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Below are the 12 most recent journal entries recorded in Tales of a Misfit Pedagogy's LiveJournal:

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008
4:31 pm
Sadly moribund, this community.

Haven't taught since last spring, and I am quite, quite glad for it. Freshman composition was all right, though it had its share of pointlessness; what broke me was the 304 class (Writing and Technology). Profoundly disappointed in the overall ability or willingness of students to step outside their usual modus and actually approach a new topic in a different way. I found more resistance and general mulishness in the upper classmen populating this class than I ever did amongst the newbies in first-year comp. Sad, and most frustrating.

Anyhow, I've found myself, as a result of my experiences at UMKC, reading Gerald Graff, and am about to jump into John Taylor Gatto. I'm hoping they can help me put my experiences into some kind of perspective. I don't know if this will make me willing to wade back into the teaching wilderness, but I feel the need to find salve for the wounds incurred during my first outing.

Current Mood: present
Wednesday, March 8th, 2006
11:39 am
Interesting Piece
For once, blame the student

By Patrick Welsh Wed Mar 8, 7:08 AM ET

Failure in the classroom is often tied to lack offunding, poor teachersor other ills. Here's athought: Maybe it's thefailed work ethic of todays kids. That's what I'm seeing in my school. Until reformers see thisreality, little will change.

Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern leapt out at me.

Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries - such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana - often aced every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates from upper-class homes with highly educated parents had a string of C's and D's.

As one would expect, the middle-class American kids usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been speaking English for a few years.

What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.

Politicians and education bureaucrats can talk all they want about reform, but until the work ethic of U.S. students changes, until they are willing to put in the time and effort to master their subjects, little will change.

(article continues after cut)
Read more...Collapse )
Tuesday, February 14th, 2006
2:14 pm
...on multiple levels. I can't seem to connect with this semester's class the way I did last semester. I'm hoping it isn't all my fault, and that there is a combination of factors such as: the fact that it's an 8a.m. Freshman Composition course; that it is a second semester 8a.m. Freshman Comp course; that my students are just generally less vocal. Eh. It's getting depressing. Two people talk, most don't even bother to attend (12 out of 22 attend regularly, meaning they haven't missed frequently), and no one is doing the reading, in spite of my use of weekly quizzes (which, btw, I hate doing).

Last semester, I was openly Devil's Advocate, and people were highly engaged--class discussion often went overtime. This lot mostly sits there. Tres frustrating, but I don't know what else to do. I've even upped the level of "questionableness" to the readings--today I handed out a transcription of George Carlin's "Seven Words" routine as a way to get the ball rolling on censorship. *sigh* I find myself missing my Fall semester kids.

Current Mood: pensive
Friday, February 10th, 2006
11:51 am
Why I hate Literary Criticism...
from Dracula's Crypt by Joseph Valente:

Far from simply affirming or apologizing for the femininity of his own Irishness, as Glover contends, Stoker's writing unfolds the gendered conflicts implicit in that distinctice Irishness, that amalgam of Anglo and Celtic adherences, and, in consequence, winds up troubling the normative disjunction of masculinity and femininity far more dramatically than the standard colonial inversion or exaggeration of these categories generally permits.

Herein a rant against much literary criticismCollapse )

Current Mood: ehh
Wednesday, February 1st, 2006
10:33 am
Good old Germaine in today's Guardian:

I formed a rule; I would go to the first lecture of any series and if it taught me anything, I would go to the next, and so on. Though I rarely got past the first couple of lectures, there was one lecturer I kept going to because he was so astonishingly wrong. He lectured on Byron, whose work he misunderstood so fundamentally that I had to spend a year writing a research paper on Byron's comic verse before my accumulated bile was purged. That lecturer's woeful performance has convinced me of one thing; in the world of intellectual cut-and-thrust, a truly incompetent teacher can be of more value than a good one.

That may be true of university lecturers. Not sure us high school teachers could get away with it though.

Mind you, I often say this to my classes:

I used to say to my students, "Confusion is the most productive state of mind. Respect your confusions. Don't let me waft them away."

And am guilty of this on a daily basis:

The very best teacher is the one who really enjoys being made to look a fool by a student.

Maybe I'm not so bad after all.
Thursday, January 19th, 2006
11:46 am
A full third of my class did not deign to appear, today.

Due today was the first draft of essay #1.

I know I am new to this "a.m." thing, and perhaps morning classes see a much greater amount of this kind of thing...but, blowing off the day the first draft of the first major essay? I am trying to decide whether and how to go about being Mr Scary. This is not something I am inclined to tolerate, and my first impulse is to urge these Slackers to drop the class...but I don't want to be unfair, either. Hm. University policy is that three absences = grade decrease, and three late arrivals = one absence. Several of them have already missed two classes.

I didn't have to deal with this sort of thing when I was teaching in the afternoon, so perhaps I'm just jumpy, but it seems worrisome and a poor prognosis.
Thursday, January 12th, 2006
3:09 pm
Tuesday, January 10th, 2006
2:50 pm
Ars Rhetorica
I'm thinking our Rhetoric class looks promising. It is going to probe at some of the cracks in the facade, which is always pleasurable. To wit--what are we teaching, when we teach writing? Should rhetorical know-how be imparted as a merely technical skill, or should all teaching practices be embedded in some kind of moral/political consciousness?

By way of starting this discussion, we looked at a piece written by the SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Walter Rauff, in charge of running the gas vans during the early stages of the Holocaust. One of the central rhetorical devices in their bureaucracy of murder was to remove any reference to Jews as human persons, and instead insert words like "merchandise" or "pieces". This way, it circumvented somewhat the inevitable messiness involved in referring to actual humans--ideas like "murder" popping in; words like "men", "women", or "children" causing such inefficiencies as moral qualms and squeamishness. Chilling stuff, really, but some very polished work, from a technical writing perspective.

To me this fits perfectly into the questions of predatory culture--of the colonization of nearly all areas of life by capitalist/market mentalities, the turning of education into merely another transactional site where a student plugs in, downloads value-neutral content as part of their performance on the way to finding their particular cog/cubicle. Are we here just to prepare students to get into harness, to serve the machine, or to serve their humanity?
10:03 am
This is your brain at 8 a.m.
Teaching at 8 a.m. is everything that is wrong and unholy in the world. I think I can safely say that, after the "grammar" debacle last semester, this morning was possibly the worst class I have taught, by at least a head. Fekking death march, it was.

Me: incoherent, rambling, grumpy.
Students: lumps on a log (excepting a very few of them)

Ugh. What a nightmare. An it please the gods, I'll get a little bit better at this, but prognosis is not good, considering I worked a.m. jobs in the past and never adapted to the early morning thing. Hopefully I can get them engaged as the semester goes on, and they'll forgive first impressions. If I were to characterize myself from a 1950's movie, it was less the Mad Scientist, and more his half-functional robot henchman wandering around emitting fizzles and sparks, swinging from inane to homicidal.

Suck, suck, suck the pipe.

Current Mood: jeeeezuzeffingschist
Thursday, January 5th, 2006
12:25 pm
Semester begins Monday...
A colleague and I have been working on fine-tuning this pre-fab syllabus into something a little less vanilla. Problem is that it is the product of a person whose surface is all butterflies and teddy bears, but whose lurking animus is embittered, elitist and a staunch traditionalist. About the only thing she and I share philosophically is a general dislike of the stranglehold Foucault has on our field. But that might be neither here nor there.

Upshot is, the book we're required to use for 110 is a bit on the milquetoast side, and the readings (being part of a structure) are flat enough to actually generate complaints from students that there is nothing to react to. So, I'm trying to find material to supplement the overall course (which was originally structured so that students would be exploring "academic discourse"--ugh!) and give it more teeth, some more rough edges. I'm also trying to balance between utterly uninspiring, unchallenging readings and setting the bar too high.

So far, I'm drawing on:

e-mail to the universe, Robert Anton Wilson
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter
Commodify Your Dissent Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland
All Things Censored Mumia Abu-Jamal
Running on Emptiness John Zerzan
Indigenous American Women Devon A. Mihesuah
ABC of Reading Ezra Pound

and some online articles, including some cherry rants from Chuck D. Some of it is pretty highbrow, but I don't think giving students two-page articles culled from nothing but mainstream bourgeois journals is doing them any favours, either.

Thursday, December 29th, 2005
10:29 am
The danger lies in the neatness of identification. Samuel Beckett, in Disjecta, “Dante...Bruno. Vico...Joyce.”

Instruments register only those things they are designed to register. Space still contains infinite unknowns. Lt. Cmdr. Spock, “The Naked Time”, Star Trek, orig, aired Sept. 29, 1966 on NBC.

Something smacking of zen in those, and, again, my sympathy for the renzai school of zen buddhism, for the early gnostics, shines forth in the darkness of my perplexity.Collapse )
Wednesday, December 28th, 2005
2:31 pm
To Start With...
Everyone around me is full of robust certitude
I alone am tentative…
Lao Tzu,
from the Tao Te Ching,
chapter 20, called sometimes “Wandering”.

Outside in, or inside out?

Coming in as an outsider (in many ways), I am still struggling with the idea of a “pedagogical portfolio”. Not the least of my difficulties is my ongoing ambivalence about the project of the American university, as it stands, and the driving forces behind it. There is a particularly profound difficulty for me, arriving with a “wrong side of the tracks” background, and having absorbed a significant amount of the common cultural distrust for academia; yet, by the same token, I have always been inclined towards the “thinker” end of the spectrum—and been treated as an outsider because of it. I have sympathy for some of the ideals behind the project of intellectualism, a natural affinity for the compulsive rationalist behind many scholars. But, I ask myself, what are we doing here at the University? What of this conceit of the “scholar”? Is my dissatisfaction secretly driven that of the idealist, of the outsider, the nerd who wants hir own space, away from the hoi polloi? How does this figure into my contrasting Dewey-esque ideal that, with more education, general enlightenment will eventually prevail? I feel, directly off the starting block, an outsider—not only for my “socioeconomic/cultural background”, but also for my distinct lack of faith in any kind of “T”ruth, any kind of singleness of approach, unifying theory. I have no sympathy for what often seems the academic project—to freeze the Thing and dissect it, leaving it fit only for the morgue.

In the classroom, I need to negotiate several different terrains. In one sense, my lifelong role of “outsider” seems to make me a natural for ignoring certain boundary topics, particularly in the case of marginalized students. At the same time, my radicalism, intellectualism, irreverence—all traits absorbed and incorporated from a very early age—might serve to frighten or at least alienate some students if they are particularly sensitive. I strive to include everyone, from the far-right to the radical left, in the general conversation. My general credo is—if you can state your position well, support it, and do it in a respectful way, then by all means, share. And if you can’t, share anyways, because that’s the only way to get better at it. When faced with viewpoints opposed to my own, I strive to evaluate them fairly. This last bears more exploration.

One of my central tenets is “Do not mistake the map for the territory.” Whatever we speak of, no matter the subject, is bound up in our preferred metaphors, our perceptual set, our Belief System, Reality Tunnel, etc. A key to managing the potentially riotous discourse of a multivalent discussion is to avoid what some refer to as “model theism”—the mistaking of one’s preferred metaphorical understanding of Whatever’s-Out-There for The-Thing-What-It-Really-Is, and proceeding to worship it. Even with continual diligence, however, all of us, from zen roshi to taxi driver, still fall prey to taking ourselves and our shibboleths too seriously. How do we deal with this?
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