Friday, August 15, 2008

note to self

Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a follow-up to Samara O’Shea’s first book, For the Love of Letters. In both, she argues for a brief return to solitude, the very thing William Deresiewicz argues we’ve lost in “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” Unlike Deresiewicz, her thesis about the loss of this personal quietness isn’t linked to classist and sort of racist assumptions about who’s going to college. I actually had a great debate about this with some of the new Ron Brown Scholars, who quite rightly pointed out that Deresiewicz’ argument doesn’t allow for students attending elite colleges who are first in their family to go to school, attending on scholarship, or are people of color accustomed to having to be bilingual and bicultural because of their region, their social class, and the social class of their other family members.

Basically, what Note to Self does is provide a primer on keeping a journal. It’s a general primer; O’Shea offers writing prompts, topic suggestions, examples from her own journals (she’s been keeping one since she was 16), and examples from other authors (including Ana├»s Nin, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, and Joyce Carol Oates). She suggests that journaling provides a way to know the self more intimately, to enforce personal honesty (one of her cardinal rules is that you should never lie to yourself), and to work through issues or concerns that are upsetting you. What I found especially interesting is that she argues that journaling provides a way to construct an empowered understanding of the self. In Chapter 5 (“Sense of Self” – I think this would be a particularly great reading for teachers) she argues that stream of consciousness writing in journals allows students to explore their own selves and voices, so that they can become more solidly realized individuals.

Note to Self struck me as an incredibly useful pedagogical tool. I’m envisioning using the examples described here as a way of developing and then reinforcing agency by free-writes and journal entries, particularly in math and science classes, where describing one’s own actions in problem-solving could make students feel more ownership over the subject. I wouldn’t assign the book (the entries on love and sex are deliciously salacious but perhaps not appropriate for the younglings) but I could see it being a useful book for developing a lesson plan, or using it yourself to keep your own awesome journal .

Cross posted from my book blog at Hathor (

Sunday, August 10, 2008

african americans in US history

The National Archives has a massively awesome listing of resources related to African American history. This listing includes images (there's a great series on African Americans in WWII here: )

and documents related to Amistad (here: )

I'm trying to find one related to US Latino studies, but the site's awkward to navigate. I have no idea how I found this! :P

Friday, August 1, 2008

teaching pocahontas

really great write up of the tensions associated with using images of pocahontas in the classroom. i found this quote especially interesting:

Again, we need to carefully review our historical past in order to understand the present, move on to the future, and not get caught up and trapped in old negative stereotypes of the American frontier past, freeze dried and recycled as modern cultural myths - all of which were mostly established by white inventors of Indian images. From experience I know that cartoons, movies and comics about Indians somehow find their way into the classrooms of America. Most common knowledge of Indians comes from the media and movies like Pocahontas, because the movies have a tremendous advantage in educating the critical masses of people. Therefore, in order for teachers to make the biggest impact on their general public, they must critically examine and screen out racism, sexism, and class bias in movie production. If left untouched, it remains a large body of culturally strip-mined material for another generation of American children to unlearn.

The transformation of indigenous spiritual knowledge, objects, and rituals into commodities, and their commercial exploitation constitute a concrete manifestation of the more general, and chronic, marketing of Native America (Whist, 1995). Indian people can perhaps be informed by what the Canadian Mounties did. They enlisted Disney to market their image in a more culturally responsive way. The Mounties spent a long time looking for licensing expertise, being fed up with exploitation of their image. The Disney corporation now oversees the licensing and marketing of the Mounties' image. What about Pocahontas? What about the images of American Indians?

My focus in the critical review of the movie Pocahontas is to stimulate teacher interest in the importance of the subject of American Indian images, particularly the paradox of many Indian heroines, images that too often have been marginalized in American history, and to raise the level of intellectual and cultural debate about Native people and their role in United States history. The overwhelming concern is how "accuracy" is defined, particularly how "historical accuracy. is defined, and by whom. Society must respond quickly with the complete eradication of such usage of stereotypic negative Indian images in public (Hatfield, 1996). As educators, we can all take steps to think about and counter the hegemonic images of racism that surround us all, committing ourselves to sorting out our collective multicultural heritage, past and present.