Close reading, PBL, and tensions

A tension that has arisen often in conversations between my co-instructor and myself as we prepared for an upcoming course in life science, gender, and race, texts… – by tension I don’t mean something that is a disagreement or even something that has to be resolved, indeed perhaps the essence of co-teaching is that there are tensions to be played out in real time. The tension is that she understands that we cannot assign hundreds of pages to be read each week and still follow the project-based learning (PBL) process of the course, yet she knows how much her scholarship and her teaching revolves around very close reading of texts. Read more of this post

Non-equivalences in relation to racially charged killings

The morning news presents an equivalence – police feel worried after five police were killed by a sniper in Texas; African-Americans are scared and outraged at yet more instances of police killing of black people. In one sense, it should be straightforward to see that the equivalence is false. Read more of this post

How can we ensure that we notice that we needed to probe assumptions we didn’t notice ourselves making?

I have long had a sense that affirmative action (such as it is/was) has been interpreted so that every white person who missed out on a job knew that they would have got the job if a black person hadn’t been favored (said without any sense of the arithmetic problems involved).

In this climate, the Supreme court is about to rule on the University of Texas’s use of race as one factor among many when considering who to accept among those who did not make the cut via the “top 10% of high school graduates in Texas” criterion.  It turns out that if the person in whose name the case is being presented, Abigail Fisher, had “received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor,” she would still have missed out according to UT university officials (Nikole Hannah-Jones in ProPublica).

Let me confess, however, that I had assumed that anti-affirmative-action litigators had found a white person for the case who had grades and a profile that would have gotten her in if race had not added points to an applicant of color.  This is certainly what the media coverage suggested until Hannah-Jones’s article.  This leads me to the critical thinking question: How can we ensure that we notice that we needed to probe assumptions we didn’t notice ourselves making?

How did race play a role in the electoral swing from ’08 to ’10?: Some teachers’ ideas

How in our current teaching would we address the proposition that race played a significant role in the electoral swing from ’08 to ’10? This prompt was given on Nov. 3 to a faculty discussion group on “Who gets to use race–or stop using it–and at what cost?” (The proposition could have been one that a student makes and the teacher addresses or one that the teacher tries to flesh out.  The latter turned out to be the case. ) Participants spent 5-10 minutes making notes then took turns to present their ideas.

As will be evident, the approaches were diverse. The point of the post (and of the discussion) is not to say the ideas are right or well thought through.  What interests me in the context of the previous and next posts (on approaches to social theorizing that vary among different groupings, projects, and contexts, but are enactable) is the idea that this variety corresponds to the diversity of ways that race might play a role, varying from one person to the next and for any one person from one context to another. This contrasts with Big Claims, such as, persistent racism in the USA lies behind the opposition to Obama.  And it is not so vulnerable to quick rejection.

Participant 1, Social psychology shows infantilization by media.
P2. Figures on economic distribution. What do you feel about the election? What do you think about the election?

New Yorker article about the new Chinese head of World Bank cites, without comment, goal of the bank as to “combat poverty.”

How does fear prevent rational analysis (there are facts about what Obama admin. has done)?

Hero view of history -> disenchantment when hero doesn’t bring about change. Visuals of Tea Party.
P3. History points to a dialectic of backlash (e.g., after French revolution there were many years of conservative rule; after socialist election, explicitly racist Right won big).

What is said and not said (e.g., Don’t like Obama because he’s a socialist. Not: He’s black and I’m a racist).
P4. Foucault in Society must be Defended says discourses of communism have origins in racism. (Proudhon?)
P5. Robert Putnam (c. 2007) says greater diversity correlates with decline in civic participation and trust.

Construction of mutually exclusive interests allows cognitive non-dissonance about facts like Obama admin did cut taxes.

Groups are scapegoated (to create tangible external threat) when economy is bad and resources scarce.
P6. In a psychology course on “black american experience,” discuss “horizontal hostility” (zero-sum thinking), and for “independents” in ambiguous situations (such as who to blame for economic woes), “aversive racism.”
P7. In a course on environment, science, and society, consider the theme that examining the dynamics of inequality (in contrast to treating all units as identical, as in “population growth”) leads to a qualitative change in the analysis and its implications.  (See Bob Herbert op-ed. on economic crisis for USA being much more than global movement of capital and jobs.)  Challenge for capital in times of crisis is to undermine regulation (in a broader sense) and displace blame/responsibility, which Media and Citizens United decision makes possible (another instance of theme above).

An alternative to capital’s response is a discourse of social solidarity.  However, also from the course, there’s an emphasis in common resource management either on, on one hand, privatization vs. coercion (not desired), or, on the other, design rules (following recent Nobel economics prize winner, Elinor Ostrom).  The design rules favor ethnic homogeneity and discount the always actual heterogeneity.  Race is an easy marker of difference (lack of homogeneity).  In fact, it’s even more, it’s a marker of inequality and a sign of not being looked after, which taps into fears of not being looked after, of being left behind.  At the same time, favoring homogeneity leads to “imagined communities” by exclusion, as in “real Americans,” “patriots,” and anti-immigrant fervor.

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