On the compass? We’re about to have an impromptu reading.
Remember back when I said I was working on a poem for Helene Sardeau? It’s done, and it’ll be in the zine our Open Minds participants have created for this Friday’s reading and open mic. We hope to see you there.
Where: Offender Aid and Restoration of Richmond, 1 N. Third Street.
When: Friday, May 3rd, 5:30-7:30pm
I’m getting this in just under the wire for the kickoff of National Poetry Month.
This version is subject to revision pending the approval of john and our students. Still, the great many hours of photoshop have come to an end for one night.
My Open Minds students are writing poems this week that bridge our units on spaces and on biographies. We met Tuesday to talk read some works that do a great job of questioning how physical context reframes the people who inhabit (even temporarily) those spaces, and vice versa.
My favorite examples, at least this week, came from Moja Kahf and d.a. levy. Our class had a great discussion of these poems, but moved very quickly into a discussion of Richmond history and urban planning. It’s possible, because that is all I ever talk about, that I bear some responsibility for this.
It reminded me how much of Richmond’s history can be seen from an aerial view of the city’s data.
Bloch, Matthew, Shan Carter, and Alan McLean. “Mapping the 2010 US Census.” Projects.nytimes.com. The New York Times. n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.
I am officially recruiting for my summer class on prison writing!
English 391: Topics in Literature: Political Prisoners, Political Literature
Summer Session: 5/21/13-7/11/13, MW 1:00-3:40pm
The course engages the most enduring dilemmas facing prisoners globally in 20th century; it will survey people whose lives are interrupted by incarceration as a result of political upheaval. Our course will question how they overcome the isolation and injustice in order to write and publish. We will explore what their writings can teach us about the individual’s relationship to the community once they have been ostracized from that group. Our readings may include selections from the works of Reinaldo Arenas, Leonard Peltier, Nawal El Saadawi, Jean Genet, Evgenia Ginzburg, Wole Soyinka, and Liu Xiaobo.
This course is a part of OPEN MINDS, a partnership between the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office and Virginia Commonwealth University offering dual enrollment classes held at the Richmond City Jail. Students must apply in writing to be considered for this course.
To apply: in 2 -3 paragraphs explain what you hope to learn from this course and what you hope to contribute. Send your application essay to Professor Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday April 26 2013.
All OPEN MINDS students must pass a background check and comply with the rules and expectations outlined by the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office.
Last week the Richmond City Jail hosted a father-daughter dance. It’s part of a new yearly program sponsored by camp diva, and it brings young women who don’t normally have regular access to their fathers in for a day to spend time with them.
Several of the men in our poetry class participated, one of whom is pictured above. He’s a fantastic writer, and he’s incredibly proud of his lovely daughter.
Read more here:
EDIT: The first article linked mentions our class!
Photo by Marvin Joseph, for the Washington Post.
I’ll be teaching Prison Writing at the city jail.
Last fall I posted an assessment of VCU’s mention in recent studies charting the success of minority students in higher education.
You can read the full post here, though I’ll quote the relevant passage below. My response to that report was simply: there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is I do believe VCU is doing a tremendous amount to support minority students. The bad news is I don’t believe we’re using the right datasets to chart this. To wit:
“African-America” and “Hispanic” offer us somewhat misleading categories either of which might translate to: [racial v cultural] v [racial . cultural]*, where “cultural” might or might not include language considerations, which in the definitional constraints of our study might or might not target one or both groups. Thus a recent immigrant from Nigeria, who might share many of the same learning challenges facing Hispanic students (like language adjustment), runs the risk of being lumped with African American students out of a coincidence of race, which when we take into account racial discrimination in the American educational system might not be entirely inappropriate.
I chose Nigeria for my example because I have a large number of first and second-generation Nigerian students (followed closely in African nations by students from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan).
The national language of Nigeria, of course, is English. On their language survey, however, my Nigerian students report speaking primarily Bantu or Yoruba for most of their lives. This is true even for those students born in the US to Nigerian parents, because most young people live most of their lives at home.
These students, I fear, get doubly overlooked in the data: either they are “African-American” and are assumed to fit the pattern of most African-American teens in Virginia (native and home English speakers) or they are seen as immigrants from a nation whose native language is English, as if Nigeria is linguistically analogous to the UK. Usually, datasets treat these students as African American.
Here’s where things get interesting: there may be reason to believe that first and second generation Nigerian immigrants academically out-perform African-American students who are the descendants of slaves in the US. See coverage from The Houston Chronicle, from The San Francisco Chronicle, and from The New York Times.
This would mean that even in cases where Nigerian-American students face language barriers that go overlooked they are at an advantage over students whose ancestors are the survivors of slavery (and who are them selves survivors in a very real way).
Let’s jump, for a second, to a piece on the legacy of post-slavery racial segregation by Ta-Nehisi Coats in The Atlantic recently. He writes:
Last night I had the luxury of sitting and talking with the brilliant historian Barbara Fields. One point she makes that very few Americans understand is that racism is a creation. You read Edmund Morgan’s work and actually see racism being inscribed in the law and the country changing as a result.If we accept that racism is a creation, then we must then accept that it can be destroyed. And if we accept that it can be destroyed, we must then accept that it can be destroyed by us and that it likely must be destroyed by methods kin to creation. Racism was created by policy. It will likely only be ultimately destroyed by policy.
This is precisely the problem with university datasets. They see racism as a habit, but they fail to understand it as a creation. For a survey of what the creation of racism means in Richmond (where many of our students are born and raised) glance through the mayor’s anti-poverty report, where you will see one of the nation’s largest wealth-redistribution programs in the practice of red-lining. Red-lining took neighborhoods inhabited by the descendants of slaves and systematically striped them of wealth through discriminatory home finance practices (pgs 27-29). When we talk about “wealth redistribution” in the US, we never talk about that.
What does this have to do with education? My Nigerian-American students and my African-American students face some of the same challenges (habitual racism) and some different challenges (generational inheritance of racism as educational, financial, zoning, correctional, and health care policy, just for a start). This is not to say Nigerian-American students won’t come to inherit those additional challenges. I fear they will. I just don’t know because I can’t find studies that assess it. Does policy catch up with new immigrants from Africa? Why or not? If so why, if not why not?
Finally, what should a dataset look like to start to address any of this complexity? We have to decide who we are targeting with Minority Success Programs, and we have to decide how we want them to be impacted. Were I to choose I would chose both Nigerian-American and African-American students, but I would need to first study whether their educational support needs might be different. All the data I read this morning suggests that it is. If it is, I need to measure their success outcomes separately to ensure I’m actually meeting the needs of both students. Of all students, really.
Much to the dismay of those who would decry language specificity as political correctness, I think the problem has to do with how we categorize, and I think that problem comes from habits of speech.
Coats, Ta-Nehisi. “Good People, Racist People.” theatlantic.com. Atlantic Media. 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission. “Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission Report.” Richmond City Government (richmondgov.com), 18 Jan 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
There are some things once done, cannot be undone.
Gaming and Learning
For the last couple of weeks, my students and I engaged in an experiment. Now I’ve started the process of revisiting what we did and thinking about what it means. Here is the learning project, as I set it up:
- For one week, students selected cutting edge technologies and taught half a class (in groups) on the tech they selected, its long term potential, its predicted positive and negative impacts, and its relationship to those ideas that are currently subject to large cultural changes.
- Following their presentations, I selected three technologies (sustainable biospheres, indefinite life extension, or large scale space travel), and asked each student which they would invest in, were they billionaires. They wrote up reflections on their choices, contrasting benefits of each tech and considering their motivation (utilitarianism, moral concerns, financial gain, etc.).
- In our next class I divided students into nations based on their choice in technology. Their nation had widespread access to the tech they chose. To increase overall investment, I asked students to write up fictionalized histories of their nations, giving consideration to the type of culture that would invest in this manner, and the type of culture that would be created simple through access and use of this tech. Students used the internet and its limitless speculative art database to select images that represented the world they believed their culture would live in.
- Then, for three class periods, they simply engaged in international relations. I gave them populations, food access, water, technology, and military units. I gave them national boundaries (fictional and real, inside the classroom). Finally, I gave them problems: population explosions, food shortages, climate change, etc.
I wanted to see what would happen, and I wanted to test Jane McGonigal’s theories that learning is more effective in an environment that favored fun over structure and self-incentivized action over prescribed learning behaviors. I gave students two goals: to feed and care for their populations, and (if possible), locate a second habitable planet.
Here’s what actually happened:
- Groups with low food and water supplies panicked. In most cases, instead of enacting rations or establishing reasonable trade relations (or collaborating with other nations), groups jettisoned populations as refugues, they sold slaves, two groups threatened to resort to cannibalism.
- One group did enact rations, but only for forcibly conscripted members of their military. Many groups divided their populations by class and sold no food to the poor.
- Several groups declared war, invading other nations and stealing resources or enslaving the local populations. The reasons for war varied, ranging from a need for food or land to a desire to take technological advances.
- Group members lost faith in elected representatives who negotiated trade. Most representatives who spent “too much” time with another nation were accused of spying. Trades were canceled.
- Some groups asked for permission to poison their food before they traded it. One group whose military was weak asked if they could send suicide bombers to another.
We called the exercise early, right around the time students began developing non-traditional methods of warfare. We spent the remainder of the week reading McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, and talked about our thinking, learning, and conflict resolution habits. Why did we jump to war? Why did we refuse to collaborate? What did gaming teach us, that we hadn’t yet learned in all our debates about moral foundations and human psychology? How did the game reinforce what we learned?
Now we’re rethinking games and talking about the basic lessons of New Game Theory and of McGonigal’s book: that our games don’t just reflect who we are, they teach us who to be, that we need to move away from competitive models, and finally, that we might learn differently if we redistribute our structure of incentives.
Today we’re reading Flexner’s “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge,” and revising the value of education in the context of an economy of “Usefulness.” More on this soon.
I am only 14 pages short of a full chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses translated into erasure poetry. As soon as it’s complete it will be posted online in full. EDIT: The full text is now online.
In the meantime Dave Coogan and I are trying to get another course at RCJ on the books for the summer. VCU people: this class will be a survey of 20th century prison writing. Readings may include the likes of Wole Soyinka, Reinaldo Arenas, Leonard Peltier, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Nawal El Saadawi, Anna Politikovskaya, Nelson Mandela, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, Mila D. Aguilar, Yevgenia Ginzburg, members of Pussy Riot, Ai Weiwei, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Jean Genet, Joseph Brodsky and more.
Here’s hoping it’s ok to write “pussy” in a course description.
Syllabus, online readings, lectures and other videos for an open course titled "Culture of Incarceration"
So interesting! Books online! Enjoy!
I will be up late tonight scanning in erasure poetry created by VCU students and inmates of the City Jail. I have a great stack. I think I will actually post two .pdfs online—one of original scans, and one book that is simply the text, which is incredibly lovely in some places.
Two short poems from the stack so far:
I gave him the
I’m not going to
I’m scanning scanning scanning, and photoshopping out names. Expect some documents soon.