We Rise Up: Helping Our Students Everyday

I’ve been slightly distracted by all of the news over the last few weeks — New Zealand’s tragedy, the replication of elitism in higher ed — as well as getting my graduate students in British Romanticism to think beyond the traditional literary canon for this period (1775-1835) of 6 white, male authors. All of this historical literary work on busting open an accepted canon seems imperative in a world that’s teeming with constant ruptures, revolutions, disturbances, dis-organization, re-organization, tragedy, wanderings, wonderings. The debate about ethics, artificial intelligence (or machine learning), Facebook seems to have gone by the wayside as we all deal with crisis after crisis that inundates us.

In the end, there’s some good news. Today, we’re going to take a circuitous route to end up back at Digital Pedagogy by the conclusion of this post. Just hang on for a moment.

I’m sure like many of you, as faculty at San Jose State University, I was livid about the recent depths to which parents would stoop to push their already-privileged children into the elite university system when we all know good and well that our students work tirelessly, some with families, some with multiple jobs, to earn their education. They rise up and work their way through our system to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 5-6 years, typically.

In the wake of this admissions scandal, though, have erupted a spate of opinion pieces, reminders, and articles about the value of @calstate, and the only other comparable university system, @CUNY, in terms of what true public education was intended to do:

“There is a reason that City College [CUNY] and California’s universities evoke such warm nostalgia: They fulfilled the country’s highest ideals — of excellence, progress and opportunity. Many of those same colleges, and many others, still do. They deserve more than nostalgia.” (Leonhardt from Jan 18, 2017 New York Times opinion)

Though the University of California is included in this notion, with 23 campuses, Cal State represents a wide swath of California’s university system. Add to that the 114-campus California Community College system that feeds into both the UC and CSU systems. We are a powerhouse of service to our students.

I am exceptionally proud to be a product of both @calstate and @GC_CUNY — both taught me the ethos of giving back to society through career, service, teaching. But, it’s more.

I started at a community college in Texas right out of high school because I didn’t know what else to do or if I could succeed at college in general, though I graduated in the top 5% of my high school class. I didn’t even apply anywhere else because I thought my SAT scores were way too low compared to my pals who were scoring nearly perfect numbers. Back in the 1980s, Texas K-12 public schools were highly rated and challenging. I was trained well and interested. But, after graduation, I was adrift and confused, lacking any financial support while my friends went off to UT Austin, Texas A&M, Baylor University, Southwestern University, Texas Christian University. We had such a massive choice of schools in Texas that today it seems unbelievable to me that I didn’t jump on that merry-go-round of admissions. I was too shy to ask for help and much too unsure about my own intellectual abilities.

After finishing 2 years at community college, I took a break, moved to California to pursue the arts (dancing, acting). When I discovered that temping as a legal secretary while I ran from audition to audition wasn’t going to support me in the long run, I applied to both UCLA and Cal State LA, discovered that I could afford CSULA on my own, launched myself into obtaining a BA in Literature, and was motivated by the “yes, and” ethos of taking every opportunity possible. Another move across country to New York City followed by 2 years of waiting to gain in-state residency, and a decision to attend graduate school in the Northeast captured the next 7 years of my life where I started at New York University, learned a lot, then transferred to @GC_CUNY to finish my doctorate with an incredible faculty (all fed from the 18 CUNY English Departments) and a freedom to ignore disciplinary boundaries in my scholarly work. When the SJSU English Department offered me a position in 2005, I certainly learned the way to San Jose!

…and I’m so very glad that I did, because 14 years of learning about my students has made me a better person.

As we contemplate opening our doors to even more frosh next year, and interrogate our General Education offerings, or push to hire more and diverse tenure-line faculty, we must know that we are working for the betterment of society and social good by teaching, researching, publishing while employed at SJSU. As James Murphy points out, the designator for those “elite” colleges that America’s wealthy so desperately are trying to get their kids into, does it really mean “better”:

The ubiquity of that term—“elite”—as a description for what are highly selective colleges speaks to some of what’s wrong in college admissions, and why the wealthy work so hard to hoard their advantages. There is no doubt that the highly selective colleges that sit atop the college rankings provide a good education and valuable alumni connections, but is that what makes them elite? Shouldn’t the “elite” schools be the ones that transform huge numbers of students lives, schools like the California State University system and the City University of New York, which the Harvard economist Raj Chetty has shown make a huge difference in lifting people out of poverty.

@SJSU is number 8 on this list of schools that allow for upward economic mobility of its students.

But, what happens at these “elite” colleges is that these students build networks, gain even further privilege, get hired into privilege positions, create policy, and drive economic indicators for our students — the privilege reinforces further privilege. I felt that sting of rejection with my CSU & CUNY degrees and worked doubly hard to get a tenure-line position where I could give back to the very public university system that gave me so much.

So, how do we combat that privilege of the world and the seemingly unfair disadvantage for our students?

Through our teaching:

By teaching them about  collaboration and building community.

By teaching them that failure, though frustrating, can lead to illumination.

By teaching a sense of social justice in their scholarly and academic work that allows them to face the world with new ideas that could impact future generations.

By teaching them about intersectionality that leads to understanding multiply diverse societies (and for much of them, their own lived experiences).

By teaching publicly, using outward-facing pedagogies in which students solve real world problems (like with the Paseo Prototyping Challenge).

By teaching through play — experimentation — revising this idea of “work.”

We rise up.



All of the above linked words come from Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, which offers 59 keywords (defined by a curator) and 10 annotated pedagogical artifacts that demonstrate how to teach that keyword (syllabus, assignment, rubrics) in digital modes. The project, currently in its final copyediting phase with its publishers, has been a completely open project via GitHub through the authoring, editorial review, open peer review, and final revision before copyediting. The project values pedagogical artifacts as scholarship, as a representation of the research that goes into the careful construction of any course materials. If you happen to use one of the DPiH artifacts, please consider including an Acknowledgement.


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