The Updates #17

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Week 17 of the updates and still going strong!

A brown bird standing on a wooden fence with the sun behind it giving the image a golden hue
Bird on the Fence

Well, I got some work done this week on my dissertation--clearing up some of the transcriptions but it was really a fraction of what I hoped to do.  My ambition did not meet my actual execution.  So, you'll see that I've also introduced a new date, June 1 as a countdown because I'm less believing that I will make the deadlines for the Spring graduation.  Still, this gives me a better sense of how fast I'll move through the transcripts, and will need a better system for moving through them.  
  • 93 days until March 1
  • 107 days until March 15
  • 139 days until April 15
  • 185 days until June 1

Not much here as I took most of the week off.  Still, I had an opportunity to sit with and chat with 5-6 colleagues that proved to be very warm and enriching; bringing us all together in a way that felt just right on the eve of Thanksgiving.

What I'm Reading

Books definitely get read/listened to this week and a good chunk of them on education.  I had some strong thoughts on some of them as you can see!

Broken by Paul LeBlanc: As the man who led Southern New Hampshire University from a small unmemorable college in New England to one of the largest and most recognizable accessible institutions, Leblanc builds upon that achievement by looking at the broader societal challenges to consider what can be fixed.  In some ways this feels like a victory lap--having supposedly succeeded in one area, it's time to show others how it's done in areas that he seems to have a paltry understanding. The book goes through a mixture of biography, all the things SNHU is doing right through his leadership, occasional dips into times he just didn't get it right and maybe a place or two where he could get better, as well as occasionally dives into areas of K-12 education, criminal justice, healthcare, and the like to point out what he deems examples of systems that are putting humans first--just as he supposedly is.  Yet LeBlanc's purpose in this book is mired and unclear, but most evident, disingenuous to the point he is trying to make. He argues regularly about the importance of creating extensive systems that can still recognize and uphold the humanity and agency of every individual; he claims this is what he has done at SNHU through his students and his staff; yet, the vast majority of labor--labor that counts towards educational attainment is done by an adjunct system that is highly controlled and exploited. Underpaid, monitored, and expected to constantly respond to students and the like that is easily comparative to the command and control approaches to other dehumanizing spaces such as Amazon, Uber, and such. It's a frustrating thing to hear how often he upholds the importance of relationships and spends less than a few pages in total considering the role of the actual educators in an institution that has over 100,000 students. It becomes hard to take what he says or his recommendations seriously because his own accomplishments seem suspect.  That said, he's not wrong about wanting to think about how to center relationships in complex systems, he just is far from doing it and therefore, this book feels like an unreflective and undeserved pat on the back to create opportunities for more financially-rewarding speaking engagements.

Learning and Awareness by Ference Marton:  A central text for my dissertation this book explores the foundations of phenomenography (my methodology) and variation theory (not part of my research but interesting nonetheless).  Without fully explaining the methodology and theory, I would say that there are some great considerations of Marton's work that would make us think differently about how we understand one another and how we interpret and act on that awareness.

Algorithmic Reality by Damian Bradfield:  A graphic novel with a lot of promise and some follow through.  Through a series of chapters, Bradfield depicts visually what can be considered literal explanations of the ways algorithms work in our society.  The first story where a man follows a person who expresses interest in sneakers around to everywhere they go, including the grocery store and their home packs the most punch; others not as much.  Still, a good graphic novel to help think differently about technology.

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis:  An older book by Davis (published 2003) and yet still a powerful read that challenges readers to imagine what the world might look like if we reimagined criminal justice and in particular, prisons.  Her charge that there were times when the end of slavery or segragation were hard to imagine but have also been overcome help shape a considering of what it could mean.  In particular, her argument about the inhumanity of prisons and challenging what is the real point of how prisons exist currently still feels relevant today.  I can see how this book paved the way for Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow in that Davis's research illustrates how the prison industrial complex is a product of the late 20th century, noting how fewer prisons existed prior to the 1960s and that mass incarceration has largely been a weaponized and racialized process over the last 60 years.  Given the success that many other countries have when they reinvent or change their model of punishment and imprisonment, Davis's work is still precient today.

Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen by David J. Skal: Skal is a fantastic historian around horror and popular culture.  Though an older book of his, this accounting of how we went from the rise in popularity of Dracula to the plethora of vampire films in the last 20th century (published before Twilight) is an impressive and detailed account of different key players, actors, directors, etc who have represented some of the best versions of Dracula. Skal does a great job of not only exploring the different productions but also delving into the historical and cultural context that helps to make sense of each new rendering.

What I'm Watching

Andor: The second half of Andor has a lot of sophisticated ideas and plots.  Speeches by many of the characters are more memorable and powerful than much else in the Star Wars continuity. It was a slow burn but boy, did it draw out higher and more nuanced morals this season than many of other Star Wars properties.

A Christmas Story Christmas: They did a good thing here. It was, in many ways, A Christmas Story through the eyes of an adult and trying to capture the magic of the original, which I am a fan of (especially after reading the book it is based upon).  Bringing back Peter Billingsley was key in this but there were a good share of laughs and elements of the story that were beyond him.  It is certainly better than the previous two sequels that have been made around A Christmas Story (for those that do not know, yes, there were 2 others prior!).  

Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special: This was a fun, brief, and simple jaunt with the Guardians of the Galaxy as Mantis and Drax go to Earth to bring Kevin Bacon back for Starlord as a Christmas present. Not great but enough to make me smile.

The Church Play Cinematic Universe (80 minutes): Ok, on occasion, I watch Jenny Nicholson because I think she is smart, hilarious, and delves into the strange worlds of pop culture that is just fascinating.  In this video, she explores the Passion Plays put on by Church of the Rock in Manitoba, Canada over the last decade.  This church puts on passion plays that often invoke popular culture films/stories including versions of Star Wars, Toy Story, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, and more (In fact, you, too, can watch this by checking out the Church Play Cinematic Universe Playlist). Nicholson's exploration is so hard to stop watching as she goes year by year, sharing excerpts and explaining the highlights and lowlights of each play. 

The Story of Temple Drake: I read about this film a while back and then realized it was on YouTube so I decided to check it out. It's an interesting film--released before the Hays Code was being fully enforced. The film involves a woman who likes to flirt and make out with men until she ends up in a predicament where she is caught and ultimately (though off camera), raped. The story evolves in such a way that the only way for her to prevent an innocent man from being framed for murder, she has to come forward with her story. The movie is based upon William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary and though imperfect is still one of those films that are fascinating to see for the 1930s in terms of its content and implications.

This Week's Photos

Bird on the Fence: We put up the winter birdfeeder and now, the birds are regularly showing up to grab a snack. They're willing to fly up to the birdfeeder even when I'm just a foot or two away which is pretty cool.  But I was out there on Wednesday, I think, and the sun was just right and this little fella was just sitting on the fence waiting for a chance to grab some dinner.  

What's on My Mind

Mostly the week has been a mixture of reflecting on the holidays (what they are, what they aren't, what they can be), taking pleasure in doing things in and around the house (routine and seasonal chores), and thinking about what friendship means and what does it mean to be a friend to others.  They seem like different strands and yet, I can see them all interconnected in a mesh of caring and supports.  That's the most I can say about it for now--the ideas are still swirling; so maybe more in a future post.

Till next week...

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