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, August 21, 2017

Day Four: Don't Drive to Panama

Yes, I’m still in Panama. Trapped. With luck, I’ll get out tomorrow, but I won’t be surprised by another curve. At least I have a lovely place to stay with Eric and Jesse.
Ok, here’s the day: El Jefe yesterday told me I could take the car to the Customs, leave it there overnight, then get it in the morning and everything would be ok.
No, that wasn’t the real story. Eric and Jesse drove me to Customs, and that was the start of my second very bad day in Panama. Lola and I go from one office to the next to the next to find an office on the side of the building (calling this an office is generous). A secretary there explains something to me in Spanish—the essence is I have to wait for something or someone. This is prototypical Panama: wait, eventually some kind of official might show up. But it’s an even bet that he won’t.
I ask whether I can bring Lola inside to wait. No. No perro.
Here comes the good part of the day. I turn away from the desk and see a couple, a gringo man and a Central American woman sitting in chairs along the wall, suitcases in front of them. They did not look happy.
El hombre me dij√≥ en Ingles, “We’ve been waiting since 8:00.” (It was 9:30). “Don’t expect a quick solution.”
This was the beginning of a long day together and a new friendship. I am the kind of person who can find a silver cloud in a hurricane—and this was the silver cloud. New friends.
We went outside (I had to be outside with Lola, who did not like being where she couldn’t see me). Jeff and Doria told me their story, which is turning out to be mine. They were waiting to meet with some official who was having trouble showing up. People in customs were nice, coffee, donuts, smiling, but nothing was getting done and no one was showing up.
J&D had been working on this since Friday (this is Monday). They live in Costa Rica and came down for a day to exit and re-enter Costa Rica because CA countries only give gringos three-month visas. While they were staying at a hotel, some people there told them they would be crazy not to spend a few days in Colombia and could get a round-trip flight for $70.00. So they bought tickets to spend five days in Colombia, leaving their car in the hotel parking lot.
So they get back, pack up, and begin the trip home. Hitting the exit customs for Panama, an official there notices in Jeff’s passport that he had travel by air to Columbia without taking his car to leave it at the David customs office. Apparently, there is some kind of executive order (not a law) that no foreigner can come here and leave the country with the car still here (it has to be left at customs). Crazy—or a good way of making money by fining people like J&D (and probably me).
Then the scene began: pulling the car over for two or three searches (probably to show that they were doing something.) After three hours, two officials from David customs come with sirens going, and they take Jeff’s passport and car documentation. One of them rides with Jeff back to David; the other makes Doria ride with him. They were told there would be an official (this is the Panamanian story) who would take care of everything. But when they get to David, their car is impounded, and they are told the necessary official is away and won’t be back until Monday, so they have to take a taxi somewhere and come back on Monday. And there they were, having arrived at 8:00 and at 10:00, they were still waiting for some kind of official. This was not good news for me.
Somewhere around 11:00, someone calls them into another office, and I’m told I’ll be taken care of after J&D are taken care of. So I’m waiting outside in the heat with Lola. If I go inside to see what’s going on, she starts barking. Oddly, most of the men seem to be wary of Lola. The women all come outside to pet her and let her kiss them. Lola is panting; it’s hot, but she is also getting stressed—sensing, I think, my stress as I’m waiting, hour after hour.
At about one, they are done with J&D. They come outside where I’m waiting with Lola and tell me they had to go through a long process of making some kind of deposition, which would then be sent to some other official, who would make a judgment on the issue the following day. So they would have to stay another night and come back on Tuesday. J&D didn’t think the process would be so complicated with me. Doria very kindly offered to wait and be my interpreter (she’s from Costa Rica). We waited outside with Lola for about another hour, telling each other our stories. Finally, at about two, I’m told I can come in with Doria as my interpreter. We sit at the official’s desk who interviews me, mostly asking why I stayed longer than the permit permitted. He was a nice young man—but you have to be careful of this type in Panama. He also wanted to know how much money I made every month. Hmmm. How much can they fine you? I’m surprised he didn’t ask how much cash I had.
I hear Lola barking during this entire interview. I am in love with Lola. I know what she’s thinking. She is panicking, not knowing where I am and being restrained on a short leash in the hot outside weather.
This took an hour, Doria interpreting all for me. Then he tells me he has to send this in and I can come back on Tuesday when someone has made a decision about my problem.
When I come out to get Lola, she is panting heavily, a sign of stress, very heavy stress. I know she is very upset.
Here’s the thing: these Panamanian officials are treating visitors like criminals, perhaps giving gringos a taste of their own medicine, the way we treat undocumented immigrants in the United States. They have my car, my transportation back to the states. Essentially, they have me by los cajones. This is not a comfortable feeling.

So I tell J&D that I’ve been staying with some very nice people about 20 minutes away, and they decide they’d like to stay there, too. I call Eric, find that all of us can get rooms for tonight. He and Jesse are at customs in ten minutes. We all pile into their car, Lola on my lap, and drive back to Little Italy, which is starting to feel like home.

Day 2 A Dry Run

Let's call Day 2 a dry run. It went badly but ended well—well, sort of, if you are the kind of person who can find a silver cloud in a hurricane. For me, difficulties turn into stories, as broken relationships turn into songs (see: and search for Irvin Peckham).
I had a lovely, quiet breakfast at Little Italy, B&B run by Eric, an Italian, and his wife, Jesse, a lovely Panamanian. I was in no hurry to leave because I decided to hit the border, give myself 2 hours and drive for about 45 minutes to stay at the hotel where I stayed on my way down and spend a little time with a friend I made there. Then I would cross Costa Rica fresh on Monday.
I was in a good mood, confident even, as I headed toward the border (La Frontera); I was thinking, I can handle this—hablo sobreviento espanol y yo se de el protocolo, mas o menos. Little did I know what lay before me. One of my recent songs ends with this verse:
The night is dark and lonely
And I'm starting to lose my nerve
I don't know if the road goes straight
Or heads around a curve.
Driving without lights (my normal condition), I hit the curve today when I thought the road went straight.
I hit the Panama exit and a tall, largely toothless man asked me for the car papers. I had them organized; the car paper was on top. He looked at it for a while and asked, “hay otras?” I let him go throught seven or eight Panama papers I had. Nothing worked. He explained in Spanish (and I understood) that my car paper had expired; it was good for a month. I explained that I had told the customs that when I was coming in that I was staying for three months, and I thought my visa and car papers were good for three months.
Manaje a lado,” (pull off to the side).
I won't give you the long and involved conversation. It was all in his Spanish and my broken understanding, but I quickly understood this wasn't going easy.
I follow him across the highway into the customs office while he makes a few phone calls to find out what to do. The calls multiplied. I had left Lola in the car with the AC running on the other side of the highway. I kept going to the door to check on Lola—she was in the driver's seat, looking out the window, wondering what had happened to me. I waved to her. I asked the toothless man if I could bring Lola over. He signaled, wait, on phone call.
I'll skip the blow-by-blow report. The phone calls turned serial and then my toothless friend (he was really very nice) spent an hour or so writing. Writing was difficult for him: his hand shook and the pen went off the page. I retrieved Lola, with his permission, and Lola and I watched for about an hour while he tried to write (think of Dr. Strangelove strangling himself). Then a series of soldiers in fatigues and with guns came in to write, copy stuff. After about two hours, toothless tried to explain something to me—that I would have to go straight, turn around, and park by the customs and do something I didn't understand—follow some car, stay overnight in Panama, then come back and everything would be all right. There was more to it, but I didn't catch it all, until later. But at that point, I called Eric, the owner of Little Italy, B&B, and said I would be back.

So I went north, turned around and parked my car by the customs (a hole in the wall—I tried to get water for Lola, but the faucet didn't work—that should tell you—and I think the toilet didn't flush, which was why it didn't look very good when I thought I would pee there).
Then I learned we had to wait for toothless's jefe (chief) for something. My toothless friend put a chair outside his waterless office where Lola and I could wait for jefe. This was probably around noon. Lola and I watiing. I'm watching the various goings on while the soldiers stop cars, frisk people, sic a dog into the car to check for drugs or whatnot.
It was actually an interesting afternoon at the border. I watched many people getting stopped, a group of young men being taking inside the office outside of which I was sitting, obviously made to take their clothes off (they were buttoning up as they came out), cars being checked and sniffed, truckloads of soldiers being sirened in and out. The sky turning dark, the rain sweeping in.
I asked toothless several times que pasa, he said there were big problems at the other side where the jefe was and he couldn't let me go without the jefe.
Lola and I got in the car. I petted Lola (she was being beautiful through all of this, earning me points) and studied Spanish for a while; then began reading Mark Harris' The Southpaw. I took a nap. Emailed Heather; kept asking toothless about jeffe. Big problems a otra lado. Lo siento.
It was a long day that didn't go well. Finally, at about 4:30, el jefe shows up. Nice young man, dark skin, square, short (like me), his baseball cap on backwards. The three of us get into a conversation. It takes a while (neither of them speak a word of English), but I gather that I'm supposed to follow el jefe into David and leave my car at customs overnight (I never learned why), take a taxi to where I might stay, and then a taxi in the morning back to customs to pick up my car and I would be able to drive straight through customs in the morning. Jeeze.
So I follow this guy (actually, very nice) back to David. And I'm thinking, muchas gracia, Panama. I tried to leave, and you give me a story.
We get to customs. Everyone tries to be helpful. They all love Lola. I really don't know what's going on, but I go with it. I pack some stuff for the night, Lola's bed, and Lola and I pile into a taxi. He says $35 por Italia pequena; we settle on 25.
It's 20 minutes to Ubernazacion Dona Fela. We get there and neither Eric nor Jesse are home. I try to call; no luck (I'm calling on American phone). My driver won't leave me there with Lola and my bags outside the locked gates. He sees the advertisement sign with the telephone numbers and calls both. Jesse answers the second one. She tells him she'll be back in three minutes.
The driver tells me this. I say bueno, muchas gracias. But he won't leave until Jesse shows up.
While waiting. I tell the driver I need a taxi back to David in the morning. He says he'll be here. And then Jesse shows up. The three of us have a conversation, and Jesse says she'll take me in to David in the morning. The taxi driver is very pleased that Jesse will drive me to David in the morning,.

I don't know what to make of all this. When you put yourself out there, be ready for curves. And listen in case there is a story. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Day 1 Venao a New Jersey

The first day on my trip back to the states was an adventure, not of the Daniel Boone type, but of
the oh-oh, I should have stopped at that hotel in the rain-soaked mountains (Hotel Paraiso) because it looks like a night in the car with Lola.
Leaving Cocoloche and driving to Pedasí was sad and inside out: sad, because I don't think I will ever see that road again and inside out because it was the other side of how I ended my book, driving from Pedasi to Cocoloche, the night road, no cars, me telling Lola (my lab-mix) that we were almost there..
So rather than on our way in through the night, we were on our way out in the daylight, followed by Heather, Bronson, and las tres ninitas. We had coffee in the Pedasi bakery and said our good-byes. There were depths to that scene. All connected to Sarah.
So I went on, going backwards in time to Las Tablas, Chitre, and finally to the split where CA (Central America)2 meets CA1 and rather than take CA1 to Panama City, I took it northeast toward the mountains, Santiago, David, and la frontera. After the split, the drive was beyond beautiful. Driving, I went into a different space. Going away from Playa Venao, I was sad because I have made good friends there, and I am afraid I won't see them again. I was watching the landscape within that frame. We never travel roads seeing only the landscape.
The skyscape was lovely, bright blue with white whisps to the southeast and Panama City; dark, with towering clouds to the northwest and the mountains.
After the turn toward the mountains, the drive was unremittingly beautiful, and it turned my mind from the past to where I was going. This turn went deeper with the passing miles and the ascent into the high, beautiful green mountains. There were no towns, and the mountains got steeper and steeper and the blue gray clouds swept the sides of the mountains as I drove into them.
After an hour or so, the rain hit—mist at first and you can't tell whether you are simply driving into suspended water or rain. In this in-between space, I got into travel, the adventure of driving into the unknown, trusting your ability to deal with what happens. I was just into it: driving back through Central America and Mexico and dealing with the border dramas. The driving is beautiful, the border dramas are just what one has to go through. Basically, I was where I was going.
I'm not going alone. Lola is with me. She lies on the seat beside me, her head draped over my knee, and I endlessly pet her. I am lonely—this trip has all been about being alone and loneliness. People who live alone and have dogs or cats know what I mean.
The rain hit like a hammer when I passed the summit. I had to slow to 30 mph, driving through floods, although I was in the high mountains. There were places in the roads where the water was six inches deep. In a way, I loved this. When you have to pay attention to the rain and road, you have to move outside yourself—and that's a certain kind of release.
After about two hours of driving through water, I spotted through the waves of rain a sign as I passed it on the right: Hotel Paraiso. $20 a night. I knew they would accept dogs. And the rooms would be fine, although the buildings through the heavy rain looked like some kind of surrealistic stage setting in which a right angle was heresy.
I saw the sign too late and was past it before I had time to stop. And it was only four o'clock, an hour and a half away from the border. I drove on, thinking I would find other hotels before David (the ugly strip mall town, where I did not want to stay. So I drove for several miles, thinking should I turn back or go on and take my chances (metaphor). It was only four.
I went on. Part of the wager was the weather. I didn't think Lola and I would enjoy ourselves in the high mountains in the middle of 40 days and nights. So I went on—but always thinking, should I turn back?
But I went on.
I had one scary scene. I'm driving down a rain-soaked descent and a car pulls out to pass heading my way about 100 feet in front of me. I think crash—no where I could go—I braked and got ready for the hit, but he or she (it had to be a he) continued to his left onto my right shoulder and we continued like space ships with a near miss on our merry ways.
I kept going down. NO HOTELS. Nada. It was 5:30 and because of the rain, the day was getting dark. I suddenly remembered that I had left Lola's dogfood at Cocoloche. I thought, good thing I didn't stay at Hotel Paraiso. Lola wouldn't have had food. I stopped at the next supermercado and bought dog food and orange juice. I asked about hotels. Nothing the clerk said made sense other than, directo, hay hotels en David.
The end is coming:
I drove through David. The rain was pouring. No hotels. On the other side of David, I spotted another one of those car-hotels (the ones with ruby red lips advertising for $5 an hour). I was desperate because it was dark, raining heavily, and near six, and so pulled into one, thinking I could rent a hotel/carport for a night, but the attendant let me know that was not for me—they didn't rent a carport for dos horas por un hombre y su perra. He told me there would be hotels twenty minutes down the rain-drenched road near La Concepcion.

Previous to leaving Venao, I had located after David a bed and breakfast called Little Italy in an obscure town a bit before La Concepcion. I had tried on the internet to reserve a room but couldn't make a connection (Panamanians – r u surprised?). Stopping somewhere after David, I tried to locate “Little Italy B&B,” but the directions made no sense. So I drove on to La Concepcion. It was dark now, seven, and pouring rain. I pulled off to the side of the road to check my directions and my GPS (is God taking care of me?) focused on Urb Dona Fela with a location for Little Italy B&B. Back about five miles. I had decided Lola and I were going to do an in-car sleep-in, but I thought, at seven at night, let's take a chance, and we drove back, to a dirt road to the right, a dirt road to the left, hit a dead end, stopped and asked for la Italia Pequena, backed up, turned left, and found Little Italy, run by this lovely couple. It's perfect. They made dinner for us, and Lola and I are very happy. We are ready for the border tomorrow.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Tail Wagging the Dog

I have had a series of conversations lately, and I have to write them out. One was at a PWPA meeting, the session focusing on research (papers) with aligned discussions about teachers working with librarians. The conversation went a little sideways in illuminating ways, one of the present librarians expressing with verve her frustration over being held to account to make sure that students were mastering the nationally adopted objectives for librarians: 6 or 7 reasonable goals that somehow have in the minds of the librarians been converted into objectives that the librarians through assessments were required to prove students in their universities have met.

The librarians were teaching lessons in the FYW classes with friction against the teachers because the lessons seemed disconnected from what the teachers were doing. The speaking librarian pointed out that she was being held to account; that her tenure (she felt) was linked to her ability to demonstrate her effectiveness(metaphor here).

My friend, Val, sitting next to me, said the tail’s wagging the dog. Ok—here’s where I’m going. The system, in its imperative to reproduce the existing social structure (a set of privileges), drowns players (actually, I think it’s more like waterboarding) so that they are just fighting for air to the point that they can’t think critically (forgive me—read my chapter in Going North, Thinking West on critical thinking) about their immersion.

I have had another related experience—and I ask for forgiveness here, because I’m imagining I know something that seems like contrarian knowledge. I don’t want to go too deeply into this, but let’s just say within a certain group, I seem to be ruffling feathers. This conversation can go in several directions, but I’m aiming for one.

One of the members of the group brought up Kuhn and thought experiments—this is also connected to Rawls, whom I seriously don’t like to read. A thought experiments invites “thinkers” to imagine everything they think they know they don’t know. So let’s try this:

In FYW courses (and more broadly, in writing studies), our strategies for teaching have been overdetermined by some assumptions that if looked at from another perspective seem, well, like believing the earth is flat because that’s what it looks like (or maybe like giving us a job).

So let’s try this as a thought experiment:
1.     Research papers and all the citation stuff (and plagiarism junk) is simply wasted instruction, helping to create a negative attitude toward writing in students and a negative attitude toward students’ abilities to write. Let’s imagine: in their post collegiate lives, most students will not be writing these weird things. They’ll never be citing or creating works cited again. And so …..?
2.     Let’s imagine that “argument” as a pure genre is also a discourse form in which students after they graduate will never again write. Any yet, it’s the dominant genre in FYW programs and in assessment protocols.  Can we do a little historiography and excavate how this “rhetoric” came to be? (as well as disadvantaging social groups not trained to this middle-middle- and upper-middle class way of thinking and writing? [another of my chapters in Going North)
3.     Let’s imagine that we don’t as teachers have to prove to external stakeholders that we have clear (let’s call this the positivist assumption) objectives and assessment structures that prove or disprove that we are or are not meeting them; i.e., that because we are writing teachers, we can be trusted to do our job.
4.     And let’s imagine that as writing teachers, we are devoted to imbuing in our students a positive attitude toward writing—that as a first among equals (Elliott, 2016 or so), that is what we are teaching—and not doing by the research and argumentative structure agenda.
5.     And that we do not have to teach our students how to survive writing assignments teachers in other disciplines (themselves drowning) prescribe (let’s imagine that instead of the 20 page research papers, which they hate to read, they use writing as a way of learning and communicating).
6.     And let’s imagine that attitude toward writing counts (largely ignored in almost all academic articles about teaching writing).
7.     Let’s imagine that we want our students to be writers for life, not just for getting through what we got through--and so think they need to get through.

A thought experiment. The point being, everything we thought was true wasn’t, one of the better definitions of critical thinking (John McPeck, Critical Thinking and Evaluation.)

Link to my latest song--kind of fits this post
Off the Trail