated with white privilege but also acknowledge class and economic advantages within and among whites and all people, really. 

One might argue focusing on the dismantling of white supremacy still privileges white power. Well, they're not calling it just "privilege," either, are they? Yes, irony of ironies: White Privilege privileges Whiteness, albeit via a narrow, restrictive definition. White Privilege privileges white privilege.

Regarding education studies, perhaps a focus on dismantling white supremacy would remove a perceived need for statements like this:

"It's a sad irony that, while the majority of teachers and students in colleges of education are middle-class White females, schools in America's inner cities are populated by increasing numbers of African-American and Latino youth." 

That line is from a major ELA methods textbook. I will not name it nor its authors, because deep down I want to think they mean well (and their bodies of work prove it)  and that the sentence is just poorly constructed. 

I feel the sentence offers evidence of just how far off-base and dehumanizing an over-arching acceptance of white privilege as fact can be. Is it really ironic that people might want to help people? Even as the sentence critiques the overabundance of white females, it still privileges whiteness (and gender) over the fact that those white females are just as human as the students they want to serve. It completely whitewashes -- in favor of  field-accepted, engrained notions of multiculturalism and cultural responsiveness -- people who may truly seek to make a positive impact in the lives of other people. It sees the race and gender as primary, humanity as at least secondary.

Is it unfortunate that there are not more people of color in the teaching field and that young people in urban areas might not see as many role models or people who they can say "look like us and share our heritage" as they need? Sure, though acknowledging that fact should also acknowledge how all races, all people, can privilege skin color when making impressions about the worth and merit of other people. 

Wouldn't someone who accepts that sentence, as written, in a wholesale manner actually be guilty of racism (assuming that one can be racist toward white people. I know some argue that can't happen. I don't agree). Or, at the very least, of some Alanis Morissette-esque denotative liberties? 

On the other hand, thinking about restructuring the sentence with white supremacy in mind could at the very least keep all the white middle class women reading it from feeling guilty or unworthy or unable to help their fellow humans. Such restructuring could also account for class differences within and among constructs of whiteness and throughout all constructs. 

How might this tie to comics, the supposed focus of this now oft-neglected blog? A few days ago, I allowed myself to be baited into a conversation about the Gene Demby article "Who Gets to be a Hero?: Race and Identity in Comics." Ain't Facebook grand? I removed myself from the conversation, but its specter has been gnawing. Demby talks about the X-Men series, known for tackling issues of social inequality, in particular and offers critique of its privileging of white superheroes. Demby informs that artist  "Orion Martin noted that the X-Men comics have on the receiving end of much real-life discrimination: the main lineup in the X-Men team has been mostly straight, white dudes." So, Martin recolored some of the characters to help us ask ourselves how much color mattered in terms of who is super, super-good, and super-evil. 

Demby's article and Martin's project both shortchange the X-Men series and are woefully ignorant about its place in comicsdom and society. The X-Men were one of the first culturally-diverse group of superheroes in comics. No, not the original 5 from 1963, but they were never that relevant either, stars of a B-list title at best. When the All-New, All-Different X-Men appeared in the 70s, part of its appeal was its inclusion of people from different ethnicities, races, and nationalities. Further, while many groups have tried to appropriate the X-Men as representative of them and their trials and tribulations and there's only, they stand in as metaphorical representations for all who have felt oppression. 

Furthermore, the message of the X-Men is one that scholars, perhaps especially those who embrace white privilege uncritically, might just be too scared to acknowledge:

There are aspects of human nature -- not Caucasoid nature or Negroid nature or Mongoloid nature (Oof! Those words were hard to write), but human nature -- that allow for a level of hate that transcends race, transcends nations and ethnicities and genders. To wit: Most violent crime is intra-racial, not inter-racial, right? 

Yes, X-Men comics privilege whiteness and usually even traditional standards of beauty, but most of its villains are white and some of its heroes are people of color. The X-Men's message is that humans hate, and terrible things happen when humans hate. The X-Men remind us that hate can be constricted to color or class, but it can just as well be color-blind, all-encompassing; completely blinding, in fact. Consider how folks sometimes talk about blacking out from anger or seeing the "red mist."

Within this example, as seems to happen so often, we see an author and artist so caught up in the "reality" of white privilege and what acknowledging it allows us to critique, that they privilege white privilege to the expense of seeing the bigger picture. Hence, they rush in to a project with blinders on, misinterpret the source material, and critic of the critic beware because so many are so eager to see/privilege white privilege everywhere and to acknowledge someone who may be "crying reductivist wolf" as brilliant and forward-thinking and those who point out cracks in the argument as inevitably, completely, irrevocably racist simply because they see more at work than white privilege. Maybe those folks even see the white privilege at work, but they acknowledge other complexities as well.

Deconstructing the white superiority in the X-Men comics, however, helps us ask why Anglo characters are so often the most powerful or the accepted leaders, whether they be heroes or villains. It opens up discussions tied to marketing and media literacy: Why did the X-Men have to be mostly white? And why do most of them meet stereotypical notions of beauty? How does the series treat those who do not, and what can that tell us about ourselves, what we like to see, and what we like to buy/buy into? 

Also, it can be encompassing enough to ask what other power structures are at play. Would any of the X-Men listen to a Charles Xavier who tried to recruit them to live in his two-bedroom double wide trailer, which was the best he could do? What is the class distribution among members as well, and do gender and socioeconomic assumptions seem to affect how the characters interact with one another? Are all the villains simply poor people trying to make ends meet through illegal activities? Or are they privileged through race, wealth, etc.?

Indeed, such an approach is better suited to ask and answer the question "Who gets to be a hero?" My guess is anyone who really delves into that discussion will interact with constructs that address white privilege but will not privilege it by keeping it at the forefront and making it the "catch all" reason for every action and instance of inequity.

Maybe I'm engaging in self-destructive behavior here. Maybe I've been too jaded by my own experiences where academic peers have accepted the racist, sexist, prejudiced notions of colleagues  using white privilege to advance their own discriminatory agendas in some sort of warped sense of justice, feeling as if they, even if they are white, or white and male, are part of the good fight to make real transformative change in the fight against white privilege by advocating said colleagues' ideas. (I'm thinking of you, UTEP).

Pfft. There may be a reason Foucault isn't as popular in certain academic departments anymore: Maybe he hits too close to home. Replacing the players is not the same as changing the game; not always. All those with power -- now and in the past -- have stood on the skulls and backbones of others - and othered others -- to wield it. There is no privilege of any kind without a trade off that favors the few and discounts the many. 
Hell, maybe we don't need to study white superiority exclusively either. Sure, white people have been pretty dominant and domineering over the last seven hundred years or so, but the planet is far older than current notions of white privilege or white supremacy, and if Derrida is to be believed, all the traces of all the cultures and all those oppressed and those once in power are still with us, influencing us and rattling our bones. Maybe dismantling white supremacy still privileges whiteness too much and what we really ought to do is dismantle supremacy in and of itself. Perhaps that is too socialist a suggestion for academics. Perhaps it is impossible. Naive. Threatening?

Certainly I could be making myself a target for professional erasure or for being dismissed as racist and/or as unstable for sharing these thoughts. One could argue that admitting something that goes against certain academic grains, especially those assumed progressive, is in of itself a stupid thing to do:  "Sure, have your ideas that run counter to current guiding notions, but, for goodness sake, keep your mouth shut!" One might argue that more folks should "show their true colors": "Keep talking so we know exactly how to make you disappear!"

Certainly I can do more reading on the concepts of white privilege, and of white supremacy as defined by the authors of the "McIntosh as Synecdoche" article. I'm eager to read this ubiquitous "Knapsack" article as well as an article they cite entitled "The Color of Supremacy:  Beyond the
Discourse of ‘White Privilege.’"

I need to do more research about the study's researchers as well. They say they are part of the Midwest Critical Whiteness Collective, and no date is given in the PDF. For all I know, they're a group of scholars who have bleached their doctoral robes and put conical cardboard in their doctoral hoods so they are all pointy when worn over their heads. Maybe they've been pressured out of the academy.

I've got a lot more thinking to do, but I feel a sense of relief, a release of anger, of guilt, even, at knowing I'm not the only academic in Education who worries that privileging white privilege is skewing critical thinking and critical, transformative social justice action rather than really working to solve problems for all people. 

Do I feel a release of fear, though? No. The lure of righteousness is great for anyone, even academics. And it is just so easy to throw stones. And so easy to engage in the popular thing and to label those with varying worries as racist, as stupid, as lacking career/political savvy, as unstable -- as other. There's clawing to the top and an instinct to kick away the aberrants, to make sure the odds of you and your ideas are ever in your favor, even if that means skewering one who stands as Tribute. 

Ugh. I'm mixing metaphors and cultural referents, probably too influenced by that great piece floating around about academia and The Hunger Games, but what was it I said the X-Men tell us about othering? And hate? 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Strongly-Worded Endorsements of Comics in the Classroom Becoming More Common?

I love that there is a new pack of writers who are pulling no -- or at least less -- punches when it comes to advocating for comics in the classroom. I've seen several as of late, and here are two:

As I and Hillary Chute and others have said, it does seem that the graphic novel or comics in general represent a medium that some folks, no matter what the evidence or potentials suggest, just will not accept, no matter what.

I'm probably as guilty of anyone of doing a little "Aw shucks! That's OK" acquiescence in that regard, though others might suggest I come on too strong to be convincing. Look, if people don't want to be convinced, virtually no amount of talk or research will sway them. BUT, that's no reason not eschew any apologetic modes and tell it like it is.

As does the writer of this article: "You can't possibly look at these offerings and not realize what a wonderful tool this genre has become, not only for entertaining but also for educating young people." OK, so it still has the annoying genre designation and claims that graphic novels have "upped their game" without recognizing that Gene Yang's Boxers & Saints, the article's main focus, while excellent, is far from the only excellent comic published in the last 5 years, but still! Gotta love the strength of those words. 

Also see David Cutler's excellent showcase piece posted to Edutopia. He begins his article on how he uses superhero comics like Superman and X-Men in the classroom: "It's high time for more English and history teachers to set aside their literary purism, and to embrace superhero comics as effective and legitimate teaching and learning tools."

Hells to the Yeah, my comics-teachin' brethern in arms! May the day come when it doesn't feel like such a battle.