Wednesday, September 19, 2007

welcome to the sMACdown

oh okay, you can... consider it a tease, so that you know what you're in for. everyone should come, our presentation is going to rock!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

virtual college and the digital divide

this is ms. yglesias, the tech coordinator at earhart middle school, and her thoughts on the digital divide.

i'm so proud of myself! it's been a tech-day, and i have great blogworthy things to say that are DIRECTLY relevant to technology in the school and in the students' lives. of course, since our digital divide "episode" is coming up on friday (you'll see and should come!), everything has been themed that as we put our presentation together and have an excellent time doing it. one interesting aspect from my research was a report published by the university of toronto which talks about the multiplicity of the divides and insists that "divide" should always be plural, as they are interconnected but have different elements. this is similar to the concept of multiple literacies that is always on the front burner of my brain, as both are often seen as singular and finite, but are both on a continuum. more thoughts on this on friday (stay tuned, insert shameless self-promotion here).

today in my placement was especially tech-shaped as i not only spent some time with ms. yglesias talking about such things, but we set up my gaggle account and on thursday i am going to help her set up the rest of my students' accounts. we also attempted to look at, but the site was down for maintenence, and even MORE exciting: my students are part of a pilot program with Wayne County Community College this semester. they are going to be taking an online college course (they're 8th graders!!) at WCCC and "become" virtual college students. mr. vasquez, the principal, emphasized the authenticity of this program by letting them know that we will be touring the campus, that they will receive ID cards and have access to the libraries and computer labs of WCCC. they will receive a syllabus and course-work that they must complete independently, first through their computer classes as part of the curriculum, but scaffolding them into doing some of the work at home. the class is called "career development and preparation 101" and the program consists of 3 middle school pilot groups in detroit.

and here's the real cool as hell thing. if they pass, they receive real college credit for taking the class. we filled out actual WCCC applications today with them in English class and had them write statements of purpose for the application. the program is designed to get the students interested in self-actualized learning and to show them that they can handle college-level work - it's just analytic, metacognitive thinking and self-direction.

the students were elated. they are so incredibly excited and said that they felt differently after we went back to 1st hour after the assembly. you could tell by the way that they carried themselves. mr. vasquez said to them "this is something that i believe you can do, and you can excel at. you're the first 8th graders in detroit to be college students! go home and tell your parents that you're a college student now and talk to them about this." it was adorable and you could see in their eyes that this was an opportunity that seemed surreal and strange to them. but the matter-of-fact approach that mr. v took and his enthusiasm spread from little giggles to wide-spread smiles on their faces by the end of the assembly.

i am soo excited to begin. and on a joking level, mr. vasquez (the principal) said "and for those of you lucky enough to have ms. fardig as your student teacher, now you can say to her, 'i'm on your level, man!'" they looked at me and i was like "it's true, you are!" i love my students more and more every day. and how ironic that on the day i come ready to discuss the digital divide, my students gain such a great technological opportunity seemingly out of the blue.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

9/11 - 6 years later.

6 year strut.
trying to make sense of what i saw and breathed, 6 years later.
(a work in progress, your comments and dialogue are much appreciated)

This will be the 6 year anniversary of September 11; it's on a Tuesday morning again and the weather in Detroit looks like it will mirror that bright and cloudless day. The only clouds we saw were the plumes of smoke encasing the city like the largest crime scene I've ever lived in. This year, I will spend it at school, but thinking deeply about what it all means now (as I do not only on the anniversaries, but frequently throughout my days), and not getting into the hype about record sales. Why do we always divert our attention from what's really important to the superficial media-fed story-of-right-now that no one will remember in a few years? I know that albums always drop on Tuesdays, but have some respect.

Here's some numbers I want to throw your way. 6 years later, 4 and 1/2 years of war against a shape-shifting enemy, nearly 3,000 civilians killed in New York, 3,761 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq (which was not the original location for our retaliation, but a secondary locale), 3,300 of which have been since the capture of Saddam Hussein. 78,065 Iraqi people have died and while there is some military effort to stop the killing of civilians there, we still cannot own up to calling them people. We call them casualities, unfortunate “inevitabilities” of our glorious attempt to “liberate” the people of Iraq from an awful regime. Because when our royal texas son of a leader is trying to redefine imperialism and domination through ballistic warfare, when there are two sides to a binary story and folks are misinformed by the media but convinced of our patriotic rightness and “their” dark and terrible wrongness, we continue to support this war through our own inaction.

While watching ‘Sicko’ a few months ago, my friends and I mourned the ability (or desire) for large-scale protests in America. Yes, there are tens of thousands of college-aged and left-wing radicals who do participate, who are going to marches in D.C. who were at the anti-WTO rallies in Seattle, who daily use direct action to make a difference and make people think. I am not trying to undermine the important work they do, but in a country of 300 million people, the proportion of active participants in public demonstrations are extremely small. Why don’t we? Do we feel so powerless that we have become wholly futilistic? Do we think that there are other ways to act and that large protests are meaningless? Do we just not care about anything outside of the health and well-being of our nuclear families?

6 years ago today, we were chalking the streets of the West Village with “do your own research on the wtc”, and “an eye for an eye makes us both blind”. We were marching against war in the streets for months, we were conducting teach-in’s about the history and beliefs of Islam in attempt to educate and reduce ignorant hate crimes in the city. There was an urgency to each move we made, and years later, I find myself disappointed in my own inability to stay active. Where has my own zeal gone? Do you realize the intense luxury in being able to be disconnected from the political sphere that implicitly affects your daily life? The technology of war has grown so that because we are not there, we are not inundated with its daily affects (with the exception of gas costs, economic depression, and general disgust with the U.S. when you travel abroad). This makes it all the easier for us to move about our lives concerned with our own needs and desires, and not with the well-being of others across the world, whose lives perish at our hands. There is blood on all of our hands.

See, here’s the thing I’ve always believed. Each human is connected through the commonalities of our struggles and hopes. We need basic things to survive, we strive to learn, grow and understand – even if only for communication’s sake and not for scholarly endeavors. We breathe, we have hearts that pump blood through us, we believe in family and the preservation of culture. We have evolved out of an oral tradition. We have always been able to heal ourselves and are resilient and tenacious creatures. What I’m so desperately trying to understand is a more broad question: how can we value ourselves over other people in the world? When a life stops, there is great loss, regardless of the dollars or debt that the person leaves behind. Regardless of national origin, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. Who dares to stay that one life is more important than another? Our department of state, our military and president. Despite the legacy of this being a country founded on freedom, it was never meant to be freedom for all – ultimately, that’s much too dangerous.

When I think of September 11, I have the experience of being there, of watching those boy twins burst into smoke and exhale their exhaustion all over us. It was a metaphor that my favorite hip-hop group, the Coup, had put on the cover of their album, “Party Music”, which was released the week before Sept 11th– alluding to the destruction of capitalism as a necessary catalyst to achieving equality this country. It was a grand collapse over a stunned city of survivors, and it was the first time that I went to sleep with tanks on the streets not knowing what the world would look like tomorrow outside my window. If I would be so fortunate to wake.

When I did wake, I found it incredibly devastating to see the missing posters, which were pasted on every available wall, scaffold, bulletin board and window at eye level. There was a vigil on Union Square, right across the street from my house, for two weeks solid, though many of us met there for months afterward to strategize. There, I experienced something so incongruous to many tales of visiting New York – human connection with strangers. We exchanged our stories, let each other know about upcoming events, protests, and volunteer opportunities, distributed fliers, wrote down messages to the lost, deceased and their families. We used the space as a center for trying to understand and make sense of this, tried to put everything into a historical perspective instead of joining the reactionary war-mongers, who seethed with their desire to initiate revenge upon whosoever was responsible, regardless of why it happened. Forging a community in the midst of loss, we worked to honor the loss and understand the causes – explicit and implicit. While Guiliani credits himself on creating this community for New Yorkers, he did not once visit Union Square to speak to us.

I don’t think of this experience as unique, in fact I file it with those of people all over the world who have witnessed massive tragedy or scales of violence. It is of particular interest to me that large-scale destruction and death, in its spectacular glory of explosion, seems to outrank slow-but-steady genocide. Hiroshima (70,000 dead), Nagasaki (40,000 dead) often eclipse the Holocaust (almost 6 million dead) in discussions of WWII, because of the awesome visual spectacle and introduction of nuclear force, as well as the element of immense shame involved in such mass genocide, in retrospect. There are people who still believe that the Holocaust never happened, because it is easier than admitting that their fathers and grandfathers participated. I also tend to align events of this magnitude with natural disasters – such as hurricane Katrina (which killed 1,900 people and displaced tens of thousands), and the tsunami in Indonesia (killed 186,983 people) – but as it is with natural disaster, there is no enemy to blame except for an angry earth who is watching how we destroy her.

Despite many conservative attempts to disprove conspiracy theory and a mainstream media gag-order on divergent points of view, I will always believe in the conspiracy theory that Sept. 11th was allowed to happen by the U.S. government because our president had planned to finish a war that his father could not finish; but needed public support in order to justify it. This is to say, I believe that intelligence knew and chose inaction, that the president wagered a few thousand lives being worth the advantages of access-by-force into the middle east. I don’t see a blatant disregard for human life being so out of the question with the current administration, and in fact, find it utterly crucial to think about who passed away as important to how American grief was collected into war support. What if the planes had struck the low-income housing projects that line the East River, housing almost 10,000 people? Would we, as a nation, have reacted the same way? Would we have jumped up to support a war on terrorism in their names, too? As evidenced by government reaction (or lack thereof) to hurricane Katrina, I feel confident in saying that the outcome would have been different if it was not middle-class white business people who were mostly affected by the World Trade Center, Pentagon and flight 93 hijackings.

Being in New York at the time, I have heard countless stories of people who were called and warned the week before, were told not to fly, not to be in the area by their government-employed friends and relatives who were breeching confidentiality in order to warn their loved ones. I have heard and seen evidence on both sides with regard to the attack on the pentagon (see this video: and also this article from time magazine:,9171,1531304-3,00.html ). Conservative theorists look to debunk the conspiracy theory based on “expert” opinion, usually provided by someone who is in some way connected to the FBI, CIA or current administration. The left often does not have enough information to support its claims, in part due to immediate confiscations of surveillance tapes and other evidence by the FBI, who were there within minutes to collect evidence from non-government owned local businesses for their investigation. While I think it’s important to understand and to have the American people know what really happened on that morning, I find these debates to be ego-bashing and -tripping more often than they are genuinely useful toward logical, fact-based assessment of the events.

I don’t even know how to move forward and conclude these thoughts. Rereading some of the things I wrote six years ago (, I realize that I’ve made a very conscious disconnect from a lot of the war coverage, in attempt to distinguish war-mongering from reality. I feel like I don’t know as much as I should right now and am quite tentatively going to publish this. But after years of processing, talking, dialoguing, commenting, re-illustrating, telling my story and listening as much as possible to the stories of others, I still believe that education for social justice is at the crux of trying to envision a world that rises above this madness and looks to value the lives of all people, not just those in power. Critically educating people to understand themselves as citizens who can have power and DO have power, in the face of a media that seeks to keep us pacified and unquestioning, is a liberatory and difficult stance to occupy.

What I know is that the depth and breadth of the patriot act, as well as the subsequent loss of our civil liberties are incredibly alarming. The argument that you must give up certain freedoms in order to eventually be free is akin to the logic that we are at war in order to preserve peace. The fact that we are setting up democracies in other countries, modeled after our own corrupt and fraught system is ludicrous. I have always highlighted the importance in continuing to do your own research about the history of the U.S.’ involvement in the middle east, and how it affects our political and economic interests there today. I urge you to begin making connections between your own life and some of these issues (war, terrorism, national security, diplomacy, imperialism, racism, religion, oil) as they do affect each of us.

There are many ways to get involved and better understand our post-s11 politics and the detrimental affect on our society as well as global culture and politics. I do not wish to be prescriptive, but rather ask you to locate an organization that interests you. I ask you to think of the importance of participating in your democracy, which is corrupt, but can still function if we believe in our own power and start using it. Vote in local elections, as well as presidential ones. And always, keep talking to one another, challenging, thinking and questioning. Critical inquiry is at the basis of change. And at the end of the day, I have to remember that change is very slow, but I believe that education is at the root of change, and this is where I will be working.

In solidarity,
Lauren Fardig

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

first day madness

disclaimer: tech related in part, but i'm also in need to process the first day of school. jeff and liz, this is a cross-posting. i don't have my field journal with me, so these reactions and observations are off the dome. drawing off of the "participant observation" article, i realize that the most difficult part of my ethnographic observations of my classroom will be to be mindful of the language i use when writing down field notes. i am a practiced ethnographer and have often noted differences in language due to my background in English, but it will be crucial to keep good verbatim records of what is said, instead of summarizing.

tou fue and i arrived 45 minutes early on the first day, as i know the tendency for things to go wrong, especially in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants district of Detroit, and we wanted to feel fully prepared for the day. both of us were wearing an earhart dark blue polo shirt and khaki's, it made me feel like we were part of the team. kitze and i received some of our class rosters last week, but found quickly that they were quite wrong, as half of the students in our homeroom were not in the right place. miss kitze appeared flustered as she was trying to figure out where the students were who were supposed to be here. we kept hearing announcements over the loudspeaker as to the locations of stray students and new students located in the cafeteria.

to assist in bringing order to the situation, i found myself trying to take over the administrative duties of filling out the scan sheets, taking attendance records down to the attendance office (met mr. sanchez and the whole staff there, too) as well as passing out pencils and forms to students, who diligently filled out the 6 different forms that the district requires of them for attendance and scheduling/counseling. miss kitze sent students out originally to try and locate students that should've been there, and asked about the whereabouts of each student she named. when she came across a familiar name or face, she always asked if they had a brother or sister, or if she had substitute taught them -- and in many cases, remembered the exact play, story or science lesson she was teaching when she met them.

i located myself at her desk, in the front corner of the classroom, and introduced myself to the homeroom as the student teacher for the whole year, that I was from U of M and that i would be here tuesdays and thursdays. given the chaos of the day, i decided that i would take a more observational stance but try to be helpful to ms. kitze as much as i could. the first question they asked me was whether or not i had a myspace account. i learned that the school system has a social networking site called "gaggle" and that there's also a computer program that many of them used last year called "accelerated reader" that i want to learn more about. i also heard the word "ATLAS" thrown around a lot, which is a district-wide professional development seminar/program that they're involved in, and must do more research on that.

the homeroom time that we spent together was spent on going over lunchroom procedures, locker procedures, reminding them about dress code -- i did not participate in most of this section, but noticed that our homeroom is quite talkative and seem to know each other quite well. i noticed that some students were not in dress code, but they have the first few weeks of school to "get into" dress code and can be provided with proper attire by a special program at the school if they cannot afford it. miss kitze told me between class changes that 100% of the students are below the poverty level in this school.

i took particular notice of locker assignments, which was one of the things that we did during lunch, before the students were called down to the lunchroom. the majority of homeroom divided themselves up into pairs for splitting up lockers, but i noticed that there were 5 students - serge, griselda and i have yet to learn the other 3's name - who didn't have partners and had to go out into the hall with kitze to be paired up. i noticed the way that serge looked at the floor the whole time. these students also were all seated at the back of the class and didn't seem to be interacting with the rest of the homeroom class with the vigor of the majority. kitze and i discussed this after class).

we then went to ms. brakefield's room down the hall for the ATLAS portion of the day -- which were activities designed to build school pride and community within the houses -- for instance, we're in house A and the teachers thought that it would be good to have the opening activity acquaint the students with the teachers in house A (even though we will not be teaching them), as well as giving us an idea of who the students are in house A, so that we can begin to get to know them. since each teacher MUST stand in the hallway right outside of their door between passing periods, the teachers want to know which students are supposed to be in the house and who isn't.

this is to be continued later... i must go to class, but here are some highlights -- after watching ms. kitze and ms. brakefield teach two sections of the activity about amelia earhart's life, i taught the final two... assessing KWL (prior Knowledge, Wonder/Want to know and Learned through the activity) before reading a page on her life and accomplishments. we asked the students to pull out two facts about her life and were interesting to them and also to define a few vocabulary words. each subject area (science, math, social studies) had their own related activity -- for instance, the math classes took at a look at angles of flight patterns and the science classes looked at directionality variables with paper planes).

there is much more to say about getting to know the students during lunch, and what happened after lunch when our real classes came for short sessions with us. class personalities and the differences between them are no joke!

anyhoo... this is just the beginning, it was a hectic day, but i loved every moment of the chaos, and ms. kitze responded by just laughing about it "what else can i do?" she asked. i need to break out the old ethnographical lens again. and learn that it's okay to be long-winded, i'll have a lot of "evidence" to sift through. ooh, and i want to talk about generational differences in technological know-how as i feel that i may become the tech expert of the classroom (there is a technology coordinator as well as a computer teacher -- the computer teacher is a mac specialist, mr. dominguez, and the tech specialist is ms. yglesias, i need to talk to her about the existence of a digital projector for my laptop, note to self).