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Attend Our #SDCC15 Comics in the Classroom Workshop!

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If you are an educator headed to Comic-Con this week (K-12, University, Librarian, etc.), I’m pleased to invite you to our educator workshop!

Held on Preview Night (Wednesday, July 8) from 5-8 p.m., this workshop is free and any SDCC pass-holders are welcome to attend. Here’s the description:

Antero Garcia, Peter Carlson, Susan Kirtley, and Jenn Anya Prosser lead a hands-on workshop for K-12 educators interested in utilizing comic books in classrooms. Open to teachers of all subjects, the program will look at how content-area literacy can be supported through comic books and popular culture in various disciplines. During this workshop panelists will explore how comics support student achievement, discuss ways teachers can align curriculum to use comic books meaningfully, and provide resources for participants to take into their own classrooms.

Though Preview Night is typically reserved for four-day pass holders at SDCC, we’ve gotten confirmation that educators holding any pass for the Con are welcome to join us (If you have not picked up a badge, bring the confirmation barcode that you likely received via email). Note: This workshop will be held at the nearby Shiley Special Events Suite at the San Diego Public Library.

This is the first year SDCC is hosting a workshop of this nature and length. We may experiment with the format, timing, and content in the future. We will also be sharing resources from this workshop online using the Twitter hashtag #comiced. See you at the Con!

[By the way, I’m way stoked about who “We” is. “We,” in this case, includes my always trusty compatriot Peter Carlson, Eisner-winning author and director of the Portland State University Comics Studies Program Susan Kirtley, and amazing Denver-based English educator Jenn Anya Prosser. Think of us as the #comiced Voltron!]

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Four Emotions While Watching Pixar’s Inside Out: Body Shaming, #CharlestonShooting, and the Privileged Feels

Building off of the four key emotions portrayed in Inside Out, a quartet of reflections on Pixar’s latest.


It’s a fun Pixar film that gives you Pixar feels. Yay.

(Also, the fleeting nod to Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field” was a nice gesture.)



As much as I wanted to love this movie, I kept wondering why the characters of “Anger” and “Sadness” had to be the heavyset characters. The former resorts to violence and the latter is so lazy she is dragged on the floor throughout a third of the movie. If I think about the diverse bodies we have, I can’t help but ponder what effect seeing one’s larger body type manifested as someone that is “angry” or “sad” will have on an impressionable audience. What does this movie say about who I am and my relationship to feelings of joy if I am considered “fat” by society’s definitions?



At the heart of this movie (and not really a spoiler) is a young girl struggling to adjust to life in a new city with her parents; there are delays from a moving truck, a fleeting moment of embarrassment in school, an argument at home. The entire social and emotional range that this character undergoes is rooted in the pretty comfortable life of being a white girl in an upper-middle-class family in an industrialized, wireless, and accepting society. As I watched the movie, I reflected on Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s scholarship on “critical hope,” the signs of PTSD that youth in spaces of poverty experience, and the ways youth of color’s feelings would be triggered by entirely different circumstances than those of the protagonist of the film. This is very much a film for and about white feelings. (My caveat here about reading Catcher in the Rye with my high school students applies to this concern. But. But the whiteness of the film’s emotional core is frustrating in light of where American discourse stands in 2015, which brings me to…)



Last night, nine people were murdered. It was fueled by hate and our country needs to do more than mourn. We need to have important discussion and action about race, our history of racism, and what “fear” means when it feels like it is open season on unarmed boys and girls of color in the U.S. I worry that the snow-globe like feelings of Inside Out and an underlying feeling of see-we’re-all-the-same does more harm than good when the very real differences in where we’re born and from whom can mean life or death.

“Just One More Minute”: Exuberantly Doing Too Much

I’ve been thinking a lot about the video above. It’s not Owen Pallett’s best performance – a little rushed and rough around the edges (perhaps for obvious reasons as you watch it). However, the joy in performing and exploring and sharing his work – in recklessly racing past a threshold of safety in doing so – feels infectious.

Lately, I’ve been doing more work than I expected or probably should. I’m in the midst of writing, reviewing proofs of, collecting writing of others for several different books. I’m diving into the beginning of a three-year grant project with some awesome colleagues here in Colorado. I’m moving forward with a multi-year ethnographic study of tabletop gameplay. All of these are exciting announcements that will merit their own posts as they slowly manifest online real estate in the next few months. I suspect, if pressed, mentors will tell me to scale back on some of this work. Focus.

And yet. I love that I can chase down so many avenues of what learning, engagement, and literacy look like today. Career-wise it’s not a race, but I also think about the urgency of the students in our schools, everyday, that deserve better. I didn’t leave the K-12 classroom to coast comfortably through academia (and such notions are quickly laid to waste when looking at tenure requirements and the expected hustle of labor in higher education). And at the same time, all of the work I’m doing feels fun. Sure, the moment-to-moment drudgery of editing or writing is work, but it’s rewarding work that feels like prodding in unfamiliar spaces of our understanding of how people learn and how to make our educational processes better. I’m often racing from one online conversation to meeting with an advisee to chasing down a writing deadline. “Just one more minute.”

This summer has already been a busy one. The CSU Writing Project’s kicked off a summer youth program for the Youth Scientific Civic Inquiry work I helped conceptualize with other scholars in Fort Collins. I’ve collaborated on several presentations and teacher workshops at comic conventions (both in Denver and next month in San Diego). I helped organize a local panel with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Denver. There were several workshops with school districts. Some game design work for teacher PD that is being funneled into public existence very soon. All this to say I write this from LAX, having spent a week in LA for three different events: a handful of presentations at the DML 2015 conference (easiest link-fodder: this ignite talk with the wonderful Anna Smith), the first (of many) C:\DAGS game jams (full write up coming), and a day-long Games+Learning Summit held in conjunction with the E3 convention currently happening. “Just let me finish this song.” Foolhardy, rewarding, energizing.

I’ll end here by noting that this isn’t just about being busy (something I’ve reflected on here). Whether watching “bad” reality TV (I am seriously pondering a post on Married at First Sight at some point), occasionally hiking, or playing board games with friends (Sushi Go is our latest favorite), being deliberate with when I’m “on” has been rejuvenating. I recently bough a digital alarm clock so that my iPhone doesn’t come into my bedroom, something that’s helped me be deliberate with reading at night, not checking my email as soon as I wake up, and not worrying about what’s happening in the digital realm for a few hours each night.

Earlier this month, Ally and I trekked to Red Rocks to see a couple of openers for the band The Decemberists – Spoon and Courtney Barnett. Their performances were loud and playful in the occasionally raining weather that CO is so good at surprising me with on a near-daily basis. Spoon finished their set backed by the panache of lightning across the Front Range. Afterwards, the venue went into a weather delay. I remembered seeing the Decemberists playing in UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall coffee shop more than a decade ago and we decided to make the long walk to our car, toward shelter, back home. I was sure that the Decemberists might be giving their own “One more minute” performance in one of the most amazing, natural amphitheaters in the world. But we pick our battles and this was a time when it felt wonderful to splash in the parking lot toward our car and to find respite, even if we were missing someone else’s opus.

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.