Saturday, February 28, 2009

Teaching: The Business of Fancydancing

Southwest Texas Pop Culture Conference

On Thursday morning, I checked out a U of A PhD candidate in AIS presenting on the teaching of The Business of Fancydancing, a film by Sherman Alexie, in a college classroom to Native American students.
Here's the trailer from Youtube:

One of the other people in the audience brought up an interesting issue during the post panel Q&A when he explained that Alexie often time plays on stereotypes of that non-Native audiences don't understand. As an example, the man explained that the ornate dress of the 'fancydancing' came about as a result of white audiences in Oklahoma (I believe he said) who thought the original dress was boring. The presenter agreed that this insight gives another layer of meaning to the title 'business.'

This discussion of mixed messages was particularly poignant for me because I just finished reading Viviana Diaz Balsera's Pyramid under the Cross, which deals with the subversive messages that Nahuatl translators put into the Franciscan evangelical plays, causing the spiritual colonizers to overestimate the effectiveness of their rhetoric.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Coming into Class"

ASU Composition Conference

On Friday, I made the Tucson to Phoenix trek with a colleague from my WPA seminar to see our celebrated professor and prolific writer Edward M White deliver his keynote speech. White often jests that he became known as the authority on writing assessment by default.

A Brooklyn Tale
White explained that what he was reading from came from his in-progress memoir, although some of the material was also included in a piece called "Coming into Class." White grew up in a working class household in Brooklyn, where his family was most proud of the fact that they had indoor plumbing. As a youth, White hid out in the Brooklyn City library to avoid the tough kids in the street, soon becoming consumed by books, reading all five volumes of The Three Musketeers by the age of 13.

Finding himself at Harvard because of his test taking skills and in spite of his father's best wishes (and an attempt to create diversity on campus), Ed earned his PhD and began teaching composition. Soon after, he secured himself a tenured track position at Wellesley, and explained that it wasn't too difficult teaching students of privilege what they already knew--White said that composition class wasn't too much different than the social norms the students followed at the formal dances.

100 Tiny Glances
Leaving a tenure track position at Wellesley, White headed west, taking a job at a new Cal State in the working class, railroad town of San Bernadino. It was there White "felt useful and the job worth doing."

White felt that the students in California were his kind of people because he didn't feel like an outsider for not having an extensive knowledge of wines. "I felt like an impostor," White said, "I had no style, and no class."
I believe White was quoting a colleague of his who got it right when he said, "class and race divisions were made up of 100 tiny glances."

For White, social class at Harvard and Wellesley felt like an extra curriculum that he would never quite master, sometimes feeling almost like "a part of the grounds-keeping crew."

Even at Cal State San Bernadino, White found that these students who weren't as prepared as their Ivy League, East Coast counterparts still were "doggedly determined" and possessed a resistance that White took as a trapping of class. While the upper class students tended to be complacent, the working class students were similarly resistant to White's higher aspirations for them.
In the end, White sees how both situations made him want to "free students of the biases of the class."

White added, "I don't win in my imaginary conversations with my father. He's been past away for some years now, but I'm still met with a look of scorn."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mictecacihuatl la norteña in 'hell-hot' Tucson

Service Learning

On a recent visit to a local Tucson high school, I was speaking with students of a Latin American literature class. The students were asked to draw self portraits, incorporating symbols that they believed identified them according to their culture and interests. Some of the students had drawn images of Aztec/Nahua calenders, flowers and pictographic heads representing various deities. I began speaking with a young girl who told me that she was from El Salvador. She laughed when I asked her if she liked Tucson. She responded with a variation of how I'd heard Tucson referred to before, as 'hell-hot', or 'hot as hell.'

I told her that the Aztecs might've agreed--although Tucson is located in what is often referred to as Aztlán, where the Aztecs began their migration to Tenochtitlán, the Aztecs also thought of the underworld Mictlan as being located north of them in relation to present day Mexico City DF. So Mictecacihuatl might've been a norteña, sweating like the rest of us under the Arizona sun.

Hopefully the next time I visit, I'll remember the names better, but it's great to see how much interest these students have in pre-Columbian history. Now, if I were only able to incorporate their love of Reggaeton into New World Rhetoric...

UPDATE: I couldn't help but add a video of Calle 13 in a response to my previous point about using reggaeton as a point of entry--Calle 13's Latinoamerica possesses a critical ethos that alludes to the tradition of colonialism in the Americas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Southwest Texas Pop Culture & American Culture

Conference Jitters
Presenting at a conference next week in Albuquerque...feel free to dish the advice my way!
The idea is worked out, blending mestizaje spirituality and the hacker class (orale new media rhetoric!), so it's all about condensing a seminar paper into the allotted time.

I know I've got the hard part done with the research, it's the organization part that gets me...but if Santo can defeat the mala gente on other planets, mixing a little mestizo theory with new media is no major feat.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hermosillo, Sonora Tour of Schools

One Week Later

It's hard to believe that it's already been a week since visiting six schools in Hermosillo. I'm working on a reflection about it that I might have to post as a P.S. to some of the pictures I'm posting.
My professor Anne-Marie Hall furnished me with a great deal of these pictures, so I have to say thank you for both coordinating/facilitating the entire trip with the Sonora secretary of Education, as well as for these many great pictures.
Normal School: Where Kindergarten & Primary School Teachers are Taught

Centro de los Maestros: a virtual classroom for working teachers
This kind of classroom would seem to raise questions about developing a pedagogy that not only allows, but supports this kind of technology.

Mural in the Hermosillo Capital Building--with a quote from Bernardino de Sahagún

The representative from the Department of Education helped us get a closer look at the govenor's office--we even had a chance to see him for a short moment.Aja Secondary Public School
Whenever I have a bad day, I'm just going to think about these kids...

My year of having taught third grade in Costa Rica pays off as I ask students their names, ages, grades & favorite sports.
(some of the kids even followed our group to the van to say goodbye...this is after a little boy asked to sing for us, making the majority of our group tear up)

Padre Kino's mausoleum is located near where this picture was taken
Another of the PhD candidates in the course made a great point that all of our first year composition students should have to come down--I agree, but it might just be because I want to go back myself.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brown Bag Roundtable Discussion

Talking about Race in the Classroom with Carlos Gallego

As a part of the Diversity and Inequality's brown bag series, English Literature Professor Carlos Gallego agreed to speak in a roundtable style discussion. Carlos Gallego is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona. His interests include twentieth century American literature, Chicano/a studies, philosophy, and critical theory. He has contributed work to journals such as Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quartelry, Aztlán, and Western Humanities Review, and is currently working on a book manuscript examining the transcendence of identity thinking in Chicano/a literature. Inspired by the work of Richard Rodriguez's Brown and Zeta Acosta's Brown Buffalo, I suggested the subtitle to the event: 'Putting Brown back into a brown-bag.' discussion

Using this as a point of departure, Professor Gallego says, "The ability to laugh at arbitrary labels is useful, for example, Dave Chappelle sketch in which he's a the blind KKK member. It raises questions about discomfort. 'Brown' is good title because it turns the question back on audience: why am I the 'brown?' I consider myself more of a latte, or mocha.

"I like to explore ethnic texts of the 60's & 70's, lesser known texts that aren't understood [Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway] and apply philosophy and critical theory. A lot of people say heavy theory doesn't apply to those texts, but I disagree.

"Readers like to consume otherness, but don't put in their own experience as a part of the interpretation. I come from a structuralist background, so I like to explore the structural phenomenon, to see beyond difference and look at the framework of culture."

BB: How do you confront the response from an undergrad who doesn't see the connections, and might be resistant?

CG: "I think those students can be more interested because not used to thinking in those structural connections. They say,'how am I like those I've viewed as distant?' And you have to be open to both sides, something like affirmative action, during economic crisis--present this point of view of affirmative action as a form of historical reporation. I believe that there are white Americans who are in economic & cultural dead ends that have to do with employment practices, and those grants could be more rewarding to them, and not necessarily based on the student being African American or Chicano, and not in economic need.

"The less receptive student, that's the student you need to speak to--those are people you have to be patient with. Instead of only dealing with race, shifting conversations to talk about things like language--ask them questions like: 'when did you choose to learn English?' When they respond that they didn't decide to learn English, you say, 'Oh, you didn't. Have you tried to learn a foreign language?' You want to present them with other perspectives and get them to think--and they might not make the connections until they're out of your class. It might happen in two courses down the line or in working world."

BB: What do you do to contextualize society with texts?

"I go back to the origins of this country--how did that begin? Where do you get your Americanness from? Puritans were trying to escape--nation oppress to religious faith vs. how we view Islam.

"Nationalism is very important; talk about race, but start with genocide of native Americans. Ask your students, 'How would you like it if you're having a BBQ and someone comes into your living room with a flag and says, 'I discover this.' You'd say, 'what are you doing? This is my home.'
"Look at the rhetoric of 'all men are created equal' & who did that exclude? There's a historical trajectory of marginalization and classicism within hegemonic culture. Still, the south represents a backward place. Call attention to structuring of stereotyping and the fact that we don't think of on their own."

BB: Do you select texts that have particular pop culture pairings?

"You teach texts according to your research--pick text that speak to more than one lived experience. Invisible Man--class, sexism, speak to larger human condition, Kafka deals with alienation, disconnectedness, & it's not about being Jewish in Europe.

"Too hard core [literature like Fanon] might alienate students--keep it entertaining, don't get boring, don't limit discussions to a specific kind of experience."

BB: Are there any tips you have for helping students pick research interests?

"You have to essentially lie to them, intellectual freedom, but touch base with me--topic picked, but then direct with questions to what they're going to be talking about. A student says Golden Girls and you address elderly care, certain kind of race--they think they know what they want to write about, but they end up narrowing their topic and writing about the questions that you have them thinking about, helps them articulate it.

"Trick 'em--tell them to touch base--think about these kinds of issues--you determine the trajectory.

"Make it sound generic, even if you're dealing with social justice, but particularize it--not all dealing with 'social justice.' Have your themes hidden in questions so they don't feel forced."

BB: What about students who question texts, like 'why are we only reading white, male writers?'

"You have to ask questions like: 'Is Faulkner, a white male only talking about white, male experience?' You have to let them know that there are issues beyond ethnic/identity techniques, less interested in politics and this regard. Invite research: how does Ralph Ellison compare to Faulkner? The Harlem Renaissance not divorced from rest of the literary tradition."

BB: Are there expectations for instructors of color, especially when teaching Chicano Literature?

"People sometimes expect militant, Chicano perspective, but there's a lot going on within some of those movements that I might not agree with. There's misogynist treatment of women, and you get a lot of these answers like, 'You don't know--that's just how it is.' But I know that's not a good explanation.

"You can't attach yourself because it's supposed to represent lived experiences because there's always contradictions. And a lot of these movements say that they can't be wrong even when there are these sexist contradictions. And you can't defend a text to a student because they can see through to the truth and know that you're having to justify these contradictions."

BB: What are you thoughts on the Chicano Literature situation in TUSD (Tucson Unified School District)?

CG: "I haven't kept up on what's been happening recently, but Arizona is an interesting place. What it seems like is that Chicanos have been made out to be terrorists--but you have to ask, 'What do you think John Adams was considered by the King of England? When any group fights against the powers that be, they're labeled even though they have to do with terrorism.

"You have to make people aware of 1848 and what the government did to take land and redistribute it based on inability to read language. Ask students if they've had to read something in English that was so full of jargon that they were confused into doing things they weren't aware of?"

BB:What kind of impact do you believe Barrack Obama will have?

"I ask why should it matter? A lot of people think racism is over. He never used black power rhetoric--he didn't want to be seen as the first black president; he wanted to change things. If you're excited about him because of his color and that he brings diversity, you can look back at Bush's cabinet which had the most diverse group. You might not like them, but that's because of their policy."

With regard to my pedagogical practices, I feel like Dr. Gallego helped validate some of my practices, while supplying me with new approaches that I haven't been able to articulate with the same clarity.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Vamanos a Hermosillo

Escuela de Tucson y Hermosillo
The Spring semester is off to a break neck pace. With some colleagues from a Comparative Pedagogy seminar, I attended a round table discussion with students at a local high school who agreed to speak with the group I'm a part of about the differences between education in Mexico, as opposed to the U.S. The length of time that the students had been in the U.S varied from a year to more, in addition to the various levels of English ability. The students seemed excited to speak with people who were interested in their perspectives. I'll have to go into greater detail at a later time.
At the moment, I'm trying to coordinate this next week because I'll be traveling with the same group to multiple schools (technical, private, public, afternoon, morning) in Hermosillo to observe and note some of the nuances which seem distinct from those with which I'm familiar with in the U.S. It does complicate things that I taught third grade in Costa Rica for a year, but that might also provide some differences that I might want to investigate further.