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“Knock, knock, did you say who you’ve come for?”: Books Read in 2020

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I’m halfway into Steve Hyden’s This Isn’t Happening and a few dozen pages into Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. So, as usual, here’s my breakdown of my reading for the year of hindsight:

Books read in 2020: 141
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 28
Books of poetry included in reading total: 11
Books reread included in reading total: 3
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 17
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 9

Some thoughts (as usual, here are my posts on books read in 2019201820172016201520142013201220112010, and 2009):

The pandemic hit me as a reader. I didn’t feel as into the reading that I did. I didn’t have the same reading highs as I have had in previous years. I chalk that up to the damping effect of sheltering in place with low-key high levels of anxiety for the majority of the year. Maybe I made some poor reading selections, but reading wasn’t the respite I could have used this year. Sure, I read fewer books, too. That’s not really the point; I do think I might have read a few more books in a non-pandemic year, but I think this is close to my reading capacity while still trying to be a present dad that no longer has weekends/afternoons for selfish page-turning right now. (Side note: Ally pointed out that we read a ton of board books everyday with the kids. If Besos for Baby was included on this list, my reading count would be straight-up astronomical.)

I almost hit my goal of averaging a book of poetry a month. The books I did read were great. The Danez Smith collection (mentioned here) and Hanif Abdurraqib’s most recent collection were easy highlights.

I read two books by Olivia Laing this year, The Lonely City and Funny Weather. They were both wonderful and sent me down a spiral reading about a handful of artists I didn’t know much about like Chantal Joffe and Louise Bourgeois. The Lonely City also got me to listen to a bunch of Klaus Nomi this year.

I flew through all Martha Wells’ Murderbot series. As quick, fun sci-fi, it was my ideal semi-conscious, falling-asleep series of books for a chunk of the year. Likewise, Susanna Clarke’s long awaited follow-up novel, Piranesi, was short, engaging, and made me hope she’ll put out more work more frequently.

Charlie Kaufman’s debut novel, Antkind, is the most Kaufman-y thing he’s made and the funniest book I read all year. Also the most tedious. It’s not worth trying to summarize the plot about a film critic trying to write an academic book about the greatest film ever made of which only one person has seen and of which only a single frame still exists and so this critic uses hypnosis (and other methods) to attempt to recreate the reclusive filmmaker’s opus in his mind. It’s that kind of book. There’s a tangential plot line around a U.S. president named Donald Trunk who falls in love with a robot of himself. There’s nerdy film humor that made me enthused about rewatching Symbiopsychotaxiplasm. There’s a bunch of complaining about the films of Charlie Kaufman. You get it.

A Third University Is Possible was such an inspiring read at the beginning of the year that I ended up folding it into a class I was teaching, inviting K. Wayne Yang to close the Speculative Education Colloquium, and riffing on it in my own writing for future publications. I also really enjoyed Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland as representative of the possibilities of ethnography in the era of social infatuation with “algorithms” (ahem).

Comic books: I really liked Carmen Maria Machado’s horror story, The Low Low Woods. Tillie Walden continues to be one of my favorite comic creators and Are You Listening was no exception. Ines Estrada’s Alienation was confounding and I hope others read it so we can talk about it.

Finally, earlier this month a colleague recommended Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff, a book I missed in the middle of **all of this.** I flew through it. It made me miss poker, think about how I assess professional risk, and consider how limited information occludes some of my decision making.

The last concert that I attended was seeing Destroyer in San Francisco at the end of February. I consistently listened to his most recent album (contributing to this post’s title) throughout the year.

Early in the year, I picked up a copy of Cory Daye’s 1979 record, Cory and Me. The album isn’t on the major streaming platforms and disco dancing with the family to this record has been one of the real highlights during our sheltering in place.

Aside from this record, I played a lot of the new Fiona AppleBlack DressesPhoebe Bridgers, Haim, and Hayley Williams albums for my kids.

A good chunk of my time in quarantine was spent listening to 75 Dollar Bill, Moor Mother, Boris, Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood, and PJ Harvey’s smattering of demos. I spent a bunch of money supporting these bands and smaller artists on Bandcamp throughout the year.

Three other quick thoughts from this year’s listening:

  • The Man Man album that came out this year was their best/most melodic and it feels like absolutely no one picked it up or reviewed it.

  • Jimi Hendrix’s role as a central figure in how we conceptualize Afrofuturism is probably not given enough due. I think poor marketing and over saturation of bad reissues through the ‘90s and 2000s diminished his legacy. (This Buddy Miles song has been a highlight from my wider listening of Hendrix live recordings.)
  • The Sign O’ The Times boxset is absolutely incredible.

Finally, Mac Miller’s posthumously released Circles haunted my 2020. Thematically, “Good News” is the song that feels 2020 to me.

Coffee Spoons 2020: What I Worked on This Year and Why

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It’s a strange feeling to account for my time in a year that was anything but ordinary. Like everyone, this was a disruptive year and that fact is not represented by my scholarly output this year. Academic work takes a lot of time and so my 2020 appears to be business as normal when all of us know that wasn’t the case. That preamble aside, below are the main themes of the work I produced this year. (My roundup of work from previous years can be found here: 2019, 2018.)

Sprinkled throughout 2020, several books that I co-authored or edited were published. These have the distinction of making me look tremendously productive in a year when all of us were juggling way too many things that were more important than “work.” Books are multi-year affairs and the brunt of the writing on these books was done pre-pandemic. That being said, I’m proud of the work my colleagues and friends have led:

And out in the early months of 2021 (but the page proofs have been reviewed at this point, so I’m chalking them up here):

As lengthy projects, these books represent key areas of my work, particularly focused on English Language Arts and expansive forms of literacies. I am overdue to write up lengthier posts on a couple of these projects and I will be playing catch up in 2021. The other main projects I worked on are below.

(Speculative) Civic Literacy Practices

It should come as no surprise that civic literacy practices—for teachers and students—continue to be a central focus of the work that I do. Particularly in work with Nicole Mirra, we have been exploring speculative (ahem) dimensions of civic literacies to push our field forward. Recent work in the Harvard Educational Review, Urban Education, and other forthcoming pieces illuminate new directions that civics-focused scholarship must explore. Likewise, work analyzing the 2016 Letters to the Next President project still continues and I’ve been supporting the work led by Lynne Zummo and Emma Gargroetzi specifically looking at youth perspectives on climate change and quantitative civic reasoning.

Methods and Definitions

Slightly less easy to categorize, a couple of the articles I worked on this year focus on challenging base assumptions in critical educational research. Nicole and I spent a bunch of time pre-2020 reading and analyzing classroom-based studies that describe “21st Century” learning to see what our field actually means by this term, two decades into the period being described. Our findings suggest folks are all over the map when it comes to this label and I encourage researchers, educators, and policy makers to take a step back from a label that doesn’t really mean much.

Earlier this month, an essay based on my 2019 Jan Hawkins address was published in Equity and Excellence in Education. The article is a broad argument about how our approaches to critical research can fall short across three different dimensions. I weave together a handful of personal experiences from my work and biographical information about Prince. It was a fun piece to write and I think it feels even more relevant as we look toward 2021 in light of a terrible year. Here’s an illuminative figure from the article: 

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Healing and Care

I continue to think about and push for an emphasis on how educators address healing needs in schools and classrooms. With Mandie Dunn, I wrote a bit about how teachers’ grieving shaped ELA teaching practices. And Aaron Guggenheim, Kristina Stamatis, Bridget Dalton, and I explored how care is tied to everyday, political contexts that are always present in today’s classrooms.

Digital

Finally, it is not a surprise that I spent a bunch of time this year pushing on our conceptions of the role of digital technology. Like civics, this is a central aspect of my literacies-focused work and articles like these two chapters and this classroom-focused study continue my exploration of how our assumptions of technology sell short the analog needs and ingenuity of teachers and students.

 

While much of the writing above didn’t shift as a result of Covid-19 or with the upswell in overdue attention toward legacies of anti-blackness in the U.S., the themes of much of my work are well-suited for guiding practice right now. Nicole and I have written a couple OpEds this year with increasingly obvious directions that schools need to move toward:

I should also note that, just as much of this output began pre-2020, this year has seen substantial pivots in the research I am focusing on. Essentially, my active research pivoted to understanding and supporting teachers, students, and school systems in light of the multiple catastrophes shaping student learning right now. Unsurprisingly, this work will show up in another year’s post. Finally, most of the published work I’ve contributed to this field can be found on Google Scholar. If you are ever unable to access something I’ve worked on, please reach out. See you in 2021.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#08)

  • An editor of a magazine I used to write for posted this song to Facebook or Twitter seven or eight years ago. I am pretty confident I’ve played it at least monthly ever since.
  • The song is something of a personal lodestone, pulling together three different musical threads I’ve come to better understand in the almost-decade since hearing the song.
  • Simply put, other than hearing their names, I didn’t know the music of Neneh Cherry or of Suicide and this track was the entry point into two discographies that continue to be rewarding for me. The Thing was entirely new to me and they have kept the skronky free jazz flame burning.
  • There was a quarter or two when I was an undergrad at UCLA that were largely soundtracked by the two newish Radiohead albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, as well as Albert Ayler’s Love Cry. I’d play that album on repeat (and almost always on headphones). It opened me up. The Thing get close but there’s always a back-of-the-head itch to just put Love Cry, or Spiritual Unity, or Bells on instead. Or even just briefly revisit Ayler’s cleansing eulogy at Coltrane’s funeral.
  • That is to say, I can’t do much else when I’m listening to Ayler. The music’s too everything everywhere. In contrast, The Thing, older classics from Sun Ra, Sanders, Coleman – I find those really good for writing. My prose gets to drift on that cacophony.
  • And a word about Suicide. Like with free jazz, reams have been written while afloat the sheer, terrifying racket of the first two Suicide records.
  • And another word about Suicide. It was inevitable that “Dream Baby Dream” became the closest thing to a hit for the duo and the thing most people will know them for. It’s a shame considering what else is there. But the song is too goddamn catchy, in its original form, for folks not to consistently cover or evoke. I remember being aghast that Springsteen was covering the song… and then appreciating that it becomes the Springsteen-iest song in his hands. I remember the band Priests vamping on the track during an opening set at Red Rocks shortly after Alan Vega’s death. And I guess the cover/homage/thing that is this LCD Soundsystem song works nearly entirely because it’s Suicide living in the circuits of that track’s wiring.
  • Back to Cherry and The Thing: At about 4:40 when the song just … goes. It feels like Neneh Cherry relinquishes control or—perhaps—gives permission to The Thing’s saxophonist, Mats Gustafsson, to blast off before she re-reigns the galloping mass a minute or so later.
  • The final seconds of plodding, plucked bass. The band has moved elsewhere as the bassist says adieu.
  • The album this song comes from is a pretty beautiful product to think about as a whole: Cherry’s first in more than a decade and a half, jamming and setting versions of other people’s songs free alongside The Thing.
    • And the moment of obvious serendipity: Cherry, the stepdaughter of free jazz pioneer Don Cherry, playing alongside The Thing, a band named after the third track on Don Cherry’s 1966 album Where is Brooklyn? A merging of lineage, homage, and spirit. Dreams being dreamt out loud.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#07)

 

  • “I’m thinking of ways I can get out of things/Just like always.”
  • I found a scratched-to-shit mix CD from probably 2010 with the name of this song sharpied on it. I think it was one of a series of discs I made for Ally during her lengthy LA commutes at the time. A fitting title for a collection of songs for daydreaming in traffic (the rest of the disc was real hit or miss, but included this cover song, which I’d forgotten about…and no, we didn’t name one of our children after the band Luna).
  • I loved the audacity of a mid-‘90s shoegaze band naming their album–Giant Steps–after one of the inarguably best jazz albums of all time. It’s most widely seen as a similar move to naming your album after a Beatles’ classic. But I usually think of this too.
  • The cacophonous build-up/breakdown at the end of this song. The apocalyptic, kitchen-sink sink approach. It’s a micro-genre in and of itself. I imagine the ending of “All You Need is Love” was probably the first time I heard it as a rhetorical move in a pop song (the self-referential refrain from “She Loves You” that fades out was also likely the first post-modern pop moment in my upbringing too, come to think of it). The piano that overtakes the second half of this Dan Deacon song is probably the most blissed-out version of this for me – I regularly come back to this song (and album) and plan to write about it in a future dispatch.
  • The sloshing of woodwinds and feedback and cymbals that bring this track to a close, rising and falling like a tide never at rest.
  • The Boo Radleys as a pluralized name always reminded me of the silliness of the band in Airheads calling themselves the Lone Rangers.

Featured Presentations from the Speculative Education Colloquium

We are thrilled to share the following videos from the Speculative Education Colloquium. As additional videos are put online, we will be uploading them here. Below are the amazing presentations from Drs. Shirin Vossoughi & Angela Booker and Dr. Jonathan Rosa. These videos cut off abruptly at the end of the presentation as we chose not to share the audience engagement publicly (and that portion was amazing too!).

We are still developing follow-up plans after last month’s colloquium and will be sharing that soon. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the above presentations. We are, again, exceptionally grateful to all of our presenters for their time and generosity.

Nicole Mirra & Antero Garcia

Make Your Own Gathering: Lessons Learned from Co-Organizing the #SpeculativeEd Colloquium

The Speculative Education Colloquium took place last week. Across two days of breakouts, featured speakers, and engaged online dialogue we expected a couple dozen people to join us for this event. We had several hundred sign up instead. In terms of our original hope of furthering a space for imagining critical pathways forward in education and educational research, the event feels like a successful one, though there are some areas we learned from that I think we can share with others here.

While the substance of the convening will hopefully yield breakout groups, offshoot gatherings, and classroom practices that may funnel into the public in the future, I wanted to reflect on the process of putting this event together and some of the lessons that Nicole and I learned. We announced the event three weeks before it took place and–including selecting dates, format, and inviting speakers–the entire project was a month long from start to finish. This design post-mortem is intended to help others plan for similarly-scaled events utilizing online virtual platforms.

Make it Happen

The biggest piece of advice that I think we can convey is that–if you are at all interested in bringing folks together, to sustain community and to engage in collective dreaming–do it. There are a lot of us sitting in physical distance from one another who are ready for something (virtually) tangible for us to work toward or learn from. To be honest, my own scholarship has suffered over the past two months. Stringing together academic writing, engaging in sustained data analysis, doing the hard work of substantial paper revisions: these are things that, cognitively and emotionally, I am having a hard time attending to right now. I imagine that’s the case for a lot of us. However, bursts of energy (ahem, maybe blog post-length): I can do that. And so, whether it’s hosting gatherings, writing shorter, accessible essays, or reviewing academic manuscripts, things that take discrete sets of time to complete are at least conveying the feeling of productivity (for myself) during a time when it’s okay for us to not actually be productive; this labor/market tension–particularly in the academy right now is a slippery one–I’ll probably ramble about this elsewhere. The convergence of this anxious energy with the willingness and creativity of an academic collaborator I’ve been lucky enough to learn alongside meant making space to create this event feel rejuvenating and personally useful. If any of this resonates with you and having a community to engage around your thing would be useful, do it. While somewhat labor intensive, this was a fun event that I feel nourished by. You can do this too. 

Lower the Stakes and Under Promise

As mentioned above, Nicole and I (really) expected a handful of people to join us. We expected this to be a low-stakes event for sustained conversation for a couple days. For us, we had time open on our calendar because AERA was cancelled and–worst case scenario–the two of us would use the time to talk about a topic we were interested in. Even if no one else came, this event’s space and time would have been useful for us: it was a no-lose situation

Once we sent out a general invitation to speakers and to the general public, we didn’t make any grand promises: come gather for a bit and we’ll see what happens. It’s free and so if you don’t like it or you can’t make it anymore, no harm done. We did ask participants what they were interested in (and saw a wide range of responses). That feedback shaped our breakout rooms and hopefully led to smaller, independent activities that could emerge from the event’s collaborative document. 

Be Flexible

Once 100 people signed up for the event–two days after it was announced–we figured about half of those people would show up and the event was now larger than what we originally envisioned. We were in a tricky situation: we were too big for a collective dialogue (or at least we thought we were) and we were lucky enough to have all of our speakers confirm that they would participate. This made our schedule tighter than we expected–instead of having a few dozen people in close conversation with Megan Bang, for example, we could all listen to her, have limited time for Q&A, and have two breakout sessions. This wasn’t what we planned, but we went with it. If you are doing an event like this, consider how you might scale the context to accommodate larger and smaller groups. Further, how can you do this scaling in the moment? For example, we had a large number of breakout rooms prepared to be facilitated by friends; if we had much fewer attendees, we would just cancel a few of these rooms to make the others create fuller spaces (this didn’t quite work out and I’ll talk about that below).

A quick note on sign ups: before the event started just over 400 people signed up. We circulated this invitation only via tweets and Facebook posts and hoped it reached people who were interested via word of mouth. Of the people signed up, we had a peak of 220 (or so) people during the colloquium and the number dipped as it got closer to each day’s conclusion. We expected about half of the people signed up to join and that seems like a decent rule of thumb for online, free events in general. 

Find Synergies

We knew most of our speakers would likely have attended AERA and so the ask for their participation was an easier one. This event intentionally moved alongside similar scholarly interests–our framing for the event was based on the invitation by Drs. Na’ilah Nasir and Megan Bang and clearly aligned with the scholarship of each of our speakers. Though these speakers were clearly making innovative leaps in the new work they presented, the request to share within the context of this colloquium wasn’t exactly out of left field. I do want to note that, as a free event that was not affiliated with either of our institutions, we did not have funding to compensate the donated labor and energy of our six speakers. That is something I think we would try to address differently in the future, if we were to do one of these events again. 

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Be Vigilant

The things that Nicole and I were most worried about were chat spamming, zoom-bombing, and other forms of online harassment that might have occurred. Two days before the event, the AERA online Presidential Presentation had to turn off chat functionality during Dr. Vanessa Siddle Walker’s powerful address because of comments made in the chat. Particularly considering that all of our speakers were presenting from and addressing scholarly and personal commitments to historically marginalized communities, making sure that online harassment did not occur was our fundamental concern and point of stress for the event. We know that the forms of harassment that we are concerned about disproportionately affect BIPOC, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

To our knowledge, we did not have any issues with trolling or harassment during the event. While we cannot account for private messages that may have been exchanged or communication after the event, I feel proud of the work we did trying to ensure this space was a safe one.

We spent substantial time prior to the event testing out and confirming security functionality for the Zoom. We only sent links to the password-protected Zoom the night before the event, to minimize interlopers. We had a waiting room and let people into the event by first trying to confirm their names based on our sign up. We had multiple co-hosts of the Zoom and we were all in communication on a Slack channel identifying potential usernames we did not recognize or comments that raised any flags for us. We all had practiced the processes for turning off chat, ensuring participants could not share their screens, and–if need be–kicking people out of the event. When speakers were presenting, we also disabled participants’ ability to unmute themselves, ensuring the speakers would not be interrupted. These sound draconian, but we would rather a vigilant enforcement of safety than an unsafe space for our participants and speakers.

Most importantly, we wrote–and announced each day–a code of conduct for the colloquium. This was substantially adapted from a policy written by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE

While I don’t love the need for such rigorous moderating of the event or the fact that so much of this insecurity is based on our over reliance on proprietary software that governs so much of our online interactions, it was the choice we made. We could have spent substantial time at the beginning of the event establishing collective norms with our participants–if we were a smaller group we probably would have. However, given that we wanted to prioritize the content of this colloquium, we went with the decisions noted above. I would be curious what strategies others are employing right now.

Ask for Patience

There are a lot of ways this event could go wrong. At the beginning of both days and in our email communication with participants, we asked everyone for patience as we collectively figured this out. Maybe it helped (?) that the first email I sent out about this was unintentionally formatted wonkily, immediately lowering people’s expectations (fortunately, Nicole took over emailing participants for the event moving forward!). Again, because this event was free, if things didn’t quite work out–like when the Zoom meeting abruptly ended for everyone at the end of Day 1–we could all smile and let the learning and convening continue. 

Some Pain Points

There are a few areas we know we could have improved in this event and I share these below.

Access

We could have been better when it came to accessibility for this event. Yes, that’s the case broadly in schooling and particularly for forms of distance learning right now, but for our event, this could have been better. Three weeks prior to the event we started looking into captioning options. We made weekly progress getting the right APIs to talk with one another to enable automated captioning; while we didn’t have funding to hire someone to type captions for the event, we were planning to pay for the cheaper and still less ideal automated captions. Up to 24 hours before the event took place, we expected this to be functional. However, with various security levels to fiddle with Zoom, we were not able to get this option set up in time. We are aware that this likely affected some participants’ engagement. To be clear, this isn’t the only form of accessibility we needed to consider and this event had shortcomings among multiple lines in this regard. Early on, we acknowledged that a virtual convening like this one privileged folks with access to strong internet connections, for example. 

Recording

This is less a pain point for us than for people who want the content from speakers. Even before the event was concluded, we were getting requests to share the videos of the speakers from the colloquium. Honestly, every speaker was amazing. And while we will share some of these talks very soon, we also were explicit with our underpromise in this regard. We only recorded the speakers’ presentations, cut off the recording once public Q&A began, and conveyed to everyone that we were uncertain if these recordings would be made available publicly. Again, our intention wasn’t to amass and collect others’ knowledge. After the colloquium, we emailed each speaker a link to download their own video recording. It is their work and their file to decide what to do with. We wanted to shift responsibility around this work to give back to speakers–particularly scholars that data suggests are often less cited or recognized for their contributions–to ensure that knowledge is both preserved and moved forward in ways that are responsive to individuals. Depending on your event, we could imagine you choose to record or not record in different ways, but think intentionally about what that recording light on Zoom calls does for participation. Speaking of …

Participation

We collected comments and questions from the chat, asked participants to “raise their hands” through Zoom’s functionality, and had a robust hashtag on Twitter as inputs for participation. There was also a powerful social annotation effort happening alongside the event. However, the size of the event meant that these structures did not ensure that everyone’s voices were heard. It also meant that it sometimes felt like there was a disconnect or lack of engagement from the large group if questions didn’t flow for speakers at some points. It also didn’t help that Stanford’s Zoom settings disable copying text or clicking on links. 

Some strategies we used to mitigate these limitations—that might be helpful for you—included abundant use of customized tinyurls and an open google doc. The tinyurls were easy to share on a screen and, even when participants couldn’t click them, weren’t too difficult to type into a browser. In general, all of our information was distilled to a single, read-only google doc that we updated frequently. On this doc, we would post the agenda, links to all breakouts, links to related information, and things like a concluding evaluation form and the aforementioned google doc. In essence, if participants could access this document they could get to any other materials for the convening pretty easily.

The open google doc functioned as a sign-in page so that participants could share contact information, converge around interests, and offer any relevant resources. There was a “sandbox” that we encouraged individuals to use to cluster around projects and topics–revisiting it now, there are several pages of potential projects that were born out of this event. This was an unorganized space and—again setting lowered expectations—we were not building a listserv or database to share later. Rather, we hoped people would use this space in the moment. At the beginning of the first day, we hit the limit of how many participants could be on this doc at any given time, so this may not be a feasible space for events of this size or larger. 
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Breakouts

Our breakouts were named based thematically on the interests people listed when they signed up for the colloquium. Participation in them varied widely. Some breakouts had 30-50 people in them and some had 2 people in them (though facilitators noted that these smaller groups had robust and personal conversation as a result). Because we didn’t want to sort people manually into groups or to assign people to random rooms, we solicited the help of friends that we knew signed up for the event. Since most of us have institutional Zoom accounts, Nicole organized rooms using multiple folks’ accounts:

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Again, the read-only google doc served as the hub for finding these sessions. In addition to a host for each room that served as the space’s facilitator, Nicole also created a note-taking generic document. This page was shared with breakout rooms individually. All of these spaces, links, and organization took time in advance to make the day of the event flow somewhat seamlessly. 

Returning back to the main meeting space from Zoom—like reconvening from group activities in a class or like a broader conference session—took time and we should have given ourselves more of it for this. We also saw some drop-off of attendees (who likely chose not to participate in the smaller breakouts); this didn’t surprise us, but I note it here for your own planning considerations. 

Competing Activities

The same week that we announced this colloquium, Nicole and I also shared an adjacent (but different) idea, called #RogueAERA. Our attention to this colloquium meant we didn’t spend as much time on #RogueAERA, though there were some amazing contributions to the hashtag. However, because we had two different (but kinda related) hashtags floating around at the same time, we saw a lot of overlap between the uses of these spaces. Both #SpeculativeEd and #RogueAERA served as back-channeling spaces for the event, even if that wasn’t our intended outcome. I note this here to consider how you might make clear the boundaries of your space and the need to be flexible when participation begins to seep beyond those boundaries. 

What’s Next

We aren’t sure! There are so many different things that could emerge from this colloquium. None of them have to be organized by Nicole or by me. This is an open invitation for others to lead the what’s next. I know this event is helping shape some of my own thinking and it is helping me ease back into the scholarly writing I had been adrift from.

Finally, about three weeks prior to the event, we did receive–via the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching–the support of Stanford doctoral student Kelly Boles; she played a substantial role organizing and working on the logistics with us. We really appreciate getting to learn with Kelly on this project. Alongside her, we are also grateful for the support of friends and colleagues that hosted breakout rooms, Joe Dillon and Remi Kalir’s work facilitating the social annotation for this project, and the many participants that tweeted or contributed resources throughout the event.

Free Access to Good Reception

Related to what I wrote on this post, my book, Good Reception: Teens, Teachers, and Mobile Media in a Los Angeles High School can be read (and I think downloaded) for free here for the foreseeable future.

The book is a part of a larger collection of titles that MIT Press has made accessible as a resource in response to COVID-19.

If you end up using this book as part of a teacher study group or in a course, please get in touch! I am happy to answer questions or join a discussion.

Paying the Piper: It’s Time for your #rogueAERA Scholarship

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Here’s the quick and dirty invitation: if you are adding a line to your CV about work accepted at this year’s cancelled AERA (or other academic conference), consider making an accessible—perhaps even multimodal—representation of your work to disseminate to the general public.

Last month, Nicole Mirra and I offered an invitation for folks to share the scholarship that would have been presented at AERA (originally scheduled to be happening right now). We’re encouraging something simple: share what your work is about on your preferred social networks and include the hashtag #rogueAERA (obviously, still adhering to the the privacy expectations of any pertinent IRBs).

Nicole contributed to an ongoing Tik Tok meme:

I remixed a pictured book to talk about some of our collaborative civic literacies research:

I also made a quick and messy zine:

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Yes, these are kind of silly. But I also think we need to affirm—particularly right now—how and why our research matters. I am reminded of a post Nicole wrote a few years ago. Essentially, academic journalist, Rick Hess, would regularly go through the AERA program and mock the jargon-filled titles of papers and sessions. It’s easy, initially, to smirk at the lengthy titles of some of these sessions … except that it is also clear that such titles are often most frequently leveraged by BIPOC scholars and particularly for critical purposes. Those jargon-heavy titles illustrate that complex language is needed to contest the simple truths of structural inequalities. We must be post-X or anti-Y or push against neo-Z instantiations of ___. As Nicole wrote in her blog:

In my courses for pre-service and in-service teachers, I remind my students that theory and research are inextricably linked to practice — that all decisions made in public education, from how we organize our lessons and assess student learning to how we structure school financing and school choice, flow from theories we have about the purpose of public education, the abilities of our students, and the kind of society we want to create. Naming these theories produces productive debate about the future directions of public education and helps us clarify our practice and policy.

That’s why I quickly stopped laughing at Dr. Hess’ derisive ridicule of educational research in The National Review and turned downright angry at his subsequent lofty dismissal of the entire AERA community of 25,000 education researchers in an EdWeek blog post. He does not simply mock academic jargon. He consistently singles out for abuse scholarly research that forefronts considerations of inequality, whether by race, class, or gender.

While he considers a study exploring Common Core reading strategies to be “reassuringly scholarly,” he lambasts a study exploring racial inequities in college admissions as “politically correct navel-gazing.” He then accuses the entire AERA membership of “groupthink,” proposing that all of its researchers are “fixated on questions of race, class, and privilege.”

Oh wait, but not all of the researchers. Hess excuses the “economists and evaluators” and finds a few words to praise the two sessions in which he himself participated. It sounds to me like Hess has his own privileged assumptions about what real research is.

And so, particularly for those of us committed to scholarship that dismantles racist, capitalist, heteronormative, able-bodied, gender-normative (and so on) forms of education practice, policy, and research. Our work must go rogue.

For most of us, we found our way into academic research because of commitments to justice, to knowledge, to the possibility of bettering the lives of teachers and students. If you are going to participate in the academic systems in which you profit professionally by adding lines to your CV, consider at least offering some broad insights from what your work illuminates for the world.

At the same time, I recognize that—alongside social, personal, financial, and other forms of anxiety, including the added stress for many of working from home in isolation or while also attending to the needs of children—not everyone is in a place to meaningfully contribute to something like #rogueAERA. That is totally okay. However, if you—like me—have been itching for bursts of intellectual engagement but have also struggled to kludge together more than a paragraph of academic writing in the past month, maybe give this a shot.

As a final note, I went down a real internet rabbit hole looking up the phrase “paying the piper.” There are contested understandings of threat, choice, and value dependent on if you think the phrase’s origin comes from a classic fable or a related Browning poem. Either way, pay up and share your scholarship!

The Pencils Are Sharp Enough: Moving Past the Hows of Teaching in an Era of Coronavirus

As part of preparing for the new quarter that starts this week, I’ve received several memos from my university with a couple of specific asks:

  1. Have a plan in place for how the class will continue in the event that I get sick.
  2. Communicate such a plan to my students at the beginning of the class.

That’s some heavy stuff to throw on students on the first day.

Considering the state of things, it is also necessary.

What’s worse, we’ll need to have this conversation across a digital interface. My connection might lag as I have my students consider my mortality. A student very well may be attending to the needs of a child. They could be distracted by the same beeps and notifications that were present before this current setting. And, frankly, students likely have other, more important people and issues on their mind than this one instructor and this particular class they are somehow enrolled in.

To be clear, the fundamental demands that will transform teaching and learning moving forward are not about if our digital pencils are sharp enough. Zoom does what Zoom does, for better or worse. Your school’s LMS will manage in the ways it was intended. Etc. In short, tech companies have made a lot of money for us to click and give away our autonomy for the sake of online learning.

This past month’s rapid, nationwide shift to distance-based approaches to instruction have shown our schooling systems transfixed by the “how” of teaching students online. But we haven’t talked about the “whom” or the “how” in any meaningful way. While I still strongly believe we should be cancelling classes right now, since we’re not, I want to at least support students and teachers in the best ways possible.

We have an abundance of well-intentioned coaches, colleagues, and educational leaders helping teachers translate a classroom-based set of lessons for the web. I guess we’re really just going to pantomime this whole operation across digital screens for the foreseeable future, aren’t we?

The thing is, what we actually need to teach must be inextricably transformed. As I mentioned in a couple of tweets that led to this post, the “new normal” of teaching and learning in this COVID19 moment is focusing on the tools of learning but not on the actual substance of what’s at the core of a classroom: the relationships and the content itself.

Coronavirus Pedagogy

A savvy use of digital breakout rooms and the proper vigilance for muting students as they enter the “classroom” do not a community make. If we’re really serious about what kids will make of their time in this present moment, let us all turn inwardly and reflect and grieve and imagine in these days. Good use of digital tools and good relationship-building do not need to be mutually opposed, but our school systems have invested heavily in the former and—I would argue—willfully neglected the latter for far too long. Teachers are already painted over with the same stress and anxiety we all feel right now. I am disappointed that we’ve added a second coating of morose grey by making teachers “convert” to online tools a pedagogy that was never meant to address the basic needs of kids today.

Further, the actual content at the heart of classes must be transformed–we will learn this in hindsight, but the “what” of learning will be altered forever. What better time to learn about metaphors, for example, than to consider how a digital button allows you to “raise hand” in a zoom? Or that we get “sent” to different digital spaces while firmly staying rooted in a fixed location?

When we talk of science, of math, of history in core classes in the future, will we teach about this present moment and the ways that viruses work on a schedule unfathomable to human narratives? Will we “do the math” of capitalism vs. human life? Will we consider the legions dead in multiples of “9/11s” as current news reporters already do? Will we cover this moment’s losses in the sober light of how many deaths might have been prevented by different, federal and state-based governing decisions? Cynically, I guess these might be the learning opportunities of this “new normal” pondered abstractly today.

And so, when I meet with my doctoral students next week, I’ll need to assure them that our class will proceed as normal even in the event that I get sick or die. We’ll reflect together on the fact that even our procedural work in class can be fundamentally triggering for students. The privilege of teaching this class, with a syllabus I have ownership over, means I can do what a lot of my teacher friends cannot; my students and I will spend a large portion of our class reflecting and listening to one another, trying to understand—together—what we can of this world. Across age groups and content areas, anything else is largely a disservice to our students (and teachers) today.

Visualizing Tomorrow: Looking at Responses to the Speculative Education Colloquium

Two nights ago, 115 of you signed up to join us for the Speculative Education Colloquium. (And we welcome more – please see info here to register for the free event.)

As part of signing up, folks have the option of responding to the following prompt:

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Most of you jotted a sentence or two. Some of you left it blank. Some of you went to town.

I took the responses from these first two days of inviting folks to this gathering and threw them in an old-school word-cloud. It looks like this:

wordcloud (2)

While there are some pretty obvious—if still exciting — words that pop out here, it’s the language that creeps in the nooks and crannies around these bigger words that are revitalizing for me. (The Thomas’ English Muffins of ideas, if you will.)

Let’s take a brief, zoomed-in tour of the cloud, shall we?

Community

I appreciate the words that sneak into the polysyllabic corners of “community” – ethics, arts, worlding, planet, rpgs. Those feel like words that can transform schooling practices.

“Political One-Shot”

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I appreciate the found poetry that is found in something like a word-cloud. If there is an aspect of “the algorithm”™ that I like (a real maybe) it is its capacity for happenstance and previously unseen possibility. In general, this bottom left area of the cloud maps kinds of actions and adjectives that feel enticing.

Partnerships!

Partnership (and its permutations) sneaks throughout the cloud. We are wondering together and while this event is academic-facing, the sense of with whom lurks in many of these responses.

Might (Re-)Imagine

Screenshot 2020-04-02 02.10.27

By the time I got around to writing this post, a couple dozen more folks had signed up. This word cloud is out of date and we’ll share a newer version at the actual event. Like the world, our ideas are shifting, adapting, and moving quickly. I believe the original image of the cloud above is the high definition version; I encourage you to click around and explore the words and sentiments of these participants. Finally, if these are words that comport with the conversation you’d like to be a part of, join us!