sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

omg I just talked to Howard Rheingold

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 16, 2010

You can keep your Robert Pattinsons and Miley Cyruses and whichever other beautiful prepubescent sexy people you young people idolize these days. My idols are people like these folks:

That guy in the lower lefthand corner is Howard Rheingold, who is by just about all accounts one of the kindest, happiest, most curious, most fascinating, most colorful, and most thought-provoking media theorists around. (If you want proof, take a look at this little gem of his writing.)

Because Howard is kind and supportive of other aspiring intellectuals, I’ve had email conversations and twitter conversations and blog conversations with Howard. There’s this interesting feature of the new technologies that swell around us, see: They efface the distance–perceived and real–between our idols and our selves. If you’re patient enough and quick enough, you can use these new technologies to climb right up on the pedestals your heroes are standing on and tap them on the shoulder.

And today in a webchat I got to talk to Howard–with my voice–about crap detection, participatory culture, and pedagogy. It. Was. Awesome.

It may soon enough be the case that the structures and norms that allowed us to toss up celebrities and intellectuals as cultural heroes–well, it may soon enough be the case that those structures crumble, leaving our heroes in the rubble at our feet. I’m young enough to hope it’ll happen in my lifetime but old enough that I may not be able to fully shake the notion of the celebrity as icon. After all, I grew up alongside this:

And yes, I know that a huge chunk of Americans have never even heard of Howard Rheingold (or Lisa Delpit or Paulo Freire or Jim Gee or Henry Jenkins or Yasmin Kafai) and that these people don’t count as ‘celebrities,’ as least not in the “zomg the paparazzi are everywhere” sense. I don’t care. As Intel explains, our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars.

Posted in academia, academics, awesome, blogging, fannish, Henry Jenkins, Howard Rheingold, Jim Gee, joy | 2 Comments »

how I kicked the email monkey off my back

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 16, 2010

I receive about 100 emails a day, which from what I can tell is typical for youngish, tech-based professionals like me. Also typical is my struggle to manage my email inbox. Like a lot of people, I spent more time wringing my hands over how full my inbox was or studiously avoiding dealing with my email or doing email-filter acrobatics than I did actually responding to email.

No longer, I tell you! My PLN has come through for me once again!

After a long weekend away from my email, my higher-than-average email stress levels led me to call out in anguish for help:

I got lots of helpful advice, but the most helpful of all came from my Twitter pal Matt Thomas, who directed me to Gina Trapani’s solution: Control your email inbox with three folders.

I spent a few hours yesterday implementing this solution, with one important result: I got my inbox down to zero for the first time in literally years. As anyone in similar straits can imagine, the sight of an empty inbox left me feeling gloriously unburdened and a little giddy.

Who knows if it’ll last? But just in case it does–and just in case Trapani’s strategy can help someone else deal with inbox overload–I’m passing the news along.

Posted in academia, awesome, graduate school, productivity | Leave a Comment »

how Jim Gee and I soothe our guilty consciences

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 8, 2010

In the video below of a presentation to the Education Writers Association 2010 Annual Conference, Jim Gee says this about how to introduce innovative ideas into education:

There’s a choice of strategies here…. One strategy is: Let’s take our innovations to the center of the school system and spread them as fast and quickly as we can. People believe that this current school system as it is will just co-opt those innovations and make them … just better ways to do the old thing. Another strategy is: Let’s make these innovative learning and assessment tools and put them at the margins, in places that will tolerate innovation, and then show it works. Now if you think about it, in technology outside of schools, going to the margins first and then to the center–that’s always been the way innovation happens. The only place we’ve ever tried to keep putting the new thing right in the center at once is in schooling, and it’s never worked. What i would love to see is that we hive of some of the (Race to the Top) money for a national center that would trial these new assessments, show they work in places that tolerate innovation, and then spread them there, just the way you would want if we have to keep coal and oil–let’s at least have something trying out new forms of energy, so that we’re ready for these markets but also we can prove they work. if we don’t do that, we’re just gonna get a better mousetrap.

I absolutely agree with the sentiments in the quote above, except for the BP oil spill. Let’s say there’s some innovative energy research going on in the margins, ready to prove it works and to take over where coal and oil left off. That’s fantastic, and it doesn’t do a single goddamned thing to help the birds, the fish, the sea mammals, the tourist industry, the ecosystem, the fisheries, and the human residents of the Gulf Coast. Those are simply casualties, not a single thing we can do to help them now no matter what awesome innovative fuel source we finally embrace, no matter how much more quickly we may embrace a cleaner fuel source as a result. Even if tomorrow’s birds are safe from Big Oil, today’s birds are drowning right in front of us.

Working at the margins of education is a fantastic way to innovate and offer useful evidence that innovations work. I fully support this approach–but not at the expense of the kids who exist at the center of our education system today. Yes, the school system can and does and maybe always will co-opt any innovation we try to introduce. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying anyway. That doesn’t give us license to give up on today’s children, even if it keeps tomorrow’s children safe.

And of course this isn’t what Jim Gee wants to do, anyway. But the Jim Gees of the world who urge us to work at the margin live in symbiosis with the Jenna McWilliamses of the world who believe we must also work from the center, where–ironically–the most marginalized kids in education commonly reside. I can’t innovate as much as I’d like from the center, maybe I can’t help tomorrow’s marginalized kids as much as I’d like either.  And Jim Gee can’t help today’s marginalized kids as much as he’d probably like from the edges. So we need each other, if for nothing else than to assuage our guilty consciences for being unable to do more of what we know must be done.

I should probably also note that Jim Gee is one of my absolute all-time heroes, so I hope he’s not mad at me for this post.

This video also stars Daniel Schwartz, who I believe is one of the smartest guys thinking about assessment and learning these days. I had the great luck to attend an assessment working group with him and a big crew of assessment-focused researchers, and I was amazed and blown away by just about everything he said.

In a recent publication, Choice-Based Assessments in a Digital Age (.pdf), Schwartz and his co-author Dylan Arena make this argument:

Educational assessment is a normative endeavor: The ideal assessment both reflects and reinforces educational goals that society deems valuable. A fundamental goal of education is to prepare students to act independently in the world—which is to say, to make good choices. It follows that an ideal assessment would measure how well we are preparing students to do so.

I can’t remember when I’ve agreed more emphatically with the introductory sentence of a scholarly article about education.

Here’s the video, which is well worth a watch.

Posted in academia, assessment, education, Jim Gee, journalism, learning sciences, public schools, schools, teaching, technologies, video games | Leave a Comment »

things I’m trying to do this summer

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 8, 2010

  • Cut down on my caffeine consumption
  • Wash my dishes before bed each night
  • Step away from my digital communication devices from time to time
  • Read more novels

I believe that it practically doesn’t matter what changes you decide to make, as long as they help you become more reflective about how you live your life. I’m not a spiritual person, which is to say that I don’t have religion and don’t feel a need to get some, but I do believe in the holiness of the moving body. I do believe that moments of total presence in one’s life are rare and sacred and therefore are to be pursued with all one’s might.

So little things–not letting dirty dishes stack up, reminding myself how to sit still and silent, re-learning the natural rhythms of my body and brain–can be tools in the pursuit of those sacred moments.

Posted in Eddie Izzard, joy | Leave a Comment »

a poem by Khaled Mattawa

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 4, 2010

Ecclesiastes
Khaled Mattawa

The trick is that you’re willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you’re doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you’re providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they’ve come too late.
The trick is that you’re willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say “too much,”
give them a plan.

And when they say “anger” or “rage” or “love,”
say “give me an example.”

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don’t care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.

Read this poem at Poets.org.

Posted in beauty, poetry | Leave a Comment »

on learning how to STFU

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 3, 2010

I argue with people. A lot. Sometimes I raise my voice and shake my fists while I’m arguing. I say inflammatory things and I swear a lot. Often, I’m told, I seem very, very angry while I’m arguing. This is usually because I am very, very angry.

I get mad because there’s a lot to get mad about. I argue because certain issues matter to me. And I say inflammatory things sometimes because I’m impulsive, and I’m impulsive because the things that make me mad pop up spontaneously and unexpectedly. If you’re not mad, after all, then maybe you haven’t been paying attention.

I’m also a woman, by the way, and one who was successfully inculcated into a cultural belief system that prefers its women to STFU. Good job, patriarchy: You did your job well. I want people to like me. I don’t like making waves. And I hate making people mad.

But I’m also doing my damnedest to kill that part of me that wants to be seen as cute and polite and deferential and modest. I’ve written before about the challenges of choosing this path; over in that blog post, I wrote this:

If you’re a woman and you want to be heard, especially in academia, you have to knock on every door, announce your presence to everyone, and holler your qualifications at everyone in earshot. And if you do it right, people will hate you.

I’ve been thinking recently about the extent to which “doing it right” leads to silencing of other people or groups of people. I’m such an enormous loudmouth that I suspect that, for example, my presence in an argument means other women in the room are less likely to be heard. When I speak to my experience of prejudice or oppression, I always run the risk of silencing someone whose experience is different from mine. I understand oppression from the perspective of a queer woman, but as a white, thin, able-bodied queer woman I often speak from within the tower of privilege that comes with these features.

So how do I balance my desire to kill the deference I was enculturated to embrace while still knowing when and how to STFU and let others speak?

Posted in feminism, gender politics, politics, rage | 5 Comments »

Pink, "Funhouse"

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 29, 2010

This is Pink’s video for her 2008 song “Funhouse,” from her studio album of the same name. Apparently, this album’s original title was “Heartbreak is a Motherfucker,” which would have made me so happy if it had stuck.

This is such an awesome video that it makes me want to light things on fire. I can’t help but point out my two favorite moments, both facial expressions, at  :43 and 2:40.

Enjoy.

Posted in awesome, beauty, creativity, evil clowns, gender politics, music | Leave a Comment »

Aurora Alternative High School’s final commencement ceremony

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 28, 2010

Tonight will mark the final commencement ceremony for Aurora Alternative High School, a public school in Bloomington, IN, that has served its community well for 15 years.

The Bloomington Herald-Times ran a nice article about Aurora this morning. I’m pasting it below instead of linking you to it because the Herald-Times requires paid subscription to access its online content.

Enjoy.

Seniors say tearful goodbye to Aurora
School’s last class graduates tonight
331-4215 | agraham@heraldt.com
May 28, 2010
 

Expect more tears than usual, for more reasons, at tonight’s Aurora Alternative High School graduation ceremony.

Lindsay Smith, who will deliver the welcoming remarks for today’s 7 p.m. ceremony at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, referred during Thursday morning’s rehearsal to the term “commencement” meaning a beginning rather than an ending.

But everybody attending tonight will know Aurora is ending.

The Monroe County Community School Corp. will run its alternative education program out of Broadview Learning Center this fall, under a new name, with plans for Aurora’s current facility at 524 N. Fairview St. not yet finalized.

“It’s a shame it’s ending,” Aurora senior Austin Clayton said after the rehearsal. “I think it’s good that the new program will be at Broadview instead of North (as originally planned). Something is better than nothing.

“But it won’t be Aurora.”

It’s difficult to adequately convey the depth of appreciation for the school felt by the Aurora students interviewed Thursday, whose words came with clear conviction, and who talked literally of lives saved.

“When you got a chance to experience this school,” Clayton said, “you ended up feeling deeply about it.

“It’s disheartening to know it’s going to be shut down, but it did a whole lot of good for 15 years. I feel it literally saved lives. I was in bad shape when I got to Aurora.”

Annie Hackett, who intends to study photography at Indiana University this fall, said, “Aurora saved a lot of kids, from themselves and from outside forces. Without that sense of support and family, a lot of kids will go astray — and when we didn’t get it elsewhere, we got it at Aurora.

“I’m incredibly disappointed they’re shutting it down.”

That’s a clear consensus among Aurora’s 2010 graduates who, reportedly, already had some good cries during the school’s senior luncheon Wednesday.

Hackett noted Aurora’s staff is feeling it, too. “Commencement will be very emotional, and not just for the students,” she said. Aurora teacher Becky Rupert joined principal Chuck Holloway in helping guide students through Thursday’s rehearsal and said, afterward, “This graduation ceremony will be especially poignant, obviously, and it’ll stick with us. I’ve been through a lot of commencements, but I’m sure this will be the one I remember first and foremost.”

Mallie Stevens’ daughter Sophia, 3, might be just old enough to remember what it was like walking hand-in-hand with her mother as Aurora’s seniors practiced their processional Thursday. Stevens, a 2010 “Comeback Kid” honoree by the Northside Exchange Club of Bloomington, was pregnant with Sophia when she arrived at Aurora and gave birth to a second daughter, Mariah, two months ago. But she is ready to graduate and to study nursing at Ivy Tech.

“I never, ever dreamed I could make it this far, but Aurora made it possible for me,” Stevens said. “Graduation will be very emotional for everybody, but there will be pride, too, being part of this final class for this amazing school. ”

And, as Kiah Jacobs pointed out, he and his colleagues will carry Aurora on in their hearts.

“Everything comes to an end, even good things,” Jacobs said. “But it isn’t over for Aurora, really. It will continue within all of us, and positive ramifications from it will continue in the community for years. As Chuck has said, Aurora isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind.

“It lives.”

Aurora Alternative High School

2010 Commencement Ceremony

WHEN: 7 tonight

WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater

Number of graduates: 25, eight of whom will speak at the ceremony.

Aurora Class of 2010

William Earl Baker, Brentney Campbell, Austin Clayton, Michael A. Colussi, Steven L. Cunningham, Cody Fleener, Sarah Marie Godsey, Annie Rose Hackett, Aaron Mark Hardy Hansen, Mackenzie Janáe Harding, Tristani NaShay Hawkins, Kiah Jacobs, Tarra Raye Mayle, Cheyenne Kylie McCune, Ben P. Odongo, Haley Lynn Ramsey, Aaron Michael Rivera, Kelby Lee Roberts, Sam Malcom Schroeder, J. Micheal Sullivan, Nich Kane Watkins, Jacob M. Wicker, Mallie Carmen Williams-Stevens, Natalie Marie Wineinger, Kasie Zaayer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

a call for businesses to boycott the Bloomington Herald-Times

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 28, 2010

Tonight will mark the last commencement ceremony for Aurora Alternative High School, whose doors will shut at the end of this school year after 15 years of serving the Bloomington, IN, community.

The Bloomington Herald-Times ran a nice short article about Aurora this morning, which I’m posting in a separate post. I’m posting it here instead of directing you to the article because the Herald-Times has stuck its online content behind a paywall, a decision I oppose deeply. The paywall seems even more wrongheaded and socially irresponsible during times of community crisis, as in, for example, when an economic recession paired with terribly short-sighted and heinously pro-rich tax laws force local school boards to make excruciating decisions about which programs to cut.

The publisher of the Herald-Times, Mayer Maloney, has stood firmly behind the paywall decision from its inception, arguing that it guarantees advertisers’ access to local readers who, because they live in the community, are far more likely to purchase the goods and services being advertised.

Let’s analyze this stance. First, the paywall is not an effort to recruit local readers; it’s an effort to keep non-local readers out. Which means that what happens in Bloomington stays in Bloomington, since the vast majority of readers live or work in the region.

Second, the economic value of a local newspaper is directly related to its community value, and community value is directly related to the newspaper’s penetration into the community it serves. As I’ve mentioned before, the Herald-Times is pretty much the only game in town, which perhaps explains why Maloney feels justified in prioritizing the paper’s value to advertisers over its value to community members. But eventually, I believe this approach will fail the Herald-Times. It’s inevitable that one of the following will happen: Another news outlet will provide good (or good enough) local reporting that will be made freely available to all community members; or, in the absence of another quality news source, a community whose primary news source is sequestered behind a paywall will be a community to whom local news matters less and less. Maloney has said that subscription rates have been steady since the inception of the paywall, and this may be so; but it won’t be so forever.

And even if business remains good at the Herald-Times, this doesn’t justify the social irresponsibility of making news available only to those who are willing to pay. Especially during times of crisis–and let’s not mistake this time for anything less than crisis–access to local news is essential for an engaged, politically active community.

If the Herald-Times refuses to stand down from its short-sighted position on news paywalls, then I call for local businesses to boycott the paper for the good of the community these businesses serve. If the Herald-Times will not heed the needs of its community members, then perhaps it will listen to the groups whose interests do seem to matter.

Posted in journalism, politics, public schools, recession | 11 Comments »