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Cancel all Classes Right Now: Kids are Scared, Teachers are Stressed, Our Country is Sick

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Tonight I did a 10 p.m. run to the grocery store and the empty shelves here—and that so many friends are posting online—make it very clear: we are a nation in the midst of coping with a major crisis. This is a scary time and (finally) our government, major businesses, and public services are taking it seriously. Schools, too, are moving to online settings and to ensuring that students do not meet in physical spaces for the foreseeable future.

I get that teachers are scrambling to figure out the best ways to transition our work. I get that preservice teachers need a certain number of hours in order to receive state-based teaching licenses. I get that there has been a Herculean effort to get many students access to instructional materials in order to participate in virtual learning. But I also get that—both literally and metaphorically—our country is sick.

You don’t do school when you are sick. You heal.

When a school community is rocked by a natural disaster—an earthquake, a wildfire, a tornado–we don’t send students to Google classroom and we don’t ask teachers to prepare for distance education models. We heal.

By most estimates, a lot of people will get sick in the U.S. in the next few weeks. Many people will die due to complications from COVID-19 or perhaps from the lack of hospital-based care avaoilable for everyone. Businesses will close. Effects of this disease will be most heavily felt by vulnerable members our society; members of the gig economy that cannot take time off will suffer financially and in terms of their health. Depending on spread and our response, it is entirely possible that many of us will know people in our schools who lost family members as a result of this pandemic.

We can pretend to “do” school online for the coming weeks and months. We can force teachers to do this work in ways we have not adequately prepared them for. We can make students go through the rote exercises of pretending to engage in tasks that are not central to their current well-being. Or, we can call the charade off for a little while. Like we would in any other catastrophic scenario.

To be clear, I am not saying that students need to be sitting aimlessly as we weather this difficult time. I think informal learning that addresses students affectively is necessary. I think teachers need strategies to cope and to heal for themselves—including opportunities for reflection, for venting, and for reaching out to students as phone and zoom calls. I am also particularly grateful that districts made the difficult decisions to close schools while also ensuring plans for providing meals and other essential supports for kids right now.

While I am planning to do everything I can to help teachers who feel the double-bind of stress in new work settings and in a moment of peril, I am silently furious. A sense of mandated accountability undergirds the need for keeping students at pace in a world that is fully ruptured from any sense of normality right now. Look at the literal changes happening around us–this is not a normal situation and that, in and of itself, is important for students to see, process, and reflect upon as civic agents. As our country works to flatten curves and create social distance from one another, we continue to expect student academic performance to inch forward as if it is business as usual.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#04)

  • The entire video is such a weird time-capsule of a time that doesn’t feel that far off. The design of YouTube as a platform, less than a decade ago, is pretty different from what it is today and suggests an evolving relationship between us as viewers and consumers of new media spaces. And while the mash-up thing isn’t new/hasn’t gone away, this feels, for me, like a moment that converged with a lot of my own writing around participatory culture and fandom.
  • This LCD Soundsystem album, too, was one that I listened to constantly (so much so that a different song on the album was played at our wedding, by our friend Peter).
  • The anticipation at around 0:36-38 when the cursor hovers over the play button.
  • Often, when I’m writing in my office at home, I have a film playing on silent while I listen to something loud. The key is to get a movie just slow enough to grab your attention for a sec before you dip back into the words in front of you. Tarkovsky’s films, Wong Kar-Wai’s, Fassbinder’s -OR- mid-’90s movies like Empire Records, Hackers, Josie and the Pussycats, etc. Elevator to the Gallows is definitely a film that’s been on rotation in the past. AND, aside from an unhealthy collection of albums from the Acid Mothers Temple groups, I probably possess more Miles Davis albums, live recordings, bootlegs, etc. than any other artist. Of course I dig his soundtrack work for Malle’s film. And yet, because of how I tend to work, I’ve probably only actually heard this soundtrack in the context of the film once or twice. Seeing this YouTube clip as a reminder of Davis watching a screen as he blows magic is something else.
  • I’ve listened to “New York, I Love You” dozens of times, seen the band play it live a couple of times, watch the faux final concert doc once in a while, and play the whole damn thing on our record player when I have the time (i.e. not often). This version–with Miles, with the french discussion, with the simple tweaks a la adjusting volume nobs, with the slightly obnoxious zooming in–is my preferred version of this song.

Three wishes for a virtual #AERA20  

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With AERA’s announcement that this year’s annual meeting is now a virtual one, there is a real opportunity for this conference to shift how thousands of educational researchers engage, interact, and view online learning opportunities. I have a sinking feeling we will collectively fail at this, based on every single other online conference I have participated in. They are terrible. Always.

At the same time, I spend a lot of time watching gamers and musicians perform live and interact with an audience. These are thriving communities and they are clearly getting it right. AERA probably needs to look closer to what a Twitch stream looks like for a charity event like Awesome Games Done Quick, for example (a bi-annual video game marathon that gets tens of thousands of viewers consistently during its weeklong duration).

Based on what I think will fail, here are my three hopes that I think would make this conference a successful one:

1. 1-Click participation

This is the thing I am most concerned about. If you’ve ever participated in an online conference, it usually requires registering for a system, downloading some proprietary software, and potentially waiting in a limbo-like screen until a session begins. It’s a confusing mess and nothing will turn off an audience faster than an experience that isn’t intuitive and seamless. It needs to be as simple as clicking a YouTube link and you are in. Literally that. Click, you are in. I am not necessarily a fan of YouTube as a platform, but if it means every AERA member can click a link and see a session at any given time (and it is later archived as an easily accessible YouTube video), I am all for it. More than any other aspect, this will be the thing that makes or breaks this conference.

1.a It’s not gonna be a regular conference

Okay, kind of cheating, but this is a continuation of my thoughts above. It’s no longer a face to face conference. That’s a given. So Do. Not. Try. To. Replicate. Traditional. Conference. Practices. For example, there is an intuitive chat feature on YouTube live videos – this would be an ideal space for a moderator to pull questions. However, I could imagine that a smaller group of viewers might want to actually talk after a particular presentation. Rather than resort to muddying an intuitive conference space for everyone, offer drop-in Zoom rooms (that can be recorded for later viewing if so interested) for further interaction and affinity-focused networking. For example, my amazing advisee is part of a 40-minute panel on the role of YA literature and equity in civic literacy contexts. The three panelists and discussant share slides to a live YouTube audience that gets 50-100 viewers (more than they’d probably get in a room at the SF-based conference!). At the end of the session, the presenter shares a link to a separate videoconferencing/Zoom room where they will be further discussing their research for the next 20 minutes. Maybe 6-7 other people join that conversation and the rest of the audience moves on to the next panel of presenters. It is a win-win: a more rewarding, smaller conversation, and an easily clickable YouTube link that works for all AERA members regardless of proxies, paywalls, or regions of the world. Let’s make this simple.

2. Ditch the names

With the exception of getting notable discussants and chairs to help contextualize new work, let’s use this space as an opportunity to highlight the voices that most benefit from being heard in these conferences. Doctoral students, post-docs, new faculty, practitioners—that’s who I would want to hear from. It should go without saying, but we need to specifically center Black, indigenous, and people of color in these presentations… but I probably need to say it anyways.

I am imagining each division and SIG is going to prune their program to a handful of sessions and I could see the inclination is to get the biggest names to ensure people tune in. They are not the people who need to be heard from. We need to put trust in the conference chairs for each section and the work they put forward, but I hope it isn’t just big name scholars. I can read their work already. I want sessions that challenge my thinking and introduce me to a new set of scholars I’ll be excited to meet in face-to-face contexts in the future.

3. Embrace Different Time Zones and Formats

The beauty of an organization like AERA is how many time zones our research spans. Since we are not confined to the whims of traditional working hours or hotel ballroom timeframes, why not shift to ensure that the conference is sharing work at all hours? It would be kind of amazing to get to click on a conference link at 3 a.m. in a given time zone and be whisked into somebody’s research from another part of the country (and if I am sleeping when the next great presentation occurs, it will be archived for me to catch up on anyway!). I’m writing this at 10:40ish p.m. on a Saturday as I watch my daughters sleep noisily on the baby monitor next to my desk. My working hours have not looked anything remotely like a normal 9-5 since becoming a professor and the 8 months of being a dad of twins has blown away any semblance of a regular schedule. I would love to feel engaged with a conference that lets me somehow plug in based on the time I have available.

 

Again, I think there is a real opportunity that comes with this necessary shift for this conference (and the many others that are being moved online for health and safety reasons). The more we put this conference behind log-ins and force it to adhere to traditional, physical conference rules, the more it will be an abysmal failure. Let’s not let that happen.

Upstate New York Folks! – SUNY Buffalo talk – Friday, March 6, 2020

In case any readers are in the area, I’ll be speaking in the Graduate School of Education at Buffalo on Friday. My talk, “Analog Literacies and Digital Platforms: Hope, Fear, and Healing in a Climate of Rising Nationalism,” is part of the Dean’s Lecture Series. The talk is at 2:30 and location/info can be found here. Hope to see some of you there!

Why a Book on Comics Pedagogy?

With Great Power Comes Great Pedagogy - Teaching, Learning, and Comics

I am so thrilled to share the release of my most recent co-edited volume. With Great Power Comes Great Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, and Comics is the kind of book that my two co-editors and I have been wanting to draw upon for quite a while. And so we worked—in collaboration with our contributors—to make this particular dialogue about comics and teaching happen.

Taking seriously a comics pedagogy, this volume brings together a pretty amazing list of folks from across very different kinds of contexts. However, what we intentionally wanted to do in this book was to put teachers (from K-12 settings to higher ed), comics studies researchers, and comic book creators in dialogue with one another. Some of these are literally conversations—like the interviews conducted with comic book luminaries like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker, and Lynda Barry. Some of these are discussions across the histories of comics studies. And some of these are analytical and empirical analyses of teaching with, through, and about comics in various schooling contexts.

While there is an abundance of interdisciplinary scholarship on the use of comics in learning settings, too often it feels like the knowledge shared in one corner of academia is too distant from the other dimensions of what I find makes comics—and the field of comic studies—so vibrant. We intentionally weave together various styles, approaches, and topics in this book to center the diversity of what comics pedagogy means and what is it for.  The table of contents for this book is amazing.

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And shout out to contributor, Ebony Flowers Kalir—her amazing artwork graces our cover. For real, if you haven’t read Hot Comb yet, get. on. that.

I guess if you’re not convinced, maybe the words of Henry Jenkins might help?:

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(And there’s a review by Lee Skallerup Bessette recently published here.)

Finally, it this book was an honor to work on with my co-editors Susan Kirtley and Peter Carlson. Our editorship, too, is an intentional reflection of the interdisciplinary approach to this project. While I share a teaching history with Peter, he represents, here, the role of K-12 educators weighing in on comic pedagogy. Susan, is an Eisner Award-winning scholar and director of the comics studies program at Portland State University. And I approached this work indebted to the educational scholarship that has shaped my thinking about comics, literacies, criticality, and multimodality.

We’ll be hosting talks and workshops related to this book’s release at various comic cons throughout the year. Please consider checking out the book! We hope to get to geek out with you soon.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#03)

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  • From the poem “what was said at the bus stop” by Danez Smith.
  • The poem is in their most recent book.
  • The book’s cover says the book is called Homie and the book’s “note on the title” is one the most satisfying revelations I’ve encountered.
  • I don’t think I sat as fully in the wondering of the word “solidarity” until this stanza and I think the links to history and to lineage and to empathy have had me on tilt in the weeks since I first read it.
  • I couldn’t choose an excerpt from the book’s opening poem, “my president.” That poem–like the entire collection–sings and swings from one line to the next, unrelenting and unremorseful (just moresful?).

SoCal Folks! – UC Irvine Presentation – Friday, February 21, 2020

A quick note:

I am presenting findings from my tabletop roleplaying ethnographic work as part of the UCI Informatics Seminar Series this Friday. I am using this as an excuse to finally finish the fourth paper related to this fieldwork.

The talk is open to the public and I’ll be loafing around campus if anyone wants to grab a coffee. Information here.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#02)

  • The vamping/harmonizing warm-up for the first 20 seconds.
  • The finger point to the recording when the piano comes in at 0:21, like she’s Timbaland introducing the world to Dirt Off Your Shoulders.
  • The anticipatory breath at 1:06 before jumping into the song.
  • When the make-up artist tries to join along by dancing at 1:38.
  • Would I have watched this video as many times as I have if this song/version was ever properly recorded or released?
  • Weirdly, defunct SoCal punk band Abe Vigoda did the closest spiritual cover of the song.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#01)

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(from Until the End of the World)

To get back to posting around here somewhat regularly, I’m planning to tag occasional media–sounds, snippets, images, gestures–to revisit when Luna and Max get (a little) older. As an opening, this still from Wim Wenders’ film feels like an appropriate, meta reflection on memory, media, and meaning. If you’ve got a spare 4.5 hours, it’s a helluva film.

“We are ranking the great shipwrecks”: Books Read in 2019

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Yesterday, I finished Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds and I’ve been slowly moseying my way through this collection of essays about Elizabeth Bishop. So here’s my breakdown of my reading for 2019:

Books read in 2019: 170
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 42
Books of poetry included in reading total: 8
Books reread included in reading total: 5
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 15
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 26
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research): 3 [I’m mainly writing up findings from this work now; unless something substantial changes next year, I’ll stop tracking these texts at this point.]

Some thoughts (as usual, here are my posts on books read in 201820172016201520142013201220112010, and 2009):

Rather than bury the lede, I’ll share that Ally and I welcomed twins into our family in July. They are (usually) great! I’ll be referring to them by their middle names on this blog moving forward: Luna and Max.

Okay. So, the first half of the year was taken up with a lot of pregnancy-related books, most of which offered conflicting advice. (As parents might predict, the summer was filled with books related to baby sleep habits. These, too, largely offered competing and unhelpful advice; yes, I changed them and fed them and swaddled the hell out of them already.) The world of publishing around pregnancy and twins/multiples is much more limited and I found bits and pieces of these books useful in reducing some of the stress we felt in the first two trimesters; but I thought these were also pretty bad for the most part. (I may go more in depth on the pregnancy/parenting book genre in a longer post because I have #feelings about these texts, the market for literally the most mundane yet precious aspect of human culture, and the pedagogical expectations of mainstream books.) On the off chance that any readers are expecting twins in the near future (congrats!), feel free to get in touch–I’m happy to share some specific recommendations.

Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream Housewas the best book I read this year. Intentionally unsettling, Machado pushes on the boundaries of form and genre while excavating trauma and abuse in a book that’s unlike anything else I’ve come across. It’s definitely a BSRAYDEKWTDWT-contender and, considering how much I liked Her Body and Other Parties, Machado is a new favorite writer. 

And while I realize it got a ton of press, I would universally recommend Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. It’s not a pleasant read but I am grateful to have gotten to learn from Miller’s words.

Though eight doesn’t look like much in comparison to other kinds of books account for, I read a lot more poetry than in recent years. I’m going to shoot for one collection per month in 2020.To be honest, I was kicked back into a poetry mood as I ruminated on the loss of musician and poet David Berman earlier this year. Rereading his collection, Actual Air, was a painful reminder of Berman’s genius and humor, the title of this post comes from this collection. Likewise, I’ve been regularly coming back to Zadie Smith’s reading of Frank O’Hara’s “Animals.” The text has crept into a couple of my academic talks and part of it serves as an epigraph for a short essay coming out in 2020.

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon was the weird, overly long sci-fi novel I had fun getting sucked into. It feels like only due to largesse did Ted Chiang release a new collection of stories this year. It is, of course, impeccable.

In terms of comics, Tom King’s Mister Miracle is a refreshing take on the superhero genre (and maybe a spiritual sequel to his Vision run). Not unlike In The Dream House, it’s a stunning mix of fitting within the confines of genre and form while also channeling pathos through every page. I also found the diary-style comics of Keiler Roberts to be exactly the sense of humor and reflection to take me through a sleep-deprived fall. Her most recent, Rat Time, is as good a place to start as any.

For a year and a half now, a couple colleagues and I have been systematically reading select YA books published across the past two decades. As a result, I read a lot of YA I didn’t like this year. I’ll note that—as frustrating and #problematic as I found the series—the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants offers some interesting ideas around multimodal literacies. (Years too late to be any kind of warning, I’ll also note that the final book in the series is infuriating.) Also surprising, I found Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen was an intriguing book for thinking about trauma, romance, and multimodal composition. I guess you could probably say that about 70% of YA books, but how many of them feature a corded house phone, a parental car phone, and a cell phone all at the same time? It’s a pretty revelatory reflection of now-discarded social uses of technology from just a decade ago. As a recent book, Jason Reynolds’ novelization of Miles Morales: Spider-Man hit the comic’s tone perfectly while still hitting the same emotional and critical notes that I’ve come to consistently appreciate in Reynolds’ books.

 

In terms of music, I’ve been trying to play only female artists around the house to orient around dominant voices my kids hear singing as they grow up. We have a Luna and Max playlist that is bratty and whiny and loud. I try to cycle through that as much as I can. I’m thinking of collecting the scrapbook pieces of media—on that playlist or otherwise—and sharing sporadically on this blog in the future.

FKA twigs’ Magdalene was my favorite album of the year.

For being my least favorite album that they’ve put out, I really like Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride.

I did a lot of writing, in equal measure to Colleen Green’s album length cover of Blink 182’s Dude Ranch and to Sunn O)))’s Pyroclasts.

Synth-y, gloomy pop feels like the right vibe for 2019 in terms of national malaise. I’ve been listening to the new Black Marble album a bunch lately. 

Lastly, six years ago I closed my year-end post noting that I’d been listening to this live version of Yo La Tengo’s song “Nowhere Near.” We use the album version as the song we play during Luna and Max’s bedtime routine, so—by sheer repetition—it’s the song I probably heard the most in 2019 and that’s great. Here’s the album version to help you put your year to rest.