Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On the Politics of Stealing Stories #SOL16

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Slice of LifeStory Challenge. We need you and the stories. 
I walked into my first college class in late August 1977. My first foray into higher education came at 7:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday in Professor Tom Padgett's Honors Composition class, a six-credit hour grueling foray for which I was woefully unprepared. 

Before writing our first paper, Dr. Padgett handed us a warning: "Plagiarism through Ignorance." I can still see the words on the mimeographed copy, can still feel the moist paper, can still smell the chemicals characteristic of that now archaic era of copying handouts. I imagine Dr. Padgett cranking the old copier as he tried to avoid blue ink stains on his finger and clothing. 

Reading those words "Plagiarism through Ignorance" made me faint and a little nauseous. From that moment I've feared being found guilty of plagiarism. I've worried that I would unwittingly plagiarize. 

My fear polarized me during Dr. Padgett's class and two sections of American Literature I took with him. Writing this I wonder how my fear of plagiarism impacted my writing as an undergrad. Did it stifle my creativity? Did it make me hyper-concerned for citing sources? 

I'll never know the answer to these questions, of course. Still, I do value this early lesson about plagiarism, and I still have that handout tucked away among papers from long ago. 

I write this, of course, in the wake of Melania Trump's RNC keynote speech and the obvious plagiarism inherent in its text. 

I first heard that Mrs. Trump had plagiarized part of Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech last night and have read commentary, watched discussions, and laughed at memes, including one depicting Milli Vanelli as Melania's speech writer. One of my friends left an image from Turnitin.com on his FB page and allowed the picture to speak unencumbered by words. It was enough. 

In 2006 Sherman Alexie penned an op-ed for Time magazine in which he articulates why we should all care about incidents of plagiarism. Alexie's remarks in "When the Story Stolen is Your Own" follow his vindication from having been victimized by a plagiarist. Alexie reminds us that stealing words matters as it constitutes stealing someone else's story: 

His lies matter because he has cynically co-opted as a literary style the very real suffering endured by very real Indians because of very real injustices caused by very real American aggression that destroyed very real tribes.

Melania Trump in her RNC speech essentially did to Michelle Obama what Nasdijj did to Alexie. By taking Michelle Obama's story about parental lessons and articulating it as her own, Melania diminished the stories of immigrants and African Americans. Importantly, she also silenced her own voice in the process. Her ethical lapse--intentional or otherwise--draws into question all other claims about herself as a parent and as an immigrant. 

My hope is that Melania Trump and her speech writers offer a sincere apology, that Melania says she and Michelle Obama have similar stories and values. These, after all, embody American values, at least the ones we espouse. I can forgive and even excuse Melania Trump who may very well have learned a different standard for what constitutes plagiarism in her culture because I know the standard differs among countries. 

By cribbing, co-opting, claiming a story not her own, Melania Trump, perhaps through ignorance, diminishes the "very real injustices" often inherent in the immigrant experience. We cannot afford to countenance this kind of ignorance. 


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Disneyland's Jungle Cruise and the Power of Racial Narratives #SOL16

Kayla (on the left) with her BFF Chandra at Disneyland.
This summer thousands of theme park lovers will visit Disneyland, and while there they race to popular rides and those they remember from their childhoods Such is the experience my husband and I had with my granddaughter Kayla and her friend Chandra a few weeks ago. It was both my husband's and Kayla's first trip to Disneyland. We explored the park, and I cajoled them into riding the rides I remembered experiencing years ago. 

As do many visitors to the park, we rode the Jungle Cruise ride. My experience in 2016 differs dramatically from the times I've ridden the ride in the past, 1981 and 2002, although the ride itself remains virtually unchanged from the one that opened with the park in 1955. 

What has changed is the culture of our country. Jungle Cruise opened before the Civil Rights movement, before we began addressing protecting endangered species, before the era of mass shootings. 

Jungle Cruise, as well as other Disney rides, appears innocuous to many middle-class white travelers such as myself, but in these days of hyper-awareness of our country's racial tension, in the aftermath of last week's shootings of two black men by law enforcement and five police officers in Dallas, and in the wake of teaching Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS, I experienced JUNGLE CRUISE through different cultural lenses. Riding Jungle Cruise in 2016, I realized some things.

JUNGLE CRUISE conveys an overtly racist message.

But that's not the only problem with JUNGLE CRUISE.

JUNGLE CRUISE also advances an irresponsible environmental narrative.

Wait, there's more.

JUNGLE CRUISE resonates Disney's tone deafness to America's gun problem.

The ride begins with a warning about the dangers of a river trip in Africa. That's the first indication of a false narrative. The "guide," a Disney team member, is tasked with instilling a sense of fear of the African jungle in riders. This warning echoes Marlow's river trip, but perhaps that's a misreading given that Jungle Cruise owes its inspiration to The African Queen.

However, the ride does traffic in common stereotypes of Africans as savage, uneducated headhunters who live in territory we're cautioned to fear. It constructs an "other" of black people. This recalls the images of heads on poles in HEART OF DARKNESS. Similarly, visitors are to "believe" they're on a cruise up the Congo River.

In terms of its environmental narrative, the rhino scene disturbed me most. In 2015 scientists declared the Western Black Rhino extinct, but Disney continues using a "black" rhino in the Jungle Cruise ride. During the ride, the boat passes by a rhino that has a pole filled with men stacked one on top of the other. The rhino has his horn pointed at their bottoms, keeping the men trapped. "This right here is why you never argue with a rhino. He always gets his point across in the end." That's the guide speaking. 

Later, the guide unholsters a gun and fires it into the air to scare off a hippo. We witnessed this a couple of days after the Pulse massacre in Orlando. 

By now, if you've read this far, you may be thinking, "but it's just a silly ride." 

The problem with the silly Jungle Cruise ride resides in the layered narrative it constructs. It keeps the black man as savage narrative anchored in our national consciousness. This narrative feeds irrational fears, even among law enforcement who too often see skin color as a mark of danger. The more often we repeat a narrative, the more likely we are to accept it. Jungle Cruise does that, and its story often begins in the minds of small children.

The problem with the silly Jungle Cruise ride resides in its narrative that wild animals roam freely in Africa and that we should fear many of them. The Jungle Cruise constructs a false narrative by omission because its story has not changed enough since its opening in 1955. 

The problem with the silly Jungle Cruise ride echoes in the narrative that to solve a problem simply pull out a gun and fire into the air. The joke no longer creates a Ha Ha moment. Instead, I cringed when I saw the gun and heard the shot only days after the worst gun massacre in our nation's history. 

When we exited the ride, I looked at my husband and said, "That's a racist ride." My granddaughter and her friend responded in unison: "No it's not." My granddaughter, the child of an immigrant, in that moment believed Disney's narrative, and so our conversation about our national narrative and the inherent problems with such stories began. 


*It's Slice of Life Tuesday. Check out other slices on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thank you, ladies, for your commitment to teachers and the sharing of stories. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dear Brock Turner's Dad (Dan Turner), Defenders, and Rationalizers: #SOL16 #BrockTurner

Dear Brock Turner's Dad (Dan Turner), Defenders and Rationalizers:

Since reading about Brock Turner's conviction on three felony counts of rape and aggravated assault of a woman behind a dumpster, and since learning about the lenient sentence handed down by Judge Persky, I've shed many tears of anger and sorrow. I've read, with my husband, the victim's heart-wrenching, twelve-page letter to the court, and I've read your letter, Mr. Turner, rationalizing your son's behavior. I've also read many blog posts, news stories, and commentaries as well as Brock's friend Leslie Rasmussen's defense of him. 

These past few days I've asked myself why I'm so angry about this incident involving people I don't know. I've concluded, Mr. Dan Turner and other defenders of Brock, that in the many years since I first learned about sexual assault little has changed. 

Mr. Dan Turner and other Brock Turner apologists, you don't get it. Sexual Assault is a big deal. According the RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, each year the United States produces approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault. Brock is one of thousands of abusers. He's not an anomaly, but he may symbolize the tipping point, the point at which our nation finally says, We're "mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore. 

I, for one, am tired. I am bone tired of the abusers, the defenders of the abusers, the justice system filled with men who enable the abusers, the blame the victim mentality engrained in our cultural psyche.

I am tired. I am tired of learning about students who have been victimized by men and boys who rape and assault them. I am tired of not having the words to comfort or help them since we both know the system would as soon blame them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or wearing the wrong clothing as punish the perpetrator. Judge Persky confirmed this for the entire nation when he sentenced Brock to six months in the county jail. 

I am tired of parents, like you Mr. Dan Turner, who rationalize their sons' behavior as "twenty minutes of action," parents who defend their sons instead of looking in the mirror and asking what you did to raise a boy who grew up to be a man who rapes, who assaults, who takes advantage of a woman whose judgment is impaired. Parents like you who think their son's appetite for steak is more important than his victims suffering.Mr. Turner, start with the man in the mirror. I get that you wanted a light sentence for your son, but blaming the victim, denying Brock's actions, refusing to apologize, embracing hubris rather than humility insults every victim of sexual assault and does nothing to help your child. 

I am tired of reliving the memory of my best friend in college finding me during dinner to tell me she had been to the doctor and learned she had crabs, which her rapist gave her after assaulting her behind a Quick Trip in Kansas City Missouri. My friend was not drunk. My friend was a virgin saving herself for her future husband. I helped her clean her home, sanitize the furniture, wash all the clothes, but I could not wash away the rape or her memory of it. 

I am tired of systemic blaming of the victims when the victim is a female and the perpetrators are young men. Shortly after I read about Brock's lenient conviction, I read about four BYUI students who broke into a young woman's home, stole a picture, and hung a dead rabbit in its place along with a threatening note. Captain Randy Lewis of the Rexburg, Idaho police chose not to arrest the men because they were just playing a prank. I am tired of the Captain Lewis types who take a "boys will be boys" selective approach to law enforcement. 

I am tired of being too embarrassed by my own experiences of having been improperly fondled by a relative, a much older man, when I was 16 and then feeling as though it was my fault when he was caught as I was attempting to push him away. I remember his constant efforts to touch me between my legs from the time I was seven years old. People knew. People ignored. 

I am tired of the memories I have of walking home from school in junior high past an older boy's house as he stood on the porch yelling that he wanted to play with my boobs because they were so big. Growing up in the shadow of leers suggesting I deserved less respect than other women because my large breasts offered an open invitation for unsolicited cat calls and advances has exhausted me. 

I am tired of feeling ashamed of and blaming myself for my own sexual assault nearly forty years ago. It took me decades to realize I'd been date raped when I was 18 during the summer of 1977; I'd had sex. It must have been my choice, right? Even though I was sick with the flu and repeatedly said "no." Even though I was in a strange place, a city hours from my home. It happened, so I must have consented. Only I didn't. I said, "no, no, no" repeatedly as I nursed a fever and cough. Still, it happened. I've kept that event a secret all my life

I am tired of the way society treats victims of sexual assault, making them feel as though they need to hide in anonymity. I've watched women in real life, in movies, in realistic fiction grapple with the struggles of sexual abuse. Even women, like Brock's friend Leslie often don't know the definition of rape, of sexual assault, of their own worth as women because they have been so acculturated to the "boys will be boys" mindset, acculturated to the idea that they are subordinate to men. 

I am tired and so are many men, good men, decent men, men like my husband. Mr. Dan Turner and Defenders of Brock Turner, my 68 year old husband articulated the message you need to hear, and he parses no words in his assessment of Brock's situation: "He's a fucking rapist, and he needs to be in jail." There you have it from a white man who knows the difference between consent and assault, from a father who never rationalizes his or others' bad behaviors. 

I am tired. I am tired of the rape culture, a culture our nation needs to own and stop rationalizing. I only hope that this story of Brock Turner, rapist; and his father Dan Turner, rapist apologist; and Judge Persky, rapist enabler lasts longer than the typical news cycle and that our nation will finally learn its lesson and stop blaming the victim and coddling the privileged assailant. 


Slice of Life happens every Tuesday through the
tireless efforts of the team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, ladies.




Tuesday, May 24, 2016

When Words Bounce Back #SOL16

A page from the book Madison reimagined.
Last Thursday, I said goodbye to my AP Literature and Composition students. There's something special about firsts. The first year of teaching. The first time teaching a lesson. The first time teaching a new class. They're all filled with unknowns, feelings of self-doubt and messiness, and special moments of bonding with students.

I had these experiences teaching AP Lit and Comp this year, and I had one when Madison presented her SPOKEN WORD POEM to the class.

The poem begins with words. My words. Words I offered unsolicited during lunch one day when a group of students gathered in my room, as they often did throughout the year, and talked about the significant and trivial concerns that filled their lives.

"You can have it all, but you can't have it all at once." Those words. I spoke them one day during the chatter about women's lives that often occupied my students' thoughts, especially the ponderings of female students.

Madison took those words. Words she borrowed and made her own as I too made them my own, at least the "You can have it all" part. That part I soon learned, came at a cost. At least for me. Perhaps others' truths are different.

From those words, Madison wrote and spoke with all-consuming passion. As I listened, as the words bounced back to me from Madison's voice, I thought about the choices I've made in my life. Past choices. Present choices. Future choices. All resonate as moments that privilege something to the marginalization and exclusion of something else. "You can have it all, but you can't have it all at once" represents a truth for me and for my students, a truth we rarely utter. We teachers like to offer platitudes: "Of course you can grow up to be a Yankee."

As Madison delved deeper into her poem and her truth about the choices she has and will make, I cried. Not from sadness. I cried because I remembered. I remembered the choices I'd made over the years. I thought about the unknowns associated with those choices at the time I made them. And I realized that those choices had led me to that moment sitting on the couch in my room, listening to this gifted young woman reflect on my words and on her future. I cried because I realized that my choices, for all the ups and downs in my life, both personal and professional, had brought me to that moment.

I will miss my AP Lit and Comp students, but I will have their words, those they wrote in their essays and in their spoken word poems and those imprinted on my mind during our many discussions.

Madison wrote a letter to me in which she spoke about the "importance of dialogue in the classroom. In the letter she said, "In a time of life when most of us expect to be preached to rather than heard, you have shown us that every voice is important."

And because the voices of my students is far more important than my own, I'm including in this post her spoken word poem. There's a little chatter from some classmates at the beginning, and the poem begins ten seconds into the recording.

At the top of this post I've included a picture of a bird cage and a deer. They protrude from the pocket of a library book check-out card holder. The picture is part of a reimagined book Madison gave to me. Using Four Tragedies: William Shakespeare, Madison created a new work of art. 

The picture of the bird is in dialogue with Edna in The Awakening. Kate Chopin uses the image of a caged bird to symbolize Edna's desire to flee the trappings of her life. The deer speaks to both Edna and Nora from A Doll's House

Of course, the book holder echoes the power of art, of writing, of imaginative literature to open the doors Madison writes and speaks about as she seeks to have it all, even though she can't have it all at once. 
Each Tuesday the Two Writing Teachers team
sponsors the Slice of Life Story Challenge on
the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thank you, Staci
and all who work so faithfully for this community. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Honoring Teachers with the Annual Pocatello North Stake Teacher Recognition #SOL16

The invitation.
This past Thursday evening, I and twenty other teachers in Pocatello, were honored by the Pocatello North Stake. Graduating seniors who attend one of the Wards served by the North Stake selected us for recognition.

As a non-Mormon, the first time a student selected me for this honor, I accepted the invitation with a little trepidation. I didn't know what to expect. But having been chosen touched me deeply, so my husband and I attended the ceremony.

That was five years ago.

No two students may choose the same teacher. That way many teachers receive recognition. Usually, most of the teachers are my colleagues at Highland H. S., but this year a kindergarten teacher, a couple of elementary teachers, and several middle school teachers joined us. Additionally, my English department colleagues Stephanie Plato, Kyle Jenks, and Gino Mariano (also our football coach) received recognition, too.

The students, parents, siblings, and church leaders work tirelessly planning, organizing, and serving teachers on this special evening. From the invitation to the photography, to the dinner, to the service where each student speaks about their teacher, each moment is orchestrated with care and love. As Kyle said the next day: "Dinner was like being on a cruise."

Makenna Watt selected me as her teacher to honor. My husband and I spent the evening with Makenna and her mom Kim. We were joined at dinner by my student James Mullen, his parents, and my colleague Stephanie, whom James chose to honor.
With Kim, Makenna's mom.
Makenna shared stories about texting me in the wee hours when she took Communication 1101, as well as an anecdote about help I gave her with an essay for Kyle's English 1110 Introduction to Literature. I also taught Makenna in ninth grade speech.
Makenna and my plaque.
I was the last teacher honored, and after Makenna spoke and gave me my plaque, the Stake President David Penrod presented me with a lovely flower arrangement for having been chosen all five years of the program.
My flowers and husband Ken.
They even asked me to give a speech! I'll not replicate all my comments, but will share a quote I heard long ago and that I've tried to remember over the years: "We make a living out of what we get. We make a life out of what we give."

The lady most responsible for the teacher recognition is an amazing woman. Anne Cameron has traveled a long journey with me over the years. She lived two houses down the street from me for several years and still lives in my neighborhood. I've taught some of her children, too. She devotes numerous hours to the program and is a constant each year. She has listened to my stories about teaching and shared some tales out of school, too. Coming from a family of educators--her father was a superintendent--Anne knows education. She exemplifies a life of service, and I owe her multiple debts of gratitude.
With Anne Cameron, the lady who keeps the Teacher Recognition going.
Thank you, Pocatello North Stake. Your gracious giving to me and my colleagues brings meaning to our professional lives.

Thank you, for sharing this special slice of my teaching life with me. If you are a teacher, my wish is for you to feel as valued and honored as I do through the Pocatello North Stake Teacher Recognition.
It's Tuesday, which means Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Thank you, Staci and the team at TWT blog. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Scavenger Hunt AP Lit and Comp Exam Review: #SOL16 [Teaching Strategy] #APLitchat

Each Tuesday the Slice of Life Story Challenge happens via the
Two Writing Teachers blog. Join other slicers for more stories. 
The day before the AP Literature and Composition exam, I planned a scavenger hunt for my class. It offered a much needed opportunity for students to decompress and gave a final push toward the goal of taking the exam. 

My students loved this activity, and I think you'll like the happy tale of their race to scavenge. 

To plan the hunt, I reviewed stations from past scavenger hunts and headed over to the AP Lit Help website for inspiration. Ultimately, I settled on eight stations. Here's a link to the document I gave students. And here's a link to the station instructions students used at each station. The stations: 


  1. RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT: Location:  Commons Area below the Clock     
  2. CHALK THE WALK: Location: In front of the building. Instructions are on the bell pole/tower.
  3. WHO TURNED THE LIGHTS OUT?! Location: Ms. Fleishman’s room (B-4)
  4. I WALK THE LINE: Location: B-1, Mrs. McCarthy’s Room
  5. WOMAN CARD! Location: Ms. Wilcox’s Office!
  6. GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Location: Bursar’s Office (Shelly’s space)
  7. GET YOUR NOSE IN A BOOK: Location: Mrs. Funk’s room and wherever else you can find books! (media center is closed for AP testing!)
  8. PREVIOUSLY: Location: Ram Center (present to counselor after completing the task)

I gave the stations names that I hoped would set the creative tone I wanted kids to take and that would hook their interest. 

My AP Lit and Comp class is small, but I wanted kids to pair up and work as teams, much as teams do on "The Amazing Race," which is a name I'm considering for next year's scavenger hunt. 
Planning the performance for Station 1, RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT.

Once I had the stations planned, I had to find areas of the building for each station. Only once the students reached the station location did they learn the task. I wanted to maintain an element of surprise! I also wanted to showcase to others the ways academics can be fun. 
Station 8, PREVIOUSLY, shows what students found
at each point in the Scavenger Hunt.

In advance of the hunt, I prepared instructions for each station and then mounted the instructions on orange construction paper. This paper matched the handout students had that listed the stations. I thought having a uniform color would help them locate the stations once they arrived at their destinations. 

Some stations necessitated having materials for students. For example, the WOMAN CARD station needed copies of the text students would annotate and supplies for making a "WOMAN CARD." 

Tyra and Vanessa do a little research before creating their Woman Card!
I need supplies for Stations 1, 2, 3, 5. I needed to provide an example for Station 4, WALK THE LINE, which required students to write a PERIODIC SENTENCE. This is something I composed in advance. I also needed to select an essay for scoring for Station 6, GOAL!!!!!!! 
The first text shows one team's score for Station 6, GOAL!!!!!
The second text shows the same team's periodic sentence for Station 4, WALK THE LINE.

During the scavenger hunt, students had to document their progress, so I had them use their phones for this part of the activity. Some tasks called for video recording and sharing the video with me. Others required kids to text or tweet or Instagram their results. This technological dimension to the activity really appealed to my students. 
Station 7: Parker has his nose in a book
and texts his and his partner's response to the task. 

Both Station 1, RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT, and Station 8, PREVIOUSLY, required students to create recordings of their performances. Since I followed students on their adventure, I was able to record some of these performances myself. Jake and James (reading) presented their PREVIOUSLY story on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  After their presentation, our AP coordinator looked at them and said, "And that's a children's story?"

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

PROM DATE: Creative Ways Students Pop the Question #SOL16

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers
hosts the weekly Slice of Life story challenge. Other
slicers have shared moments from their lives on the TWT blog. 
Among high school students, prom serves as a rite of passage. Finding a date to prom once involved a simple phone call or a note posing the question: "Want to go to prom with me." 

Those days of a simple question followed by a simple answer passed long ago. Over the years I've seen elaborate ways students ask one another to prom. 

This year my AP Lit and Comp students have made finding a prom date a major point of discussion during lunch. I admit to interjecting my opinion into the prom date who will go with whom discussion these past two weeks. 

Today, however, I witnessed my favorite prom date solicitation, and it's a simple one compared to the moms visiting my classroom and helping their teens find dates. The fellow popping the question did get a little help from a student in the class. 

Here's the set-up, which faced the door as students entered so that the recipient could see it first thing: 

The letters, of course, spell out PROM. The first note reads: "You read about it in books. A girl with good looks." The second page reads: "You're a sight to see. Wanna go to prom with me." Signed "Danny." 

This literary nod makes my heart happy, especially since the books are among some fantastic ones, two by Isabelle Allende, one a book of poetry. Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior is there, too. I didn't have a chance to see the other two. 
Taylor, the recipient of this prom proposal.
No matter how this prom story ends, another story awaits us between the covers of a good book.