Listening to Those Who Hate: A Central Educational Challenge of Our Time4

A Gathering for Educative Healing

co-sponsored by the Holistic Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning of the National Council of Teachers of EnglishApril 12, 2018, 7-9:30 pm

The Open Center for Holistic Learning

Room 3-C, 22 E. 30th St (between Fifth and Madison), NYC

Donations of $10 (or more) for seats must be reserved in advance, and a small number of free standing room spots may also be reserved

Listening to Those Who Hate:

A Central Educational Challenge of Our Time4

The election of Donald Trump—and the new power and recognition it has given to those consciously and unconsciously practicing hateful ideologies—has raised certain hitherto relatively dormant questions to great educational prominence: How can we recognize, without empowering, the voices of hate in classrooms and elsewhere? How can we have compassion and understanding for those who refuse those very things to others? How can we educatively move those who hate to soften their hearts and open their minds? And, not least important, how can we engage in the excruciating emotional work of attending to the dark and fragmented spots of the human heart while maintaining our own sanity and wholeness?

We can now see more clearly how critically important it is for us to educate ourselves about hate in order be able to educate others out of it. But these questions are too new for anyone to pretend they have the definitive answers to them. The session will begin with a series of short presentations. But most of it will be given over to spontaneous and, we hope, heartfelt dialogue among participants about their encounters with various forms of hatred in their classrooms and elsewhere, and their thoughts as to how we might learn to hear one another anew in these new times. After the initial talks, we will ask the group to share in pairs the experiences and questions that brought them to the session, before joining together again in a large group dialogue for the final portion of the session.

Rhetorical Listening as a Pedagogy for Re-Uniting the Now Disunited States of America

Abigail Michelini, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

 

Understanding Hate: What the Academic Field of Hate Studies Has Shown that Everyone Now Needs to Know

John Shuart, Portland State University and Hate Studies Policy Research Center

 

Some Ways to Educate People Out of Hate and to Counteract the Ways They Are Educated Into It

Rebecca Barrett-Fox, Arkansas State University and the Journal of Hate Studies

 

Empathy for Gender Difference to Circumvent Hatred

Greg Bynum, SUNY, New Paltz

Learning from Hate: The Ethics and Politics of Engagement with Enemies

Rachel Wahl, The University of Virginia

 

The Crisis in Authority Is Everywhere—As Is the Opportunity for a Renewed Democracy: Confronting the Problems of the Personal and the Political Together, by Listening in Hope for a Newly Personalized and Holistic Democracy to Be Generated through a Politics of Interpersonal Attention and Meaning

Bruce Novak, The Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, the Holistic Education SIG of AERA, and AEPL, The Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning of the National Council of Teachers of English

To reserve your place:

  1. Pay by credit card at aepl.org at $10 or $25, using the appropriate button.
  2. If you wish to reserve seats not in units of $10 or $25, email organizer Bruce Novak at brucejnovak@gmail.com.
  3. To reserve a free standing room spot, email Bruce Novak at brucejnovak@gmail.com. 

Donations over $10 per person are tax deductible gifts to the Holistic Education SIG of AERA.

Spaces will be reserved in the order of receipt of email or credit card payment

We expect to sell out quickly, so please act quickly!

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Dear Members of the Committee: Stop Asking for Letters of Recommendations

Dear Members of the Selection Committee,

I write to you to offer my enthusiastic support for you to stop asking for letters of recommendation for jobs; placement into your graduate, medical, and law program or summer camp; and grants, fellowships, scholarships, and internships. I appreciate the hard work that committees such as yours do and am grateful for your thoughtful consideration of this proposal, which I consider in the top 5% of brilliant ideas I’ve had to improve higher education in the seven years I have served as a professor.

I have now written more than one billion such letters, and I know that many of you have written far more.  Across our profession, we are dedicating hours we could be earning tenure or checking Facebook to drafting letters of support which we all know are exaggerations of the excellence of our students, who, despite this, really are more excellent than we could ever describe in words. In this process, we become like a couple with one chronically tardy partner; the punctual person sets all the clocks in the house 10 minutes fast to help get the other person out the door on time, and the late partner quickly assumes that all the clocks are set 15 minutes fast. (In this metaphor, you are the partner who set the clock ten minutes fast, and I am the one who is rounding up all the children, turning off the stove, going back inside for the diaper bag, and packing the snacks while you sit in the car and honk for me to hurry up, you lazy jerk.)  Outstanding, best, excellent, exceptional, and other superlatives quickly lose meaning when we are talking about a pool of candidates who are highly qualified and impressive and when letter writers face immense pressure to help their students and colleagues secure jobs in a market facing artificial scarcity.

Image result for man looking at watch

For realsies, let’s stop wasting our time. 

This last fact, unfortunately, pits me against you.  Your job, as the selection committee, is to hire the best candidate you can secure for the job you have. (I am perhaps being generous here. Maybe your job is to hire the Chancellor’s wife or to hire the person who will do the job well enough but be unlikely to do it so well as to get other job offers that would allow him to leave. Or maybe you are planning to hire someone who is qualified but not so good as to increase the pressure that you will have to increase your productivity, make you look bad, or one day compete for the sweet program director gig you’ve been sucking up for far too long. But let’s just go with the idea that you are here to hire the best person for the job.)

I do not care if you hire the best person for the job. Indeed, if we are at competing institutions, I may want you to hire someone who is terrible. Instead, I want you to hire the person I recommend. If that person has earned my support in getting this job (so, no one who is grossly unqualified, has a history of abusing authority, has an open Title IX investigation against them, etc.), I’m going to tell you that they are the best person for the job because my loyalty is with them, not you.

My goal is to get my students hired because this improves the reputation of my department and university. (It also helps when I am contacting graduates for donations.) I try to get my colleagues and friends hired or help them win grants because it is better for me to have employed, powerful, connected friends and colleagues. It’s even more useful to have those people owe me a major favor, like helping them get employed. Under these circumstances, why would you even ask me for a letter? I do not have your best interests at heart. Ideally, I would like you to overpay my friends to work for you.

You want me to supply a letter (No—hundreds of letters), which means I am doing your work of figuring out who is the best candidate for your job. Unsurprisingly, I prefer not to do this. Given that the academic job market is in a chronic state of crisis and that a dwindling percent of highly qualified applicants will get good jobs (or major grants), you could pick a candidate at random from your hundreds of applicants and probably still get a good hire. Your department and students will likely be fine with whoever you hire, and if you can’t see the red flags for people who are toxic, my letter won’t help. (Plus, I just wouldn’t write a letter for such a person. If I’m writing the letter at all, it means that I don’t think the candidate is going to embezzle, sexually harass anyone, or pass student-athletes through non-existent courses.) Given that your job call is ridiculously narrow and the job duties as described will immediately change upon hiring, your salary is insultingly low, and your interview process is pointless, a lottery system would probably work fine.

You invoke “professional courtesy” as a reason to burden your colleagues with writing countless letters you may never even read. (At a minimum, don’t ask for such letters until a candidate has survived the initial pass.) This is not a “professional courtesy” but an act of sabotage that prevents me from using my time more meaningfully, such as watching those videos of average citizens saving animals who have fallen into icy waters.

I propose that your committee decides which characteristics of a candidate are most important and find ways of discovering if those in your pool possess them without asking someone who has an inherent conflict of interest for help. I don’t know exactly how that might work, but perhaps the overpaid people in HR could read the peer-reviewed research I should be writing right now to make a data-driven decision about how to hire people more efficiently. Some ideas: If you want someone with strong teaching experience, ask the candidate for a teaching portfolio. If you want someone who has won a lot of grants, ask them to list the grants they’ve won. If you want someone with connections to powerful advisors and mentors, ask them to provide contact information for such people, then you make the phone call and ask if the relationship is real.

In this market, you don’t need to hire someone based only on potential, and you can get the evidence you need to see if they are able to do the teaching or research without interrupting the nap I am taking in my office. If you have any concerns about the accuracy of the information presented in other parts of the application, then give me a call or drop me an automated email with a link to a simple form that asks me if I’d support this person in getting this job. Be sure that it includes the questions you actually care about and can’t assess via their writing sample, teaching portfolio, or CV: Will this person leave the copier jammed or the microwave filthy? Steal my GA hours? Invite me to MLM parties? Blow off office hours and leave me to explain to their students how to contact them? Show up late to meetings like they are the only person in the room who had to be pulled away from research to hear about how we’re all failing at whatever new task the assessment office has foisted on us?

And if you just can’t let the letter of recommendation go, I’ll still write one for you. I know someone who is the perfect fit for the position.

Dr. Barrett-Fox

PS. Of course, this is somewhat facetious. I do not nap in my office (though this is mostly because I work from home, so I can pop upstairs to my bedroom for a nap). And, as I make clear here, I only write letters for strong applicants, so if you have received one from me, it’s because I mean it, so you can trust it. And those who need letters of recommendation from me should not be discouraged from asking. This problem isn’t of your making, and I love re-visiting the successes of my friends, colleagues, and students, so please ask! And of course I want every department and program and university to be successful and the work of knowledge production requires cooperation, not competition, really, you get the point, right?

PPS. There are a hundred other reasons to object to letters of recommendation as an early-stage job application requirement, including racism, sexism, and ableism.

The Dissent Mix Tape

I don’t love everything in it, but I love it: The troublemakers at the American Studies Association, which is set to meet in a few weeks in Chicago, has a soundtrack: the Dissent Mixtape.  Check it out online, where you can listen and also read short reflections on what these songs mean to ASA scholars.  A highlight is new Rock N Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nina Simone’s work.

 

_God Hates_ Q & A with Righting America

It’s a real treat to visit with Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger at Righting America, who have a must-read blog on conservative Chrsitianity in America. Join the conversation about God Hates and, more broadly, why we should continue to study groups that can be hard to be around.

 

Image result for westboro baptist church buildingAbove, the exterior of Westboro Baptist Church. Vandals have spray painted “God hates the Phelps” on the church’s sign. 

Werewolf Babies and the Writing Habit

My friend Sarah Stevens has just released her second novel in perhaps the only supernatural thriller that has ever really resonated with me. In Dark Moon Wolfshe introduces us to Julie Hall, a single mother to Carson who, at four months old, reveals himself to be a werewolf. (Yes, mothers of young children, I see you nodding along already.) The second book in the series, Waxing Moon, takes us further into the challenges of parenting a… um… very special child.

Sarah is part of a writing group (which she writes about here) that I host (and, as she shares in her Amazon biography, none of her children are actual werewolves). The fact that her daytime job is in higher ed and that she still writes novels is inspiring. If you are inspired to, I hope you’ll check out the AGT writing challenge.

Above, the covers of Dark Moon Wolf and Waxing Moon. 

SEPTEMBER WRITING CHALLENGE STARTS SOON!

typewriter

Above, an ancient typewriter. You can use any writing tool you like in the AGT Writing Challenge–as long as you are writing. 

Are you where you want to be with your writing as summer comes to a close? Need a little boost as fall begins>

Whether you are speeding ahead toward your goals already or stuck, you’re invited to join the Any Good Thing Writing Challenge this month. We begin on Sunday, September 3rd and go through Saturday, September 30.

Each month, participants agree to write at least 400 words per day for 5 days each 7 day week, Sunday through Saturday. If you meet your goals, you will write at least 8,000 words in September.

Here’s how it works:

You buy in to the challenge with $20, payable via PayPal or, if you prefer, check. (Just email me at anygoodthing@outlook.com to ask where to send it.)

You write 5/7 days each week, at least 400 words. Each day that you write, you send your writing to me at anygoodthing@outlook.com with the word count in the subject line. If you meet your goal for the month, you get your $20 back.

If you miss a day, you lose $3. If you miss 2 days, you lose $6. If you miss more than 2 days, you lose the full $20.

Forfeited funds go into a kitty that funds a small monthly prize, drawn at random from among those who meet their 20-day goal; occasional random drawings among participants for other contests; and administrative costs associated with organizing the AGT Writing Challenge.

FAQs

How do I get started?

From the email address you prefer to use in our correspondence, email me with your name, the email address associated with your Facebook profile (so I can add you to our Facebook group), and how you plan on paying (PayPal or check). If you’d like an accountability partner, please let me know in email. Send any other information you think is important and any questions you might have.

While you can email me your intention to join and put in your $20 at any point, each AGT Writing Challenge begins on the first Sunday of every month. You  may join up to two days after the start date but those two missed days will count as your skip days that week, so you’d need to write Tues-Sat of that first week to meet your goal. After the first Tuesday of a month, it’s too late to join for that month, so you’d need to join in the following month.

Who participates?

Participants include professional writers, those writing after a hiatus, and people coming to writing for the first time. Some people are working on professional projects, while others are working on personal ones. Our writers are working on novels, short stories, academic articles, academic books, dissertations, blogs, religious devotionals, memoirs, and more.

What can I write about? Can I work on more than one writing project? 

You can write about anything you like. Some folks work on one project the entire time they participate, while others switch between ongoing projects on a regular basis–sometimes even within the same day.

The AGT Writing Challenge is a good opportunity to work on writing that you might avoid otherwise–a spot in your novel where you are stuck, an academic article that has been languishing, or a short story that you think could be good if you’d just revise it.

Do you read my writing?

No. If you send your writing within the body of an email, I’ll see the first few lines when I open the document, but I don’t read it. If you send your writing as an attachment, I don’t open it except to do a word count if you’ve not included a word count in the subject line.

Do I have to send my writing in? Can I just report how much I wrote?

You gotta send it. The accountability part just doesn’t work as well if you don’t.

How does the AGT Writing Challenge support my writing?

In addition to regular email check-ins, you can participate in our secret Facebook group, where writers share inspiration and advice, ask questions, and support each other. If you like seeing your daily writing total add up, you can check in with our Google Sheet, an online spreadsheet where you can self-report (using your real name, initials, or a pseudonym) your daily writing progress and see how your efforts are comparing to others in the group. And you can request to be paired with an accountability partner from the group.

How do accountability partners work?

Within the first few days of the new Writing Challenge, I’ll use Facebook to ask everyone if they would like a writing accountability partner. Just tell me there or email me, if you prefer. Within the first few days of each month, I match partners mostly at random, after making sure that they don’t already know each other or work in the same field or at the same institution to insure that they might not be working on projects that put them in any competition with each other. You and your partner are matched for the whole month, with new partners reassigned each month. You should figure out how you want to check in with each other (FB Messenger, text message, or something else ), how often (daily, M-F, every other day, etc.), and what you want to do in those check-ins (Sometimes a regular, specific question works well: “Did you write for that grant project you have due soon?” “How many words did you add to your chapter today?”).

What can I expect to get out of this?

If you stick with your goal, you will write at least 10,000 words in August. But while many people join to pump up their output in terms of word count, they often find they experience other benefits like:

  • getting old “revise and resubmit” articles out the door
  • wrapping up lingering writing projects
  • improving relationships with co-authors
  • producing templates for documents that they will use again and again (such as emails, author queries, and letters of recommendation)
  • experimenting with their writing habits (writing early in the morning, trying the Pomodoro technique, or trying new revision strategies)
  • seeing real progress on dissertations, book manuscripts, and other massive projects that are often required but unsupported in academia
  • attempting new genres
  • building a daily or near-daily writing habit that they know they can rely on
  • building confidence that they can accomplish large writing tasks
  • getting their writing done on time or even in advance of deadlines
  • writing faster as they get in the habit of writing daily, so those 400 words come faster and faster as you keep at it–giving you more time to write more words!
  • enjoying writing
  • enjoying not writing without the guilt of an overdue project hanging over their head
  • knowing that if they skip a day of writing, they won’t be behind–because they have already written a few thousand words that week

How does this work?

Some participants have called the AGT Writing Challenge “magical,” and I don’t disagree–but it’s not clear that the magic works the same way for everyone. Some folks are very motivated by the idea of losing their $20. Others see the $20 as a reward and put it toward a prize of their own to reward their hard work. Most people find that they can do 400 words a day–it’s enough to push their writing forward (You can get an idea out, develop an example, or write an important point in 400 words.) without it being too daunting. Watching your project advance is its own kind of motivation. By the time you’ve had your seat in your desk chair long enough to write 400 words, you often find that you have the time and energy to write more. 400 words can be done in lots of different settings and in a short amount of time, so it becomes harder to say “I don’t have time.”

When you overcome a writing obstacle–whether that’s a technical difficulty in writing, a plot point you’ve been struggling with, a piece of data you couldn’t explain, a bad habit (like interrupting yourself to check email), or something else–you become more confident that you can overcome the next difficulty.

And the AGT Writing Challenge is rooted in respect for writing, encouragement (rather than competition, which is, unfortunately, the situation many of us face at work), and the belief that we all lose when good ideas are lost–and when good thinkers don’t get their ideas out there.

What if I’m writing something I can’t share?

If you are working on a large project that can’t be shared due to privacy concerns, it’s probably not a good pick for the AGT Writing Challenge. However, if you must occasionally write a piece you can’t send in (a faculty review, a review for a book proposal, etc.), just send the word count and a note explaining what you worked on.

What do you do with the writing I send in?

I keep it in my dedicated AGT Writing Challenge email account for the duration of the month. Depending on the number of writers, it may take me up to a week to contact everyone to let them know if they met their goal for the month. After that, I usually wait about 3 days, just to make sure that I didn’t get anyone’s individual tally wrong, and then I delete the emails that contain your writing.

How long do people stay in the AGT Writing Challenge?

Some folks participate for just one month. Others pop in for a month, then take a month off, then come back. Some have participated every month since they joined. Stay as long as you like–and come back whenever you need to.

Do I have to be producing new words each day? Can I revise something instead?

Recognizing that everyone needs to revise and edit (and some folks need to produce tables, which have relatively few words but are a necessary and time-consuming part of their work) here are some ways you can count these kinds of work:

  • Figure out about how long it takes you to write 400 words. Use time, not word count, as a measure. If 400 words takes 45 minutes, then 45 minutes of editing  or revising or producing a table can equal 400 words.
  • Consider the larger project. How many pages is it? How soon do you want to have it done? If, say, you are proofing the galleys on a 200 page novel and you want to have it done in 5 days, you’d need to proof 40 pages per day.
  • Find a ratio that you think reflects your efforts. Many people measure revising as 1/2 or 1/3 the “value” of new words–so, for example, you would need to revise 800 words to equal 400 new words.
  • Don’t count revised words. This, obviously, is the strictest measure, and it might be right for you if you are a person who uses revision as a form of procrastination.

If you have other strategies, suggest them! And feel free to experiment with different strategies until you find one that works for your needs.

Do you offer proofreading, editing, coaching, or writing services?

I do, and you can read about them here. And if I’m not available or not a good fit for you, I’m happy to recommend other editors or writing coaches.

I’m a student. Would you write my paper for me?

No, but I will contact your academic dean, your advisor, and the instructor of the class and let them know you asked.

Where did the idea for this Writing Challenge come from?

A few years ago, I applied for IRB approval to do something like this as an experiment in an online course. My university denied it, saying that the project was too much like gambling. The state’s Department of Finance and Administration (which oversees lotteries, bingo, and games of chance) disagreed, and I argued with the decision, citing a body of literature on similar projects on smoking cessation and weight loss, but the IRB committee was adamant–anything remotely like gambling was off limits. (Those in higher ed in Arkansas might see a joke in here: the state’s lotto funds higher ed scholarships.) But I kept thinking about the idea and eventually decided to apply it to one of my other interests: supporting writers.

We often get stuck thinking that the only way to progress is through criticism. I disagree. Personally, I’ve never once improved because someone tore me apart; I’ve only ever really improved when I felt confident and when others saw potential in me. I figured I wasn’t the only one, so a project like this one might work for other people, too. And if it chips away at a culture of humiliation, that’s a bonus! At the heart of this model is the idea that we can all succeed, that there is room enough for everyone’s ideas, and that we are not in competition for scarce resources but that the more of us in the conversation, the more opportunities we have to develop our ideas.

What motivates you to host this event?

Previously, I’ve directed Women and Gender Studies at Arkansas State University and worked as a dissertation and thesis coach at the University of Kansas. In both roles, I saw my work as helping others build their capacities for writing and research. I love that kind of work–encouraging others, supporting them as they move forward. I’m especially passionate about helping those traditionally underserved by higher ed, including women, first generation scholars, and people of color.

Hosting this been a lot of fun for me so far and encouraging in every way. I’ve cleared off lingering projects, moving new ones forward, got to experiment with new forms, learned a lot about myself as a writer, and reminded myself of why I got into academia in the first place (because I love writing! and I love seeing people succeed in their writing!). And, seriously EVERY SINGLE DAY I get to see AGT writers all bringing new ideas into the world!

I have some more questions. 

Contact me at anygoodthing@outlook.com.

_God Hates_ Reviewed in _Church History_

Thanks to the editors at Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture for including God Hates among its recently reviewed books. It’s an honor to get to see my work profiled in a journal long renowned for its contributions to scholarship on Christianity. (The most recent issue has an article on Dutch Calvinism that’s just one of many great pieces!)

Reviewer Leah Payne is a scholar of Pentecostal and charismatic studies at George Fox University. You can read her review here Church History Review. And check out her blog, leahpayne.blogspot.com, to read her musings about religion and pop culture, including a recent post about theology in Wonder Woman.

Guest post is up at Righting America

Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger, in the English and history department of the University of Dayton, blog at Righting America, which is associated with their book Righting America at the Creation Museum (Johns Hopkins 2016), an examination of how the Creation Museum serves the interest of religious conservatives.

Sue and Bill invited me to share some thoughts at their blog recently on the question of why conservative Christians are so invested in the battle against gay rights.  You can read my response here. 

Above, Gustav Klimt’s 1917 Adam and Eve. What kind of blasphemy is it to insist that Christianity can’t work unless its founded on heterosexuality?

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