We read two articles about experiments this week. One awesome, one, not so hot. (the experiments I mean, not the articles.)

Thanks to Lizzie, we were reminded of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Put simply, they threw some unassuming men into a prison setting and watched them play cops and robbers.  It turned out bad.  Men took on the personas of both inmates and guards in a really negative way.  Marginally related, I heard a podcast on NPR talking about solitary confinement and the psychological changes that a person goes through when separated from other people for so long.  The man interviewed had been in solitary for 26(!) years and never knew exactly why.  Now, he can’t stand to be in rooms with more than 10 people.

Both stories make me think about what happens to a person when they are incarcerated. To what extent do they act like “themselves” once they are labeled with the term “inmate”? And to what extent so they lose the selves that they once were?

Alina’s article was also about transformation, but this one was both positive and effective.  This talked about an experiment in which struggling students were taught literacy through a community service project, which they designed.  The kids’ skills grew dramatically, and all of their practice was relevant to service that they determined was important.

Duh. Of course kids learn more when you stop teaching them. Of course they are more apt to practice reading when they think it’s necessary.  Of course the application of literacy is the key to becoming literate.

I say all of this not because I actually practiced this in my own classroom when I had one. In fact, the class was almost entirely direct instruction which, for better or worse, got some ok results some times.  That’s very different from getting good results eventually.  There’s definitely a time difference between the approaches, but considering that these children will eventually be leaders, the time is probably worth it.

Also, this thought of “Duh, service learning” comes at a time when service learning is under attack by conservatives, calling it “pushing the liberal agenda.”  I call it “pushing kids to be good people.”

If only everyone would read this kind of research…and trust it.


Self Care

It’s one of those things that you think you’ve got totally under control until you don’t.  You think, “man, I sure have been sleeping a lot. I’ve been running most of the week. I’m good to go!”

And then the dark cloud of life, stress, and reality slaps you right across the face.

That’s where I am right now.  4 weeks left and over 55 pages left to draft, let alone the hours of editing to come.  It’s not like I’m stressed about finishing it…it’s more like I’m concerned about how much effort I have left to put in.  I didn’t realize senior spring was a thing in grad school – especially when you’re only in it for one spring.

Sarah gave us an article to read this week about self-care. I appreciated that it was about teaching, also, since apparently I might be back in that world in the near future.

Things I’d never thought about in terms of self care:

Security – Cardinal and Thomas mention ensuring safety as a necessary component of self care. The include job security and security of resources in this category. Maybe part of my current stress is the looming unknown of next year…

Esteem – The article includes “striving to be the best that you can be” as an important component of self-care. I feel like I’ve lost that urge. How do you become more motivated to have better care for yourself? Seems like a catch-22 to me…

Aesthetic – grey clouds make things ugly. Also, sad moods create a film of grossness. I’m also terrible about cleaning the house, and my aesthetically-minded husband is back to the pilot grind.  I guess I have to force myself to find and create beauty in our world.


So this semester has been a self-care struggle bus. And interestingly, think about the importance of self care seems to stress me out more. Who has the time for that? Doesn’t vegging out in front of ‘How I met Your Mother’ for a whole weekend count?

Well, I’m not feeling better, so I guess not.

Things I will do this week that I hope will result in me feeling the effects of strong self-care:

Get a massage
Run >10 miles at once
Eat vegetables
Clean my house
Sit outside and breathe in the beautiful sunshine
Write a really excellent short essay for class

Hopefully the effects (whatever they are) will be obvious when they come.  Thanks for reminding us of the importance of caring for ourselves, Sarah!


If I’ve learned nothing else from my time earning my master’s degree, it’s that there are no binaries.  The presents of seeming opposites (male vs. female, contemporary vs. classical, etc) – all of these are social constructs.  Likewise, “literate” vs. “illiterate” is an untrue binary.

This week, we read the UNESCO report on adult literacy, and it suggested that literacy is a continuum.

One prescient example:
There is a woman in in writing group who I would say is probably less-than proficient in English.  She struggles when we read aloud, she often asks for clarification on prompts, and her writing has many grammatical and spelling errors.  In English, she’d be considered low on the spectrum of literacy.
But then we read in Spanish.
And her reading was beautiful.
And the piece she wrote in Spanish. Wow.

Using a “literate”/”Illiterate” binary, Angelica would be categorized in the former.  But that’s privileging English., something that is all to common in our Western world. It’s also privileging prose.  When Angelica writes poetry, she doesn’t need to conform to grammar.  She is literate in her own right.

Another moment in the piece to consider:
“literacy has the potential to enhance people’s ability to act in the pursuit of freedom and to empower them to interpret and transform their realities”

Yes and no.  I’m a Lit student, so clearly I love book. I see so much value and power in the written word. Absolutely the ability to read and think and write helps people pursue freedom.  Figures like Malala Yousafzai have proven this. Giving someone the power to be book literate within their environments is the best way to give them power.

But it’s the definition of “literate” that needs work.

I appreciate that the article includes reading, writing, and numeracy as literacy.  But what about communicative literacy? There are so many more aspects of being “literate” in a community than the pencil and paper stuff.  In oral cultures, knowing the stories are likely more important than being able to read them.  Living on the streets, it’s more important to understand a city map and transportation than to be able to read the words on a sign or write a letter.

Literacy is all relative.

So why spend time on a report like this? Is it because we want one country to look better than another? Is it because we are trying to help? In the end, UNESCO has the best intentions, but they are always reinforcing Western “literacies” and ranking countries in terms of these traditions.  It’s a valiant effort, but the study really just reaffirms cultural dominance.

When you forget to post a blog…

[This was written weeks ago and sitting patiently in my “post” box.  Oops]

For my project, I’ve been beginning to immerse myself into the world of self publishing.  I honestly new little about it until this year.  I mean, I knew Fifty Shades of Grey was kind of self published, so it didn’t seem like that odd of a phenomenon.

The world of self publishing is so much deeper though – allowing for a person to dignify words and have a voice (no matter how seemingly small) without the need to be edited and censored.  This week’s article by Erin Anderson highlighted an area of publishing that I admittedly had never really considered.  Global Street Papers and Homeless [Counter]publics: Rethinking Technologies of Community Publishing discussed street papers written by and supporting homeless communities.  Everyone has seen them – I lived in New York, so I’ve seen many – but have never actually thought about what it meant to be a street paper of the homeless.

I had two initial reactions to the paper:
1) I can’t believe I never bought one. What a terrible person.
2) I cannot believe what a contradiction this publishing world is.

We’ll focus on 2 since the first is more of a personal conversation I’ll have with myself…

Anderson writes about how homeless publishing is, in fact, a intensely contradictory thing.  To make the voices real, they must mostly come from homeless people, but to make the paper readable and relevant, some of those stories must involve people with money – consumers.  This necessity to sell necessarily shapes the conversation, creating some amount of influence on the words of the primary writers.  Can we possibly, then, be hearing the true voice of the most marginalized groups?  Once the words are placed into a Capitalistic marketplace, it’s impossible for all of the words to be wholly true.

My work on the intern project centers on this very idea.  Can we possibly be truly allowing men and women at the jail to SpeakOut! when we active censor it?  The jail has to approve every word and image that gets printed.  And trust me, there are many things the women would like to say that could never be approved.

I guess that’s the nature of trying to speak truly.  There’s always someone bigger and stronger driving the discourse.  It’s just our job to fight against the intrusive walls until we can break free from the constriction.