Category Archives: Pedagogy

Lent Day 2: Miseducation and Common Prayer

I’m sitting in Bracken Library, taking a break from scanning pictures into the computer for my students most recent project, and it’s a little bit eerie in here. There are probably only 25 or 30 people at the computers, if that, and it’s very quiet, even here on the first floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the library quiet like this. Today has been strange all around, though, so I am not sure I should be surprised about the library.

Today was the last day of Istep for the 8th graders, so tomorrow we move back to doing our regular classroom stuff, instead of being broken up and spread around for testing, so my stress level will surely go back down. The students told me they thought the test was easy, which either means they did really well or really poorly. I think they were trying to tell me that, so I would feel like they had done super well. One student even said, “It’s because you taught us so well.” I have no doubts I teach well, but I will see in a few months how well they did on this stupid test, which is all that really matters now isn’t it? Two days makes or breaks a student. And his or her teacher.

Anyway, I did receive another blessing today. When I got home, I had yet another book that I purchased with my Amazon points waiting in my mailbox: The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I made the mistake of starting to read it, and now I don’t really want to do anything else. Obviously, if you clicked the link, you notice the secular nature of the text, but to me, the subject is so intimately intertwined with my spirituality, I can’t see a difference.

Church people insist that our sexuality reflects our spirituality by encouraging people to remain virgins until marriage for the sake of religious purity, so it only makes sense to me that our sexuality is somehow an act of worship. Maybe this is why I nearly weep when I find a book that speaks to my soul like this one. I keep finding myself thinking, Where was this book in 1987? My life would’ve been so different if literature like this had existed then. I might have realized at a much earlier age who I really am. I might not have been so lost for so much of adolescence. But I can’t go back, nor do I want to!

As I am reading this book it makes me think about how intricately woven we are as human beings, how delicately God put us together, but yet how hardy we are. I mean let’s face it: humans are fragile but resilient. We can crack or break, but we can take a lot of shit before we do. In a strange way, I think that’s what Lent is about. God wants us to recognize that we are fragile, but that we are designed to weather the storm, whatever that entails. Jesus wants us to follow him to that cross, where our resilience meets our obedience meets our fragility.

For the first time, today I tried to pray the various prayers throughout the day from Common Prayer, and I think it went well. I noticed that it made me think through the day about who I am in Christ. I love that the midday prayers are the same every day and I love that one of those prayers is St. Francis’s: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” And of course he goes on: “For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” How beautiful. And if we really pray it and believe it, how can we not be transformed?

Through these ritual prayers, I realized that I was more conscious on some levels about how I conducted myself in the classroom and with colleagues, but praying through the hours also drew attention to the fact that I am so far from where I want to be spiritually. However, praying so frequently and with a specific prodding to pray for others really made me think hard about those around me who need prayer, love, grace, and my action. And so I continue to learn.

Peace.

ISTEP+

Today my students are taking the ISTEP+. I have a really hard time finding value in tests like these. My students have read, understood, interacted with, and reflected on texts that are so much more meaningful than those provided by the state for the purposes of the testing. My only hope is that they don’t get flustered. Every day before we take the test, I remind them what my mom used to tell me. “All I ask is that you do your best. I can’t ask any more of you than your best, and I certainly don’t expect any less.”

I think my problem is that these tests serve one purpose and one purpose only, which is to rank students on an artificial scale. They are, in my opinion, a means to a capitalist end, as are grades. If we rank and file students, then it makes them easier to control as adults. We can begin, at an early age, to sort them into who they will become.We determine through these tests who will succeed and who will fail. Though we claim that they do otherwise, they do not. They do not access how well the students have mastered what they have taught, they simply measure whose parents have shown interest in them throughout the school year, whose home lives are relatively stable, and whose creativity and ability to be intellectually curious has been sucked from them to the highest degree. They don’t want you to be creative. They want you to be drones.

Imagine an educational system in which students’ levels of ability determined what section of each subject they would attend, instead of their ages or grade levels. Imagine if students were encouraged at whatever level they function at, instead of constantly being forced to attain a level beyond their capabilities or below their capabilities, in some respects. Imagine a school in which a student’s age did not determine your curriculum, but his intelligence and interest level did. Imagine graduating student who had for all the years of school been asked to do their best because teachers cannot possibly accept less nor require more. What would this world look like if we leveled the very first playing field, education? There is plenty of time to be sorted out into the haves and have-nots throughout adulthood, but I think if we re-imagined education, we’d eventually close that gap.Of course, it might mean graduating students at the age of thirteen or fourteen if they’re intellecutally capable. Are we ready for that? No.

Because we’d no longer be in such drastic and marked competition with each other, we’d also place equal value on people who work in the service sector, recognizing that their abilities are just as necessary for our culture to function. A custodian who cleans the hospital, a housekeeper who does the laundry, and the nurse who creates the sterile environment, are just as important in a successful surgery as the surgeon who performs the task and gets the glory. Without the hierarchical form of education we now deem necessary, the surgeon may recognize at an early age that his success depends upon the success of his classmates.

There may also be an increase in students who don’t feel the pressure of going to college, who will choose to live a different lifestyle by taking a minimum-wage job and living frugally. Right now education is on a strange teleological path that ends with the heaven of the ivory tower, but what if we taught our students that there is more to life than being financially stable, owning multiple cars, a big house, and a summer cottage? What would happen then? What our students realized they didn’t have to buy into the nonsense that is the US capitalist economy? We just might end up with a few more geniuses.

Blah. And some more blah.

I need to start writing here consistently, and I need to finish the two book reviews that I started when I was in Florida. I need to paint the house. I need to finish the floors. I need to plan for next years’ classes. I need to work on my dissertation and meet with Debbie tomorrow. I need to spend time running. I need to write my presentation for the PCA conference in October. I need to revise a couple of essays and send them out to try to get them published. I need to give time to my friends and family. It’s slightly overwhelming, and all of this in a summer that I thought might be relaxed. I need to not be so overwhelmed by all of my activities, commitments, and self-assigned bullshit.

But, first, I need to finish these end of course assessments for the IEI at Ball State, which is where I have a summer assistantship.I am having a hard time getting motivated because it’s a bit intimidating to make assessments for courses you’ve never taught and probably never will teach, though I’d love to teach in the IEI. I think it would be very satisfying. As for my summer work, it’s different. It’s challenging. It’s fulfilling.

It’s different because I have never considered how to teach a language in a very short amount of time to someone who doesn’t speak it, much less if that person is beginning college or graduate school, which I think are very different considerations. I am not sure that it is as important to teach a graduate student how to keep a daily planner as it is to teach the same skill to a 19-year-old college freshman. All college freshman should have to take a study skills class, regardless of their ability to speak English or not.

It’s challenging because I have some very definite ideas about what students should know when they enter an English 103 or 104 classroom, and my ideas don’t necessarily jive with what the IEI instructors can accomplish in their seven or eight courses, which I believe are taught in seven weeks each. I could be wrong. Anyway, the classes go from fundamental (or survival) through communicative to academic. My task for this week is to design reading assessments for each course to test the learning outcomes for each class. This task is challenging when I have only learning outcomes, and no real grasp on or feel for the students. I said today when I was talking to the director of the IEI that this is challenging for me because I view language acquisition to be a much more organic process than academia views it to be. Think about how you learned language. Did you ever take an end of course assessment? Probably not, but then again, you weren’t trying to acquire a language in a few short months; you had years to do it.

Finally, it’s fulfilling because the end result is that people are equipped with one more skill that will make their lives in the US a little easier. I can imagine nothing more intimidating than being in a new culture without having command of the language of that culture. I by no means believe that all Americans should be required to speak English; we are far too diverse of a culture to require that. I do, however, believe that going to school at an American institution requires that you be able to speak, read, listen to, and write the predominant language of that institution and to be able to do it well. Particularly, the humanities require this. I am still trying to decide if getting a science, math, or another non-language-intensive degree should require a command of English, since we are in the US (I suppose the predominant language at some American universities is Spanish, Portuguese, or French?). I am leaning toward no, but it’s up for debate. At any rate, this summer work is fulfilling, too, because it’s forcing me to have to reconsider all those things I think about language. And, I am learning new things every day. Very good.

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I am at a point where I just want to lose weight, which makes me a very bad fat studies scholar. I love food too much. I love good healthy vegan cooking way too much. I could seriously eat all day long, but then I’d have to run all day long. And my foot’s been really funky, so I haven’t run at all, only walked. And not much.

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I want to write a list poem about freedom, or imprisonment as outlined in Sarah’s post. I just need time.

A Long and Thoughtful Post

I think this blog deserves a long and thoughtful post since I have time and desire to write.

Maybe I could write about some lofty topic like gender equality, or civil rights, or something that could be revolutionary and life-changing, but I can’t think of anything articulate to say about any of those topics.

I just blogged about homelessness, so that topic is out.

I could, however, blog about how we expect poor families to put as much energy into their children’s educations as we expect other families to contribute. And, I would be onto something that means a lot to me, but that seems like it should be logical: if you work all day at sustaining your families lives, you don’t have energy to put into working on homework with your children, monitoring what they watch on television, or even making sure they take baths.

There are a few things I have learned in the three years I have not owned a car:

  1. It takes me much more time and energy to even get from place to place. If I walk it takes about 15 minutes a mile, not to mention if it is snowing or raining. If it is doing either, I have to pay attention to passing cars to avoid being sprayed with foul, street-water spray. I also have to carry an umbrella, which slows the walking time a bit. If I walk any faster, I show up wherever I am going all sweaty and gross. Who wants that? If I take the bus, I have to plan to be at the stop when the bus will be, or I have to wait an extra half an hour for the next bus. If I had children, would I make it to the stop every time on time? Also, it takes about 45 minutes to make it Robert Bell by bus, but I can walk there in about 25 minutes. I have the option of riding my bike, which only takes about 6 minutes a mile, depending on how much I have to carry. Some days the bike is out because I have to carry too much. There are also days, when the rain wrecks my riding and I end up drenched.
  2. Getting yourself everywhere by your own power uses energy. If the snow is deep and I walk to school, by the time I get there, I am tired.
  3. I end up feeling like a mooch when I ask for rides to places I can’t get to on my bicycle or by foot or by bus. In the summer months, I have the luxury of using my motorcycle (unless it’s raining). I typically have to ask my brother for a ride to my parents’ house. I have to ask my friends to meet me in Muncie for coffee, lunch, or whatever we might be doing. Sometimes I can ride my bike to Hartford, but it takes about an hour and a half, and I have to carry my clothes with me that I will wear for the day, because I get all sweaty.
  4. Perhaps the most difficult for me is that I get a little stir-crazy. When I used to have a car, before I got rid of it, I used to go to Indy quite a bit. If I had a day off, I would drive down there, go to a coffee shop and read or work on writing or schoolwork. I would sometimes drive to Richmond to meet Amy, or drive to Hartford to see my mom and dad. Sometimes, I would even just take off and for no reason drive to Chicago, walk around for a bit, and then come home. Now I can’t leave Muncie like that; I have to plan. I feel a little trapped, honestly. I can see why when Kellie first got my Jeep, she drove all over Indiana almost every weekend. You go a little nutty just staying in the same place all the time. I find it sad that some people who live in Muncie have never been to Chicago, or even Indianapolis, but when you don’t have a car, you can’t get to those places.
  5. Riding the bus is interesting. Nowhere brings people together like riding the public transit. I have learned to love so many types of people by riding the bus. From the homeless guy who rides the same route until the driver kicks him off the bus, to the woman and her socially (and I think mentally) challenged child who wears a stocking cap, moon boots, and headphones that are attached to nothing all year round, to the business people who take the bus because it’s cheap, to college students who take it because it free, I have learned to observe and understand many diverse groups of people. And, buses know no color; people of every ethnicity ride the bus, even here in little old Muncie.

I think what I am trying to get at is that we don’t realize how much of a burden it is for people who don’t have cars to simply function in our culture. Of course, I am speaking of the midwestern, non-urban settings. We are lucky in Muncie to have the MITS buses, or we would have no way to get from one point to another. And, as I have indicated sometimes the bus situation is still a little sketchy.

By no means am I trying to ally myself with the poor, working-class, or impoverished groups of people who work so hard each day just to survive, but I am saying I get a glimpse into that life on a daily basis as I try to negotiate getting from point A to point B.

I am having an increasingly hard time when I hear other people talk about how the poor should just pull themselves up by their boot straps and make something happen. I have a growing desire to say to them, “Let me take away all of your conveniences, your car, your extensive wardrobe, your fancy gadgets, your running water, your morning Starbucks (or whatever coffee), your washing machine and dryer, your heat and air-conditioning, etc., and see how well you could pull yourself up.” I am sure it wouldn’t be pretty.

I still have people everyday who say to me, “How do you survive without a car?” I get by because I have friends who give me rides, because I can walk, and because I have a bicycle. It is hard, though. I won’t lie. I can’t just pick up and be somewhere at the drop of a hat. It takes time even to walk downtown. What is a two- to three-minute drive is an 18 minute walk.

Please don’t think I am complaining. I am certainly not. I relish these three years, because I have learned much from them. I am simply trying to say that when we hop into the car that sits in the driveway in front of our house, swing through Starbucks on the way to work, and then pull into a parking space no more than a five minute walk from our workplace, we need to remember that some of coworkers and students may not have had any of those luxuries. They may already be starting out their days having had to do the workout we perceive to be privilege or a chore. Think about it, most of us pay to go to the gym to walk or jog as far as some people walk everyday just to get by. And, they do it powered by gas station coffee. 🙂

I would also hope these ideas would transfer into our classrooms. Some parents are simply lazy and don’t really care about their kids’ grades until they get a bad report card. However, there are some parents whose lives consume all of their energy, so there simply isn’t any left over to put into their children’s educations. I propose we don’t fault them for that, and that we, in turn, put more of our lives into those children. Someone has to invest in their futures.

I suppose this is at least long. I hope it is also thoughtful. Mostly, I hope it isn’t taken as being preachy. I never would have considered any of this if I had not gotten rid of my car and had to survive without it; therefore, I would never preach at you for something you probably don’t understand.

These days remind me of when I was little and gasoline was so expensive during the gas shortages. Even though my mom was a school teacher and my dad also worked, we didn’t have a lot. Sometimes my mom would bundle us up and we would walk the two miles to the public library to get books while my dad was working his way up the greasy corporate ladder at Burger Chef. If it was summer, we might ride in the wagon or ride our bikes. At any rate, I feel like I am going back to my roots.

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Exercise: ran two miles, walked the dogs three miles, rode bike to 505 and home

Breakfast: decaf Americano with cream and honey, banana, juice, plain bagel with cream cheese
Lunch: provolone and sweet pickle sandwich, pickled duck egg with pickled beets, milk
Dinner: veggie riblet, mashed potatoes (the real kind), spinach with poppyseed dressing and parmesan cheese, blueberries with whipped cream
Snack: popcorn, 1 oz. cheese, tiny honeycrisp apple

Grading Again.

I spent the day grading essays, comics, and reflections. I am coming to realize that grading is more about my response to my students’ writing and creating of texts than it is about sorting the students into some predetermined category of A, B, C, D, or F. Does that make it anymore enjoyable? No. I still feel like I don’t get enough time to work with my students one on one in order to explain the remarks I put on their papers. I still feel like I am, with one letter, telling my students where they fit in the academic food chain. Even though I know that grading is about molding their writing writing into acceptable forms and structures, I feel like I spend more time considering whether or not I am meeting the grading criteria set forth by the rubric. I can be organic and work with them to revise and edit their papers, but at the end of the day their success comes down to one letter on a sheet of paper. I know I must give the grades, because I know my place in the food chain as well. However, I cannot grade without hearing my brother’s high school guidance counselor telling him that he wasn’t college material. I can hear that voice telling my brother, who now has a master’s degree, to give up on his dreams. I don’t want to be that voice, but I also don’t want to be the professor who passes people who have no business going on, who can’t write well enough to pass their other classes. It’s hard to balance ethical grading with my sort of hippie desire to see everyone succeed.

Here’s a link to an article by Mike Rose that sort of highlights part of my struggle and one of his books, The Mind at Work.

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Exercise: walked the dogs 1.4 miles, rode the bike to Burris to 505 to RB to home (I was supposed to run, but had to grade.)

Food: banana, juice, almonds, swiss cheese sandwich, milk, tea, apple, two pieces of veggie pizza, four breadsticks with nacho cheese