Introducing La Cuenta

Along with a research collaborator, Alix Dick, I am launching a (free) newsletter called La Cuenta.

We want you to subscribe:

We’ll be launching things regularly starting in October. For now, here’s a bit more about what we’re aiming to do:

Everyday, approximately 11 million individuals labeled undocumented in the United States provide the essential services that keep this country afloat.

Through this simple process of surviving, these individuals incur myriad costs that are largely invisible to the majority of Americans. From financial expenses like out-of-pocket health care to the emotional costs of constant fear of deportation to the spiritual costs of perpetual separation from friends and family, these are costs with compounded, long term implications.

La Cuenta begins the arduous process of accounting for these myriad costs, one expense at a time. Each week, we will explore one item added to the metaphorical bill of what undocumented American living costs. Our bill includes a sum of dollars, hours, tears, scars, goodbyes, and discarded opportunities. It is both incomplete and overwhelming.

I’m excited about pushing the boundaries of who does research, what counts as scholarship, and toward what ends this work travels. If you are interested in contributing to La Cuenta, get in touch. In the meantime, please subscribe!

Platforms, Book Bans, and Speculative Action: A Call for Design

UntitledI want to play this tune for you, but I forgot the words.

This past week, I’ve been watching robotic dogs that can hunt immigrants on our border, the ceding of a fight about book banning, and debates about Joe Rogan that limit perspectives of civic engagement to if someone should move from one platform to another.

I’m wondering why we’re not doing more for teachers and students.

We’re not doing more for teachers and students because we’re all. so. goddamn. tired.

And so, I’m thinking about the limitations of discourse: The ways the ongoing trauma of a pandemic has left us flat-footed when it comes to responding to censorship and attacks on the possibilities of classroom ingenuity right now.

We are losing in a moment of indelible grief.

That word–“indelible”–has been showing up kind of serendipitously in my life lately – in books, films, conversations.

Each time, the word is punctuated with the memory of Christine Blasey Ford using it, her voice quivering as she describes the memory of her assault by Brett Kavanaugh: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

A lot of us have spent time dreaming and arguing for social change. But arguments are simply screeds when they’re in an online vacuum. Speculative imagination is only as good as the change it might instantiate.

So, here’s a query: if we were to convene virtually in the next few weeks to take on the current contexts book banning and educational responsibility, what would you want to design, to develop, to dream together? (“we” is you, and me, and whoever is willing to participate.)

Academics are good at talk for talk’s sake. What might we do? Who might we become? Are you willing to mutate in dialogue for the sake of tomorrow?

“But she’s asking after your dreams”: Books Read in 2021

UntitledAs the picture above suggests, this was a hard year. A coffee spill in October washed away the bottom portion of my analog record keeping and there was a two-ish month period in the summer when this notebook just got lost in the chaos that was year two of global pandemic. You’ll notice an asterisk for this year’s books – this post tallies the books I could account for with a system that wasn’t designed for the foibles of personal exhaustion or caffeinated catastrophe. In short, my reading and my record keeping of it were erratic. Here’s the closest to my annual rundown (here are my posts on books read in 2020, 2019201820172016201520142013201220112010, and 2009):

Books read in 2021: 136*
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 13
Books of poetry included in reading total: 12
Books reread included in reading total: 3
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 16
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 4
Untitled new research project: 19

My favorite book of the year was Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America. Every essay in this book was a delight and I cannot recommend it enough.

Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and Natasha Brown’s Assembly were the two (very different) literary fiction books that stayed with me for months after finishing them. I keep thinking about Klara and the Sun as a book about futility and climate change. Assembly is a single-sitting novella that feels piercing and precise and deeply unsettling.

I read a lot of really great poetry this year. Muriel Leung’s Imagine Us, The Swarm and Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities were two of my favorites. I also have been dipping into several collections I still haven’t finished, like the massive complete collection of Jim Harrison’s poetry and the latest collection from Tracy Smith – both are wonderful.

The academic book that blew my thinking open this year was Decolonial Feminist Research: Haunting, Rememory and Mothers by  Jeong-eun Rhee. The book is dense and personal and centers “rememory” from Toni Morrisson’s Beloved as method.

An accessible and loving text, Alexis Pauline Gumb’s Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals embodies the kind of radical imagination that gave me a little optimism in a pretty dreary year. I would continually bring this book up in as many conversations as possible. It took a nudge from a colleague to pick this up and I offer this same favor to you as well – you will not read another book like this one.

Over the summer, I got into an argument about abolition with the gentleman giving me a tattoo. It was because I was holding Mariame Kaba’s We Do This ‘Til We Free Us and he asked me what the book was about. Maybe’s that an endorsement?

There’s a new research project I’m not ready to talk about yet but the reading for that project has gone in a ton of wild directions. Harsha Walia’s Border & Rule and Emily Ratajkowski’s My Body are both part of this work and (in very different ways) books I appreciated sitting with.

Music wise … Okay so, I’ve been writing/making books for my kids about the lives of notable women of color. Some are family members/people in their lives but some are about people like Ellen Ochoa and Aurora Castillo. Making these books–the writing, the gluing, the engineering sometimes–has been one of the more playful forms of writing I got to do this year. The most recent book is about Filipina singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo. Her album, Sour, was one of the most played in our house this year.

Aside from Rodrigo, my favorite albums of the year were Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, Indigo de Souza’s Any Shape You Take, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, and Bleachers’ Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. The title of this post comes from the opening track of the Bleachers album (which I am still agog over the fact that Zadie Smith co-wrote).

I have been spending a lot of the winter listening to this Eris Drew record and to a whole bunch of stuff from DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ (aka the greatest artist’s name I spent time consistently listening to this year).

Over the summer I read this messy (auto?)biography of Fela Kuti and have been slowly working my way through all of his discography. His unapologetic push for the future has been shaping much of my speculative thinking.

I don’t really follow jazz very much these days, but I can say I end up consuming  (and loving) most of what International Anthem puts out. Honestly, take your pick of their 2021 releases. The recent Jeff Parker solo guitar album is ace. This ambient thing from Angel Bat Dawid is great. The Jaimie Branch record is wonderful. More Black Monuments Ensemble and  Irreversible Entanglements albums forever, please. Honestly, you can’t really go wrong.

The two songs I listened to the most were Fiona Apple’s cover of “The Whole of the Moon”:

And Bleachers’ “Stop Making this Hurt”

Shout-y choruses that include “Two, three, four, five, Oh God we barely survived” hit different amidst the pandemic, and I look forward to a 2022 that doesn’t require such poppy catharsis.

Coffee Spoons 2021: What I Worked on This Year and Why

Nearly a decade into full time professing, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that my work revolves around familiar themes year in and year out. The writing I published in 2021 speaks to an emphasis on civic innovation, youth ingenuity, and political outrage that have been fueling my career since before starting grad school. And so, my time working this year felt somewhat transitional. Much of my work this year was spillover from research projects that have been rolling forward for several years and a few projects emerged with a publication or two this year with much more to come in 2022 (and beyond).

In any case, below are the key themes on which I published in 2021. Rather than generic headers, I’ve organized these around institutional changes this work calls for. (There are a handful of publications this year that don’t fit easily in these categories – feel free to peruse the obnoxious Google Scholar page for a more mundane, chronological rundown of my work.) As should go without saying, none of this work happens in a vacuum. I rely heavily on collaboration—usually with other researchers, with teachers, and with students—and this work reflects my ongoing partnerships with some of the people I am most lucky to get to work with. (My roundup of work from previous years can be found here: 202020192018.)*

Our research and teaching practices are often complicit in the harm experienced in schooling systems today.

Much of my writing this year—including this op-ed with Nicole Mirra and this English Journal essay—focus on the ways our work as educators and educational researchers is hampering healing and growth in light of an ongoing pandemic and the multiple forms of violence students and teachers witness daily.

It does not fit within the traditional boundaries of typical peer reviewed scholarship, but the article I learned the most through writing was this Teachers College Record commentary about sense-making during the pandemic. It summarizes some of my research about school buses (which I hope to talk about much more in 2022) as well as the contexts of empathy, fatherhood, and racial politics today. It’s a messy confluence of ideas that doesn’t quite work on the page but, genuinely, has more heart in it than what passes muster for Reviewer 2 these days. Honestly, if you’re not much of an academic reader (e.g. you weren’t assigned any of these articles for a graduate class), that commentary and this blog post about tamales are probably the two most interesting things I wrote this year.

Related, that TCR article references this work on school buses. Because this work had to halt as a result of the pandemic, my research team and I have continued to work with these families and partnering school districts in order to understand what learning opportunities have looked like for various school stakeholders throughout the nearly two years of the pandemic. Research from this work will be available soon.

Our approaches to teaching and educational research must (continue to) turn toward the speculative.

One of the main ideas that Nicole Mirra and I have focused on over the past couple years has been the idea that the “speculative” must orient how we go about teaching and researching. We’ve written about this in literacy and civic-focused contexts, including this 2021 article (co-written with a group of amazing classroom teachers). Broadly, this is work about moving our field, our research methods, and our pedagogies closer toward the kind of radical hope and imagination necessary for collective joy and liberation.

This year, Nicole and I were privileged to host the second Speculative Education Colloquium and to convene the first half of a smaller gathering of scholars through work funded by the Spencer Foundation. We plan to disseminate this work (as well as related editing work) in 2022 and 2023. A date for the third annual Speculative Education Colloquium will be announced soon.

Youth civic ingenuity must be acknowledged and embraced.

Continuing from research related to the Letters to the Next President project, I’ve continued to explore youth civic writing practices. Research on youth perspectives of climate change led by Lynne Zummo and Emma Gargroetzi came out here and Emma and I have focused on public dissemination of the findings from our work. Particularly during the first half of 2021, Emma and I were able to convene some amazing ELA and math educators to explore what civic reasoning could look like across these two subject areas. We released a guide for educators on quantitative civic reasoning and I encourage educators to take a look and share it with their colleagues.

Remi Kalir and I have also continued to explore the possibilities of annotation and civic literacies (e.g. this book that came out at the beginning of the year). This post on #SharpieActivism and this iAnnotate keynote are extensions of this ongoing work.

Platforms are drastically changing where and how education transpires today.

I’ve talked a bit about platforms in some of my previous research. However, this article with Roberto Santiago de Roock and this article with Philip Nichols point to a larger, ongoing focus on the ways we must center platform studies in educational research. This is something I’ll be talking about much more in work arriving in the coming months. (Somewhat related, I still spend a bit of time thinking about analog gaming literacies, such as this TCR yearbook chapter on race and gender in D&D and this article with Jon Wargo on escape rooms and literacies.)

*I confess it feels strange to tally the work I do in journals that take too long to publish during a period where–even in the midst of a pandemic–we averaged nearly two mass shootings in this country every day. The ongoing rise of gun violence, of anti-immigrant racism, of anti-Black oppression, and the many other daily atrocities we bear witness to are devastating. My focus on the speculative and on participatory research methodologies are an intentional stance to engage in research that is solely and actively working toward freedom.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#20): “I Want to Be in Love With You” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir

I’ve always had a soft spot for gospel music. Even if I’m not all that religious, it’s the joy of the whole thing.

(I think that’s probably the point.)

When I get up in the mornings to rouse you both from your cribs, the tunes we play are usually female voices contemporary and old: Selena and Violeta Parra and Jazmine Sullivan and Fiona Apple and Remi Wolf and Rihanna and Mickey Guyton and Gloria Estefan and Nelly Furtado and Jill Scott and Aretha and Jenni Rivera and Japanese Breakfast and Selena Gomez and Kali Uchis and Speedy Ortiz and Downtown Boys and Charli XCX and Illuminati Hotties and and and

and the only real exception to the female voices of it all is gospel.

So I’ve been playing the latest box set release of Pastor T.L. Barrett & The Youth For Christ Choir a lot.

And so, there’s not much else to say except that a love song written about faith in lyrics that speak plaintively to human desire and to redemption and to compassion and to seeing the world through the eyes of someone else is a song that I am pretty okay teaching the two of you to two-step to.

There is a wild turn throughout the lyrics that makes it clear that the song is actually the desire of God to be in love with the singer—with you. I think about that humanizing element sometimes, as the two of you futz with books and sketchpads and stuffed animals in the morning: that knowledge that you are both loved universally and that nature is being ordered around collective efforts to make this world wholly for you.

By the time Barrett is losing his mind Mariah-ing about the Bible in the second half of the song he’s already won me over and, honestly, I’m probably starting the song over from the beginning.

 

(I think the recent-re-release of this music is at least somewhat due to Kanye’s substantial use of Father Stretch Hands on Life of Pablo but the song isn’t even the brightest of the many gems here.)

Associate Liner Notes

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As I recently posted to various social media accounts – I’ve earned tenure and promotion to associate professor here in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford.

I’m humbled, relieved, and grateful to get to continue the work that I do. This process is often one of summing up the various ways one’s labor deserves merit from peers and elders in the academic community; it’s egalitarian and not always fair. I recognize how much privilege I am afforded in this position and I don’t take the resources here for granted.

As I noted on my statement I submitted for tenure, the work I’ve been doing has always been about acknowledging the brilliance of young people and about supporting a teaching profession beleaguered in an era of high stakes accountability:

By engaging the brilliance of historically marginalized youth of color, I outline the fundamental role of play, civics, and literacies in ensuring young people are prepared to contribute meaningfully to society. Through this research, I am simultaneously concerned with both honoring young people’s ingenuity and creativity in different civic spaces and in supporting teacher classroom practice to do the same.

I submitted my materials about half a year into a global pandemic. I felt, like many of you, like my social world shrank during this period. There was a smaller number of people I leaned on throughout this pandemic/tenure process and I realize I asked a lot from you all. I want to recognize a handful of folks who helped lift up the work that I do during this period (there are many, many more people who I will be reaching out to, but these are folks who helped me get through the past year and a half of pandemic tenure-ing):

Ernest Morrell and Kris Gutierrez have been constant mentors for me throughout my career and their guidance and wisdom continued to be essential, even as I sheltered in place miles away from both of them.

Nicole Mirra has been a writing and thinking partner who continually pushes my thinking. Her willingness to push with me on the fussy boundaries of various academic disciplines has been some of the most exciting work I’ve gotten to do lately. Particularly as I’ve been figuring out dad-ing over the past two years, my time has been uneven to say the least. Nicole’s been supportive and collaborative even when I have fumbled parts of our projects.

The constant prattling of a never-to-be-named GSE group chat and the non-stop shit-talking of Dehanza Rogers and Chris Gutierrez also helped lift me up during this period.

There are a lot of labels that get associated with advisees here at Stanford and I couldn’t care less about them. Primary, secondary, unofficial, at a different institution: if you have been an advisee that I’ve worked with, I am so grateful for getting as much if not more out of learning alongside you in the seemingly labyrinthine world of academia. Thanks for being patient with my follow-up sometimes and for letting me continually try to inject silly metaphors and wordplay into our manuscripts.

Finally, I am still trying to process the ways the pandemic has impacted me. At the very least, I know it’s challenged how I think about what family means and how I understand the stakes of the work I try to do. I have not always brought my fullest self to all parts of family life in this messy time of social distancing and I’m grateful to family and friends that supported us when it was safe to do so.

I am particularly grateful for A.’s support for our family. A tempo of regularity, consistency, and love could be felt throughout our household during this period and my kids are only the better for it. Thank you.

Absolutely none of my work would have been possible without my partner, Ally, and her continuous questioning, cheerleading, and unwavering support for what I get to do. There is an immense amount of privilege in getting to be selfish with my work time and I am only too aware of how much Ally has gone out of her way to let me sit deeply in weird projects and hard problems. She challenges my thinking and reminds me of the aspects of the world that are far bigger than the demons of peer review and academic publishing. She’s also an amazing, amazing mother and the person I learn the most from on a daily (if not hourly!) basis. I love you.

All of my research moving forward is dedicated to making schooling and society a freer and safer world for my daughters, Joey and Stella. They are the greatest inspiration for the work that I do (and my harshest critics). My work demands nothing less than the construction of a world that allows them to live in complete happiness. Thank you for instigating the questions I am studying.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#19): “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” by Owen Pallett – Live At Hillside Festival

  • 4:35 – “Just one more minute!”
  • For more than a decade, this has been one of my favorite live performances to revisit.
  • Getting older, the recklessness of the situation feels ever heavier with each view, but the joy remains undiminished.

We Could be Quetzals: Dreaming as Refusal

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A confession: I’ve been searching for new metaphors to describe a freer tomorrow. They pile up as text messages to myself. Nouns and verbs and gerunds and false starts seeking what’s not right in front of us.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the quetzal. The mayan bird that refused capture. Wikipedia will tell you that the quetzal will simply die in captivity. However, the version that I was told was that, when the quetzal was caged, it would put itself to sleep and refuse to awaken. [I think the Guatemala national anthem speaks to this history: “que tu pueblo con ánima fiera/antes muerto que esclavo será.”]

What does the quetzal dream of?

Walking around a high school in Southern California recently, I was reminded that—regardless of how permanent school structures and policies may seem—everything is temporary. There are literal cracks in the pavement and spaces for pushing up the stones of positivism that drive knowledge acquisition in U.S. schools. The time for forceful dreaming is now.

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Earlier this year, when discussing the second Speculative Education Colloquium, I offered a list of reasons why these events needed to continue. The first three reasons that I wrote were:

  • Because things aren’t better.
  • Because “better” isn’t good enough when the purpose is freedom.
  • Because education still isn’t about dreaming.

Refusing capture and snoozing through captivity: that feels like a promising way to live in service of liberation. What more can we ask of each other than to dream in refusal of a life lived in subordination?