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Enhancing Cognition

I found Writing Comments on Student’s Papers, by John Bean, (From the book entitled: Engaging Ideas. The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom), to be a very juicy read.



Ok, that sounds totally nerdy. But I am entirely intrigued by theories of learning and how to access the brain. I love to investigate ways to help people, myself included, understand things and receive information more thoroughly and efficiently. Or framed a different way, what are the things that keep someone from being receptive to what is being taught. In the past ten years, I have simultaneously been a mother responsible for the learning/ learning challenges of three kids, an undergrad adult student back in school after 25 years and a teacher in the theater department at New York University, with anywhere from 20-60 students a semester. This article was both a feast of new information as well as a validation of my explorations and understandings.

Immediately on the first page of Bean’s article, I was drawn in. He states, “The best kind of commentary enhances the writer’s feeling of dignity. The worst kind can be dehumanizing and insulting.” (P317) These thoughts have become common in many learning environments. The jargon of positive reinforcement is superficially everywhere, from preschool on up. The execution of these ideas varies on such a huge level depending on the teacher’s ability to embrace what goes into the learning process truly. In my experience, the wrong kind of praise as “positive reinforcement” can be equally as destructive. I appreciate that Bean takes the time to unfold strategies for reframing and bringing out the strengths of students. He is not offering praise before work ethic. He describes techniques that encourage effort.

Bean goes on to quote James Zull regarding The Amygdala and the Teacher, laying a scientific foundation for his theory. According to Zull, “A learner will be quickly and subconsciously monitoring the situation through the amygdala (the primitive fear center or danger center of the brain).” Fear-based resistance is something I have experienced repeatedly in my work at NYU. The department I work in is movement-based theater. The focus is on generating original material with an integrated approach to physicality and text. My success as a teacher in that environment depends on identifying what makes each student uncomfortable and sharing tools for calming their nervous system so they can be receptive to what I have to offer. Any art form is likely to make the artist feel vulnerable when revealing their work. Whether it is writing, theater, dance, music, painting or anything else, the work is an extension of the self. As Zull states, the primitive fear/danger center of the brain will be on high alert.
Curiosity led me to investigate more of Zull’s work. Here are some fabulous nuggets from
The Art of Changing the Brain, by James Zull that illustrate the foundation for Bean’s statement:

“Positive emotions enhance cognition.”


“Don’t Explain. Build on Errors. I (Zull) began to welcome errors. They became my raw materials for helping students build knowledge. Instead of thinking that my job was to eradicate error, I sought it out. Engage the Whole Brain (See figure 1 below). Two decades ago, David Kolb (1984) proposed a cycle of learning that is compatible with these four brain regions. Kolb asserted that deep learning comes through a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing. Learning Is the Brain’s Business. Practice and meaning are the most important parts of this art, but of course, students will not practice in a meaningful way unless they care. Have faith in the process.”

(fig. 1): sensory cortex (getting information); integrative cortex near the sensory cortex (making meaning of information); integrative cortex in the front (creating new ideas from these meanings); and motor cortex (acting on those ideas).

Along these lines, Bean encourages coaching writing rather than judging it, which requires a consistent philosophy and a plan (p322). As I have observed my children move through different learning environments, I have been struck by how often both harsh criticism and flimsy praise have been used to hide mediocre and lazy teaching. A good teacher has a balance of praise and challenge, no matter what they are teaching.
I found many helpful tips in the reading.
As the teacher, your role changes throughout the process: Early drafts: coach. End phase: Judge
“The best strategy is to limit your comments to a few problems that you want the student to tackle.
Establish a hierarchy of concerns:
Higher Order of concerns: ideas, organization, development, and overall clarity
The lower order of concerns: sentence correctness, style, mechanics, spelling and so forth
Proceed to lower order concerns only after a draft is reasonably successful

It seems like it should be so simple.
“Positive comments build confidence and make the writer want to try again. Negative comments, no matter how well-intentioned, tend to make students feel bewildered, hurt or angry.” Bean clarifies, “HOWEVER, there is a trick to writing good positive comments: They MUST be truthful, and the MUST be specific.” Theis such a helpful distinction.

I also loved the focus on the process, what I consider the heart of the work. Bean establishes the importance of guiding revision. “Revising doesn’t just mean editing; It means “re-visioning”- rethinking, reconceptualizing, “seeing again.” This is hard work (p321). It is helpful to be reminded that good writing takes work.

I loved the way Bean approaches grammar and the “lower order concerns.”
The “knotty problem” of lower order concerns such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling. (p330) Make students responsible for their editing. I like his distinction regarding minimal marking.
“I am not advocating being soft on error. I am arguing that students’ errors should be noted emphatically and that some stick-and-carrot strategy should be applied to motivate students to find and fix them.” (p330)
Bean’s top three peeves: (P332)
• Wordiness: “I prefer a succinct, plain style unclogged by deadwood or circumlocutions.”
• Broad Reference: Lazy use of “this” as a pronoun. Some writers try to create coherence by using this as a pronoun to link backward. Sometimes this refers to a noun in the preceding sentence, but more often it is meant to stand for a whole idea.
• Choppy sentences/Excessive coordination: beginning writers often string together a sequence of short sentences or simply join them with coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, so, or but. Excessive coordination creates a choppy effect that fails to distinguish between more important and less important material.

There were some additional readings that this article led me too:

Writing as a Mode of Learning, by Janet Emig


Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, by Antonio R. Damasio

The Mighty Red Pen

One of the most frustration aspects of being a teacher is the inability to communicate properly with the students. With all the good intentions considered, the instructions do not always lend with the students as one would hope. Especially in terms of offering feedback on their written assignments. The negligence of the person who wrote the piece while correcting it is certainly a major issue that needs to be emphasized. This tends to happen when the instructor feels overwhelmed, or dismissive due to personal reasons, but most of the time it is simply lack of knowledge about how to properly handle it.

The article, Writing Comments on Students Papers, by John Bean is a fantastic read that offers many key points. I have specifically chosen this article because my biggest struggle has always been with offering proper feedback to my students on their writings. My intention was not only to present it in the class but also to study it. I can safely say that the article has met with my expectations. It is one of the most informative and effective articles included in our course. There are so many things to extract from it and utilize in the future.

The first major issue the article addresses is the lack of sensitivity in correcting papers. Instructors tend to reflect their irritations on their feedback on the paper by removing the person from the equation; neglecting their feelings and distinct personalities. The point of correcting, in itself, is to facilitate improvement. That aspect seems to be lost for many. John Bean introduces the quote by William Zinsser in the article that explicitly reflects that point:“The writing teacher’s ministry is not just to the words but to the person who wrote the words.” A key concept of solving this issue seems to be mitigating. It is basically mixing positive feedback with the negative in order to “mitigate the feelings of inadequacy” of the student. Thus, “evoking feelings of hope and confidence rather than failure” becomes the goal of the instructor.

It is also beneficial to remind ourselves of our roles during the writing process for a more efficient instruction. John Bean describes two specific roles that we should consider: “At the drafting stage, our role is couch. At the end of the writing process, our role is judge.” This is an interesting distinction that could help raise sensitivity and allow for a more considerate approach to correcting and commenting. The drafting stage is when the students display their strengths and weaknesses in writing. As “the couch”, we need to offer them “good advice and warm encouragement” at that point in order to facilitate improvement. Students also adapt revising, which means “seeing again” and not just editing. Couching them to improve their vision is definitely a crucial role that needs to be realized. Although it is possible to exercise both the roles of couch and judge simultaneously, a solid distinction could easily prevent risky confusions for many.

As a way of preparation for the writing process, John Bean states that “making our pet peeves known to the students” before they began is also a good idea to avoid a certain amount of frustration later on. These “pet peeves” are meant to include specific mistakes that most writing students frequently make. That way, focus of errors could be shifted from more general ones to more personal and individually specific ones.

The article also introduces a hierarchy for the concerns that need to be observed. Certain types of error tend to be more concerning than others. So, the attention of the instruction should be directed toward the more concerning issues primarily. These higher-order issues include things such as ideas, organization, and development. They tend to be more rhetorical and they form the necessary foundation. These elements also cause stronger discontent for the students in case of struggle; specifically constructing the introduction paragraph and identifying a thesis. Sometimes, the draft “follows the order of the writer’s discovery process and the thesis becomes clear only in conclusion” due to that struggle. Hence, the instructors need to focus on them more during the drafting stage. The lower-order issues such as grammar, spelling, and style could be addressed better at a final stage. John Bean suggests instructors to encourage their writing students to utilize “old/new contract”, which is linking the old concepts with the new ones, in their writings for better cohesiveness and avoid confusion for the reader. Simply put, the beginning sentence of a paragraph serves as a link to a known information and the new one is introduced later.

It is also important to note that the amount of errors found on a student paper could be misleading. A closer observation might reveal links or correlations among those errors because a specific error might be simply repeated throughout the paper. That discovery would make the correcting aspect much easier for the instructor, and for the student as well. By simply tracing it to its source, a repeated error could be eliminated more efficiently.

Something else that needs to be touched upon, even before getting into correcting, is making sure the student’s writing follows the assignment as expected. The article does not appear to go into details of this particular issue but it could be quite crucial. John Bean simply mentions that the student needs to be informed in case his or her essay is not compatible with the given topic and unfortunately there is no in-depth analysis of the impact of informing the student. Based on my own experience, students who struggle with writing, especially second language learners, tend to be extremely discouraged by that information. Often times, those students simply refuse to rewrite their papers because they believe that they utterly failed. This is a perfect topic of discussion for the class that I’m actually planning on bringing up.

The final point of importance to extract from the article is proper end comments. John Bean states that the end comments should encourage revision for excellence. He warns us by saying:“Do not justify your grading” in the end comments. Instead, he offers a three-step template to follow for a more effective and encouraging alternative. The first step is pointing out the strengths. As stated above, “evoking feelings of hope” is very important. The second step is summarizing a limited number of problems that need to be figured out. These problems need to be prioritized for the reasons mentioned earlier. The third, and the last, step is offering specific recommendations for revision. The more specific and clear the recommendation, the better. If possible, offering examples would also be a good idea.

Overall, this article was simply excellent. The author, John Bean, addressed many important issues and offered sound solutions, or possibilities, that will certainly improve writing pedagogy for many instructors –including me. Correcting students’ papers might be overwhelming at times, even frustrating, but it is absolutely important to remember the student who is eagerly awaiting an encouraging feedback. As the author suggests in the article, we should “not grade it as a teacher, instead criticize it as a reader” for a more personal connection with our students.

Be the Coach for Commenting!

“When teachers give students good problems to think about-and involve them actively in the process of solving these problems-they are deepening students’ engagement with the subject matter, promoting their intellectual growth, and increasing the pleasure of learning both students and teachers.” -John C. Bean Writing Comments on Students’ Papers (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5–sMS-4u43fnFiOHBMVzJjSW1lLVJDN3V3YXVIcXZzNmstdUxNXzQ5eWl2SUlQVVo3NVE)

The rich content of this article allowed me to learn more about the “behind the scenes” of teaching. There is so much that I want to discuss that I may need to write a separate blog post! The introduction to the article starts with a bang but directly hitting the problem. There is “messiness” when it comes to teachers comments on papers. The treatment of the paper that a student submits lacks sensitivity and clarity. With Bean’s clear and articulate way of explaining how to make this process better, there is plenty of great material to take away from.

Depending on how a teacher writes his or her comments, Bean explains the extreme effect that it would have on the student’s reaction. It could either “enhance the writer’s feeling of dignity,” or it could “dehumanize and insult” the student without the teacher even realizing it. The truth of the matter is when a teacher comments on a student’s paper, their intentions are not to dishearten or discourage them from the work they did, but there is a lack of communication. “Part of the problem is that our comments on students’ papers are necessarily short and therefore cryptic” (Bean, 318). Bean uses the example of tennis, but I would like to use texting as my comparison. During a heated argument or sometimes a normal conversation, communicating through text messages is a “trap” for miscommunication and misinterpretation. If you are not specific, then the messages will be misread. The same goes for commenting on students’ papers. Comments such as “I’m confused” or “be specific!”, Can truly upset the student. This leads to students not wanting to revise, which is a crucial part of the writing and learning process.

Another part of the problem, which is linked to revision as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, is not giving students enough time to revise from the comments that were present on their paper.

“When we comment on papers, the role we should play is that of a coach providing guidance for revision, for it is in the act of revising that our students learn most deeply what they want to say and what their readers need for ease of comprehension. Revising doesn’t mean just editing; it means “re-visioning”-rethinking, reconceptualizing, ‘seeing again.’ It is through the hard work of revising that students learn how experienced writers really compose” (Bean, 321).

What I appreciated about Bean’s article is how he gives tips and strategies for teachers on how to comment on students’ papers. One of the strategies was, “If you comment on drafts, you’ll probably need to do so at least a week before students are to submit their finished papers” (Bean, 321). Being a student, I have struggled with this problem on more than one occasion. I would receive my paper with comments, but I was not allowed to fix them because it was considered a “final draft.” (Even though that was only my first time receiving comments). The second issue I faced did not have enough time to revise my comments. The main thought here, think of coaching rather than judging.

I want to talk about briefly is the topic of grading draft papers. In my notes I wrote, “Okay, can we talk about this?!”. I’m not sure if it’s policy from the “higher up,” which would be out of the teacher’s control to grade a draft paper. I never understood the effectiveness behind that. If it is a draft, then why is it being graded? There should be an overall encouraging and constructive tone when it comes to teachers giving comments to students. With the method of grading a draft, it becomes more about a grade than about learning and revising.

The last part of the article that made me think of a few questions was when Bean talked about using marginal comments to note where the teacher was confused or lost. Being more specific and detailed with your comment instead of saying, “I’m confused.” Although that is probably very effective, I don’t really find it realistic. Teachers have an overwhelming amount of work, including grading and commenting on papers for a large number of students just for one class. At a collegiate level, there are fewer students, but the amount of work is more, such as longer papers. Maybe having multiple drafts will help solve this problem. This was an insightful and helpful article that I will be referring back to in the future once I start to teach.

“When teachers give students good problems to think about-and involve them actively in the process of solving these problems-they are deepening students’ engagement with the subject matter, promoting their intellectual growth, and increasing the pleasure of learning for both students and teachers” (Bean, 336). 

The Football Stadium of Social Media

Last year was my final year as a Political Science major in the undergraduate program of Kean. In our capstone presidency class, we spent a great deal of time discussing the Russian Probe, the Mueller investigation and election hacking. These were all phrases referring to roughly the same thing: Trump’s involvement with Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election. Conversations were heated. Emotions were high. But at the end of the day, I don’t think any of us fully understood the mechanisms at play or how each one of us had performed a role. Many of the details of the investigation are confidential because there is an ongoing case. More of the details are redacted because the government is involved. And when I see the word ‘hacking,’ I assume that I don’t understand it and move on to things that I will comprehend.

I found the article, ‘How Social Media Took Us From Tahrir Square to Donald Trump,’ by Zeynep Tufekci, to be incredibly insightful and illuminating. The article calls into question various information gatekeepers and discusses how technology, social media and search engines “create an environment where misinformation thrives, and even true information can confuse and paralyze rather than informing and illuminating.”


The article is broken into five sections which progress through the evolution of the internet, social media and their relationship to fake news from the Arab Spring to the Trump presidency. The first section, The Euphoria of Discovery, covers the importance of technology in the Arab Spring, 2011. Activists were emboldened in spite of being shut down by the Egyptian government. Social media was touted, as article mentions, as eliminating “pluralistic ignorance—the belief that one is alone in one’s views when in reality everyone has been collectively silenced.”

Section two, The Audacity of Hope, Tufecki mentions, “we entered a period of the technology powering the underdog.” Barack Obama. The Arab spring. However, there was also the emergence of microtargeting, especially on Facebook. Havoc was being wreaked with the public sphere, first in small ways which would devolve into deep problematic ways. Tufecki claims, “it was a shift from a public, collective politics to a more private, scattered one, with political actors collecting more and more personal data to figure out how to push just the right buttons, person by person and out of sight.” The implications are insidious and far-reaching.

Section 3, The Illusion of Immunity, Tufecki points out that “the US National Security Agency had an arsenal of hacking tools based on vulnerabilities in digital technologies—bugs, secret backdoors, exploits, shortcuts in the (very advanced) math, and massive computing power.” There was considerable debate during this time about how much surveillance is too much surveillance. For many Edward Snowden became the hero that revealed the extent of government surveillance on US citizens. For others, he was a traitor that single-handedly threatened US national security by exposing secrets. Most feel some sense of relief that behind the scenes, someone is protecting the nation from invasion. Tufecki begins to lay the groundwork in this section for the understanding that the US has offensive strength, but not defensive integrity.

Section 4, The Power of Platforms, emphasizes the significance of Twitter and its popularity with journalists as well as politically engaged people. Tufecki states, “Its open philosophy and easygoing approach to pseudonyms suits rebels around the world, but it also appeals to anonymous trolls who hurl abuse at women, dissidents, and minorities.” It has been a breeding ground for shallow discourse and dispute. Tufecki references the popular “rapid-fire format,” which provides tools to virtual private networks, while simultaneously allowing one to cover one’s traces online. These networks then used these tools to set up fake local news organizations on social media across the US. She reveals these very troubling details, “There they started posting materials aimed at fomenting polarization. The Russian trolls posed as American Muslims with terrorist sympathies and as white supremacists who opposed immigration. They posed as Black Lives Matter activists exposing police brutality and as people who wanted to acquire guns to shoot police officers. In so doing, they not only fanned the flames of the division but provided those in each group with evidence that their imagined opponents were indeed as horrible as they suspected. These trolls also incessantly harassed journalists and Clinton supporters online, resulting in a flurry of news stories about the topic and fueling a (self-fulfilling) narrative of polarization among the Democrats.”

And we, the liberal-minded socially conscious fell for it hook, line and sinker. I like to think I am reasonably intelligent and tend to question the source of the material I read. The insidious nature of the fake news campaign was subtle in its blatancy. I finally understand at the core, the Russian involvement in the election and how I indirectly played a role in electing Trump. If I don’t understand, and people like me don’t understand, then he will again be successful should he run in 2020. I joined those arguments on Facebook. I shared and posted and thought I was civically minded and accountable. Active. Engaged. When in fact, I was a political pawn. How un-evolved and childish in a way. While emotions can spawn great activist movements, longevity relies on analytical thinking and the power of developed rhetoric. This rapid-fire format of social media instead encourages quick, harsh comebacks rooted in emotion.

Section five, The Lessons of the Era, held some gems. Tufecki states that “Old gatekeepers failed in many ways, and no doubt that failure helped fuel mistrust and doubted; but the new gatekeepers succeed by fueling mistrust and doubt, as long as the clicks keep coming. Rather, the problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium.”
“Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. This is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts.” Social media and the internet make the world “more open and connected.” Tufecki closes with this csection with a compelling question, Open to what, and connected how?

Section 6, The Way Forward, left me with the understanding that we must always use our cognitive abilities to reflect on whether we are “joining the flock” or jumping into the mob mentality which in the end recreates the pluralistic ignorance we were hoping to abolish. I appreciated Tufecki’s interesting distinction: “it is the flow of attention, not information (which we already have too much of), that matters.”

Finally, this moving reminder: “Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one.” This is a call to grow beyond emotional content, to step out of the crossfire and use our cognitive ability. Digest material. Reflect. Analyze. Critically think. And then engage.

Social Media…Read for New Definition!

“Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one. It is a key to understanding how, in seven years, digital technologies have gone from being hailed as tools of freedom and change to being blamed for upheavals in Western democracies-for enabling increased polarization, rising authoritarianism, and meddling in national elections by Russia and others” -Zeynep Tufekci


Taking a big jump from one serious topic to another, this week we took a look at social media and the “behind the scenes” of how there are certain aspects to it that we should be looking out for. The article, “How Social Media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump” by Zeynep Tufekci (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611806/how-social-media-took-us-from-tahrir-square-to-donald-trump/), brought to the light a lot of views of social media and politics that I certainly have never thought about before. Tufekci states, “to understand how digital technologies went from instruments for spreading democracy to weapons for attacking it, you have to look beyond the technologies themselves.” I thought this was interesting because when you look at the history of social media sites such as Twitter, the original purpose of it was to be used as an instrument. This ties into the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago about globalization. With the use of social media, globalization there is a great platform available but unfortunately has been abused and used for the “bickering of parties.”

Tufekci brought up a new term that I will gladly add to my “education dictionary,” which is “pluralistic ignorance.” She describes it simply as this, “the belief that one is alone in one’s views when in reality everyone has been collectively silenced.” She believes this is the reason why social media has “fomented” rebellion. She continues to discuss Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 elections and how the digital platform affected it. There were three ingredients that played a part in it were social media, voter profiling, and microtargeting. The positive side to it was that these digital platforms allowed certain communities and groups to come together in a different and new way. After reading this section, the question I thought about was how Barack Obama’s elections would be different if they were not in a social media world?

“Rather, the problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium” -Tufekci

Going from the article to her TED Talk “We’re Building a Dystopia just to make People Click on Ads,” expanded more on this topic. After watching the TED Talk, my views on social media changed. (Certainly creeped me out as well). Tufekci broke down the algorithms of Facebook and Youtube. Also, about the danger of artificial intelligence in the wrong hands. Her details about this were shocking and disturbing. She related the algorithms to the candy and gum placed near the checkout counter at the eye level of children for the parents to buy it for them. Specifically focusing on Youtube, it has a certain algorithm that picks up on what you think you would watch next. A personal example that she gave was when she was doing research on a Donald Trump rally. Youtube then suggested in the column “White Supremacists” videos. The more she clicked on the next one, the more extreme the videos became. That is how someone gets caught in the cycle of watching one video to watching thirty videos.

The last part that really shook me was how Trump’s media manager described how they targeted African American males not to vote. (Yes! You read that correctly). There is an algorithm actually convincing African American males NOT to vote. The reason why this shook me was that there are already restrictions that African American males have when it comes to not voting for various reasons that I can’t discuss further right now, but to actual target, such an influential group of people not to vote is…shall I say…evil.

Why was social media created in the first place? Were there any good intentions behind it or is it all a huge scam? Tufekci emphasizes that “we are the product that’s being sold.” We need to preserve our minds and intelligence. I leave you all with this, think about your social media. What is your platform used for? Can change actually be made or are we too deep in for change? My new definition of “social media”, a digital platform for reconstructing the ideas of globalization in politics, personal, and predominant ideas.

“What we need to fear most is not what artificial intelligence will do on its own, but how the people in power will use artificial intelligence to control us and to manipulate us in novel, sometimes hidden, subtle, and unexpected ways” –Zeynep Tufekci.


Equal Learning- #UNBOUNDEQ

Hi all, it’s almost the end of this month and it seems like the first semester of grad school for me is flying by so quickly. Last week I was not feeling too well, even so, I’m glad I made it to class anyway. Congrats to Christina for an amazing presentation and class discussion.

Last week we viewed Kim Crenshaw’s powerful TED talk on the Urgency of Intersectionality. In her talk, she presents a case that highlights the issue of both gender and race in America. In her example, she described the case of an African-American woman who believed that she was being discriminated against in the workplace based on her dual identity as a woman who is black. The court, unfortunately, dismissed her case because they deemed it was unsolvable and there was a lack of evidence to support her claim. Nevertheless, Crenshaw makes a point that her case is a very common issue in America. Many other black women are overlooked and treated unfairly and they are getting no justice. Their cases go unreported in the media, unlike other white women and men. I thought Crenshaw’s argument was very powerful and edifying. From the very beginning when she mentioned the names of some of these victims, I did not recognize their names and was incognizant of their cases. This goes to show that violence and discrimination against black women in America is an unrepresented issue that we as a society must notice and make changes to resolve.

Furthermore, we also viewed a short video experiment from the Equity Unbound website (A class Divided). In this experiment, a classroom teacher (Jane Elliott) conducts a social experiment with her students. These young students were told at different times that because of the color of their eyes they were better than some other students. As a result, when the students believed they were superior they worked faster, were happier and had a more positive disposition overall. In contrast, when these same students were told because of the color of their eyes they were less competent, they behaved differently. This experiment proved that equality in the classroom is essential for a child’s learning experience. While this sociological experiment served as a moral research method we all agreed that in this day and age any teacher who tried an experiment like that would get fired. The topic of equal learning, however, should always be an important topic of discussion.

In regards to this topic, while we will not meet physically this week, I followed up with the Equity Unbound website and browsed the twitter conversations happening around the @mozillafestival and #unboundeq hashtag. The tweets allow learning to be inclusive and interactive. The materials present sources that are open to learning from others. I am excited to read some of the tweets happening soon and participate in the discussion on open learning and social media.

Click Here to Follow this topic on Twitter 

Geometry of Society

The best part of math classes for me, and for most of my friends as well, was Geometry. It was really fun to play with shapes; figuring out their sizes or areas. We would bring up Geometry whenever the conversation was about the math class, and how it was the best thing about it.

Once the basics were introduced and done, we eventually moved onto three dimensional shapes. Cubes, pyramids, cylinders and others were not as fun as the previously examined ones. I unintentionally began to lose interest, just as my friends, because the process became too complex to consider it fun anymore. These new shapes required more thinking and solving. The third dimension was a buzz-killer, so to speak. Thus, most of us began to ignore Geometry as a result, and the math class was considered completely devoid of fun at that point. It was also at that point I realized something subtle about people: complexities scare them away.

It is something that can be observed in every aspect of daily life. People refuse to take the time to deduce or solve complex problems. Everything needs to be simplified beforehand and spoon-fed because that is the general expectation now. Even reading a simple instructions manual is sometimes considered a chore. I believe this over-simplification leads to unintentional, or intentional, generalizations. I often ponder about this correlation between reluctance of dealing with complexity and negligence in society. Different identities or personalities with complex aspects tend to confuse people. So, they choose to stay away from them or ignore them. Social issues that relates to race, gender, religion, or identity as a whole, are considered too complex by many. Their answers usually tend to be over-simplified solutions, and they do not compare.

In her TED talk, Kim Crenshaw mentioned a woman whose case was dismissed due to refusal of combining causes of discrimination by the court. Her case attempted to display the subtle discrimination by her company toward African-American women in particular. Overlapping race and gender created multiple levels inside of the case to consider. Kim Crenshaw explains that dissimilar experience presented made the case too complex for the judge, or the law, to determine a sound resolution. So, their instinct was to dismiss it and stay away from it. Discrimination is already a complex issue; double-discrimination makes a complex issue even more complicated to process. It is simply easier to toss the issue out than trying to solve it. This dismissive attitude in society unfortunately allows a lot of people to fall through the cracks in social infrastructure.

I have previously talked about a third dimension that completes the person in a different blog post. Most people tend to observe others on the surface level because it is easier to comprehend than considering that third dimension, which consists identity. It is not a secret that people are complex creatures. Yet, most of us unintentionally, or intentionally, distance ourselves from those whose third dimension requires a more challenging formula to solve and understand. Another TED talk that we examined at the time of that particular blog post I have mentioned was Chimamanda Adichie’s “A single story”. Her point was about formation of stereotypes based on ‘a single story’ and how it could be avoided. I believe the major cause of formation of these stereotypes is not just presenting a singular perspective in literature but also the choice that people make to read or follow a singular perspective because, as indicated multiple times by now, it is easier to decipher.
Unfortunately, this reluctance of comprehension is not exclusive to just “some people”. I am guilty of this practice just as much as the next person. I believe there are two strong reasons as to why this issue exists. The society as a whole deems any person incapable of complex cognition, and proving such a process, as “stupid”. This fear makes people very reluctant to accept any sort of responsibility, so they run away from it. Why bother attempting to solve a difficult issue and risk failing to be seen as incompetent when you can avoid the issue and hide the possibility that your cognition is lesser than some others? That is the thought that inherits the mind of many as a great obstacle. Another reason is impatience: “I don’t have time to deal with that kind of issue… I have other things to attend to.” An excuse that we all make is that our time is very limited. Especially, when the issue holds no consequences for us. There is great saying that goes “ignorance is only bliss for the ignorant, not the victims.”

In the end, perhaps the aim of most of us should be to find a motivation to stop and think about social issues, and work through their complexities, rather than run away from them. Complex Geometry could still be fun. The third dimension of those shapes add much more interest and intrigue than most would realize. Just a little bit of extra effort, a bit of encouragement, to pull yourself away from reluctance and ignorance is all that is needed. The complexity is only a buzz-killer if you choose to deem it so.

Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality

This weeks’ article was very different from what I have normally been reading thus far, and also I must say it was unexpected. Nevertheless, it is still an important topic to discuss. In the article Butch, Bi, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality, university professors Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara and Deborah Meem each contribute a narrative that explains their experiences in teaching as marginalized individuals in a classroom setting. Thee three stories in this article explores the identity of feminist and queer women among students. their voices create a narrative that makes a connection between social and political purpose in pedagogy.

In the first section, Bi: playing with fixed identities Martha Marinara talks about the social relationship of labels and how others apply these classified labels to their identity.

Secondly, in the next story Butch: personal pedagogy and the butch body Deborah Meem explains how these labels create her experience in the academic world.

Lastly, in Bar dike: a cocktail waitress teaches writing Gibson tells her experience with students in the classroom as it relates to her sexuality.

Often people make assumptions that teachers and other academic staff teaching students fir into a specific characteristic, that is straight, male and middle class. Even so, one should not make those assumptions because concerns of gender and sexuality should not matter in the classroom, as long as students are learning strategically and teachers are teaching effectively.  Also, another main point that was critical in the article is the assumption that heterosexual teachers are more professional than those who are openly lesbian, bi or anything other than the norm. This notion also creates conflict in an academic setting and makes a lesbian or gay person not feel comfortable.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the stories of these three authors, however, personally, I was not very interested in this topic of women and LGBT studies because topics of gender roles and sexuality are not interesting to me.

Click HERE to read the article! 

Rebellious Identity: Differences Within Difference

I have been slow on the blogging front this week as the result of life being all consuming. I spent every day last week as juror #7 on a criminal trial in Newark. Intercultural. Rhetorical. Hybridity. Intersectionality. All present. Followed by a weekend visiting my daughter at Rochester Institute of Technology for the family weekend with my two boys and my dyke partner. My daughter is part of a full emersion program for sign language interpreters, so many of the weekend’s events were conducted in silence with interpretation for the hearing. And so, the weekend fluidly extended the themes of intercultural, rhetorical, hybridity, and intersectionality.
This week our reading was entitled Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality, by Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem. https://www.jstor.org/stable/358545?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
There has been something nagging at me since we experience the “studio visit” on Equity Unbound. I have wanted to address it, but been unable to articulate it. I believe this reading has helped me to find some language. Bear with me if I am clumsy. We were invited to attend the studio visit, and I was not able to attend because of work. I had hoped to participate and was interested when we had the opportunity to observe it as a class. The visit opened with the idea of each attendee introducing themselves concerning their “hybridity.” I instantly experienced a feeling of embarrassment and was relieved that I had not chosen to attend. Although an open forum, as a white woman it was obvious that I lacked the hybridity required to have a voice in the conversation. Or so it would seem. On any kind of generic form, I fall under the category of “white/ Caucasian.”
I have the historical/personal experience of being marginalized, silenced and oppressed. And I have no wish to wear that as a badge or gain membership in a club. My life experiences have given me broad understanding and the ability to empathize. I very much want to be part of the conversation and was not sure where the issue of hybridity left me. On page 78, the authors address the importance of the differences between identities and the significance of the multiplicity of difference as well as exploring contradictions.

The second story, Butch: PersonalPedagogy and the Butch Body provided the relief of language that articulated my experience. I was resistant to the idea of the chart at first, but in the end, I found it helpful. “It is possible to occupy both the center and the margins of society (p79).” It was interesting to look at what allows access to privilege and what denies it. This story also addressed the fact that as the context and variables change, so do the sources of power. It is my job to live with an awareness of and breathe life into multiple incongruent identities. This story also mentioned the power of invisibility in the femme identity which bolster’s immunity from harassment. I would say that a big part of my own identity has been to gather power from invisibility.
I identified a great deal with the first story, Bi: Playing with Fixed Identities. I appreciate the idea of welcoming the friction an animated identity represents. We spoke several weeks ago about the concept of a “true voice” or “authentic voice.” To me, that is truly what an animated identity is, an ever-changing live form. As the author points out, this definition of identity undermines the very idea of identity which by nature is a fixed idea(p75). I embrace the idea of “disrupting assumptions” and allowing identity to remain alive with continuity and with conflict as suggested in this story.
Two ideas I latched onto in the third story, Bar Dyke: A Cocktail Waitress Teaches Writing, were: “In short, my experience was de-authorized not by denial but by silence (p88),” and “I chose in this instance to use my experience as currency (p90).”
There is something about the idea of human experience being a currency that makes every life important. The story of the white man in this story who had been marginalized was moving. That man can be a vehicle for change.
My experience deliberating with the jury last week was one of the most overwhelming and amazing experiences I have ever had. 12 jurors. 3 of us believing unbudgingly in a not guilty verdict for the young African American man on trial. Me. An African American Woman and an African American man together articulated the argument throughout three days to convince the other nine that this young man should go free. His tears of relief as the verdict was read is a moment that I will never forget. I will always remember my two cohorts and the way our arguments dovetailed into a victory.

Class of Identity and Gender

It is refreshing to read an article that presents a distinct topic. The identity struggle of individuals in academic environments is often neglected. The article, Butch, Bi, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality, which consists of three individual stories by three different authors, presents alternative views on identity and personal strategies of integration into academy. It was an interesting read. Each story brings something thought-provoking to spotlight.

I was a bit surprised with the term ‘butch’ in the title as it was associated with negative connotation when I was in high school. After reading the article, I’d guess that over time the negative impact has faded and it is being used as a self-imposed label in similar fashion with the terms such as ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ now. I felt out of touch, and I suppose that is the concern that the article attempts to stress: the ignorance of those around them in academic settings. The story by Martha Marinara about the privileged position of ‘butch’ identity in comparison to ‘femme’ is something I had never observed or even considered of its possibility. This particular contrast proves how society tends to place privilege based on the features of a person on the outside rather than the inside. In a way, it could be advantageous as Martha Marinara addresses the situation but on the other hand, this position could cause some sort of identity or power struggle with ‘femme’ individuals; even with students.

I do not believe that I ever had a student who was open about his or her sexual orientation. I had heard about situations that my colleagues found themselves in with their students being open and how awkward it could be to manage the discourse in class at certain times. The closest experience I had was the argument that stemmed from a reading activity in the class. One of my vocal students openly expressed her belief that “being gay was a mental illness” that needed treatment. A couple of other students in the class angrily opposed that notion and a heated argument ensued. Being a teacher for only a year at the time, I was not completely sure how to handle that situation properly. I simply attempted to direct the conversation back to our reading. I remember the rule about avoiding certain topics for classroom discussions such as religion or politics. That rule also included sexual orientation. At the time, I did not care much for it but now that I’m looking back, it could be constructive to discuss and educate students about the subject to avoid such arguments. Deborah Meen discussed the implementation of personal experiences into composition in order to create inclusiveness. Studying written articles such as that with the students could be a possible way to do so.

There were also a few key points relating to literature that I noticed which could prove efficient to discern. Michelle Gibson talked about the assumption that “a successful performance makes the previous identity go away”. It reminded me of expected character arcs in writing. A character arc in literature is often described as an evolution of identity. As stated, once the character achieves success in his or her goal, the identity changes and they complete theirs arcs in the story. However, two identities as an ongoing parallel in a narrative could create a more interesting conflict for the character as one identity might take priority over the other in certain circumstances. This approach could display a more realistic realization of consciousness despite the apparent threat of complexity in narration. Though, it would be hard to ignore the concern of “rejecting intellectual complexity in favor of familiarity” by the readers.

Another interesting concept to consider was the physical affection and how it differentiates itself from sexual attraction that many people tend to associate it with. The importance of implementation of affection among characters in order to create realism in a story is often neglected due to concern of misunderstanding. Although it is encouraged to do so, that additional layer of emotions could lead to wrong assumptions. Michelle Gibson mentioned “not being able to keep [her] hands off [her] children” in the article and described it as “an affection that cannot be divorced from the physical experience of touching”. This is could also be a compelling aspect of literature that requires further exploration.