My friend Rachel's coming to town for the weekend, so there will be no extended blogging for the next few days. Instead, I leave you with selected links from Google Reader and elsewhere in my online world.
Via MK, a story about why teenagers are still reading books -- and might even be better readers than us grown up folks.
Nina Totenberg offers a review of the three rulings handed down yesterday from the U.S. Supreme Court (audio).
On a related note, Scott @ Lawyers, Guns and Money asks why some people are upset that the Redding ruling will make it harder for schools to violate the rights of young people.
And Alas, a Blog, offers a video clip of an interview with Savana Redding herself (now a college student), the young woman at the heart of the case.
Monica @ TransGriot offers some reflections on how the push to legalize gay marriage can have negative effects on already-legal trans marriages.
Rachel @ The Feminist Agenda, posts enthusiastically about a Swedish couple who have refused to identify the gender of their toddler. I'm conflicted about this story, because I firmly believe in the responsibility of parents to do what they can to shelter their children from the pressure to socially conform -- while helping them discover their own ability to resist that pressure even while out in the real world. But the way the story has been politicized means the kid will likely feel tremendous pressure to be gender nonconforming to please the parents -- or pressure to conform to a gender identity that is acceptable to the outside world. It seems sad that parenting inevitably becomes freighted with so much political baggage -- and that it's the kids who so often pay the price by having their lives dissected in public spaces. No person, regardless of how young, should have their own life co-opted by others as a political statement.
Finally, pspirro writes in praise of doing less @ her blog, over the wall, suggesting that "productivity" as a moral value -- or even a survival skill -- is over-rated. "Clever as you are, you’ll figure out how to do what needs to be done to obtain what needs to be obtained. All the rest of it be damned."
hope you find some time this weekend to do less and enjoy the last few days of June.
Speaking of teens, schools, and power relationships . . .
This morning, the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Savana Redding, a young woman who was strip-searched at her middle school after being accused by a fellow student of being in possession of over-the-counter ibuprofen (which were banned by school regulation).
Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills -- the equivalent of two Advils. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student.
"What was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear," Justice David Souter wrote in the majority opinion. "We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable."
Earlier this year, I posted a link to Dahlia Lithwick's column following the oral arguments . . . I look forward to any further thoughts she might have in the wake of this decision.
Two recent stories out of the UK on young people in school environments have got me thinking (once again) about the way in which educational spaces are often much less spaces for genuine learning than they are spaces in which unequal power relationships between young people (students) and adult people (administrators and teachers) play out in mutually destructive ways.
First, a short piece from the "odd news" section of the UK-based website digitalspy on a school in somerset that banned snogging (kissing) on school grounds. Students who are caught "in the act" will be suspended from school. While the short piece at digitalspy gives no reason for the ban, a local Somerset paper reports the impetus behind the ban was a full-frontal snog witnessed by the headmaster. This type of reaction to students public displays of affection is reminiscent of the recent New York Times' breathless report on the hugging "trend" in American schools. While there may be legitimate reasons for asking students to refrain from heavy or prolonged making-out on school grounds, an all-out ban seems like overkill destined to provide one more reason for students to (perhaps legitimately in this case!) believe adults are completely barmy.
In a more serious and lengthy report yesterday morning on the BBC news hour, I heard a story about online "cyber-bullying" of teachers by their pupils:
Teachers have always had to put up with personal jibes from kids.
Until very recently, however, malicious gossip and snide remarks have mostly been confined to the corridors or lunch queues.
But now with the explosion of websites like ratemyteachers.co.uk and bebo.com, teachers are suddenly finding themselves mocked in cyberspace, resulting in plunging morale and even threats to quit the profession.
. . .
Ms Wallis [a senior teacher from Cornwall] claims that the site is seriously damaging trust between students and teaching staff.
"When you're facing a class five times a day, with 30 children at a time, and you don't know who has actually written these things, you become far more guarded in everything you do.
"And the bottom line is you lose all trust in the students you've got sitting in front of you."
What struck me about the report was the way students were portrayed as the bullies with the power to destroy teachers' emotional well-being and reputation. Obviously mean-spirited gossip is hurtful, and adults are not invulnerable to personal slurs just because they originate from people younger than themselves. Bullying is not confined to childhood spaces, and can cross generational boundaries. Yet the journalists covering this story seemed oblivious of the complex power dynamics at play in an educational institution -- power dynamics that privilege adult authority, embodied by teachers and administrators, over the authority of young people. Teachers in a classroom exercise the right to pass judgment on students in contexts that have real-life consequences for a child's future (this is especially true in a school system, such as in the UK, with national curriculum and testing standards). And while some of the "rating" comments are cruel, the reasons for poor ratings are not necessarily just kids having a bit of fun at the teacher's expense. As one student interviewed reflected,
"I know one teacher who I think is really rude," says a 15-year-old boy at Haydon School in Pinner, north west London. "But there's no-one who can tell him that so, in a way, if they look at the site, it's good because they can change their attitude."
In a school environment that operates on a top-down, hierarchical model, students may have no (or very few) opportunities to make their voices heard -- or more importantly feel they are taken seriously when they do speak up -- without fear of retribution . . . except anonymously, online. Another student interviewed said she didn't feel bad about the negative comments she had posted online. "I rated my worst teachers," she told the BBC, "I said they were rubbish and didn't teach me anything." The fact that children have found alternate ways to communicate with the world about their academic experiences is not necessarily "bullying" -- it may simply be providing us with a more balanced picture of what young peoples' lived experiences in school are actually like. I doubt it will lead to any serious soul-searching on the part of those invested in an hierarchical academic system, but it will certainly be interesting to see how the struggle plays out.
Yesterday, Hanna and I finally got around to watching the film adaptation of Peter Morgan's 2006 stage play Frost/Nixon. Both the play and the film starred a perpetually startled-looking Michael Sheen as British talk show host David Frost and Frank Langella as a very sleepy-sounding Richard Nixon. The drama centers on an actual historical event: David Frost's interviews with Nixon, broadcast in 1977, two years after Nixon resigned the presidency. It was a compelling film, paced very much as I imagine the original stage play ran, and aside from the two main actors sported several cameos by folks I enjoy, such as Oliver Platt and Matthew Macfadyen (disconcertingly blond). Since I know very little about the Nixon presidency or his political demise, beyond the broad brush strokes of our collective historical memory, the film has made me curious to check out the original interviews and compare the fictionalized version with the actual footage. Possibly more later if I (or Hanna) remain motivated enough to track them down.
Coincidentally, yesterday also saw the opening up of over 150 hours of tape and 30,000 pages of documents previously unavailable to the public by the Nixon Presidential Library. These new materials contain some choice sound bites concerning Nixon's views on abortion and interracial relationships.
“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.”
As elle over at Shakesville points out (as do virtually all the feminist blogs I regularly read), interracial relationships are in no way shape or form analogous to rape . . . the first being, you know, a relationship and the other being a specific act of violence. The fact that this was the first circumstance that came to Nixon's mind in 1973 as a situation warranting abortion -- before he even thought to mention sexual violence, almost as an afterthought -- is a fascinating example of the way he made sense of both race and abortion.
Anyway. May all the Nixon historians out there have fun and do good work with these new resources, many of which have been made available online.
This is the second in a series of posts required for my summer session class, Technology for Information Professionals. For the first post see here.
Jessamyn West at librarian.net posted a short reflection on a New York Times blog post, Offer a Digital Helping Hand, about the frustration that many (most?) of the world's population can feel about "undigital these days. There’s a grating discomfort that comes from being left out of everyone else’s secret language." The original post, on the New York Times' GadgetWise blog, was written as a plea to the digitally-savvy to offer a helping hand to those for whom the latest internet tool -- such as Twitter -- or the task of accessing email, or even as basic a computing function as manipulating a mouse, are foreign territory.
A couple of years ago, just before moving to Boston and starting my library science program at Simmons, I helped my grandmother set up an email account and learn the basics of using a computer. Before my grandfather died rather suddenly of cancer, he was the one in their household who took primary responsibility for using the computer and navigating the internet; after he died, my grandmother was faced with learning how to use the computer literally from the ground up. I put together a how-to guide that gave her step-by-step instructions for turning the computer on and accessing her email and programs like Word. It was a fascinating and humbling exercise for me to sit beside her and watch her learn how make sense of the hand-eye coordination required for operating a computer mouse, and to realize what steps I had inadvertently left out of my instructions. Steps that, to me, seemed so intuitive I had forgotten they were even a step in the process.
I try to keep this experience in mind when I help patrons at the Historical Society, only some of whom are familiar with the internet or have online access to tools such as our online catalog or website. I try to remember both the skills I cannot take for granted, and also the way in which learning basic computing skills has made a genuine difference in my grandmother's ability to stay connected to her family and friends. As West points out in her post, it is important for those of us who use such technology regularly in our everyday to remember that the terminology, the skills, and the power of these new tools are not self-evident. It is even more important for those of us who work in library and library-like environments, where our core mission is making information available and accessible to all, to be aware of the differing level of technology and computing skills among our user groups.
Dad has spent the weekend cleaning up his bookstore from the massive flooding they've had in West Michigan over the past couple of days. Hope he'll be able to find some time during the weekend to get out and do some of that outdoorsy activity he enjoys so much. Meanwhile, here's a picture from our 2004 father-daughter trek along the West Highland Way.
Happy Dad's Day, Dad and thanks for all the memories!
So clearly, I need to get my Google Reader habit under control before these link lists become ubiquitous (although they also offer me an excuse to use the word "ubiquitous" which, ever since reading the theologian William Stringfellow in undergrad has been a word of particular charm in my mind). But since it's raining here in Boston this morning and I'm enjoying my coffee and strawberry cream cheese croissant, purchased rather damply from the clear flour bread bakery around the corner, I'm going to compile at least one more list for y'all before wandering off to read more about the history of the history of education.
We'll start off with a column from the always-dependable Jon Carroll on Obama's weak support of folks with nonstraight sexual orientations.
Followed closely (in case you need a fluffy antidote) with the Guardian on an art project to create books that don't exist.
Mark Edmundson over @ The American Scholar on the dynamics of "conversation" with someone who never stops to take a breath.
Once again, "feminism" is being smeared as obsolete. The gals @ Pursuit of Harpyness weigh in, as does Mandy @ Bitch blogs.
Rachel @ The Feminist Agenda blogs about using vocabulary of human sexual orientation for other species, and how this (perhaps incorrectly) shapes our understanding of non-human sexuality.
Earlier this week, I linked to Dina Goldstein's "fallen princess" photography series; Latoya Peterson @ Racialicious questions the portrayal of Jasmine (from Aladdin) in contrast to the other princesses in the series.
Arvan, over @ sexgenderbody, posts about a forthcoming Canadian documentary about the possibility of female-only reproduction.
Women In Technology, a UK-based blog, offers some thoughts on how playground-type bullying is prevalent in offices, between adults, not just among children.
Janice Formichella @ Feminist Review offers us a taste of the new book Making Marriage Modern: Women’s Sexuality from the Progressive Era to World War II, which is definitely on my reading list.
Kelefa Sanneh @ The New Yorker meditates on "fast bikes, slow food, and the workplace wars," or one of the perennial questions of modernity: what makes work meaningful.
A lot of feminist blogs have posted in response to the BC Cancer Agency's recent ad campaign promoting regular pap smears, but I especially enjoyed Cara's post over @ Feministe: "The reason to prevent cervical cancer shouldn’t be seen as any different from the reason to prevent any other cancer. Which is . . . because we value human lives and think they’re worth living just because."
zp27 @ Feministing Community asks "why won't he stop writing about this?" in response to the latest installment in William Saletan's "pro-choice" op-eds over at Slate.com that technically support abortion rights while disrespecting women who choose or must have abortions.
lisa over @ Sociological Images offers examples of a public service announcement campaign that equates penises with firearms. Note to psa authors: not okay to characterize the genitals of any human being as a dangerous weapon. (Graphic images, possibly not safe for work).
And finally, on a more positive note, Greta Christina @ Blowfish Blog on how sexual tastes could be seen as similar to musical tastes.
*Image of recent flooding in my home town by Dennis R.J. Geppert, from the Holland Sentinel website.
Earlier this week, I came home from work to find Terry Pratchett's Nation sitting on the kitchen table with firm instructions to "read." So I did. I admit I was a teeny bit skeptical about the book, entirely based on the fact it's set on an island following a tidal wave, is about survivors attempting to organize themselves into a successful community, and I have a highly contentious relationship with lord of the flies. But it was Hanna who left me the instructions, and Terry Pratchett who wrote the book, so I was willing to give it a go. And I'm glad I did -- 'cause it was charming and funny and the end was even a teeny bit mind-bending.
Nation is set in a universe much like, but not quite, our own. It tells the story of two young people, Mau and Daphne, and the friendship they form in the wake of a natural disaster that ends up altering their lives -- and the world -- forever. Mau is the sole survivor of his island community when a tidal wave washes through his corner of the ocean; Daphne is the only human survivor of a ship from 'England' caught in the same tidal wave and washed up on Nation. The two have just begun to form a cautious friendship when other survivors of the disaster begin to arrive, drawn by the smoke of their campfire and the spiritual significance of Mau's island home. Eventually, of course, the new community comes back into contact with the larger world and make a place for themselves within it -- but not before they have been challenged to re-imagine history and the shape of the world around them.
And of course there's the parrot. And the tree octopus that can count all the way to fifteen (and loves to eat crabs). And an evil man whose mere presence makes bunnies nibbling at seaweed start to fight one another. And Mrs. Gurgle, who gets a set of gold false teeth that shine like the sun. And Grandmother, who likes to say "Ahem" and is told off, in the end, in the most satisfying way.
For my summer-session library science course, LIS488: Technology for Information Professionals we are required to contribute weekly "current awareness" posts to the course website sharing a news story in the technology world we feel has bearing on our in-class discussions, assignments, and the library and information science profession. I thought I would cross-post my entries here, just for kicks, so ya'll can get a sense what this grad school thing is all about.
Week 1 - Insider/outsider dynamics in web 2.0 networking
This week, Latoya Peterson, at the blog Racialicious, posted her conference notes from a presentation about the Japanese social networking site mixi. The presentation explored the way the user interface on mixi reinforces concepts of racial and ethnic boundaries in Japan. Like Facebook, mixi's user interface provides individuals with the opportunity to identify themselves through various tools. However, rather than free-form text boxes, the site provides a series of drop-down menus that limit user options to pre-determined identity categories. As Peterson writes:
Komaki’s conclusion is that mixi, through use of drop downs and choices, reinforces the ideas and boundaries of Japan, and shows a preference to those born within Japan proper. Many people who live in Japan and have done so for their entire lives have their “otherness” reinforced by mixi. In his paper (currently unpublished) Komaki explains how through the choices provided to users, mixi encourages assimilation and rewards users that “fit in” with the established idea of what Japan should be.
Komaki's presentation reminds us that, while the social networking potential of internet technology -- particularly "web 2.0" technology -- contains the potential for greater democratization of knowledge creation and information sharing, the human beings who create and share this content bring with them all of the same prejudices of their non-virtual lives.
As a blogger, I have seen first-hand the way in which online social spaces simultaneously open up and constrain interactions and conversations around issues of identity, of belonging and exclusion, of who is an insider, who is an outsider, and how insiders/outsiders are identified and treated in virtual space.
On the one hand, anonymity can be a powerful resource online, where individuals are able to write posts and comment on political issues (for example) without the constraint of being judged by superficial identity markers such as skin color, age, or accent. They are able to connect with individuals who share their experiences or interests, try out new ideas, and speak up about their experiences in ways that could, previously, have jeopardized them socially and materially. Various platforms for researching and discussing human sexuality, for example, can be found online where teenagers can access it without the embarrassment of requesting assistance from an adult or being told their curiosity is inappropriate.
At the same time, there can be enormous pressure to self-identify in virtual communities by the usual social indicators; individual participants in online communities or online discussions are often challenged in their right to speak on certain topics or be vocal in certain online forums based on what is known (or, often, assumed) about their real-world identities. We are socialized to categorize people based on certain characteristics and when this information is lacking (such as on blog post comment threads in which people otherwise unknown to each other are interacting) folks often scramble to fill in the missing pieces of information either through making assumptions about the writer's personal identity and history or through demanding that the writer's identity be clarified before they are respected (if an insider) or dismissed (as an outsider) in the context of a given debate.
Those of us in the field of library and information science need to be wary of narratives that paint technology, particularly “web 2.0” social networking technology, as a panacea for fully-participatory, democratic knowledge-sharing. We must pay close attention to the ways in which new technologies re-inscribe existing inequalities and exclusionary patterns of social behavior into the very tools used to migrate human interaction from face-to-face encounters into virtual spaces.
Just moved my RSS feeds from iGoogle to Google Reader this Sunday. So...yeah. Suddenly, it's a lot easier to skim content as well as headlines on the various blogs I read and find the stuff that catches my interest. Here's what I've tagged so far this week -- just thought I'd be friendly and share the overwhelm with ya'll!
Dina Goldstein's fallen princess photography series has been posted in various places around the feminist blogosphere.
Lara Williams at the F-word writes about how, regardless of body shape or size, it's women's bodies and how they're enjoyed by others that counts in most media outlets.
PBS held a 'debate' between Christina Page, a pro-choice activist, and Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, which can be explored interactively on the PBS website.
Torie Atkinson at Tor.com writes about sexism in a contest tied in (ironically) with the new science fiction film District 9 which is, at least from what can be discerned from the previews, about the ghettoization of aliens who come to earth.
For more on anti-women sexism in media coverage of the sci-fi world, see here and here.
Oh, and did I forget to mention Hanna also blogged about it?
Joan Walsh, of Slate.com, writes about her experience on the O'Reilly Factor where she tried to confront Bill O'Reilly about the violent rhetoric he used (and later denied using) against Dr. Tiller.
I can't actually watch O'Reilly for health and sanity reasons, but if you want the clip you can find it here at Media Matters.
Apparently, my home state is going to be grappling once again with same-sex marriage, which was explicitly outlawed there in 2004. Good luck, y'all. I'm a little bit sorry I can't be registered to vote in two states at once.
Thank you Nina Totenberg for dissecting the rhetoric surrounding Sonia Sotomayor's judicial affect and pointing out how gender, does in fact, shape expectations of "proper" behavior.
Paul Waldman over at The American Prospect asks what the rise in zombie fiction and film has to say about current psychology and politics.
Feminist Review offers a look a blue cotton gown, a new memoir by nurse-practitioner and one-time midwife, Patricia Harman.
sassymonkey over at blogher reports on the latest adult discovery about the freakish and out-of-control lives of the modern teenager (cue hand-wringing), the genre of YA lit now being labeled trauma porn. Since Katie Roiphe's weighed in, I might just get irritated enough to blog about it at greater length. I might have to blog about that one at some point. As a feminist, future librarian, not to mention fan of young adult lit and all. 'Cause there are just so many things wrong with this wailing and gnashing of teeth. But for now, check out sassymonkey's post, which I think asks entirely legitimately: "I wonder if people live in the same world I do. Teens and trauma porn is so. not. new."
And her conclusion, which really says it all:
Teens live in the real world and some of them are going through hell and some others think they are going through hell. Sometimes they need to see their world reflected back at them in books. Sometimes they need to see problems that are bigger than their own. And yes, sometimes they need the pink and turquoise backdrops of escapism that authors like Cabot, who have been there themselves, provide. No one part of young adult literature is all good or all bad. Teens are real. Their books should be too.
Until the link backlog threatens to burst again . . .
Some further web commentary on the Wisconsin book-burning kerfluffle:
Burning Issue @ shakesville.
These folks have a lot to learn about civil liberties, not to mention a lot about Christianity, too.
Stamps, Bookburning, and Depth of Field @ Neil Gaiman's Journal.
The sad thing is that these twerps are wasting the time and money of a town and its librarians with a nuisance suit. Well, that and giving sane Christians a bad name while doing their best to widdle all over the first amendment. You don't burn books. And, well, you don't sue for your right to burn a library book you don't like. (And that's not just because if you win, that means that people you don't like now have the right to burn your books.)
. . . As I said on twitter, whatever side the "Christian Civil Liberties Union" is on, I'm now on the other one.
I'll add more links to commentary here as I run across it and time and inclination allow, so check back if you're interested.
UPDATE: More from Neil Gaiman @ More on Stamps and Bookburning:
And these two [emails] follow up from the Wisconsin would-be librarybookburners who feel that the existence of Francesa Lia Block books threatens their health and safety...
UPDATE: YALSA (young adult library services association) offers suggestions for Unburning Baby Be-Bop.
So far this month, two articles on a Milwaukee-area book-banning (and potential book-burning) kerfluffle have come across my virtual desk -- a piece from the ALA website, and a more recent article from the books page of the Guardian. Particular points should be awarded to the Guardian, I feel, for their deadpan quotation of some of the more hyperbolic charges made by the Christian Civil Liberties Union about the threat certain young adult novels pose to the good citizens of West Bend, Wisconsin, simply by remaining accessible in the public library (more below). As the ALA reports:
Milwaukee-area citizen Robert C. Braun of the Christian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) distributed at the meeting copies of a claim for damages he and three other plaintiffs filed April 28 with the city; the complainants seek the right to publicly burn or destroy by another means the library’s copy of Baby Be-Bop. The claim also demands $120,000 in compensatory damages ($30,000 per plaintiff) for being exposed to the book in a library display, and the resignation of West Bend Mayor Kristine Deiss for “allow[ing] this book to be viewed by the public.”
This claim follows unsuccessful attempts by area citizens to get the library trustees to remove the offending material from the library: in a June 2 vote of 9-0, the trustees decided to "maintain the young-adult collection as is 'without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting access' to any titles."
As Allison Flood at the Guardian reports in more detail, the offending title which the CCLU wishes to publically burn (publically burn!!!) is a young adult novel that deals with issues of nonstraight sexuality and violence inspired by homophobia and racism:
The offending book is Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang. The complaint, which according to the American Library Association also demands $120,000 (£72,000) in compensatory damages for being exposed to the book in a display at West Bend Community Memorial Library, was lodged by four men from the Christian Civil Liberties Union.
Their suit says that "the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library," and that it contains derogatory language that could "put one's life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike."
"The word 'faggot' is very derogatory and slanderous to all males," the suit continues. "Using the word 'Nigger' is dangerously offensive, disrespectful to all people. These words can permeate violence." The suit also claims that the book "constitutes a hate crime, and that it degrades the community".
While I haven't read this particular work by Francesca Lia Block, I have read others and Block's characters are often struggling in very messy ways with marginalization, poverty, their own complicated sexualities, and histories as perpetrators or victims of violence in one form or another. Her work, while often lyrical, is not for the faint-of-heart. It has never particularly spoken to me, but as an author she commands a wide audience of teens and adults who find her characters compelling.
What I find interesting about this lawsuit -- based, at least, on these two news stories -- is the way in which the CCLU has (1) adopted the language of the political left to frame their complaint and (2) the way in which they conflate hateful actions with descriptions of hateful actions. While I suspect that what traumatizes the offended parties is Block's affirmative depiction of characters with nonstraight sexual identities, and possibly (knowing her other works) instances of drug use, sex scenes, and the old standby, vulgar language, instead they claim to be concerned about the use of words such as "faggot" and "nigger." This isn't necessarily a surprising tactic, since the radical right has increasingly adopted leftist rhetoric in their effort to shift the culture wars in their favor.
What I find more stunning is their apparently inability to understand (or, possibly, their tactical decision to ignore) the difference between an actual, material act of violence or an act of speech that supports that violence and a work of fiction that depicts the reality of bigotry and violence in the lives of marginalized youth. Children face daily abuse at the hands of bullies for perceived or actual gender and sexual nonconformity; a novelist like Block, who depicts that violence in her work of fiction, is describing the reality of our children's lives rather than advocating such abuse. If uttering the word "faggot" actually constituted a hate crime regardless of context, we would be incapable of speaking out against the use of that language by individuals who actually seek to do harm.
While this conflation of thought or depiction with actual illegal violent crime is not unique to the Right (Exhibit A: the campaign by some feminist activists during the 1980s to have pornography treated as violence against women, whether or not actual individuals had been harmed in the making of the piece), it seems to me that it displays a legalistic, overly-simplistic, atomized way of thinking that is more prevalent among conservatives than it is among those on the left. Another example that comes to mind is the approach of the MPAA rating board in assigning ratings to American films (see This Film is Not Yet Rated), and the members' obsession with individual words or acts of sexual contact, rather than overall message conveyed. I find myself wondering if this is strategic blindness or an actual belief that a word or activity, devoid of its overall context, has a constant and unwavering effect (whether positive or negative).
As an historian (among other things) I have to cry foul and point out that context, while certainly not everything counts for a hell of a lot -- and as a librarian-in-training (among other things) I have to point out that words themselves are never, ever "hate crimes." Words are just words: it's what we do with them that makes all the difference in the world. Francesca Lia Block has done many beautiful things with the words available to her, and in my opinion her work is the opposite of a hate crime: it has made the world a better place.
Photo credit: "Mercy! Books Burning" (c) Catherine Jamieson @ flickr.
This web video pops up in my Simmons library science courses at least once a semester and, predictably, it turned up again today in the first session of my technology course.
Reactions in class were divided between, well, me and everyone else who spoke up.
Watching the video this time around, in the context of other reading I've been doing about conservative fears of a European "demographic winter" and non-Western population growth, I couldn't shake the feeling that the way this data was presented had a certain element of xenophobia -- specifically fear about the U.S. being overtaken intellectually and economically by Asian countries like India and China.
I was also struck by the way it frames achievement by conventional educational terms (for example, IQ scores and the concept of education as job training). The fear of non-American young people "out performing" American students has a long history in the American discourse about education (think of Cold War anxieties about Soviet students with higher test scores than American students). Watching the video in light of these two contexts (fearmongering demographic debates and anxiety about academic performance on the international stage) makes me distinctly uncomfortable about the way this data is presented and the way it is offered, for the most part uncritically, in our library science classes as a wake-up call for the future of information organization.
The other students in class seemed to think I was reading the film too negatively, and offered an alternative reading to the effect of, "look how much human potential we have in the world -- let's make the most of it!" Yet at the same time, they, too, were voicing competitive anxieties about how Americans can't afford to rest easy in the assumption they have the technological advantage -- an anxiety that I feel buys into an "us vs. them" framework that can slide into, well, xenophobia and isolationism. Particularly in a period of economic constraint.
I'm off to the first of my all-day Saturday summer session class (LIS488: Technology for Information Professionals). I leave you with a short list of some of the stuff I've been reading online the last couple of weeks.
Back at the end of May, Hanna sent me this column by William Zinsser at the Powells' Book Blog. "the national epidemic that's most on my mind right now," Zinsser writes, "isn't swine flu. It's the slow death of sequential thinking. My students, especially younger ones, go out on a story and come back with a million notes and a million quotes and absolutely no idea what the story is." Having just finished a year's stint as a teaching assistant with undergraduate students, I definitely sympathize with his sense that students are very reluctant to make an original argument (or, as Zinsser puts it, tell a coherent story). Yet in unoriginal contrarian fashion, Zinsser locates the cause of this "epidemic" in new technology -- a model of causality that seems to me simplistic and potentially even entirely wrong. Online environments, for example, can be sites for quick-hit, disconnected thoughts and responses that have little or no through-line. They can also provide platforms for the rich interlinking of ideas and dialogue in a way that sustains dynamic, thoughtful conversation. Check out his post and see what you think.
Jesse, over at Pandagon, blogged about the conservative outrage that apparently erupted online when Google decided, on June 6th, to use their logo to commemorate the 25th birthday of the computer game Tetris instead of the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Aside from being an amusing opportunity to snark about conspiracy-minded conservatives, I think it's a really good example of a way of thinking that seems much more prevalent on the right than the left (although, to be fair, I've spent much more time, geographically, around hard-right conservatives than I have around hard-left liberals): the inability to separate out their own personal preferences or ethical decisions from the preferences or decisions of the society at large. So much conservative social policy seems aimed at protecting themselves from people who have different priorities and preferences from their own -- as if the mere existence of different-thinking and differently-acting people threatens their own survival. As Jesse writes, "If these fine Americans find themselves unable to handle the fact that Google may not at all times reflect their particular preferences in logo design, may I recommend using the power of the market to use any of the other dozen search engines available." Instead, conservative folks seem to feel so besieged by non-conservative values that they've forgotten they have the power to "just say no," get up and walk away.
Thanks to my mother, Janet, for passing along Ellen Goodman's editorial about Dr. Tiller's murder (and for being unequivocally pro-choice; I don't take it for granted Mom!). I haven't been able to formulate a coherent response to William Saletan's column kinda-sorta supporting abortion access in the wake of Dr. Tiller's assassination, while at the same time drawing moral parallels between Tiller's medical practice and the convictions that drove his killer to murder -- but Amanda Marcotte's latest edition of the RhRealityCheck podcast helped clarify some of what I found so problematic about his language. It's a really strong episode of the series, and includes not only a round-up of evidence of the broad anti-choice vendetta against Dr. Tiller, but also a kick-ass interview with sex educator Heather Corinna about post-abstinence-only sexuality education that provides a nice counterpoint to extremist violence and bigotry.
Rebecca Traister's husband, Aaron, offers a witty reflection on his adjustment to stay-at-home parenting, and what it felt like to shift from parenting as a "break" from "real life" as an employed adult to realizing parenting was his life for the foreseeable future, and a necessary contribution to his family's economic survival. I, selfishly perhaps, haven't been able to spare a lot of emotional energy for digesting economic news lately, but the women's studies scholar and feminist in me is really interested by the way in which material economic circumstances seem to be prompting critical re-evaluation of concepts like masculinity and work in pro-feminist ways. Also: points for describing the pregnant Rebecca (with, I can only assume, her blessing) a "giant breadwinning turtle woman."
On the question of children and our cultural conceptions of children and childhood, yesterday morning Hanna sent me Ann Billson's column from the Guardian online about the meaning of children in horror/thriller films:
For us non-parents, children in real life are frequently "just there" like that, buzzing around just below our radar, occasionally getting our attention by screaming, whereas children in science fiction or action movies tend to be vital narrative devices, not so much characters in their own right . . . In thriller terms, children are shorthand for something to be preserved at all costs, and we're expected to take it on trust that one sprog is worth a hundred adults.
I would argue that, in real life, there is a huge and meaningful middle ground between seeing children as "just there" unless they hit the radar in negative terms, and seeing them as worth one hundred adults put together . . . but Billson's analysis of the way young people are used as characters in certain genre films is certainly thought-provoking. As Hanna pointed out, Billson collapses together the treatment of children from infants to teenagers with little differentiation, a move that seems problematic for her purpose of character analysis since obviously a fourteen-year-old teen means very different things to us, culturally, than a newborn infant or toddler.
Hanna also passed on a Guardian op-ed about the murder of a museum guard at Washington, D.C.'s holocaust museum this past Wednesday. It's a thoughtful piece that is much more articulate than I feel I could be about the need to reject both hatred and reactionary violence against those who hate -- and seek a broader, more humanistic response to acts of terrorism that affirm the essential interdependence of the worlds' human beings.
And finally, because all good things come in threes, another Guardian article -- this time, hilarious columnist Stuart Jeffries on how the rich pretend they're toughing out the recession: "Are you seriously telling me that you aren't worrying about how your Jerusalem artichokes are faring in the new vegetable plot dug by your Lithuanian au pair at the back of your five-figure designer minimalist garden? (Don't pretend you aren't.)"
One of the first tasks on my list at the end of the spring semester was to draft a proposal for an independent study in the fall that is designed to lay the groundwork for my history thesis (gulp!). The thesis is an oral history-based project documenting the early years of the Oregon Extension program, from 1975-1980, and placing the learning environment that faculty and students created there in a broader cultural context. One of my goals for this project is to incorporate some of my work into the writing I do for this blog, so that y'all can get a sense of what I do in my day job (or at least one of them) as an historian-in-training. With that in mind, here's a blog post to get the ball rolling: a personal reflection on the language I use to describe what I research, and why I've settled on the terms I have.
Since starting graduate school, I've been asked far more often than I used to be to define my scholarly interests in ten-second, sound-bite terms (a task which, as those of you who know me well can attest, has never come easily to me). As an undergraduate, I always chafed against trying to encapsulate what I do as a thinker and writer in terms of a single academic discipline or area of interest. I am a historian by training, a feminist by political persuasion, with background in women's studies, and a passion for thinking about how people make sense of the world. In the past, I have variously described this focus as an interest in intentional community, feminist activism, experiments in living, radical pedagogy, unschooling, radical, progressive, experimental education, and a number of other phrases.
More recently, when asked to give a short-hand version of my thesis research, I've been using the phrase "countercultural education" as the broad, umbrella term for where my academic interests lie. I used it just this week in an email to a researcher who contacted the Massachusetts Historical Society interested in the [[papers of nineteenth-century education reformer Horace Mann]]. The researcher wrote back and asked me, out of personal interest, to clarify what I meant when I used this term "countercultural." Her question forced me to back up and reflect on why "counterculture" feels like the most appropriate, useful shorthand to me -- and whether it serves me well in conversations with my colleagues, mentors, and friends.
What appeals to me about the term "counterculture" is that, in a single compound word, it identifies my interest in radical worldviews -- worldviews that are fundamentally different from those espoused by the dominant educational culture -- while also not limiting my focus to a single movement or ideological persuasion. Historian Ron Miller, in Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy After the 1960s, describes countercultural pedagogy as educational practices that seek to "educate children and young adults according to a set of attitudes, values, and beliefs in direct opposition to those of the predominant culture" (3). That's a definition that goes beyond concepts of "left" or "right" political views, or particular historically-situated movements or schools of thought, like mid-twentieth-century home education, the early-twentieth-century progressive educators, or (to use Miller's example) the short-lived free school movement of the 1960s.
While some of these historical movements represent countercultural values I strongly identify with on a personal and political level, my interest in educational practice goes beyond interest in a particular set of countercultural values. I am fascinated with the way in which education as an activity and the spaces in which educational activities take place are used as tools for training young people in different ways of being in the world, and in different ways of making sense of that world and their place within it. I am particularly interested in the instances in which the activities and spaces that individuals or groups of people find useful for this making-sense activity are different from the mainstream values and practices of their own context. What prompts them to seek alternatives? What methods do they choose? What vision for human growth and community do they see their educational practices resulting in, and why does that vision make sense to them? As I have written before, these critiques of mainstream culture can come from any point on the political spectrum, and the diversity of both educational practice and the expected results of those practices are dizzying in their variety.
The one reservation I have with identifying my work as the study of "countercultural education" is that it defines my research subject in terms of what it is not: predominant educational norms. The trap of defining oneself (or one's topic of research) as "not thing X," and forgetting what the subject is standing for, rather than against, is one I do not wish to fall into. However, thinking of what I am embarking upon as one chapter in the history of countercultural education in American history is, for now, a useful starting point. A starting point out of which, I hope, I can begin to discern what it is the specific individuals I am studying valued and believed important to share with following generations.
*Photo of school children Library of Congress flickr stream.
Ever since Hanna read Neal Stephenson's latest tome, Anathem, over the Christmas holidays, she's been telling me to kick it to the top of my reading list. Which I promised to do -- as soon as I had enough brain cells available at the end of the academic year. Turned out "enough brain cells" required a few weeks post-semester to become available, and even then there was no way Anathem would be a quick read for me. I've previously encountered Stephenson in his mammoth Baroque Cycle, and know that -- for me, anyway -- pacing is key for both absorbing the story and being able to stick with it to the very end. Things definitely happen in Stephenson novels -- usually brain-shattering, temporal-defying, chaos-inducing things -- but in order to discern their true import, you usually have to experience them filtered through the exposition of the highly cerebral main characters.
Anathem is set in a world both familiar and utterly alien to us: is it Earth in the future? An alternate Earth of the past, present, or future? An entirely unconnected universe? Anathem's world is socially organized around the Saecular world and the "mathic" world, similar to a system of religious monestaries, in which particularly gifted individuals devote their lives to intellectual endeavors. Fraa Erasmus, a young member of one of the mathic communities, relates his experience of certain world-shaking events that take him out of his secluded community and into the Saecular world -- and beyond.
I was sad, in reading Anathem to discover no character who would have matched wits with Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, or Eliza of Qwghlm. But I realize they are a difficult duo to compete with. Erasmas, the narrator of Anathem, shares many characteristics of Daniel Waterhouse (of the Baroque Cycle) and Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, Daniel's descendent, in the companion novel Cryptonomicon: He filters everything he experiences through his highly logical, straightforward way of thinking that only distantly registers his own (and others') emotions or relational interactions. I grew fond of Erasmas, but I was never as heavily invested in his future well-being as I was in the welfare of Jack and Eliza and their cohort. Still: imbibed slowly and surely, like a really strong gin & tonic, it was an ultimately satisfying and thought-provoking summer read.
In response to a blog post up at Feministe on radio shock jocks leveling insults at gender-nonconforming children, commenter preying mantis writes,
“I always have a hard time with stories like this one, because I just can’t understand why. What’s the point of terrorizing children?” [--Jill, in the original post]
I think it goes back to the “someone you raise” vs. “something you have” attitudes people have towards children. If you’re raising your kids with the idea that your job is to bring up a happy, healthy person capable of independent functioning and a successful life of their own with as little unnecessary baggage as possible, there’s pretty much zero point to engaging in abusive behavior toward them.
If you’re raising your kids with the idea that they exist for your benefit, they’re your property, and/or their primary function is to act as a status symbol for you, you’re probably going to feel entitled to act against their best interests to a much greater degree. If you see them as a reflection or extension of yourself, and you’re deeply invested in gender roles, you’re more likely to take it personally if your children fail to be sufficiently masculine or feminine, especially if they do it in public.
The question of adult attitudes toward young people -- especially the children in their care -- is obviously a complicated one, with lots of nuance and complexity dependent on particular situations. But I really like the way she articulates the distinction between these two attitudes and the quality of the interactions that follow from them.
Realize my photos have been North End heavy the last month or so, but we've been going down there a lot for various reasons. Anyway, I had my camera with me this afternoon finally got some photos of these pots outside the hardware store that I always think are quite lovely all stacked together.
As I believe I've said before on this blog, I've long been deeply skeptical of the so-called generational schism between "second wave" and "third wave" feminist thinkers and activists. A lot of ink (and maybe even a little blood!) has been spilled over the supposed age-based animosity between younger feminists and their elders. It's a narrative that neatly fits into American conceptions of coming-of-age rebellion and feeds the media need for drama (preferably drama with the possibility of naked mud wrestling!)
Well, Katha Pollitt, over at The Nation deconstructs this story of parents, grandparents, and children intractably at odds, in her column Subject to Debate.
Can we please stop talking about feminism as if it is mothers and daughters fighting about clothes? Second wave: you're going out in that? Third wave: just drink your herbal tea and leave me alone! Media commentators love to reduce everything about women to catfights about sex, so it's not surprising that this belittling and historically inaccurate way of looking at the women's movement--angry prudes versus drunken sluts--has recently taken on new life, including among feminists. Writing on DoubleX .com, the new Slate spinoff for women, the redoubtable Linda Hirshman delivered a sweeping attack on younger feminists for irresponsible partying, as chronicled on Jezebel.com, a Gawker-family blog devoted to "Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing." Likewise, a silly "debate" over whether Sex and the Single Girl did more for women than The Feminine Mystique followed the release of Jennifer Scanlon's Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown. As Naomi Wolf wrote in the Washington Post, "The stereotype of feminists as asexual, hirsute Amazons in Birkenstocks that has reigned on campus for the past two decades has been replaced by a breezy vision of hip, smart young women who will take a date to the right-on, woman-friendly sex shop Babeland." Pick your caricature.
What's wrong with parsing feminism along a mother/daughter divide? Everything.
She obviously can't tackle in a single column all of the ways this "mother/daughter divide" is inaccurate -- but I think she makes a great start. You can read the whole thing here.
via Courtney @ Feministing.
Two weeks ago, I started my new part-time job at Northeastern's Archives & Special Collections (where I interned this past academic year). The project I've been asked to complete is the creation of a digital collection that gives researchers virtual access to a series of scrapbooks put together at the turn of the twentieth century by Marjorie Bouve, a Boston University alumna and founder of Northeastern's Bouve School of Physical Education. This involves scanning each page of the scrapbooks and then cropping each TIF image file so that we have both a full-page image and individual images of each photograph of item on the page. Thus, I spent seven hours Tuesday doing this:
Once all of the images have been created, we have to enter all of the "metadata" (library-speak for "information about information") into our database and customize the interface Northeastern uses to show their digital collections, an open source software program called Greenstone. Hanna worked tirelessly on the last Northeastern project, the Freedom House Photographs, which you can view online to get a feel for what the end product may look like.
Since this is a scrapbook collection, and we are hoping to emulate the feeling of looking at individual scrapbook pages to a limited extent (sans fancy software like the British Library uses for their prize collections) we're looking to do something similar to what Simmons College did with the scrapbooks of one of their own alumni, Ruth Mitchell Wunderly, also a fun collection to flip through.
Next time I do some scanning on Northeastern's spiffy book scanner, I'll take my digital camera and get some shots of the contraption in action -- it's pretty awesome, despite the fact it reminds me of the radial x-ray machine they use at my dentist's office.
New puppy pics!
My father is clearly besotted already. He just needs to give up right now.
And I'm not sure what to make of this picture, but I couldn't not post it. Patient mother dog!
Addy gets to move in with Grandma at the end of June. Congratulations puppy-grandma-to-be!
Last spring, Hanna and I had lots of fun on gosling spotting on our frequent walks along the Charles esplanade. As April came to a close and we cruised into May, we were looking forward to more baby geeses! Except . . . none were to be found. We were confused. Had we forgotten when the hatchlings appeared? We were worried. Was some virus wiping out the populations of Canadian geese? Except we saw plenty of adult geese and adult ducks all over the city, so some sort of bird pandemic didn't seem to be the case.
Then, finally, we stumbled onto the answer in a Boston Globe article. Among the tactics city officials are using to keep the goose population down is an effort to keep eggs from hatching by coating them in corn oil, which according to the Canada Goose Hall of Shame website is called "egg addling" and is considered by many animal rights organizations to be a favorable alternative than slaughter or gassing. Which, okay, I can kinda buy. But after a couple of weeks of stewing about the story Hanna and I keep coming back to it and feeling peeved. It seems stingy of us humans to aggressively control the population of birds in our public parks just because we don't like walking in bird poo; the geese have a right to enjoy our green spaces as much as we do! And while I'm, you know, for family planning I'm not for coercive population control measures -- don't geese have reproductive rights too? And don't those reproductive rights include not having their eggs destroyed without their consent? I ask this sort of tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely . . . how are we as feminists committed to reproductive rights and justice to think about population control of non-human species?
According to the New York Times, hugging is the new scourge of American teenage social conventions.
Now, okay, in my experience the NYT tends to blow its "life & style" reporting totally out of proportion: whether it's women's communities or sexuality, or the supposed life and times of the American Teenager, their discussion of current trends is heavily skewed toward creating a sensational story rather than accurately narrating peoples lives. I realize I should just expect this and blow it off, but sometimes it really gets under my skin, and this is one of those times.
I mean, last I checked, hugging -- as long as it's wanted, affectionate touch -- was a relatively harmless way to spend one's time. It's usually indicative of positive, rather than negative, social interactions. But clearly, I was being naive.
A measure of how rapidly the ritual is spreading is that some students complain of peer pressure to hug to fit in. And schools from Hillsdale, N.J., to Bend, Ore., wary in a litigious era about sexual harassment or improper touching — or citing hallway clogging and late arrivals to class — have banned hugging or imposed a three-second rule.
Parents, who grew up in a generation more likely to use the handshake, the low-five or the high-five, are often baffled by the close physical contact. “It’s a wordless custom, from what I’ve observed,” wrote Beth J. Harpaz, the mother of two boys, 11 and 16, and a parenting columnist for The Associated Press, in a new book, “13 Is the New 18.”
“And there doesn’t seem to be any other overt way in which they acknowledge knowing each other,” she continued, describing the scene at her older son’s school in Manhattan. “No hi, no smile, no wave, no high-five — just the hug. Witnessing this interaction always makes me feel like I am a tourist in a country where I do not know the customs and cannot speak the language.”
. . .
Comforting as the hug may be, principals across the country have clamped down. “Touching and physical contact is very dangerous territory,” said Noreen Hajinlian, the principal of George G. White School, a junior high school in Hillsdale, N.J., who banned hugging two years ago. “It was needless hugging — they are in the hallways before they go to class. It wasn’t a greeting. It was happening all day.”
And just in case you thought (as I do, actually, despite protestations to the contrary) this was yet another instance of old fogies being unhealthily interested in, and hysterical about, the cultural expressions of youth,
There are, too, some young critics of hugging.
Amy Heaton, a freshman at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Md., said casual social hugging seemed disingenuous to her. “Hugging is more common in my opinion in people who act like friends,” she said. “It’s like air-kissing. It’s really superficial.”
Read the entire article here.
There are many layers of wrong about the way this story is being narrated, one of which is the way it is being reported as a newsworthy phenomenon in the first place. Conventions of touch change over time and from culture to culture; as one letter to the editor pointed out, in Europe teenagers tend to show more casual physical affection with each other than American teenagers have, at least historically. People who work with immigrant and exchange students can tell you that young people who come to America from certain parts of the globe -- Europe, Latin America -- are surprised by what the perceive as the lack of physical affection between their American peers, while young people from other cultures -- for example, Japan -- have higher expectations of personal space, and find Americans to be physically intrusive.
While an international, historical perspective can understandably get lost in a fluffy news story, much more upsetting to me, in terms of media perceptions of young people, is the way adolescent physical contact is portrayed as problematic. There are three facets to this, all of which I find fascinating and extremely frustrating.
1. "Touching and physical contact is very dangerous territory." I'm most floored by the way this article totally fails to meaningfully distinguish between erotic and non-erotic touch, and also by the way it implicitly equates erotic touch with "very dangerous territory." This isn't unexpected, given adult hysteria about teenage sexuality, but nevertheless it pisses me off. The students in this article, who have a complex understanding of different kinds of touch and what social and personal meanings they carry, come across as vastly more mature than the school officials who hint at promiscuity. Rather than respond by clamping down, I'd say this is a perfect opportunity to open conversations about how people can communicate about wanted and unwanted touch, and respect each others' preferences for the same.
2. "If somebody were to not hug someone, to never hug anybody, people might be just a little wary of them and think they are weird or peculiar." Closely related to the spectre of sexual harassment is the possibility of bullying (which is very real) that gets invoked as a reason to curtail physical contact. This is lazy thinking, lazy educating, and lazy supervising. If you're worried about bullying, then get serious about reducing the abuse of power exercised by some students over others, and protecting the vulnerable students so that they don't live their lives in fear. Imposing arbitrary limits on touch will not make the problem go away, it will just shift it elsewhere -- possibly somewhere less visible than the school hallway.
3. "To maintain an atmosphere of academic seriousness." This is the most laughably transparent exercise of adult power in the interest of social control. I realize I'm prone to seeing schools as sites of institutional power and violence but oh, please. Touch and positive relationships are antithetical to both intellectual endeavors and "seriousness"? Some of the adults in this story need to re-think their priorities a little. As one letter-writer suggests, "those principals need to lighten up and give kids a chance to work out for themselves what is “needless” and what is important."
No one asked me what to make of this 'trend' but I'm going to offer my two cents anyway (isn't that what blogs are for?): I think young folks today are pretty much the same creatures we human beings have always been. That is, creatures capable of inefficiency, frivolity, social ineptness, and cruelty -- and also creatures who by and large crave meaningful relationships with one another that include physical affection. I'd argue that casual touch, both inside and outside spaces of education, is not a distraction from learning or a trivial meaningless fad -- but rather a valuable pathway toward discovering what kinds of physical intimacy feel good and communicate effectively what we desire to communicate. Instead of cracking down on physical affection, help young people find language to effectively express their desires.