All posts by Michael O'Hara

Where Do I Go?

I wish we had gone with somebody else’s project idea… not because I don’t like doing this one, but because I guess I feel an added weight with this given that it stemmed from some of my usual dissociative nonsense. I don’t want my classmates to be let down if they don’t find joy in this project, and while I know everybody was invited to speak up… I think back to my time as a subject matter expert in a fertility pharmacy, I was one of 3 people in my position, with 40-60 below us at any given time, and one direct supervisor above us. She would always end meetings with something along the lines of “Does anybody have any questions? I take silence as you all know what’s going on.” A couple of months into my role, I finally had to tell her “Taking silence as a good thing in this situation is an absolute mistake, everything is changing around our techs, and none of them have a clue. I don’t have a clue. I just don’t even know what to ask. I don’t think they do either.” This went over so well that I’d almost set the world record for the quickest demotion in history until she realized I was right. So, I guess I just hope everyone is on board with this for real…

I’m struggling to come up with a piece, because, well, I don’t know what it means to grow. I think growth is only recognized in hindsight and it’s easy to mistake with plain old change. Because change can be lateral or regressive, it’s hard for me to separate what fits in my eyes and what doesn’t. Man, I hate me right now haha. 

Alright, alright, no more self-depreciation for a minute. I want to answer some of the other questions for the week and see if maybe that will help me come up with something to write about.  Title… I think the title has to happen organically, the same way that the idea did. I like the idea of a title that reflects growth in it, growth, or time. One can’t exist without the other. I’d love for the title to just come from somebody’s piece, a line that sticks out to all of us, that reflects the collective. I know that some people would probably be quick to want to go the Amazon/ebook route with this or something, and I’ll do it if that’s what the group wants, but I’d almost rather it just be its own website or something. Selfishly, I can’t help but feel that this wouldn’t be a “right fit.” for my first publication credit, but I’ll do it if that’s what the group wants. I’m only hard on myself when it comes to that sort of thing and can be persuaded to shift formats easily enough. 

I think that the jobs I’m probably the most equipped to handle are the authors/bio page and or the editorial statement for the anthology. I know that these are probably the jobs that everyone wants, but I’ve taken enough art classes to know I’m better at writing than I am at working with visual mediums. Based on this blog, I imagine a few of you annoyed, because I’d certainly be saying “He can’t even come up with an idea for a story for the concept birthed from his bullshit and he wants to be in control of the editorial statement.” (Birthed from my Bullshit will now be the name of my memoir). While I understand that sentiment, the wavering I display comes from the fact that I tend to walk a mental tightrope. I try to negotiate my way to a balance that I can accept and live with while always poised to fall. If there is one thing I’m certain of though, it’s that I can negotiate an editorial statement that adequately reflects us. 

With that, I know I need to write something on “growing through displacement.” By my definition, I am homeless. I have a roof, a room, an excellent roommate, and now my roommate’s ridiculous dog. But, I don’t belong here, or anywhere else, and I’ve spent years searching for what that missing piece is that would make me stay or make me fit. One of my best friends, Little Michelle, is much younger than me, but also much wiser. She found her home in a husband and 3 beautiful children, where they live doesn’t matter, that bond matters, and I don’t allow myself anywhere close to that. Even acknowledging that clown as my friend feels weird. She tells me I need to settle down, I tell her I hate the idea of doing anything with the word settle in it. She tells me she wants me to be here next summer for her son’s birthday. I tell her I’ll try.

And I want to run. I walk into a room looking for an exit door. Hell, I leave the room almost every class without ever climbing out of my seat. I turn escape artistry into an art form, it’s such a good magicians trick that I’m not even sure where I go. So, I think the piece I need to work on for this project is one where I decide to stay, a piece blurring the line between fiction and reality, another negotiated tightrope walk.

Culture and Voice (or lack of)

My original idea for the class project was to create the English Cultural Arts curriculum. High school curriculums are all formatted differently depending on the district, all have books and poetry that vary from school to school, yet it seems the same 50-100 titles are spread throughout the curriculums overall. You will read Steinbech’s Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, you will read Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven, you will read The Canterbury Tales, which to me is evidence that god might not exist, and you will read some form of Shakespeare play. All of these with students using the same five-paragraph essay format to express a point they are trying to answer based on the reading. 

My idea is to design an English classroom based on an exploration of culture that still meets the state standards. We could choose new readings, ones that speak to us one way or another, that highlight life and experiences in ways that are often overlooked in schools. I made a presentation in class that highlighted republican voices, and I expressed numerous times that I am more democratic leaning than I am Republican leaning, and a large part of that comes from how I value culture, the lives and experiences of those who walk on different yet adjacent paths to me, or those who have walked paths that lead to the ones we are all on now. My favorite works of literature tend to be ones where I find common ground with someone (be it a fictional character, lines of poetry, or a shared emotion through a story). Insomniac City tells the story of Bill Hayes (his memoir)  leaving San Francisco and moving to New York City where he reacquainted himself with eventual lover Oliver Sacks. I’m a straight man in my early 30s, but I related so much to Bill’s feelings of displacement and what I find to be the purest form of love ever written between him and Oliver, a love that I can only hope to one day find. I related just as much to Oliver’s eccentric personality, how he would lay in the grass wondering what it was like to be a rose. I felt true pain while reading the story of Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns, a fictional story that sees Mariam, a woman in Afghanistan, suffer the abuses of her husband which includes graphic depictions of her being forced to chew gravel. I felt a sense of joy reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, as I followed Santiago on his quest to find his personal treasure. (Fun fact about Paulo Coelho, his parents institutionalized him, thinking he was sick because of his desire to be a writer, which speaks itself to how drastically cultures can differ).

We can choose 5 or 10 novels and explain the cultures those novels represent, and the significance of those cultures, and create assignments that meet the standards set forth by the state of New Jersey (which are not as complex as non-teachers in the room may think). An English class, as well as a cultural class, should have multimedia implications, so pieces such as journal articles, poetry, music, podcasts, movies, and television shows can all also be referenced, much as they were done in several of the presentations given in class (shout out to Jonathan for giving us a good laugh last class.

As this is the idea I expressed in class, I wanted to come up with an additional, alternative assignment. We all seem to have some things in common. We want to create something useful for others, we want to create something we can put on resumes, and we want to create something that can make a difference. To me, I think a good way to tackle this might be through creating a handbook on the development of voice.

Voice is not recognized much in literary journals as my presentation expressed, and while I suspect this may have changed some since the Elbow piece was written, I would say it hasn’t changed enough. We can tackle the idea of voice through multiple lenses and provide input on how to develop the voice. What are the ways to put a voice to trauma? What are the ways to put a voice to mental health concerns that express the weight and severity of them without them appearing as glorified? What are the ways that voice can be used to create linguistic justice? How can somebody going through transitions such as the ESL setting develop their voice? How does one negotiate their own voice against one they are trying to capture through the lens of fictional characters? What are the different ways voice should be tackled when examining voice through scripts, novels, memoirs, articles, or poetry? Why are the pros and cons of looking at the written voice against the voices we speak with?

I think that if we each tackled voice from a different lens, we could create something that magnifies the importance of the voice and can help developing writers learn how to develop their own. I still don’t know how I would describe my own voice, but as a mental health advocate for many years, I think I could contribute a lot to a conversation about voice by highlighting my own experiences and mental health journey with how those same themes are explored through books like Speak, 13 Reasons Why, Perks of Being A Wallflower, Veronika Decides to Die, K-Pax, and countless others. This can also be applied to music as well through songs Armor For Sleep’s Remember to Feel Real, or Kurt Vile’s Pretty Pimpin. I love exploring voice and I think part of why I can never recognize my own is because it’s a product of everything that’s come before me. 


I don’t know how to describe my voice as a writer. I know I write differently than how I speak, but that is typically as far as I can get in distinguishing my own patterns. Mikhail Bakhtin believes that we can write in many voices, and to an extent I can agree with that, as I know the ways I go about phrasing expressions, word choice, tone, and emotion, all change depending on the character of which I am trying to portray. 

Sonya Huber, author of this week’s first article, explored voice in depth when she was struggling with painful bouts of arthritis. The pain she felt caused her words to come slowly, to the point where she didn’t feel like writing. As someone who has chronic pain from years of abusing my body, I can sympathize with this as the more you focus on pain, the more difficult it is to focus on anything else of consequence. It was in this situation that Sonya discovered her voice changed, as did her audience. Instead of writing for others, she was writing for herself and using her past traumatic experiences as the fuel needed to provide voices to put her pain into context. 

Paisley Rekdal’s definition displays how our memories, emotions, and senses all influence our unique voices. Our voices are a combination of influences on our lives and influences on our techniques of writing and speaking. Perhaps this is why Huber finds success in helping stuck writers by letting them talk, providing a new experience away from the project they attempt to work on. 

It’s unfortunate that many of the writers she has come across in her teaching profession have not been able to find themselves in their own words, or do not have the confidence to see positively their own thoughts and ideas fleshed out on paper. To find their voices, Huber suggests the idea of making a running list of the voices that we internalize and conjure when writing. I guess I do this, but instead of naming them, I put a character to them, a full identity separate yet equal to my own, as each character is a part of me just as I am a part of them.  

Voice does not just extend to my working with fictional characters, but in expressing my experiences in non-fiction writing, whether it be journal articles or text to friends. Expressivist writing is writing that is used to get us to the deeper recesses of our personal experiences. Numerous studies have been done that have determined using expressivist writing to break down and analyze our traumatic experiences may actually have a positive impact on us as individuals in dealing with said trauma. 

Not expressing ourselves and getting in touch with our experiences can have negative consequences on us physically, emotionally, and socially. In this, I think about the emotional breakdown in the La Dispute album Wildlife, each song a story framed in the context of a writer who has deteriorated until they no longer understand the voice they are writing in. The songs that directly pertain to the narrator all have an isolated, suffocating, almost paranoid quality to them. They seem to scream for help, scream for someone to recognize the suffering within them, but our narrator fumbles towards the curtain call that they are sure nobody will clap for, and in the end I don’t clap. I sit feeling the pressure in my chest and my head of all I had just experienced but I don’t clap. I can’t Instead, I mimic the narrator and question, whose voice am I writing in?

A Language A Day Keeps Ignorance at Bay

Before reading these articles the only thing I knew about African American Language is that it sounds different than what is seen as traditional English. I had no idea that it combines African grammar with English vocabulary. While I am quick to accept Delpit’s suggestion that we view African American Languge as different than, but not inferior to Standard American English, I wonder if that comes more out of my thirst for equality over anything, seeing as I was so ill-informed on the language itself, now, I still stick to the same stance, but at least have a better foundation for explaining why that is.

Ball and Lowe point out that what a lot of teachers may see as mistakes in English are really not that at all, but instead are formations caused by switching between languages with different rules. These are things to note but not criticize. While the origin of African American Language does not have one clear-cut origin, standard English does not as well. There is a reason the plural of goose is geese but the plural of moose isn’t meese, and this has to do with the language of origin related to both of those words. Language is a living entity in that it evolves over time. Shakespeare used words and phrases that today have no clear-cut definition, yet we do not deny his works their status and significance as often as we do African American Language.

The point of language, to me. and the point of English to me are one and the same in that the goal of both is to communicate, that is it. The goal of both is to express something to another or to convey something to someone. So while African American Language may remove the verb to be from its sentences, the phrase “She read” does not in any way negate the fact that based on the words used the reader can more likely than not understand the idea that somebody is reading.

April Baker-Bell points out how language is weaponized today against the African American community in the media and how groups like Black Youth Project and Dream Defenders work in opposition to this. Yet, there is much work to be done, as many teachers leave educational training programs not recognizing that this is a form of English with roots that can be traced back generations and has roots in Scottish, Irish, and other world Englishes and that to me speaks volumes as to why English cannot be the official language of America, as there isn’t even one set in stone version of English to begin with. 

Alvarez points out that America has 325 recognized languages, however truthfully I expect it to be more, I’d bet we’re approaching one for every day of the year. With this being said, I understand the desire to have one official language for ease of operation and communication in America. Yet, the beauty in America is in the diversity of the culture. The fact that Americans today can travel from New Jersey, move to Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and New York and notice changes in the language used in each place is a beautiful thing as it speaks to the rich heritage of the nation as a whole. Alvarez points out that immigrants learn English quicker now than at any other point in history, and while this is a incredible, I wish now more than ever that I had paid more attention during the world language classes I was given in my educational experiences.

This is an area I have little knowledge of and while these articles were all comprehensive, I think they were only scratching the surface regarding what I still need to learn on the subject.

American History X, Y, and Z

The topic of multiculturalism in the classroom has been striking a chord with me over the past few days as if the hands of fate were carefully planting seeds for what this blog might become. As a lifelong insomniac, it is a semi-regular occurrence that I might wake up at four o’clock in the morning and either go for a walk or turn the television on looking for a movie that I could hopefully, but unlikely fall back to sleep to. 

This morning that movie happened to be American History X, which has always been one of my favorite movies for its emotional depths and societal nuances that it navigates harshly, but fairly. In the movie, a young, impressionable Derek (Edward Norton) is raised by a father who is a racist. Derek’s character attends a school with an African American professor (who I believe was a Phd in the movie) as his mentor. At first, Derek is impressed by the perspective this professor offers and what the books he is reading, including Native Son, offer in terms of a deeper understanding of a culture entirely different too his own. I had not read Native Son the first time I saw this movie, and did not remember its mentioning until seeing that seen again this morning. Last year while working at a school with a fairly multicultural student population, the book was recommended to me. To say the book devastated me was an understatement. Seeing that seen today maybe me realize just how tragic Derek’s story was as he went from someone who went from being interested in the ideas and plights of others to taking his father’s racial ideations to an extreme, becoming a neo-nazi skinhead, a group of people I am somewhat familiar with, having grown up in the New Jersey hardcore music scene. 

Without spoiling more of the movie than necessary, I will say, that despite his horrific beliefs, Deker never seems to stray from the initial respect he had for that mentor. 

I am two things simultaneously as a person, and before I state what those two things are, I must say that I am not phrasing this in such a way as to put myself down, but merely to suggest that I have a lot to learn. I am both a lover of culture and what I would consider relatively uncultured. I can condemn the atrocities of what is going on in the middle east as people die in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but if asked to define,  describe, or sum up the ways in which that part of the world came to be congested with conflict, I would fall short of being able to aptly give any form actual details as to just how we got here. 

While I was teaching, my classroom was a mixture of races, ethnicities, religions, and genders, and I will be the first to admit that I was intimidated, not understanding how to properly form a classroom that embraced culture how I wanted to. Bell-Hooks mentions that there is not enough education on how to make the educational experience inclusive and I couldn’t agree more. I thought about teaching books such as Native Son and Yellow Wife in my classroom at times, but was terrified as to what my students would think. “The white man teaching us our own history.” I was never able to find the proper way to negotiate this line within myself. Bell-Hooks mentions that we must acknowledge that a lot of us were taught under a single norm system where we were taught to believe certain things were universal. While I can’t say whether or not I agree or disagree with this, I can acknowledge the fact that I don’t remember ever having a single teacher in English who wasn’t Caucasian, or recall reading any books relating to the cultures, reading literature by African Americans outside of black history month, or reading about any genocides besides the Holocaust, which was represented by The Diary of Anne Frank as a teenager and Number the Stars as a child.

Bell-Hooks believes that there must be a way for a teacher to go through a training program where they can express their own concerns about teaching a multicultural curriculum in a multicultural classroom, and while I love this idea, I don’t quite know what it would look like. This sort of training, while it may be a brilliant idea, may fall short in addressing diversity because of the nature of how much diversity there is in the world. How can one teacher preparation program teach me the ways in which to handle teaching culture? How would it tackle LGBTQ books (Insomniac City), African American literature (Their Eyes Were Watching God, A Raisen in The Sun), literature of the Middle-East (Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns), or other books with such vast cultural offerings (Tattooist of Auschwitz, Life of Pie, Killing Commendatore). There are more cultures than there would be time for a training program to tackle in my eyes, so how would you choose what cultural sensitivities to exclude?

I find there to be a bit of irony to what happened in the meeting that was held at the University with Bell-Hooks, which started as all-inclusive but eventually did not allow for students to attend until things got contentious over comments made by professors that could be seen as racist. I guess the university decided, that it was more important for the teachers to educate themselves than it was for the students to educate the teachers by excluding those voices, a bit of irony in there somewhere.

Some of the old guard of professors spoke up and understood that a change was needed, but were uncertain as to go about the change. To an extent I can sympathize, I love living in my own inclusive world, but understand the world is not as inclusive. I could have filled my classroom with a third African American literature and a third of literature written by Hispanic authors, and I would still be missing countless perspectives and stories that my students could learn from. It is not my fear of losing control of my classroom that hindered me, but the heavy weight that comes with picking and choosing the cultures and perspectives to focus on in such a finite amount of time.

When reading Harris’s pieces on tutoring ESL students, I think back to my former classes where many of my students were fluent in English but had been raised with Spanish as their first language. This article gave me a better understanding of what those students went through in some of their more fundamental childhood years as they negotiated the rules and regulations of multiple languages, places, and cultures. I’m thankful that some of them did get the one-on-one attention that Harris deemed necessary for these students to be successful.

Harris believes that when prioritizing errors, a teacher or tutor should first acknowledge what is well done in the work. While I find this to be fundamental to teaching writing in general, I think it takes on a different, more significant weight when looking at the works of an ESL student. Students who come from other backgrounds, while processing the rules of English, will still find ways to frame and structure English and obtain a unique voice through this. I think of Murakami as my favorite example of this, as many of his works are written in such a way that they are overwhelming to me. They give me a sense of surrealism and confusion that somehow draws me in in ways that many other authors fail to. We all see the world differently, yet we all also express how we see the world differently, even in one language such as English, and I think this is a crucial thing for a tutor to navigate when determining what does and does not work within a developing writer’s offerings. While students can be easily classified as ESL students, that title branches off into hundreds of different directions, each ESL student is different and has been shaped by culture and change, and because of this each should be respected and treated differently. I feel Harris addresses this by highlighting an important aspect of tutoring ESL students is to first study multiple pieces of that student’s writing to understand their trends, patterns, and voices. 

Harris also references the differences in how the writing process occurs between ESL students and native English speaking students, and shows that studies indicate that ESL students will often focus less on what “sounds” right during the revision process. This is interesting to me as on one hand, I feel as though many of us do this, reread while focusing on what sounds write to our ears, however, part of what I love about works that have been written in other languages but translated to English is that they sound different, often completely different, but they also sound right to me. This is perhaps why I am so often drawn to the writings of Japanese authors (not manga, but translated novels). They are written in English, yet are composed in a style that inspires me because of certain gorgeous qualities I find within it like their cultures are flooding through the translation, building a dream for me.

This might be my longest blog entry to date, and I would love to continue, but truthfully… I am a straight white man who grew up in New Jersey, I am probably not the voice that should be listened to on any of these subjects.

I will end this blog with a story of my upcoming weekend, and hopefully provide a bit of hope for the future to those that see the challenges behind navigating cultural bounds. Tomorrow, I will be working on a college recommendation letter for a former student of mine, a young, quick-witted Hispanic, LGBTQ child. While it may be unethical for a teacher to have favorites, it is safe to say we had a very interesting dynamic, this girl was a straight a high school student, yet had no interest in college before meeting me. The last day of the year, she gave me the gift of a goose statue (I was known as the silly goose teacher) and a letter that I currently have framed in my bedroom. In that letter, this child, who was an ESL student growing up, thanked me for making her fall in love with writing again after she had been discredited by many who came before me, and expressed how at her future college graduation she would be thanking me for the support and guidance I provided.

There is hope for a multicultural classroom, the road may be bumpy, but perhaps it’s getting smoother a little at a time

Differences of Opinion are Equal, but Some are More Equal Than Others

I am probably going to offend a lot of my classmates on Monday. While the goal isn’t to do that, I must admit if it’s going to happen, in some ways I’m probably going to enjoy the challenge and push back within the discussion. Truth be told, I’m a little intimidated by it.

I used to be a very black and white thinker growing up, my was was the right way, and nobody was going to talk me out of anything or change my opinion unless I wanted it to be changed. Doing things my way have gotten me out of some very stupid situations in my life… and probably gotten me into most of them admittedly. I’d say, the change in my perspective came from reading in my early adulthood, but maybe it was just the realization that in thinking that my way was always right and other ways were always wrong I was unhappy? Now, when I look at a situation, I try to see it through as many lenses as possible, regardless of the source.

Peter Elbow’s piece this week focuses on negotiating mentalities for analyzing writing, but to me it’s touches on so much more than that, as he references works, individuals, and debates dating back centuries. Today, I can safely say I am an And/Both person. Which means I can also see the merits of the Either/Or mentality as well as the merits of compromise. I don’t want to spoil to much about what I am going to have everyone do in class, because it would ruin some of the fun and deep thinking on the human condition is something I very much enjoy, and this piece to me is very just as much about the ways in which we think as it is the ways we examine writing.

My discussion lead paper is here. Have at it if you want:

Write it Right

I must preface this blog by acknowledging a simple unfortunate fact. I. Don’t. Like. Technology. Yes, I take advantage of computers to do homework with, and I would be lost without the GPS on my Android (eek, that feels dirty), but if one simple thing goes wrong with technology I will quickly find the urge to unplug my laptop from the wall and chuck it out the second-floor window, where I imagine a crowd of onlookers are gathered to admire the falling piece of tech, camera phones at the ready, pointed up and towards me. It is only upon the computer smashing the ground and becoming shrapnel of cheap plastic and precious metals that somebody enthusiastically yells the word “yeet.” When it comes to predictive text features I understand even less about that, would need one of my classmates to show me how to properly use it, and would need them to help turn it off after the fact when I grow frustrated with it. I want to be in control of my words. I am told I am often too hard on myself, but I know I’m good with words, and am not convinced that AI could fill the spot in the world I want to artistically. AI just can’t write it right (Shout out to Into It. Over it).

My thoughts on software mimic my thoughts on hardware. I don’t get it, and there is a good chance I will break it somehow. So, I am right on board with Rodolfo Delgado who is quick to point out the divisiveness behind social media and the fault in artificial intelligence. AI is a tool that is increasingly gaining prominence in the literary sphere, but in its ability to create content, there is one important element missing entirely from its programming and algorithms, the human voice. He points out that AI lacks the emotions that come from the human experience, something I find to be true now, however, I fear that in time AI may have the means to do even this. AI, for now, does not understand human mood, tone, emotion, or growth, and we should all be thankful for it. In addition to this, I feel it is important to note that if AI is going to be built by scanning through millions of Wikipedia articles, novels, and blogs, then it is going to be riddled with 95% crap, and if it is going to become an average of all that it consumes, I am confident it will take a long time for it to become something of real quality. It’s not putting us out of work… for now.

Yet, I see AI continuing to be a tool for the developing writer because of its beneficial attributes such as grammatical checks or its ability to generate ideas, but this in itself, to me, is also problematic. I think back on the show Lost, and how while the show writers had vague ideas of where they wanted the show to go, the plot was developed organically week by week, episode by episode, the writers would write themselves into corners to write themselves out of them. I question whether or not they would have had the same growth as artists should they have had these tools to rely on. While AI cannot take credit for an idea, I am not sure if the same amount of growth comes by denying its implementation in an artist’s work. Does a writer who is not generating their own ideas miss a part of the cognitive process that would be paramount to the creative process?

Katy Ilonka Gero points out that writing can be broken down into the parts, planning, drafting, and revision, and that there is a possibility that AI may play different roles in the various stages, which is something I think could be beneficial, as in this sense you would be relying on your own ability to create first, and then using the AI to double check or flush out your work through various lenses as opposed to having the AI do the work for you.

That being said, I think I do feel the sense of mistrust that Gero highlights, but perhaps for a different reason. I acknowledge that there are very few original ideas left under the sun, so if I have an idea, I want to keep it as in my own house and my own camp as possible. Relying on technology is no more cheating than relying on a friend, professor, or editor, depending on the context, but my work is made for humans to consume (one day) I want the feedback of a person while crafting my art, as people are my intended audience. While technology can be helpful and it wouldn’t be cheating, in the end, it would still feel like it to me. As someone that has taken Salsa lessons twice a week for a few months now, I understand the metaphor of wanting to be in control of the dance, and part of that for me is understanding that if I am going to have a partner in that dance I want it to be one just as flawed as I am; because even if there is a risk of something going wrong there, the human element is what makes it right in the end.

Interlopers in Education

There is a joke about therapy regarding the fact that every therapist has their own therapist, which either creates an ouroboros or forces you to look at therapy as the world’s greatest pyramid scheme. This symbolism reminds me in a lot of ways Bell Hooks responded to Freire and in turn, I responded to Bell Hooks after reading the intro and first chapter of Teaching to Transgress. 

There are so many parallel thoughts between Hooks and myself, that I almost feel at times reading this that I am not walking a similar path, but a carbon copy of the original. Both of us can be seen as interlopers in education. Hooks, much like myself, did not see herself as a teacher so much she saw herself as a writer, who taught to give back but used writing as her true form of self-actualization. The thought of tenure made Hooks feel guilty, and while I never have been offered tenure, I know what it’s like to want to run from something that many believe to be a pathway toward a fulfilling and rewarding life that wouldn’t fit my soul. While my home wasn’t a place where my creativity was stifled, there was nobody there that was capable of helping to guide a very displaced child that would grow to become a very lost adult. Where I felt at home was in school, surrounded by friends and ideas. This was the case, despite my grades being less than stellar at times. 

Hooks and I did not share a gender, nor did we share ethnicity, but we had much in common in the almost spiritual ways we describe the learning process, and how, under the correct circumstances, schools can be used to liberate. Education can reject the concept of domination, and instead be guided by the idea of freedom for all. It’s a shame for Hooks, and a blessing for myself, that our paths diverged at the university level, as Hooks was exposed to the continued reinforcement of obedience and authority through the school system, and I was provided the opportunity to eventually see the freedom in my universities. 

It’s a shame that race and gender have to be seen as threats, but according to Hooks, white privilege ran rampant through her educational experience, and her experience was stifled as it was the white men who were encouraged to be critical thinkers and explore themselves intellectually.  Hooks goes on to express that the pleasure of teaching is in the refusal to follow the conventional norms and expectations of teachers. While I believe Hooks to be correct, I have to acknowledge just what a struggle this was for me. I wanted so badly for my students to have the desire to assume responsibility for their education, to join into an open and honest dialogue, that I burnt out and lost the battle as they had never experienced a class like it, and when given the option to learn, many opted instead to not. When something is forced upon them everywhere else, I can understand in hindsight why they were reluctant to push themselves. Still, some grew, and I maintain my pride for those students today, and just as they grew, so did I. 

Yet, there are many ways in which I still have to learn myself. Perhaps the greatest is something that Delpit points out as a fault in middle-class liberal educators (from a no longer required reading for this week, that is still very worth the read)  in that “I want the same education for everybody else’s children as I want for mine.” I am not a parent, however, I am both a perpetual student and occasional teacher, keeping me right in between two distinct worlds. With this, my first year of teaching saw me attempting to be the teacher that I wanted to have in high school, and not realizing as often as I should have that the person I needed and the person many of my students needed may not have been the same. My students were all raised with similarities to me but also came from drastically different homes, towns, and family situations than I had growing up, and those experiences shape the individual that they are, so in trying to be someone specific, I may have accidentally cut off some of what my students may have needed from their teacher. I did try to keep open eyes, ears, heart, and mind, hopefully, that was enough to make a difference. 

Fitting into the World

Paulo Freire discusses the dangers of the narration-based transactional nature of the way many student-teacher relationships are formed. This form of teaching sees a student memorize information provided by the teacher, the student does not learn out of what answers are provided for them. They are “containers” to be filled, and Freire is very in-depth regarding his distaste for this method of teaching.

The method, the “banking” concept, implies certain things that are fundamentally incorrect, one of the most important of which is that the teacher is seen as the source of all answers and the teacher is expected to assume a complete ignorance of the students. Students are not ignorant, as I am both a teacher and a student  I can attest to the fact that in every lesson I gave my students, I learned something new, just as I like to imagine that some of my own professors may learn something new through my strange idiosyncrasies or the convoluted ways I tackle myself, writing, and the world at large. I am not gifting knowledge as the banking model suggests, but trading perspectives in a way that deeper understanding can be formed. 

The oppression of this partially comes from denying the individual to learn other perspectives, and partially from filling their heads with the information curated for them. Freire brings up the idea that this method suggests a dichotomy between human beings and the world, that a person is in the world but not with the world or with others, we are all individual spectators. As someone with severe depression, I sympathize with the oppressed in that way and question how much of my internal struggles come from the ways in which I was taught to view the world. I understand I am with the world, and with others, but often feel most alone in crowded rooms. One of my greatest challenges is learning to rectify these two conflicting thoughts into one of a singular acceptance. 

The banking method also suggests the idea that teachers have the role of regulating just how the world enters into a student. This idea is severely flawed, especially in a high school setting where teachers may get at most 110 minutes with their students every other day. I cannot insert the world into a student that exists in the “world” of my classroom for less than 2 hours of a 48-hour period, but I can try to help them understand the context in which they fit into the world instead.

To me, that is the significance of problem-posing learning. The assumptions that problem-posing creates are ones that exist outside of the classroom setting. Students are asked to share, to contribute to a greater dialogue. Through problem-posing students are taught the weight and significance of the individual voice and are able to see the shift that others may have at the reaction of their thoughts, something important to understand for use outside of the classroom setting. As someone who tried to create this type of atmosphere, the greatest issue came in the fact that so many other teachers acted out the standard banking method of learning, that my students struggled to respond to my class in the ways I had hoped for a large majority of the time, yet at the times it was successful, seeing my students work together to solve problems became one of the greatest successes I had seen in the classroom (Thank you Cain’s Jawbone)

A Hallelujah Fan Fic

I would rather be working on my novel instead of reading through these articles and writing this blog. I’m convinced this novel may actually get me somewhere as a writer if I could stomach myself enough to put words to paper, but I don’t put words to paper. I’m afraid to write it. I’m afraid to write it because I wouldn’t know where to go with it once it’s done. It doesn’t have a target audience, the writing is niche, and often contrived. I’m also terrified that the people it’s dedicated to will not find the apology for who I am within it’s pages, my magnum opus is an apology for who I am.

Elbow would be proud perhaps, as I am freewriting the entirety of this blog. I appreciate a lot of what Elbow had to say, and am thankful that down the line I will also be using an Elbow piece for my class reading. Something about the way Elbow writes is soothing, like I’m reading a self-help book on the craft of writing over essays from somebody esteemed in the field. Somebody whose writing style I wish I could emulate, but I find my writing to often be riddled with meandering nonsense, maybe that speaks to my undermedicated bipolar brain being on the verge of exploding like a dream deferred.

There are several good ideas expressed in Elbow’s piece, these include but are not limited to (wow, that sounds formulaic) getting the garbage out (writing all of the junk so that way it does not infect the quality work that may come out), Using freewriting to find the subject to write about, and keeping a freewriting diary (dear diary, mood apathetic). I don’t see me doing either of these however, at least not at first, but can see them once I at least have some prompt or question I have to answer, most of my best work comes from at least a question or a statement, or an assignment that is in no way my own. I’ve tried keeping bullet journals with freewriting components, the last time I touched that was 2019 so something tells me that isn’t the format for me.  I should turn wrestling off and read the next pieces, but I probably won’t even though WWE hasn’t put out anything quality since before I hit puberty (hyperbole…ish)

The fact that the Murray article spells Process as Proces5 on the second page is too distracting, do I have to keep reading after that? Yeesh. (I don’t actually care, I just wanted to point it out). E\aluate, I am now convinced this is done on purpose for us to notice that we are paying attention to the grammar and not the substance of the article, (insert Jurassic Park clever girl meme here). Writings like Raptor. It will rip you to shreds for stealing its eggs. “We have to respect the student, not for his product, not for the paper we call literature by giving it a grade, but for the search for truth in which he is engaged.” I absolutely love this quote. This is a search that should never end. I don’t want mine to, with how bad the depression is sometimes, one of the most comforting things in the world to me is that I don’t know anything. People think I’m putting myself down when I “talk down to myself”, I prefer to think of it as another layer of me still searching for that truth. 

Murray’s Implications on writing are incredibly well thought out. There is something to be said about treating all writing like experimental writing (implication 10). I think about the TV show Lost, or the novel Daisy Jones and the Six, incredible stories using such unconventional narrative methods and structures to dictate their stories, yet the things that make them so divisive is also the thing that makes them so appealing to me. The narrative structures may not be innovative, however, because they were the first stories I’ve seen displayed in their particular ways, they stand out to me. Experimental in more ways than one. 

Antero Garcia’s article on remixes is also one that may stick with me for a while. A few years ago I took a course on Shakespearean Lit in order to brush up on my comprehension of his works before I became a teacher (tragically failed experiment). Today, people are still under the impression that Shakespeare was the writer of most of his works, and, to an extent he was, but there are many that don’t get the credit they deserve as Shakespeare was just as much, if not more a remix artist than he was an original author according to some experts. Even current visages of him may not be accurate, as none exist from when he was actually alive. I think all art stems from other art, and art initially came from our greater understanding or questioning of life itself. The Bible is a great story and all, but The Epic of Gilgamesh was destroying the world with a flood and teaching us not to trust snakes a thousand plus years beforehand, but the existence of one does not negate the significance of the other, if anything, it gives us all something to draw on for the future. Not all of us can write Hallelujah like Leonard Cohen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the song our own while capturing the essence of or at least honoring the original. That being said, unless you have something to offer, beautiful writing, or a twist that keeps me enthralled and turning the page continuously, I have no personal interest in reading your shitty Twilight fan fic. 

That being said, I wish I cared enough about a franchise to write a shitty fan fic, because at least then I would be WRITING and could maybe parlay that info a career of writing bad 23 minute tv shows that will go to syndication and I’ll make residuals of .00002 cents per play on TNT at 3 in the morning. Leonard Cohen, save me.