Author: Sara (page 2 of 2)

Fair and balanced; both sides

This week was pledge drive week at Minnesota Public Radio and therefore a week in which they highlighted their coverage of “both sides” of important issues.

Please. Stop. News organizations: please stop doing this. Here is why:

  1. There are not two sides to an issue. There may be two primary talking points delivered by our two major political parties, but most issues have a multiplicity of overlapping agreements and disagreements that blur based on your underlying philosophy.
  2. “Why?” matters. Take gay marriage. Two traditionally GOP-voting blocs are divided on it: the religious right is against it, those on the economic right see the bans as bad for business. There is crossover within those groups as well – in their beliefs, in their reasoning, in what they consider of primary importance.
  3. Let’s say there are only two prevailing points of view on an issue: sometimes one side is based on fact and the other is based on marketing. Are those stances equal? Of course they’re not, but it takes less time to “report” (aka summarize press releases) on “each side” of an issue than it does to sort out the underlying nuances, facts, obfuscations, belief systems, etc. at work that drive those who hold certain viewpoints.
  4. Finally, the facts of what is actually going on often has nothing to do with the people advocating for this or that cause. If you focus on the horse race alone, no one knows what the hell is going on. This leads to the utmost of pathetic ‘reporting’ – getting it first, nevermind that this had serious consequences in the 2000 elections and made CNN and FOX news look like idiots when they misreported the results of the ACA ruling because they couldn’t be bothered to read more than a page into the ruling before rushing to the cameras.

So, please, stop talking about reporting both sides. How about just reporting? Analyzing? Describing?

That would be awesome.

And just like that, I’m back from where I came

Let me tell you what I should be doing right now: efficiently chronicling specific language for the abstract for my second written exam question. What I am doing instead is not at all efficient, but I’m running on fumes and am mostly operating on instinct this week — so I’m going with it.

I won’t get into the blah blah of the academic question because that just takes too long, but the other side of the question is me sitting in a weird mash up of Freire and Maslow, staring at a book by Ira Shor (Critical Teaching and Everyday Life, to be specific. It has kind of a hypnotically red cover.).

I’m not even necessarily supposed to write about teaching in all this. I’m trying to situate some things that are happening in my It Gets Better interviews around identity development and yet I land here in some space between or mushed around in humanistic psychology and critical pedagogy. I should be considering my abstract, as I said, but all I can think is how did this question turn into a return to how I taught writing?

Despite being a young idiot who generally had a good time writing, I quickly intuited something about my young students’ general paralysis when it came to writing in and for class: whether the students wrote in English as their first, second, third, or sometimes fourth language, almost everyone had sort of been traumatized by writing for school.

So. Okay. What the hell is a young idiot to do? If said young idiot is me (and she was), the most logical solution was to get that crap out of the way in the first class. It was such an easy, easy idea that worked so flawlessly – “Freewrite: What is your worst and best experience with a writing/composition/English class” (depended on what I taught). Everyone had an opinion, and so everyone had something to write about.

Continuing on, I asked people to share what they wrote (if they wanted) — and again, it was almost ridiculous how easy it was to get everyone talking. One student would have the experience of a teacher ripping up an essay of hers in front of a class (this happened), and another would talk about the time her teacher mocked her paper in front of class (this also happened). They could have shared negative stories all day, but the fact was that they were going to have to write all semester and so we had to develop positive identities as writers too.

From my own experience and from what I saw in my classes, I learned that writing and storytelling help us discover and form who we are. Giving voice to experience isn’t just the airing of dirty laundry or a necessarily narcissistic enterprise. It can serve multiple functions–personal identity development, external support, community development, etc. (I’d like to point to something John Moe did today on Twitter as an example. He tweeted a string of statements with the hash tag #sunlight about the need to shine light on struggles that our society hides or derides, like depression, so that the many, many people who have these experiences can feel less alone, discover allies and resources, etc.)

This is important stuff, and is something social media supports in a crazily covert way that I don’t think people often notice — or at least that they don’t usually give importance to. Not only to feel like you belong somewhere, but to define what it means to be a part of that group and what you’ll do with that? That’s a big deal.

The blah blah to all this is that individual development (or Maslow’s somewhat hippie-sounding ‘self-actualization’) when tied to a community-oriented and critical kind of focus is an identity development with quite a bit of awesome kick to it. To frame it as Shor does in the book, “Critical learning aids people in knowing what holds them back; it encourages them to envision a social order which supports their full humanity” (p. 49). People have to be able to intervene in their own stories, to contradict or to make sense of or to reset their courses, and the act of doing that changes us.

I don’t really know if writing or thinking about writing changed any of my students. They mostly liked my teaching, they mostly grew as writers…but the act of teaching in the way that I did changed me and my conception of not only who I was as a person, who I was in relation to my students, and what I thought learning in post-secondary education should look like, but it changed my conception of who I could be and what I still believe is possible in the world because of all the experiences I had.

Despite all indications that my general resistance to cynicism is totally boneheaded, I always come back from despair and think I can change the damned world. I’ve watched people transform and become better versions of themselves and better community members, so I think we all have it in us. People always told me that I’d get less idealistic as I got older, but I only seem to be becoming more determined to return to a goal-focused idealism every time cynicism rears its ugly head…because, well, what is the alternative? To accept the crap that exists and shrug your shoulders?

Eff that noise. That’s my academic analysis.

What makes a difference?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a great deal as I’ve worked on the literature review for my dissertation and as I’ve started talking with my interview participants.

What is “difference-making”? What counts as creating change?

There is a strong line of thinking that only the people who are politically involved or leading big, visible change movements are participating in activism, or “difference-making,” to put it in a more neutral sense.

The thing is, I don’t actually buy that. It seems like an print concept for a social world.

What I mean is this: we need high visibility organizers, people out in the field, etc. However, there is serious, daily difference-making going on. Daily events that radiate out with consistency.

In this, I’m speaking specifically about LGBT work, but I could be talking about other issues. Apply as you like.

The world is not as LGBT-friendly as it seems in our enclaves. Yes, it truly has gotten better, but I continue to argue that every act we take to be out is one of difference-making. Our Facebook or Twitter or whatever presences that incorporate our terribly mundane or terribly exciting lives as LGBT people are daily, constant decisions to make a difference – individual by individual. Work decisions, social decisions…each one is made, each has ramifications. You don’t come out just once.

But those things count, and they count a lot.

There’s a lot going on in the It Gets Better Project and there’s a lot going on in my interviews. In my opinion, it was the “Come out, come out, wherever you are” of the 21st century.

I want to write more about this. I want to write legions about what I’ve already learned from the amazing people that I’ve talked to, but research isn’t journalism (though sometimes, for gratification’s sake alone, I really wish it was).

I’m going at this with every ounce of my being. I think about it constantly. I think about each of those difference-making decisions I make every day – big and small – and how amazingly important they have been.

I don’t have a scaled up organization under my belt, but I have an army of straight male tech guys who have stepped up to be allies, even writing op/eds for the local paper (you know who you are) about it.

Whatever the outcome, this feels like the work of a lifetime, and I can’t imagine feeling more inspired or driven than I do right now. Interviewing these folks has been a highlight of my entire PhD process, and giving academic amplification to the whys and hows of the IGBP is something I hope I have the skill and savvy to dispense far and wide.

Anyway. That’s all. That’s why I don’t update this blog right now, and won’t for a year. Unless I’m an insomniac and letting my thoughts out…then you’re stuck with me.

Occupy Wall Street: Snark’s Role in Demeaning the 99%

In May, the New York Times reported on the challenges facing our current crop of recent college graduates. Of those under 25, and across the majors they analyzed with the data they had, the number of these individuals who were not working varied from 21.2% to 25.2%.

I’ve seen critiques of the folks occupying Wall Street right now – either that they’re privileged white kids or that they’re silly, aimless liberals – but both are in service of a right wing narrative (whether they know it or not).

It wouldn’t surprise me if you hadn’t even heard about the protest or the criticisms, because the media has expressed very little interest thus far in reporting on it, which Wonkette noted today in its article Liberal NPR Won’t Cover Wall Street Protests, So Read This Instead. In case you were interested in NPR’s response, this is it:

We asked the newsroom to explain their editorial decision. Executive editor for news Dick Meyer came back: “The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective.”

Wonkette also reported another criticism that is often leveled at youth or even at middle or lower-middle class people who deign to protest their condition. Don’t listen to them, they own technology – if they were really poor, they wouldn’t have a laptop. This infuriates me. The most powerful tools that we have right now are those that facilitate the mass distribution of content. That means video cameras, that means iPhones, that means laptops. Twitter and YouTube are powerful tools for organizing when the media ignore you, and it’s sure as hell hard to type on location without a portable computer. When people critique those so-called luxuries, what they are advocating for is silence.

An article that is a “must-read” on the occupation was an essay titled The Revolution Begins at Home, by Arun Gupta that was reposted today by Naomi Klein. A few highlights:

They have created a unique opportunity to shift the tides of history in the tradition of other great peaceful occupations from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s to the democratic uprisings across the Arab world and Europe today.

Our system is broken at every level. More than 25 million Americans are unemployed. More than 50 million live without health insurance. And perhaps 100 million Americans are mired in poverty, using realistic measures. Yet the fat cats continue to get tax breaks and reap billions while politicians compete to turn the austerity screws on all of us.

Yet against every description of a generation derided as narcissistic, apathetic and hopeless they are staking a claim to a better future for all of us.

To be fair, the scene in Liberty Plaza seems messy and chaotic. But it’s also a laboratory of possibility, and that’s the beauty of democracy. As opposed to our monoculture world, where political life is flipping a lever every four years, social life is being a consumer and economic life is being a timid cog, the Wall Street occupation is creating a polyculture of ideas, expression and art.

Yet while many people support the occupation, they hesitate to fully join in and are quick to offer criticism. It’s clear that the biggest obstacles to building a powerful movement are not the police or capital – it’s our own cynicism and despair.

Get size and scope (plus a bunch of rich folks looking down on them while drinking champagne…you can’t make this stuff up).


So here is the thing: these folks weren’t rallied and organized by FOX. They haven’t been fed talking points to regurgitate. They are actually in the midst of identifying and creating their actual agenda – all while maintaining presence on the more global agenda – that our country’s current interpretation of what capitalism should look like is destroying our country and their futures.

Those of us who have careers – who are lucky enough to still be on a track – might glom on to the idea that these are spoiled kids, but that’s not a valid narrative (and not only because it’s not just young people). We would be attracted to that narrative because it would make us feel better about our relative positions or provide an outlet (however inappropriate) for the exhaustion and stress of paying off debts for our own educations and houses. It’s why the NY Times so easily prints those criticisms or why NPR until recently (I think today) chose to not bother with it.

The truth is that those of us who cling to our middle class lives are clinging to a myth. Nothing guarantees that your luck won’t turn, that you won’t wind up one of those human interest stories about the successful person who lost it all. Very few of us are going to give up what we have without kicking and screaming, however, which is why the people taking up camp on Wall Street are so important. They have the time, wealth, privilege, poverty, powerlessness, or just plain guts to do what I’m not and what you’re probably not.

They’re holding the people responsible for the economic condition we’re in to account – the people who have made wealth beyond your wildest imagination at your expense. And that is why both narratives we’re presented with – the spoiled rich kids and the silly liberals – are in the service of the right wing: they both encourage you to do nothing, and nothing is getting a few people very, very rich.

Sadly, it’s sure not helping you.

It’s Pride. Would you…?

It’s Pride weekend in most of the major metro areas in the country and I wanted to bring you a little happiness and a word of caution.

I am thrilled that New York’s legislators decided to vote yes on gay marriage. I sincerely hope we overcome the cruelty our own legislature is trying to inflict on the MN LGBT community and that we can get back on track to getting gay marriage here. It would be nice to be legally recognized in more than six states.

But that’s not exactly why I’m posting.

In our desire for equality – something valid and good and worthwhile – it’s important to remember, and to celebrate, the people who sparked a movement of pride and the call to come out, without whom many of the people in our community who are out now in 2011 would not otherwise be.

Always remember – it wasn’t the rich, the “straight-acting,” the “normative” folks who acted at Stonewall

The only photograph taken during the first night of the riots shows the homeless youth that slept in nearby Christopher Park, scuffling with police. The Mattachine Society newsletter a month later offered its explanation of why the riots occurred: “It catered largely to a group of people who are not welcome in, or cannot afford, other places of homosexual social gathering…. The Stonewall became home to these kids. When it was raided, they fought for it. That, and the fact that they had nothing to lose other than the most tolerant and broadminded gay place in town, explains why.”

So the questions I want all of us to keep in our heads are these:

If not for the actions of the queens, the street kids, the prostitutes, the gender non-conformists, and all of those folks that some people in and out of the community say are inhibiting acceptance…

Would you be out?

Really, what would you risk for the kind of life you have now?

It’s all so complicated, isn’t it?

I’ve been feeling disheartened lately. In the news and in life, it seems that online learning has become the mythical goose who laid the golden eggs in the eyes of a funding-starved public higher education system.

You remember what they did to the goose, right? And how that turned out?

One of the reasons I went back to school to get my PhD is because I very uncynically believe that education is transformational on many levels. I decided that if I cared at all about our students and the future of higher ed as we incorporate and rely on technology more, I had to gather the expertise and research experience to gain a voice in the discussion.

I love technology and the ways it provides us to collaborate and talk and experience life in ways that we may not otherwise be able to; I love teaching and being there with my students as they work through difficult issues or texts or problems with their writing; and I truly believe we owe it to all the people in the state to provide students with an exceptional education.

All of this being said, I am old enough and have been around enough work environments that I am cautious in my optimism and hope. It’s an experience that I don’t think people who go straight through school get – the experience of getting your hope and optimism beaten out of you and having to rediscover the source of it in yourself and know that everything is cyclical, everything is tidal, and you can create change by finding new pathways for the change you want to create.

A writer on a political blog I have an affinity for is leaving today for a new job at a different blog, where I assume he will continue to be astute and funny and asinine in no particular order. And he said on his departing post:

If I was “cynical,” meaning, if I didn’t believe that government was important or capable of or needing to play a critical role in American life, I wouldn’t be able to type this blog all day. Who would ever want to read and write about apocalyptic, depressing horror tales hour after hour for years if they thought things didn’t matter, or that they didn’t *have* to be better?

This is the kind of thinking I return to in trying times. It is a kind of personal masochism to get so distressed over something you literally have no control over, but all of this matters. In the blog’s case, it’s about politics; in my case, it’s about education. Even though sometimes I feel like I come from a different planet, I’m not going to stop making the case that the students and their learning experiences are not to be ignored and that we focus only on revenue generation at our peril.

Online education isn’t a gold-filled goose. It’s just a bird.

Whip it

This isn’t really a movie review.

I sometimes wonder why sooo many crappy awful movies for dudes get made. And then I came across statistics – via Traction – that in 2008:

  • Women comprised only 16% of all directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films (a decline of 3% since 2001 and of 1% since 2007).
  • Only 9% of directors were women – no change since 1998
  • 22% of the films released in 2008 employed no women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, or editors. No films failed to employ a man in at least one of these roles.
  • 90% of the films had no female directors.
  • 43% of the films had no female producers.
  • 79% of the films had no female editors.
  • 96% of the films had no female cinematographers.

If you take a moment to think about what that means – that the vision behind the movies, how things are interpreted, how things are portrayed, how our attention is directed, how a story is cut, how a story is told, who the protagonist is, who we should care about, who we should forgive, all of it is predominantly controlled by the male perspective – it’s a bit overwhelming.

It seems beneficial to remind ourselves that as self-congratulatory as we can be about women’s progress, we started at such a position of disadvantage that we’re still not even close.  Actually, there was an article in Jezebel back in August that got this topic stewing around in my head.

In an article about an NY Times scan of the big studio schedules by Michael Cieply, they highlight one of his paragraphs trying to explain the disproportionate dominance of male directors.

In one respect, homogeneity among its film directors might actually help Hollywood in a business sense. Studio films, year in and year out, continue to pull in crowds worldwide at least in part because they look, sound and feel like what has gone before.

What can you say to that? I’ve been under the impression that Hollywood has actually not been pulling in the box office numbers they need to in order to sustain their business model, but whatever. It also completely ignores how movies influence our culture at large, and how alienating it is for people to rarely see accurate representations of their lives in film. That was one theme that came up in The Celluloid Closet in regard to queer representation in film – that there were almost no representations of real queer lives in film (this was in 1995ish).

So when we went to Whip It last night, I was thinking about all of this and paying attention to how the movie showed women’s bodies, lives, sexualities, and humor in a female-directed, female-written film. I’m not saying that the movie was some groundbreaking work of feminism – it was a fluffy, feel-good, entertaining movie – but the representation of these different aspects that I noted were actually significantly different from other mainstream films I’ve seen recently.

  • The skating scenes, of which there were many, were striking in that they focused on the competition, athleticism, brutality, and sexiness of roller derby – as opposed to focusing just on the sexiness and turning the female characters into playboy versions of roller derby girls
  • It is really nice to see the quirky, female character as protagonist – the character that gets to develop and discover aspects of herself and become a more complete person – rather than as the girlfriend of and foil for male protagonist development
  • Speaking of that, it’s also nice that though the romantic relationship had an impact on the main character, it wasn’t the core of the female protagonist’s transformation. I hate how hugely rare that is, but it’s refreshing to see
  • I just really liked the range of female characters, the ways the different ages of the female characters contributed to friendships and relationships and their interactions with each other

What I want: more movies with female protagonists, written/directed by women. Let’s just balance things out.

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