Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Social Engineering

As a historian, I am not particularly well-versed in the ways of doing collaborative work. It is not common practice in my field -- for teaching or research -- but I've been dabbling in the world of other disciplines and pedagogies of late and for a few very specific things, group work makes sense.

The project on my mind this afternoon is for a women's and gender studies course. I've done some version of this project twice before and had some great projects and some disasters. In most cases, the disasters came from the composition of the group. So, in a bold and unprecedented move on my part, I am assigning my 24 students to groups with no input from them.

On the one hand, this runs completely counter the values of the social movements and leaders we are studying in this course (on women leaders in 20th century social movements). On the other hand, I think I have the knowledge to build better groups than they do. I know more of the whole group and I have the experience of working with two other classes.

I suppose that I could work to build concensus for me to choose the groups... get the students to buy into this vision... help them to see why this will work for them.... but really? This isn't a social movement where the price of me not building concensus would be my constituents leaving the movement. Nope, this is a class and I'm the prof and I give/assign their grades. Instead of this being a lesson in organizing around a concensus model, this will be a lesson in recognizing power relationships.

So I set to work: boldest students into different groups, but each of those also has someone there who will not let them run away with the show (no two confrontational people together, though, otherwise they'll just argue while the others do the real work); students who've had me in more traditional courses and are better trained up on historical research and citiations are distributed across the groups; most groups get a quiet but studious student (not enough to go around); workhorses go in with "medium" talkers-doers.... I'm going for no one either running away with the group or having to do all the work themselves. I did break up several friend pairs so new social dynamics would have to be built amongst all the members. Damn, this was fun! I can't believe I waited this long to try. These are good, good groups. And yes, you can come back in March and ask me if I still think this!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Feeling It (finally)

Should I admit this?

I was decidedly unmoved by Tuesday's events. There, now you know.

Don't get me wrong, I was deeeelighted to see "Daddy's Little War Criminal" leave office, but I just wasn't feeling the day like many around me. My inner cynic scoffed at all the god references and rituals and refused to get past the reality that this "peaceful transition of power" -- as peaceful and orderly as it was, and that is a wonderful thing that I don't mean to take for granted -- actually only reinforces the power of the system. He is still a politician who has to work with other politicians in a system that is specifically designed to change slowly.

But then... then I was at the Planned Parenthood fundraiser at the Corner on Friday and the m.c. announced that Obama had lifted the global gag rule. What a setting to hear the news. That did it. I felt it. Finally. One little memo signed and the relationship of my country to the rest of world now has a somewhat different texture. One little memo and my country no longer practices a policy I find abhorrent. One little memo and I'm feeling.... well, let's not go crazy here.... but I'm feeling a tad bit hopeful.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"A Day On" or "Girl with Sledgehammer"

As has become our tradition, E and I spent much of this Marin Luther King, Jr. Day volunteering. She has always had a special affinity for this holiday since she was born on MLK day in 1999, but more than that, she has embraced both the history and the message of day.

After many years of her asking, I finally signed us up to work with Motor City Blight Busters this year. I was reluctant to take a kid to tear down crack houses, but now that she is the ripe old age of 10 (read: I was late in signing us up and this was all that was left!), I thought we would give it a try. MCBB is located in Old Redford, where every 6th or so house seems to be abandoned -- there is plenty of work to do. Our job today (probably to E's great disappointment) was to not tear down a house, but rather to clear out a small warehouse a block off Grand River so that it could be renovated and used as a childcare center.

We started out inside, shoveling up the debris left behind when the last folks -- people who the neighbors said only came and went in the middle of the night -- decamped. We found lots of evidence of a business (invoices and such) but also plenty of evidence that folks had been living in the basement (shoes, exercise videos, school books, underwear, etc). Lots of volunteers with axes and shovels made for too much dust and too many heavy tools being flung about, so E and I shifted to outside work... hauling out load after load of debris, clearing the junk after others smashed up old furniture/building materials. E eyed the sledgehammer but didn't ask. When the other smashers had wandered off and the flow of debris cans had slowed, I encouraged her to do her best at destroying an old rocking chair. She loved it. Later she had me carry a sledgehammer over to an old shed so she could do some work on that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sleepover Report

So... the girl turns ten today! To celebrate, she chose to have a small gaggle of her closest buddies over for a sleepover party -- her first (she has sort of reluctant parents when it comes to multi-day kid parties). So, we are in the final stages of said party, the kids are making poster/collages with pictures from the party (E's idea, isn't she cool?) that I printed out this morning.

Here is the breakdown:

Kids invited: 6
Kids attending: 6 (good response rate, eh?)

Theme and decorations:
Citrus theme so lots of cheery light green, orange, and white crepe paper and balloons

Food offered and (mostly) consumed:
Individual pizzas (topped by each kid), large tray of veggies and dip, lemon ice cream cake, yellow cupcakes

Overall decent. They giggled until I thought they would puke. They sat around the dinner table for over an hour taking turns telling stories and jokes. They played team games with balloons. They practiced their numbers and colors in French (E's current interest). On the negative side, I did have to rein in looking up "dirty" words in the dictionary ("What? A bitch is just a female dog..." Yeah, kid, I was a kid once too, ya know); two episodes of tears (both on the part of the little guy); an hour of fluffing about and kids popping up and turning on lights before sleep (still got everyone to sleep before midnight).

Screeching, screaming, giggling, eating, present opening, game playing, movie watching (The Neverending Story II), glow stick fun, music making, etc.

Parental exhaustion rating: 6 out of 10; overall it wasn't too bad, E did most of the planning, wrote out the invitations, helped clean and decorate, etc.

Happy birthday, First Born!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Then and Now

It was sunny on Saturday and I went tromping in the woods. These were woods I hadn't been to in some 17 years.

Nothing's changed in that time has it?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Adventures in Breakfast

The year 2008 went out with a whimper. Fine. Good riddance.

The year 2009, however, has had a lovely opener that included decent health in the household (one or the other or multiples of us have been unwell for the last 2 weeks), a bit of biking (and I remembered to reset my odometer for 2009!), cheery visits with friends, and playful antics with my kids.

A definite highpoint of the day came in the realm of food; more specifically, egg-in-a-basket (aka yolky pokey, eggie toast, toad in a basket, and many, many other names) experimentation and an array of some of my most favorite breakfast foods (grits, tempeh bacon, sauteed spinach, and red grapefruit).

So, the egg-in-a-basket inspiration came from V for Vendetta(a movie I had resisted but ended up really liking), where the impressive dish is a minor plot device. Never having made it before, there was a bit of experimentation, which resulted in these conclusions: 1) make the hole in the bread with a shot glass (you don't want the hole too big or too small) and 2) put one side of the buttered bread down to cook a bit then turn it over and crack the egg. It was totally yummy (yeah, butter, bread, eggs, salt and pepper... what's to go wrong there??) and when the first one was flipped over I was greeted with... a smiley face!!!!

Hello 2009, I'm very happy to see you!