Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

Monday, March 20, 2017

Navigating Privilege As a White Middle-Class Male

I live in a culture where aspects of my identity present me with concrete and abstract privileges that I am at times aware of and unaware of.  I'm a white, middle class, perceived-as-heterosexual, male.  Historically and to still today, this intersection of identity attributes represents one of the most powerful groups in our culture.  (If you are unfamiliar with what I mean by privilege, I recommend checking out Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" for a quick primer and there are several other useful knapsacks out there including ones on sexuality, sex, class, etc).  

Not all of these identity attributes operate at the same time or same level; the context of any given situation indicates just how much one will be more salient than any others.  Walking down the street in any part of the city, I am significantly less likely to be seen as a victim or perpetrator of robbery or sexual assault.  While driving, I'm not likely to be pulled over (in 20 years of driving, this has only occurred when caught at speed-traps, when I was well over the speed limit).   When applying for a job, my name doesn't raise questions or seem "foreign" or "ethnic" during the screening process.  These are but a few of examples--there are plenty more. 

None of this negates that I am hard-working, care about equality, or believe people are largely good.  However, it notes that I was dealt a different set of circumstances in a particular place at a particular time--and historical forces shape that place and time to give me preferential treatment while others are denied the same treatment or given unfair treatment.   

Word cloud in the shape of a cube

A "Woke" Kin

There are some people out there, like me that like to think they have better awareness of privilege in American culture than the average person who benefits from an intersection of privilege such as being white, male, and middle-class (to be clear, I include myself in recognizing that I am making the assumption that I am better aware; I always have my doubts about this and should as I note below).  That, of course, is a slippery slope to balance upon.  The term, "woke" can often be used to describe such people.  But when I think about the term "woke" and what it means, particularly for white people, I feel it gets complicated and challenging.  This NY Times article captures a lot of my concern with it:

““Woke” feels a little bit like Macklemore rapping in one of his latest tracks about how his whiteness makes his rap music more acceptable to other white people. The conundrum is built in. When white people aspire to get points for consciousness, they walk right into the cross hairs between allyship and appropriation. These two concepts seem at odds with each other, but they’re inextricable. Being an ally means speaking up on behalf of others — but it often means amplifying the ally’s own voice, or centering a white person in a movement created by black activists, or celebrating a man who supports women’s rights when feminists themselves are attacked as man-haters. Wokeness has currency, but it’s all too easy to spend it.” 

For those reasons above, I am skeptical of using the term woke for myself or other white people. It's more than that though.  The thing that people with privilege (woke or otherwise) don't realize is that to understand systematic inequality, be aware of it and to thoughtfully consider the experiences of those who do not have the same level of privilege means regularly engaging and learning from others who have experienced it and/or studied it. 

Woke is a process of staying awake, not an end destination.   

Engage, Reflect, Repeat

Many people of privilege have taken the time to read a book, blog post, or article, attended a workshop, or watched a video or documentary to inform themselves of the ways in which people are "othered" in our culture.  I appreciate those that have done so and felt changed by it.  But for me, I don't think that one-time or even the occasionally toe-tipping is enough.  In a culture where so much of the system of privilege is made invisible to those who benefit from it, dominantly repeated in our discourse, and blindly ignored through the myth of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps individuals, it feels like using a single cup of water to put out a fire.  It might help, but the submersion in the fire is inevitably likely to evaporate the water so quickly that it barely leaves a mark. 

While I have taken courses, attended seminars, workshops, and retreats, I have also read thousands of academic, professional, and online articles about understanding this.  I've watched movies, documentaries, TV shows, and online videos that address this.  I've read a lot of books (check out this bookshelf for some good recommendations) to continue to inform myself.  The goal for me is to regularly find ways to keep this in my view as our culture makes it extremely easy to forget.

For some, I'm sure this sounds like a lot of "work,"  right?  Why do it? Two reasons come to mind:  

1.  It's not a lot of work. It's a pleasure to expand my horizon, reflect critically about my life, and the world around me.  It's enriching, rewarding, and empowering to understand the roles I play in perpetuating privilege and learning ways to address and dismantle privilege.  Every time I learn something new, it helps me to better understand the world and my (privileged) place in it.  This helps me to better address and articulate the problems that exist as best I can.  It also means that I can better enrich my relationships with others, more consciously work towards being genuinely welcoming to others, and help other people of privilege understand these things.  It also helps me to better understand hostile or toxic thoughts that occur in my head (or in culture) and where they come from within our culture. 

And yes, I have toxic thoughts--thoughts that undermine, devalue, and disregard others that are not based on the facts and context of a given situation but informed by the numerous messages about marginal identities that I have been exposed ot since before I could remember.  Given that thoughts appear like lightning in one's head, "not thinking" isn't the issue; I can't necessarily stop these thoughts from happening.  But I can recognize these thoughts and call them out in my own head as they occur and do my best to unpack them and disregard them.   

2.  Our culture's messages reiterate the privileging of those identity attributes are strongly and repeatedly reinforced.  When we live in 2017 and (white) people claim there was no racism before President Obama (yes, the article is from 2016 but this sentiment still holds true for many) or that Obama is the cause of the racial divide (the second, told to me by a white male police officer), it tells me we are still far from really understanding folks who are different from the dominant group.  When we have a President in 2017 whose presidency fixates on the threat of "the other" to the point that KKK and white supremacists across the country are empowered to be increasingly hostile to non-whites, we're not really thinking about this whole thing as seriously as we should.  

These misinformed views, of course, largely miss how racism have been infused into politics for generations (well, actually, centuries) and is still a prominent intentional approach by Republicans with their Southern strategy and repeated attempts to block African Americans from voting.  To read the words of Lee Atwater from 1981, they resonate with how the Republicans have actively codeswitched to play upon white privilege:  "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can’t say 'nigger'—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'"  And none of this is to implicate that other political parties don't play with privilege in direct and indirect ways, but I'm struck by how blatant and open the Republican Party has been about it in the last 50 years.

Moving forward, for those at the intersection of privileges, it can be easy to miss things like this or dismiss non-privileged positions in our society given our rhetoric of individualism; it puts responsibility and success on the individual at the cost of realizing or recognizing the systematic forces at play.  

Thus, culturally, we pretend that humans are produced in perfect uniformity as if we were spit out of an assembly line--different models (e.g. a white male, a black female, a middle class latina, etc.  If a person fails, we assume the failure is a fluke, something wrong with the person, not the assembly line.  We never question how we are constructed and what parts go into composing us.  By contrast, it makes more sense to think about humans as building construction.  We all start with blueprints, thus some universal similarity, but our success and longevity has much to do with what precedes our existence.  Does the land we are being built on been made stable or environmentally sustainable?  Did the people involve in the construction use the same standards, the same tools, the same resources?  Is the community going to give the building the same level of support through reinvestment and upkeep?  Will the building be held to the same standards and regulations by inspectors?  In the building metaphor, it becomes more clear how privilege can produce 2 very different buildings from the same blueprints, but no one is likely to see the collapse of one and assume that it was just the building's fault and that other factors contributed to the collapse.

So to me, it is important to regularly re-engage with the subject matter that reminds me of how our culture values me as a building (of white, male, and middle class) and devalues other buildings (e.g. non-white non-male lives).  It's not a guilt thing either.  It's a matter of wanting to better understand myself, the culture that I participate and perpetuate, and the world at large.  I am intentionally blinded to the systematic justice going on behind the veil and therefore must repeatedly seek it, engage with it, and use it to inform me of how to better align my values with my actions.  

For those that are interested in doing similarly, there are some great suggestions that I've harvested over the years.

  • Read (or listen). There are many many many great books out there (many of them in audio).  Get reading/listening.  Here's my full reading this that I continually add to.  
  • Mix up your feed.  If you use social media, be sure to like/follow/link/subscribe with writers/creators/artists/publications that provide a strong lens on marginal voices along race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexualiy, gender, religious, class lines (Everyday Feminism is a good place to start given that ways they tackle intersection).
  • Get in on the conversation.  Join discussion forums or listservs that are actively having these discussions.  Often, you can join and listen to the conversation, without having to participate until you feel you have a meaningful contribution or sincere question. Another means of doing this is to research the relevant hashtags and follow the public conversations on the topic.
  • Hit the documentary circuit.  There are some great documentaries out there if reading/listening are not your thing.  Start with 13th on Netflix, but then check out others like the I Am Not Your Negro, The Birth of a Nation and feel free to find others--there are many.
  • Look around for local organizations that represent marginalized groups and voices.  I'm a big fan of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which has groups around the nation and put out great newsletters that allow for many different opportunities to learn, engage, and advocate for marginalized voices.  
  • Share what you find.  Some of my best discussions and opportunities arrive when I share what I've found and others benefit or challenge what I post.  This opens up dialogue that is sometimes contentious (especially when a commentator is disregarding the view) but is always educative for me in understanding the roles I play in privilege.  Also, please come back to this post to share what you find!
  • Be willing to regularly look in the mirror.  As you encounter so many of these things, there are going to be times you will try to disassociate yourself (I'm not like that; I don't do that; I'm a good person).  As I said earlier, nothing about privilege negates you are a good person.  You are going to encounter struggles that you have overcome, because privilege doesn't negate struggle, but rather changes the probabilities of different types of struggles and the degree to which you experience them. Don't use those struggles and challenges to avoid looking at and considering how you may have experienced privilege or seen it at play in the world around you.  This is hard but it is often necessary because it means unpeeling layers of culture that have trained us not to see that privilege. Find ways of looking in that mirror by writing/journaling or talking with trusted people who also understand privilege to better parse it out.

Other recommendations?  Other thoughts about what I've been talking about there?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, March 3, 2017

My Current Bookshelf - February 2017

Slow month for reading--there were a couple longer reads that I came into contact with as well as it being just a busy (and shorter) month than others.  But as usual, there are still some great reads to be had.  Pretty much all of my reading was audiobooks this month because I'm in full reading mode with my program--no surprise.  But that should reiterate the importance and value of audiobooks.  Despite the busy reading of academic articles, I still managed to enjoy 10 books that I would not have otherwise gotten to.  Given that, I've only got one book that stands out particularly and want to talk about today.

Book covers read this month.

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

Where do I begin with this review besides just saying, "WOW!"  I knew about some of the aspects of this book such as strong anti-Asian immigration laws and racial discrimination in the US toward Asian-Americans since the 1800s.  But Lee provides a meticulous and nuanced exploration of the history of migration and representation within the Americas since the 1500s.  She traces the history of discriminatory practices by different American countries that challenge, limit, devalue, or pit against one another the many different immigrants from the numerous Asian countries.  In doing so, she helps the reader understand the denial of identity and culture that comes with the term "Asian American", and how it masks the distinct experiences, cultural dynamics, and sense of history that different immigrants from Asian bring with them.  In tracing the history to the present century, Lee further aids readers in considering the experience of Asian Americans whose families have been here for generations and the more recent Asian American immigrants fit into the rhetoric of immigration for various discourses and for different dominant-group purposes.  It's definitely a must-read for people trying to better understand race and ethnicity in the Americas.

Check out other reading recommendations from 2017 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads):


  • Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
  • The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee
  • Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1) by Seanan McGuire
  • Master Harold...and the boys by Athol Fugard
  • The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
  • The Vegetarian by King Han
  • The War Doctor: Only the Monstrous by Nicholas Briggs
  • Doctor Who: Death and the Queen (The Tenth Doctor Adventures, #1.3) by James Goss
  • Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman
  • Grim: Classic Fairy Tales Updated for an All-About-Me-Age by Joseph Burgo

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, February 3, 2017

My Current Bookshelf - January 2017

Given that January was a month in which I was not in class, it will surprise few that I read a decent amount this month and many of them were phenomenal reads; a great way to start the year!  There were a lot of great books to discuss but I will restrict my posting to just a handful and I'll be curious if anyone can see a theme.   Feel free to ask me about any of them if you're looking for recommendations.

White Like Me by Tim Wise

Wise's memoir of his own awakening to systematic racism in the United States is a powerful and useful tale for white people to read and reflect on their own experience.  From his early upbringing in the south to his education in New Orleans and early days of activism against the David Duke campaigns in the 1990s, Wise explores the ways in which he has succeeded and failed in being an ally to non-white people.  But what Wise does best throughout the book is to mark with clarity the ways in which the privilege afforded him by being white created opportunities or nullifed threats that would have existed for him, were he not white.  Additionally, he is great at unpackaging the ways in which investment in whiteness doesn't harm just non-whites but does damage to white people as well.  For anyone looking to better understand how one can strive to address and engage with the racial strife in this country, Wise's book is a great start.  

March Volumes 1-3 by John Robert Lewis

These three graphic novels capture John Lewis's first-hand account as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. From his upbringing in Troy, Alabama to his entrance into college and earliest political experiences, the story provides his bird's eye view and experience in striving for a nonviolent revolution in the face of overwhelming white supremacy, oppression, and violence. His experience in the 1960s is paralleled with the inauguration in 2009 of President Barak Obama, providing a beacon to the harsh and vitriolic culture to which both Lewis and Obama (and for that matter all African Americans) were (and continue to be) subjected to. Through the three volumes, Lewis touches upon the leadership of the Civil Rights Movements, the different factions, and the challenges of trying to find the best courses of action to take. The book is both a history and a primer on attempting to change a racist culture that is worth reading for those interested in autobiographies, history, African-American studies, and organizational and cultural change. It would be fascinating to see a volume 4 that parallel's Lewis's experiences with the cultural backlash of the 1970s & 1980s that goes hand-in-hand with the inauguration of Trump.

Book covers for March by John Robert Lewis Volumes 1-3

Focus by Arthur Miller

Book cover to Arthur Miller's Focus.
I came across this novel in a used bookstore and thought the premise sounded fascinating, especially since I've been a fan of Miller's dramatic works.  The story follows Lawrence Newman after he awakes in the middle of the night to hearing a screaming woman being assaulted.  But since the woman is a minority, he largely seems to pay it no mind.  The bachelor enjoys a home in a white Christian neighborhood and works in New York City and is largely successful until his eyesight gets the best of him and he's forced to get glasses.  His glasses, as he feared, make him appear more Jewish in the race-obsessed world of the World War II 1940s.  What follows is Lawrence's demise as those around him increasingly suspect him to be a Jew and he becomes subjected to the same cruel realities that he perpetuated just months before.

Miller's tale is a classic tale of what it's like to live in another man's shoes but also well layered with reflection by Lawrence as he comes to weigh the meaning behind the white supremacist view and how easily it insinuates itself into the minds of the privileged.  Originally published in 1945, there is so much about this book that resonates with the world today that it could have easily been written as today with only slight adjustments.

Check out last year's reads if you are interested (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads)


  • Focus by Arthur Miller
  • Eservice-Learning: Creating Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement Through Online and Hybrid Courses by Jean Strait


  • White Like Me by Tim Wise
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald Sull
  • Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi
  • Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
  • Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
  • The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence by Dacher Keltner
  • Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine 
  • Boy by Anna Ziegler
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg


  • March: Book 1-3 by John Robert Lewis
  • Han Solo by Majorie Li
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Birthright, Vol. 4: Family History by Joshua Williamson
  • Descender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Reality & Continuity, Or Why 9/11 Reveals Some Insights About Live-Action Superheroes

The following is an except of a blog post, I wrote for Jeremy Flagg's blog in celebration of his upcoming superhero novel, Nighthawks.

Word cloud of this post in the form of a person reading a book.
Superheroes aren’t real. (Gasp, I think one may have just died because I said that). They aren’t, but the rise of realism in comic storytelling that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, means that readers demand realistic elements to the storytelling. Even though our capes are walking deus-ex-machinas, we prefer the veneer that all things are genuine struggles for them. But surprisingly, superheroes do have limits. They are not perfect. Because for all that the superheores can do in their fictional realms, they cannot leap from the page and be a part of this world. However, they can appear increasingly life-like through good and sustained storytelling.

A good measure to think about superheroes is to consider how they operate in response to the world around us? How do they deal with real tragedies such as 9/11 and other tragic events wherein they are specifically designed to protect us from? Herein, I will explore how both DC and Marvel have grappled with that idea and the implications it has had for their cinematic and television universes.

I turn to Peter Coogan and his seminal book on the superhero as a genre ( to highlight the power of the genre over others and how it may operate or deal with the real world.

“Real events from the past are worked in…Likely it will become more prominent as creators are freed from the burden of timeless continuity and are able to present stories that deal with the passage of time in more flexible ways….The superhero has a unique signifying function. It can be used to express ideas that other genres cannot portray as well. Superheroes embody a vision of the use of power unique to America.

Superheroes enforce their own visions of right and wrong on others, and they possess overwhelming power, especially in relation to ordinary crooks. They can project power without danger to themselves, and they can effortlessly solve problems that ordinary authorities cannot handle. This vision of power fits quite well with the position America finds itself in after the Cold War. America is the only superpower in the world, something like Superman in the days before other superheroes and supervillains.”

For the rest, visit Jeremy's blog and check out some of his other great content!

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My Most Recent Reads - December 2016

I end the year with another month with a good amount of reads that I was full enthralled with but many of which I cannot really speak about since they are ones that I am reviewing elsewhere.  I will probably come back and write reviews for a good deal of them since some of them will likely be some of my most recommended reads for the year.  I can at least talk a bit about two of the books of the past month:

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin

Word cloud for this blog postMartin explores the history of dramatic television in the last two decades, defining it as the third golden age of television.  The title refers to the defining feature of this third golden age in that both onscreen in the form of lead characters and off-stage in the form of the rise of the "show-runner" writer is universally male.  In tracing the history of many of the most famous and genre-defining shows, Martin shows how the leading characters (Tony Soprano, Vick Mackey, Don Draper, Walter White and others) are men in constant desire of power in a variety of forms and willing to do harm to achieve it.  They are contrasted with often more-complicated but still flawed creators and writers who are also trying to leave their own mark on the world.  Taken together, the book holds up a fascinating mirror to the American culture and in particular, males.  It's a nice slice of Americana, gender studies (though not necessarily too overt), and cultural history.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

Word cloud of TED Talks review in the form of a brain.
Anderson, the head of TED, the central repository for engaging ideas in small 7-18 minute speeches by many key industry leaders (of almost every industry) presents a concise and clear guide to organizing and preparing to give the best speech of one's life.  Focused largely on giving a "TED Talk," which is not necessarily every talk one is likely to give, Anderson walks readers through everything from different approaches on preparing, to technical considerations to delivery styles and wardrobe questions.  He draws upon many of the most famous TED talks to illustrate the best examples of what he is discussing and while he does refer to bad examples, he usually is vague on the details, sparing the targets (and probably himself from lawsuits).  I appreciate Anderson's ability to pull together different aspects of a speech and clarify with each, what is the essential consideration one must keep in mind. Anderson's guide provides a lot of great information and ideas about how to improve one's speaking technique and is likely to be useful to anyone trying to hone their presentation skills.

Monthly reads for 2016 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads)


  • Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  • Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin
  • The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement by William J. Barber III
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
  • Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
  • The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
  • The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross
  • Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide To Thriving In The Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman
  • The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery
  • TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson


  • Darth Vader, Vol 4: End of Games by Kieron Gillen
  • Poe Dameron, Vol. 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
  • Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis
  • Huck by Mark Millar

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a trilogy and I absolutely loved the first book and this second one is equally as compelling. It took me some time to get into it (I listened to the audiobook) because keeping track of the names was a bit tricky (it's translated from Chinese and names are not as familiar to me). The premise of the novel is that Earth has been made aware of an alien species that is set to come to Earth and destroy human life so that the alien life can prosper. It sounds pretty simple but Cixin crafts so many different layers about what this means, how this could happen, and why interplanetary dialogue is likely to be a very very tricky and problematic venture. The novel reads like an amazing and fascinating chess match among the main characters and the alien entities that I find myself for the first time in a long while impatient to read the final book in the trilogy. While I really enjoyed the first book in the series, this book proved even better.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Understanding College and University Organization, Volume I: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice: The State of the System

Understanding College and University Organization, Volume I: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice: The State of the System Understanding College and University Organization, Volume I: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice: The State of the System by James L. Bess
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, this is definitely not a sexy book by any means judging by the title, right? It was assigned by my instructor in my PhD program (and also, the author, Dee). However, it is actually a really solid breakdown of understanding higher education organizations (or disorganizations, no?). As textbooks go, it is accessible with its language, provides useful tools and resources for further consideration, and provides clear connections as it moves through each topic. One is never lost or feeling like the discussion is off the mark. It provides great examples and guiding questions that help readers better apply what they are learning. I highly recommend it to anyone trying to wrap their head around higher education and how it works (or doesn't).

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course

The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course by Linda B. Nilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Within the first chapter of this book, I already had a clearer picture of just what I should be aiming to do with a graphic syllabus that I was missing before. Nilson’s premise is clear and easy to understand (albeit, challenging to fully execute). Given that many people absorb much information visually and contextually, it doesn’t make entire sense to have a syllabus that is segmented into its different silos of: objectives, goals, assignments/assessments/readings. Her goal is to help the reader consider the ways in which one can depict how all these parts of the course fit together in the syllabus.

This is useful for two reasons. The first is that it helps the faculty member have a clearer sense of what he/she is assigning in terms of work and make sure it explicitly connects to objective and goals. This grants a clearer vision of what the instructor is doing. The other reason is that it gives students a stronger context of how it all fits together. Beyond just the “why do I have to take this course” questions, a graphic syllabus can instantly connect the student with context that clarifies questions of why as well as better understanding how information fits together for their growth within the course.

Nilson delves into a variety of issues and concerns about how to go about it and illustrates that there is good variation about how to do it. She provides readers with thoughts about how and why one might do it, but shows there are many ways to go about it. In particular, she provides dozens of graphic syllabi from previous courses (her own and others) in various disciplines to help stimulate ideas across departments. To help readers better envision their own syllabus in a new light, she regularly compares what a text syllabus looks like in contrast to the (same) graphically-enhanced syllabus.

Within the first two chapters, she already had me hooked and thinking differently about my own courses. I’m imagining a comic-book syllabus for my comic book course that would be “teaching” as one progresses through the different elements of the syllabus. But immediately, it helped me to reconsider that American Literature course I had created my first visual syllabus for. I’ve found that I like doing American Literature 1 by addressing different types of writing and moving through the significant pieces in chronological order. This works in many ways but is limiting because students will lack context (or forget) of how the different types of writings fit with one another. By thinking about Nilson’s ideas, it allowed me to craft something more meaningful for the students as you can see from the impromptu outline below.

And that’s probably the other element that I like about Nilson. She emphasizes that one does not need to be an artist to creating a graphic syllabus—nor does one need numerous programs and equipment. I did the image below in Excel. Both MS Word and Powerpoint have outline/mapping tools that you can utilize and master very quickly. You can go high-end (and she shows examples of such), but you can still be graphically rich and simplistic in the types of visual you use (Good thing too—I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!).

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anderson's Imagined Communities is one of those books many people refer to for lots of reasons. It's an important book for consideration for history, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, and even technology that facilitates social relationships. I've known the premise of it for a while but it was interesting to actually read it and see if chockful of various populations and historical moments that I hadn't even thought of being included in the concept of imagined communities. Equally interesting was Arnold's discussing of the publishing history of the book and how different publications in different cultures and languages rendered different meanings and relevance to those cultures. I can understand why so many find it a useful text to draw upon, particularly in the age of digital media wherein we identify with and act as parts of imagined digital communities and find numerous ways of connecting with people we both know and don't "know" because of it.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review: Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time

Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time by Linda Nilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nilson lays out a different approach to grading than what I have been doing most of my teaching career. She explains to readers the benefits and methods of developing specifications grading. Instead of grading along a continuum that doesn't necessarily capture or clarify what the student is able to do at the end of the course, she shows different ways in which you can create assessments that are clearly specified and graded on a complete/did not complete basis. It is--as most things--more difficult than it sounds and it will take time to create the specifications upon which to grade as they need to be clear and easy to follow, but I know what I will be doing for my next course. I generally provide strong guidelines for my assignments, but Nilson highlights the ways I can articulate through given assignments or assignment bundles, the means of accomplishing what it is that I'm looking for. Even if one doesn't switch to specs grading, Nilson gives a lot of food for thought about how you do assignments in general.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It

Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It by Lisa Bloom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bloom provides a very strong analysis and discussion of the Trayvon Martin Case that would be essential reading for anyone looking to make sense of the various legal and cultural issues surrounding the case. She goes further to highlight how Martin's case is representative of the experiences of minorities--particularly African Americans--in our culture due to historical and cultural dynamics that perpetuate institutional racism. She notes that while there has been clear progress, there are also places where we have stagnated or neglected the complexities of race relations. Lisa Bloom's approach is sometimes a little over the top (such as when she creates courtroom dialogue to show how it should have gone), but overall, her argument is spot on.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

My Most Recent Reads - November 2016

Despite it being a busy month with classes and work, I impressed myself with reading two physical books this month, on top of the usual audiobooks and graphic novels.  I won't ramble too much about my reading since my time is short and I'd rather talk about some of the great books this month.    

Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy by Tiggy Upland

Advice from a Wild Deuce Book Coveropenly admit that I am biased in reviewing this book because I am close with the actual author (spoiler alert—Tiggy Upland is a pseudonym!).  Regardless, I found this book to be a fantastic dialogue on the subject of understanding bisexuality (my own, and others).  Upland pulls together the best questions from her advice column to provide a panoramic view of what it means to be a bisexual in the United States in the 21st century.  She’s great at taking on personal questions and drawing out the nuance issues present and parsing out specific advice to the person while also connecting the question to the larger tapestry of navigating bisexuality in a culture that still doesn’t appreciate or provide much room for it.  What’s more is that Upland’s tone is bemusing, sagely, and engaging.  She’s capable of calling out self-deceit in a way that doesn’t turn the reader away but rather endears them to her and to the letter-writer. Beyond the question and answer format that permeates much of the book, Upland includes various asides, resources, and even photo-comics that add more nuggets of wisdom.  For those looking to understand the complexity of bisexuality for personal or professional reasons, this book is a great resource. 

American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good by Colin Woodard

Woodard provides a fascinating framework for understanding the differences in the United States between those who lean towards more collectivist approaches to society and those that believe in more individualistic approaches.  Building off his previous work, rather than provide a simple divide of socialist vs. libertarians, he articulates the presence of eleven "nations" within the United States that represent different historical-cultural origins and occupy different geographical spaces in the country.  From there, he delves into the history of the country and illustrates how different alignments of the nations resulted in the swaying of the country between its more collectivist and individualistic modes of governmental involvement.  It's a fascinating book that highlights the often-complex ways in which different people align and dissent from the different political groups in the country (and why so many people identify as "independent").  It will be interesting to see how much this work is used to better understand and address current politics.   

Monthly reads for 2016 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads)


  • Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy by Tiggy Upland
  • Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock


  • The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World by Abigail Tucker
  • Daredevil: The Man Without Fear Prose Novel by Paul Crilley
  • A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
  • Light Falls: Space, Time, and an Obsession of Einstein by Brian Greene
  • American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good by Colin Woodard
  • Filthy Rich by James Patterson
  • The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
  • The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being by Daniel Siegel  


  • Angel Catbird, Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood
  • Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola
  • Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause
  • Rackham's Color Illustrations for Wagner's "Ring" by Arthur Rackham
  • The Arthur Rackham Treasury: 86 Full-Color Illustrations by Arthur Rackham

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, November 28, 2016

We Can Do Better; I Can Do Better

So where am I with all this?

The swirling hurt, disappointment, and rage still swirls deeply in my soul.  I knew it was possible, but just like cancer and death, it is not something I conceive of happening until it's too late.  I had hoped the country would not go down the path toward a Trump presidency in the weeks since his election, I'm more scared for this country's future and in particular, those made more vulnerable by his hateful rhetoric.  At the time of composing this post, the count was at over 700 reports of harassment

Word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a lightbulb

And I'm mad at a lot of things, people and places--all the forces the colluded to make this election the barely-conceived win that it became--not for Republicans so much but how much the messages of Trump's campaign mixed together a message of hope that was deeply seeded in hatred, anger, fear and frustration.  I get and want change in our government like so many others;   I get and want change in our politics like so many others; I get and want a better future for myself and my loved ones like so many others.  But in the messages and plans that I came across on behalf of this candidate, they were dead-ends to me because so many of them were based on dispossessing others of their rights, freedoms, and opportunities or lacking any substantive means of execution.

Like many others, I am pained by the idea that people chose fear and anger and in some way, were comfortable with disregarding the rights of people like myself and others.  But I don't want to blatantly categorize people.  They are not Trump, though their choices do reflect or feed into and validate the hate and vitriol that has emerged from the white supremacists to the degree that some white supremacists are being offered up as Cabinet members.  For me, calling people who voted for Trump racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc is just too easy.  It lets me off the hook from understanding and humanizing them.  It reminds me of how I used to talk about zombies when I taught about monsters.  Zombies are great enemies--because you can easily kill them without remorse; their humanity is gone.  You don't have to empathize with a zombie, but I need to empathize with the folks who voted for Trump--because we're all still here and in the days to come, we may likely need each other much more than we all realize.

I'm concerned that being on the left-leaning spectrum, we fumbled it a lot in how we related (or failed to relate) to those that chose to vote for him.  We shared ridiculous memes, we made simplistic and often passive-aggressive ultimatums (e.g. "if you are voting for Trump, just defriend me"),  we made assumptions about the typical "Trump supporter" (we collectively decided they were "uneducated"--a term I loathe for all its elitism), we villainized him and his followers.  We did that which we are supposedly not supposed to do; we marginalized.  I get that many did so because so much of what Trump says and speaks to was marginalizing.  We denied them the complexity and contradictions that we often grant ourselves.  But how do we get out of that cycle?  How do we fight hate in a way that doesn't look exactly like what we're fighting against?  We must be as nuanced and respectful of the variations within the people that believe what happened on November 8th was a good thing as we are with ourselves.  If we fail to do that, we fail ourselves.

I use the collective "we" within this post and yet I know not everyone of "us" did all of these things; but they were prevalent enough in our actions, commentaries, and media that we are complicit (or relationally as complicit as we have judged Trump supporter in the negative aspects that he embraces).  But in reality, so much of what I write here were things I grappled with prior to or directly after the election (hard to parse things out as this election riled up so much in all of us).  So this is more about me and what I'm trying to take and encourage others to consider about what has happened.   

I also am writing this from my own position of privilege as a white, middle-class, perceived-as-heterosexual male and I'm strongly aware of this, which is why I emphasize that what I say next is geared towards other white folks--folks who are rooted invested in social justice, equality, equity, and fairness in our society for one and all.  I say this to others whites because it is our responsibility to engage in the race politics of whiteness, race-baiting, and embedded within that, class. It's not enough to sit within our enclaves of privilege, diversity, or complexity, and then judge (often on stereotypes) and deny the complexity of those who voted different from us.  And to be clear, I am not saying that we are all doing this or saying this, but that these ideas are present in our discussions and are part of what leads to our inability to help other white people understand or appreciate the stacked decks that our culture is playing with.   

For white folks like me, we work hard to recognize and understand intersectionality and complexity in the lives of non-white folks as we should, I believe, given the systematic inequality that exists and is woven into the fabric of our culture and laws.  But even in doing so, we can't forget and also work to recognize and address the intersectionality and complexity of whites who live in working class and impoverished conditions that lack access to things--particular to post-secondary education and training.  I grew increasingly frustrated to hear these groups talked about as "uneducated"--a term that in the constructs of our culture and education system, says a million different things; it's not a neutral term but one that implies a lack of intelligence.  For all the left can get right about respectful language, calling large swaths of people "uneducated" and using their voting choice as proof positive of it, just seems like a non-starter. We failed to engage and listen and learn--which isn't entirely surprising given that this is a credo directed toward white allies pretty regularly. We need to understand and when possible ally with them on common grounds of things that are important to all of us (and there are far more things that are likely to be important to all of us than not--after all, many people are suffering under the current system of politics).   

Beyond talking around and about these people, we need to find ways of better talking with them.  I saw too often people that attempted to disavow those friends who were Trump supporters and offered up ultimatums to disengage with us if they believed something different from us.  That is the epitome of intolerance and in this case, I saw many of us use it inappropriately.  The general disclaimer to defriend if someone supports Trump isn't meeting intolerance with intolerance; it's assuming what the Trump supporter believes and minimalizing the complexity of beliefs of another person (something the left strongly advocates against); it is stereotyping and refusing to engage with people that are different.  It's refusing to understand why or having the hard conversations to trace of the nuance of their position.  Not everyone did this, but how many of us actually tried to understand and parse out the nuance of a given Trump supporter.  Instead, we embraced our echo-chambers, which told us of the extreme and problematic things he was doing (often in overexaggerated tones that we accused the right-wing "news" sites of doing--Mother Jones, I'm looking at you and your ridiculous click-bait), which allowed us to believe the worse in Trump and his supporters, while not recognizing the most important things that we actually agree on.    

I feel like as white people, we need to better communicate the importance of equality, equity, and fairness for all people in this country (and the world for that matter--but hey, baby steps)  to other white folks and to understand that when we address those things, we improve everyone's lives.  Moving forward, I feel like we need to change and do this differently.  We need to work hard to bridge efforts; we need to think differently about conversations we have with those we suppose, present, or assume to be the "enemy" or representations of those things we dislike, fear, or take issue with.  

I've started with trying to figure out how to go forward and then moved into rethinking how I do social media.  This post has helped me to flesh out what are some of the things that I am challenged by what myself and other white social justice folks have been doing in the last few months.  In future posts, I'm hoping to more concretely find actions that put in contact and collaboration with people that hold different views from me in order to better connect and relate and maybe, for us to at least understand and respect each other more in a way that this previous election seemed to fail to do.  

So that's where I'm about you?

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