Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Monday, December 12, 2016

CNN's Superhero Project

I have been listening for days to CNN commercials applauding their “superhero” program.  I have only recently begun to watch TV with some interest, a consequence of the 2016 Presidential campaign, so what I know about the superhero project has been shoehorned into those CNN advertisements with Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa.
The advertisements are almost convincing, effacing the hypocrisy, contradictions, and social programming underwriting the Cinderella metanarrative: the socially recognized heroes discovering the everyday heroes who unless discovered by the anointed like Cooper and Ripa would go otherwise unannounced. This storyline is that the Coopers and Ripas of this world are not the real heroes (although, really, we know, they are); the everyday people, synecdochically represented by the “superheroes,” are.
This superhero narrative is a head-fake strategy familiar to social stratification and mobility theorists, particularly those critical of the capitalist enterprise. Uncovering its function doesn’t call for a deep interpretation: a small percentage of a particular culture has, as if it were a tribe, retained for itself and its descendants a radically disproportionate percentage of social, cultural, educational, symbolic, and economic capital.
To maintain (and increase) these inequalities in a putative democratic, capitalist culture, we need these head-fakes, pretenses of a meritocracy, games within which participants are sucked into the illusory approximation of a zero-starting line.
My interpretation of head-fakes is not news. It is the foundation of Althusser’s theory of Ideological State Apparatus (ISAs). I could have collapsed the previous seven paragraphs into one claim about the CNN Superhero program as only one more in the long list of ISAs that work to naturalize inequality.
I can’t fully explain my visceral response to the CNN Superhero project. I am probably offending readers because on the surface, this program seems laudable, spearheaded by the likeable, self-effacing Cooper. One might claim he is a star/hero because of his heritage, being the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. He has, one might also say, made it on his own. He is clearly one of the more competent of the current swath of news broadcasters imagining their functions as filtering for the masses some semblance of social and political reality.
Cooper and Ripa have, I think, unselfconsciously embraced the project identifying the “superheroes,” the extraordinary ordinaries, those who give their lives to others with little or no attempt at gaining hero-status. I have my own “superheroes” whom I emulate, people whose names no one would recognize. There’s an odd tension here: almost as if you lose your hero identity the moment someone spots you (think Dylan).
I would like to end here, paying tribute as if through a broken mirror to whomever CNN will identify as hero of the year—and to whom it will award $50,000 to be used to continue his or her good work.
But let me mention how the program would have perhaps rescued some of its authenticity by refraining from its too-frequent advertisements foregrounding this project and CNN’s generosity.
And let me suggest that this hero/superhero narrative contributes to the mis-election of people like Trump as our leaders. Augusto Boal explained the function of hero-worship within his critique of traditional theatre, the actors absorbing the gazes of the audience as a magnifying lens concentrating the parallel rays of the sun into a burning focal point on the stage, the actors gathering the collective egos of the audience into themselves to become larger than life, the audience in turn living vicariously through the staged life of the hero rather than through themselves.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Teaching as Pain

Boy fell from the bike in a parkAfter my presentation at the 2016 Western States Rhetoric and Literacy Conference (power point), a well-meaning participant took exception to my claim that students should enjoy learning, and more specifically, learning how to improve their writing. His counter-claim was that people can learn through unpleasant experiences--this is the general frame for the "rigor" group. The difference between learning through pleasure and learning through pain could perhaps usefully be linked to Lakoff's analysis of liberals and conservatives in Moral Politics.

My critic--and I hope I am doing him justice here--used as an example his attitude toward teaching. He said he doesn't like teaching but he knows he is a good teacher. By analogy, one might not like to write but be a very good writer. There are, he argued, multiple ways into a developing a skill. One is hard, unpleasant work. Underneath this claim might be a further claim: that by teaching a skill through unpleasant experiences, one is also teaching character.

In my younger years, I was an athlete. I wrestled, generally successfully, at the high school and college levels. I loved wrestling. Practice was hard work. My friend, Eddie Keller, and I would stay long after official practice, wrestling and wrestling and wrestling. Both of us loved it. It was hard work. But it was also pure pleasure, Eddie and I working against each other. We got very good at it--at least I thought I was, until I met my good friend,  Elmer Beale. He pinned me in about 1:30.

Let me reference here, as I have in other posts, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. And of course, Dewey's description of learning as game.

I have wondered about my critic's opposition to my thesis that students should enjoy learning (I was connecting this claim, oddly enough, to a way of assessing success in teaching writing). My critic was thoughtful. I had the feeling that he was an extremely successful scholar. He had the air of someone who is frequently published. He may in fact not have liked teaching because he preferred to be researching, writing, and publishing. I thought that if he had gotten into the flow of teaching, he would have been a very good teacher. But I also thought that anyone who doesn't like teaching can't be a very good teacher. I am certain that many of my readers will disagree with me here.

I am not going to argue the point. I am bothered by an educational system that creates teachers who think they are good teachers but who don't like teaching. I think the dynamics structuring this system are complicated, placing publication and teaching in opposition to each other (I know that's overly simplifying the dynamic).  What might be worse is imagining that your students can't interpret your attitude--that you would rather be doing something else.

Fox in the Henhouse

I would like to get Mr. Trump's head on Renard's body, but you'll get the point. I don't really have anything against Mr. Trump--I think he's an intellectually challenged upper-class narcissist. He loves money and the power it gives him to grab pussy, kind of a classic four-inch dick imaging he has twelve. 
But here we are: the new regime. He's going to make a few billion off this--using my and your taxes (I pay more than he pays). This is  a classic rip-off. But for those who imagine themselves as socially responsible (like working for equity): what do we do? I'm open for all ideas. I encourage all to sign up for the women's march in DC (link), but we also have to move beyond that. Really, we clearly need to energize the progressive wing of the Democratic/Green party. I'm open for suggestions. Deep sigh. I do know that we need to get active. But I don't know how. Here's a link for DC:
Please sign up and let's meet in DC.