Tag Archives: Literature

Force-Feeding “Literacy”

A young African American male sits directly across a typical American middle school classroom from me, sighing heavily every time the computer puts a new question on the screen. He’s asked me several times how many questions there are, and all I can tell him is somewhere between 30 and 50, because this test is a test that gives a different amount of questions to each student dependent upon their success or failure on the proceeding question. Another young African American male keeps falling asleep so frequently I ask him to stand up to take the test, so he’ll not be tempted to put his head down. He is only on question 14, and I am sure this moment in time is only further cementing his hatred of reading. A young white female, who has obviously done this before, flew through the test, just fast enough for the “disengaged student” filter not to catch her apathy. A young white male clicked through too fast yesterday, and had to take it again today.

I am not okay with my students being this frustrated and disengaged with the written word.

I’m sitting in this classroom, giving my student the NWEA assessment, which isn’t a bad assessment in and of itself, but it’s one of three assessments I will give to my students within the first three weeks of class, and I will give another one the week after next. We use Achieve 3000, IXL, NWEA, and SRI to assess our students’ reading levels. We are expected to share this data with the students, have them track their own progress, and have them reach for grade level by the end of the school year.

I am not okay with giving more assessment than are absolutely necessary to gauge my students’ abilities.

Having students be responsible for their own data is like multi-billion dollar corporations asking me to ring out my own groceries, so they can cut the jobs of my fellow workers. I work with students who do not need one more thing to make them feel bad about themselves, students who are on average a couple of years below grade level, and it is my job, as the one with the college degree and license in education, to make sure they improve, to make sure they learn, and to make sure they grow.

Most importantly, my job is to help students love language and literature. If they don’t love it, they won’t engage in it, and they won’t change the world for the better, because they won’t know how to read. But I cannot do this by using a canned program that exists solely to make money for its purveyors, no matter how well intentioned it began.

I am not okay with Capitalism in the classroom.

Language and literature appeal to me precisely because they are wild and unruly and unpredictable. These facets of culture move with us; they are alive and changing and growing. They aren’t subjects that are fixed in time or place, and they should bring us joy, sorrow, information, relationships, anger, love, and all those human emotions. We shouldn’t expect students to read something, answer a couple of program-based low-level comprehension questions, and be done with it. We shouldn’t put a dead and static text in front of a teenager and ask them to fall in love with words.

I am not okay with teaching students to hate reading by participating in what passes for English Language Arts in American schools.

Those of you who love to read: when was the last time you read something you were forced to read, other than for work? When was the last time you sent your friends a list of basic comprehension question when you had a book recommendation for them? Do you keep reading a book or a text you hate because you have to? Is there someone in your life who forces you to read things that have no meaning to you or for you?

Personally, I like to pick my own texts, talk about them with my friends, and write about them in my own ways. I like the freedom to stop reading something that doesn’t interest me. And, you know what? I end up reading all types of texts, having all kinds of amazing conversations with people I’d normally never discuss those subjects with, and I write all types of writing in response.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could afford our students the same pleasures we have with language and literature, instead of jamming them inside tiny boxes of canned programming and contrived literary situations?

Oatmeal Pancakes. Social Media. Kindle.

Today I didn’t wake up until 8AM, and I decided that I was going to take this day off as easy as possible, until I go to the gym later this afternoon.My workout today will not be an easy one, so I needed all the rest I could get. I’m basically doing everything there is to do at the gym, which I know is not the best course of action, but I am doing it anyway, because I have the day off, so I can spend as long as I want there working out. I’m swimming, biking, running, and lifting. Dumb? Yes. Oh, well. It’s not like I do that every day, but I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.

EDIT: Just in the course of writing this and eating my breakfast, I’ve decided to go run outside on a paved trail I’ve been meaning to try out. I’ll take advantage of the unseasonable warmth. Then I’ll just go lift and probably swim. I’ll save biking for tomorrow. Or, maybe even, I’ll go run around the island at Fort Snelling. Such choices.

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One of my favorite meals is breakfast, but I have no money to go out for a big lavish feast, so I decided to make myself some pancakes. Not just any pancake would suffice, of course, because I always need special pancakes. I used a basic pancake recipe, but made it gluten-free. Oh, and I added everything I love: bananas, oats, coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, and maple syrup. I was going to add some protein powder, too, but the only flavors I have are chocolate and strawberry, which I didn’t think would taste very good with everything else. Maybe the chocolate, but then all I’d taste is chocolate, and I want to taste the bananas, oats, and coconut.

I also brewed up some of our special holiday gift coffee from Caribou Coffee. The name of this particular blend/roast is ¡Ay Caramba!, and it’s a Mexican coffee with subtle cocoa hints. Delicious with pancakes no doubt.

I just flipped the first batch of four little pancakes, and they were slightly darker than I’d like them to be, but the batter is pretty thick, so there weren’t any little bubbles forming. Thick batter is the problem with hearty pancakes. Thick batter is also the pleasure of hearty pancakes.

As I anticipated, these pancakes were amazing and they paired well with the coffee. One thing I do have to say about Caribou is that our roastmasters are pretty fantastic, even though they are obsessed with light roasting things. I seriously can’t wait for the Ethiopian coffee that’s coming out in February. Ethiopian coffees are my favorites, and I am confident that our roastmasters won’t fuck it up when it comes to getting the best taste out of them. It’s really nice to work for a company where people pay attention to details like that. And, I’m happy to know that all of our beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified.

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I have a new love. Her name is Kindle Fire. Seriously, when my parents bought them for my brother and me for Christmas, I was a little taken aback. I love books. I love their pages. I love their ink. I love their smell. I love their feel. I would certainly never let anything come between me and my books, let alone this electronic thing.

Love is fickle. Love is so very fickle. And I’ve fallen for my Kindle.

Now I love the ability to read a book anywhere, anytime, on my phone, or on my Kindle. I am no longer that geeky girl who carries a book everywhere with her (or am I?). When I was younger, I stuffed books everywhere, sometimes even carrying them outright and bold, standing in line at the theater with my family reading a book, walking through the grocery store shopping with my mom and my brother reading a book, lying next to the pool reading a book, basically doing anything anytime reading a book. Needless to say, I was so popular. I was never ashamed of my love of reading. In fact, I sore of wore my oddities as a badge, but I always knew I was slightly out of step with the other kids around me.

The beauty of the Kindle is I can be reading anytime and it just looks like I am any one of any other mindless drones on my phone. Only while others play games or use social media, I’m secretly reading literature! I finally fit in (not so much)!

Seriously, though, I do love this thing. I have already read two books on the Kindle, and I’ve only been using it for a week. I love the Kindle Unlimited possibility, that for $10 a month I can read unlimited books. Are they books I’d normally read? Mostly no, but there are some really good ones, maybe just older ones, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, in the unlimited library. And any book is a good book, I suppose, with the exception of the Twilight Series and Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve found that there are very few books that are bad enough for me to stop reading.

I’ve also learned that in the realm of the literary, at least, I can have more than one lover. I can love my Kindle Fire, and I can love my print books. I will tell you that there will be no Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, or Margaret Atwood on the Kindle, unless, of course, I also own them in print. Those three women deserve real pages to be turned, real ink to be seen, and a real cover to be caressed. And, dare I say, simple realness to be savored with every sense.

And that’s that.

 

Feeling vs. Looking. Books. Work.

I noticed this morning that my body is starting to feel better with the moderation of food, excluding the day when I ate an entire bag of holiday peppermint M&Ms, the careful attention to water consumption, and the additional exercise. I am beginning to feel like an athlete again, which is a great joy. Now here’s the sticky wicket: when I get to this point, I always want my body to start to looking like an athlete’s body as soon as possible. I know it doesn’t happen this way. I know it will take a good six months to start noticing bodily changes in the mirror. I always notice the changes in my pants first, and I have already started to notice the way they fit differently, a bit loser in the waist, a bit tighter in the thighs. Damn you, squats, I’ve only been at this for two weeks, and you’re already making my thighs big(ger). I don’t like to weigh myself all the time, because then I get really discouraged, so I’ll wait until January 23, one month from when I started at 235 pounds. Hopefully, we’ll see a bit loss, but I feel better, so all is well anyway.

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I finished Tiny Beautiful Things the other day, and decided the best thing I can do for my mental health is keep reading books. I fired up my new Kindle, a Christmas gift from my parents, and borrowed The Bloodletter’s Daughter. I know nothing about this book, except that it’s historical fiction and looks a little seedy. After I walk the dogs, this morning, I am going to start reading my first electronic book ever. I’m also finishing the last two chapters of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which has taken me forever to finish, and I’m starting Wild Things by Dave Eggers, which I owned at one point in my life, but must have lost somewhere. I purchased this copy from Half Price Books. Next on the list is the Wrinkle in Time trilogy, and from there who knows. My goal is just to read about a book a week or so and love them in the way I described in my last post.

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Work is going well. I love the coffee business. I just wish it paid a bit more, like double what it pays. Haha. Right.

Making Gains and Losing Ground

Making Gains: Weightlifting went very well yesterday, as I thought it would. I was simply nervous to get started again. I’m waiting for the day when I can do a pull up, and when (if) that ever gets here, I’ll celebrate with a giant beer or some such. I started with light weights to try to get the forms right, and because of that wise decision, I am not the least bit sore. The plan I am using is designed to give big lifting gains, but I am not going to increase my weights for a couple of weeks until I get used to the rhythm of this new thing. I’d say all in all it went well.

Losing Ground: I have eaten lots of M&Ms the past few days. And I mean lots of M&Ms. There is no moderation here.

Making Gains: Today I plan to spend the entire morning finishing Tiny Beautiful Things. When I finish this book, I will have read two books since the new year, which makes me extremely happy, because reading books for pleasure, not for dissection, is my lifeblood. It just feels right. I should’ve gone into math or science and kept my books sacred. Going into literature, which seemed like the logical choice, took a good portion of the joy away from reading. I am finally getting back to the place where I can simply escape into another world through a book, instead of constantly trying to analyze, theorize, and otherwise profane the texts I once loved for their magical power to transport me anywhere but here.

Losing Ground: I have eaten lots of M&Ms the past few days. And I mean lots of M&Ms. There is no moderation here.

 

 

Fiction Friday: Speech Sounds

My women in literature students read Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds” for class this week. We also read Donna Harraway’s “The Cyborg Manifesto.” In this class, we use Friday as a work day, and the students can work on whatever homework they want to work on. I’m a firm believer that when we ask students to do difficult tasks we should give them grace, support, and time to work on those tasks in class with our support, so I give them Fridays and their abstracts for the theoretical works are due on Monday of the next week. Tuesdays are reserved for discussing the fictional work from the previous Thursday in light of the new theory, then on Wednesdays, we read four poems through the theoretical lens. If you’re really confused about how this works, you can access the schedule here.

Anyway, we read “Speech Sounds” and my students were really insightful about the text and discussed the ways in which Harraway’s theoretical ideas were present in the text. They picked apart the dichotomies and got at the permeable boundaries and were, in short, brilliant about the text. They loved the story as well. One idea we didn’t get at, that I am hopeful we will get at this week through “The Laugh of the Medusa” by Helene Cixous is the idea that the woman, throughout the story, has a voice, but can’t use it. A couple of students brought up these ideas, but sort of skirted around them in discussion. I would love it if we could really get at that idea and explore why Butler writes the female protagonist as a woman who can speak, but who can’t speak within her cultural context. What would she say that the other folks can’t hear? In the context of the story, she’d be killed for speaking, but is there cultural application for Butler’s views on female speech or lack thereof? Yes. Of course. But getting my students to speak thoughtfully about that will be the challenge of this week. Sometimes I love what I do!