Drawing a Line from Shays Rebellion to Civic Engagement

This morning, as part of an ever-expanding partnership connection between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, I am helping to facilitate a gathering of more than a dozen educators for the first of three sessions that centers on Shays Rebellion as a historical event, with resonance into the modern day of civic engagement, leading into student service-learning projects.

For this first session, our group is merely attending an all-day historical seminar at a Springfield college, with authors and historians exploring the impact of the post-Revolutionary War event here in Western Massachusetts in which a group of farmers and former solders rose up in arms against the ineptitude of the government, and demanded action to improve their lives.

This curated piece by the Massachusetts Historical Society — This Convulsed Commonwealth — is a good primer for Shays Rebellion, giving the reasons behind it, the ripples of fear it sent through the new US government, and the aftermath.

This Professional Development project is funded through generous support of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. The armory site was the scene of one of the most intense clashes of the rebellion, as the so-called rebels (they would have called themselves patriots) marched to the national armory, in hopes of breaking in and stealing arms and munitions to help their cause. They lost that battle.

Here is a look at what we can expect today:

The Final Fight at Sheffield – Tim Abbott, Regional Conservation Director, Housatonic Valley Association. Master’s Degree Clark University

Shays Kerfuffle: A Peoples Perspective – Daniel Bullen, Author. Ph.D. New York University

Archeology of the Shays Settlement – Stephen Butz. Author. Master’s Degree Cornell University

Three Men in Debt – Tom Goldscheider Farrier. Master’s Degree University of Massachusetts

More than a Little Rebellion – Barbara Mathews Director of Academic Programs Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. Ph.D. Brown University

The Contested Meanings of “Shays Rebellion Day” 1986 – Adam Tomasi Student Northeastern University. BA Wake Forest University.

Our aim with the PD is use the stories of Shay’s Rebellion with teachers to think about Civic Engagement (the buzz word in our state and elsewhere) in the classroom, and to help formulate plans for student service learning projects in their own communities. Not to foment a new rebellion, perhaps, but certainly, we will be talking about the movement for gun control and for the environment as examples of national and global student-led movements. We have guest speakers lined up as well as activities around writing and deeper learning.

In the week leading up to today’s Shays Seminar event, we have asked participants to do a little research on the people who involved in Shays Rebellion, and to narrow the focus on their stories. In a shared document, participants’ insights into the motivations and impact of actions of these people — some famous, but most of the figures chosen are common people, caught up in the movement on either side — have humanized a historical event.

I chose Jonathan Judd, who hailed from the town where I teach. Judd changed his position about the Rebellion, ending up supporting the suppression of the revolt. As I note, I’ve had some of his descendants as students, so I was curious to learn more about him.

I have had some students who are descendants of Jonathan Judd, of Southampton (where I teach and where the Judds are still prominent), so I was curious about this man. It’s interesting how he seemed to lean back towards the idea of the Monarch for at least lending stability to governance, in contrast to what he saw as mob rule with Shays. This led him to go to Springfield to protect the Supreme Court from the mob. I wonder if he ever changed his mind about the actions of the rebels?

Peace (past and present),
Kevin

PS — my fellow PD facilitators and I have grappled with how to spell Shay’s Rebellion, or Shays’ Rebellion, or Shays Rebellion. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes the difficulty in a common grammar.

The historical folks note:

Grammarians seem to be as divided over how to spell the possessive form of Daniel Shays’/Shays’s name as historians have been over the causes and consequences of “his” rebellion. The Chicago Manual of Style would make it “Shays’s,” but notes, “feelings on these matters sometimes run high.” The Massachusetts Historical Society library conforms to the spelling of Library of Congress subject headings, so has it, “Shays’ Rebellion,” but authors who have written about this topic are almost equally divided. An early history of Pelham, Massachusetts by Charles O. Parmenter gives us an alternative by referring to it as “The Shays Rebellion.”

Grapple Session: An Inquiry into AI and Ethics

Grapple Session One poemLast night, I joined an online gathering of folks in The Grapple Series, hosted by the National Writing Project’s Western Pennsylvania Writing Project and a group out of Carnegie Mellon called the CREATE Lab. This was the first of four scheduled sessions on AI and Ethics, and it was a fascinating start to the conversation and inquiry.

One of the guiding inquiry questions revolves around the dual wonder of whether we humans are making our machines more human or whether machines are humanizing us. Or some variation of that question. Essentially, it has us critically looking at the rise of AI in our society, and in education and writing. We were a mix of technology doubters and evangelists, I think, which made the discussion all the more richer.

If ever there was a time to pause and look more closely at Artificial Intelligence and humanity, now is the time. And for us teachers, this kind of inquiry is critical, not just for our profession (where Big Tech is pushing AI as the solution for problems of accountability and teaching time) but also for our students, and the social world they are inhabiting now and beyond.

I didn’t have this inquiry question formulated last night but it is starting to come together for me …

How do we teach students about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on our lives with the urgency of NOW, the present, as opposed to some futuristic notion of the Rise of Machines of science fiction?

We did a fun game of Bot or Not, that had us looking at poetry and trying to decide if it was created by human hand/mind/soul or a machine. I did a fair job, mostly through luck and instinct and not through any real insights I have in knowing what’s a bot or not with a piece of writing. (My morning poem, above, was inspired by further thinking this morning of last night’s session)

The hosts — Michelle King, Laura Roop, and Beatrice Dias — were fantastic, guiding the discussion and opening the Zoom space for conversations (which is difficult when you have a lot of people in the space). I’m looking forward to the next session, when the conversation will turn on Algorithms and Ethical Design (I think that was the title, but I could be wrong …)

Peace (in a human world),
Kevin

Six Years Later: Still Resonating with Rhizomagic

(Note: this art is created by using a Gephi visualization of early Rhizo posts on Facebook, according to Sarah, that I put into motion with an app called Pixaloop and then layered it on top of another image and filtered with another app called Fused. As Daniel notes, the constellation effect is a reminder that every dot in the image is a person or interaction. One one hand, circling a center seems against the Rhizome grain. On the other hand, the gathering effect seems metaphorical for the sense of shared community.)

Sarah Honeychurch shared the insight the other day that it was six year ago that a bunch of us joined Dave Cormier in a course-not-a-course called Rhizomatic Learning.

What participants called it was Rhizo14 (followed by 15 and 16 the next two years, if I remember correctly). Dave’s intent, in my interpretation of his intent (which may not be what he was actually intending — this aside is becoming its own textural rabbit hole … which, now that I think of it, seems appropriate to the context of Rhizomatic Learning … eh … ) was to look at learning and community from a different angle – not top down but bottom up; not centered, but dispersed — and the “course”  he offered was constructed on provocations on his part to get us thinking about educational practices and systems, including how a course might run without anyone running the course.

Dave, in the intro on the course site, wrote:

Rhizomatic Learning posits, among other things, that the community is the curriculum. That being able to participate with and among those people who are resident in a particular field is a primary goal of learning. In each of my classes the curriculum is, of course, filled with the ideas and connections that pre-exist in the field but the paths that are taken by the students are as individual as they are, and the path taken by the class is made up of the collected paths chosen by all the students, shaped by my influence as an instructor and the impact of those external nodes they manage to contact.

Cheating, Uncertainty, Community as Curriculum, Lurking as Agency, and more all forced us to consider our preconceived notions about the world we were living, teaching, writing, creating in. There was a hint of intentional anarchy in the whole thing, which freed us to follow our trains of thoughts where they would take us.

Some of us are using this opportunity in 2020 to think back on that gathering together — which led to all sorts of creative and analytical projects, and some of the folks are using that period of time to inform PHD programs and such. I know I met a handful of people through the Rhizo years who remain vitally important friends of my current networking adventures.

I remember diving into the Rhizo course without knowing much about what the concept of rhizomes really meant or how the concept might help me to learn, and help me to think about my own teaching practices. (To be frank, I’m still a bit befuddled by the term, particularly when discussion veers into the philosophical underpinnings —  via work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari).

I can say that I immediately appreciated the sort of open wonderment of it all — that while there were guiding questions, we were encouraged to take charge of our own learning, our own collaborations, and that this freed me to do poetry remix, explore different ways to write, riff off the work of others.

Going back to some of the old blog posts and bookmarked filed, it’s interesting to note how many platforms are now dead and gone from that time — some of the work, now long since disappeared, swallowed up by the death of platforms — but the learning itself remains, if not always solid in digital or paper format, at least it remains accessible in memories (and blog posts here, for me, where I often use blogging as curation).

The context of Rhizo is important — it was the time when universities and others were getting into MOOCs and codifying what was originally more open learning into modules and boxes, and those who first envisioned MOOCs (like Dave) were disappointed by this, I believe. The Rhizo years were a push-back on the commercialization of MOOCs.  Or that’s how I remember it.

There are many things from my participation in Rhizo that still resonate with me today, six years later, and that have certainly helped inform my participation and facilitation of such open projects as CLMOOC, Networked Narratives, Write Out, and more, where the concept of “community is the curriculum” is visible through intentional design to follow participants’ interests. I am also thinking of a project that I did in Rhizo called Steal This Poem, in which I wrote a poem about remix and encouraged others to remix the poem (and they did!). This kind of remix/collaboration/invite continues to this day on platforms like Mastodon, Yap.Net and more.

It wasn’t only Rhizo that planted the seeds. The Rhizo gatherings were an important part of my process to understand the possibilities, within constraints. That remains as relevant today as it was then.

Peace (seeds and roots),
Kevin

Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Video Game Projects 2020This is the time of year when I buckle down and spend time playing the original video game projects that my students have created for our Hero’s Quest project.

Their projects are built around story narrative that integrates a story frame in the design, building and publishing of a video game. Or, you could think of it as how a video game is really telling a story.

I have about 50 video game projects to wander through in Gamestar Mechanic, as I think about how well they did with game design, story development, writing mechanics and more.

Peace (clicking play),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Rain Reign

How can you not love Rose Howard, the protagonist of Ann Martin’s beautiful novel, Rain Reign? How can you not wonder at her voice, at how she sees the world through the lens of a young person with Asperger’s? How can you not obsess along with her on her quest to find homonyms as a way to make sense of language — her list is ever-growing and her discoveries are scenes of celebration — and the chaotic world? How can you not love her dog, Rain, and worry when Rain runs away in the hurricane raging outside?

You can’t, and you won’t.

Rose is such a unique character that her passions and her sense of justice and injustice guides the story forward, even as her father slowly comes apart, and Rose’s whole world spins out of control, the very last thing that we need to happen to Rose.

If you are a teacher, as I am, you know Rose. You know the single-minded sense of the world that some students bring to the classroom, and you know the struggles to help students like Rose grow and flourish, even when the unpredictability of the world comes crashing in on them.

Losing your dog is traumatic. Losing your dog in a storm, even more so. Losing your dog, knowing your own father might be the one responsible for the loss, is something Rose grapples with, confronts her exasperated and overwhelmed father with, never quite makes peace with, even when she does find her dog, Rain, and must make a moral decision about Rain.

There’s a lot left unsaid in this novel, about Rose’s mother (gone but not how Rose thought) and her father, a man not emotionally equipped to deal with a child with Asperger’s. There were moments when I was genuinely worried about Rose in the presence of her father. There were times when I wanted to give Rose a hug for all the baggage she carries with her and to bring her kind uncle to the scene to rescue her if I could not. Rose felt real in my mind and my heart, and what more can you say about a book, right?

Peace (rains and reigns),
Kevin

 

A Small Poem for MLK Day 2020

Make America Dream Again
Make America Dream Again flickr photo by Pictoscribe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Voices, echo

Words crawl inside
the collective mind,
a world yet to be turned
from such madness

of race and
division

for how shall we come together
and truly begin to see each other –
not beyond skin and history,
but somewhere within it?

Some men rise from ash
and assassination —
women do, too —
these fragile bonds
of possibilities linger
in the imagination as

Voices, echo

Peace (and progress),
Kevin

Video Game Design Project: Turning the Lens on Product Advertising

Game Project Advertising Posters 2020

We’re nearing the end of our Video Game Design unit, with most students now finished with designing, building and publishing their Hero’s Journey Video Game project in Gamestar Mechanic. I’ll be spending time in the next few weeks, playing their games to assess their storytelling prowess and design skills. (I’ll share some as I go along, too)

Another element of the game design project is to explore how advertising campaigns are used to sell products (this is one of part of many elements of writing assignments I weave into game design). We deconstruct advertising posters, and then, their task is to design and make their own posters for their own video game projects.

It’s a nice art diversion connected to critical literacies, to learn how to use loaded language, visuals to connect to audience, and informational text about a product. Hopefully, these activities will make them be more informed when they are targeted by companies for products.

Peace (draws your attention),
Kevin

WMWP: Takeaways After Reading ‘White Fragility’

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project leadership team is reading White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo and we will be having a book discussion next week, facilitated by one of our WMWP colleagues. It’s a book on my radar for some time because it has been mentioned so often in so many circles, so to read it knowing we will be discussing it together as a group of teachers is helpful. (DiAngelo, who is white, is a diversity trainer, brought into companies and organizations to confront racism and she brings many stories into the book of how difficult those conversations can be).

It became clear rather quickly that I am a target audience, all the way. White male. Living in a neighborhood that is predominantly white. Grew up in an apartment complex, predominantly white. I teach at a suburban school, predominantly white.

DiAngelo’s book frames such white experiences in a way that makes sense — once you let your defenses down — but it takes courage to step back and see it as it is. Even if we suggest we are open-minded and not racist, her message is that our culture is, inescapably, and therefore, we, the white population with much of the social power and financial capital, bring that history and those societal influences to the table with every single interaction we have.

I appreciated the various ways DiAngelo names these things, such as the defensive reactions that white people have when called out for saying something hurtful, or the excuses white progressives have for why they are not racists, or the way we use “color-blind” as our defense, or the various triggers for white people when race becomes a topic of conversation, and more.

Honestly, I started the book thinking, I won’t see much of myself in there. (And double-honest, this was not my first choice from our list of possible texts — I had hoped we would read the New York Times series about the start of slavery — The 1619 Project) I consider myself rather progressive. I am leader in WMWP, which espouses social justice and works race and equity into our programs. I teach my young white students to question the world. I run a diverse summer camp project in our large urban center. I have my own personal history, in which I was the only white soldier in a military platoon of black soldiers, the outsider for a long time. And on and on.

I was wrong. I saw myself all over the place in White Fragility.

This is her whole point.

If we don’t intentionally notice and own up to our views, we will never make progress, never take forward steps. She suggests that no white person will ever be free of racism — it’s engrained too deep in our society — but that we can make progress in addressing those issues, in making amends when we make mistakes, and in looking deeper at ourselves, not blaming others.

We live in a time — The Time of Trump — when the very issues that she writes about – defensiveness, blaming the other, turning racism around, ignoring the inequities, fear — seems to be on the front page, every day, either overtly or inferential, and on the political stage. with regularity. If Stephen Miller is whispering in your ear and if Breitbart is your alt-right source for news, then the world is skewed and will remain so.

But voting out Trump won’t change the racial currents of our country. Maybe some of DiAngelo’s suggestions can help make a different on a small scale, person to person, and that is ultimately where change can happen. Maybe it starts in our classrooms. Or so we can hope.

Peace (digs deep),
Kevin