Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Susan Glaspell's "Trifles" from the Trump View of Women View of Women #SOL16

"Come up to the fire, ladies."

The opening line in Susan Glaspell's 1916 one-act play Trifles offers a window into the current election cycle. 

My AP Lit and Comp students examined Trifles in a lively discussion on the day Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in the first presidential debate. I contemplated my students' observations about the murder of John Wright and our discussion about whether or not Mrs. Wright had reason to kill her husband. 

Together, we looked at the textual evidence supporting a justifiable homicide as well as passages that gave us pause about the murder. 

  • Did Mrs. Wright fear for her life after discovering her husband had killed her canary? 
  • Was Mr. Wright both physically as well as emotionally abusive to his wife? 
  • Why did Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters withhold information about Mrs. Wright's quilting from their husbands? 
  • What clues does Glaspell reveal through both stage directions and dialogue? 
Together we examined evidence so that we could unravel the mystery of what drove Mrs. Wright to kill her husband as he lay in their bed with her sleeping on the inside. 

I asked students if they know the significance of a canary in the mining industry. I shared with them the legal concept of imminent danger and how we see this working in the defense of police officers who shoot and kill unarmed African American men. 

Monday morning I had read an article in The Atlantic titled "Donal Trump's Cruel Streak" that resonated with me both in the context of Trifles as well as in concert with Trump's claim that he has the best temperament, an assertion he reiterated during the debate. Prior to offering a menagerie of Trump's cruel acts and comments and inviting us to "judge for yourself" the cruelty of Donald Trump, Condor Friedersdorf announces his thesis: 

Donald J. Trump has a cruel streak. He willfully causes pain and distress to others. And he repeats this public behavior so frequently that it’s fair to call it a character trait. Any single example would be off-putting but forgivable. Being shown many examples across many years should make any decent person recoil in disgust.

I wondered how Mr. John Wright would describe himself were he to have that opportunity. At one point in Trifles, Hale characterizes Mr. Wright as a man who wants only peace and quiet. In contrast, at first the audience is led to think Mrs. Wright fails as a wife given the unkempt state of her home. 

Many have written about Donald Trump's tone deafness to women's issues. In this sense, he's like Mr. Wright about whom Hale remarks: "I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John." Images of cold underpin this observation throughout the play.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton's powerful political ad "Mirrors" captures that paradigm, that tone of cruelty evident in Trump's treatment of women: 

This election Donald Trump invites us to "come up to the fire." But as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale reject the idea of incriminating Mrs. Wright by offering evidence that she had reason to murder her cruel husband, as a demographic group college-educated women have denounced Trump's offer to warm ourselves by his dangerous, misogynistic rhetoric. 

We see through the window from which Trump views us. And through that window, we look into a mirror reflecting our future in a Trump presidency and know many of his supporters don't understand our "getting all stirred up over a little thing like a--dead canary."

Thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for their faithful commitment to
teachers and students. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

*The ideas expressed in this blog reflect only my thoughts, my beliefs and are in no way offered as representative of my employer or any other entity. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bonding with AP Lit and Comp Students with "A Child of Books" by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston: #SOL16 #APlitchat #engchat

I am a child of books.

I come from a world of stories...

Thus begins Oliver Jeffers's and Sam Winston's remarkable picture book A CHILD OF BOOKS (Candlewick Press, 2016).

After several days working with students to articulate "Great Questions" in the short stories we've been reading, and after struggling to move students to a deeper understanding of how to discover these universal questions and phrase them as themes, I decided to turn to picture books for inspiration. 

We began by reading A CHILD OF BOOKS, which had arrived at my home the day before the lesson. 

As I read and showed students the pictures accompanying each page, their reaction to the book overwhelmed me. Each student sat transfixed, exclaiming how beautiful the book is and how much they love the words and images, which, for those who have not read the book, Winston drew with words. 

Still, the students could not quite settle on a GREAT QUESTION or theme. I decided to show them the book trailer, which I've included below. In it the authors state the main theme of their story. 

Books let us explore unknown places and ignite the imagination. 

This theme is one I start the year with as it articulates my love of literature so succinctly. We explore texts that draw our attention to the act of writing and telling, including poetry, short stories, novels, and plays. By looking closely it's easy to notice the myriad ways writers mention writing in their works. It's as though they honor stories this way. 

Students moved into triads and selected a picture book to read together and to practice raising questions about. They then worked to state the stories' themes, and we took turns 

1. Briefly describing the plot in 2-3 sentences,
2. Raising a GREAT QUESTION the story brings to our attention,
3. Stating a them for the story. 

We still had some themes that work more as morals and lessons, but all groups moved toward a deeper understanding of how we discover ideas in complicated literary texts. 

And it's the stories that students tell about stories as they relate to their own lives that resonate most with me. 

This Monday, the day I'm writing this Slice of Life, I received an email from a student who graduated last year and who was in my AP Lit and Comp class. 

Hey Mrs. Funk!

This is  ______  ______, I just wanted to let you know that I went in for a really good job interview this last Friday and thanks to you I was able to talk about Life of Pi with my Interviewer and talk all about all the metaphors and symbolism and it just may have gotten me a job! I just wanted to thank you for pushing me through some hard literature, that helped me grow as a person.


That's the kind of story that fills my story-telling mind with pride and wonder. And it's a pretty good way to spend a Monday! 

Happy story-telling and making week to you. May you always be "a child of books" and know the joy of reading stories, which as Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston remind us are places 

where anyone at all can come
for imagination is FREE.

You'll find more stories each Tuesday in the Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Head over to Two Writing Teachers for your "Once upon a time" moment.
Thank you TWT for your commitment to stories and teaching. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Two Kinds #SOL16

Join other slicers each Tuesday for the Slice of Life story challenge sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, ladies, for your hard work and commitment to authentic PD and writing opportunities. 
As I prepared a discussion on Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" from THE JOY LUCK CLUB, I thought about teaching and the kind of teacher I am, the kind of teacher I have been, and the kind of teacher I want to be. 

In Tan's story a Chinese mother embraces the idea of the American Dream and its promise that we can all grow up to be a Yankee without pause or question

After rejecting the idea her daughter could grow up to be a prodigy, a Chinese Shirley Temple, a restaurateur, etc., she settles on her daughter becoming a piano virtuoso and hires a deaf, visually impaired instructor to teach the child, our narrator.

Only when she must play at a recital does the reality of the girl's playing become apparent to all but the teacher, Mr. Chong. 

The idea of reducing teaching to a binary by asking which kind of teacher someone is the way the mother in TWO KINDS does with daughters, seems a bit reductive. 

"Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. 'Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!"

Can there only be two kinds of teachers? 

Throughout my career I've said that I want to be the kind of teacher I want for my own children. That has always framed my idea of the right kind of teacher. 

These days, indeed for many years now, I sense myself standing on one side of an invisible line that delineates one kind of teacher from the other. To illustrate, I think about the moment I was hired for my current job back in 1989. A VP at the time told my principal, "That's who you should hire if you want a winning debate team, but you need to know that she'll say what she thinks and do what she wants." 

I've spent my career fulfilling my former boss's prophecy. 

When a mandate seems illogical or unproductive or damaging to students, I look for ways to circumvent it. Nothing testifies to this as much as my rejection of test prep and canned curriculum. Yet in teaching AP Lit and Comp I must deal with a standardized test that I've come to consider vastly different from the state mandated bubbles and the accompanying materials that take the joy out of teaching and learning. 

The beginning of a new school year offers a clean slate, an opportunity to define and redefine our professional persona both in our classrooms and online. It's a time for taking stock of past mistakes, those moments that cacophony has replaced harmony in our lesson plans and units. To do that I can't be tone deaf to the contexts in which I teach. 

Today I thought about ways the political context has changed from that of last spring as my speech students learned about the nature of factual information. Although I've taught speech for many years, I realized I need to include a section of fact-checkers as it relates to political discourse. To omit this would mean I'm tone-deaf to at least one context in which I work and learn. 

As does the narrator in TWO KINDS, I'm looking back and thinking about the kinds of teacher I've been. I'm dusting off some unpolished lessons and tuning them up for a new audience, a new group of kids. I'm looking for the companion pieces that round out and complete the courses I teach. At times my students will play to "Pleading Child" repertoire and I'll try to match that with "Perfectly Contended" and we clank the keys through another school year. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wacky Wednesday: Engaging Students with Poetry Line Skits #SOL16 #APLit

I may have presented a lesson to my AP Lit and Comp students on the third day of school that I'll have difficulty topping the next eight months, three weeks of school.

After seeing a tweet about Wacky Wednesday and reading a few suggestions about how to capitalize on Wacky Wednesday, and after perusing Pinterest for ideas, I used an adaptation of line-tossing to hook my AP Lit and Comp students into poetry.

We had more fun than I thought possible during the lesson, and I even heard one student tell another: "I love this class." Others asked, "Can we do this every Wednesday?" I told those students that the idea for Wacky Wednesday is to do something unique, something we normally would not do. Otherwise the wacky thing would become the normal thing.

Without further adieu, here's what I did:

First I selected poems for the activity. I like to start w/ metafictional poetry in AP Lit and Comp, so I picked poems that referenced reading and writing. Most of the poems came from our textbook: Literature and Composition, authored by Carol Jago, et al. and published by Bedford St. Martins. I selected a couple of poems from the Perrine's Literature book.

Next, I put the poems into a handout for students to annotate easily; since we have the books available to students, I see this as fair use. I then selected the lines I wanted to use for the activity. Here's a link to the document with the lines.

Next, I cut the lines and mounted them onto note cards that I distributed to students as they entered the room.

After taking attendance, I asked the students to mill around the room, sharing their lines with one another. Then I had the students write about the line for two minutes in a "quick" or "flash" write format. We repeated this step.

For the third line sharing, I instructed students to present the lines in the wackiest way possible. After all, we were experiencing Wacky Wednesday. Student wrote again.

By this time, students had worked with three lines.

Next, students paired up and created skits. Some used all their lines; others used only two. I gave students five minutes to prepare the skits and invited them to use props and costuming I have available. Most importantly, I told students to have fun and not worry about how the lines fit into the poems.

The skits were hilarious! Two students served as our directors, counting down to the performance: "Three, two, one, and action." The word action was accompanied by the smacking of a director's paddle, another toy I have in my room. Our directors stood on desks and waved pom poms attached to red pens.

As each group finished, the performers called, "scene." The class clapped in unison with our school's signature three claps.

When all groups had presented, we processed the activity with a discussion about what we noticed, what we learned, and what we liked about the experience. I then passed out the handout with the poems we would be studying, the ones from which I gleaned the lines we played with.

As a finale the students chose partners with whom to work on one of the poems, and together the pairs selected a poem.

As a follow-up, each pair has been leading the class in a discussion of a poem. This we do through a "think aloud" in which we project a poem on the white board and the students assigned it walk the class through it, giving their ideas about the poem. We eventually open the discussion up to the entire class for observation and comment.

At this juncture in the class, I don't worry about the formal considerations about poetry. Things like meter, form, symbolism, figurative language, sound devices, tone, etc. grow organically during these informal discussions and allow for a natural way of discussion a poem.

Now I'm working on a syntax Wacky Wednesday activity, but I worry I'll have a hard time topping our first foray into the Wacky Wednesday World!

The poems I used:

“Learning to Read” by Franz Wright
“Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath
“There is no Frigate like a Book” by Emily Dickinson
“A Study of Reading Habits” by Philip Larkin
The Writer by Richard Wilbur
“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
“The Author to Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet
“Shawl” by Albert Goldbarth

Two others I began the year with are "Introduction to Poetry" by Billie Collins and "Tell All the Truth, but Tell It Slant" by Emily Dickinson. Both poems fit the metafiction emphasis.

For more slices on this Slice of Life Tuesday,
head over to the Two Writing Teachers blog.
Thank you TWT team! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On the Politics of Stealing Stories #SOL16

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for sponsoring the Tuesday
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.