Category Archives: education

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

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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?

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.

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.

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?

#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.

Invitation: The 2021 Speculative Education Colloquium

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The second annual Speculative Education Colloquium is happening on April 3rd from 1-3:30 ET. Free registration for the event is here.

We are absolutely thrilled that this year’s keynote is Dr. Marcelle Haddix. The title of her presentation is: “Are You Ready for Black Future Month? On Education, Possible Futures, and the Black Imagination.”

In addition to Dr. Haddix’s presentation, we will have a set of smaller spaces in the colloquium for intentional dialogue, for designing, and for dreaming. We will also be giving some updates on the future of the colloquium.

If you’re looking for information about last year’s convening, here’s the initial overview, some featured talks are here, and a post mortem is here. These events are co-created by Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia.

 

Why Another Colloquium?

Because things aren’t better.

Because “better” isn’t good enough when the purpose is freedom.

Because education still isn’t about dreaming.

Because the tools we have for this educational world are not just insufficient, they are designed for altogether different purposes than the educational world we are co-creating.

Because stimulus checks and vaccines don’t cure colonialism.

Because we’re tired of “allyship” and “fragility” and “mindsets.”

Because when do teachers and teacher educators and educational researchers actually center love and healing in their work?

Because how can you not center love and healing in a moment when more than half a million people are not with us as a result of willful, governmental negligence in the face of global pandemic?

Because, if we’re being honest, we don’t really know what NFTs are.

Because the portals we were promised a year ago have gone nowhere.

Because, even as we write this, schools have fully embraced “the new normal.”

Because “the new normal” is just “the old normal” with a new adjective.

Because, even though Zoom boxes are unfulfilling, they bring us that much closer to an analog connection with each other.

Because Black lives matter.

Because we also went to all of the amazing online talks and events over the past year and the world still doesn’t look much rosier.

Because your webcam and your Facebook account and your doorbell are all probably spying on you.

Because we are far too aware that dreaming is not simply a tool wielded for good and that white supremacist dreaming helped motivate ongoing violence in this country including insurrection and state-perpetuated murder of Black people. 

Because “learning loss,” “reading gaps,” and standardized testing.

Because George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the 1,127 other people killed by the police in 2020.

Because we are not on the verge of climate catastrophe.

Because we are in the midst of climate catastrophe.

Because our children are going “back” and there’s not a clear timeline of if or when they might be vaccinated.

Because if we do it again, I’m gonna freak out (so do it again).

 

Because we are still here.

Because last year had a lot of tomorrows and yet we are still here.

Because there are a lot of us that refuse to relinquish hope.

Because we have here and and we have now and we have each other.

Call for Chapters: Literacies in the Platform Society – Histories, Pedagogies, Possibilities

Phil Nichols and I are seeking chapter proposals for a volume we are in the midst of proposing focused on the possibilities of literacies in relation to platform technologies. This is related to our recent article in Phi Delta Kappan. The full call for chapters is below and abstracts are due April 15, 2021. Please share this call with any interested folks – we are hoping to hear from literacies scholars in varied, global contexts.

 

Call for Chapters

Literacies in the Platform Society: Histories, Pedagogies, Possibilities

Editors: T. Philip Nichols, Baylor University & Antero Garcia, Stanford University

Over the last decade, literacy teaching, learning, and practice have increasingly come to be facilitated by platforms — digital spaces where users engage in social and economic exchange. These include multipurpose giants — like Google, Facebook, and Amazon — that provide infrastructures for producing, storing, and circulating texts; as well as niche resources for designing, remixing, monitoring, assessing, sharing, and discussing them (e.g. TurnItIn, Voicethread, Nearpod, Epic Reading).

To date, attention to such platforms in education (when it exists) has tended to focus on the level of individual apps, and their opportunities and limitations for ethical, equitable, and justice-oriented pedagogy. However, a growing, multidisciplinary literature on “Platform Studies” has begun to recognize platforms not as discrete tools, but as an emergent organizational logic. This logic simultaneously (1) offers a range of consumer-facing services; (2) harvests data on the back-end of these transactions; and (3) interoperates with other platform-providers to share or sell this data, or use it in future product development. The steady creep of this logic, and its attendant datafication processes, into more and more aspects of social life has resulted in what some scholars have termed “the Platform Society.” For literacy studies, this view suggests that, while platforms can appear as ready-made tools for literacy instruction and practice, they are underwritten by sociotechnical architectures (e.g. code, data, algorithms, interfaces, governance structures, business models) whose inherited interests and assumptions may work with or against those of their users.

This raises significant challenges for literacy practice, teaching, and research. While there are rich lineages in literacy studies that explore the critical potentials of digital media for producing, circulating, and interacting with texts, platform technologies tether such activities to design constraints and commercial actors that delimit their form, content, reach, and impacts. Likewise, though there are powerful pedagogies that make use of digital connectivity, platforms enroll educators and students in regimes of surveillance and data-extraction that raise thorny ethical questions for schools. And because many of the mechanisms that drive the ‘platformatzation’ of literacies are hidden beneath-the-screen (e.g. in code, wiring, algorithms), it can be difficult for researchers to account for their roles in co-constructing acts of reading and writing.

This edited volume aims to confront these challenges by bringing together scholarship that examines the shifting meaning, place, and work of “literacies” in the Platform Society. In particular, we are seeking chapters that speak to one (or more) of three themes that will assist the volume in articulating an agenda for literacy studies in emerging platform ecologies. These include:

  • Histories — continuities with, and breaks from, past perspectives in literacy studies that can help us better frame and understand reading and writing in platform environments; 
  • Pedagogies — instructional considerations for teaching with and about platforms in diverse educational settings;
  • Possibilities — opportunities for moving beyond critique of platform technologies and into forms of usage (or resistance) that prefigure alternate relations to digital and data technologies in literacy education.

We welcome chapter submissions that engage such themes through any number of theoretical, methodological, or transdisciplinary orientations. Chapters may, likewise, be empirical or conceptual in nature (though we will aim for a balance of each in the final table of contents). Potential topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • AI/machine-learning technologies in literacy instruction/practice
  • Civic learning and literacies within, within, or against platform ecologies
  • Social media, peer-production, and digital labor
  •  Algorithmic bias and educational justice
  •  Disinformation and ‘media literacy’ in platform ecosystems
  •  Datafication and ‘data literacies’
  • Surveillance/dataveillance in digital reading/writing
  • Reading/writing interfaces and their relation to practice
  • Platform capitalism and governance in- and out-of-schools
  • Intersections of code, coding, and literacies
  • Hardware and physical infrastructures of digital reading and writing
  • Environmental and global impacts of platform technologies

Submission Details

Interested contributors should submit a 500-word abstract to phil_nichols@baylor.edu by April 15, 2021. This abstract should detail the chapter’s contribution and fit within the edited volume, as well as the structure of the proposed chapter (including its argument, theoretical/methodological approach, and sources of evidence/data). The anticipated timeline for the book’s development is:

15 Apr. 2021 — Abstracts due

30 Apr. 2021 — Contributors notified

1 Sept. 2021 — First draft of chapters due

1 Nov. 2021 — Editorial feedback on chapters returned

15 Feb. 2022 — Revised chapters due

The volume will be submitted to Routledge’s “Expanding Literacies in Education” Series, edited by Drs. Jennifer Rowsell, Cynthia Lewis, and Carmen Medina. The anticipated publication date is late-2022 or early-2023.

Some recent media links: Civics and D&D

Nicole Mirra and I wrote an oped last month reflecting on the inauguration, insurrection, and the pathways for civic education.

Somewhat related, we gave a talk at UC Davis titled “I Hesitate But I Do Have Hope: Speculative Civic Literacies for Troubled Times.” The presentation and the links we mentioned are all available here.

I’ve also had a chance to talk about D&D, race, and contemporary culture recently. Here’s an appearance on KPCC, an article in Wired, and an article in the Los Angeles Times. Unsurprisingly, a handful of right wing publications have picked up on this (again). I try to share this research as broadly as possible and encourage folks to take a lot at what I actually wrote and the scholarship of other BIPOC gaming scholars.