‘Refugee’ Revisited: Rio 2016


Image Credit: Kirilos via Flickr

The Olympics aspire to inspire. This year, nothing has captured that spirit more than the standing ovation received by the first Refugee Olympic team at the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One team member in particular, 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, captured the world’s attention through her story of having pushed a sinking dinghy to shore, saving 20 lives as she and her family fled Syria.

Through all the (indisputably worthy) praise for Mardini and the rest of the team, less energy has been invested in exploring the conditions that engineered such a team into existence.

International policies are accountable for forcing these athletes, and countless others, into refugee status. These policies were enacted by many of the same countries whose athletes paraded alongside the refugee team. The same culpability resides with transnational bodies such as the International Olympic Committee: How do we, for example, reconcile the paradox of welcoming a refugee team during an event responsible for displacing 77,000 more?

A partial answer comes in recognizing that “refugee” is not a nationality, a flag by which to march under, but a status we as a global community have forced upon these individuals. Continue reading

Analyzing the Inexplicable



A Columbine reference eerily appears in today’s class reading.

We’re discussing how to teach analytical writing—going beyond recounting, adding original, evidence-based conclusions that inform, uncover, and expand our own thinking, and hopefully public discourse.

The book’s author, Kelly Gallagher, uses Dave Cullen’s 2009 account of the Columbine massacre as an exemplar for his students, illustrating how the author “moved past simply telling what happened by delving into why the tragedy unfolded the way it did.”

He goes on to note how the shock-jock reporting and lack of rigorous analysis that followed the shooting has led to years of misconceptions about the tragedy, its perpetrators, and its causes.

The next few days will do the same. Teachers, writers—this is why we exist. How could any of us teach about anything else today?

Please see the following resources on addressing the Orlando tragedy at your school.

– A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope

– How to Discuss National Tragedies with Kids

– Addressing the Orlando Shooting at Your School

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Political Correctness and the “War on Free Speech”


Image Credit: Rebecca Barray, via Flickr

Political Diatribe. Trigger warnings. Microaggressions. Victimhood culture.

Being politically correct, or “PC,” has been all over the media this year. Some say this is the mark of a more conscientious and inclusive society, while others say we’ve gotten “too sensitive.” According to one recent presidential candidate, political correctness is literally “killing people.”

But what does being PC even mean? Merriam-Webster will tell you it’s about avoiding language “perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which all sounds well and good. So why the dramatic outcry over a basic politeness virtue we teach kindergarteners every day?

The backlash usually arises when someone is called out for not being PC. In general, no one likes to have their language corrected. If someone points out a mistake in grammar or pronunciation (cue Chris discovering there’s no “x” in espresso), we’re briefly embarrassed, but we move past it. But if someone gets called out for being “un-PC,” prepare for words to fly.

So what is it that makes this correction strike so much deeper? Clearly, it’s something that goes beyond the words or “corrections” themselves to tap into dynamics of language and power. Continue reading

No-Nonsense Teaching and Narratives of Enslavement

Just. Say. Sit Down—his voice buzzed into my earpiece—Stop saying ‘Please.’

No, I was never in the secret service. This was a teacher training program. From the back of my classroom, my “real-time coach” whispered into a microphone, a notebook covering his face so students couldn’t hear. If it sounds like a bizarre setup, it was. While it’s always helpful to have another set of eyes on the room, this coaching was directed at reforming my language. Yes, I suffered from a particular linguistic afflictionone that was ostensibly leading to noncompliance in my classroom: my propensity for “permission seeking language.” I asked too many questions, made requests instead of commands, and had the gall to say “please” and “thank you” to the students in my classroom.

No-Nonsense Teaching

A recent NPR article outlined the increasingly popular “No-Nonsense” teaching method. In this approach, teachers manage their classrooms through explicit directives, minimal praise, and 100% compliance. To. The. Letter.

“Your pencil is in your hand. Your voice is on zero. If you got the problem correct, you’re following along and checking off the answer. If you got the problem incorrect, you are erasing it and correcting it on your paper.”

The piece calls the approach a “unique teaching method [that] empowers teachers to stop behavior problems before they begin.”

But last week, the NYTimes released footage of a teacher at Success Academy, a No-Nonsense charter network, berating a 1st grade classroom for struggling with math. Continue reading

Why Grad Students (or Anyone) Should Blog


This blog started out as an experiment. As I said in the beginning, I wasn’t sure what it would become. A conversation starter? A forum for advice I never got? A way to carry on the blog-honored tradition of public ranting?

The truth is, it has turned into something else entirely. I started the blog the same month I started grad school. Some—including myself—wondered if blogging was the best use of a grad student’s minimal spare time. However, I can now say it has absolutely been worth it.

So here are 7 reasons why grad students (or anyone) should blog:

1. It’s the foundation of a writing habit.

Every book of writing advice I’ve read repeats the same refrain: The key to writing is to make a schedule, stick to it, and protect it like gold. Writing is less about being struck by moments of grand inspiration or “binge writing” when deadlines come near; it’s sitting down and plugging away, day after day. Whether it’s a certain number of minutes, words, or pages, productive writers set schedules. And. Just. Write.

Blogging is an experiment in finding a writing habit that works for you. Keep track of your writing in a simple notebook or Excel file. What times of the day are you at your best? What helps you stick to a schedule? What gets you off track? Do you prefer to write in short, 25 minute bursts or longer blocks of time?  If it’s the latter, is that an excuse to procrastinate until you have a mythical block of uninterrupted time (I know because it’s me). If so, can you train yourself to write in shorter blocks?

So rather than thinking “I don’t have time to start a blog,” the truth is you don’t have time not to get yourself on a writing schedule. The consistency of a blog can help with that. Once you’re on a writing schedule, you will actually get all of your academic and professional writing done much faster. Seriously, you’ll meet deadlines. You’ll even run out of projects to work on (hence the blog to keep you going). Continue reading

2015: A Year of Word Revolutions


Image credit: Mamojo via Flickr

2015 was a rough year on many fronts. Dave Barry’s Year in Review humorously dubbed this year “the worst year ever” competing only with the bubonic plague epidemic of 1347.

But from the ashes of adversity, heroes are born, and this year those heroes seem to be words—or, at the very least, our thoughts about the words we use. 2015 was a year in which we brought many commonly used words into question. Here are a few of these word revolutions of 2015.

Emoji—We have to start out with the big one. Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year was… not a word. It was a delightful, multitalented emoji.


Talk about a representation of 2015: Is he laughing? Is he crying? Is he a he in the first place? The possibilities are endless. And so are the opportunities this opens up for the use of symbols in written English. I, for one, can’t wait to someday end an academic paper with 🙏💅💁💣💥🎉🎉🎉. Continue reading

Writers’ Block? Just Write.

Image credit: Drew Coffman, flickr

Image credit: Drew Coffman, flickr

“I realized that if I wasn’t writing, I could no longer call myself a writer.”

This quote came from an aspiring author who had recently suffered a long stretch of writers’ block (we’re talking months here). How did she cure this chronic ailment? Well… She wrote. Nothing good for a long while, according to her, but she wrote, and eventually regained her voice, as well her identity as a writer.

Writers’ block can strike out of nowhere. But what if this dreaded affliction is less of an actual condition and more of a mistaken view of the writing process? Here’s the issue: Most of us think we need to know what to write before we write it. But what if it’s the other way around? What if the very act of writing unlocks what we want to say? According to sociologist Kristin Luker,

“Someone once asked Balzac, who supported himself by writing reviews of plays, how he liked a play he had just seen. ‘How should I know?’ he is reported to have answered. ‘I haven’t written the review yet!'” Continue reading