“This is the most useful thing I’ve done all month”: Reflections on Multimodal Composition

This quote comes from one of my students who is currently taking my upper-level-writing course. She said this to me at the end of an iMovie tutorial in class earlier this week. In the hour long class, she (and all of her classmates) had created thirty second videos that combined several kinds of media: music or sound files, a voiceover, a still image, video, and text of some kind.

When I pressed her as to why she thought video composing would be useful to her, she told me that she was planning to study abroad this summer and blog about her experiences. She thought that video would be a great way to do that kind of travel blogging.

This is just one of many similar interactions I’ve had with students in the past few semesters since I’ve ventured into teaching multimodal composition. And this is why I will keep teaching multimodal composition. And these are examples I will give when colleagues (or superiors) question the usefulness or feasibility of teaching multimodal composition in a composition course.

Because I refuse to only prepare students for some amorphous model of traditional, print-based, academic writing. While I value the urgency and immediacy of print based arguments and “academic discourse” kinds of writing to students’ experiences in higher education, and while I am happy to be able to support them in navigating those arguments and discourses and kinds of writing, I also value and feel compelled to support their co-curricular and extra-curricular and post-higher-education writing contexts and experiences.

And I know that multimodal composition is increasingly relevant (and even integral) to students’ co-curricular, extra-curricular, and post-higher-education experiences. And their academic ones for that matter. And now I’m off to teach multimodal composition again today; reaffirmed in my purposes, goals, and strategies for doing so.

 

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Books as Gifts

The other day in one of my grad seminars, we were talking about writing; and one of the other doctoral students in the course asked: “Why have I never been taught to write a lit review?” And then we all talked about writing pedagogy in graduate and undergraduate courses for like an hour. It was awesome.  Towards the end of the convo, one of my program colleagues mentioned Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts”/Bird by Bird as a great writing resource. I commented that the undergraduate library’s copy was currently unavailable bc I had checked it out earlier that week. And then another grad student in the course asked me jokingly, “Don’t you own it? Didn’t you get seven copies of it for undergraduate graduation from well meaning relatives?”  And I said back, jokingly, no, my relatives were like, graduation’s done, time for a real job! (Sound advice that I promptly ignored). And that got me thinking…have I ever received a book as a gift? I couldn’t readily recall a book I’d gotten as a gift and that was disconcerting. I have tons of books I’ve bought myself, mostly for coursework. But it seemed impossible that I’d never received a book as a gift. So, now I’m thinking about it:

In the third grade, Mrs. McEvoy, my friend’s mom who was also a teacher, gave me a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to take home and read. But it wasn’t a gift so much as I started reading it at her house and she let me take it with me when I went.

When I met the poet (the boyfriend) last summer, within a week of dating he gave me a book of poetry by Maggie Nelson called Bluets. It’s all about the color blue, and it’s perfect. Again I don’t know that this was formally a gift so much as a clever (successful) ploy at wooing me.

I’m constantly borrowing books from Merideth for class or for leisure reading (which never actually happens and then I keep the books indefinitely). And actually our friendship started in my first semester here when I asked to borrow a book (that I couldn’t afford to buy) for a course and Merideth offered to have me over for dinner at her house so I could pick the book up from her. Dinner, a book, and friendship. That’s a win!! And also, I suppose, several gifts in one.

This weekend on a whim drop-in at the bookstore Merlin and I bought a book to share and talk about.

During my Master’s program my roommate Ashley bought me a copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants as a thank you for helping her to diagram sentences for a few hours one day.

And when I was a kid, I remember getting a bible as a gift one time for first communion or for confirmation.

Last Christmas my brother game me a book by Michael J. Fox. I also held onto a copy of Steve Martin’s Pure Drivel that I stumbled on at my brother-in-law’s house and he insisted I keep it. He also sent me the The Complete Poems of Robert Frost and James Joyce’s Ulysses. So, an eclectic array of gifts there.

I do also remember having tons of picture books, children’s books, and later young adult novels. Though I think the novels were hand-me-downs inherited from my dad (bc he seemed to have known them all well and always gave me a plot synopsis or a kind of advertising pitch about which I should read next), it occurs to me that the picture books must have come from somewhere. Where they inherited? Or were those originally gifts too, given when I was so young I can’t remember them as such?

This reminds me: I’ve had boxes of books in the trunk of my car for months that I need to drop off at the donation center.

Some First-Gen Thoughts about Work

I went to grad-school partly because I wanted to do something I loved. I wanted to have a career, a vocation even, not just a job. I wanted to be fulfilled by the work I do not just exhausted and abused by it. Growing up in a working class family, I had tons of examples of people working jobs that they didn’t love and exhausting themselves by working those jobs. My dad once had a serious conversation with me on a long car drive, while I was in undergrad, the crux of which he very carefully and clearly articulated to me: “do what you love.” So, motivated by negative examples and by people who I love’s advice, I set out to do work that I love, hoping that goal would deliver me from the fraught relationship with work that my parents and so many other adults I knew had.

But in the world of higher education and of intellectual labor I’ve encountered some other fraught relationships with work. I want to be fulfilled by the work I’ve chosen to do, but I’ve found that that fulfillment is not easily divorced from exhaustion or even from abuse. Whereas everyone at home was working for the weekend, everyone here is just working.

There might be an occasional nod toward work-life balance, but for the most part those nods are made in passing and they really just mean: do one thing everyday that isn’t work. Ugh…I’m sorry, what? At the bare minimum, I have: a dog, a body that needs real food and exercise, friends in town, friends in far off places, family in far off places, an apartment that needs keeping, and an interest in occasionally regaining my sanity with live music and cocktails. Even when these separate outside-of-work entities intersect in productive ways there’s still more than one thing a day I need/want to do other than work. So, I guess that means I have to let my work suffer? Maybe. For now, I feel like I’m constantly calculating what the thing will be that will fall through the cracks today or this week or this month or this semester and how I can minimize the loss or somehow eventually make up for it.

Writing Anxiety

I am taking a Writing Assessment course this semester, and a few weeks ago I got to write a book review of Chris Gallagher’s Our Better Judgment. Even though I really enjoyed the book (probably more than anything else we’ve read for that class), I realized while writing the review that I was writing slowly. And I timed it. I was in fact writing twice as slowly as I did two years ago in my M.A. program. By the end of my M.A. program I was writing a page every 30 minutes. This is of course with heavy prep like reading and outlining having occurred for weeks or days leading up to the actual sitting down and writing.  Nowadays, I’m at more like an hour per page. I’m doing similar extensive prep work before sitting down to write, but for lots of reason the writing is much slower and more deliberate these days.

There are, I think, some positive aspects to the writing slow-down I’ve been experiencing.  I’m wrestling with big, complex, important ideas that I’m heavily invested in and want to represent well. I’m becoming more and more familiar with and cognizant of sources, authors, and connections in the fields I’m working in and more and more concerned about representing those accurately and well. Essentially, my writing slow down might be positively attributed to the more deliberate thinking I’ve been doing.

BUT, I also know that a major contributing factor to my writing slow down is anxiety about my writing.  Writing is difficult. Scholarly writing is at times painful for me. In the last year and a half, I’ve found that my old processes and approaches to research and writing have not sufficed. This is the point of the PhD., I suppose. To make me (and my peers) into researchers and scholarly writers, and I knew that. I did not know that I was going to resist this transformation so staunchly.

Why resist? Well, in the last few months one of my most effective coping mechanisms has been to tell myself and others “I don’t want to be a researcher. I want to be a theorist.” I think this simple switch says a lot about me and my previous experiences and approaches to academia. I like to think in big ideas, I care about the big picture (theory). In the last few months I’ve been made to construct manageable research projects, to take a slice of the phenomenon I care about and say something about that slice.  Sure, sounds reasonable enough. But I’m only just now learning to make the chain of connections between the big idea/big picture and the manageable slice. This means, that for months I’ve been walking around not invested in the slice and even resenting the slice. This slice seems so far removed from the things I care about and the kinds of big picture changes I want to see and help make and the massive systemic problems that so concern me… disengagement and corrosive self-doubt continue on ad nauseam.

So what changed? How have I begun to see and value the chain of connections from the big picture concerns to the manageable slice? Well. By talking to people. By talking to them about my interests and theirs. Not necessarily to even make connections between those interests, but to see and hear how other people have remained invested in their work and to see and hear how other people articulate and value the chain of connections between their manageable slice research projects and their big idea/big picture interests and concerns.

One especially wise advisor here articulates this phenomenon as chipping away. Knowing that the small slice research projects are helping to chip away at the big picture, systemic concerns you are hoping to make change in.  And as always, the most helpful examples to me in this research-writing anxiety jumble have been fellow grad students who talk openly and honestly about their work and their processes and their concerns and their anxieties and their chipping away.

So, I guess my only “lesson” for today would be…talk to people? Find a way to make the connections. Connections to other people, connections to the small slice and the big picture. Oh and faith. Have some faith that you can make those connections and remain invested in them.

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Precious bear. The best possible treatment for writing anxiety. Or any anxiety. Or any ailment ever.

To My Sister On Her Birthday

I’m terrible at birthdays. I always forget them, especially yours. Is it the 18th, the 27th, or the 28th? I never seem to know. I do remember one birthday of yours in particular, though. I think it was your 21st or maybe your 25th, and I was a young teen. I know you arrived at our old house late in the night in a limo full of your friends. We said hello and chatted for a while until you flitted away to chat with others.  Then, a few minutes later, I heard you lean in close to Mom and say “Is Aubrey awake? I don’t want her to see me like this…” Hahaha. I chuckled then and now. I loved it. I soaked it all up. It was delightful for me to see you let loose and have so much fun.

It’s weird to have a sister that’s 9ish years older than I am. For a long time it was like having another Mom, especially because in some ways you were more disciplined and more strict with me than our actual Mom (not a difficult task to accomplish with such laid back hippie parents as ours).  But even as my sister-mom, when I was obnoxious and young and you were coming of age and always wise beyond your years, you guided me by your example. In middle school, I wrote a speech. It was supposed to be about someone who inspired me. I remember being one of the few in my small class who did not write about a celebrity or a famous person in history. I wrote about my sister.

Nowadays, I like to joke with people about how my sister is vastly different from me and infinitely better than I am (both true. inside and out she’s better than I am). I catalogue your many achievements: marathons, triathlons, nursing degrees, years of hard and emotionally draining work, selfless end-of-life care for so many of our relatives.  I would not be where I am today– new town, new school, new job–if I had not seen you pick up and remake everything anew so many times in your life, whenever a certain place and time had run its course and you were ready for a new adventure; an indescribably courageous task when you consider that our entire family lives within a forty mile radius of itself.

I sometimes wonder if you know how it hurts me to see you hurt, and then I feel how willing you are to grieve with me and so ready to build me back up whenever I am in pain, and I know you must know these feelings are mutual between us.

So maybe you will always be my sister-mother. Maybe you will always be there nurturing me and guiding me. But alongside your sister-mother duties, now you are also my sister-friend. Now we can choose to talk and laugh and play. Now we can take adventures together!!  Now I can tell you that I love you, not just because you are my sister and I have to. Now I can tell you that I love you because I know you and choose to love you as one of my closest friends. Because I do love you. And, of course, I miss you. I miss you and I love you, Meagan.

Meg and Aub in Malibu

Grad School Difficulties

Summers in grad school are weird.  So far, I am not good at them. Mostly, this summer has consisted of me sitting around going “What the fuck just happened.”  Which I would be totally fine with and embrace (who doesn’t love a little reflection/major soul searching?) except that apparently, in grad school, people expect you to continue accomplishing shit in the summertime. Also, apparently, if I want to continue on in academia, I need to learn how to be self motivated and structure my own time more efficiently.  So, I’m going to try to work through some of my difficulties here in hopes of moving beyond them in the near future!

Difficulty 1: Academia=Bureaucracy=Me being disillusioned sad and unproductive. I’ve been struggling with some bureaucratic hoops I’ve had to jump through. I’ve been rejected multiple times when I’ve reached out to faculty to help me with my writing this summer (a reaching out and faculty interaction that my program requires).  Lots of people have reminded me that everyone is busy and faculty’s unavailability is not a reflection on me or the validity of my research interests. And logically I understand that argument. As a human being, repeated rejection takes its toll, especially when I have my own uncertainties and self doubt about my abilities and my research interests.

Difficulty 2: I am not (yet) cut out for the kind of constant performance that is required of academics at prestigious institutions. I think this kind of constant performance is something that can be conditioned and developed over time, but right now, I needed a break from trying to perform some sort of belonging in academia for the last year.  A lot of this difficulty has stemmed from my inability to self-promote and represent my own interests and abilities. ((You’d be surprised how many rhetoricians lack this ability; it’s a funny little “do as I say not as I do” quirk of our field)).  At the same time, I know that the relationships I will build and the resources that are available to me while I’m here will be hugely important for the kinds of work I hope to do now and in the future.  So, the performance is the means to much more important and fulfilling ends.

Difficulty 3: I am a first-generation college student. Not having my home networks of family and friends immediately available is devastating.  Even more so, not having contact with those people or even the kinds of people who have shaped me thus far in my life is devastating.  I’ve taken to frequenting places like “Five Guys” or the grocery store just to talk to people who work there and remind me of home and home-like people.  Facebook and other online social networking spaces have been hugely helpful to me in this way by keeping me in contact with people who do things other than academia.  I want to be apart of this academic world and succeed in it, but I do not want to lose the driving force of why I want to be here: to expand access and support for first-generation college students and students of working class backgrounds who believe in and can (hopefully) realize the transformative potentials of higher education.

A ray of hope: the most useful and hopeful things I’ve experienced in the last few months have been other graduate students or other first-gen college students sharing their stories of difficulty and of success. So, if you’re doing or have done this thing called grad school, keep talking about it and talking about it honestly. I appreciate you!

The Course Blog, and Beyond!

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My First-Ever Blog Post

I published my first-ever blog post on October 10, 2012.  This was an assignment for a “Perspectives on Literacy” course blog in which I was told to interview someone who had experience typing on a typewriter.  My mother is a legal secretary who started her career as a professional transcriber and typist, so I interviewed her over the phone one afternoon and published a post of 1235 words, no images, no video, no sound. This purely textual post recounted my questions, her answers, connections to course themes, and my personal reflection on the experience of interviewing my mother.   Interestingly, even this first post, my induction into the blogosphere, blurred the lines of public/private, personal/professional/academic in my life and in my blogging. I submitted three more posts to the course blog that semester, all in the same purely-textual, responding-to-the-prompt fashion but all of which involved some personal content alongside professional and academic content.

In response to and alongside these experiences with composing for a course blog, I decided to establish a personal blog, titled “My Quarter Life Crisis” and published my first post on November 11, 2012.  In the last six months, I’ve published 15 total posts that mix personal, professional, and academic topics and approaches. In one video post (composed in response to a course blog prompt that required multimodal posts), I explore some of these mixed motivations for blogging. That video post was one of my first attempts as composing a video, was entirely too long-winded for a vlog post, and mostly consisted of my talking head. I’ve excerpted a relevant portion of the video here because I think it demonstrates the mixing of personal, professional, and academic that blogs allow and shows an important step in my journey as a blogger, although it’s mildly terrible, it is still my first attempt at a video post.

This winter, my “Computers and Writing” course also required a course blog, and I decided to use my already-ongoing personal blog to compose and publish those required posts for the “Computers and Writing” course.  These posts have ranged from responses to course readings, to reflections about integrating technology and digital multimodal assignments into my own first-year writing classroom, to thoughts about attending relevant professional conferences.  I think the decision to publish these professional and academic posts on a single blog alongside descriptions of my workout routine or musings about my favorite pop singers has allowed me to fulfill my original blogging purposes of representing myself and my experiences as a fragmented-but-whole person and of attending to the intertwining personal, professional, and academic “Quarter Life Crisis” aspects of entering a doctoral program, or any graduate level educational experiences for that matter.

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This Post Went Viral!

One of the most productive experiences I’ve had with blogging thus far has come out of this blending of personal, professional, and academic content on my blog.  At the encouraging of my “Computers and Writing” professor, I attended a conference on campus titled “Autism Speaks Back: Neurodiversity and Disability Studies.” After live tweeting throughout the conference and making connections on Twitter with some of the conference speakers and attendees, I composed a blog post in which I made some connections between my personal, professional, and academic interests and investment in the conference.  This post became my most widely shared post to date with several comments from people I’ve never interacted with offline, several likes on WordPress, and over 100 views in a two month period this year.  I think the successful sharing of this blog is related to the specialized nature of its content as well as my purposeful linking and sharing the post on social media outlets.  This experience has helped to clarify for me some of the distinct and overlapping purposes and potentials of self-motivated, personal blogs versus required course blogs.

My overall purpose in recounting these experiences with blogging is to mine them for some useful takeaways as I instate a required course blog for the first time in an undergraduate course that I am teaching this coming fall.  I’ll be teaching upper level writing/academic argumentation, and I’ve set up a course website on WordPress that includes a video course description, a syllabus and schedule, and a course blog.  I think the most useful things I’ve taken from my limited experiences with blogging and from discussions with other instructors who’ve used course blogs are:

  1. logistics: most undergraduates do not keep personal blogs, so setting up a single course blog and allowing everyone to publish on it can be a useful structure for the blog.  In addition, although I’ve had useful, positive experiences with open-ended blog assignments, for the purposes of an undergraduate academic argumentation course, I think more directive prompts will be a useful way to start out and move toward more open-ended, free form posts as the semester progresses.
  2. goal setting (and decision making based on those goals): the goals of required blog posts should be made explicit and be in keeping with the broader course goals, themes, and content.  Ideally, after expressing these broader course goals, students will be able to arrive at and pursue related individual goals for their course blogging.
  3. publicizing: to avoid a reading-responses-posted-online version of course blogging, I hope to encourage students to set and pursue some goals concerning how to and why we ought to publicize our course blog as whole and their separate, individual posts.

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    Course Website and Blog

  4. multimodality: I hope to encourage students, through the video course description, course readings, and assignments, to explore not-only-textual modes of composing on the course blog.  This multimodal composing seems relevant to me in an upper level academic argumentation course because many of the arguments students encounter are not-only-textual but multimodal.  By asking students to produce these kinds of arguments themselves, I hope to encourage more conscientious production as well as consumption of digital, multimodal arguments in the course and beyond.

Taylor Swift Knows My Soul :)

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a freak for Tswift.  I have Tshirts, I’ve seen her in concert moretaylorswift053111 times than an adult should be willing to admit to, I have all her albums, I set her songs as my ringtones and my alarms in the morning, and I have driven my past roommates and current neighbors to the brink of insanity by constantly blasting her music for impromptu, solitary dance parties.  So, now I will list my top ten fifteen sixteen favorite Tswift songs, explain why I love them, and highlight the best lyrics from each 🙂 Caveat: This list is constantly in flux, but here’s how it looks today. Why go to all this time and trouble to outline my favorite Tswift songs, you ask? Because I fucking feel like it. And it’s the end of semester and I have tons of other work to be doing. So, press play, and enjoy my skills of procrastination at their finest 🙂

LOVE SONGS:

Sparks Fly: EVERY WORD OF THIS SONG IS FLAWLESS and it never fails to make me giddy. Also, great for listening to on repeat and having an impromptu dance party or shouting along to while cooking, alone in the car, or anywhere really. Full volume.

favorite lyrics: seriously, EVERY WORD OF THE SONG, also:  “get me with those green eyes baby as the lights go down, give me something that’ll haunt me when you’re not around”

“my mind forgets to remind me, you’re a bad idea”

“and I could wait patiently but I really wish you would…”  ((Taylor gets me))

Everything has changed: Ed Sheeran is adorable and rocks my socks.

favorite lyrics: “All I know is you said hello, and your eyes look like coming home”

“And all I feel in my stomach is butterflies, the beautiful kind, making up for lost time, taking flight, making me feel right”

“So dust off your highest hopes”

“All I know is a found grace, all my days I’ll know your face.”  Really, every word of this song is beautiful.

Love Story: A pop anthem.

favorite lyrics: “This love is difficult, but it’s real.”

Enchanted: Mandatory listening for anyone who’s ever had a crush

favorite lyrics: “The lingering question kept me up, 2am who do you love? I wonder til I’m wide awake….”

“This night is flawless, don’t you let it go, I’m wonderstruck dancing ’round all alone…”

“these are the words I held back, as I was leaving too soon, I was enchanted to meet you”

I’d Lie: overly adorable.

favorite lyrics: “He sees everything black and white never let nobody see him cry, I don’t let nobody see me wishing he was mine”

Mary’s Song (Oh My My My): just a beautiful love story about not just two people but two families coming together

favorite lyrics: “and our daddies used to joke about the two of us, never believed we’d really fall in love, and our mamas smiled and rolled their eyes, and said oh my my my.”

“And all I need is you next to me”

“Just two kids you and I, oh my my my”

Fearless: Happy and lighthearted:

favorite lyrics: “We’re driving down the road, I wonder if you know I’m trying so hard not to get caught up now, But you’re just so cool, run your hands through your hair, absent-mindedly making me want you”

“in this moment now, capture it, remember it, cause I don’t know how it gets better than this, you take my hand and drag me head first fearless”

“and you stood there with me in the doorway, my hands shake, I’m not usually this way, you pull me in and I’m a little more brave, it’s the first kiss, it’s flawless, really something, it’s fearless”

Beautiful Eyes: Cute happy innocent and honest. Taylor.

favorite lyrics: “Your beautiful eyes stare right into my eyes, And sometimes, I think of you late at night, I don’t know whyyyyyyyyy. I wanna be somewhere where you are”

“I wake up, I’m alive, in only a little while, I’ll cry, cause you’re my lullaby, so baby come hold me tight”

BREAK UP SONGS

The Way I Loved You: Best happy break up song of all time: MUST BE LISTENED TO WITH THE VOLUME TURNED ALL THE WAY UP:

favorite lyrics: “so in love that you act insane, breaking down and coming undone it’s a roller coaster kind of rush, and I never knew I could feel that much, and that’s the way I loved you” “and you were wild crazy, just so frustrating, intoxicating, complicated got away by some mistake and now…”

All too well: Best sad break up song ever: Long, slow, kind of mature, and agonizing, but so cathartic in the end.

favorite lyrics: “And I might be ok, but I’m not fine at all….”

“and I know it’s long gone and there was nothing else I could, I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to…”

“maybe we got lost in translation, maybe i asked for too much, but maybe this thing was a masterpiece til you tore it all up, running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well, now you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest”

“Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it, I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still tryna find it…It was rare I was there, I remember it all too well”

Come in with the Rain: Heartbreaking and exhausting to listen too. Great one to put on a sleep/bedtime playlist.

favorite lyrics: “And I’ve got you down, I know you by heart, and you don’t even know where I start”

Dear John:  Nice specific window into Taylor’s real life and break up with John Mayer.

favorite lyrics: “I’m shining like fireworks over your sad empty  town”

Begin Again: hopeful but gut wrenching. I just like the overall feel of this one.

favorite lyrics: “We tell stories and you don’t know why, I’m coming off a little shy, but I do”

COMING OF AGE SONGS:

State of Grace: more even-keeled and grown up somehow than most of her other songs. The overall tone is just less anxt-y and more at peace.

favorite lyrics: “And I never saw you coming, and I’ll never be the same”

“So you were never a saint, and I loved in shades of wrong, we learned to live with the pain, mostly in broken hearts, but this love is brave and wild, and I never saw you coming, and I’ll never be the same”

22: They say that as a woman, each year of your life is better than the last. This song is about having fun when that chronological progression fails you from time to time.

favorite lyrics:”Yeah, we’re happy free confused and lonely at the same time, it’s miserable and magical oh yeah”

A Place in this World: This song served as no less than a feminist anthem for me when I was 19.

favorite lyrics: “I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me, cause I’m still tryna figure it out”

“I’m alone, on my own, and that’s all I know, I’ll be strong, I’ll be wrong, Oh but life goes on, Oh I’m just a girl, tryna a find a place in this world.”

“Got the radio on, my old blue jeans, and I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve”  ((The proud certainty of this statement shows that Taylor knows my soul. Overemotional and owning it)).

Becoming an Ally of Autistic Self Advocacy

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I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about Autism in the past few months.  A series of several events have brought me back to concerns and questions about Autism over and over again. I’m going to try to recount those events and what I’ve learned from them here:

~~The reactions to the Sandy Hook school shooting and media uproar about Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome left me devastatingly angry and disappointed. I tried to write a blog post or even just a Facebook status update about my anger and frustration that weekend, but couldn’t seem to find the words.  Now, several months removed from my initial outrage, and several relevant life-experiences later, I’m hoping to piece something meaningful together.

~~Without doing some weird, tokenistic “I know someone with Autism so I will now speak about this…” rhetorical move ((or at least calling attention to it as a limited, limiting move but the only one I really know how to make, while making it)): my twelve year old brother is on the spectrum, and my family has known this for about six years now.  I say that to acknowledge that I have a personal investment in these issues, not only a professional/academic one.  This personal investment has distinctly colored my recent discovery and exploration of these conversations.  In response to any useful information or example I find, I ask, how is this applicable or useful to my brother or my family and how can I pass this usefulness on to them or bring them into contact with these conversations somehow? I haven’t taken that step yet. Still collecting information.

~~After discovering, through course readings, that disability studies is an academic field, meeting some awesome people/professors who do this kind of research, and searching around the inter-webs for conversations about these topics, I decided to attend a conference called “Autism Speaks Back: Neurodiversity and Disability Studies” here at the university last week. One of the conference speakers, Jordynn Jack, outlined some of the conversations that went on at the conference and on Twitter.

~~The most encouraging pieces of information I’ve gathered from course readings, people researching these topics, the inter-webs, and the recent conference are related to Autistic self advocacy and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN):

  • ASAN takes as one of its core tenants “Nothing About Us Without Us”.  Meaning, that organizations spreading awareness about and support for Autism should be representative of people living with Autism by including those people in their leadership and membership.  ((This tenant alone seems like the penultimate way to avoid the kinds of media mis-representation that so enraged me during the Sandy Hook media coverage.))
  • Important ways to encourage and further self advocacy include connecting young people living with Autism and their families to mentors.
  • Conversations about Autism should take into account the diversity of experiences of Autistic individuals.
  • Being critically aware of and changing the use of language and terms and rhetorical constructions surrounding Autism is an important way to bring about systemic changes in the ways Autism is defined and researched.  For example, using and exploring the term Neurodiversity can be a useful way to avoid approaching Autism awareness through a deficit model.
  • Funding support and services for people living with Autism > funding “a cure.”

Overall, I want to learn how to enter this conversation as an ally of Autistic self-advocacy without committing any serious blunders out of ignorance or out of an overwhelming in-earnest desire to find the best possible resources and role models for my family.

Some Thoughts on #4C13

*One computers and writing particular theme that I noticed at C’s was a divide in views about technologies. The different views I noticed revolved around crisis rhetoric about mechanized writing assessment versus a forwarding of reflective, mindful teaching practices using a range of digital technologies (this second strand of views was represented in several GRAD STUDENT sessions that I attended; not trying to draw some weird, stark agist divide, just saying grad students are awesome).

*Giroux’s featured speaker session about the public good and education spoke to this divide in views of technologies a bit.  He celebrated new media outlets and their possibilities for public intellectuals to construct alternative narratives, especially in light of his claim that mainstream media makes no space whatsoever for public intellectuals.  He also celebrated young people’s and grad students’ influence in developing new languages, discourses, and democracies (he didn’t explicitly mention digital technologies or new media in making this point, but I certainly heard it that way and made those connections).  But, he also lamented a lack of rigorous critical pedagogies that felt a bit like print literacy crises fear-mongering.

*Live Tweeting is fun!!!  I had fun following people I met or whose sessions I attended on twitter, and I think I doubled the number of people following me on Twitter by doing so. I was able to “attend” concurrent sessions by posting to and following others’ Twitter posts during the conference. Read Merideth’s blog for a much better analysis of the Cs Twitter feed.

*I definitely noticed myself recognizing people who had cultivated some sort of digital presence, whose faces I’d seen in video essays or on Twitter or Facebook or even in the comment sections of academic blogs I’d perused.

*And finally, my most biased observation of all: the Michigan presentations I attended stood out to me as some of the most rigorous, thorough teaching, research, and presenting at the conference.  I was shocked (a bit naively, I realize) to find conference presenters still speed reading aloud full academic papers trying to fit it all in under the allotted time.  But Michigan presenters had re-mediated well and also just conducted research that went beyond a level of, “I read about this and tried it in my classroom, isn’t that neat??” I say all this as a way to solidify for myself the kinds of research and presenting I want to aim for when I next attend a conference, as hopefully more than just a consumer of others’ presentations.

Overall, I was just so pleased to see so many teachers excited about research and teaching (and researching teaching), and I came away with more ideas and materials for actual classroom activities and assignment sequences than I realized I would.  Ideas and activities I am already and will continue to be incorporating into my classroom!

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Also got to see my favorite attraction in Vegas 🙂