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 Alix’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?

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#17) – “Love You So Bad” by Ezra Furman

 

  • This song got a bunch of (deserved) attention as the musical centerpiece in the trailer for Netflix’s Sex Education a few years ago (it kicks in about halfway through the trailer, around here). The climactic Wah-Wah-Wah-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa of the song’s ending feels poised as the exuberance of new love exploding in the lives of these adolescent characters.
  • It’s a powerful ending to the song but its transcendence is misplaced (or at least misunderstood) in the context of this trailer.
    • Side note: Ezra Furman performs most of the music for both seasons of the show  (and she has a cameo in the first scene). The soundtrack is kind of a greatest hits of some of her recent-ish work.
  • See, the song starts out being about new love. But new love becomes comfortable love and hard times and buying “drugs from a parking attendant” until finally, like a Tom Waits tragedy, the song finds one character getting “accepted to college” and transcending the shared “garbage small town rat trap.”
  • (The wah-wah chorus still hasn’t hit by the time this person leaves the narrator in the dust. This is telling.)
  • The narrator gets a “dumb job” in retail, just missing this other person.
  • And then.
  • And then.
  • And then–you know this–life just keeps going.
  • And we get to the final verse of the song and it knocks me out:
    “I drew your name in the sand.
    Came to the beach ‘cause we used to go here.
    I watched the blue wave cover it over,
    Do what the ocean does best.”
  • It’s such a small thing and the simplicity of these lines feels lived in in the same way that the Dear Sugar letter in the previous dispatch does. It’s a small fist in a grand song and it feebly threatens to make the whole thing “pop” like one of my favorite lines in a Mountain Goats song.
  • It’s resignation and longing, years after this relationship’s run its course. The narrator closes with a muted shrug: “I feel fine, don’t even feel sad about it, I just love you baby so, so bad.”
  • And that’s when that famous climax rises up.
  • It’s not a moment of joyful young love. Those wah-wahs? They are the wa-wa-water of blue waves crashing over the sand. A futile effort at washing away loss and memory.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#16)

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  • “Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.”
  • From the title letter of the Dear Sugar collection, tiny beautiful things.
  • The whole letter can be read here. My copy of this book is an dogeared mess and the three and a half pages that take up this letter and the initial query are what I come back to the most.
  • The overly personal as tied completely to universal truth, e.g.:
    • “One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.”
  • There are several other paragraphs I would paste here, but imagine it’s worth just reading the entire thing. As advice, as a narrative, as a piece of writing, I continue to learn from this letter (and the rest of the collection).
  • I’ve never read anything else by Cheryl Strayed.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#15)

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  • Ally’s best friend handmade these as the centerpieces for the tables at our wedding reception almost eight years ago.
  • A vase or two have basically moved with us from one house to another, a constant reminder of the not-so-small gifts that friends offer.
  • Luna and Max: this is the 15th dispatch of poems, images, songs, films, and more songs that I’ve been slowly sharing and collecting for you. It’s about holding fast to the good people around you. And it’s about reminding you that your words (can) always bloom with joy, with action, with rage, with love.
  • What more might we want flowers to profer than an accumulation of nouns and verbs to pollinate the world?

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#14)

  • On first listen, this song’s kind of doing a Paranoid Android, in that it sounds like three different songs mashed together. So it’s kind of also just an emo Happiness is a Warm Gun (the emo-est of the Beatles’ song title by a mile!).
  • But here’s the thing: it’s not a Paranoid Android or a Happiness. The song hangs together.
  • It hangs together out of sheer frustration, loneliness, and pleading. It’s a song about letting go and coming home and doing both at the same time. The entire thing builds up to a simple thesis: “I miss coming home to you/I hate coming home.”
  • Admittedly, the song sounds like a fine, if typical, emo/punk song for the first minute and a half. But then it goes on a journey (like a musician being a little too road-weary). Two and a half minutes in and the song drops any pretensions and just goes straight to heart-filled pathos and ennui: “All these other motherfucking dipshits can bite me.” Honestly, it doesn’t even sound like an annoying line by the time it sneaks up on you.
  • I want to yell along with some dumb “yeahs” and this song feels like the fact that I (we?) haven’t seen live music–in person–for a year and a half at this point, the longest period by several multiples since being a teenager.
  • I think about Jeff Rosenstock releasing this song (the final track on his most recent album) in the midst of a pandemic–adrift from a world and an audience. A song that demands chanting and collective screaming: “You’re the only person that I wanted to like me /You’re the only person that I wanted to like me.” And not being able to participate in the catharsis that emo thrives on.
  • And then, by transforming a joke tweet into a living, breathing, honest-to-god good ska album, he released the song again in the middle of the same goddamn pandemic. Twice the pleading, twice the angst, twice the loneliness in coming home:
    • “We relive every misstep that we’ve made in our lives.”
  • I confess I get hooked deeply on one or two songs on every one of Rosenstock’s albums. I think about the simplicity of 9/10 all the time. This verbal introduction of Festival Song–sharing his band’s fee for performing at a dumb festival … at the actual dumb festival–is one of my favorite introductions to a song.

 

  • “Nobody wishes for the things that they already have.”

#HomesteadEd: Six Notes on Schooling, Home, and Homesteading

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“Awareness of the past is an important element in the love of place” (Tuan, 1990).

1. Schools in the U.S. operate on land maintained by settler colonial violence. Too, curriculum and the “grammar of schooling” reinforces the logic that makes this violence permissible (Tyack & Cuban, 1997).

2. Other kinds of relationships to land and to life (human and otherwise) are not only possible but have thrived in alternate contexts.

3. Playing in the park with my daughters, I am reminded of the ways collective space is shared, re-used, and re-interpreted. The lessons of taking turns on the slide, the informal pick-up soccer game, the organized martial arts class, the canoodling teens: this space flexes to the whims and demands of a fluctuating populace.

4. I’ve been thinking a lot about “home” lately. What is it, how does it feel, and for whom? If feeling free and safe might be associated with home, how might we move the practices of schooling closer to the sensemaking of “home”?

5. “Homesteading” is a centuries-old concept. It conveys notions of “back-to-the-land,” self-sufficiency, and collective action for a shared, common good. In the U.S., I think homesteading is usually seen as a new-age-y, off-the-grid movement. Importantly, this movement might be seen as overtly dismissive of the ways land and our purposed agency upon it are deeply intwined with race and power.

6. As a starting place for learning alongside young people, how might we re-center our relationship with the land? The carapace of American democracy is shedding at an alarming rate. Rather than relying on centralized forms of governance and control, perhaps localized forms of living and learning–a critical homesteading–might function as the central nodes for pollinating a freer approach to schooling.