Processing, 23 December

I’m about to take a break form this project for the holidays. Before I do, I wanted to make note of a few sources and ideas to revisit in January 2016.

A Tentative Outline!

Over the past week, I decided to summarize and synthesize my work since early November. So I created an outline. I’m not posting the entire thing on the blog, but I’ll post the overall structure. I’m (very loosely) basing it on a teaching portfolio.

  1. Introduction to Book and Key Question: Am I (still) a Teacher?
  2. Teaching Portfolio, part 1:  Theories, Manifestos, Assessments. This section will include an undisciplined cv, past teaching materials, teaching philosophy, reflections on what a teacher is and what an education is for.
  3. Teaching Portfolio, part 2: Imaginary Teaching. This section will include 3-4 imaginary (or imagined?) syllabi, with class notes, reading lists, assignments and other class related materials. 

Academic Assholes

16 Years in the Academy Made me an Asshole

Gradually, I started to resent academia, partly because I couldn’t get a permanent job and partly because of the elitism and snobbery that came with the profession—an elitism that seemed inextricable from the environment and the people in it.

Rani Neutill


I’d been an asshole because I thought that having a Ph.D. made me special or better or smarter than everyone else, when in fact, all it made me was, well. . . an asshole.

Rani Neutill

Hell yes.

A New Book to Check Out

Teacher, Scholar, Mother

Guidelines that aren’t Rules

Last week, while searching for “creative syllabus” examples, I found Tona Hangen’s syllabus for U.S. History from 2011. Today I finally read through it. and was intrigued by her advice on how to take the course:Tona Hangen's Syllabus screenshot

Admittedly, when I first glanced over the syllabus, I skimmed past this section because the wading/snorkeling/scuba diving metaphor seemed cheesy. But, after reading through her descriptions of the different levels of deepness, I like the comparison. I especially like how she links the different levels of deepness with questions–what, how and why–and offers a guide, not a strict or too-specific set of rules on how to take the class. And I like how she invites her students to reflect on why they are taking the course. She writes:

Think about why someone has decided that learning this material might be essential to your college experience, and what that means for you personally.

Tona Hangen

She invites her students to “enter with me and go as deep as you dare.” I wonder, how does she evaluate these different levels of deepness? Can you get an A if you only wade? I always disliked grading students. I can imagine students freaking out about how deep they needed to go in order to get an A. 

I don’t want to borrow her model here, but it is inspiring me to think through what my model is. I’m thinking about my ideas of ruminating like a cow and reading like an owl eats:

But here I would ask for your patience since it turns out that critique is a practice that requires a certain amount of patience in the same way that reading, according to Nietzsche, required that we act a bit more like cows than humans and learn the art of slow rumination (307).

Judith Butler

Eat like an owl: take in everything and trust your innards to digest what’s useful and discard what’s not.

Peter Elbow

Final note: I found the syllabus for Hangen’s most recent version of this class. Her three levels of deepness aren’t on it. Why not? Did they fail to work? Did they not fit with Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) or the guidelines for her department?

CV as story?

In Me and My Shadow CV, Devoney Looser (whose work I’ve read and/or taught? about a decade ago) argues for the value of making grad students/early career academics aware of the countless rejections that they will receive in the process of building up their CVs. Grant rejections. Job rejections. Book rejections. Article rejections. And so on.  She proposes that senior/advanced scholars publicly share their “shadow CVs,” which document the history of their ongoing rejection, to make visible its inevitability throughout an academic career. What a great idea!*

*After doing some more research, I found out that the idea of a “shadow CV” has been around for a few years (at least). The Contemplative Mammoth wrote about it in June of 2012.

When I first encountered Looser’s article, I thought immediately of my own Unofficial Student Transcripts in which I constructed a transcript of the “experiences of my student life that were often read as failures, distractions or obstacles within the dominant academic narrative of Success. Experiences that would be left off of my official academic transcripts.”

Our motivations for our “unofficial” documents differ a little, however. Looser proposes the “shadow CV” as a reminder that rejection is part of being an academic and as inspiration to use that rejection, as her former professor advised her once, to get angry and work harder. Aside: Work harder? How much harder can most academics work? Aren’t they already working way too hard? In contrast to Looser, my transcript was created to take seriously and honor so much of the invisible labor that I did as an academic that was ignored and/or devalued. I didn’t document this work as a reminder to toughen up, learn to handle rejection better, or to “hone my skills and strive for better opportunities.” I did it to find an alternative trajectory for my work, my skills and my training. And I did it as a way to resist/reject/counter the toxic academic values that encourage people to see “50 rejections a year” (Looser’s own stats) as just part of the necessary game you play to stay on the appropriate level.

At one point in her article Looser suggests that, “A CV is a life story.” CV as story? Hmm….Maybe I need to craft my own undisciplined CV as a story for my Undisciplined book project? That sounds like fun. I don’t envision it as a “shadow CV” that seems to haunt my “real, official, approved” CV, but as a unconventional story of my work beside/s the academy, since leaving it in 2011.

If I do want to include a CV, it looks like expanding my project beyond a syllabus might be useful. Maybe I should think again about doing a complete teaching portfolio? (See this post.)

Rules are tools

Rules and Schools are tools for fools! I don’t give two mules for rules.

Constance Contraire

I have a complicated relationship with rules. As a troublemaker who is undisciplined, I don’t like to unquestioningly obey rules. Rules can be too restrictive. Set a tone of distrust. Foster an environment of hostility. Be extremely unjust in their implementation. Rely too heavily on outdated traditions. But, rules can provide structure. Order. A common ground. Comfort and reliability. These are things that I need, even if just in small amounts, especially when I’m experimenting and trying to make and stay in trouble.

So, unlike Constance Contraire, one of the kid heroes in Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, I don’t believe that “rules are tools for fools.”  We need rules. They can be tools for undisciplined troublemakers. But which rules? How many? And how do we implement them?

I’ve posted a few rules on this blog (see tag: rules). I think I’ll try to find some more. Maybe I’ll ask others what rules they use?

Here are my rules, collected from a few different syllabi that I’ve taught:

  1. Show up.
  2. Ask lots of questions, but don’t (always) expect answers. (Find them yourself!)
  3. Engage, be active, take responsibility.
  4. Be early. (If you’re on time, you’re 5 minutes late.)
  5. Pay attention.
  6. Do it now, not later.

In my green notebook, I wrote the following:

What ARE Rules For?

  • Structure
  • Security
  • Freedom to Experiment

What AREN’T Rules for?

  • Punishing or controlling
  • Suppressing creativity
  • Asserting AUTHORITY!
  • Belittling, mocking, oppressing

Rules should answer YES to the following questions: Does it recognize my dignity? Does it encourage/promote/support?

Rules should answer NO to the following questions: Does it do violence to me/others? Does it discourage/ shut down ideas/ people/ conversations?

Processing, 9 December

I’ve been working on this project for just over a month and I think I’m getting closer to a plan. It’s difficult though. I’ve taken a lot of notes in my green notebook (59 pages) and written several posts (19), so it feels like I should have something more to show for it.  I’m trying to block out that voice that keeps telling me that I should stop doodling and start writing. At some point, I should listen, but for now I need to remember that this process takes some time. I need to be patient. Ruminate.

Syllabus as Structure, take 2 or 3 or…?

I keep coming back to the idea of using a syllabus as the structure for this book project. This idea has taken many forms. Today’s version involves breaking up the bulk of the book into two parts (in addition to an introduction):

The Syllabus Sections, with undisciplined explanations, interventions, stories. Sections might include: course description, questions to pose and explore, goals (for course, for education in general), expectations/rules, teaching philosophy, methods/structure/format, a few words on blogging/social media, habits/practices/approaches, tips/strategies.

3 “actual” Syllabi that I’ve constructed for the book and that I may want to teach, to/with others, or to myself? These syllabi, which will involve a course description, assignments and course readings, will probably include: Staying in Trouble, Living Beside/s and Feminist Storytelling Online.

Eat Like an Owl

Last week, I encountered this great quotation:

Eat like an owl: take in everything and trust your innards to digest what’s useful and discard what’s not.

Peter Elbow

Yes! Being generous with your readings of others. Not instantly dismissing ideas or authors. I found this quotation in Elbow’s article, “The Believing Game: Methodological Believing.” In it, he argues for the importance of developing methods for believing in others’ ideas as opposed to instantly doubting and rejecting them. In my notes I wrote in bigger letters, GENEROSITY. I think being generous to other people and their ideas is crucial for learning, engaging and flourishing individually and collectively. I want to include generosity, along with capaciousness, curiosity and patience in my list of qualities of character that help foster transformative learning spaces and experiences.

Notes from the Green Notebook, page 46.
Notes from the Green Notebook, page 46.