Playing in the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox (or, the future of Modest Open Online Communities….)

I’ve been spending a significant part of this summer in conversation with educators in places ranging from Watsonville, California to Livonia, Michigan to Belle Fourche, South Dakota to Springdale, Arkansas, courtesy of the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox, what I’m thinking of as a Modest Open Online Community (in contradistinction to the much-ballyhooed Massive Open Online Courses)  that is bringing together 67 teachers and tech specialists who are exploring the challenges and opportunities of working with new media forms and new technologies in classrooms.

The connective tissue of this community is the National Writing Project, and I found my point of entry into the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox through an invitation circulated through the Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP), a community of teachers of writing in Northern California to whom I’m eternally indebted for being an extraordinary source of support and inspiration as I was building my practice as a teacher. The BAWP spirit and ethos can be found in the Bi-Co community in the Teaching and Learning Institute, about which you can learn more here: www.brynmawr.edu/tli/)

In the first two weeks of class, I’ve been learning about how teachers in under-resourced elementary students are working to ensure that their students can get the tech access that gives them the tools that can support their processes of inquiry; I’ve been privy to in-depth discussions about the utility and the drawbacks of different virtual platforms for course work that takes place outside of the classroom; I’ve benefited from hearing experienced educators speak frankly about the successes and failures they’ve experienced in their own practice when using new media forms —  all of which is feeding into the work that I’m putting into the creation of the syllabus for the course that I’ll be teaching this fall in tandem with Ken Koltun-Fromm, a professor in the Religion department at Haverford in which we are thinking about how the generative tension between image and text that we find in graphic narratives can be explored and animated in new media forms.

As the title suggest, the Dakota Digital Writing Sandbox is affording participants the opportunity to try out new technological tools in a context that encourages experimentation and play, where you have folks around you offering suggestions, cheering you on, and helping you dust yourself off when you fall face first. Many of the people taking part in the course know one another from Dakota Writing Project workshops, or from other sites such as BAWP, so there is an already-constituted collegiality into which new folks are being invited, and the organizers have created a structure in which smaller groups of about a dozen convene in weekly on-line chats in which we are able to respond to one another’s ideas and questions in real time.

Thus while most of the educational press is focused on the future of Massive Open Online Courses, methinks that it would be well worth to shine some light on what I’m thinking of as Modest Open Online Communities which show the radical potential inherent in building an intellectual community focused on a circle of 60 or a dozen — reminded here of Margaret Mead’s quotation “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

From Arts of the Possible to Graphic Narratives (or, new uses for old gym lockers)

The Norristown High Speed Line runs roughly parallel to the R5, the SEPTA regional rail route that gave rise to the area’s classification as “The Main Line.” As the story has been told to me, the High Speed Line was the primary carrier of the people from working class neighborhoods who would commute out to Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Gladwyne to cook, clean, and chauffer for the denizens of the many Main Line mansions that dot the landscape, while

the masters of the house would take the Main Line into the Center City headquarters of the Pennsylvania Railroad or the Pennsylvania Savings Fund Society (fondly known as PSFS before being acquired by Mellon which then was bought by Citizens) .  John Andries, the Head of Special Collections at Magill, recently curated an exhibit of documents from Haverford’s collection that illuminated the economic, political, and social histories that shaped the development of the region,  as manifest in designs for transportation.

The image on the poster shows a now-vanished section of track on what is now known as Railroad Avenue: the Didot type, as well as the neatly demarcated lots remind me of the Sunday funnies pages from the turn of the last century, a formal framework that is on my mind as I’ve been working with Ken Koltun-Fromm, a professor in the Religion department, on plans for a fall writing seminar that will be focused on graphic narratives.  On Monday, I hopped the High Speed Line at the Ardmore Junction (the trip costs roughly half of the R5 fare, and the demographic skews younger and browner than the R5 clientele) to connect to the Market/Frankford line to get to 30th Street Station, where I met Ken and Tom Bonner, the  Coordinator for the Mellon Tri-College Creative Residencies, to take the Northeast Regional up to New York City to meet with Pato Hebert, who is teaching and making art at the Tisch School’s Program in Art and Public Policy at NYU.

I had the opportunity to collaborate with Pato on a course entitled “Arts of the Possible” thanks to  the support of Haverford’s Tuttle Fund for the Visual Arts.  In the course, we focused on the ways in which creative forms such as the spiritual, the elegy, and the documentary were recast and rearticulated in movements such as West Virginia miners’ strikes in the 1930s and the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. Over the course of the semester, Pato worked with students in their imagination and refining of their semester-long projects, which took the shape of podcasts documenting censorship in Malaysia and prison rights activists in West Chester, a photographic installation that illustrated students’ takes on the state of feminism, and, in one case, a ravaged box of chocolates that gave a statistical overview of the (mis)distribution of federal funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

At the time of that collaboration, Pato was overseeing educational initiatives at the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), where he was editing an extraordinary arts journal for APLA entitled Corpus — a context in which writers and artists explored the negotiation of risk through first-person accounts, critical essays, documentations of performance pieces, poetry, and, yes, comics.

One of the projects that Pato shepherded during his time at APLA, in collaboration with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, was the publication of Jaime Cortez’ Sexile, a graphic narrative that conveys the voice, experiences, and general fabulousness of Adela Vasquez, a trans Cuban exile whose first years in the United States coincided with the onset of the AIDS crisis;  more recently, he’s been exploring the generative tension between image and text in projects such as an ongoing collaboration with Plasencia Elementary School in Los Angeles that is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) that recently generated pieces such as “A Passing Thought,” an installation in a stairwell in the school:  the thought bubble, iconography familiar to anyone who knows the vernacular of comic strips forms, is cut from a dark blue vinyl sheet that is affixed to the windows;  as one ascends or descends the stairs, the image framed by the thought bubble shifts.

In another Plasencia project, Pato created a process in which students responded to a writing prompt:  of 1,000 responses, 400 were selected and printed on vinyl strips that were affixed to the fronts and backs of folding chairs used for assemblies, so that each time the chairs are unfolded and arranged, they create impromptu poems out of phrases such as “I need a favor” and “yesterday was one day ago” and even “I am confused by these questions.”

As Tom, Ken, Pato, I and I sat knee to knee in Pato’s office floating six floors above Broadway, we traded ideas about the ways in which our course’s focus on autobiography through the form of the graphic narrative could be a point of orientation and a point of departure for creative interventions on campus as well as for class assignments.  Pato spoke about the ease with which students can learn the program Comic Life to create their own comics:  wondering how this could be a medium in which students might frame their responses to the prompt “a moment at which my world turned upside down” or to reflect on a point at which their vision of the world shifted.

As we were thinking out loud about different ways in which students could think openly and actively about the ways in which the forms and frames of comics can be understood in relationship to architectural spaces — part of an ongoing conversation about the ways in which we articulate, animate, and document our lives and the life of a community  – Ken noted that Ryan Gym is a space on campus that is a site of extraordinary possibility/ongoing consternation, depending on how one looks at it (see Robert Homan‘s take on Ryan Gym as “the last of  our wild spaces” on campus: http://haverfordclerk.com/2012/04/where-the-wild-things-are/) which opened up a lively conversation about all the different ways in which that space could be animated.

I, for one, would love to see a project in which members of the campus community would be invited to do installations in the gym lockers in the crypts underneath Ryan Gym — thinking of the vernacular of middle school gym locker decoration, of Dia de los Muertos altars, and of shoe box dioramas as ways of marking memory and of mapping culture.  To be continued…..

 

On making mistakes, and finding spaces for play

This morning I hopped on the 9:40 Blue Bus to make the trip over to Bryn Mawr; I had the unexpected pleasure of running into Conor Brennan-Burke ’16, one of the OMA student interns who was heading over to his economic development course, with his breakfast in hand (that is, in the cornstarch-based biodegradable take-out container)– a healthy combination of yogurt, honeydew melon, and seven pancakes.  He asked me why I was on the bus; I explained that I was going to talk with a number of Bryn Mawr colleagues who were planning to teach a cluster of courses centered on the theme of “play in the city,” which led Conor and me into a conversation that touched upon the cities known for practitioners of parkour, the ingenuity of Philly skateboarders, and “build it yourself” playgrounds where kids can create their own structures from the materials on hand –thus reminding me of the most fabulous Adventure Playground in Berkeley.

When I made it to the breakfast room at Wyndham Alumni House, Cities professor Carola Hein introduced me to Hanley Bodek who has been teaching a course called “Entrepreneurial Inner City Housing Markets” at the University of Pennsylvania for 28 years.  Students who take the course — ranging from future city planners to Wharton MBAs-to-be — are drawn by the opportunity to have a hands-on experience redeveloping an abandoned Philadelphia rowhouse in which learning opportunities range from figuring out how to secure a zoning permit in Philadelphia — surely the subject of a graduate level seminar in and of itself — to finding out what to do when you have followed your blueprint only to discover that you have left yourself about eight inches in which to build a closet.

In reflecting on his pedagogical practices, Hanley said that “what I became good at was watching students make mistakes and not getting upset.” As someone who is a bit of a control freak, this kind of wisdom is revelatory — the understanding that some of our most transformative moments are precisely those points at which things do not go according to plan. At those moments we have to rethink our assumptions, reconsider the information at hand, recalibrate our approaches, and reboot our imaginations…and sometimes we even have to ask for help, and thus can draw from someone else’s organizing intelligence and animating experience.

As a professor located in the Growth and Structures of Cities, Carola was spinning out ideas about the ways in which students could engage in projects that would have them working with three dimensional structures – maybe a garden, a treehouse, or a playground — that would have the potential to reconstruct the dynamics of the communities in which they would reside.  Carola is working in collaboration with Jody Cohen from the Bi-College Education program and Darlyne Bailey, the Dean of the School of Social Work who is also the Special Assistant to the President for Community Partnerships, and the conversation around the table ranged from possibilites of college students partnering with a fourth grade classroom to design a playhouse to the creation of a “city house” that would extend the reach of the Bi-Co community into Philadelphia, that could be used for courses open to the community or as a home base for students spending extended time at an internship or visiting galleries.

We also talked a lot about what play makes possible – how just messing around can lead to new insights, unexpected discoveries, and radically different ways of moving through the world, all of which can help us get closer to our animating passions. As a group of Haverford students, faculty, and staff gather this weekend at Pendle Hill to share our understandings of and experiences with community engagement, thanks to a “Bringing Theory to Practice” grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ I’m going to be thinking a lot about the place for play in all this.

Calling all recent grads with Africana or Gen/Sex concentrations….

…the Yale School of Public Health is looking for a Research Assistant to start April 1  - they’re particularly interested in recent grads with “experience working in a research setting or with issues of women’s health, HIV/AIDS, STDs, pregnancy or parenting, reproductive health, sex education, sex and gender issues, behavioral health interventions or mental health….  Preferred: Bachelor’s degree in Women/Gender Studies, African American or Ethnic Studies, Public Health, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, or a related field.”

Details below – spread the word!

Position Description
Under the supervision of the Deputy Director, the Research Assistant will provide support for a research project that involves developing and testing a group model of prenatal care that addresses a wide range of health behaviors to diverse pregnant women in 3 communities in the US. The goal of this program is to help pregnant women and families reduce their risk for adverse maternal child health outcomes, including preterm birth, low birthweight, rapid repeat pregnancy, HIV/STDs, and diabetes.
Responsibilities:
Assistance with Research Related Tasks (50%):
• Assist in preparation of progress reports, newsletters, manuscripts for publication, and grant submissions (conduct review of library materials and synthesize for inclusion in sections of grant; obtain information from state agencies to reflect problem status; create graphs and charts to present findings; conduct simple data analyses to demonstrate preliminary findings)
• Human Investigations Committee protocol management (create HIC protocols, consent forms, medical release forms, amendments, renewals)
• Produce and contribute to PR materials (e.g., newsletters, website content)
• Coordinate meetings (e.g., meeting preparation, agendas, minutes)
• Attend regular research meetings
• Correspond with collaborators and colleagues
Data Entry, Coding, and Management (20%):
• Data cleaning; Quality control checks; Generating reports from data; Maintaining data files; Data entry into MS Access, Excel, and SPSS databases; Maintain Endnote databases for papers, grants; Maintain data dictionaries
Administrative Duties (20%):
• Order supplies, collaborate with vendors, complete administrative paperwork
• Process financial paperwork, budgeting assistance
• Miscellaneous administrative tasks, (i.e., Xeroxing, filing, faxing, mailing, courier)
Miscellaneous Duties (10%):
• Provide support with all other related duties

Qualifications:
Required: Experience working in a research setting OR with issues of women’s health, HIV/AIDS, STDs, pregnancy or parenting, reproductive health, sex education, sex and gender issues, behavioral health interventions or mental health. Excellent with Windows-based word processing, internet, and various computer programs. Able to work independently, as a team member, and under direct supervision. Excellent organizational skills. Able to work with confidential materials. Good writing skills. Detail oriented. Willing to travel occasionally.

Preferred: Bachelor’s degree in Women/Gender Studies, African American or Ethnic Studies, Public Health, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, or a related field. Familiarity with Endnote, MS Access, MS Excel, or SPSS AND with Medline, PsycInfo, or PubMed. Experience with web design or graphic design. Ability to interact comfortably with research and clinical staff. Good verbal skills.

Availability: POSITION TO START FULL TIME NO LATER THAN APRIL 1, 2013.

To Apply: Send resume to Jessica Lewis at Jessica.Lewis@Yale.edu.

Getting through “The Daily Grind” – Zanya Harriott’s Uncommon Knowledge Project

How do the material, cultural, intellectual, and social contributions of African Americans shape your day to day life?

This is a question that Zanya Harriott ’14 is asking members of the Haverford community to consider in her week-long project, “Uncommon Knowledge” in which students, faculty, and staff have been invited to make the attempt to live their day-to-day lives without crucial inventions by black people; you can follow the project by going to the OMA Facebook page, which you can get to from the button on www.haverford.edu/deans/oma

Zanya is offering nightly video updates on the challenges for the next day, along with histories of inventors such as Alice H. Parker, (whose patent # 1,325,905 is illustrated on the right) who in 1919 invented a heater with a mechanism that regulated the flow of heat to different rooms in a building (my household tried to do without this but when the interior hit 57 degrees, key constituencies staged a successful revolt).

For today, the theme is “The Daily Grind” — what are those common items that are ubiquitous and part of the fabric of our everyday lives?

Pakistan: Lessons in Story-Telling and Micro-Politics

I arrived in Pakistan about a week ago, but the stark realities of every day life here still leave me awe struck. I arrived last Saturday to find myself behind the Dutch field hockey team, all of us waiting for our foreign passports to get stamped for approval. While many others with a foreign passport were directed to a second line, for those not as privileged as a celebrity sports team, I used my American accent and the “I’m a US citizen” card to stick to the shorter, faster line. It’s unsettling to practice an authority that was won for you by others over years of political and economic success, providing you a power that you rarely use. But then again, I was on standing a line to get through customs, and maybe I’m overanalyzing theories on neo-imperialism.

The family that I stay with here is also very protective. They live in a well off neighborhood of Lahore, but still maintain a sense of fear and paranoia of Pakistan’s state of criminality. I’ve heard countless stories, sometimes as minor as maids stealing jewelry to worse, more deadly schemes staged by some house cooks. “Your uncle was at a wedding where the groom didn’t show up. He was kidnapped as he was walking out of the cake shop before his reception. God only knows how he managed to make it back from wherever he was left to die”, my Aunt told me. It’s good that I’m hearing these stories while I’m also reading The Black Swan, a book on human perception and probability. Essentially, what the book explains is that our sense of risk is distorted by sensationalism of “black swans”, events that we otherwise would never have expected but rationalize into our framework by ascribing illogical causes.

I think that sensationalism is an excellent way to describe Pakistani culture. With a developing media culture, Pakistanis are glued to their news channels to get the 24 hour coverage of bombs and guns, a new form of entertainment perpetuated by cohesion within social circles. What’s left are relationships that are developed through the entertainment of story telling, fear mongering, depression. Is it possible that the narratives spun through cohesion creates fixed roles for people to fill, some choosing to play the part of complacent bystanders, others that of the corrupt politician, and some the role of the criminal.

But this sad state of things is once again dependent on the structures that bind you. I’m here interning for an energy project finance law firm and a public policy research team. While in these environments, I’m free from the anxiety that’s ever present in my host family’s home. The people that I’m surrounded by at my internships seem much more relaxed and when conversations do dwell on Pakistan’s many crises, they leave a sense of rationalization, distance, and yet so much more depth.

I find the function of politically charged conversations interesting. I hold a strong belief in the impact that micro-politics have on social norms, all vague terms soon to be explained. I think that instead of finding ourselves frustrated with distant concepts like corruption and criminality, perhaps we should focus on the impact that the conversation has on our values. For example, a friend and I were having a conversation on Pakistan’s apparent corruption and I felt that my friend’s contextualization of the practice slightly legitimized it. I immediately felt obliged to voice my intolerance towards such “practicality”, demonstrating how such a personal conversation can turn into a vehicle for the development of social norms. Sometimes labeling our society into a government and the people makes us forget that we too are part of the public.

Winding Down At Oxford

It’s my second to last week at Oxford and the reflections are pouring in. I still remember the zero week, also known as Fresher’s week, where first year students and visiting students go through various orientation programs. The experience was much more independent compared to Customs week; you didn’t have a specific set of orienteers that showed you around, played games, and what not (not that I’m nostalgic for any of that or anything). Instead a group of four students had a College Mom and a College Dad, both of whom were expected to answer any of your questions and maybe meet up with all four at some point. I sense that my voice is beginning to sound whiny so I’ll stop my description, lest my bitterness over nothing comparing to Customs Week seep deeper into this post.

But time’s flown by, like I said, I’m wrapping up, with only two more essays to go before I’ve finished all my work related obligations. I do have some lectures to finish up with, but other than that, I’m twenty pages away from winter break, which lasts 6 weeks. Interestingly, in the past 6 weeks, I’ve written eleven 10-page pagers, along with a presentation as part of a symposium on social insurance. The amount of work that I’ve gotten through still surprises me, compared with the amount that I’ve written in the past two years. I find the Oxford tutorial system very effective at helping students develop not only a deep understanding of the material they read but also a voice to speak about it.

Speaking of developing a voice, I’ve decided to start writing a blog on energy and the environment. A few months ago, I would have been averse to the idea of researching a topic independently and then writing a post on my research, but because of my adjustment to Oxford’s emphasis on essay writing, I’ve found it much easier to explore a topic that I’m very passionate about. I became interested in energy over the summer while interning at De Lage Landen, a vendor finance firm, where I research the natural gas market. The experience was eye opening, bringing me to the realization that I really don’t know much about such pressing issues such as the energy industry or climate change. What I did realize, however, is that these are fields that I would like to participate in, contribute to, create solutions for.

I’ve been especially motivated by my time here, from taking a Public Economics course, which has taught me the potential that economics has to solve the challenges that governments face, as well as from the ambitious environment that surrounds me. For example, last week I saw Elon Musk, an innovative entrepreneur who’s pioneered in the industries of space travel and electric cars. Hearing Musk talk about the steps he took through his education, business experience, and fund raising to build a rocket is ridiculous, amazing. Hearing him say that he wants to retire to Mars, speaking about energy sustainability as not only a priority, but also a potential social norm, all of this isn’t part of an outlook that you’re used to and so when visionaries jar you into perspective, you appreciate it.

If you’d like to follow my other blog on energy and the environment, here’s a link: explainingenergy.blogspot.com

An Oxford Choice

It was a choice, I chose to sit in this café, inside an art museum, and I chose to write this post in the middle of the afternoon. On my way here, after having been inspired from the sight of the café’s storefront below my window, I had to walk three minutes in a roundabout way through Pembroke (my college at Oxford), the streets, and past my window again, to get to where I am now. I had many other locations to choose from on my way here, the first of which was the quad in my college, surrounded by seventeenth century, castle-like dining halls, churches, and dormitories. I could have taken a turn to the right, instead of going straight, and I would have ended up in Christ Church (another Oxford college), walking past its commanding clock tower (which, at night, adds an especially eerie tone to St. Aldate’s otherwise quiet street) and into its meadows, filled with cows, horses, and storks. I could have even continued straight, not taking the left past my window, and ended up on corn market street, a market as old as Oxford itself was established, full of the excitement that it attracted because of its many one legged and magical street performers.

I chose to sit in a relatively low-key café precisely because of the balance that it brought in the face of such an otherwise overwhelming experience. My day was exciting enough to tone it down, I thought, having spent my morning studying consulting cases, preparing for possible internship interviews, and then going to a lecture by one of the UK’s top labor economists on the difficulties that econometricians face when studying the labor supply. On my way back, listening to a podcast by Harvard’s Occupy Movement on the origins of the UK’s monetary system, I walked past High Street’s stunning medieval architecture, the very beauty that power built, the very power that my podcast chastised. I arrived in my room once again, exhausted, and once again, overwhelmed; being an economist, I naturally asked myself how I could optimize my five hour block of time before class started again. This race to occupy myself was motivated by what everyone has told me, and what I’ve experienced myself, that there’s always something interesting happening at Oxford. You could go to a talk (I signed up to see entrepreneur Elon Musk tomorrow night), you could get in touch with other ambitious students (I scheduled a coffee for Friday with a Rhodes Scholar), or you could go to career events (I already attended the recruiting events held by some of the world’s leading international banks). Not to say that I thought that I’d done it all, but peeling away my jacket and jumping into bed, I did feel that my choice to rest for a bit wouldn’t be undermining the incredible opportunity that studying at Oxford provided.

Surprisingly, it feels that way sometimes. There have been too many days that I would find myself short on time, wishing for the very five hour break that I had now, to finish an essay on the US’s trade deficit in 1970, to attend a lecture by the founder of the Oxford Martin School, to read up on South Asia’s energy crisis. Today, when my break suddenly appeared at an inopportune time, as they so often do, I found myself feeling guilty and paralyzed, scrambling to find a use for it. Having napped with the hope that I would wake up realizing that I had something important left on my to do list, and a metaphorically blank list in front of me, I finally came to terms with the relaxed trajectory that my day was taking, and chose to find myself in a café for the rest of the afternoon.

 

TEDx Haverford: from Shakespeare to Sun Tzu

I spent this afternoon at TEDx Haverford, which was organized by Isaac Anthony ’14, Sofia Athanassiadis ’14,  Tamar Hoffman ’15, Ellen Rienhart ’15, and Victoria Sobocinski ’13. My introduction to TED talks came via Bill Bragin ’89, Lincoln Center’s Director of Public Programming who serves as Music Advisor to TED;  TED started out back in 1984 as a conference designed to bring together folks from Technology, Entertainment, and Design — and which continues to do so in twice-yearly conferences for which registration runs to $7,500 for the four days of 18-minute talks.  TED now disseminates its talks through the web, an NPR show, and TEDx conferences in which local organizers adopt the TED format (one which works best for those who are both concise and charismatic) for locally-invited speakers who are interspersed with videos of TED and TEDx speakers whose talks address the themes chosen by the organizers.

The Haverford organizers selected three organizing themes for the day’s talks: “Past to Future,” “Hostility to Understanding,” and “Isolation to Interaction.”  Given the work of the OMA office, I was particularly interested in the second set of talks that featured Tim Wilson, whose work with Seeds of Peace brings affords people from conflict-ridden regions to meet the “enemy” face to face to work on peace-building, John Carlos, whose stance on the podium at the ’68 Olympics was an iconic moment that continues to speak to the power of resistance, as well as Lori Pompa, whose creation of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program has been transformative for Haverford students who have taken the CPGC-sponsored Inside-Out class taught by Barb Toews.  But I didn’t want to pass up the chance to hear Swarthmore’s president Rebecca Chopp and Lafayette’s president Dan Weiss (coming to a small liberal arts college near you in 2013!) speak about their vision for liberal arts colleges as we move deeper into the 21st century, or to listen to the presentation of Hayley O’Malley ’08, who currently teaches high school English and Social Studies at Notre Dame de Namur while pursuing graduate work in English at Bread Loaf.

So while my ticket was for the second session, I snuck into the first one as well.

The TEDx experience started when I ran into Alanna Phillips ’16, a first year student from Brooklyn who, like me, thought that the talks were taking place in Stokes;  as we walked across campus to Sharpless Auditorium, we spoke about her classes which range from a Perspectives in Biology course focusing on vaccines to an introductory Arabic class (for which she would be lauded by Tim Wilson who reminded the audience that English will not be the lingua franca of the world in the coming decades).  At Sharpless, I found a seat next to Chen-lei “Tom” Zhuang ’15, one of the heads of the International Students’ Organization who was nailing down details for the ISO’s first campus-wide dinner of the year, and behind Kelsey Owyang ’16, whom I first met in the Tri-College Multicultural Leadership Institute who was coming from practice for one of the two dance ensembles with which she performs.

The breadth, depth, and range of experiences, interests, and talents manifest in Alanna’s, Tom’s, and Kelsey’s investments in their Haverford educations and experiences were material manifestations of a key insight from Rebecca Chopp’s and Dan Weiss’ presentation — that at residential liberal arts institutions, students’ presence on campus 24/7 means that they are intimately involved with making and remaking the life of the community (even as Haverford students are famous for their forays into places ranging from Philadelphia to the Philippines).  As Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs work to make bodies of knowledge available to the masses, small liberal arts colleges focus on the practice of teaching students how to think creatively, critically, and in close collaboration with people who themselves bring a diversity of experiences, perspectives, and visions — thus enabling people to reconsider and recast bodies of knowledge and ways of knowing.

My sense is that each mode of exchange has its place and space:  I think a lot about Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted call to “never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Such a group may in fact constitue itself through a discussion group engendered from a MOOC course enrolling a hundred thousand people and this is one of the miracles of modern technology.  At a place like Haverford, that group might come together in a common room in Barclay, Tritton, or HCA 42 (aka “HCA 38 in Base 9″), by virtue of a tutorial group for a writing seminar, in Superlab or on Swan Field, after a show in the Black Box or Drop Shot or James House, because of a common interest in food justice or a shared love for Korean pop music (may I recommend Eruption’s Pinoy take on Psy’s “Gangnam Style”?) or an obsession with Belgian bande dessinee.

Or it might come through a love of Shakespeare:  Hayley O’Malley opened her talk by speaking of the ways in which she gets her students to get interested in reading Shakespeare, noting that for many of them, their first significant interaction with the Bard may come via Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan (understanding She’s the Man to be a free adaptation of Twelfth Night, and Mean Girls as a take on Julius Caesar). Hayley spoke about the process of adaptation itself to be a sign of cultural vitality and reinvigoration, and reminded us of the power of literature to create a common ground for people who come from radically different cultures and contexts by giving us a frame through which to view and revise the world.

In a TED video of a talk by John Hunter (www.ted.com/talks/john_hunter_on_the_world_peace_game.html), Hunter flips the script by speaking to his experiences teaching Sun Tzu’s Art of War to fourth graders who are tasked with saving the world through a World Peace Game that puts students into the role of policy makers, politicians, weather goddesses and agent provocateurs as a means of enabling them to think and work through crises and challenges ranging from global warming to arms escalation.  I’m sitting with a story that he told about a 9 year old girl who, as a defense minister for an impoverished country, singlehandedly forestalled a hostile takeover by an oil-rich neighboring nation by moving to surround that nation’s oil fields with her tanks (high on the list of quotable quotes from the afternoon “You never want to cross a nine-year-old girl armed with tanks”), thus cutting off their fuel supply.  Hunter speaks about how this led to a group discussion about the ethics of engaging in a small war to intervene against larger-scale violence;  as someone who has questioned whether any war can be seen as just, this moves me to reconsider my own world view.  Wondering what Rufus Jones might have to say about this concept so am returning to an account of his work with the American Friends Service Committee;  wondering what others took away from today’s talks, and what will come of the seeds planted this afternoon…..

From the local to the global…..

Thanks to The Beet Goes On, a very enterprising group of students who have partnered with Lancaster Farm Fresh Collective, Haverford now has its own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) outpost at 50 Hannum Drive where members of the community who have signed up for a summer share (options include full or half shares of fruits and veggies and eggs, as well as a flower share) can pick up organic produce from family farms — primarily Old Order Amish — that belong to LFFC.

In the photo at the end of this entry, you can see a representative sample of the amazing veggies that came in my share (and my thanks to Hannah, Stu, Jamie, Chris B., and Rachel who helped me sort out a snafu in my order — indeed, it takes a village to support a CSA).  In addition to extremely photogenic produce, the benefits of joining  a CSA include becoming part of an extended community:  I ran into Laurie Allen from the library as we were picking up our shares and got to chat with her about her upcoming trip; when I carried my box into a meeting of folks who teach in the Writing Program, Danielle LaLonde from the Classics department gave me a seasoned CSAer’s perspective on how to contend with the abundance of particular kinds of produce at particular times of the year (turnip print cards for the holidays, anyone?);  Debora Sherman, from the English Department, shared stories of her mother’s preferred preparation for rhubarb, and Kristen Lindgren, Director of the Writing Center and noted Disability Studies theorist and activist noted that  garlic scape (and a shout out to Sam Shain for cluing me in on the nomenclature) could function as a minimalist centerpiece.

I think about the fact that while I grew up in the fertile farmlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, my close encounters with produce came in the aisles of the A&P where cellophane-wrapped heads of iceberg lettuce and shrink-wrapped packets of green beans were the norm.  My mother somehow managed to recreate intricate Filipino dishes from whatever she found in the bins – years later, I discovered that one of favorite dishes – pork with radishes, was actually traditionally a dish made with jicama, which used to be very difficult to get in Somerset, PA.

You can probably find it there now, flown in from the warmer climes where jicama thrives, and what one might gain in “authenticity” one probably loses in terms of an expanded carbon footprint;  thus, my contribution to cross-cultural cuisine is to chop a stalk of garlic scape on the diagonal, saute it in a dollop of olive oil, add a medium zucchini sliced in half moons (there were two zucchinis in my share, one of which is hiding behind the kale in the picture since it realizes that its partner has gone to a hot skillet) and cook it until it is all crunchy-tender. If you are me, you then add a couple of teaspoons of bagoong (ask your local native Filipino informant what this is) or you could also try some patis — the fish sauce that Vietnamese know as nuoc mam, or perhaps even chop up a couple of anchovies and throw it in before you let it all simmer down. I’m sure that there is a good vegan version of this – maybe using fermented tofu or fermented black beans? – and will try it next time.  All I can say is, that other zucchini is not long for this world…..

clockwise from the bottom: broccoli, red chard, red lettuce, rhubarb, purple kale, and in the middle, my new best friend, garlic scape!