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from Messenger, by Mary Oliver´╗┐

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Wednesday
May092012

Required Reading

One excellent story, one appalling story. I'll give the bad news first.

"The Inferiority Of Blackness As A Subject" by Tressie McMillan Cottom

This Racialicious piece lambasts The Chronicle of Higher Education for publishing a blog post by Naomi Schaefer Riley titled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations." The CoHE post is horrifying -- filled with racist, hateful, and by-name personal attacks on black graduate students.

A key bit from Tressie's rebuttal:

I want to talk about how Schaefer Riley constructed her argument.

She begins by responding to an innocuous article highlighting the work of doctoral students who just happen to be black and who just happen to be studying issues that impact black people.

Doctoral students.

That’s Schaefer Riley’s target: a group of accomplished, intelligent black doctoral students.

Schaefer Riley went after, arguably, the most powerless group of people in all of academe: doctoral students who lack the political cover of tenure, institutional support, or extensive professional networks. She attacked junior scholars who have done nothing but tried to fulfill the requirements of their degree program and who had the audacity to be recognized for doing so in academia’s largest publication. Their crime is not being fucking* invisible.

For that–for daring to be seen and heard–Schaefer Riley eviscerates the hard work of doctoral students.

And she does not even afford them the respect of critiquing their actual scholarship. That is beneath her. She attacks the very veracity of their right to choose what scholarship they will do. In effect, she attacks their right to be agents in their own academic careers.

She eschews their dissertation titles as laughable. She pokes fun at their subject matter. She all but calls them stupid.

And The Chronicle of Higher Education let her.

Disheartening. There's a link to a petition at the bottom of the Racialicious piece.

~ ~ ~

Okay, now the beautiful story, by Jane Stevens: in Walla Walla, WA, a high school principal and staff take an emotionally-connective approach to discipline, and their expulsions drop 85% in one year.

My favorite bit:

THE FIRST TIME THAT principal Jim Sporleder tried the New Approach to Student Discipline at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, he was blown away. Because it worked. In fact, it worked so well that he never went back to the Old Approach to Student Discipline. This is how it went down:

A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly:

“Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”

The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face….”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”…and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated  defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: “My dad’s an alcoholic. He’s promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises.” The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: “I shouldn’t have blown up at the teacher.”

Whoa.

And then he goes back to the teacher and apologizes. Without prompting from Sporleder.

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