Witness to the Archive

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From One Black Home…

Since my father (unlike many of my OTHER family members) does not read this blog or any blog and hates the internet, I can tell all his biz’ness here with impunity.  I will use him here to think about digital archiving and its implications for my classroom.

DuctWorkAs I seem to always stress, my father’s working class status and disposition have never meant intimidation or lack of confidence, as many seem to associate with working class folk of color.  As a heating and A/C specialist, he works in many homes/churches/companies to install heating ducts, central air, etc.  If it has a motor, engine, or some such, he can fix it …BUT if you start telling him what he should do when it is obvious that you have NO knowledge or scientific background with the task at hand, he will nod, tell you to do it yo-damn-self since you know so much, pack up his stuff, and walk right back out the door. If you can’t see that he has knowledge and a skillset that you NEED and do NOT have, he ain’t dealin with you.  Ever. If you don’t know how to talk or respect someone like him, well then he ain’t gon give you the time of day.  He will watch you freeze to death, quite literally, without a morsel of regret.  It should go without saying: I think this is one of my father’s greatest attributes. I aspire to be like him each and every day!

And this is where technology comes in.  Just so he won’t forget your dumb behind, my father will add you to his archive, a routinely UPDATED database (names and all possible phone numbers) of people who shouldn’t get any answer when they call. He prints these out and posts them by the phone and at other strategic locations. He has other uses for technology like keeping up with sports stats and staying in touch with his 14 brothers and sisters, but maintaining his database is a main priority. I love to dig through the database rather than just read the posted lists because it gives so much more detail.  I am wildly entertained by the new names and the things folk have pissed off my father about.  I even like to issue warnings: “watch out now— you bout to get on the list.”  Hours of entertainment right there!  I don’t have a database like my father’s, but these days, I am certainly considering it and have plenty names and attributes ready.

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…to Other Black Homes

aretha-franklin-ebony-2As a child, I often went on jobs with my father.  Yes, I enjoyed when he would get mad and leave because, then, I could do my special dance on the walk to car: a bop to match our walk, quick pause every now-and-then for an “in yo face” side-to-side head bap, and then bop to the car door some more.  On the occasions where we stayed, I loved that too. I got to sit down and read Ebony, Essence, and Jet magazines and, since I was appreciative of the content, I was always given access to the stash of back issues that were always stored somewhere close by.  No one threw these out— they were archived as data of our lives.  And, yes, I consider these archives, NOT collections, ones that were freely accessible.  What was the point of collecting black wisdom if you weren’t going to share it?  I loved flipping through the well-worn pages and seeing which articles were the most read.  That’s where I would sink in.  Of course, those times do not match the politics of these magazines now, but they once offered dynamic polemics of and representations into black life.jet-1960-08-25

With every fix-it job that my father did, I was immersed in some kind of an archive.  It is a memory that I would like to carry with me as I imagine how to re-frame the annotated bibliography that is part of the freshman comp curriculum in my program.  While the digital component of my assignment was clear enough (students had to create e-pages for different kinds of websites, articles, videos, etc), I didn’t make the scope and purpose critical enough.  Archives help you live your daily life; they are not just the purview of privileged digital scholars who use the newest tools to (re)center the same white actors of history and aesthetics.  I needed to offer my students the opportunity to create their own archive of knowing and I needed to allow them more control of what that should look like and do.  Once again, it is a black framework that gives me this new approach and disposition.  I am never without a model in this newly technologically automated world, even for alternative archives.

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CSS, Color, Design & Lab-Pedagogies

Youth workshop in a college computer lab.

Youth workshop in a college computer lab.

For the first time in my teaching career, I have access to a computer lab.  It simply was never possible before.  My classes will only visit the lab three times in the semester (beginning, middle, and end) for design-work but I am just now incorporating this into my pedagogy.  I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first time that I am understanding how significant the changes in pedagogy are based on the lay-out of a computer lab.  I have read about these issues, for sure, but honestly, I ain’t read all that stuff closely.  What I need to think about all of this for when my students’ university-supplied laptops die at the second year?  Or what if we ain’t got no labs?  Those texts didn’t relate to me and maybe I was hatin a little bit on them folks with resources.  I shoulda been listening though.

So here is what I have worked with:

  1. classrooms where all students have a laptop that they bring to class with them
  2. a large lab with long rows and computer-station/screen at front
  3. a medium-sized lab with concentric squares and computer-station/screen at front
  4. a small lab with desks with the computer-station at the back of the room and the screen at front
  5. no tech at all (very few students have laptops, there are no labs, and there is a long waitlist for a classroom with computer and screen).

By far, I like #4 the best though that spy-cam stuff could give the same effect (where you see what each student is doing on their computer screen on your own screen).  I also like #1 for everyday classroom activities but when you are doing design or  introducing CSS, there’s just something about those large, television-sized screens that really offer a unique dynamism.

Your whole body movements shift in these labs.  For #1, you are sitting at small group tables with students.  For #2, you are pacing rows after you demo some design issue but you can walk to the back of the room and get a sweeping, panoramic view of what everyone is doing.  For #3, you are circling rows after you demo some design issue (there is no room at the back so you never get the panorama).  For #4, you are hidden from view, only your design elements are visible to students.  You offer highly individualized instruction because you can see what your students are struggling and hesitating with as you look on their screens during your demo.  Each room lay-out offers different possibilities that I now need to think about before I select the lab location.

Click here to go to this digital interview.

Click here to go to this digital interview.

All in all, my students’ CSS design so far is impressive.  They still have some work to do and I did not teach things like left navigation hovering (I barely understand it myself), but all is good.  There are ironies though.  For the first time that I have this much ability to design my e-pedagogies, design is not really valued as composing, literacy, or thinking in the 21st century here.  There are more ironies.  I have many colleagues across the country where ePortfolios are mandated or saturated across the curriculum who often complain to me, quite bitterly at times, at how unthoughtful and uncritical their students’ visual design is.  On the contrary, I asked my students to think of what they want to convey— just with color— in the context of a course that makes culturally relevant pedagogy central, and they soared with flying colors on that (pun intended).  But hardly no one around them seems to see or value that as literate behavior or 21st century composing.  It’s a damn shame.  I’m not worried about students though because they are entering a digital world with a whole different set of expectations and requirements than the digitally-illiterate folk who marginalize them.  To my students: keep flyin high.  I see you!

Value of Self-Reflection/Self-Honesty: No Greyhounds Here!

It’s been a rough few weeks moving to a different job, meeting new people, learning a new cultural system (otherwise called a college or university), figuring out where things are, setting my codes for the phone, printer, scanner/copy machine.  My new colleague, Sara, has been wonderful—we started this year together and we have pretty much vowed that this will be a place we really like because we are just too damn old to be doing all this re-locating and starting all over again.  Despite the fatigue, I am quite happy, value my new colleagues, and just love the students who I get to teach.

fyw course

Please look for this image in the right-hand column for a link to the website.

The very first assignment for the semester was pretty low-key: write me a letter with comments about the website, syllabus, and general feelings.  For my 101 class, I asked students to do a “Mic Check”, an assignment inspired by Tribe Called Quest’s “Buggin Out”. For my 201 students, I asked students to connect their work in the previous semester of 101 to the new course in 201, an assignment inspired by Erykah Badu’s “& On.”  These assignments were created as eTexts on the course website with the music playing in the background.  I was so pleasantly surprised at how self-reflective and brutally honest my students were.  They were critical of the things they believe they do well in their writing and writing processes AND what they need to work on.  It was a wonderful reminder just how much of a vital skill this is, one that not many folk have.  It was an important reminder to me to fuse this kind of thing into the semester all along because, like I just said, it is a skill not many possess.

italian-greyhound-pairMaybe this is an academic/professor thing but I am often perplexed by self-aggrandizing and conceited college faculty.  I remember when I first started on the tenure track and was surrounded by folk who thought their scholarship was the most impressive and deepest thing ever.  It was perplexing because these folk weren’t the least bit interesting to me, much less offering some kind of new Kuhnian shift to the world.  It was like these folk had no sense of themselves, what they did well and what they didn’t do well.  It became very dangerous because you could end up working on a project/committee with someone who claimed an expertise on the subject at hand, only to find out they didn’t know/do jack! The folk who I actually thought were brilliant scholars and teachers NEVER spoke of themselves, name-dropped their famous advisors, patted themselves on the back for the comp exams they took 10+ years ago, quoted from their unpublished/old dissertations, or sent emails/tweets announcing the brilliance of their newest publications/talks!  They were somewhere writing, organizing, working with students, and actually BEING brilliant, not talkin about themselves.  The lack of self-awareness could even extend beyond scholarship. I remember once talking with a colleague who had spent hours shopping, picking an outfit, doing her hair and make-up, and getting ready for a campus event because she needed/wanted to aesthetically compete with one of the women in the program.  Here’s the thing: the woman who was the mark is a former model with a wardrobe/collection of labels rivaling Michelle Obama’s… and also one of the nicest people around (I knew her outside of the campus from common friends).  She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and yet she doesn’t think of herself this way nor is she the type to compete with women for men’s attention.  Now here’s the real twisted part.  The woman who saw HERSELF in competition is a dead-ringer for an Italian Greyhound dog.  Yes, I know I am being triflin’ and mean, but I just gotta call it like I see it.  DEAAAAAD-RINGER!  ItalianGreyhoundI realize that people love greyhound dogs and I mean them no offense; greyhounds do seem quite unique but you gotta admit they are some scraggly, weird-looking things. The point remains: if you look like a greyhound dog on your best day, what makes you think you are a shining star next to one of the most beautiful women in the world?  Really, how does someone anoint themselves as Miss Universe when in actuality they could be racing around a dog-track chasing a fake rabbit?  Maybe these folk just need some black friends because ain’t no way I could even walk out the door so falsely convinced of my superflyness without my peoples setting me straight real fast (my family talks about you BAD to your face for much LESS than the examples I have offered). Just this summer, I tried to purchase some $8.99 finger nail polish and the 19-year-old black male sales clerk assured me  that it made no sense to spend THAT much money for a color that had NO chance of looking good on my toes. I put it back and saved myself that 10 dollars.  When black folk offer constructive feedback, they really CONSTRUCT!  My toes can’t even make it out the stores in my neighborhood without some real honesty.  Academics don’t choose their profession because of their good looks so this kind of vanity is a REAL strange and misplaced thing anyway. If you think this greyhound-dog-woman had an inaccurate sense of something as irrelevant and materialistic as physical beauty, well, honeychile, you need only imagine how delusional and impressed she was with something serious like her scholarship.  If women get away with these levels of fantasy, conceit, and delusion, imagine what men in such patriarchal structures do.  In fact, at every “third-tier” university where I worked/interviewed, male administrators stayed proclaiming the university’s similarity to the University of Illinois.  I have been to UI campuses: there are NO similarities. The last time I saw such grand delusions of grandeur was when I lived in Hollywood, Los Angeles for a summer in my 20s.  This is why self-reflection is important: if you are convinced you are the BOMB, then you don’t ever look deeply at yourself, at what you are doing, at who you are, and why you are making the decisions you are making.  You just walk around proclaiming to be one thing when you are another altogether and stay STUCK on stupid forever.

Maybe it’s because they are students and they are getting a grade.  Maybe it’s the concrete goal of getting an A in the class and making a life for one self via a college degree. Or maybe it’s because they are working class people trying to survive in a place like New York City at a public university and so are not cocooned in the kind of privilege, elitism, and stupidity that defines mediocrity and sub-mediocrity as the hallmark of greatness.  I don’t know.  I just know that my students get it.  There are no greyhounds here.

Young Black Women Define Rhetoric: “Being Around a Black Woman, It’s Contagious”

Thank you to Cydni Joubert who created this video-interview below for our English 3475 class, African American Women’s Rhetoric, to let us hear how dance, black women’s lives, and rhetoric all intersect.

 

And, thank you to Crystal Valentine who visited class yesterday and blessed us with this performance below.

 

For more on Crystal Valentine, please see Cydni’s slideshow below.

“Cut This Black Woman’s Chains”: Students Take the Cake!

I’ve never been very good with closure.  Classtime runs out, we can be in the middle of a discussion, folk need to go to their next class, and I’ll just blurt out, all uncouth, well, yall, it’s time to go.  And that will be the end of it.  No synthesis, no last words of encouragement, no group hug.  I can’t synthesize when I am still processing; and I’m not Jerry Springer with a final public service announcement. After 20 years of teaching, you’d think I would have found some solutions but I have not been able to succeed at any attempt.  Maybe I just don’t think serious issues are easily resolved with dialogue alone or I am resisting the simple, Western rush to solutions and conclusions to complex issues.  I no longer look for closure at the end of a class.  I do put a lot of thought into the first days and weeks of my classes, but I’m not good at going out with a bang on the last day.

IMG176When I was teaching at a small college in Brooklyn, I learned the importance of the last day though.  Students in an African American children’s literature class inspired me.  My plan was simple: let’s eat together on the last day and share what we have done for final projects.  That’s it.  Nice and simple. Well, they turnt it up and out.  They brought in trays, and I mean TRAYYYYS of food.  Their kids came too and told us what they liked about the literature (this was a Friday evening class of 39 women and 2 men, all of whom were thirty years old and above.)  And my favorite part, of course, was the special corner, far away from the kids, that was for grown-ups only: a maxi-bar that featured a bottle of rum from what seemed like every country in the Caribbean.  I made many trips to that special corner.  That’s a class that I remember fondly, I can still see each face in my mind’s eyes.  It’s the same for the students who did the assembly/performance with their families attending or the students with their curriculum showcases when I was a teacher educator.  You can’t really predict this though. Sometimes students are as dull and dry as wheat thins; other times, they are PURE FIRE. My point is that the last class should do something, you should feel the weight of the time that you spent together, you should feel like you have been somewhere together.  I no longer assume I can achieve that; students have to do that for and with one another.

Caroline CropToday, however, I thought I would be compelling and close the semester with my favorite thank you speech.  I would use black women’s audacity when even saying thank you to thank my class, as if it were me talking to them.  I am talking about En Vogue. Instead of walking up to the stage at the 1990 Billboard Awards, all fake-surprised and theatrically-shocked that they won for their single, “Hold On,” these sistas knew they had this award and so they performed an acceptance speech that blew away the crowd– in the very style of the song that was being awarded.  I don’t mean to suggest that I deserve the award En Vogue received, but I do feel like the semester was my own sort of award. I must admit that I was little impressed with myself.  I had finally found a good-bye lesson plan… but then my little stuff got showed up real fast.

IMG172Today, anthologies were due.  Anthologies are, well, just that.  Students create mini-curricula for their colleagues using black women’s primary texts that exemplify some rhetorical practice or process.  Instead of writing the traditional Western essay for this, they create an artifact that does the analysis. Last year, Fedaling made photocopies of texts written by black women, dipped them in tea, burned the edges, and then put them all in a well-worn, beat up piece of luggage.  This luggage was supposed to represent the way the family kept its identity papers, papers that had been passed down to her from generations of black grandmothers about their history and lives.  An opening letter explained the significance of each text and asked the viewer to add their own writing. Aysha used the same technique and put all of these papers in a decorated shoebox, to look like something she found under her mother’s bed. Celeste created a graphic novel of black supersheroes, “TEAM ABLE” [who consist of (A) Angela Davis, (B) Bessie Smith, (L) Lucy Wilmot Smith, and (E) Ella Baker]. These women do not fight traditional, individual villains.  Instead, they fight silence, inaction, and unconsciousness!  You get the picture here.  I am what we call a visual learner so I have always leaned on multi-media projects in class. Sometimes you just have to mix up the writing assignments because that gets boring real fast for me.  Plus, I can deduce my students’ understanding of black women’s history, black women’s rhetoric, and the connections they are making just as easily, if not more easily, with such 3D/multimedia artifacts as with any written exam or essay.  This year was a first though— it was a project I had never seen.

IMG174Today, Caroline gave us a process.  First, there was a collection of black women’s poems where black women discuss sexuality, their bodies; their right to love, live, and own themselves (the first image on this page).   It is called “For Colored Girls!”  There was an accompanying poster, now gifted to me, soon to be framed in my office (the second image on this page).  The process continued with a red velvet cake with chocolate on the outside (the third image on this page).  The cake was in the shape of a black woman’s torso, fully naked, demonized dark nipples in full tow, wrapped in chains (signifying too on the Swedish cake performance). Caroline cut the chains from the cake in front of all of us so that we could break this black woman free.   She then offered us the inside and outside of this new black woman, ourselves.

It was the perfect closure with a group of students I will not likely forget!  Like I said, the students themselves will do the work.  I’m glad that I was able to listen to that first group of 39 women and 2 men who taught me this lesson many years ago.