Outside the Cave has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.


Microsoft Word Help

Does anyone know of a keyboard shortcut to return to the place one was typing in the main document after inserting a footnote or endnote? That is, I want to be able to just hit a keyboard shortcut after I type in the endnote information to return me the place in the main body where I had been typing.

This would be saving me a LOT of time as I type my thesis, so help would be greatly appreciated.


Teachers on NBC

There have been worse shows than Teachers. You have 10 seconds to name one.

(Joke stolen from an old Rolling Stone)


Blogging is Not for Everyone

I'm putting this out there in a rather polemical tone in hopes of starting a conversation. This follows the line of thought I was developing in this post. I'm not 100% sure how I feel about the subject yet, but I haven't seen anyone representing this point of view:

Will posted a piece last week, "To Blog or Not to Blog...". In it, he to some extent established a dichotomy between those who get it and those who don't:

I read lots of stories about kids who are getting it, even in Doug's post, where they are reading and writing and commenting and learning. You read Bud or Clarence or Vicki or any number of others and there are stories that border on transformation. (In fact, Vicki's latest post is titled "My students inspire me as they "get" Web 2.0.") But I don't read much about the kids that aren't engaged. And I'm wondering to what extent that happens as well. And further, I'm wondering to what extent they compare to the adult educators we're trying to teach about these tools who choose not to engage. The simple view is that this is generational, that kids are more available to the tools because they live in a connected world or because, well, they're kids and more open to new stuff than adults...but is it?
The excellent comments and trackbacks (from Bud, Chris, and Vicki) follow a similar rationale: people either get it or they don't.

Will also wrote a follow up post where he asks:
how do we get our kids engaged? How can we get them to be motivated to learn? And, since these tools seem to be working for us, how can we use them as vehicles, conduits for students to tap into their own passions? And how do we get other teachers to at least consider them?
Well, I think one of the most important aspects of getting students (and teachers) engaged to to start from their points of view, not ours. The first questions shouldn't be "how can I get my students to do what works for me?" or "how can I share my passion for blogging (or anything else) with my students?" Rather, if we really want to engage our students, we need to ask "what do our students do that works for them?" and "what are my students passions?" Then we must consider how to adapt content matter and learning tools to our students. It shouldn't be the other way around.

I started blogging with my students last year largely because it was something most of them were already doing. I wanted to tap into something they were a part of. Next year, when I'm teaching in the Bronx, I will face a very different student body from the one I had in suburban Virginia. Most of my students do not have computers at home. Will I blog with them? I can't know until I get to know them. Blogging is one of many tools I have available to me to engage my students and help them grow as people, writers, readers, thinkers, and citizens.

Barbara hits a similar note:
Teaching is never about a single approach, a single strategy--it is constant improvisation, a constant questioning.
I don't think any of us would ever expect all our students to be able to express themselves well through painting or sculpture - why is there an expectation that everyone should be able to do it well through blogging?


Indy Study: Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston

Seraph on the Suwanee, lyrically at least, is a beautiful story. Hurston has a gift for hearing and representing speech in a way that I've only ever encountered in the work of James Joyce and Irvine Welsh. The story focuses on Arvay Henson, a self identified Florida "cracker", and her marriage with Jim Meserve. Set in Florida in the early 20th century, the novel primarily focuses on the Arvay's psychological issues surrounding her identity and marriage. Arvay's lack of self-confidence prohibits her capability to connect with others and truly love her family, until she breaks with her past (she quite literally burning it) and accepts her role as a submissive wife. Arvay finds happiness and contentment when she finally assumes a position of hero worship towards her husband, "I'm so proud and pleased with how you have done, that I want to go along with you and see you handle thing" (322). Of course, this is what Jim has wanted from their marriage all along.

Obviously, this novel is extremely problematic when read for its comments on gendered relationships. It is somewhat progressive in the depth and complexity it gives to Arvay's identity as a woman, wife, and sexual being. Yet quite unlike Hurston's better known Their Eyes Were Watching God, the heroine's salvation does not come through a more equitable relationship. Rather, Arvay's salvation comes through submission and repression of her past and individual desires.

Unlike the previous two "white life" novels I've read, Suwanee takes place in a biracial world. There is regular contact and cultural interaction between whites and blacks. This enables Hurston to depict both Arvay's racism (though it is not a central aspect of the story), as well as an image of culture appropriate through Arvay's son Kenny's adaption of black music and his eventual career as a musician.

Does the focus on white characters make race more or less visible?
Even though the main characters in the novel are white, many of the secondary characters are black. However, there is little comment on race relations or identity. The presence of black characters is a reflection of life in Florida at the start of the 20th century.

Are these books meant to be critical of their subject or are the lack of racial differences meant to allow the author to focus on other issues?
The lack of focus on racial issues is certainly meant to allow Hurston to investigate issues of gender -- though even with all the gender questions and issues present, the focus of the novel is really on its characters and their development, not so much the ideas they represent. In a letter Hurston wrote (quoted in the Foreword by Hazel Carby), she explained that she was fighting against the convention of "Negroes not writing about white people" (x). Through this sentiment, as well as the depiction of Kenny adopting black music and making it "American", Hurston seems to desire to create a cultural artificat that dialectically represents the movement from black and white to "American".

How does the fact that these works are written by black, rather than white, authors change my reading and understanding of the book?
Similar to Savage Holiday, there are certain depictions of black characters that reinforce certain racial stereotypes. Had I not known the author was black, I might have viewed these as a product of the author's own racism. However, it rather seems that Hurston was trying to create the world as scene through Arvay's eyes.
How does writing at a time of drastic racial change effect how the author deals with issues in a homogeneously racialized world?
It is very interesting that all three "white life" books I've read so far have been written by the authors while outside of the United States (Hurston wrote this while doing filed work in Honduras). Hurston's desire to write an "American" novel could be read as a reflection on the growing movement towards integration that was brewing at the time, but there are really no explicit commentary on the then current situation in America.

Work Cited: Hurston, Zora Neale. Seraph on the Suwanee. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991. (Originally published in 1948).

Next: Country Place by Ann Petry

Previous Independent Study Posts:
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David Roediger
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Next Set of Books
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Savage Holiday by Richard Wrights


I live dangerously close to the Brooklyn Bridge...

...'cause reading something like this makes me want to give up and jump off it:

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math
Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities (New York Times).
The divide between the "haves" and "have-nots" grows yet again.

Choppy Blogging Waters Ahead

Now that I'm back in Brooklyn, the time has come to really buckle down and get my thesis done. Over the next three and a half weeks, I need to turn this:

The Thesis

into a 60-100 page mono-script draft.

It's been a really incredible experience researching in depth over the past 6 months, and I'm looking forward to putting it all together and telling a really incredible story about the transformative power of education.

Between that, putting the final touches on my June wedding, and beginning to look for an apartment with my fiancee (which, for those who have never lived in NYC, is a ridiculously time consuming and stressful process) life's going to be pretty busy over the next month and I'm not sure how often I'll be posting (though I PROMISE I will not disappear again this time). Thank god I already have a job for the fall.

Here's one last picture from my Atlanta trip:

Coretta Scott King Grave

New Toys

I just wanted to share a few new web 2.0 type tools I've discovered in the past few weeks.

The first two are practical:

co.mments is a great tool to keep track of blog comments. You just install a bookmarklet and then click on it whenever you come across a post whose comments you want to follow. It them provides an RSS feed through which you can easily keep track of comments.

Tech.Life.Blogged has a method for adding categories to Blogger (kind of). The lack of this capability has been my biggest (and only real) complaint about Blogger. There is also another mechanism, call labelr, which is in a beta test that I just e-mail about. When I get around to it, I'll be adding a category feature to my posts. (related: since returning actively to the blogopshere, I've noticed a few people with Technorati tags at the end of their feeds. Could someone tell me the advantage of using these?)

Finally, a fun one: Last.fm is kind of like MySpace for your iTunes. By installing a plug-in for iTunes, it keeps track of the music you listen to. It also recommends music based on your listening habits, as well as points you to "neighbors" with similar taste. Built in, are a lot of standard social networking capabilities. It's been a great way to find some new music. Here's a link to my last.fm page.


Using Choice to Increase Engagement in the History Classroom

Lest anyone read Tim's article and make the critique, "Sure, choice works in an English classroom, but I don't teach English," I just wanted to give one example of how choice can be used within a History classroom where state standards and testing emphasize a breadth of knowledge as opposed to any depth of (real) knowledge.

Let us take the example of teaching a modern world history class looking at the revolutions in the US, France, and Haiti in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and imagine the unit project is the creation of a newspaper about the revolutions (the above unit is one I observed the last time I visited the school I will be teaching at next fall). For argument's sake, let's assume there are 30 students in the classroom.

To incorporate choice into this project, I would use three different types of groupings. The first grouping would be determined by the revolution. Group I would be American, Group II - French, and Group III Haitian. Students would be allowed to choose which group they wanted to be in at least to the degree that numbers worked out. Since there are many aspects to any revolution, there would be a second grouping based on different aspects of the revolution. Some examples (though there could be different ones based on students interests: A-Politics, B-Role of Women, C-Effects, D-International influence, E-Class, F-Military Strategy, G-Philosophy, H-Role of Religion, I-Economics, J-Arts/Propoganda, H-Education, I-Significant Personalities etc. Students could chose whatever "specialty" they wanted for this. The final grouping would be the groups that would actually produce the newspapers. There would be 5 groups (1-5) with 6 people in each, two from each group representing a different country, and a representation of as many different specialty, or lettered groups, as possible. In the end, each person in the class would have three be a part of three groups: Country, Theme, and Newspaper.

Given the setup, there are many different ways to play with the different types of knowledge being accumulated by the students: students could be assigned to do research in groups based on country, and each of these groups (the roman numeral one) could give brief, informal presentations in class summarizing their country's revolution. Students could be asked to write a group comparative essay on the theme they studies (the lettered groups). Again, using the lettered groups, students could be asked to role play a "meeting" between people affected by each of the revolutions.

I was taught this mechanism as "jigsawing," and have used it in my past classrooms to great success. It enables students to gain in depth knowledge about a certain aspect of an object of study (depth), while the student still gains a basic familiarity with a wider range of topics (breadth).

(This becomes even easier when one gets over the need to teach history chronologically. According to one of my undergrad professors, there has never been a study that shows there is any advantage to teaching history chronologically, while there have been studies confirming that teaching it thematically increases student engagement and comprehension)

What are other ways this could work in a history class? And how about Science and Math? I'm at a loss there, but I would love to hear of models that incorporate choice into science and math classrooms (especially since I may be responsible for these subjects to some degree next year).


Using Choice to Increase Engagement

Tim Fredrick has an excellent piece published in the forthcoming volume of Changing English entitled, "Choosing to belong: increasing adolescent male engagement in the ELA classroom" (which happens to tie into the spirit of my last post). He's offered to e-mail it to anyone who is interested, and hopefully he'll be able to post it on his blog once it's published.

In the piece, Tim discusses his succesful efforts to further engage his male students, who fail at disproportionate rates compared to their female classmates. By giving students the power to chose some of their readings and assigning writing prompts that could be applied to a range of subjects, the engagement and performance of his male students increased. His article raises a lot of provocative issues that extend well beyond the immediate implications of the English classroom.

One of the questions that I had throughout the piece was about the hegemonic control that "traditional" poetry, novels, and short stories have over the English classroom. Tim mentioned that during free-reading or during class he "began to notice similar situations with my own students—boys reading sports pages and video game manuals during class. Technically, they were reading and writing—activities we wanted them to be doing. They just weren’t reading and writing what I asked of them " (152-153). I immediately began to wonder why these texts could not be used, to some extent, in teaching general English concepts. There are likely to be just as many literary terms in a video game manual as there are in Shakespeare. An article about a basketball game is going to need to tell a story in the same way that The Grapes of Wrath does. I'd be curious to hear how experimentation with using different genre's of writing, particularly those that don't find their way into the classroom, could be used "during the mini lessons so that we could discuss the text as a class" (156).

My one significant critique of the article, which may very much have been outside the scope of inquiry, is that it sometimes does not offer a critical eye towards the construction of gendered roles and differences. Tim writes that ELA classrooms are typically "dominated by female literacy" (153), but I am not exactly sure what this means. It seems that any definition of the term would essentialize femininity in ways that could be problematic. Similarly, Tim writes, "I thought about the books as being male or female centred, according to the gender of the protagonist" (156), but this seems to be an oversimplification (I can think of a lot of books with masculine protagonists that could be viewed as "feminine," High FIdelity come to mind, though I'm having trouble thinking of the converse example). It also seems that the implications of Tim's argument, while having more dramatic effects amongst boys, should have positive effects for girls as well. Tim mentions this, though does not provide comparative data for his female students. I would be very curious to see this.

This, by no means though, detracts from the succesful practices and convincing argument Tim makes thourghout the text. The proof of his success comes from most strongly from the students who reported they did not like having choice:

Those who preferred whole class novels overwhelmingly said that they liked it because there was less pressure on them to do the reading or participate in the class discussions or activities. In other words, those who liked whole class novels liked them because they didn’t have to be engaged in the work (156).
Augmented by the corresponding diminishing of behavior problems Tim observed (158), it is clear that teachers should consider how to incorporate choice into their classroom, if they are not already doing so.

Of course, Tim also highlights the corresponding necessity for structural change to support this. He concludes:
Incorporating choice into the curriculum can work in other ELA classrooms across the grades. But, in order for this to happen, teachers must have more power over what happens in their classrooms. In order to offer a menu of books that actually interest their students, teachers must have the budgetary resources to buy books directly based on the assessment of their students’ interests. Teachers also need to be able to exercise freedom in the curriculum and make professional choices in what happens in the classroom. Top-down mandates about what book to teach on what day or what genre of writing to teach during which month are not based on student interests and thus will not offer viable choices to the students (158).
Works Cited:
Fredrick, Tim. "Choosing to belong: increasing adolescent male engagement in the ELA classroom." Changing English. 13 (1), April 2006, 151-159.

Update: Tim posted a very thoughtful response which pretty much addresses all my concerns and questions.


Awesome Oppurtnity

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof is holding a contest to take a university student (undergrad or grad) on a 10 reporting trip with him to a developing country (Kristof is probably best known for his reporting on Darfur and the sex-slave trade):

I’m looking for a masochist. If your dream trip doesn’t involve a five-star hotel in Rome or Bora-Bora, but a bedbug-infested mattress in a malarial jungle as hungry jackals yelp outside – or if you know of an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend whom you would like to suggest for such a trip – then read on.
This really sounds like an incredible opportunity. I'd love to apply, but given that it will be during the first few weeks of my marriage, it's probably not a great idea. This contest is a great idea on MANY levels. (Here's a link to the related column from today's Times, but it's subscription only, unfortunately)


Martin Luther King Center for Social Change

Didn't get around to exploring the entire King complex yet (where I'm doing archival research this week), but here are a couple photos I took on my way out today. More than any other time in the United States, I felt as if I was walking on hallowed ground.

King Tomb

King Tomb


Using Technology to Create Student Centered, Democratic Classrooms

My most important goal, and biggest challenge, as a novice teacher is trying to create a classroom that is student centered and democratic. This presents numerous challenges, not the least of which is defining what I mean by these terms. A few years back, I opened my Teaching Philosophy Statement for my ed program with the following:

The future is filtered through the walls of our schools. Schools are perhaps the primary socializing institution in our society. While the family and religion also play prominent roles in determining who people are, it is through the act of educating that youth are welcomed into the world that everyone in this country shares. The way in which we choose to educate our children will serve in many ways to create this shared world. If we desire to live in a world characterized by active democratic participation, critical evaluation of authority and the status quo, and social justice and equality, then we must find ways to mirror, question, and explore these notions in our schools.
While this statements aren't a definition of a democratic, student-centered classroom, they certainly speak to what I have in mind. Nothing I've thought or experienced since has altered my commitment to these ideas in any ways. As I discovered blogging towards the end of my last year teaching, I saw it as a great tool to help me move in the direction I had set out for myself as a student teacher.

Clarence recently asked
[W]ill changing the communications structure of a classroom "automatically" change the type of learning that occurs, or does it only make it more possible? What about making alterations to the learning? Will this drive changes in the communication structure?
I think Clarence is on the right path here, that certain uses of technology, such as the blogging, podcasting, and vcasting him and many others are using in their classrooms, can move towards a new "communication structure" in the classroom. However, I think these technologies are only a tool, and that if one is really interested in creating new communication structures (a democratic, student-centered one, for instance) then the entire power dynamic of the classroom and what happens inside it needs to shift. It needs to give students more control over both the content and methods through which they learn. It means conversations should not follow the "bicycle wheel model" (every comment goes back to the teacher), but rather that students should be actively engaging each other without the necessary mediation of the teacher. It means that students should have an active and meaningful role in assessing their selves and their peers.

As I've really started reading, thinking, and writing about teaching once again recently, one of the issues I've continually considered is that it seems a lot of the blogs I read are primarily concerned with technology use, and blogging in particular, as an end in itself (notable exceptions include Tim, Chris, and Darren). Unless blogging is used as a tool with which to build a larger educational experience which supports and reifies the democratic and empowering power that blogging has, I fear that many students will miss out on its full potential, as well as the full potential which the classroom presents. (Related, check out the AMAZING responses to Nancy's post asking why teachers blog).

Blame the Student?

One of my closest friends from back home, who is finishing up his law degree at Pitt, sent me a column from USA Today last week and asked my opinion on it. The column, by Patrick Welsh who is an English teacher in Alexandria, VA (same city I taught in last year, different school), argues,

Failure in the classroom is often tied to lack of funding, poor teachers or other ills. Here's a thought: Maybe it's the failed work ethic of todays kids. That's what I'm seeing in my school. Until reformers see this reality, little will change.
Welsh specifically talks about the success of his immigrant students, specifically mentioning two from Africa and one from the Caribbean, in contrast to the middle class "native born" students he sees. While Welsh does not explicitly state this in his article, it must be noted the the majority of his school's students are either African-American or Hispanic (the school was the real life basis for Remember the Titans). It seems that, at least to some degree, Welsh is comparing the performance of native born students of color (and white students) with the performance of immigrant students of color. This comparison is troubling for a number of reasons, but most important is the fact that African immigrants have a higher level of education as a group than ANY OTHER ETHNIC GROUP in the United States, including "native born" whites (I was made aware of this fact at a lecture given at Columbia a couple weeks ago). As many studies have shown, the ONLY social factor which serves as an accurate predictor of a student's success in school is her/his parents' level of education. Therefore, the relative success of his immigrant students is to be expected. Without considering other factors in his students lives, Welsh's comparison is unfair and meaningless when held up to rigorous consideration.

The problem with a critique such as Welsh's is that it removes responsibility from the teacher (and the administrators and district) for the student's performance. It allows a teacher like Welsh to point to the students he sees as models of success and ask "why can't my other students be more like them," instead of asking himself "what can I do to help the students who are not succeeding in the way I would like them to?" Of course, there is only so much a teacher can do - you can bring the horse to the water buy you can't make it drink -- but I will never understand why anyone would go into teaching unless they believed that every student in front of them has the capability and (somewhere, even if it's buried deep inside) desire to learn and succeed. Instead of pointing fingers at the students and their parents (as David Brooks did recently in the NY Times as well), perhaps time could be better spent studying models of schools which are succeeding with a wide range of socio-economic groups.

Update: More thoughts on the subject from Coach Brown.

From 30,000 Feet

I'm on my way from NYC to Atlanta to spend the next few days doing research for my thesis at the Martin Luther King Center (more on that later). After being more or less buried in books and archive copies for the past couple weeks, it's nice to have the chance to catch up on some blogging I've wanted to do.


My Bad

I just realized (thanks to Jeffrey) that the e-mail on my profile is incorrect (a .org instead of a .com). Presumably, this has been the case since I set up the blog 10 months ago. So, if at any point someone has tried to send me an e-mail and I have not responded, I owe you a huge apology, but now we know why. It's now correct - outsidethecave [at] gmail [dot] com.


To New York City K-12 ELA Teachers

Though I'm not an ELA teacher, and not technically a NYC teacher yet, I thought I'd help Tim spread the word:
To NYC K-12 ELA Teachers:

New York City teachers’ voices are not heard at the State Education Department in Albany. We do not have our say in important matters regarding ELA education. We have a lot to deal with here in New York City, but what happens on the state level is vitally important in each of our classrooms. First and foremost are the new 3-8 ELA tests, as well as the ELA Regents exam. Many matters in ELA instruction are made on the state level which in turn affect the mandates on the city level.

When the State Education Department needs advice from classroom teachers, it turns to the New York State English Council (NYSEC), the professional organization for ELA teachers in the state. Unfortunately, NYC teachers are underrepresented in NYSEC and, thus, our voices are not heard on the state level. NYSEC would like to change that.

We are inviting NYC K-12 ELA teachers to join a free newsletter only for teachers in the city. By signing up for this newsletter, you will get:

* The latest information on the 3-8 ELA and ELA Regents exams.
* Information on how you can easily make your voice heard in Albany about important issues facing ELA instruction.
* Application information for grants and awards for you … and scholarships for your students.
* Calls for manuscripts for all NYSEC publications – your way to get published!
* Opportunities to network and share ideas with other NYC ELA teachers.

This is a FREE newsletter and we will not inundate your inbox with messages – the newsletter will be sent to you once a month or once every other month.

Please follow this link to get more involved in ELA education in New York State.

http://groups.google.com/group/NYSEC-NYC (after pressing the link, click on the “Join this group” link in the middle of the page).

Fellow NYC ELA Bloggers: A post or link about this would be greatly appreciated! :)

Indy Study: Savage Holiday by Richard Wright

Inevitably, I was going to read something as part of this study that was not that good. And Richard Wright's Savage Holiday was unfortunately that book. It is an overly simplistic, contrived, and unrealistic story based on a shallow interpretation of Freudian psychology. Standing on its own, I can't see much literary value in the text. It does have some value when, as suggested in the afterward by Gerald Early, it is considered as part of Wright's larger project tof analyzing what exactly is wrong with American society. However, even then, it pales in comparison to Native Son and Black Boy.

The novel looks at three days in the life of Erskine Fowler, analyzing the effects of a life of emotional and sexual repression. I opens as Erskine is forced into early retirement from his high status position as a New York insurance executive. The following day, Erskine is accidentally locked out of his apartment while naked, which ultimately leads to the accidental death of a young boy, who falls of a balcony because he is scared of Erskine's nudity. In his guilt, Fowler attempts to befriend and pursue the boy's mother, a war widow, who bears a striking resemblance to Fowler's mother who was the cause of his repression. For anyone familiar with some of the basic ideas of Freudian psychology, the book's climax is obvious.

Does the focus on white characters make race more or less visible?
Unlike Giovanni's Room, Savage Holiday does have one black character, Erskine's maid. While she is only in a couple scenes, it is clear that Erskine perception and relationship with her is based on the "mammy" stereotype. This serves in some ways to point to Erskine's many psychological problems as somehow intersecting with his whiteness. However, this is not a primary concern of the novel. While race is not invisible, it is certainly significantly less visible than in Wright's other work.

Are these books meant to be critical of their subject or are the lack of racial differences meant to allow the author to focus on other issues?
Without any doubt, this book is meant to highly critical of Erskine and the society he represents. Wright has a strong critique of Protestant Christianity made through Erskine's position as principal of his church's Sunday school and his devout religious beliefs. Wright also critiques the corporate structure which chews up the best years of Erskine's life only to spit him out at their convenience. The strongest critique is against the hypocrisy of of Puritan moral judgement. Erskine, and the other "respectable" tenants in his apartment building, are quick to blame the boy's death on his mother and her perceived immoral sexual activity. While Erskine is quick to judge and condemn others, he is unable to see the disturbed nature of his own sexuality.

How does the fact that these works are written by black, rather than white, authors change my reading and understanding of the book?
Had the work been written by a white writer whose politics I did not know, I may have seen the depiction of the maid as a product of the author's own racism. Being familiar with some of Wright's other work, it was clear that this was meant to criticize the white characters. However, other than that, I do not believe my reading of this work was effected by my knowledge of the Wright's race.

How does writing at a time of drastic racial change effect how the author deals with issues in a homogeneously racialized world?
Like Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Savage Holiday is the product of the author's time living in Europe. The novel does not deal changing conditions in America, which can likely is attributed to Wright's self-imposed exile.

Work Cited: Wright, Richard. Savage Holiday. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. (Originally published in 1954)

Next: Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston

Previous Independent Study Posts:
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David Roediger
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Next Set of Books
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin


Assessment: Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Tim has an outstanding post up about assessment that really hits home what it should and shouldn't be:

When I write about assessment, I'm referring to all those things that teachers do when we look at students and their work. Assessment is the million little things we notice in student behavior. It is the piles of paperwork we go through. It is the assignments we give and the questions we ask.

Many of the student teachers I work with in my student teaching seminar think that assessment needs to be "objective". I tell them that this is not the case. Assessment will never be objective and it shouldn't be. We are making informed, professional judgments about student work. It is in its very nature subjective. . . .

Assessment also needs to be fair and transparent to the student. We MUST tell students how they are being judged and what they are expected to do. We often leave this step out, but it is the only fair thing to do for students. One way we can do this is to show students models of work - these models can be teacher-created or, ideally, past examples of real students' work.
This is somehow all connecting with what I was thinking about with my last (real) post, but I am having trouble finding the words to correspond with the image in my head at the moment.


This is Just Cool

This has absolutely nothing to do with education. But for those whose formative years were spent with the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, this will bring you back.

Mega Man vs. Ghosts 'n Goblins Mashup - You play G&G as Mega Man, pretty sweet (via Gothamist).


Standards: How Can We Measure Schools?

This post has been swimming around in my head in different incarnations for the past week, and is in response to three different posts. It started when reading David Warlick's post about his shock about finding out that many of his son's peers are having their college application essays professionally edited:

“Wait a minute!” I said. “Kids are having their essays edited by professional writers, and then submitting them as part of their application packet?”
“Well, yes!” she said.
“But that’s cheating! But that’s cheating?”
Do the universities know that students are doing this? Do they care? How much does it cost? Would I encourage my son to take advantage? (No!)
I'll get back to this in a bit. A few days later, I read Tim Stahmer's very insightful and accurate critique of Jay Matthews's (Washington Post) Challenge Index, which is the source for Newsweek's annual Top HS in American List, based on a recent Education Sector report :
Creating a list like this wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t given such high credibility by the news media. School quality is a complex issue and the flurry of publicity that surrounds the Challenge Index masks many other factors that need to be addressed.

[From the report] Using publicly available student performance data, we found that many schools on Newsweek’s 2005 ranking have glaring achievement gaps and high dropout rates. By presenting them as America’s best, Newsweek is misleading readers and slighting other schools that may in fact be better than those on Mathews’ list.
Finally, Chris Lehman just posted a really beautiful piece on what schools are, and are not:
We are not:
Only a sorting mechanism for colleges
A target market
The next great money-making scheme.
A business
A way to create the next generation of workers.
With these three pieces in the back of my head, I've been thinking a lot about how we should and can measure schools. As much as I hate to admit it, I think the spirit of NCLB is on the right path - Schools/teachers should be held accountable for the achievement of their students, and this should be measured not just in aggregate, but also for sub-populations within the school based race, gender, and eligibility for special education services (I would add class to the list). Now in its implementation, NCLB is so wrong in so many ways, but those have all been well explained elsewhere.

When I first read Tim's piece, I thought about what "Challenge Index," or other such ranking would look like if it actually responded to what the community wants for its students, i.e., what a community believes its students should know and be able to do upon graduating. One of the obvious answers that came to mind was to measure schools by what their students are doing 1, 5, 10, etc... years after graduating. In suburban schools for example, (the ones that look the best in Matthews' Challenge Index), the primary concern of parents and students is college admissions. Wouldn't then it make sense to measure schools by where their students are admitted to college?

However, this raises another program, which David ignores in his piece: the problem of unequal access to college essay editors, test prep, tutoring, etc. When I started off at Brown, one of the biggest shocks for me was that it seemed that every middle and upper class student from one of the coasts had taken private SAT prep courses, and many (the majority?) had private tutors. In the community I grew up in, a middle/upper middle class suburb in Ohio, the only students who took SAT prep courses were those who had difficulties with test taking. The ability to be tutored for the SAT and AP tests, as well as hiring private editors for college essays gives the already advantaged yet another advantage over most students. So would it really be fair to measure a school on college admissions?

Which leads me to a quandary. How can we measure schools in a way that would satisfy the (unfortunate) cultural demand for numerical measurement and comparison while staying true to what a school is (or at least should be)? How can we measure in a way that avoids becoming what Chris very eloquently does not want us to become?

Primary Documents

Lifehacker posted a tremendous resource for social studies and English teachers the other day: a list of primary document sites available online. I started using primary documents extensively in my classroom in the second half of the year last year, and found that it bared tremendous fruit. Not only did it engage the students more effectively than our poorly contracted textbook, but it also allowed for students to get multiple perspectives on the same historical event (the Crusades accomplished this best). On top of the great list from Lifehacker, here's a few other sites I've found useful:


Citizenship School - Dress

Citizenship School - Dress

Bernice Robinson and students at the first Citizenship School on Johns Island. (Avery Research Center. Charleston, SC. 1957 or 1958).

Citizenship School - Crochet

Citizenship School - Crochet

Students at the Citizenship School on Johns Island often brought their children with them. Robinson taught them how to sew so they would not be a distraction. Here, they show off their work. (Avery Research Center. Charleston, SC. 1957 or 1958).

Citizenship School - Sewing

Citizenship School - Sewing

Students at the Citizenship School on Johns Island often brought their children with them. Robinson taught them how to sew so they would not be a distraction. (Avery Research Center. Charleston, SC. 1957 or 1958).

Citizenship School - Speaker

Citizenship School - Speaker

Some of the young adults would snicker at the adults while they practiced their public speaking. In order to teach them a lesson, Robinson had the teenagers model public speaking techniques. (Avery Research Center. Charleston, SC. 1957 or 1958).

Citizenship School Pictures

While doing research for my thesis at the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston, I found these previously unpublished photos. For more information on the Citizenship Schools and Bernice Robinson, see my paper.

Citizenship School - Bernice Robinson

Bernice Robinson (standing, without hat), a Charleston beautician, was the first teacher in what became the Citizenship Education Program. (Avery Research Center. Charleston, SC. 1957 or 1958).


Indy Study: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

I have decided to experiment with a different form of writing for the next set of books I am examining. Instead of writing more general pieces, I am going to answer the same set of questions for each book after giving a brief synopsis. These questions were outlined in previous posts. I think these will then allow for a more insightful synthetic analysis of the works as a whole after I have read them all.

James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room is a tragic love story between two young men, one American and one Italian, living in Paris in mid-20th century (sidenote: I cannot believe no one is making this into a movie right now, given the success of Brokeback Mountain. The similarities between the stories are eerie). Giovanni's room serves as a metaphor for both the safe space where David and Giovanni can share their natural love for each other, as well as the severe claustrophobia that such a relationship represented at the time. The book critiques "traditional" American expectations of masculinity and femininity.

Does the focus on white characters make race more or less visible?
Race is essentially invisible in the novel. It is a sign of Baldwin's incredible skill as a writer in that, in a first-person novel, he was able to create a voice which naturalized whiteness to the point of invisibility. The only point in the book where David signals anything resembling whiteness and its inherent privilege is on the first page, "My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past" (7). Otherwise, particularly in his representation of "America," race is invisible. (Baldwin spoke of how the time he spent in Europe enabled him to escape many of the confines of race that he experienced in the U.S. His experiences in France likely contributed to his ability to make race invisible).

Are these books meant to be critical of their subject or are the lack of racial differences meant to allow the author to focus on other issues?
While there is definitely a critique of David, the book's narrator, within the book, the critique has nothing to do with his whiteness. Without a doubt, Baldwin's choice to set the novel in Paris allows him to focus on sexual politics as opposed to racial politics.

How does the fact that these works are written by black, rather than white, authors change my reading and understanding of the book?
I continually looked for a critique of a homogeneous conception of "American," but did not see it. Baldwin effectively naturalized race to deal primarily with sexuality. Being familiar with some of Baldwin's other work led me to highlight a couple passages whose psychological rationalities are very similar to Baldwin's appropriations of DuBois' concept of "double consciousness" in other works, particularly the "Autobiographical Notes," which opens Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin describes a type of double consciousness in his feeling for Giovanni, "there opened in me a hatred of Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished from the same roots" (111). He describes a similar paradoxical experience when being hailed as American: "I resented this: resented being called an American (and resented resenting it) because it seemed to make me nothing more than that, whatever that was; and I resented being called not an American because it seemed to make me nothing" (117).

How does writing at a time of drastic racial change effect how the author deals with issues in a homogeneously racialized world?

The book seems much more a product of Baldwin's expatriate experiences that it does a product of the majority of his life he spent in the United States.

Work Cited: Baldwin, James. Giovani's Room. New York: Dell Publishing, 1956.

Previous Independent Study Posts:

Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David Roediger

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

The Next Set of Books

Scholarship Opportunities for African-Ameican Students

I received the following as an e-mail yesterday. Please share with any students you know who could benefit, as well as college and guidance counselors. It appears that some of these area available to all students. (I haven't checked any of these links, so try googling the scholarship name if it doesn't work).


Even if you do not have a college-aged child at home, please share this with someone who does, pass this scholarship information on to anyone and everyone that comes to mind. Though there are a number of companies and organizations that have donated moneys for scholarship use to African Americans, a great deal of the money is being returned because of a lack of interest. No one is going to knock on our doors and ask if we can use a scholarship. Take the initiative to get your children involved. There is no need for money to be returned to donating companies because we fail to apply for it. Please pass this information on to family members, nieces, nephews, friends with children etc. We must get the word out that money is available. If you are a college student or getting ready to become one, you probably already know how useful additional money can be. Our youth really could use these scholarships. Thanks!!


Race, Class, Standards, and Education Reform

There's a really incredible conversation going on in the comments of A Platform for Public Education over at Chris Lehman's Blog about all the above and more. Highly recommended.

*Sigh* ... I miss having a built in commenting base of 125 students.