Saturday, April 30, 2016

Zipline: Why Is a Zipline a Good Metaphor for a Blogging Challenge? #AtoZChallenge Letter Z

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

The hesitant thrill seeker in me loves ziplines, especially since snapping a carabiner into one means confronting my fear of heights. Still, I'm up for the challenge of a Going Ape adventure or a challenge course that features multiple ziplines. 

Participating in blogging challenges poses a cognitive adventure. I'm not in physical fear but in psychological fear.
  • Will I have time to write every day?
  • Will I be able to think of enough original ideas? 
  • Will anyone read and comment on my posts?
  • Will my feelings get hurt when I receive "No Comments" glaring at the end of a post?
A blogging challenge is an exercise in endurance, a commitment. People notice when a blogger abandons the challenge. Return visits offer a glaring stuck on M notice, as I observed with one blogger I was following until mid-month.

Arriving at the platform of an obstacle on a challenge course only to turn around and climb the ladder to the ground also represents abandonment that others notice, followed by the inevitable self-doubt. 

Today I'm writing my 57th blog post since March 1. Last month I participated in the SLICE OF LIFE STORY CHALLENGE sponsored by the TWO WRITING TEACHERS blog team. 

Blogging two months straight has tested my endurance. I am tired of writing, but I'm also invigorated. Overall, I'm proud of many of my posts, but I do need a rest, as I do after a ziplining adventure. Then I'm ready to strap back into the harness and soar through nature again. 

In Waldon Henry David Thoreau writes this about his experiment of living in the woods and then returning to civilization: 

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

As those who have participated in the A to Z Challenge know, the solitary act of writing necessitates significant alone time, both for blogging and commenting. Thus it seems only fitting to end with a Thoreau poem that speaks to that on this last day of April's challenge and the last day of National Poetry Month.

I Was Made Erect and Lone by Henry David Thoreau 

I was made erect and lone, 
And within me is the bone; 
Still my vision will be clear, 
Still my life will not be drear, 
To the center all is near. 
Where I sit there is my throne. 
If age choose to sit apart, 
If age choose, give me the start, 
Take the sap and leave the heart. 

Ziplining in Idaho Google Image






Friday, April 29, 2016

Yams: What Insight Can Yams Offer About the #WomanCard? #AtoZChallenge Letter Y

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

Twitter blew up this week after Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of "playing the woman's card." Admittedly, I enjoyed reading the tweets under the #womancard hashtag. 

Sadly, this election cycle, this moment in history resonates as the most hateful toward women I can recall. I shared this sentiment with many students today as we worked in the computer lab choosing topics for our persuasive speeches and Poster Sessions. 

Discussing the #womancard tweets with some AP Lit and Comp students during lunch, I mentioned that I'm thinking about writing a spoken word poem based on the hashtag and adding a tone shift in which I rap about the ways Donald Trump plays the "woman card." 

This brings me to YAMS. Why yams? 

Students in AP Lit and Comp studied Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe this year, and one student chose the novel as the subject of his senior project. James's project focuses on two symbols of wealth Achebe explores in Ibo culture: yams and women. 

Toward the end of the paper, James describes the protagonist Okonkwo's difficulty in acquiring wealth as stemming from his treatment of women. 

While he struggled to keep afloat "his mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women's crops, like coco-yams, beans, and cassava" (Achebe 22-23). Perhaps if he had developed respect for the women in his life they could have helped him in more profitable yam farming, an idea that holds true for Okonkwo's culture. Women could have offered much but were held back by frequent beatings and societal expectations.

This early incident in Things Fall Apart foreshadows Okonkwo's difficulty later in the novel as he clings to a past that can no longer function amid increasing colonial influences. Ultimately, Okonkwo hangs himself in disgrace, and his body remains unburied until the colonial missionaries agree to bury him. 

For Donald Trump, a man fixated on wealth imagery, the corollary to yams and women is money and trophy wives. Trump objectifies women and refuses to see powerful women as capable and worthy of respect. Instead, he seeks a rationalization for H. Clinton's success since to his thinking it can't possibly be grounded in her ability to harvest "yams." 

The backlash on Twitter magnifies yet again the ways Trump objectifies and demeans women both as sentient beings and as valuable members of society. He's happy to reap the fruit of our toils and those of other marginalized and under-represented groups, to engage in a system of cultural sharecropping in which the wealthy grow "fat with excess," to borrow James's words. 

As Achebe writes about the colonizers of Ibo culture: 

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.

This election cycle, we witness things falling apart. We witness Donald Trump play the "woman card." And the center cannot hold. 

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. THE HOLLOW MEN by T.S. Eliot 

And Twitter explodes. #WomanCard

Cover of the edition of Things Fall Apart
my students use. Wiki image.





Thursday, April 28, 2016

Xenophobia: What Will It Take to Shake the Shackles of Xenophobia? #AtoZChallenge Letter X

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

A memory from my childhood haunts me. 

My stepmother and I were on a public bus in Joplin, Missouri. The bus had some benches that butted up against its side, and that's where we sat. Toward the back of the bus I saw a young African American boy. 

I stared. 

At the time--mid 1960s--I had not seen many black people, and the youth sat closer to me than I'd been to a black person. I wanted to look at him. I knew staring was wrong, was rude. I didn't want to be rude, so I tried to steal glimpses of the boy, but my mother saw and scolded me. 

Curiosity drove my desire to look, to see this boy who was close to my age. I wanted to know him, to speak to him. Not out of fear but out of a desire to make a new friend. 

During my childhood I had no idea that I'd grow up wanting to know as many people from other places and races as I could meet. I wanted to hear about their lives, and through getting to know them, I desired to visit their countries. 

Consequently, the culture of xenophobia permeating our world makes no sense to me. I simply have no capacity to understand it. 

The ugly head of xenophobia emerged full-throttle with the announcement that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the twenty dollar bill. 
Image via Google search and labeled for reuse.
Harriet Tubman, the conductor of the Underground Railroad, lived 12 years as a slave. Yet her mind could not be imprisoned: 

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world...I freed thousands of slaves,  and could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.

Those who traffic in xenophobia, who hate based on skin color and nationality, live imprisoned in their own minds. Yet they don't know they live in cognitive slavery. I see them staring across the aisle of the bus, but their stare is that of fear. 

In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can't seem to get there no-how. I can't seem to get over that line.

In the title for this post, I ask: "What will it take to shake off the shackles of xenophobia? It takes us having a dream. It takes us recognizing and rejecting what binds and limits us. It take us holding out our arms toward each other, moving across the aisle, and shaking off the shackles of xenophobia. 

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt 
Bur still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you? 
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders failing down like teardrops, 
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You ay cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Whisper: When Does a "Whisper" Sound Like a Scream? #AtoZChallenge Letter W

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

At the beginning of "The Man With the Broken Fingers" by Carl Sandburg there is an epigraph that describes the whispering among those in Norway who carried the man's story from town to town. The text I found on the internet doesn't include this epigraph, however. 

I thought about Sandburg's poem this evening while driving home after teaching at our local university. I had not decided what to write about for "W," but an incident this afternoon had been on my mind for hours. 

Specifically I thought about the ways silencing of voices occurs on social media. I'll describe the incident in somewhat cryptic terms because I don't want to name names for a variety of reasons; most importantly because the incident involves a well-known person in my professional circle. Suffice it to say, I posted a comment in response to a post in a group I've long been a member of on FB. I had finished reading the post, which quoted another person who said something to the effect that fiction does more than essays to speak to readers, that narrative is preferable to essays; the comment also mentioned boring essays in textbooks. 

In response I said something to the effect that I agree that narrative develops empathy and a sense of connection but that I wish people would not take a reductive either/or position. The original poster deleted my comment and sent me a private message that accused me of being combative. The message informed me that my comment had been deleted. 

From the message I received, I know that my interpretation of the quoted commentary differs from that of the one who posted it. I find value in nearly all genres, perhaps with the exception of erotica and racist treatise. I don't understand why someone can't simply offer praise without the comparison that denigrates an important mode of expression. 

I have not responded to the message, and I don't plan to respond. I heard the subtext loud and clear: My opinion isn't welcome unless I'm willing to agree or remain silent. I'm not very good at that, so I decided I needed a gesture akin to a whisper. I exited the group. I stopped following some people's posts. I whispered because deleting a comment, an act of silencing for no logical reason, screamed at me. 

I am not Sandburg's tortured man, but the expectation that I shut up unless I'm willing to suck up tortures every fiber of my being. 

Sometimes silencing is screaming. Sometimes the collective whispering resonates loudest of all. 
Image via Google Search; labeled for non-commercial reuse.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Visualize: How Does Having a Vision Help Students Solve Problems? #AtoZChallenge Letter V #SOL16


During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.

Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.
It's Tuesday, and that means Slice of Life Story Challenge
Sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers
Check out other slices while you're blog surfing.
Today I introduced the persuasive speech assignment to my Fundamentals of Communication (speech) classes. For years I've required students to use MONROE'S MOTIVATED SEQUENCE as an organizing structure for the speech.

The Motivated Sequence has five sections:


  • Attention
  • Need
  • Satisfaction
  • Visualization
  • Action
My colleague Robin and I discussed the difficulties students have with the VISUALIZATION step this afternoon, and we have discussed requiring students to structure their speeches based on a simple problem/solution format. 

Why do students have so much difficulty with constructing the VISUALIZATION step in their speeches? I've pondered this question. Simply, we live in a world of short-sightedness. 

The visualization step requires students to identify how a solution to a problem will benefit the audience. This is positive visualization. Students must also include negative visualization, the dystopian scenario we face when we don't act. 

I thought about our country's lack of vision and the impact it has on students as I watch LAST WEEK TONIGHT with JOHN OLIVER this evening. This week's episode focused on the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that has a major budget shortfall. 

No other "news" program offers such a superb analysis of issues. I would love to use Oliver's segments in my classes, but he often uses taboo words and sexual language inappropriate for ninth graders. 

Still, the Puerto Rico segment follows the MMS pattern closely. 
  • Oliver gets our attention with humor and identifies the topic: the economic crisis in Puerto Rico.
  • Oliver explains the problem, its impact on Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. He then explains the causes of the problem and the extent of it. In this section Oliver offers statistical evidence, expert testimony and news reports. He cites Sec 936, which during the 1970s enticed businesses to Puerto Rico. He even appeals to our sense of pathos by calling on the writer and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda.  
  • For the SATISFACTION step, Oliver identifies what must happen for Puerto Rico to recover from the crisis: Congress must act! One solution would allow Puerto Rico to file bankruptcy. Oliver even shows how attempts to solve Puerto Rico's problems have failed, including an ad campaign designed to entice rich folks to the island. In the SATISFACTION step MMS requires the speaker to offer refutation, which Oliver does when he offers support for passage of H.R. 4900, but it has opposition, which Oliver addresses. 
  • The VISUALIZATION: In this section, Oliver gets creative and calls on Miranda to rap about Puerto Rico's dilemma. Mianda compares Puerto Rico's destiny to the Titanic without "a way out." It's a heart-wrenching plea.
  • ACTION: "Help Puerto Rico. It's just a hundred miles across," pleads Miranda. The subtext here is that we all need to call on Congress to do something, to take action. 
All this brings me back to the problem students have with the VISUALIZATION step. How can I or any teacher teach students to have a vision when we have leaders who offer little to no ability or willingness to act to solve the problems we face? 

As a child growing up in a Southern Baptist home and church, I learned (read: memorized) many bible verses and have long loved the beauty of the KJV. Among the verses than meant--and mean--much to me is Proverbs 29:18. "Where there is no vision, the people perish..." It's this part of the verse I clung to and used as a compass for setting goals and striving to reach them. 

This idea of creating a vision both for their speeches and visualizing the possibilities for their lives motivates me to guide my students in their use of MMS. I want them to visualize possibilities for themselves and for our country, even if our leaders won't. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

UPstander: How Does Prince Embody the Ideals of an UPstander? #AtoZChallenge Letter U

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

As have many the past few days, I've been revisiting the music of Prince. Of course, I love the popular songs such as "Raspberry Beret," "Little Red Corvette," "Purple Rain," and many others. I am not a musician, but as with many others, I found Prince mesmerizing. 

While watching MTV's "Epic Awesome Videos" Sunday, I heard a Prince song that resonates today's political climate and is perhaps more relevant than it was in 2004 when Prince Released it. "Dear Mr. Man" is an epistle to those in power. 

The song embodies the ideals of an UPSTANDER, one who stands up to be counted, particularly one who stands up and acts against injustice and intolerance. An UPstander isn't content with voicing an opinion in a safe environment. An UPstander embodies courage, the courage to act. 

Through music Prince poses tough questions about important issues from the hole in the ozone (climate change) to our government's blood thirst (war) to the working poor who can't make ends meet: "Who told me, Mr. Man, that working round the clock would buy me a big house in the 'hood?"

"Dear Mr. Man" Prince
What's wrong with the world today?
Things just got to get better
Sho' ain't what the leaders say
Maybe we should write a letter

Dear Mr. Man
We don't understand
Why poor people keep struggling
But you don't lend a helping hand

Matthew 5:5 say,
The meek shall inherit the earth
We wanna be down that way
But you been tripping since the day of you're birth

Who said that to kill is a sin
Then started every single war
That you're people been in?
Who said that water
Is a precious commodity
Then dropped a big old black oil slick
In the deep blue sea?

Who told me, Mr. Man
That working round the clock
Would buy me a big house in the 'hood
With cigarette ads on every block

Who told me Mr. Man
That I got a right to moan?
How 'bout this big ol' hole in the ozone?

What's wrong with the world today
Things just got to get better
Dear Mr. Man, we don't understand
Maybe we should write a letter

Listen, ain't no sense in voting
Same song with a different name
Might not be in the back of the bus
But it sho' feel just the same
Ain't nothin' fair about welfare
Ain't no assistance in AIDS
Ain't nothing affirmative about you're actions
Till the people get paid

You're thousand years are up
Now you got to share the land
Section one, the fourteenth Amendment says:
No state shall deprive any person
Of life, liberty, or property
Without due process of law

Mr. Man,
We want to end this letter with 3 words
"We tired you all!"
But Prince wasn't only an UPstander in his music. By all counts he generously gave to other artists songs that he could have recorded and turned into hit songs. Only now are we beginning to learn about the "quiet philanthropy" of Prince, who donated money to Treyvon Martin's family and funded a historic library in Louisville to prevent its closure. 

In a CNN story a couple of days ago, Van Jones spoke about Prince's humanitarianism. "Yes, We Code" providing technology education for under-served kids. He funded "Green for All" to give solar energy to Californians. Prince kept his generosity quiet, but he stood up in all the important ways. 

Many will continue speaking about Prince's music, his philanthropy, his legacy. To honor Prince, let's each do more. Let's embrace Prince by being UPstanders, and we should do this with the quiet grace of our Prince. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Traveler: Can Travel Make Us Empathetic? #AtoZChallenge Letter T

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away. --Emily Dickinson

I have the above lines from Emily Dickinson on a bulletin board in my classroom.

I love to travel.

Through reading books as a child, I imagined myself living in exotic places and having relationships with characters. Through books we imagine ourselves living as others live. We imagine ourselves having the same struggles characters have.

Canadian novelist Yann Martel explains the power of literature to develop empathy: 

If literature does one thing, it makes you more empathetic by making you live others' lives and feel the pain of others. Ideologues don't feel the pain of others because they haven't imaginatively got under their skin.

When I wrote my MA thesis, I focused on what Yann Martel calls "the empathetic imagination." Empathy, not sympathy, is something we sorely need in our world. At the national level we see politicians denigrating women, minorities, immigrants, the disabled, etc. This week we've seen a backlash agains Target's decision to make their stores' restrooms inclusive. We should demand that all elected officials and all businesses demonstrate empathy for all members of society, from the least of us to the greatest. We should insist they develop an empathetic imagination.

Martel writes that "when your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish, hunger for survival."

Locally, we have seen a rash of violence against international students who traveled to the US to attend school at Idaho State University. Many have had their homes here burglarized; the thieves have taken electronics, text books and school projects, and valuable documents, such as passports. International students have been physically attacked. Their vehicles have been vandalized.

No human deserves the egregious treatment international students have suffered. Yet I sense only sadness and not hostility from the international students I teach. One student told me he was interviewed by the NYT for an article the paper published about the international students' experiences. My student defended Pocatello and ISU, but the reporter did not use his story as it did not fit her agenda. Perhaps had the reporter had more empathy, she would have penned a more balanced account.

Knowing first-hand the academic struggles of some international students, particularly in their knowledge of English and the rules of standard usage, I understand and share the frustrations of the campus community. I also know that some of our international students came here expecting small-town America to function like a big city. I hold the governments of international students who are unprepared academically responsible for their role in the students' struggles.

When I traveled to Europe last year, our EF guide Nikki spoke to us about being travelers rather than tourists. A traveler experiences a place as though she is a native. Travelers embrace the diverse culture, lifestyle, food, etc. while tourists remain detached from a place and often expect a local to adapt to the tourist's language and food expectations. Travelers get off the beaten path. Tourists cling to the touristy areas. 

A couple of days ago I wrote about the trip I'll be taking to Europe's Mediterranean Coast during spring break 2017. Since writing that post, I've created an Animoto video to show students the places we'll travel. As I share this planned adventure with students, I want them to embrace the traveler ideal so they can become more empathetic citizens of the world. 




There is No Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book 
To take us Lands away 
Nor any Coursers like a Page 
Of prancing Poetry – 
This Traverse may the poorest take 
Without oppress of Toll – 
How frugal is the Chariot 
That bears the Human Soul –