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Invite: June 13-14, 2015 – The Critical Design and Gaming School Game Jam



If you will at all be in the LA area next weekend, I highly encourage you to come to the first C:/DAGS Game Jam. Directions, team-sign ups, and other information can be found here.

Urgently educate and empower the teenagers of South Central Los Angeles to excel through college and become transformative leaders of our local and global communities.

The Game Jam is going to be an awesome step towards transformative, and humanizing game design in South Central Los Angeles. Funded by the LRNG Innovation Challenge, the two-day Game Jam is open to the public. If you find yourself looking for something to do while in town for DML 2015*, head a couple miles south to the beautiful Augustus Hawkins campus! We’ll see you there!



* Speaking of DML, I’ll be in a handful of awesome sessions there. If you’ll be at the conference and I can’t twist you’re arm to come to the Game Jam, say hello nonetheless.

Invisibles: An Audiobook


I just finished listening to the audiobook of Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig.

Recommended by Bud Hunt, I appreciated the delicate attention to unseen craftsmanship that entire industries are built upon. From Radiohead’s lead guitar tech to someone devoted to making way-finding in an airport an intuitive process to the interpreters that the United Nations rely upon, the role of invisibles offers us as readers a framework for how to be mindful and curious in the work we do.

In the final chapter of the book, Zweig reflects on the tension between the inflated ego of having his first book contract but not chipping away at the words needing to be written and being in the flow-like process of deep analysis of an interview for the book. Zweig illuminates a shift in perspective that can empower readers to rethink their work and find fulfillment in the curiosity before us.


(Isn’t there always a however?)

While I appreciate the sentiment of how Zweig can pivot from an ego-filled sense of being a fuddy duddy author to a silent craftsman of words for an audience, the lens of hearing about this via an audiobook was striking. While I listened to Zweig’s words I became immediately aware that there is another largely invisible expert delivering these words.

Earlier in the day, chatting with Bud via Slack (is this “slacking”?), he typed, “I dig the narrator.” I did too.

Sean Pratt. I had to look up who just read the nearly 10 hour production. His crisp delivery – like that of many other audiobook readers does its best when it gets out of the way of the content I am passively consuming in my car or while walking dogs. Sure, Pratt’s name is mentioned in the fleeting credits of the audiobook, but it’s fluff I usually disregard. It’s part of the digital paratexts that succeeds largely when it is invisible.

Years ago, I was listening to the audiobook of Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. At the book’s conclusion, Farmer conducts an interview with the audiobook’s reader Raul Esparza. What should have been an engaging peek behind the curtain was too dissonant for me. I’d just spent hours hearing and trusting a voice to act as a conduit of Farmer’s words. That this voice was anchored to an individual, that it had agency, was too strange an effect. I was hearing the voice of a book reflect on being a voice of not just one but many other books Esparza has read.

There’s probably something to be said about the most un-invisible of audiobook readers, Jim Dale, and about the allure of celebrity authors and readers of works. Last month, I spent a week with Kim Gordon’s voice. As she discussed the painful encounters that led to her divorce from her partner and Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore, my mind oscillated between wondering what it was like for Gordon to read and re-read passages of her life out-loud and also feeling comforted to know that she safely harbored her words to me, rather than an intrusive middle-person.

Consuming audiobooks provides an added layer of text which we must analyze and consider. Rather than simply a lazier way to consume media content, Zweig’s metacognitive reflection, read by Sean Pratt, highlights the ways audio adds to text.*

*As I type this, Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar sits on my desk and reminds me that it (like his other works) are largely impossible to translate into an audiobook. The multimedia possibilities of print media are often taken for granted in the digital age.

Talking about To Kill a Mockingbird

Recently CSU’s radio station interviewed my about Harper Lee’s forthcoming novel. I enjoyed discussing her work with CSU student Danny Steiner. If you’re interested, you can listen to the entire clip here.

Don’t Miss Elyse Eidman-Aadahl tomorrow at CSU!

Tomorrow, April 7th will be the fourth event in the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life series held at CSU. Joining us will be the National Writing Project Executive Director, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl. Elyse’s talk is titled “Education for Democracy in a Digital Age: A New Civic Agenda for Schools.” Elyse’s talk is from 5:30-6:30 p.m., followed by a brief reception. Like all of the series, this event is free and open to the public. And join the dialogue on Twitter at #csulit15.  All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205. I hope you’ll join us (if you are not nearby, you can stream the talk here).

If you missed Bud Hunt’s talk last week, you can view it below. Bud has also written about his talk and shared all of his slide on his blog here.

Two Recent Publications: ALAN Review and The Civic Media Project

I’m sharing a quick note about two recent publications that may be of interest:

First, I have a co-authored article with the awesome Marcelle Haddix in the Winter 2015 issue of the ALAN Review. Titled “Reading YA with ‘Dark Brown Skin’: Race, Community, and Rue’s Uprising,” Marcelle and I look at online communities, representations of race (particularly in The Hunger Games franchise), and discuss implications for educators. I’ll update this post if an online copy is available.

Second, I have a co-authored case study with Ellen Middaugh for the recently launched Civic Media Project website. Our analysis of the Race to the White House project can be accessed here.

Don’t Miss Bud Hunt at CSU Tomorrow (3/31)!

Tomorrow, March 31st will be the third event in the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life series held at CSU. Joining us will be CSU English Education alumnus and educational technology expert Bud Hunt. Bud’s talk is titled “Let’s Hack School: Learner Agency in a Time of New Technologies” and I can assure you it’s not something you’ll want to miss. Check out the flyer:

Mr. Hunt will be presenting his work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. Like all of the series, this event is free and open to the public. And join the dialogue on Twitter at #csulit15.  All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205. I hope you’ll join us (if you are not nearby, you can stream the talk here). Just as excitingly, a week later, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the Executive Director of the National Writing Project will be speaking as the fourth speaker in this year’s series (same time, same place).
If you missed last month’s presentation as part of the series, please watch Ben Kirshner’s engaging talk here:

The Problem with “Three Miles,” a recent This American Life episode

Last week, I listened to the recent This American Life episode, “Three Miles.”

The project at the heart of the episode–having students from the poorest congressional district in the U.S. visit with students of a wealthy, $43,000 a year private school. (The title refers to the fact that the schools are only three miles apart.) In good storytelling fashion, there is a strong narrative that pulls the episode together. At the same time, the episode reminded me of projects that took place while I was a teacher in Los Angeles and, particularly, of the Council of Youth Research, which explored educational inequities throughout the city.

Reflecting on the same episode, my friend-and-sometimes-nemesis Mark (co-founder of the Critical Design and Gaming School in South Central Los Angeles) asked: “how are we preparing our students to be resilient in the face of institutional and internalized systems of oppression?

While I appreciated the portraits of inequity, difficulty in college as youth of color, and the candid perspectives shared by the teachers in the episode, I was troubled by the implications of the episode’s principal reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt, at the show’s conclusion.

Discussing how one young woman has struggled to succeed after high school, Joffe-Walt concludes the episode saying:

I have a theory about this: I think Angela has this memory of Melanie making it, triumphantly making it because it is really hard to believe that Melanie would not make it. And I can completely understand that. … I keep expecting there to be news like she’s about to get her big break and things will happen for her. It feels suspenseful but nothing has happened for her for 10 years. I think it’s some special brand of American pathological optimism that so many of us believe the story of Melanie has to turn out to be happy. And if it doesn’t then something unusual has happened. And not just this is what happens all the time.

Up until this final moment of the show, I fully intended for this to be an episode my students–all future teachers–would listen to and critique. But this ruined it. This “optimism” that Chana discusses, while it may be true to her feelings, also reflects a painful naïveté about the state of urban schooling in the U.S.

Talking with a friend about the episode recently, we discussed how the simple choices to go to college, work hard, and succeed are anything but transparent for many youth of color. As a teacher, I was hyper-aware of this in my classroom; even as I demanded highly of my students, the reality of many of them going to college was often low when they were faced with the expectations of supporting family members (both in the U.S. and back in countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Ethiopia). As my friend (currently pursuing a doctorate in the sciences) said:

And this is why I’m so frustrated with this end of this episode. No, Chana, it’s not that “something unusual happened.” The choices and assumptions of success we place on young people are not always realistic or paint an accurate picture of students’ lives. These final words damage; the perpetuate a culture that blames youth of color for not matriculating into higher education rather than condemning a system that operates on “optimism”.” Unfortunately, Chana and This American Life, many of our youth do not conform smoothly with privileged ideologies about “making it” in today’s society.

Teaching Ambassador Fellowship coverage

This article does a great job outlining the U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellowship. This past year, I’ve been one of the returning TAFs discussed in the article (I was first a part of the program in 2010-2011, where the emphasis was on potential ESEA reauthorization… that sounds familiar).

Hands in Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor: Repetition, Rhythm, Remembrance

I spent the weekend reading through Scott McCloud’s new graphic novel The Sculptor. This was an immensely rewarding read and one I plan to revisit soon (and possibly teach); the ambition of this work reminded me, at times, of Asterios Polyp.

In many ways, The Sculptor lends itself well to be read as an anchor text for McCloud’s canonical work on comic books: Understanding Comics. The lessons McCloud etches across his academic text are made manifest in the pacing, the narrative imagery, the layout of panel upon panel.

As one example, I was particularly drawn to the deliberate repetition of the sculptor’s hands throughout the work. Specifically, McCloud draws significant narrative significance from the gestured look at one’s hands across the story. Here, a few examples lacking context:

Untitled Untitled


By the end of the 400+ page book, the gesture of looking at his hands has come to signal for the sculptor adoration, disgust, regret, love, remembrance, and much more. The panel is like the sculptor seeing his life flash before your eyes (perhaps it is). We garner this insight across the work. We are reminded of the layered meaning and significance of hands for an artist looking for acceptance and recognition each time McCloud repeats the gesture. The tone of the hands shifts from beat to beat in the book, but each tone is not forgotten. Like palimpsests of thought, the paneled image of the sculptor’s hands builds and layers; a new formation held within the calloused digits.

[Note: These are a fraction of the hand images in the book and I am trying to deliberately remove context here. In terms of both an argument for fair use of the images and to not squelch a powerful narrative, I offer a pittance of samples.]

Ben Kirshner coming to CSU & Archived Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life

If you are in the area, please consider coming to next week’s presentation as part of the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life series. Joining us will be Dr. Ben Kirshner, director for CU Engage and Associate Professor at University of Colorado, Boulder (and co-editor of the recent #youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age). His talk will be great! Check out the flyer below:

csuwp literacy series ben kirshner

Dr. Kirshner will be presenting his work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. Like all of the series, this event is free and open to the public. And join the dialogue on Twitter at #csulit15.  All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205. I hope you’ll join us (if you are not nearby, you can stream the talk here). In addition, here are the remaining speakers and dates for the series:

  • February 17: Dr. Ben Kirshner, Faculty Director, CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research
  • March 31: Bud Hunt, CSU Alumnus & Instructional Technologist, St. Vrain Valley School District
  • April 7: Dr. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director, National Writing Project
  • May 5: Civic Literacy Panel, selected Colorado teachers & students

If you missed last month’s presentation as part of the series, please watch Nicole Mirra and Danielle Filipiak’s presentation here:

(And feel free to check out my write up of the event here.)