infra-ordinary analysis

Yesterday, I was working with 10th-12th grade at the Harlem Children’s Zone, attempting to get them to draft personal statements for college. It was a beautiful day, and the senioritis in the air was so contagious even 10th and 11th graders were susceptible. One girl woke up from a nap and shouted to a girl at the other end of the table, “Oh my GAW~wd, I had the WEI~rdest dream, I’m gonna write you about it.” She then proceeded to write a note to her friend, which an advocate confiscated, to her shrill complaint of “But MISTER, I wanna know what she think it meant, ain’t that like doing work?”

Huh.

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it isn’t possible to be anymore behind on life

Which is why, of course, I’m blogging right now, but in the meantime, check out this series of posts on abolishing grades in education.

While this applies more to secondary ed than higher ed, I’ve often (fruitlessly) toyed with the idea myself, as I believe in my heart of hearts that education is its own reward and that grades and grading rubrics, especially in Composition & Rhetoric, are subjective and often arbitrary.  For the sake of helping students improve, there would need to be some sort of general rubric in place so that they could self-assess and continue to grow, but the A-F system has troubled me for years.  Pass/Fail seems to be the only alternative in higher ed, but this system can also bite you in the ass when it comes time to apply for graduate school or other areas that require a GPA.  Joe Bower presents several compelling reasons to shift away from the traditional model of learning-for-grades in secondary ed, and I wonder how many of these could be modified to work in a college classroom, as initial feedback on drafts, in my classroom anyway, fits with this model to begin with.

Of course, to some extent this is a pipe dream: it’s not like you can abolish grades without the total consent of the department, dean, university, and so on, and God help you if you float this idea as an adjunct (goodbye, job; hello, unemployment).  But it’s interesting to consider as an experiment.  Perhaps something could be secretly implemented in college—especially if your department isn’t constantly on your ass—where the “mark on the report card” is the only concrete traditional grade, and learning occurs for the sake of learning up until a standard midterm and/or final grade.  

Someday, if/when I’m permanent faculty anywhere, I’m going to figure out how to implement labor-based grading.

bearing witness.

This month marks the first anniversary of the bloody end of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

On 2009 May 17-18, depending on how you look at it, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (தமிழீழ விடுதலைப் புலிகள்), also known as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, were routed by the armed forces of the primarily Sinhalese government. The war, which was the product of years of ethnic tension between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority, lasted 25 years and was marked by the ruthlessness of both government military and paramilitary campaigns and guerilla warfare and suicide bombing employed by the LTTE, both with little regard to the cost of civilian life. We saw this magnified in the end stages of the war in May 2009, when the LTTE brought over 80,000 civilians with them into a tiny spittoon of land in the northeast, using them as human shields and impressing them into service (“Sri Lankan Government and LTTE Must Heed Demands from UN Security Council”), and the Sri Lankan army indiscriminately shelled the shrinking warzone, as it had hammered designated no-fire zones such as hospitals, bunkers, and other areas in the Vanni with a known civilian presence in flagrant disregard of the laws of war (“Sri Lanka: Repeated Shelling of Hospitals Evidence of War Crimes”).

In May 2009 my sanity was eroding and I cried almost every night, barely slept, was made numb by President Rajapaksa’s victory speech. People celebrated in the streets of Colombo and throughout the country. Like many others, most of whom were Tamil, this victory felt hollow and strange. Thousands upon thousands of civilians died in the months leading up to May 17. And while I personally condemn the actions of both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, I didn’t know what to think when confronted with the news of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s corpse. On the news segment his forehead was covered. There were flies. I wanted to see the bullet hole for myself. Wanted proof. Felt like a part of my life had ended. At that point I hadn’t lived my life outside of the shadow of Sri Lanka’s war.

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rhetorical analysis and reinterpretation

“ROW, ROW FIGHT THE POWAH!!”

Gurren Lagann, practically every episode

If you aren’t a Gurren Lagann fan or 4channer, you likely have no idea what that means, so let me enlighten you: it’s a rap lyric from the main “theme” of the show, “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii” etc. The Engrish isn’t terrible, though the lyrics are somewhat hilarious (particularly the refrain, “row, row, fight the powah,” which has achieved meme status all by itself).

As my brain slowly pieced itself together following illness, I was rewatching the Gurren Lagann Parallel Works videos—sort of like official anime music videos (AMVs) created by the production company Gainax and set to different musical tracks from the show—and it occurred to me that much of the music is comprised of different versions of the main theme. We are given the same lyrics set against different background tracks, ranging from electronica/hip-hop (“Rap wa Kan no Tamashii… Datta… yo…”) to orchestral/operatic arrangement (“‘Libera me’ from hell”) to “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii da! … Kamina-sama no Theme [etc.],” which has a funky, casual aura with its twangy guitar and its beat, whereas the piano-accompanied beat of “‘Libera me’” and the crash of opera vocals gives us a sense of build-up, of imminent danger, perhaps warns us that something tragic will happen, that there will be survivors who will overcome regardless. This is, incidentally, how the track is used toward the end of the show. Each background track evokes a particular response in us, whether we’ve seen the show or not, and when embedded in its visual context, the meaning of the lyrics accumulates significant meaning.

And yeah, I listened to the full soundtrack before watching the whole show.

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q&a: why analyze things like there’s always a deeper meaning?

Posed by more than 50% of my class almost 100% of the time. This time, the particular unit was themed around fairytales, folktales, and myth, and on this particular day we were discussing a few versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”: Grimm, Perrault, Carter, and Gaiman (excerpted from Sandman: The Doll’s House). It was an uphill struggle to get them to see how each of the stories contained different messages about gender roles, sexuality, and the dangers of female independence, and they completely balked at discussing what the wolf could symbolize. It isn’t the first time I’ve come up against this question in a literature class, and students really do need to be convinced of why it’s important to read more deeply into things, especially since we are inundated with messages encoded into pop culture, particularly around identity construction.

Here, more or less, was my response.

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authenticity and approaching literature

I’ve been thinking about the question that I brought up in class on Monday, about the impact of fiction versus nonfiction, and how genre shapes our reaction to a given piece of literature.  I have to say I was surprised at the prevailing sentiment that nonfiction delivers more of an emotional “punch,” if you will, than fiction—but then, this is the most common approach to the issue of genre.  So why was I surprised?

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thinking exercises to bookend the semester.

I’m a big fan of thinking exercises: short activities that model (in familiar forms) the kinds of thinking students need to be doing when it comes to critical reading and writing. I had astonishing success this semester with two such exercises, one recently which I used on the last day of classes, and one mid-semester which I plan to use in the future as an introductory exercise at the beginning of the course. For all we talk about pedagogy in the academy, I feel we don’t share enough of our classroom successes and failures—why reinvent the wheel, for instance, when you can borrow or modify someone else’s vehicle? Thus, procedures for these thinking exercises after the jump.

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