Revising Texting+ Rules with Students?

modern romance coverThis summer, I’ve been re-reading Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg’s Modern Romance for the Texas Literacy Teacher Circle (aka English Eddies) at St. Ed’s. With my first read, I just dove in and enjoyed the mix of sociology, humor, and cultural analysis. And I can’t deny that I’m fascinated by the ways new technologies spark new literacies necessary for things like romantic love. Reading this time, with literacy educators and K-12 students in mind, I’ve had my first fun classroom idea when I hit page 57. Aziz and Eric share this bulleted list of texting “rules”:Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 2.47.00 PM

Small groups of students could be invited to make their own lists of texting rules or revise this one. Teachers who have classroom conversation rules create and revise group guidelines with students all the time. Noting differences in various groups and individuals’ rules would lend insights into differences in friend and family practices beyond the classroom. Teachers could share a personal experience where they learned new rules for participation in a community and invite students to do quick writes about learning “the rules” for social media participation in their favorite online communities. People uncomfortable to share an experience could imagine rules they wish there were (or weren’t) and explain why. Students could list and critique social expectations for gender, age, race, class, etc..

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What rule making, revising or imagining activities does this spark for you? What new literacy learning experience might you share? Stay tuned for mine…

And if you’re reading with us, what quotes are sparking ideas for you?

Fake News Invasion?

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Photo Credit @freepressaction

Fake News is Old News 

While the phenomenon of Fake News screamed into headlines with the Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria shooting, media literacy has been around as long as people have been constructing adolescence as distinct from adulthood. Ethnographer Greg Dimitriadis teased apart some of the perspectives people bring to popular culture and media literacy – perspectives that inform approaches to youth, teaching, and learning. For example, media literacy movements began with fears of people (often positioned as poorer, younger, or slower) being duped into believing whatever they were being told or sold (the protectionist stance). But for ethnographers of education and youth culture like Jo Ellen Fisherkeller (author of Growing Up with Television), media literacy needs to be more and can be problematic. The ethnographic stance works to meet youth where they are; acknowledging the skills and positive (including pleasurable) relationships people young and old construct with media texts (the ethnographic stance). Some critical educators work to wed these stances together with an approach to media in the classroom that balances pleasure with critique and deconstruction of media as both a text and a corporate institution (the critical pedagogy stance). While this is a simple way to parse approaches and there are others including hybrids educators might ascribe to, this is a productive place to start.

So What is Fake News?

Many have been quick to blame social media sites (like Facebook where the Pizza-Gate Conspiracy story and many others circulated during the 2016 election) and the open web for the proliferation, circulation, and ubiquity of news about fabricated events. Stories like this one in the New York Times, explain how anyone (like Cameron Harris) can sit down, write, and publish widely read tales (including photographs) of happenings that never transpired.

But reporters at Vox point out that, while social media may be one place Fake News grows legs, real news outlets are heavily implicated in creating, what they dub, “false equivalence” between the two candidates and the scandals surrounding their campaigns. In this instance, false equivalence veiled what was at stake for the majority of the voting population. They argue in favor of a closer look at the ways real news works too.

This means we have to vet the texts we read, but we’ve also got to learn about the ways all texts get constructed and disseminated.

So How do I Get Started?

Reading any text (nursery rhyme, cereal box, mother’s day card, online news story, work of art, picture book, science textbook, etc.) with these questions from Project Look Sharp via Common Sense Media is one way to start:

  • Who made this?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
  • Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
  • What is left out of this message that might be important?
  • Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?

Questions like these layer classic questions about: Media Mode Audience Purpose and Situation (that make rhetorical analysis accessible to K-12 students) with critical questions about industry, representation, impact, and authority. A video like Hate Machine is another way to kick start the conversation about text construction and dissemination:

Teachers in middle and high school classrooms might find this 10 question checklist for Fake News Detection from the News Literacy Project a quick place to start. It begins asking readers to gauge their emotional investment in the truth of their reading, includes online activities like reverse image searches, and touches on the ways bots can dominate online forums.

What Should I Be Ready for?

When people start to talk about harm and textual authority, the conversation can get sticky; particularly for people from marginalized or underrepresented populations. Marginalized voices are the voices rendered invisible, demonized, and mis-represented in much of mainstream media. In “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” media scholar danah boyd outlines some of the questions critical, inclusive, responsive, anti-racist, allied educators need to be asking along the way. She reminds us about the limits of medical “science.” She reminds us of the necessity for information and expertise if we are to live in a functioning democracy that promotes equity and social justice. She reminds us of the need to reimagine traditional education practices:

We cannot fall back on standard educational approaches because the societal context has shifted. We also cannot simply assume that information intermediaries can fix the problem for us, whether they be traditional news media or social media. We need to get creative and build the social infrastructure necessary for people to meaningfully and substantively engage across existing structural lines. This won’t be easy or quick, but if we want to address issues like propaganda, hate speech, fake news, and biased content, we need to focus on the underlying issues at play. No simple band-aid will work.”

One of the quickest ways to shake things up is to invite youth to investigate their own questions, make their own media, and share that media with audiences beyond the classroom. The Rock Your World project based curriculum by Creative Visions is a free online resource for lesson plans AND a showcase for youth social issue action projects. Lessons take youth through the process of identifying an issue of personal and social importance, informing themselves, and selecting a format for composing a persuasive text (letter, campaign, song, film). The curriculum’s lessons are open enough for any teacher to modify, include links to alignment with Common Core State Standards, and curated resources like mentor texts and places for students to publish and disseminate their finished work widely.

Look to future posts for tips and questions to consider as youth publish their work beyond the classroom and engage in critical inquiry projects.

I would like to thank Ginger Gannaway for help curating some of the above resources.

Beauty, Middle Fingers and Parental Pause

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Middle Finger Graffiti in Berlin Elevator in Wedding Photo Credit: Iwan Gabovitch

The sun was setting.

Dinner was done.

Nina (my 6 year old daughter) rocked in the back porch hammock with quiet confidence slathered all over her smugly smiling lips as her 3 year old brother Jurian bathed in devastation.

Jurian (through buckets of tears): Nina told me I am not beautiful.

Me: Nina, how would you feel if Jurian told you you were not beautiful?

Nina: I would put my middle finger up at him if he said anything about how I looked.

Me: Nina?

<<Pause>>

<<Pause>>

Me: What I meant to say is please don’t try to hurt your brother’s heart on purpose. I think his heart is hurt. And yes, if someone says something about how you look, I do think you should tell them that’s wack. That’s right.

It’s moments like these when I hear the record screech to a halt. It’s all quiet and I can hear myself repeating a 100 year old script I likely heard from adults my whole life who heard from adults their whole lives and so on – that “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” aka golden rule logic. In many situations, it doesn’t actually work out that mathematically, nor should it. And there are probably so many moments like these when I don’t hear myself being heard by someone else, but tonight…tonight…I did. And it gave me (thank god) a little pause.

30 seconds like these make me feel like I’m raising another generation. My mother probably had these too. They were probably about things I’d consider small now in my 40s, but I truly believe it’s events like these that bear weight as we move forward in the world. Here she is. At the age of 6 she has used her words to bring her brother to tears; words she knows and has heard should hurt feelings. Perhaps they’ve hurt her feelings before as well. I can recall many a tearful recounting of “someone said I wasn’t a pretty girl because I wasn’t wearing a dress” or “they said I was ugly because I didn’t have long enough hair.”

Today, after a couple of years of tears, she is building up that steely armor. That woman who won’t take shit for her looks or hear people telling you how you should and shouldn’t dress, sit, stand, talk, think, feel, and basically exist as a powerful person in the world.

I don’t get it right 100% of the time, but I’m proud to endorse my daughter putting her middle finger up at anyone who has something to say about how she looks.

It’s not traditional research, but it’s worth a read…Reasons Moms Who Swear are the Best F*#$ing Moms and gave me the fire to post about this tonight. #goodcompany

Theatre of the Absurd

She expected me to be devastated.

“Ms. Johnson, come over here and look at this.”

“What?”

“Come over here and take a look at my screen; at Sadie’s growth chart.”

I come over in time to see her hitting zoom in 25 times. I can see the almost flat line barreling down the one yard highway between my chair on the wall and her laptop hanging on the washbasin counter.

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“Ok. Tell me what you’d like me to observe.”

It was like she was doing a see think wonder with a growth chart I’ve been scrutinizing at the will of doctors since June 5, 2007 (Sadie’s birth).

“The line is flat. We are at the standard deviation of 3 since you can’t be less than zero. There are no numbers less than zero on growth charts.”

“Ok.”

I am nodding my head with full knowledge that there are no zeros, but apparently, there are people who are “abnormal” or who “deviate” from the norms these charts work to maintain.

“Tell me what you want me to infer from this chart and these numbers.”

It’s like she’s afraid to say what’s on her mind and what she’s thinking, but has a plan for how this visit should go, for the observations I should make and the conclusions I should draw. I am playing dumb because my kid has always been outside the norm. I have never thought she would meet preconceived expectations. I work everyday to see her with an open heart and mind because she deserves to NOT always have the norm foisted upon her by the world that will inevitably foist it, even if it does in the name of kindness and care.

“She has been taking growth hormone for a year and patients with pseudohypo don’t usually respond to it.”

I bite my tongue and work to shrink in, but have a hard time not saying it, so it spills out.

“Based on the chart it does look like she’s losing weight, so I would gather that the response she is having is weight related and based on early results in clinical trials run by Dr. Emily Germaine Lee at Kennedy Krieger center in Baltimore, PHP1a patients lose weight on growth hormone. I’d also imagine that her internal organs might be growing. That seems important”

“But we can’t measure that,” she blasts. “We can only measure height and visible bone growth.”

“Ok. Are you telling me you want her to stop taking growth hormone?”

“No. I’m trying to set expectations.”

“Mine? Hers? Yours? About?”

All this time Sadie’s eyes are pingponging between my head and the endocrinologist’s. Tears are welling in my eyes. Sadie comes over to place her hand on my knee.

“My daughter is small. She has always been small. Are you trying to tell me she will always be small? I am ok with that. I was ok with that before we started taking growth hormone.”

It was why I, for a long time didn’t want her to take growth hormone. I didn’t want her to ever think that we needed her to grow to achieve some imagined expectations norms produced for her prior to her conception, in utero, and everyday since her birthday. I didn’t want her to live with the bodily-not-enoughness so many have to bear.

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Not the doctor, but similar smile

The doctor stares at me with a weird smirky smile that seems to have an affected care about it or grandmotherly reassurance. The smile is unnerving because it’s packed full of how she thinks I should or would respond and the role she and this doctor’s visit might play in my expectations for my child. What she doesn’t know is how I think and feel about norms and bodies and my role as a parent for NOT setting expectations for my child and teaching her to ignore AND put the middle finger up to those who do. What the doctor doesn’t know is what makes this whole event feel so weird to me. It’s as though we are playing roles in a play that the doctor authored with a script she is holding onto and has read many times; rehearsed with other families, possibly in medical school or during her residency. It feels stilted and played out like an SNL skit; two two dimensional cardboard characters reading tele-prompters while simultaneously going through the motions.

new20yorker206-25-07And there is Sadie, looking around, distracting herself, wondering, studying, worrying about me…I’m pissed that she worries about me. I’m pissed that the doctor is putting me in a position where I am supposed to play the parent with expectations she is going to work on in front of my child. If Sadie invites me to a therapy session with her when she is 27 and we have to work through this doctor’s office visit, I won’t be surprised. The position this produces for her makes me sick to my stomach…makes me have to write this.

“If she follows at this standard deviation. If… She may be four foot eight.”

“That seems pretty tall,” I remark. “I’m 5’7. That’s less than a foot shorter. That puts her around my shoulder. That surprises me.”

I’m playing along, but this still feels weird. What are we doing? What is she doing? The doctor leads me out to the hallway, so we can look at the freaky measuring device they bounce on Sadie’s head at every appointment.

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We stare at the empty space while the doctor calculates inches to centimeters and lowers the bouncy measuring board to display my daughter’s imagined future full grown height. The empty space below the bouncy board on the measuring device fills with my silence. The doctor’s stare at me is pregnant with expectation. I stand there. I don’t know what to say. I scream for my line. It doesn’t come. The doctor beckons to me with open arms. I think she wants me to hug her. She wants to console me. I do not want to mourn over my daughter’s height differential. I do not want to feel pity or sadness or anger or loss over her not meeting some imagined potential produced by norms that rank and classify. Like a rag doll, I hug her. That seems to be the key that unlocks the moment. We move back into the office. She tells me an inspirational story about a nurse who worked for her who was 4’8″ and could do anything. She had to drive a special car, but… This is a nice story. It is a planned story. The doctor seems done with the script.

Now she is relaying changed dosing information and setting up future blood draws to monitor hormone levels. Now we are back to business as usual. Mother cries. Doctor embraces mother. Doctor tells mother inspirational story. Doctor hands mother lab orders. Mother leaves reassured, listened to, empathized with. Mother completes patient survey and gives high ratings for visit.IMG_0648

I don’t want to be a part of this play. I want to write a different one where Sadie and I are the authors, not the doctor and the growth charts. Sure people will assume she is less capable, younger, etc. But it’s not my job to be that person or to mourn because Sadie isn’t somebody she isn’t. Sadie can, but I cannot. I don’t even want to. I fear people will hurt her feelings, that people will take advantage of her, that she will be dismissed more than the next kid. But many parents raising kids beyond the White middle class heteronormative (the list could go on) regime live with those fears and worse. The only power I have is power to live with her beyond those normative scripts people want us to embody daily, so she grows up knowing she IS all I want her to be.

Talking about War with Kids: Conversation Starter

20901532 My kids have been painfully naive about the refugee crisis and ongoing turmoil in Syria and surrounding nations. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of a TV or the privilege of living their White middle class lives here in Austin, but with Sadie’s love for graphic memoirs growing and my commitment to having these tough talks with kids, I think I found a conversation starter during my last trip to Austin Books and Comics. In my last post, I bemoaned the lack of graphic memoir offerings for 2-5th graders and I believe Abirached’s I Remember Beirut can go on my rolling list. In stark black and white frames, she contrasts moments of confusion, wonder, loss, and discovery, structuring the story through I remember…stems and juxtaposing memories of pop culture, invention, commerce, and play with anxious movements, bullet holes, and shrapnel collecting.

The lyrical collage, while seemingly childlike, offers more of an adult’s protective filter on daily happenings in conflict-riddled Beirut of the 80s during the Lebanese Civil War. Nevertheless, the filter makes this a perfect jumping off point for inquiry into past and present religious conflicts, children in war (times), middle east geography, and other storytellers (authors and filmmakers) depicting war and childhood.

I did wonder about all the ways people might misread the text as dismissing the gravity of living in conflict. I had moments myself as I read that she remembered Kit Kats foil paper double linings. But the book starts with bullet holes in a windshield and ends with a burgeoning shrapnel collection. This is to say that there are opportunities for readers to ignore the gravity of the situation in their conversations and focus on all the trivia in the memoir salad.  Seems the shrapnel is just as “regular” and “everyday” as Kit Kat and I think that’s her point. This trauma gets normalized for some kids and living with that is what kids living in more secure circumstances get a chance to wonder about and try on in this read. I think it forces some perspective taking that can and should go further. It’s a strong, “safe” start.

Old Books in Lockhart, Texas Library

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Paging through the time capsule at the Lockhart, Texas branch, I was inspired to consider what happens when libraries cull their collections. Often I encounter the sales in the spring or summer when old books are placed on carts for 10 cents or donated to the goodwill. Obviously these books aren’t getting burned, but these sifting practices take a bit of the history out of childrens collections. Made me really wonder about all the interesting questions kids might ask when confronted with more books from older generations. Also made me think about all the opportunities for critical history and literacy we lose when we avoid or eliminate everyday old books from shelves. Just a few skims and cover reviews, provoked so many questions for me about changes in technology, propriety, regionalism, conceptions of diversity. These older editions are maintaining some of the history in Lockhart and making updates and shifts in history visible. What happens to older texts when librarians update collections in big city libraries I tend to frequent? I wonder how it varies. I’m guessing economics has something to do with it, but I think this is one of those situations where the upside down economics might have been worked with intelligently. There was a huge collection of childrens books in Spanish and a whole room dedicated to young adults with YALit and computers. How are the collections revised in your local library?
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Where’s the Mom?

One day Sadie just started asking, “Where’s the mom?” We’d be reading along in one of her books – all the gifts and garage sale acquisitions within her reach – and after about 3-5 pages, she’d want to know where all the adults were. This got me thinking about these books where children run things, without adult supervision, quietly busy, compliant, and leaving caregivers alone to attend to their domestic affairs, their heroine habits, or their writing careers? But to my 2-3 year old, these scenarios did not seem natural.

busy timmy 2This “idealized” adult author version of the “Busy Timmy” galavanting about, waking up, getting dressed, fixing his breakfast, brushing his hair, cleaning his room, rocking on his horse, seemingly without caregivers, but with sweater buttoned up tight and hat tied closely beneath his chin was suspect.

This was the beginning of our early critical conversations. While I couldn’t guarantee that there was a mom, I could ask what Sadie thought might be going on outside of the page or beyond the frame. Who do you think wrote this book? Why would a grown up write a book about such a busy little boy? Why do grown ups want kids to be busy? Notice Timmy does not make any messes while he is busy. While we didn’t re-write social injustices with that conversation, we did start our early journey conversations about the constructedness of texts.