Category: miscellaneous

Imagination, play and un-justification

Noam Chomsky, world-famous linguist and probably the best-known living public intellectual in the 21st century, said in an interview published in Truthout in 2013 entitled Noam Chomsky on Democracy and Education in the 21st Century and Beyond:

Kids don’t know how to play. They can’t go out and, you know, like when you were a kid or when I was a kid, you have a Saturday afternoon free. You go out to a field and you’re finding a bunch of other kids and play ball or something. You can’t do anything like that. It’s got to be organized by adults, or else you’re at home with your gadgets, your video games. But the idea of going out just to play with all the creative challenge, those insights: that’s gone. And it’s done consciously to trap children from infancy and then to turn them into consumer addicts.

I ran into Chomsky, actually, in Market Basket, an employee-owned in Cambridge, MA on Valentine’s Day this year. Probably the most exciting celebrity sighting of my life and certainly one that left me blathering. Chomsky debated philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault in 1971 and created the innatist theory of generative grammar, a theory of language learning which continues to be referenced in courses in language acquisition including the one I teach at Hunter College. He’s in his 80s now and it’s amazing to see him discuss modern geopolitical topics such as the political relationships between Israel and Palestine or Turkey and Kurdistan. Coming to the comment he made in the interview I excerpt above, I wonder what it is like to be a child nowadays, and whether what Chomsky is saying is true. It seems true, though it’s also true that parents are doing their best, and love their children, and defend their parenting decisions as being backed up by the best-informed and newest discussions of child development and health. The “it’s-just-the-way-things-are-now” trope is likewise bandied around, and I wonder if nostalgia isn’t the go-to for any generation past its own childhood years, glad not to return and yet wishing the now were somehow still for them.

However, I have to wonder…I didn’t have “play dates” as a kid. Granted, I grew up in a very rural town in a very wooded area, where there were no kids nearby and my single mother wasn’t there to shuttle us around to various social things. Still, I walked in the woods constantly, made up games with friends, sibling and/or cousins, explored and roamed alone, smelling moss, stroking tree trunks, listening. I wrote poetry. I breathed in the ripe body of a snowy midnight, blazing deep blue under a hoary moon, and didn’t rush back under my covers.

How to prove that was worth it, rather than what the newer generation does now, as its own normal? Is the lament for a loss of freedom, a lack of play unless structured (which might negate the term and replace it with “recreation”), a parsing of moments into qualified or “wasted” spending of time…Bourdieu said something about how before we labeled time according to consumption, to wage-oriented work, there was no such thing as “wasting time.” The student conference I attended included a smart student paper about the argument for being lazy, for fighting for the freedom from having to prove that we are either productive or consuming (or both) always. I saw a friend not long ago who, glazed yet somehow slightly self-righteous, stated that she was always tired, “so tired.” When I asked her about options for change, she showed no desire, or else ability to imagine things any other way, and told me more about how long her days were.

To be ambiguous…to be undefined…to be unjustified…even for a few moments. This must mean something. To be free…what is it to be free, to be a time spender, without having to make every moment productive? Enslaved by our fear of poverty, of losing our jobs and our stability, and maybe even of losing the top-down control over our lives which consumer society positions as a means of creating the illusion of safety, of membership. What then? What could we inspire, encourage, bring forth in our children?

Odilon Redon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With a pure heart

A Hungarian friend shared poetry from her homeland on Thursday, which she has translated and continues to engage with in her off hours when not studying and soaking in new brain-stretched ideas. One in particular struck me, a beautiful slash through reality written in 1925 by Attila József, a poet who died at the age of 32. This is the translation of With a pure heart.

With a pure heart.

Without father without mother
without God or homeland either
without crib or coffin-cover
without kisses or a lover

for the third day – without fussing
I have eaten next to nothing.
My store of power are my years
I sell all my twenty years.

Perhaps, if no else will
the buyer will be the devil.
With a pure heart – that’s a job:
I may kill and I shall rob.

They’ll catch me, hang me high
in blessed earth I shall lie,
and poisonous grass will start
to grow on my beautiful heart.

Translated by Thomas Kabdebo

I include this as the body of my post because I want to embrace the essence of being human-as-scholar and scholar-as-must-be-human, not thinker-in-spite-of-pumping-heart-and-pulsing-caprices. It speaks of poverty, of useless youth in a time when youth was wasted and given no place to spend its sharpness, of what becomes of the starvation of the human flicker on a landscape all dark with turned-away eyes.

This realizes in me the answer to my occasional question as a lonely student: what more? I think the answer is less a concrete or fixed prospect but rather a negation of the alternative, that is, more than less might be. The study might isolate, might unhook from more vibrant, frequented spaces, but it is nonetheless a purpose, a proposal of mind. And this is something between the seller and the devil, yet.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.


Scholarly enterprise

Full title for this post = Scholarly enterprise: quilting, loping, slutting it up casting my line

I just attended a graduate workshop/mini-conference at the GC entitled “Failure,” an annual event hosted by the Social and Political Theory Student Association. I was there for about 11 hours and when I left, the stimulating conversations were very much still going on. What an event! Young and burgeoning scholars from the fields of political science, English, sociology, feminist studies, critical race theory, education, etc., etc. The room was lively from the get-go and while I was intimidated at various points, the joy of the exchange, the interlacing of minds was beyond thrilling.

So much to say, but I will share what I presented on today and then some of the ideas I have bookmarked to look into (the plethora and thrum of which I could never fully encapsulate in a blog post).

My talk: “‘Low-status’ adult immigrant learners in non-profit education: Framing failure as a first step in pedagogy and academia.” The basic summary is this: The non-profit education of adult immigrants invisible-izes and dehumanizes these learners while serving neoliberal and societal interests in the United States. This form of education must be challenged for its reliance on the discursive construction of adult immigrants in the American narrative, the paternalistic ways in which non-profit education takes place in terms of pedagogy and programming, and the related myopia in the American academy of a monoculturalist, America-centric ideological tradition that reifies a theoretical regime premised on historically-constructed cultural categories (especially race, but also language, class, and other terms) as well as the paternalistic prescription of pedagogy as a unidirectional process.

Areas of interest for the future (in no particular order):

  • Ahmed, “The Promise of Happiness”
  • Bourdieu’s concepts of “field” and “habitus”
  • Ranciere, “The Hatred of Democracy”
  • Butler’s discussion of livability (and her discussion of the delegation of sovreignty)
  • The semantic confusion of the ethical and the economic in framing terrorism and violence
  • Halberstam
  • Securitization theory
  • J. Munoz
  • Fricker, “Epistemic Injustice”
  • Ambiguity as a challenge to binarisms in academic thinking
  • Linda Alcott
  • Bradotti, “Nomadic Subjects”
  • Jose Medina
  • “Anthropocine”
  • Tessman, “Moral Failure”
  • Postmodernist feminist literature on “everyday resistance”
  • Total Revolution

What a delightfully exhausting day!

By Jeangagnon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Since I’ve started taking classes at the Graduate Center in 2014, I’ve consistently gone outside my department to swim — awkwardly — in new fields. I’ve taken classes in the areas of philosophy, sociology, and Hispanic-Luso Brazilian studies and am pulling from these fields as well as linguistics, social and critical theory, and others to construct the interdisciplinary theoretical lens I’m working with. It’s a daunting growth process in some ways, not least of which because I have a complex about my limitations (which are compounded by the cognitive overload of being a grad student), yet I’m finding increasingly that I can see no way back. How could it make sense that in education, we focus only on classroom-based practice? We must understand the importance of education policy in determining schooling priorities, which implies the study of history and political economy. Further, we have to look into the design of pedagogy (the practice of teaching and learning), which calls for an understanding of ontology and epistemology, dimensions of philosophy that deal with being and knowing and which are intrinsic to understanding how learning occurs and how learners and teachers participate in the learning process. And we can’t forget about learner identity, which is inherently sociological, philosophical, and even political in nature.

Am I making things too complicated? Probably. But I tell my students that the stratification of theory, empirical research, and practice — which Bourdieu, Freire and others have argued is inherently valueless — is an artificial division in the field of education, one that disempowers classroom teachers and renders academics disconnected. Why not pull together ideas that help us speak in many different idioms, many different repertoires? Why not learn the speech of the policy-makers, the theorists, the giant-killers, and the worker bees…because they and we are us all?

Two clown musicians and a pretty juggler. Circus Roncalli. Munich, Germany
© Jorge Royan / / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Blog posts 2014-2015: “Ahead of the Hydra”

In 2014-2015 I blogged on a number of different topics, from the use of psychometric testing in Israel to the disadvantage of Arabic-speaking minority students, to the politically charged conversation around voting rights in Texas, to Islamophobia and ESL teachers’ unique position as cultural conversation-makers. I will continue to write later this spring…in the meantime, please visit, enjoy, and share your insights and feedback!