So, how does this school really work?

After yesterday’s discussion about the Caste system in school, I whipped up a little handout to help the kids get their ideas flowing and in order about how the actual Caste systems that work in our schools.

See, the kids told me yesterday about all the secret societal levels that happen in and around the school, and they started talking about the rules associated with each level — styles of dress, types of acceptable behavior, the odd prison-esque rule system about where you can and cannot sit in the cafeteria, and the rituals of dating between caste levels. It was really interesting stuff, and I thought we could take it further.

In the handout, the students are asked to create a caste system for school — they can choose to outline the actual systems they see in action, or they can write about a system they’d like to see in place. No matter what, they have to write an essay. But the beauty of the handout is that I ask so many questions about the caste system that, if they answer each question, they’ll end up writing an essay. It’s a directed writing assignment, but at least it gets them thinking. If there’s anything they have to come up with on their own it’s the Thesis Statement and the Transition Sentences between paragraphs. (But once they outline the levels in their systems, the students will have created a roadmap for meeting both those goals.)

STORY-TELLING and legends in primitive societies

he story-telling and myths seems to be at the front of our Internet civilisation. But Ethnological researchs tell us that primitive societies use to it very well !

Exemple, The Maya Indians of Southern Yucatan in century’s 19 :

STORY-TELLING

 When the Indian has returned from a hunting or fishing expedition he delights in giving a most detailed account of everything he noticed in the course of the day, even if nothing out of the ordinary occured. He will give all the particulars regarding the game he saws, and relate in a most tedious manner how he succeeded

LEGEND

.-On the left bank of Rio Coco, near the
present settlement of Saulala, there used to live a subtribut of either
Miskito or Sumu.°° Having once killed a great number of wiswis birds, they become known by the latter name. They refused to pay tribute to the king, and for that reason the latter treated them cruelly, and had them whipped frequently.

One day, while they were out hunting, they killed a number of wild hogs (wart), and cut some withes of a variety called dar, in order to tie the legs of the animals together and secure the latter on their backs.
As soon as they had fastened the withes they could not see the pec-caries any longer, although they were able to smell and to feel them. One of them then untied the withes and immediately the animals
became visible again. This Indian then tied one of the withes round his own neck, where upon his companions could not see him any longer. They now realized that the dar withe has the property of rendering invisible anything tied with it.

GPS Phones to Enhance Social Networking Experience

The quest of mobile phone companies to develop more GPS-enabled handsets might even benefit different social networking Web sites. According to Reuters, global positioning chips will evolve from simply giving directions to locating friends and even meet new people.

Based on a market research, 25% of mobile phones in 2010 will have a built-in GPS. However, some experts remain pessimistic about the seamless integration of mobile phone and GPS in the immediate future.

Combined with mobile Internet access, GPS (global positioning system) is seen in the industry as adding a new dimension to social networking that could also have implications for the media business.

Once people can physically find those they want to more easily — as long as those others want to be found — it can enhance the establishment of growing Internet social networks such as News Corp.’s MySpace site.

The Caste System in School 4

It was mesmerizing, and I turned it into an assignment. Looks something like this :

  • Create a Caste System for school.

  • Must be five levels (like the Hindu Caste System).

    • Name each level, but do not include names of students.

    • Describe each level — what do these people look like?

    • Outline the rules and regulations for each level — can people move back and forth or up and down in your caste system?

    • 5 sentences for each level.

  • Include an introduction and a conclusion.

Originally, I had three different assignments for the students to complete (they got to choose one that interested them), but once this idea sprang up, I think it’s the real way to go. I’m going to trash the original stuff and let the students work on this, because it’ll be interesting to see how the kids see themselves, and how they see the school working.

Maybe I’ll find a way to make it work in a multigenre context (read : The Caste System in School 2) — so that kids can bring in evidence and articles and present their findings in a visual way but also keep in with the workings of an essay. They’ll have to find a way to introduce their caste, describe each level and then conclude, but to do it all with cards or items or poetry, etc.

And this is why kids constantly impress me — their understanding of something gets me excited and helps me find a new way for them to accomplish the tasks I’m required to teach. I wish school worked like this more often, because I like being excited about them, and I like them finding ways to connect themselves to the work we do in class.

The Caste System in School 3

We even had a conversation about how many of our real life problems could be solved (read : The Caste System in School) — that there would be less fighting, and less corruption — if we actually sat down and had a conversation once in a while.

“I mean, look,” said one student in class. “The boy and the girl in the ‘Checkouts’ story totally could have fallen in love, but they were afraid of moving too far from their caste, and so they just gave up and went the easy way. And then in ‘Born Worker’ Jose totally got jacked because he let Arnie take all the credit when he should have, like, kicked him in the nuts and said: ‘He’s totally lying to you, I’m the one who save that old guy!’ And then there’s the two kids in ‘Oranges’ who come out good in the end, and nothing goes wrong ’cause they atually told each other what they wanted from each other.”

She wanted chocolate, and he wanted a girlfriend, I said.

“Yeah. And then they got to make out probably.”

And what does everyone else get ?

“Screwed.”

Exactly.

And then I began to wonder out loud whether this type of stuff happens in school, and whether we have a caste system in school, and how that effects us, and the kids jumped all over that one. I can’t even begin to explain all the rules that got shouted out across the room and how the kids were arguing with each other over what the top level was at school (”Is it the jocks or the preps ?” “Aren’t they the same thing ?”), which was the bottom and how all those strata of kid-dom interact with each other.

A Bit of Technology, a Lot of Language

I appreciate the benefits of using technology in the language classroom. However, I don’t use technology for its own sake. Rather, there must be a strong linguistic purpose to support its use.

An opportunity to use music and technology to teach and reinforce language with my Twosies presented itself last week. The song I used is an authentic song, performed in Spanish by a group from Puerto Rico. Additionally, the song contains various reflexive verbs, which is the current grammar topic.

The students, donning headsets plugged into desktop computers, listened to the song. As they listened, they filled in the forms of the reflexive verbs they heard. The activity can be found here.

This activity worked for several reasons. First, the students were listening to a Spanish accent other than mine, which is a Puerto Rican accent. No matter how native-sounding I am, and I have been mistaken for a native Spanish speaker on numerous occasions, the students benefit from hearing Spanish being spoken by those for whom Spanish is their first language. Second, the students were exposed to cultural aspects of Puerto Rico via words and other artifacts in the song. Third, they had to recognize and supply the correct forms of the verbs they heard. Last, there was no fear of failure. If the students needed to hit the “replay” button, they could, and as many times as was necessary.

I will be using music and technology in similar ways in the weeks ahead.

I read Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas

Some time ago, I read Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas. I remember that upon finishing the book I felt compelled to: (1) thank the Almighty for allowing me to be born after the mid-century mark; (2) join an organization for women that supported the advancement of women in professions and equal pay for equal work; and (3) support those running for political office who profess an aversion for war.

Western countries have made a lot of progress since 1938, the year the book was originally published. No longer do women have to rely on charm to procure money from their fathers, brothers, and/or husbands. No longer is marriage the only “profession” open to women. No longer are women denied the opportunity to acquire an education. No longer are the opinions of women considered to be without value. We’ve come a long way! Bold, courageous, and visionary women were tireless in their efforts to secure human and constitutional rights, one-by-one, for us.

But as champions of capitalist systems and with income in our possession, have we lost as much as we’ve gained? Are we not like men who leave the house at dawn and return at nightfall? Have we little time to acquaint ourselves with our children? Has time for friendship, travel, and art nearly vanished? Don’t we too feel the itch of dog collars inscribed “For God and Country?” Are we leading lives and professing the same loyalties that professional men have professed for thousands of years (70)?

Are we leading lives of quiet desperation? (nod to Henry David Thoreau)

Yes, and it’s “so momentous an occasion in the history of civilization that some celebration seems called for (101)!”

Women who earn their livings posses the powerful weapon of independent opinion. With a mind of their own and a will of their own, women have the ability to influence society.

Woolf speaks of young women who passively absented themselves from church services. For years women had predominated congregations by a ratio of 75% to 25%, but the situation changed as the population of women students increased. “Among the student population the young women were, on the whole, farther away from the Church of England and the Christian faith than the young men (117-118).” By making their absence felt, these women made their presence become desirable (119).

What if all women in civilized countries absented themselves for a weekend – retreated to the wild and left society to itself? It’s fun to imagine the outcome. Could it be the catalyst that would finally move politicians, the majority whom are men, to write into law a benefit that women have been seeking for years – equal pay for equal work? Could women gain other benefits as well, such as stronger laws to protect them from abusers? What if women in backward countries, those where they are mere chattel, escaped to the wild? Would honor killings cease? Could they earn the right to uncover their heads? If we made our absence felt, would our presence become desirable?

The Caste System in School 2

Here’s what was impressive — most of my classes really seem to understand this stuff. they get it, and they point out the ridiculous behavior of these characters. Even more important is how they began to notice all the secret things authors do to explain the characters in these stories. For example :

  • In “Born Worker,” Soto tells us right off that our two characters are from different classes. He says it outright.

  • In “Oranges,” however, we have to look at the details –

    • He tells us the girl lives in a house, but he doesn’t say the boy does.

    • The girl is wearing gloves in the middle of the winter, but the boy doesn’t have any.

    • He shows us how much change the boy has in his pockets.

    • He makes them walk through a used car lot.

    • He makes the boy carry his food with him.

  • And in “Checkouts,” Rylant does the same sort of things. We learn more about the characters by what isn’t said about them:

    • The girl and the bagboy never speak to one another.

    • She lives in a house with beveled windows and several porches.

    • He wears no socks, tattered shoes, touseled hair, and can’t seem to keep his collar straightened.

    • Eventually, she seeks out a boy “down the street” (meaning, in her same nice neighborhood).

    • That new guy is also “intelligent” (a slight hint that the idea that college is for the upper crust).

    • And the boy goes off in search of girls at the local bookstore (A hint that he’s looking to move up the ladder).

The kids picked up on all these details, compared and contrasted the characters from all three texts and then moved forward with a discussion about what would have happened in each story if things turned out differently.

The Caste System in School

As much as I complain about my students, they really surprise me, and today we took that Marxism discussion even further as we compared the characters in three textx by talking about how their class levels influence their actions.

The first story is Born Worker, by Gary Soto, where we meet young Jose and his cousin Arnie. Jose is poor and Arnie is middle class and the rich cousin talks the poor cousin into a get-rich-quick scheme that will inevitably leave Arnie on top. As the story progresses we fall in love with Jose who is a strong worker, takes pride in his work, and who does Arnie’s jobs without complaint. Arnie, on the other hand, is lazy and mopes around complaining about the work while doing nothing. In the end, one of their jobs leaves an old man hurt and bleeding and Jose saves the day, but when the cops show up Arnie takes all the credit, and Jose walks away without saying a word because he knows he’s stuck in his class level and can never move out.

It’s fitting Jose feels this way because that’s how the caste system (the kids described earlier) works, and it’s often how real life turns out. The people who make themselves look important are the people who excel in life. Those who do all the grunt work do so without complaint, and are often left in the dust.

Then we read the poem “Oranges”, also by Gary Soto, where we meet a boy and a girl, both from different backgrounds and yet they make it work. They don’t succumb to the pressures of others to fit within their classes; they just igfnore all that stuff and go for love instead.

And we finally finished with a reading of the short story “Checkouts”, by Cynthia Rylant, about a rich girl who moves to a new town and falls in love with the local bagboy at the grocery store. Again, we’re confronted with kids from different class levels, but this time love does not win out. As a matter of fact, we notice that the girl chooses her class level over love, while the boy searches furtively to move up the social ladder.

Where are the disruptors ?

It’s a real challenge to locate people who don’t follow established norms and are experimenting with models that don’t fit traditional benchmarks for success in research or teaching. This is true for any field, not just science. Fortunately the blogosphere is creating its own subculture. Some of the disruptors are active and influential enough to locate through search engines, social networking sites, and conference programming. Also there is a growing alternative conference environment, with Science Online 2011 a great example of using the traditi0nal professional meeting as a springboard for discussion about new communication and research models.

But let’s say you want to make a profession out of disruption (as least as a communication and/or research model). Where should you go? What kinds of campuses are better at creating a culture of change? Where would you have the best chance of success?

One aspect of telling colleagues about changes in scholarly communication is that you have to show prestige, value, and permanence of a new method to convince people it’s worth doing. So part of my job is looking at what are perceived notions of excellence. What do rankings, evaluations, and membership information tell us about a place? A second part of my job is finding speakers to talk about this disruption – in academia, publishing, and research. I’ve found locating people the most challenging part. Getting them to speak, once I’ve found them, is not that difficult.

One discovery I’ve made is that the innovators (or at least many I’ve met so far in science) are not usually where you would expect them to be. They’re not at Harvard, or Yale, Berkeley or even many of the land grant universities in the Midwest. You would think, with all of the rhetoric about our best-funded universities being hotbeds of innovation in research ideas and productivity, that you’d see more people form there at meetings about open science, open access publishing, etc. With a few exceptions, this doesn’t appear to be true.

So I decided to look at this phenomenon in more detail. I wanted to compare some metrics about successful institutions in academia and see if there was a way to identify the disruptors from this data. So what kinds of lists in academia do many people look to for the best students, the best programs, high research productivity, and overall prestige of an institution?

It turns out there aren’t that many. I decided to use lists that were openly available to the public (which wasn’t too limiting), limited to the US (since international data on academia is pretty sparse) and limit to PhD/research universities, since the 4 and 2 year schools have less emphasis on research.

For the purposes of this experiment I limited my data to three sources:

  • US News and World Report Top National Universities (top 100 ranked institutions – this came to 104 total) – 2011 data
  • Association of American Universities Members (63 total, I omitted the any Canadian institutions on the list. There were only 2 so it was statistically insignificant.) – list available as of Jan 14, 2011
  • Association of Research Libraries Members (126 total but I omitted the Canadian institutions and non-profit organizations not a part of academia, such as the Library of Congress.) – list available as of Jan 14, 2011