Sam Jackson says, “Wake the Fuck Up!”

Most obviously, this video is a funny repurposing of Adam Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep for apathetic political times. However, by popping up in a white family’s various bedrooms, Samuel L. Jackson also recasts black rage as black engagement, thereby recontextualizing an angry “Fuck!”: from “Fuck the police” as “Say hell no, motherfuckers!”

And to that we can all say: righteous.

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Rap, School, and Weed in varying degrees of awesomeness

This video and song are so bad I wasn’t sure whether to post them but I felt compelled given the whole “looking for school in rap” function of this blog.

Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa – “Let’s Go Study” | Watch Hip Hop Music Videos & New Rap Videos | HipHop DX.

However, as retribution for that I’ll also give you the cover art for Rihanna’s new song “Diamonds” (also not the best song ever, but better than that weak joint above), about which all I have to say is that it’s fucking awesome.

As for the song itself, it has a little bit of Phil Collins going on in the instrumentation, a little Nicki Minaj in the hook, and a little American Idol in RiRi’s stretchy vowels. Still love her though, duh. But if you’re gonna listen to a Rihanna song it should probably be “Rude Boy.” Speaking of which, did you ever read that article about Ester Dean?

And if you’re actually going to care about a Rihanna video, it should obviously be “Man Down.”

Week 3.1, 3.2 and 4.1: Reflecting, Workshopping, and final coverage of _Code of the Street_

I had all these grand plans about how I was going to write up my 3.1 lesson plan to make it really really gorgeous so that I could use it in my writing sample, but instead I got distracted and am now 3 lesson plans behind. Why did I make all this extra work for myself?? Oh well, as the White Rabbit might say, “No time to say hello, goodbye!’ I’m late, I’m late I’m late.” Ergo…

LESSON PLAN 3.1

1. Logistics

2. Code of the Street ch. 2 – “Campaigning for Respect”

  • what is the “campaign for respect” in question? what is involved in that process?
  • what evidence does Anderson use to illustrate this campaign?
  • a look at the way he introduces terminology on p. 79:

3. There is a lot of learning in this chapter. What do Anderson’s subjects learn?

4. REFLECTION–> what is reflection? Did you do any reflective writing  in high school?

  • Reminder: reflection helps us become self-aware, by drawing our attention to ourselves, our own strengths and struggles, to facilitate transfer (i.e., remembering what we learned) when we write future papers all by our lonesome
  • Creative writing: look at the kid on p. 74 who says: /// imagine Anderson asked him, “How did you learn that?” Answer from the kid’s perspective
  • Give purpose of that exercise: to create empathy for this kid who learns other material than us; but also to create empathy for the act of imagination. Lots of questions about does Kanye really know this or that. This exercise reminds us of the possibilities of artistic empathy, which we also share.

5. MORE Reflection: Reflect on how you learned to write. Think back to this first paper you’re working on right now

  • How did you begin this paper? What were the first steps you took, perhaps before you even began typing a draft?
  • Where did those skills come from? When did you learn how to begin a paper?
  • What have been the easiest and hardest elements of working on this essay so far?
  • Reminder: save and date these, I won’t collect them but you’ll refer back to them later

6. WORKSHOP: overview of how workshops run

6. Thesis mini-workshop: exchange your thesis-in progress with a partner, formulate three questions for your partner’s thesis that push it to become more explicit. Could begin with HOW WHY WHERE or WHAT.

LESSON PLAN 3.2

1. Logistics: PSA – sneeze & cough into your shoulder, not your hand, and wash those puppies. Yes I really told them this.

2. Code of the Street – ch. 2 “Drugs, Violence and Street Crime”

  • Read the chapter’s opening (pp. 107-108) – why does Anderson open this chapter with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro?
  • Spend a moment understanding “deindustrialization”: AP US History flashback, what was industrialization? Correlation with the Great Migration–> African Americans to urban centers–relate back to drug trade as it “picks up the slack” (108)
  • evidence: Why does Anderson spend 8 pages describing a stickup? How does it illustrate elements of the street code?

3. Code-switching – groups of 3: identify a verbal or written code-switch that you perform in your own life- make a list of rules for performing in each code + knowing when to switch.

4. Does Kanye code-switch?

LESSON PLAN 4.1: Workshop 1

Workshop instructions: they read each other’s papers in advance and wrote a 1-page letter for each of the 3 papers they read. So the workshop instructions just remind them that while the author is quiet, the readers have a conversation that begins after their letters end and is collaborative. Focus on identifying what specifically the paper is about besides just “the lyrics” and making sure the argument is about that specific thing. Discuss thesis, evidence, paragraphs, intro and conclusion. Okay to describe and not only critique.

If they finished early, I made them re-write a new introduction that began from the first sentence talking about the song their paper is about. So it’s a funnel but a tiny funnel.

This weekend I am going to do some summative reflection on all this reflecting-in-action I’ve done so far. Peace y’all.

 

9th Wonder Knows How to Talk to College Kids

9th Wonder at U of M

Two Thursdays ago I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by producer 9th Wonder here at the University of Michigan. While I knew him as the producer behind rap group Little Brother and a co-teacher of the “Sampling Soul” course with Mark Anthony Neal at Duke, the filled auditorium I arrived to attested to his fame as a producer who’d also worked with many of the biggest names in hiphop and R&B.

Two elements of 9th’s talk struck me immediately. Tunes were already playing when we arrived, with what turned out to be 9th Wonder’s Serato projected from his laptop to the screen behind the podium. So the first thing I noticed was how this talk not only incorporated music into its very fabric but also modeled producing as a function of technology and passion both. The other striking element here, evident from the moment 9th began his talk with a discourse on his own sports fan-dom–complete with the confessions that he had to take a spin around the Big House and that he bought a “Buck the Fuckeyes” t-shirt–was his calculated and charismatic approach toward college students. The man knew his audience.

These two pedagogical techniques–modeling and pathos, we might call them–continued through a wonderful talk in which 9th Wonder used the story of his own exposure to music as the narrative backbone for the history of hiphop itself. He compared Motown to Young Money with the qualification that Motown wasn’t “so top heavy,” with Wayne, Nicki and Drake “up here” and everyone else, let’s be honest, down below. He solicitated responses and laughs from the audience, and his remarks were tailored to our contemporary experience of pop culture, with the occasional admonition. In speaking about “Yo! MTV Raps,” the first hiphop-based show on TV, he explained, “If you missed it, that was it.” With the internet, you just go Google the thing. But he seemed nostalgic for those analog days: that scarcity of product “made hiphop live forever, it made music have a longer shelf life. It made us talk to each other. It made us make friends.”

His talk was peppered with music: “This was the first rap song I ever heard.”

Discovering sampling was like “a wormhole.”

The Native Tongues era was “the most progressive moment in hiphop ever,” and Q-tip’s great innovation was to say, “I’m not gonna sample James Brown, I’m gonna sample jazz.”

“This is what I ran into,” 9th explained. “This is what hiphop is.” On the screen behind him, we could see him search through his music collection, pulling out songs with labels like “Workshop Samples” and “Michigan lecture.” He told the story of a kid in the Bronx called Clive Davis throwing a party in 1973 and inventing hiphop by honing in on “the best part of the record, which is also known as the break.” On the screen above us, 9th clicked “Loop,” updating Kool Herc’s technique for the digital age. “And he would chase the break. That’s a loop. Cats would come out and dance–he called it break dancing.”

There was a note of tragedy, sometimes, in the lecture. Sometimes facetious, like when 9th played “Fallin in Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds and confessed, “That’s probably the one that just hursts the most,” or Debarge’s “Stay with Me”- “They just took the whole shit, man.”

But other times he seemed upset by the implicit purpose of his task, to rehabilitate hiphop’s image from our side of the screen. “Hiphop is bigger than just your radio and TV screen,” 9th said. “There was a time when we had our poets,” like Rakim, but those days have lapsed. “As Black folk,” he lamented, “we tend to give things away.”

In the Q&A session I asked what he teaches when he has a whole semester and as he ran through a syllabus that included “two weeks on just Wu-Tang Clan,” a new framing appeared: “1968-1997, from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the assassination of B.I.G.” That struck me as the greatest tragedy of all–not the corporatization or the musical generations forgotten to time but the easy framing of a movement by the deaths of two great poets, orators, lyricists.

When 9th played a song his head bobbed and the heads of the audience members moved along with him. A student sitting beside me got a flashback glimpse of eager young me with my hand raised, dying to be called on. At the end of his talk, 9th Wonder bolted to attend the rapper buddy back in NC. “He doesn’t know I’m coming,” he called, as he ran up the stairs. “Don’t tweet that.”

Week 2.2: Decent and Street Norms in Anderson’s Code of the Street

Hi friends – today’s lesson plan is pretty focused on Elijah Anderson’s ethnography Code of the Street, so take out your copy if you’re following along. Also I just illustrated proper use of your/you’re. Also I should mention these lesson plans are for 80-minute sessions, though today’s was a little short.

LESSON PLAN

1. Logistics- reminder of participation paper deadlines, come in to office hours

2. Ch. 1 “Decent and Street Families”: “Decent” and “Street” – what are these two categories? where are these terms from? understanding “norms”/”normative” (32, 45) and “oppositional culture” (32)

3. Diane’s story (pp. 43-45)- evidence and claims. What work does Diane’s narrative do for Anderson’s argument (i.e., what claims of his does she provide evidence for?) – How does Anderson analyze her words? (What conclusions does he draw?) Does his framing of Diane have any holes? (Any blind spots, points he didn’t make but could have, biases we see?)

4. Answer the above questions re: Yvette’s story (53-65) in small groups of 3; then recap as a class

5. In-class writing: write a mini-workshop letter to Elijah Anderson about chapter 1. 3 components: what is his argument? 1-2 things he did well; 1-2 questions, concerns, suggestions. Use quotes!

NOTES

2. As always, with lesson planning on reading-focused days it’s a balance between covering concepts and comprehension on the one hand, and making sure we’re drawing lessons for our own writing from the text we’re studying. So in today’s lesson I wanted to make sure the students recognize “decent” and “street” as normative categories “that the residents themselves use” (35), and understand that these two categories of people live mixed together, that they all follow the “code of the street” but while decent folks follow it to be safe, street folks believe it to be normative. In past semesters we’ve done writing exercises where I ask students to reflect on what the norms were regarding education in their homes or communities growing up. However, today we focused more on critical thinking skills and building the confidence it takes for a college writer to actually feel comfortable “criticizing”–that is, examining critically–a published writer.

3. To that end we looked at how Anderson includes long tracts of first-person narratives from his interview subjects and scrutinized them as evidence. This approach also has the added boon of keeping students focused on the content of Anderson’s arguments instead of their reactions to them, which have a tendency to spiral off into tangents about how these parents differed or didn’t from their own parents. Instead, I waited until the end of class to ask students how they reacted to, for example, the extremely strict parenting styles we see in this chapter.

4. Small group work always just forces more students into the conversation. Many aren’t comfortable with the whole class setting or only speak when there’s pressure for them to do so, which definitely increases in a group of 3. I try to do some small group work every day–this is a tip I got back in college when I taught ESL for a summer. They say language learners should speak 70% of class time, and small group work is a way to get a high percentage of the class speaking at once, where only 1 person can really talk at a time when the class is together.

5. This last activity had the joint function of introducing workshop letters (more on that next time) and also reinforcing the point I made throughout class that we’re working towards beginning to think critically about the published texts we’re studying. So actually writing down at least one question or concern about this chapter forces students to concede that even this great book is subject to our scrutiny as college writers.

And now I’m gonna go home and eat some dinner. Peace and happy new year to the fellow tribesmen out there. -T

#Occupy Invisible Man…and Then Return it to the Library: Notes on an Overdue Book

Does this ever happen to you? You take a book out from the library, start reading, and almost immediately realize (prompted, perhaps, by the urge to underline something) that this is a book you’ll return to again and again, it ought to be annotated, ever on your shelf, and perhaps you should stop reading immediately, go buy the darn thing, and process it pen in hand. Well, that was me and Invisible Man. Library property notwithstanding, I couldn’t help folding up bottom corners of important pages, and I’ve been renewing its check-out online all summer, since I read it in June. The time has come for me to record what needs recording, unfold those folded pages, and let Invisible Man appear to the next thirsty reader.

(Irony of ironies, when I first went to check this book out, four or five copies were actually missing–invisible–from the library. Maybe because it’s so good? But definitely time to get mine back into circulation.)

I picked it up on a tip from visiting scholar Adam Bradley–the author of The Book of Rhymes and The Yale Anthology of Rap. He was at Michigan to give a lecture and we got talking about his early work in the Ralph Ellison archives at Harvard. Ellison, he insisted, had much to say about hiphop. After a first unsatisfying stint with Ellison’s Collected Essays, I finally found my way to Invisible Man. Now, three months later, bear with me as I work through my enigmatically dog-eared but un-annotated copy, as I rewrite, riff and remember…

He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I  have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.” They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger children were rushed form the room, the shades drawn and the flame of the lamp turned so low that it sputtered on the wick like the old man’s breathing. “Learn it to the younguns,”” he whispered fiercely; then he died. (16)

That, there, was the first shock: learning, so early, so explicit, so extra-curricular. And learn what? The art of signifying, of subterfuge, of saying yes and knowing no, of nodding along but knowing so. This page, appropriately, I left un-marked. But my first dog ear returns to a similar concept, after I hard realized with much joy that our titular character would spend the first part of his story at school.

“Ordered you?” he said. “He ordered you. Dammit, white folk are always giving orders, it’s a habit with them. Why didn’t you make an excuse? Couldn’t you say they had sickness–smallpox–or picked another cabin? Why that Trueblood shack? My god, boy! You’re black and living in the South–did you forget how to lie?”

“Lie, sir? Lie to him, lie to a trustee, sir? Me?”

He shook his head with a kind of anguish. “And me thinking I’d picked a boy with a brain,” he said. “Didn’t you know you were endangering the school?”

“But I was only trying to please him…”

“Please him! And here you are a junior in college! Why, the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie! What kind of education are you getting around here?” (139)

 

(Check out Melissa Harris Perry on Clint Eastwood treating President Obama as an “invisible man” in her blog post and on her show.)

And then a moment that really struck me, the vignette that not only launches our hero into politics but reminded me so strongly (now, one year later) of the stated goals and principles of Occupy Wall Street. Indeed, this section of Invisible Man warrants its own post, essay, critical study, as the invisible man and a crowd of citizens functionally occupy an eviction.

“We’re dispossessed,” I sang at the top of my voice, “disposessed and we want to pray. Let’s go in and pray. Let’s have a big prayer meeting. But we’ll need some chairs to sit in…rest upon as we kneel. We’ll need some chairs!”

“Here’s some chairs down here,” a woman called from the walk. “How ’bout taking in some chairs?”

“Sure,” I called, “take everything. Take it all, hide that junk! Put it back where it came from, It’s blocking the street and the sidewalk, and that’s against the law. Put it out of sight! Hid it, hide their shame! Hide our shame!”…

“We ought to done this long ago,” a man said.

“We damn sho should,”

“I feel so good,” a woman said. “I feel so good!”…

“Let’s march…”

“It’s a good idea.”

“Let’s have a demonstration…”

“Let’s parade!” …

“What’s going on here?” a gold-shield officer called up the steps….”You,” he called, pointing straight at me.

“We’ve…we’ve been clearing the sidewalk of a lot of junk,” I called, tense inside….

“You mean you’re interfering with an eviction,” he called, starting through the crowd.

“He ain’t doing nothing,” a woman called from behind me.

I looked around, the steps behind were filled with those who had been inside

“We’re all together,” someone called, as the crowd closed in.

“Clear the streets,” the officer ordered.

“That’s what we were doing,” someone called from back in the crowd.

“Mahoney!” he bellowed to another policeman, “send in a riot call!”

“What riot?” one of the white men called to him. “There’s no riot.”

“If I say there’s a riot, there’s a riot,” the officer said. “And what re you white people doing up here in Harlem?” (281-283)

My next folded corner was prompted by a theme that has interested me since I researched feminist theology in college: the theme of self-actualization or coming out–what W.E.B. DuBois called that “second self” and what feminist theologian Judith Plaskow termed “the yeah, yeah experience” of realizing that other women have had the same experience of difference that you have. This is a theme you may hear more about from me: I’m not only interested here in the overlap between of-color, queer, and feminist literatures and ways of thinking, but also of the more general notion that every fully human adult person has to undergo some sort of coming-into-coming-out experience. Here’s Ellison’s take:

And the obsession with my identity which I had developed in the factory hospital returned with a vengeance. Who was I, how had I come to be? Certainly I couldn’t help being different from when I left the campus; but now a new, painful, contradictory voice had grown up within me, and between its demands for revengeful action and Mary’s silent pressure I throbbed with guilt and puzzlement. I wanted peace and quiet, tranquillity, but was too much aboil inside. Somewhere beneath the load of the emotion-freezing ice which my life had conditioned my brain to produce, a spot of black anger glowed and threw off a hot red light of such intensity that had Lord Kelvin known of its existence, he would have had to revise his measurements. A remote explosion had occurred somewhere…and it had caused the ice cap to melt and shift the slightest bit….Only a drop, perhaps, but that drop was the first wave of the deluge. (259)

And this one, which reminded me of my abiding sense that more people are different than not, that minorities are a majority, that the queer, disabled, of color, female, poor of the world added together make many more than the various normals do:

Let’s get together, uncommon people. With both our eyes we may see what makes us so uncommon, we’ll see who makes us so uncommon! (344)

At the end of this speech, our protagonist adds:

I feel, I feel suddenly that I have become more human. Do you understand? More human. Not that I have become a man, for I was born a man. But that I am more human. I feel strong, I feel able to get things done! I feel that I can see sharp and clear and far down the dim corridor of history and in it I can hear the footsteps of militant fraternity!…With your eyes upon me I feel that I’ve found my true family! My true people! My true country! I am a new citizen of the country of your vision, a native of your fraternal land. (346)

Beautiful lines which harken to Ellison’s commitment, stated in his essays and especially in his comments that “”Richard Wright is no spiritual brother of mine” (I paraphrase, I think), to a humanity that is beyond race, that uses race only to transcend it. But our narrator’s later reflections belie the newness, the novelty, of this novel, and I marked them for my craft-lesson frustrations with them, for their belaboring an already-made point:

Words, phrases, skipped through my mind; I saw the blue haze again. What had I meant by saying that I had become “more human”? Was it a phrase that I had picked up from some preceding speaker, or a slip of the tongue? For a moment I thought of my grandfather and quickly dismissed him. What had an old slave to do with humanity? (354)

And here, a joy of novel-writing that no essay can ever accomplish: fiction’s distinct dialogism, its capacity for dialogue, for two modes of thought within one piece of prose:

“And you, mahn,” the Exhorter said, “a regl’lar little black devil! A godahm sly mongoose! Where you think you from, going with the white folks? I know, godahm; don’t I know it! You from down South! You from Trinidad! You from Barbados! Jamaica, South Africa, and the white mahn’s foot in your ass all the way to the hip. What you trying to deny by betrayin gthe black people? Why you fight against us? You young fellows. You young black men with plenty education; I been hearing your rabble rousing. Why you go over to the enslaver? What kind of education is that? What kind of black mahn is that who betray his own mama?” (371)

More on learning:

“You’ll learn,” he said. “You’ll learn and you’ll surrender yourself to it even under such conditions. Especially under such conditions; that’s its value. That makes it patience.”

“Yes, I guess I’m learning now,” I said. “Right now.”

“Brother, he said drily, “you have no idea how much you’re learning– Please sit down.”

“All right,” I said, sitting down again. “But while ignoring my personal education for a second I’d like you to remember that the people have little patience with us tehse days. We could use this time more profitably.” (465)

And later, the question of leader vs. leaderlessness returns when our hero faces his superiors:

“Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!”

“You’ve said that,” I said, “and that’s the one thing you can tell them yourself. Who are you, anyway, the great white father?”

“Not their father, their leader. And your leader. And don’t forget it.” (473)

A Genesis shout-out:

And back and high on the wall above him there arched the words in letters of gold: LET THERE BE LIGHT! The whole scene quivered vague and mysterious in the green light, then the door closed and the sound muted down. (498)

And a reminder of the book’s weighty, tangible use of symbols::

I took a cab. Hambro lived in the West Eighties, and once in the vestibuleI tucked the hat under my arm and put the glasses in my pocket along with Brother Tarp’s leg chain and Clifton’s doll [a mammy figurine]. My pocket was getting overloaded. (500)

And the boomerang comes back again:

It was a joke, an absurd joke. And now I looked around a corner of my mind and saw Jack and Norton and Emrson merge into one single white figure….I was simply a material, a natural resource to be used….I didn’t know what my grandfather had meant, but I was ready to test his advice. I’d overcome them with yeses, undermine them with grins, I’d agree them to death and destruction. Yes, and I’d let them swoller me until they vomited or burst wide open. Let them gag on what they refused to see. Let them chocke on it….would this be treachery? Did the word apply to an invisible man? (508-509)

And in anticipation of Lil Wayne…

“I would take up residence underground. The end was in the beginning.” (571)

So I’ll end with an epigraph I’ve used before, on Signifying, from Weezy:

I see the end in the beginning

So I’m not racing, I’m just sprinting

Cause I don’t wanna finish

They diminish, I replenish. (“Let the Beat Build, Tha Carter III)

These have been Notes on a Future Seminar Paper. Peace, y’all.

Week 2.1: Theses and Claims, or, Foregrounding our Conclusions

Now you want a photo, you already know though, You Only Live Once, that’s our motto, baby, YOLO, and we bout it e’ry day, e’ry day, e’ry day, I can’t see with all this looseleaf in the way:

LESSON PLAN

1. Logistics: books, blog issues, sign up for Google+, blog this week re: Code of the Street

2. Participation: what makes good participation? Reflective writing on past participation, goals

3. Framing: today is about making claims based on evidence. Drafting: sometimes we don’t know conclusions til the end of writing first “experimental” draft, in editing we put them back at the beginning.

4. Code of the Street: reactions? What claims does Anderson make? How does he get his evidence? As critical readers, our job will be to look out for how he analyzes his evidence and draws conclusions from it.

5. Mini essays: exchange with a partner, underline best moments of close reading; try to write 1 sentence that synthesizes those moments: a thesis!

6. Paper 1 assignment

NOTES

1. So Michigan has Gone Google, which makes some things confusing (like I have to sign out of my own Gmail account to get into any Umich sites) but other things possible (like switching from CTools forums to class blogs on Blogger). So I’m asking my students to register for Google + so that I can send them updates about notes on the blog, clarifying comments about homework, etc. So far I’ve found Google+ to be confusing looking and un-ideal, but at the same time I’m grateful for a social networking possibility that uses my University identity and not a non-professional one like Facebook.

2. This bit is on a tip I got from someone in our Writing Program, a potential first day of class activity that hopefully is a bit empowering and inclusive as well. I ask the students what constitutes good classroom participation, and tell them we’re going to make our own rules to govern what that means for us. So up on the board goes a nice list of tips about keeping the conversation moving, not making personal attacks, being focused. (Yesterday I also had to add: actually, actively participate!) Then I give everyone a moment to write these down, and ask them to consider these part of our course policies.

This is followed by our first reflective writing assignment of the course, which I remind them is supposed to make them better students and writers by keying us into our own strengths and struggles in learning and writing. So I ask the students to take 5 minutes to answer the questions, How have I participated in class in the past? Which aspects have been hard, and which have been easy? After a few minutes, I add: Please take a moment to write down just one goal to focus on in class participation this week only, today and at our next meeting.

3. Then I say today’s class is about making claims based on evidence. I offer this (confusing) analogy to the scientific method: you have a hypothesis (a hunch), you do some tests (write a draft), and by the end you know your conclusions (your claims). Except in writing, we edit so that our conclusions come at the beginning. Case in point: Anderson’s introduction.

4. Time to meet those new participation goals! For today folks read the preface and introduction to Code of the Street. Reactions? This was the first semester I asked students to read these early pages and I’m so glad they did, because a lot of students responded strongly to Anderson’s impressionistic walk “Down Germantown Avenue.” His careful tracing of changing race and class dynamics along a single street resonated with lots of folks who have a similar route at home–we heard lots yesterday about Detroit and some Brooklyn, too. Then I turn our attention to pp. 10-11 in the preface and discuss Anderson’s methodology, i.e., where does he get his evidence? and discuss what it might mean to be a participant-observer. And then we turn to pp. 32-34 in the introduction and consider some of his introductory claims about what the “code of the street” actually is–a code that uses violence and respect to govern inner-city residents’ behavior, whether they themselves are law-abiding or not. And I make a little note that our job as critical readers is to make sure Anderson has evidence to support these claims.

5. Then I ask students to find a partner and take out the mini essays they wrote for today, 2 pages that mega-close-read the titular phrase of either “We Don’t Care” or “All Falls Down.” First I asked how this experience was. Yesterday I was really glad to hear comments like, “At first I didn’t know what to say and I kept repeating myself, but then I found new things and I could have written even more.” Awesome. And I like to admit to them that this assignment was designed for a reason, to force them to stay with so few words and really dig in. (In previous semesters I just asked them to write a close reading of “All Falls Down” as a pre-write assignment, but this new version achieves the aim much better of forcing close, sustained reading.)

So, I ask students to exchange papers with a partner and to read this new essay looking for and underlining places where the author did their best close reading: places that make an interpretive claim about what work certain literary devices do. (So not just saying, “This is a simile,” but offering a hypothesis about what that simile achieves for the song.) After they do that for a while, I ask them to look for patterns in what their partner found in those underlined passages. Did the close reading keep returning to a theme?

I have the students show their partners where they did their best close reading–this is our first mini workshop and we’re keeping it positive. Then I ask them to hold on to their partner’s papers and, looking at all that great underlined close reading, try to write one sentence that synthesizes all the best analysis the author did. Look: you just wrote a great thesis statement. Then I solicit some volunteers and we think about those sentences together: getting more specific here, inserting the name of the song there, etc. etc. I tell them that one skill I hope they leave this class with at the end of the term is to be able to look at their own paper (or another’s, if they’re working as an editor), and say, What am I really arguing here? And slip that out and put it front and center as the opening thesis claim.

6. Paper 1 assignment. Sheesh, things are moving fast! Here it is:

Your first assignment asks you to use your close reading skills to analyze and make an argument about a single song. Please answer ONE of the following prompts in a 4-page essay.

1)    Use the rhetorical elements of argument, speaker, and audience to analyze the song “We Don’t Care.” Using lyrical and musical evidence from the song, make a specific, supported argument about Kanye West’s rhetorical style, message, or argumentative techniques in “We Don’t Care.”

2)    Consider the live version of “All Falls Down” on John Legend’s Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory album (posted on our blog). Make a specific, supported argument about how musical, lyrical, or spoken evidence from this song affects the argument West makes. (OPTIONAL: Compare the live version with the studio version of the song, and incorporate their difference into your argument.)

3)    “All Falls Down” is a highly narrative work, with characters, plot, and setting. Make a specific, supported argument that examines how West uses elements of narrative or story to make an argument in this song.

Essays should be as close to 4 pages as possible, double-spaced, and titled, with 1-inch margins and in Times New Roman. Treat the “first draft” like a final paper. Successful essays will zoom into specific elements of the song in question, not try to explain the whole thing, and will make specific claims that are supported by direct evidence from the song’s lyrics, music, or other vocals.

In the past, I only gave students option (2), but now with this big refocus on argument, I didn’t want to exclude the wonderful argumentation of “We Don’t Care.”

That’s all, folks. I gotta go teach this piece. Peace. -TB

Week 1.2: Beware of Framing

This is one of my busiest lesson plans of the semester, so let’s roll!

LESSON PLAN:

1. Logistics: blogs? books? use names

2. Argument reading: what is argument? types of arguments? this class has an organic approach to argument with our texts as our textbooks; introduce the rhetorical triangle

3. Thoughts on The College Dropout? themes? value of the interludes? did you look at lyrics–why or why not? themes resonate with you? what arguments did Kanye make?

4. High school flashback: what did you look for in a close reading/literary analysis? Put literary techniques on the board. Introduce idea of author’s intention as the basis for close reading. Doing work – making an argument

5. Listen to “We Don’t Care.” Groups of 3 each close read a verse apiece; afterwards, share what they found. Speculate on the how: the little choices that create a big effect. (If there’s time, as a class, consider the rhetorical stance of the chorus.)

NOTES

1. Since this is just the second class, there’s always new students, people having trouble with buying books or access to the blog, etc. It always bums me out that some students tend to miss this class session, which is really important. But what can you do?

This is also a time for me to remind folks to say their names when they contribute something to class discussion, and to use their classmates’ names if they refer to them during conversation. So that later, when Kenny is like, “Yeah, I agree with what he just said,” I go, “Who?” and Kenny squints across the room and says, “Uh, what’s your name again?” and Stan is like, “Stan,” and Kenny says, “What Stan said before, about…”

2. I gave the class a short reading for today which introduces argument as essentially the statement of an opinion followed by reasons for holding said opinion. So I just want to make sure they read that and understood it, and draw their attention to the fact that this term “argument” is just a new word for a structure they already knew: a thesis with supporting evidence or justification or whatever their high school English teacher called it.

Then I tell them that in this class we’re not going to use a rhetoric textbook because I find them pretty boring, but instead we’ll use our authors as our master rhetoricians–Kanye West, Elijah Anderson, James Cone, Tricia Rose, Chinua Achebe, George Orwell–and try to ape some of their techniques for our own writing. I also draw the rhetorical triangle on the board and tell them these three elements of argument are actually really prominent in Kanye’s songs: logos or argument; ethos or the qualifications of the speaker; and pathos or appeals to the audience. We don’t need to master the Latin terms but should keep our eyes peeled for how Kanye manages these three elements of his “rhetorical stance.”

3. Here’s where I say, “When I was in high school we called it a close reading when we’d look at a poem or a piece of prose and analyze it for literary elements. What did you call it?” And I hear, “Close reading, analysis, commentary,” etc. Then I ask what terms we’d look for, and I put them up on the board. You know the list: meter, rhyme, allusion, metaphor & simile, motifs, diction, structure, characters, setting, plot, alliteration, etc. There are usually way more than this up on the board when we’re done, and they function to plug students back into that high school English brainspace and also remind them that they know a lot of stuff.

A few of these terms I sort into another column to the right of those above: tone, message, emphasis, argument, themes, irony. I step aside so that everyone can see the list and I say, “When I was in high school, doing a great close reading was like a checklist: the more of these terms you identified, the better your essay was.” This got a lot of nods on Thursday. “But in college,” I continue, “it’s not enough to notice these things: we have to make an argument about them. See how I divided these terms into two categories? On the left we have all the small choices an author makes: word choice, alliteration, a metaphor, repeated symbols that create a motif. And on the left are the larger effects that these choices create: irony, themes, an argument. The small choices do work to create larger effects. So part of our job as college writers is to start to make arguments about the work an author’s choices do.”

Here I pause for questions. Some blank stares are ok, because these concepts are gonna come back to haunt us. I go on: “I also want to introduce the notion of an author’s intention: the idea that an artist makes choices that matter. This is really foundational to close reading, because the moment we deny an author or a hiphop artist her intention, close reading stops. We say, ‘It doesn’t matter that he says “we” instead of “they,” and so we stop digging into that language. So I want us to grant not only our authors but our rappers the faith that they chose their words and each word matters. Okay?” Mostly self-explanatory, but I’ll add that I think this disclaimer is especially imp0rtant in a hiphop classroom when so many extracurricular forces tell us everyday that rap is garbage and it’s not art. So even if students know each word matters in a poem, I like to remind them that this is still true for a rap song.

5. Split into groups of 3. I assign each group a verse of “We Don’t Care”–each verse will have 2 groups working on it, ideally across the room from each other. I tell them we’re going to listen and then each group will close read their verse, looking for these terms up on the board and starting to surmise about work. What word choice creates emphasis? How do certain characters elucidate a theme? Then we listen and they break into groups. I like to wander around, keeping folks on task. A lot of students do a great job getting the argument of the song, but have more trouble digging into actual words. So I ask them, what about that alliteration? What does that do? What about that repeated word? Is that significant? And encourage them to actually make marks on their papers. Underline. Circle. (Yesterday I used the phrase “break the seal” to some surprised laughter.)

When we’re done, we go through the verses as a class. I like that each verse had more than one group working on it. Students tend to think they exhausted a verse, but another group will invariably have found things they didn’t. So this reinforces the value and the potential depth of close reading, as does the fact that in ten or fifteen minutes they’ve only dealt with one verse, and there are two more plus a chorus. This is also an opportunity to push this “work” idea more. You found alliteration or a character? What does that do? Or you found a message? In which words or phrases do we see that effect created?

And if there’s time, which there wasn’t on Thursday, we can look at the rhetorical stance of the chorus as a class:

Drug dealin’ just to get by, stackin money till it get sky high (kids sing, kids sing)

We wasn’t ‘sposed to make it past 25, joke’s on you we still alive

Throw your hands up in the sky and say, “We don’t care what people say.”

Who’s “we”? Who’s “you”? Do they really not “care what people say”?

Finally, homework, which is a pre-write assignment for the first paper: write 2 typed, double-spaced pages on the title of either “We Don’t Care” or “All Falls Down”: say everything you can possibly say about those three words, what they mean, why they’re used. (In the past, I had students write a “close reading” of a whole song, but I hope that focusing them on the title will push attention to language and word choice. We’ll see on Tuesday!)

That’s all, folks! See you soon.

Week 1.1: Hi, I Just Met You, Welcome to College

Well, yesterday was the first day of school, and of course I kept thinking about this Onion article.

The first day of school also demands my first what-did-I-do-today lesson plan. Faced with it, I’m a little nervous and embarrassed. Blog my lesson plans? For god sake’s, why? Right now my lesson plans are on endless piles of looseleaf–each semester, I find myself recopying almost identical lesson plans from the semester before. But I think writing it out helps me study it. (Did you ever have a teacher who let you bring one cheat sheet into an exam? And after making said cheat sheet, you discovered you didn’t need it anymore?) Anyway, I had better settle on a format. I think I’m going to write out the lesson plan–i.e., what I have written on this piece of paper–first, then make comments on it afterwards. That way, if you or I want to use these lesson plans, you or I can just look at them here instead of wading through a pile of prose.

On a related note, yesterday I found myself humming a little ditty: If I had an iPad, I would use it in the mo-or-ning. I would use it in the evening, all over this la-and! I’d tweet about justice (justice!) I’d lesson plan freedom (freedom!) … you get the point.

OK, here goes.

1. Welcome! Michigan time, quick attendance+nicknames

2. Introductions – name, hometown, where you write the most (journal, class, facebook, texting, etc.)

3. Syllabus– why Kanye, why books, why blogs, why write, why reflect

4. Homework- for Thursday listen to the whole College Dropout; read short arguments article; accept blog author e-mail

5. Discuss in small groups: What was good writing in HS? What do you expect it to be in college? –> come back together, put ideas on board

6. Final notes: our job is to transition HS writing skills to college; my job is to take the skills you already have and make them more flexible, dynamic, and independent.

NOTES:

1. always awkward, but what can you do

2. The “where you write the most” bit is a little idea I picked up from new media pedagogy. The hope here is to remind students–many of whom say they write the most on Facebook or Twitter or via text–that in their real lives they actually write all the time. Ideally this will also make them think this class could help them with skills they’ll use no matter what they do, because written communication is a huge part of modern life.

3. You can read my whole syllabus by clicking on the link above. You are welcome, with credit, to use parts or all of it in your own teaching. My goal in writing a syllabus is to create a totally self-explanatory document. That begs the question of what I’m even needed for, but we’ll save those existential questions for another day. I like to give students those “why’s” (even though I see now I forgot a bunch of them yesterday–but I’ll remember for my second section today!) Kanye because he’s thematically rich, his focus on college is relevant, he’s not too violent; writing because you’ll do it all the dingdang time in college and forever after; books (and I show them our course books and describe them each a little bit) because I think it aids research skills to get comfortable handling a book in all its indexed and Table-of-Contents’ed glory; and blogs and reflecting to keep you aware of what you’re learning, to help you process what you’re reading and writing, to keep your reflections somewhere they can’t get lost; and because the U of M English Department thinks reflecting helps students become aware of strengths and struggles, and helps their writing skills transfer to other writing situations outside this class.

4. I love giving this homework assignment. It brings Kanye into our academic space plus it’s a place I know I can make a dumb joke: that “study setting” doesn’t mean put the album on while you’re chatting with your roommate, or partying with your neighbors from down the hall. (Ok, doesn’t sound so funny here, but it’s in the delivery.) The arguments article is just the introduction from a reader by Crusius and Channel, The Aims of Argument. This is actually the first semester I’ve used any rhetoric texts in my class at all. In fact it was thinking about my PhD applications and the other course I teach, Hiphop Arguments, that made me realize how many rap songs are sophisticated rhetorical texts. Last year I would just give a confusing shpiel about the rhetorical triangle, but that does a disservice to the rhetorical tools Kanye uses like tripartite structure, appeals to emotion, his sophisticated (if you want to call it that) awareness of himself as speaker and of his audiences and his arguments. Ergo, new reading assignment. Also re: the “blog email” part–U of M has recently “gone Google.” So things I used to do on CTools forums, like weekly reading responses, I am now doing on Blogger. For privacy reasons I’ve chosen to begin the term with this blog as private, but if my students decide to make it public later in the term I’ll let you know.

5. Love small groups. I am very invested in my students knowing each other’s names, which starts now. This conversation tries to plug them in to all they learned in the past and to alert them that their classmates share their apprehensions about this whole “college writing” thing. Yesterday my students came up with a pretty representative list: HS writing was about structure and flow, prompts, big vocabularies, thesis statements, while college writing is going to be more specific, original, voice-driven, independent.

6. With that list on the board, I like to point back to thesis statements and structure and let my students know those are still important to college writing, we’re just going to help them become more flexible, for different and longer arguments. And I also point to vocabulary and let my students know that while big buzzwords may have been good for the SAT, here we’re more concerned with clarity of ideas. And finally that word FLOW. In our class, flow is how a rapper raps. In high school we learn to use this vague term flow to describe a sense of “it’s working,” but the term is vague–so we’re going to try to be precise with our language: rappers have flow but as writers we’ll have transitions, development, etc. And maybe we can reappropriate this term for ourselves later in the semester.

And that’s all, folks! Come see me if you’re on the waitlist!

As We Proceed….to Give You What You Need… (Here, Have My Course Materials)

Wassup, fools! It’s Labor Day Weekend, the annual last weekend of summer when a lot of people are on vacation but I am at my desk, editing syllabi for a new calendar year.

When I started teaching “College Writing on The College Dropout” two years ago, I was an MFA student with a simple purpose in mind: to make sure the required freshman writing class I taught would be more enjoyable than the one I took when I was a freshman, which I hated. And from the moment I started teaching, it was clear to me that this was something I’d have to write about.

That first semester teaching was Fall 2010; the following summer, I did some research for the English Department on the subject of reflective writing. Among our research team, my subfocus was new media, and blogs were a large part of my research. In fact, blogs have tons of reflective writing applications. They archive student writings for future study. They foster a writer’s awareness of their audience. And that pithy-casual blog tone we all know so well  actually helps young academic writers break out of an academic register and let their own voices and experiences come into play. But one of the most important things I remember reading (in Will Richardson’s wonderful Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful Web tools for the Classroom) was that to teach effectively using blogs, you needed to know what it was like to have a blog. If we in the English Department were so sure reflecting on writing made students better writers, wouldn’t it behoove me as a teacher to reflect on teaching?

(Full disclosure: Around this time, I told a friend I wanted to write a book of essays on hiphop. She said, “Why wait for a book deal? Go start a blog.”)

Dali’s “Metamorphosis of Narcissus”

That December, about eight months ago, I started writing this thing, and it has been wonderful–a place to reflect on rap, on teaching, on pop culture. Indeed, I like this stuff so much I’m about ready to go back to school for it. So, in the interest of my future research and remembrance of times past, I’m going to try something new this semester: starting on Tuesday, I’m going to post all my lesson plans and course materials up here. If you’re a writing teacher, feel free to ape (with credit to me, please). This new initiative is inspired as much by the principles of transparency, crowdsourcing, and remix as by my own personal interest in recording and reflecting on my lesson plans. Heck, my course already makes use of free, online materials like song lyrics, music videos, and other blogs and periodicals. I’ve spent a lot of time honing this freshman writing course, but that only makes me want to share it with you. If you want to teach “College Writing on The College Dropout,” please be my welcome guest. (Heck, if you want to take this class along with us, please do! Though I won’t grade your papers–I have enough of those already.) If you have thoughts or comments on my lesson plans, I can’t wait to hear them. If you’re my former student, the time is ripe for your revenge: tell me (and the world!) if this stuff actually worked. In the process, I hope to learn more about my teaching style, to remember those little lessons we learn every day but too often forget, and to give a lil’ sumt’n back to this hiphop universe that has given me so much.

More soon, friends. Til then, happy Labor Day. -T.