This Week in Pedagogy: The World of Wrestling

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Week Three

This week in English Composition II we focused on evaluating source material and elements of argument.

When students are made to consider how they digest media, whether for school or for life, they must consider spectacle. To sift through this concept I thought we’d better read Roland Barthes “The World of Wrestling.” Barthes’ piece was also paired with two supplementary readings: “The Spectacle of Excess: Roland Barthes, Wrestling, and the Eucharist” and “On ‘The World of Wrestling’ by Roland Barthes (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Blog About Professional Wrestling).”

Song: Animal Collective, “What Would I Want? Sky”

In our song this week, students pointed out the dissonance in the song and how it’s similar to the myriad of messages they receive every day. This song also shows a dichotomy between thought and pragmatism (which Barthes discusses in his piece).

Audio Object: John Cena Prank Call (Good to get the students laughing. Life is hard.)

This piece, in addition to being silly, is an example of inundation of consumer culture. It’s important students know how to determine the stakes behind what they are absorbing and the constant bombardment they may not notice. There is a difference between passive observation of information and critical consideration. I learned about this clip from a former student when he insisted I listen to it. Barthes can be a heavy reading, so it was nice to break it up with some laughs. It fit nicely into our discussion.

For our activities we did an argument essay checklist. Students brought in four articles about the same topic. They broke into groups to figure out if the pieces fit our criteria.

Reading: Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling”

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In Barthes, from a composition standpoint, we focused on: pointed vocabulary, taking pains to create prose, making sharp references, defining “the spectacle,” myth in society, and students used their theory cheat sheet to determine what school Barthes was working from. We determined he was a sturcturalist/post-structuralist and a predecessor to affect and queer theory.

Right now it’s hard for students and teachers alike to tackle all the daily events bombarding us. In wrestling people find comfort in the clear struggle between “good guys” and “bad guys.” Barthes says:

In the ring, and even in the depths of their voluntary ignominy, wrestlers remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible.

Our jobs are harder. We have to figure it out for ourselves.

 

 

 

 

This Week in Pedagogy: Talking With Ghosts

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Week Two

This week in English Composition II we focused on “ad hominem.”

To start, students defined ad hominem:

An attack on a person’s characteristics, ones they sometimes have little control over, like physical appearance, rather than the position they are taking. 

For this lesson I though it important to bring the discussion further with: how do our current modes of communication contribute to ad hominem attacks? That brought us to a brief exploration of post-humanism: specifically our communications through technological spaces.

Students were asked how technology, communication technology in particular, has made us approach our relationships with other human beings. We talked about how some theorists argue we are cyborgs now, hooked up with extensions: email, social media, vlogs, blogs, online picture albums, Google searches which precede us prior to any formal, human introduction.

Without the pressure of answering to someone face to face, sometimes it is easier to say things online. What is the impact?

Song: Gary Numan (Tubeway Army) “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”

Students reacted to “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” with a variety of insights. They noticed the choice of ‘Friends’ in quotes. What kind of “friends” are we talking about here? Are our friends online really our friends, or do friendships require more?

I pointed out the history in the song: when the song came out in the late 1970’s, people were first starting to consider how technology would change the way we interact with each other–how technology would alter our entire reality. Gray Numan as his anxious stage persona with the pancake makeup and tech color pallate, moving only slightly (along with his band members) to the repetitive, mechanical sounds presents a social commentary close to our current reality. Numan also presents the issue of technological isolationism (“Now I’m alone/ Now I can think for myself/ About little deals and issues/ And things that/ I just don’t understand/ Like a white lie that night/ Or a sly touch at times/ I don’t think it meant anything to you”): paranoia, loneliness.

Visual Art: Robert Hren “Caricature of Donald Trump”

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Hren has a series of these caricatures. One of my students pointed out the image of Obama by Hren gives him large ears, which my student attributed to Obama’s good listening skills. We talked about the photo realism present in this caricature and how much it differs from a cartoonish drawing you might get down the shore. Here we see Trump has a giant mouth that looks like a wind tunnel, lips chapped from talking too much, hair whipped around from the force, and tiny eyes because he doesn’t see beyond his own world view. Hren’s art combines ad hominem with other forms of critique and the result is valuable.

Reading: Michael Eric Dyson, “The Ghost of Cornel West”

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From our pre-lecture notes:

Ad hominem is one of the most popular logical fallacies meaning “against the person.” It occurs in many public arguments, and it can be hard to distinguish when someone is deploying it versus when a true criticism is highlighted.

In “The Ghost of Cornel West” Dyson argues that Cornel West, another prominent public intellectual and Dyson’s longtime colleague and friend, has suspect moral character.

How does Dyson do this? Use specific examples from the text.

You may stop reading the text when you have written down 5.

What are some recent articles that use ad hominem to discredit a person? Are they completely facile? Could they be construed as useful? Explain.

Dyson’s article was published at a publication he serves as contributing editor. His article is 23 pages long and looks to be editing lite. He criticizes West based on West’s issues with President Obama. West, after supporting Obama during his campaign, felt he was used by the campaign to gain followers until Obama was elected and became just another neoliberal president. Dyson claims this makes West less of a scholar, worse, less trustworthy in the Black community. He cites things like West’s gapped front teeth and Southern preacher style without actually addressing West’s concerns about the American presidency.

We discussed “rage posting” and online feuds, digital identity, and determining credibility.

This was an exciting discussion. Ultimately, students determined Dyson was looking for some of the energy given to West to be given his way. Students considered whether or not Dyson was paid to write the article by someone who wanted to slander West. Another student asked why West didn’t sue for libel. This brought us to another discussion: a student asked why, if West was saying slanderous things about Obama, was he not “sued by the government?” We then discussed that citizens are ALWAYS permitted to criticize the president. Anything else is fascism. This question concerned me because I worry Trump is making impressionable young citizens think they are not supposed to critique the president. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For a thesis building activity, I asked students to pick an element of Dyson’s prose to argue against. Our lesson built on the idea we touched on last week: just because it’s published doesn’t mean it’s infallible.

This Week in Pedagogy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real

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There were a few beloved students who could not get into my classes off the waitlist this semester. See, one of my course sections was switched at the last minute with a colleague who has seniority. I’ve decided to deal with this by blogging my weekly lessons in English Composition II for former students, peers, and curious friends.

English Composition II is a course in argumentation. Every week I’ve assigned one main reading along with two art objects: a song or visual art. The first ten minutes, we examine art objects using a criteria [“cheat”] sheet with ethos, pathos, logos, literary and critical theories (formalism, psychoanalysis [Jung, Freud, Lacan], Marxism, post-colonialism, deconstructionism, feminism, critical race theory, ecocriticism, affect theory, and queer theory), and elements of visual rhetoric. In the first week I gave the students an introductory lesson in the theories–ethos, pathos, logos and elements of visual rhetoric are review from the companion course they took last semester. Students are also practicing research skills because they are expected to research these art objects prior to class and have notes ready with sources.

I explained to my students, as a former aerobics instructor, I believe in warm ups. Critical thinking can be hard, just like exercise. In exercise we warm up the body to prevent injury and develop self-efficacy. Teaching composition and critical thinking requires the same considerations. We are also in a humanities course. To me, this means students should be connecting all types of things humans compose to send a message.

First we analyze our art objects. I write student observations on the board.

Week One

In subsequent weeks I hope to take pictures of my students’ observations because they are so exceptional, but I will outline the discussion instead.

Song: TV on the Radio, “Province”

“Province” is from TV on the Radio’s 2006 Return to Cookie Mountain. You can hear David Bowie featured on this track. Students pointed out the monochromatic colors, obvious ecocriticism and nature symbology, Vietnam military uniform, critical race perspectives (always the POC who save the militarized woman!). We also discussed the Prometheus reference “all the fire which you stole,” and the Gandhi quote used for the song’s rationale: “love is the province of the brave.” A few of my female students questioned the choice to make the military presence female. This was a fruitful warm-up.

Visual Art: Yayoi Kusama, “Mirror Room (Pumpkin)”

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When we got to the discussion of one of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity dot spaces, I pulled up a few of her other pieces along with a photo of Kusama.

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Kusama merges with her art and demonstrates how artists are a part of their work. We had a good discussion of this in one of my sections because I have a lot of theater majors in the class. Students had quotations from Kusama to determine the meaning of her polka dot pieces. They also focused on her use of color.

Reading: Slavoj Žižek, “The Missing Ink” from Welcome to the Desert of The Real!

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Žižek borrows from, most recently, The Matrix, for the title of this book of essays post-9/11. Jean Baudrillard originally coined the phrase “welcome to the desert of the real” for his theory of simulation and simulacra.

I love this part of the class because we get in a circle and everyone can see each other.

In “The Missing Ink” students were asked to find Žižek’s main assertion. If you’ve read Žižek you know this can be a daunting undertaking as he has a roundabout way of getting to his point. We also discussed reading methods for challenging texts, one of them is reading the piece from the last paragraph to the first paragraph (reading it backwards) to increase comprehension.

I also asked students in their “Pre-lecture Sheet”:

What devices does Žižek deploy to support his point?

For instance: to start the essay, he uses an allegorical device, which is the story of “The Missing Ink” (the article’s namesake). He establishes: how can someone use the code of red ink to signify something as untrue if no red ink exists? He uses this to make his point about not having language to say the opposite of something is true.

For Žižek, restriction of choice is tantamount to “unfreedom.” I asked: “If you had to continue his argument, what could you use as some of your examples?”

One student used the example of walking by someone and saying “How are you?” The accepted answer is “good” or saying “How are you?” right back. No one wants to actually know how you are when they casually pass by. So are we all just “good” or is it we are not permitted to use the language that would signify otherwise?

It was important to discuss how writings become published: who publishes? Why was this writer’s writing chosen? Did the writer’s identity have anything to do with publication? How do we determine whether something published was (what I call) “editing lite” and could still use some revisions? This is where the “desert of the real” also becomes useful: we have to look behind the simulation. This brought us to a pertinent discussion of “fake news.” I suggested these critical thinking skills are required to suss out “fake news” and we shouldn’t think any administration should do it for us. Having multiple sources for information is preferable as long as we practice critical analysis.

We also watched this clip and students got to see my Žižek impression.

So there is the first week. Not the same as being in class with us, but it will have to do.

*Note: I will make these lesson posts 2 weeks after we’ve done them in class.

Chiron in Gemini in the 4th House

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“CHIRON is the teacher of the Earth connection to higher planes and the planetary sighting indicates the time has come for us to manifest our divinity.”

Barbara Hand Clow

 

I take great pleasure in sharing this introspection, this part of myself. 2016 was a year of spiritual discovery. One of the ways I’ve done that has been the exploration of my natal and progressed astrology. The lesser known influences, Pallas, Juno, Part of Fortune, Ceres, Vesta, Lilith, and Chiron.

I got three tattoos this year during my journey. The first one was a double infinity symbol on my wrist to represent my life path number of “8,” a number ruled by Saturn, who is also the co-ruler of my natal chart (along with Uranus).

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In honor of all the research I’ve done on the influence of Lilith, when I went on a trip to New Hope with my soul friend and fellow Aquarian, Vynessa, I decided to get a Lilith tattoo.

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A month later I learned about the significance of Revolutionary Pluto in Scorpio in my 9th house and got a Scorpio tattoo. The guy who tattooed me, incidentally, was a Scorpio.

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My most recent tattoo, on my left forearm, is a composite of Fire, Air, Water, Earth elements. When I flip it up towards me I see Fire and Air, when my arm is resting the tattoo becomes Water and Earth. The only other element to get would be Aether.

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Chiron has been the lesser influence I’ve been drawn to the most:

Chiron was wounded himself, and despite his great skills, he never healed. He symbolizes everyone who finds their strength through their suffering. Everyone gets wounded in some manner. Whatever our wounds are, Chiron influences us to overcome our condition and go on. Like Chiron, we may find that in healing others we gain some insight and salvation even though we are unable to fully heal ourselves.

From Always Astrology

My Chiron is in the sign of Gemini in the 4th House

CHIRON IN GEMINI – indicates “a personal crisis about integration here on Earth, which affects balance and the nervous system greatly.  [You] are highly attuned to the consciousness of individuals around [you] and to mass awareness.”  You are a natural teacher and communicator.  Richard Nolle stated:  “Awareness is the keynote for persons born under this CHIRON sign, whose prime existential mission is to understand the way we think in order to effect changes in our mental realities.”  Your Soul intends that you learn our thoughts create our reality.  Therefore, we can change our reality with our thoughts.  Self-discipline is essential in achieving balance as you are innately  attuned to the sudden changes that Uranus can bring.  Change for change’s sake accomplishes little, or nothing, of significance—thus the need for self-discipline.

CHIRON IN THE 4TH HOUSE – signifies the “deepest healing of self will come from a connection with roots.”   Discovering who you are is based upon knowledge of your roots.  Your true roots are within the Oneness of All.  You can be “intense, brooding, deep, and often nervous”—resulting in disturbing those around you.  The 4th house relates to your family-of-origin and the family you create.  You may have suffered during childhood and felt misunderstand.  Now, you may tend to carry childhood traumas into the family you create.   As you heal yourself, you will begin the healing process of those around you.  As a result of your suffering, you feel deep compassion for the pain of others.

From Pathway to Ascension

When I was young I rarely got a chance to hang out with my dad. When I did I always wanted to impress him. I wanted him to think I was special. What happened instead was I always searched for the most perfect things to say and froze up when it was time for us to get together. The result was I rarely spoke around him.

It never stopped–when I would briefly see him even into my 20’s I wouldn’t be able to express myself around him. It can be hard for me to communicate sometimes because I’ve internalized those feelings for so long. There was an impenetrable force separating me from being understood by my father. Mainly, I think it was because he had his own issues with manifesting who he wanted to be.

There were two ways I ever hung out with my dad: watching Star Trek or being pawned off on someone else. The few scenarios we hung out for a full day something traumatic usually happened; being a passenger in the car while he was drunk, getting in car accidents, walking into the middle of a highway, floating in a deflated raft down the Delaware River.

I remember being my grandfather’s Chevy 1500, my grandmother was about to start driving, my dad was going with us somewhere. Gram said, “Robin, you need to put a seat belt on her.” My dad said, “She’s 6! She doesn’t need a seat belt.” This experience and more taught me to advocate for my own safety, and that’s helped me through my life.

The few times he was tasked with standing up for me he didn’t. My teacher in 5th grade was a well-known local football coach. He was classist, sexist, and abusive. I thought my dad was going to tell him off and save me from him. He came over my paternal grandfather’s house, where we were living at the time, and looked at me and said, “I guess you’ll have to deal with it.” He was almost laughing at me. I went through puberty that year.

Sometimes I would meet people around who knew my father and they would say “I never knew he had a daughter.”

It remains one of the major oddities of my life. No matter how I asserted myself, he never acknowledged me.

I remember he did show up at my college graduation and left early. He could never be happy for me. Misogyny and narcissistic neglect were the signposts of our relationship. But I believe there are systems which molded this attitude in him. Individuals are only so culpable.

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The only way I’ve gotten over the wounds of my father was by many years of public performance and teaching. There are still times when I feel I’m not being clear enough, but I keep working on it. So now my job is to teach people how to communicate and give them avenues to do this.

At 10 I started my dance career with Roger, who died this year, my new father figure, an incredible man, an openly queer man, who never apologized for being himself. In high school I took up performing arts and made myself push through anxiety to get up on stage. When I was 18 I went through training to become an aerobics instructor, which I did from ages 19-21. Then I was a personal trainer, a tutor, a college professor, poet, community organizer.

My father’s antagonism pushed me. In that sense, I am grateful for him and all he’s done.

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Because my North Node is in Aries and my South Node is in Libra, I have a feeling in a past life my Libra energy probably made me the type of person who was behind the scenes, keeping someone else balanced and strong so they could partake in publics. This makes sense given women’s historical positions of backing up men so they could have the floor; men taking credit for women’s intellectual work.
I feel this when I get paranoid about someone taking credit for my work. There is a deep need in this life to assert “No, I did that.”

When I started to enter into amorous situations I was uncomfortable with not being able to express and present myself the way I saw myself. I’d get into these dating situations thinking “Well how’s this going to work?” This was another obstacle in my life, and it’s still difficult to trust.

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Because of the way I was around my father, shy, withdrawn, he used to imply there was something wrong with me (which I realize were always his own insecure projections). He did the same with my dog, Phoebe, who always became anxious when he was around. He said,”what’s wrong with her, she’s always anxious” and I was stressed that day, so “She’s fine, she just doesn’t like you” was what popped out of my mouth.

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Phoebe getting car pets. She always had to be in the front seat.

People wouldn’t guess it now, but my instincts were to never to be seen. My instincts have always been to sink into the shadows and have philosophical thoughts and feelings there.

It has taken me a long time to believe asserting myself is right action. My natal Sun and Mercury are in the 12th house, which is considered a “weak placement.” I’ve found it indicates an investment in the collective–how to do what helps others before self.

I’m here to communicate and help others communicate.
One of my favorite quotes by Rumi is:
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
By dealing with our past wounds we can understand our life purpose and why we incarnated. I believe we incarnate in every life with agreements between other souls. There was a reason I have this life, why my father was my main antagonist.
Going into the New Year may we remember our purpose to help each other and heal the world by being beautifully ourselves.
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The blonde alien to the left is me. These are my parents in ’88.