Category: Book Club (Page 1 of 2)

What I’m Reading: The Power

Over the last week, I read a novel called The Power by Naomi Alderman (link to a NY Times interview with Alderman). The general premise of the book is that women develop the power to harness electrical energy. This manifests in various ways like being able to shoot lightning from their fingertips, send blasts of electricity through various conductors, disrupt electronics, and manipulate the electrical systems in the human body.

Cover of the book, The Power, depicting a hand with electrical tendrils ringing the hand

The book talks both about empowerment of women and the fear that men feel as women wake up to this power. There’s fear of physical harm, fear of loss of structural (social, political, economic, militaristic, etc) power, fear about the reconceptualization of personal relationships, and just a general fear within daily life.

Alderman uses this sci-fi alternate history to demonstrate the real fear that women feel on a daily basis. I love how strange and fantastical she makes the very real issues of patriarchy and misogyny seem. The book depicts horrible acts of violence that made me squirm, but they feel warranted in that they are direct critiques of the violence inflicted daily upon women.

The story itself weaves together an ensemble cast. Alderman plays with the narrative structure, so that even though the reader feels like they’re accumulating the momentary insights and motivations of the various protagonists, they don’t really know what the end game is for anyone. Ultimately, Alderman is just using the characters to play with the religious and historical archetypes that serve as the foundation of our modern culture. The feeling of inevitability in watching these thin archetypes play to and with expectations is part of the point.

I really enjoyed the book and hope others will read it, so that we can revel in both the gory details and the grand vision that Alderman offers.

Paying the Price

In reading chapter three of Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price, I was struck by the deep resentment that the Pell Grant garners. Like every other form of welfare promoting social mobility, the Pell Grant has been weaponized as a redistributive, unearned, golden ticket that allows people to skip to the front of the line while carelessly spending the hard-earned dollars of the working class. Obviously this is a straw man characterization, but I think it accurately echoes the core narrative identified by Arlie Hochschild in her study of Tea Party Republicans.

My habit has long been to dismiss such a characterization as the critique of mean-spirited, irredeemable people, but this is extremely counterproductive. I still don’t agree that we should do away with the Pell Grant or other forms of welfare, but I need to and can do a better job engaging in respectful conversation around this narrative. Until we can find common ground with those who feel left behind and cheated by the system, there can be little progress. As an educator, I need to be able to engage with people and convincingly argue for several fundamental points that I can no longer take for granted:

  1. That the highest quality public education is an inalienable birthright of every person
  2. That public education is an obligation of the government
  3. That government investment in education is economically productive. That is, for every dollar spent, more than a dollar is generated
  4. That a student has a right to maintain dignity while receiving welfare and shouldn’t be asked to pass drug tests or justify food expenses
  5. That teachers should be respected as important contributors to society and paid accordingly
  6. That education is about growth for each student rather than arbitrary standards of proficiency
  7. That education is allowed to be fun and actually works better when it is
  8. That enabling students to flourish requires asking them their goals

These eight headings are not defitive or exclusive. They are simply a managable starting point. If I can effectively articulate these points and engage people on them, we may be able to find common ground on student aide and educational policy more broadly. If not, states like mine may continue to defund education at all levels.

In an editorial in the Oklahoman this morning, OU Provost Kyle Harper provided hard numbers for the relative lack of support for OU from the state:

The University of Connecticut, a public flagship very similar in size to OU, receives about $16,500 per undergraduate student from the state, whereas OU receives around $6,200 per undergraduate from state appropriations. Our tuition and fees are also 22 percent lower, yet we offer an equally high-quality educational experience and achieve nearly equal rates of student retention.

As Kyle notes, “We have been doing a lot with a little,” but we need to reach out to Oklahomans and talk with them about why education is important. We cannot take it for granted that people already want to have the best schools; rather, we have to help restore that esteem for and pride in educational systems.

Through chapter three, Sara Goldrick-Rab has been particularly effective in her treatment of the first four points. Thus far the book seems like a really useful reference for both quantitative and qualitative evidence on the simultaneous importance and insufficiency of student aide. I hope that it will also provide a proscriptive argument for how we can move forward.

Leadership Schools and Digital Literacy

In Bonnie Stewart’s latest post for #HortonFreire, she introduced us to the Antigonish Movement, “a Maritime adult education, cooperative, and microfinance movement of the 1920s and ’30s that led to the development of local credit unions that still dot the landscape around Maritime Canada.” Bonnie suggested this movement as both an historical parallel to Horton’s Citizenship Schools and as a model for our network to improve digital literacy.

In thinking about Bonnie’s call to action, I see parallels with a program that may provide some of the organizational scaffolding for such an educational program. About six months ago I participated as a student in a program called Software Carpentry. This non-profit group teaches faculty and grad students three basics of programming literacy: linux command line, version control (usually with GitHub), and a broadly applicable programming language (usually Python or R).

These skills and the correlated literacies are great, but what is interesting for this conversation is the model adopted by Software Carpentry. After completing the program as a student, they encourage participants to consider going through the instructor training. Participants can earn certification which confers the right to use the Software Carpentry branding and materials in their own workshops. The multi-stage training looks something like this:

  1. A 2-day instructor training focused on pedagogy
  2. Watch and give feedback in a video conference debriefing for a new instructor
  3. Participate as the junior-partner in a team-taught session of Software Carpentry
  4. Debriefing in a video conference
  5. Contribute to the GitHub repository of course material

It might be useful for the #HortonFreire group, along with our broader professional circle, to think about developing a similar GitHub repository of course materials. One of the things I particularly like about this technological model is how it would allow us to create a pool of common resources, and also our own forked versions of the repository that are fitted to our particular cultural environments, the needs of the local students, and our varied pedagogies. These GitHub materials could then provide the jumping off point for local workshops.


 

My previous posts in the #HortonFreire book club:

Organizing and Educating around Open Ed

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