Tag Archives: Barbara Kingsolver

On Memory and History: What’s in a Name?

In the 1996 film version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor chooses his name over his life:

John Proctor: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

While Proctor speaks to the association between a name and honor, names also carry the burdens of gender and heritage. “I have guarded my name as people/ in other times kept their own clipped hair,” begins the speaker in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Naming Myself” from Another America. Later, she explains:

I could shed my name in the middle of life,
the ordinary thing, and it would flee
along with childhood and dead grandmothers
to that Limbo for discontinued maiden names.

But it would grow restless there.
I know this. It would ride over leaf smoke mountains
and steal horses.

Names also represent race and the lingering weight of the heaviest shackles of history. To that, Malcolm X explains his name:

Like Malcolm X, Countee Cullen confronts the name he was called, adding the power of memory, of how names and history combine:

Now I was eight and very small,
     And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
     His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

From his trip to Baltimore, Cullen concludes: “That’s all that I remember.”

The current debate over renaming Tillman Hall at Clemson University is yet another moment about the intersections of memory, history, and names. Possibly lost in the Tillman debate is the wider issue it represents.

“It’s true, South Carolinians would do well to remember Tillman’s legacy,” argues Paul Bowers, addressing directly the naming of Tillman Hall:

But we shouldn’t honor it, which is exactly what we’re doing by keeping his name on a building at a public university….

It’s another thing entirely for it to be named after Tillman, a progenitor and perpetuator of American apartheid who led lynch mobs during Reconstruction and boasted about it until his dying day.

Remembering history, the worst scars of history, is different than honoring those scars of history. And naming—whether it be a person’s name or a building’s—treads a thin line between remembering (as not to make the same mistake again) and honoring.

William Stafford’s “At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border” forces readers to consider through inversion that what we name is what we honor:

This is the field where the battle did not happen,…
where no monument stands,…

No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

The South presents a history that must not be forgotten, but includes much that should not be honored—including the person, ideologies, acts, and name of Benjamin Tillman.

And somewhere between John Proctor’s impassioned but fictionalized plea and Malcolm X’s steadfast and reasonable refusal to accept the name given him lies my recognition that what we name anyone or anything, and why, is powerful evidence of what we remember and why—and ultimately what we honor beneath claims otherwise.

In Lynching in America, that fact—as in Stafford’s poem—is highlighted:

Most Southern terror lynching victims were killed on sites that remain unmarked and unrecognized. The Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues, and monuments that record, celebrate, and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror [emphasis added]. The absence of a prominent public memorial acknowledging racial terrorism is a powerful statement about our failure to value the African Americans who were killed or gravely wounded in this brutal campaign of racial violence. National commemoration of the atrocities inflicted on African Americans during decades of racial terrorism would begin building trust between the survivors of racial terrorism and the governments and legal systems that failed to protect them. (p. 22)

Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street has a chapter “My Name” that begins, “In English my name means hope,” adding, “It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine”:

She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window. (pp. 4-5)

Tradition is static, like “forgotten.” A name given, a name chiseled in granite, a name uttered each time someone gives directions.

Remembering in order to remain steadfast against the mistakes of the past does not require the echo of names, and renaming becomes an act of defiance and recognition, as Esperanza proclaims: “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees” (p. 5).

The call to rename Tillman Hall, then, is not about erasing or forgetting, but about the baptism of re-naming as an act of courage, a claiming of honor too often denied and too often ignored. The refusal to rename Tillman Hall proves James Baldwin right, although he made these observations sixty years ago:

[The South] clings to the myth of its past but it is being inexorably changed, meanwhile, by an entirely un-mythical present: its habits and its self-interest are at war. Everyone in the South feels this and this is why there is such panic on the bottom and such impotence at the top. …

[I]t is, admittedly, a difficult task to try to tell people the truth and it is clear that most Southern politicians have no intention of attempting it….

This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person. (“Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South”)

Renaming is a baptism long overdue in the Bible Belt.

See Also

Why the Heck Do Latino Reporters on Public Radio Say Their Names That Way?, Quenna Kim


Beyond Toilet Seat Etiquette

In her The Airplane Seat Theory of Education post, Nancy Flanagan asks:

When did we stop cherishing our small communities in favor of looking out for number one? When did we lose the idea that we have accomplished great things collaboratively, as a nation of small communities–the GI Bill, the Hoover Dam, the middle class–not as individual, high-profile wealth-producers?

Schools, too, are temporary communities, that function best when the folks involved understand the importance of consideration for our fellow humans, which leads to the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Within a week of my reading this, I was sitting at my sister-in-law’s, surrounded by my niece, daughter, wife, and sister-in-law as well as my niece’s two children while I held my granddaughter. In the flow of unrelated discussions, the women in the room had a quick but notable discussion of the age-old anger at men who leave the toilet seat up. The consensus of the women in the room was that such acts are essentially rude, an inconsiderate act that fails to recognize the basic human dignity of other people using the toilet differently.

I think it is fair to say that these women felt as if leaving the toilet seat up was a statement that suggested they simply don’t exist—a pretty awful feeling for a loved one to have.

Since then, I have found myself contemplating the toilet seat in a similar way to Flanagan’s consideration of the airplane seat, and I think her question deserves a fuller reply.

Community and collaboration, I think, are not concepts we have lost in the U.S., but ideals we have never really embraced. And the reason why lies with our essential materialistic consumerism linked to our embracing the rugged individual myth.

The problem with materialism, consumerism, and broadly ownership in Western and U.S cultures can best be revealed through toilet seat etiquette, but let’s start somewhere else—the car.

In the U.S. (and especially in the rural areas), we not only covet our cars, but also each person old enough in the family has his/her own car—and mass transit isn’t even an option. To have your own car in the U.S. is a teenage rite of passage—often a very public marker of class that further ostracizes young people.

Much the same can be said about iPods (and earbuds) or smartphones.

But the toilet is a different matter.

Even in our own homes, the toilet can and will be a communal possession—guests have access to the toilet as do all who live in a home.

Just as death and bodily functions level (and thus humanize) people despite their class, race, gender, or ideologies (we all die and we all must evacuate our bladders), the toilet challenges our individualistic sense of ownership—or at least it should.

“Ownership is an entirely human construct,” writes Barbara Kingsolver in “Making Peace” from her collection High Tide in Tucson, adding:

At some point people got along without it. Many theorists have addressed the question of how private property came about, and some have gone so far as to suggest this artificial notion has led us into a mess of trouble….[T]o own land, plants, other animals, more stuff than we need—that is the particular product of a human imagination.

In the beginning, humans were communal and social creatures. (p. 26)

I would add to Kingsolver’s excellent essay that this tipping point in which, as she explains, humans have come to see ownership “as a natural condition, right as rain” (p. 30) is the imbalance at the foundation of our loss of community, our honoring of individual ownership to the exclusion of communal property and thus eroding the very individual rights we claim to cherish.

The problem is one John Dewey, William James, and others have confronted in philosophical terms—the fabricated choice between the individual and the collective, an either/or in which the U.S. and most Westerners have lined up to support only the individual.

And thus, men lift toilet seats and leave them up as if no one else exists—especially and most damning, as if no women will need to use that particular toilet in a way different than he has.

Failure to honor basic toilet etiquette is simply callousness, selfishness, and a lack of self- as well as collective awareness. It is a very impersonal and undignified “Up yours,” offered in absentia.

As Kingsolver notes, we have abandoned collaboration for competition and championed “I” over “we” to the detriment of each of us as well as all of us.

Again, to Dewey—the individual/community dynamic is not a choice, but an inseparable and symbiotic relationship. To honor the individual, we must simultaneously honor the community, and to honor the community, we must not ignore the individual.

Thus, to recognize the toilet as mine (either literally as in “I bought it” or temporally as in “I am currently on it”) as well as always someone else’s is the toilet seat compact that would benefit all of humanity if we were to expand that premise to essentially everything. This, of course, is the argument Kurt Vonnegut offered over and over in the waning years of his life about the planet: It is in each of our selfish interests to treat the planet as if it belongs to everyone.

“Life is better,” ends Kingsolver, “since I abdicated the throne*. What a relief, to relinquish ownership of unownable things” (p. 33). And I am certain that if we could balance our sense of individual ownership with communal ownership, we would have a similar response because life would be better if we humans lived each moment with the simple compassion and awareness found in toilet seat etiquette that honors communal dignity while also challenging the patriarchy of lifted seats.

* Yes, “abdicated the throne….”

Teaching Essay Writing through Poetry

As a writer and teacher, I am pained to admit, but in the big picture I do agree with Kurt Vonnegut who opens “Teaching the Unteachable” with “You can’t teach people to write well. Writing well is something God lets you do or declines to let you do. Most bright people know that….”

My caveat, however, is about what we mean by “writing well.” Vonnegut above and my agreement are confronting what I would call those who are by their nature and inclinations writers first—those who labor over poetry, fiction, essays, and the like for months and even years (and decades) without any real hope anyone will ever publish that work. These are writers who write because they have to, but not necessarily because they want or need to.

For over thirty years now, I have taught primarily high school and undergraduate students to write—but that effort is rarely about the sort of writer mentioned above; instead I am teaching writing that is essentially functional and disciplinary. And it is there that I diverge from Vonnegut because I know for a fact that we can teach people to write well in the disciplines, often extremely well even when they do not particularly like to write, even when they insist they are not very good writers.

One of the most effective approaches to teaching disciplinary-based essay writing is to focus on large concepts about effective writing and then grounding that in examining poetry in order to teach those concepts. Using poetry to reinforce essay writing helps highlight the universal qualities of powerful writing and continues to push students in their awareness of genre, form, and medium as they impact expression.

This fall, in fact, I have had several students directly challenge my focus on being specific—the importance of details, concrete language, and, as Flannery O’Connor has argued, triggering as many of the reader’s senses as possible.

Kingsolver’s “What the Janitor Heard in the Elevator” and the Essay

Barbara Kingsolver from her collection Another America/Otra America begins “What the Janitor Heard in the Elevator” with “The woman in the gold bracelets tells her friend:,” and then continues:

I had to fire another one.
Can you believe it?
She broke the vase
Jack gave me for Christmas.
It was one of those,
you know? That worked
with everything. All my colors.
I asked him if he’d mind
if I bought one again just like it.
It was the only one that just always worked.

Her friend says:
Find another one that speaks English.
That’s a plus.

The woman in the gold agrees
that is a plus.

In class, we begin to read and examine this poem, but I use this discussion to highlight the craft of writing (especially as that relates to disciplinary essay writing), not to do the traditional poetry analysis most students expect.

Here are some of the elements of effective writing I highlight:

  • After we begin discussing the poem, I steer the students back to the title, which in this case is extremely important. Thus, I emphasize the importance of the title as well as discuss the art and craft of subheads in disciplinary essays. Many students have not focused on titles, and often submit essays without titles so this is typically a key lesson for first year students.
  • Next, we highlight the use of “gold” in the opening line and the final stanza. The points I stress are about word choice, connotation, and framing. I believe essay writing must begin at the word level for young writers; they need a greater sense of purpose in the words they choose, notably specificity, concreteness, appropriateness (key here is that words have specialized meanings in the disciplines), and clarity. And that connects with connotations of words; in the poem, “gold” carries a great deal of important information about the scene, issues related to wealth and privilege. My students are quick to admit that Kingsolver has chosen “gold” with intent, purpose. Further, “gold” serves as a framing motif since she incorporates the word in the opening line and the end. I stress to students that essays are often framed (and to avoid the mechanistic introduction and conclusion format they have learned in high school). Framing and motifs add powerful and concrete elements to writing that young writers often lack.
  • We also confront Kingsolver’s use of “one” and “it,” especially the latter since I have stressed the problems with the pronoun to my students. In this poem, “one” and “it” create meaning in their repetition but also in their mixed implications about both the domestic worker and the vase. The point of emphasis is that Kingsolver, again, chooses and repeats words with purpose to create meaning, and this contrasts with how students are apt to repeat and use empty or vague language from carelessness.
  • Finally, we discuss the effectiveness of writing with characters and plot as well as the impact of showing versus telling. People doing things are powerful, much more powerful than abstractions. Kingsolver in her poem trusts the reader to know the abstractions she is showing; however, young writers tend to make many grand announcements (often overstated) and fail to show or support those claims.

This fall I followed the discussion of Kingsolver’s poem with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” and the result was impressive. We were able to identify these craft lessons immediately in King’s essay; students were also significantly more willing to embrace the concepts once we worked through the poem and then into King’s writing.

While there is a cynical irony to Vonnegut’s claims about teaching the unteachable—written by a writer who often taught at writing conferences and legendary writing workshops—ones that do elicit laugher, I am convinced that we teachers of writing who serve primarily students who will have to write while in formal education and then may go on to write in the disciplines can be very successful, but only if we take the teaching of writing seriously, and seek ways in which students can grow as writers.

Focusing on the universals of effective writing and then allowing students to examine and practice those universal are essential. And to do that, I find that poetry is an excellent resource for teaching the writing of essays.

For Further Reading

Are we teaching students to be good writers? 

Why Are We (Still) Failing Writing Instruction?

More on Failing Writing, and Students

From Failing to Killing Writing: Computer-Based Grading

Misguided Reading Policy Creates Wrong Lessons for Students as Writers

National Poetry Month: “What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?”

National Poetry Month 2014 comes not on “little cat feet,” like Carl Sandberg’s “Fog,” but in the wake of Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher, responding to reports of the whitewashing of books for children. Walter Dean Myers explains:

But there was something missing. I needed more than the characters in the Bible to identify with, or even the characters in Arthur Miller’s plays or my beloved Balzac. As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. I didn’t want to become the “black” representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.

Myers identifies James Baldwin as the moment he discovered what was missing, and then Myers asks:

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?

National Poetry Month 2014 also comes just as we have Baldwin’s Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, which includes a beautiful and inspired Introduction by Nikky Finney:

Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, James Baldwin

As we search for ways in which to insure that students, as Myers did, find what is missing in the texts students are often required to read, I recommend the poetry of Baldwin and Finney. Along with Finney’s full Introduction above, students can access Finney’s Playing by Ear, Praying for Rain: The Poetry of James Baldwin, and then their poetry (see Nikky Fnney at Poetry Foundation).

These entry points to poetry can then lead to multi-genre/mode/form considerations, such as The Most Powerful Piece of Film Criticism Ever Written—about Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work. Noah Berlatsky’s essay includes two important links as well to another African American writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, inspired by Baldwin (see Jose Vilson on Baldwin as well):

Along with seeking texts that have people who look like all our students, we must also consider language. A wonderful bi-lingual poetry unit can be developed from two beautiful and powerful books: Barbara Kingsolver’s Another America and Jorge Luis Borges’s Borges: Selected Poems (see Borges at Poetry Foundation), Kingsolver’s translated from English to Spanish and Borges’s translated from Spanish to English:

Another American

Borges: Selected Poems

Myers ends his essay by confronting how texts represent African Americans and how African American males, specifically, are impacted:

And what are the books that are being published about blacks? Joe Morton, the actor who starred in “The Brother From Another Planet,” has said that all but a few motion pictures being made about blacks are about blacks as victims. In them, we are always struggling to overcome either slavery or racism. Book publishing is little better. Black history is usually depicted as folklore about slavery, and then a fast-forward to the civil rights movement. Then I’m told that black children, and boys in particular, don’t read. Small wonder.

“There is work to be done,” Myers concludes, and National Poetry Month is an ideal time to start, or continue that work.

Additional Reading

Reading Out of Context: “But there was something missing,” Walter Dean Myers

From Baldwin to Coates: Denying Racism, Ignoring Evidence

remnant 20: “your absence will sadden other afternoons”

Assorted thoughts on poetry

James Baldwin: Challenging Authors

Reading, Learning, Teaching Barbara Kingsolver

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect: On the Lives and Education of Children


Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect: On the Lives and Education of Children

Edited by P. L. Thomas, Paul R. Carr, Julie Gorlewski, and Brad Porfilio

Peter Lang USA

Rethinking Childhood Series, Gaile Cannella, series editor

Call and Submission Requirements

Submit a proposal of about 300 words by February 28, 2014, to paul.thomas@furman.edu.

Chapter initial drafts due July 15, 2014, should be in APA citation/style format (see citation proofing guidelines below) and 5,500-6,500 words. Authors are urged to submit clean and carefully edited drafts to enhance the editing process. Please take great care with block quotes (do not set off with returns and tabs) and hanging indents in the references list (do not create hanging indents with return/tab, but use the ruler or Menu>Format>Paragraph>Special>Hanging Indent). (Please read carefully below the background underpinning informing this volume.) Also, it is important to have complete bibliographic information with up-to-date references. (See the end of this document for more information on APA).

Topics, problems, and practices addressing the following will be included:

  • How are “no excuses” ideologies dominant in child rearing and schooling in the U.S. and elsewhere? How are these practices harmful to children?
  • Why are the Commons essential to a thriving democracy, and how does a cultural attitude toward children impact that culture’s commitment to the Commons (notably public schools)?
  • What constitutes pedagogies of kindness and respect?
  • What practices in child rearing and schooling reflect pedagogies of kindness and respect?
  • How are attitudes and practices related to children connected to democratic values?
  • How are current educational structures reflecting and perpetuating stratified opportunities for children, and what education reform alternatives address those structures?
  • How does kindness play into the conceptualization of educational curricula, pedagogy, policy and evaluation?

Submission of Chapter Proposals

To be included in the 300 words are:

  1. Name(s) and affiliation(s) of author(s)
  2. Proposed title
  3. A detailed abstract on the focus of the proposed chapter, including conceptual, theoretical and methodological frameworks as well as the central research question.
  4. A list of 8 keywords.
  5. Also attach the CV(s) for the proposed author(s).

Points of Emphasis

Because we are living in times of historical amnesia, the chapters themselves should be critical, illustrate multiplicity and nuance, and demonstrate an awareness of historical and critical constructions of childhood (and the past work done related to these areas).  The following are examples of expectations for the work:

  1. The fields of education, and especially early childhood education, have included some histories and perspectives that view/treat those who are younger with kindness and respect.  Examples include the works of Nel Noddings (1992), The Challenge to Care in Schools, and Lisa Goldstein (1998), Teaching with Love (in Peter Lang’s Rethinking Series) as well as various scholarly and educational models practiced or put forward by multiple educators and scholars.  Chapters in the work should demonstrate an informed awareness of this history and the ways that both old and new ideas can counter current conditions that are harmful to both those who are younger and older.
  2. The chapters should avoid reconstitution of the romantic, innocent child to be saved by more advanced adults; this has been addressed by many.  The issue is the context in which we are all being placed (not that we should protect the “innocent” child) that is harmful to those who are younger, as well as everyone else.
  3. The notion of two interpretations of childhood: (a) those who are poor who are also often labeled as not knowing how to raise their children so needing help, and (b) those who are privileged and know how to raise their children, has been discussed and problematized over the past 30 years.  Rather than treating this circumstance as a new revelation, the issue is “why has this circumstance continued and even worsened?”  The gap between the rich and poor has certainly increased (why?); testing and standards based education has been critiqued as problematic, but the practices are more accepted than ever (why?); why has past work been ignored and what can be done to change our current circumstances?


  • Call, proposals due: February 28, 2014
  • Accepted chapters: March 15, 2014
  • Chapters due: July 15, 2014
  • Revised/final chapters due: September 30, 2014
  • Manuscript delivered: October 15, 2014


Eliot Rosewater in Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater implores:

“Go over to her shack, I guess. Sprinkles some water on the babies, say, ‘Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—:

“‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’” (p. 129)

In Sandra Cisneros’s short story “Eleven,” Rachel sits in class on her eleventh birthday, a day in which she is confronted by her teacher about a found red sweater that the teacher is certain belongs to Rachel:

“Of course it’s yours,” Mrs. Price says. “I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not. (Cisneros, 2004, p. 42)

While these are fictional representations, children live in a state of powerlessness, silenced by the hierarchy of authority. The sweater in Cisneros’s story is, in fact, not Rachel’s, but as the narration reveals, facts are secondary to hierarchy.

In the U.S. and throughout the world, children tend to experience not only silencing but also a level of harshness not found in other cultures.

The twenty-first century remains a harsh place for children in their lives and their schools, even in the U.S. where childhood poverty is over 20% and the new majority of public schools involve children in poverty (A new majority, 2013).

But more than the conditions of children’s lives and schools in 2013 is worth addressing. As Barbara Kingsolver (1995) details in “Somebody’s Baby”:

What I discovered in Spain was a culture that held children to be meringues and éclairs. My own culture, it seemed to me in retrospect, tended to regard children as a sort of toxic-waste product: a necessary evil, maybe, but if it’s not our own we don’t want to see it or hear it or, God help us, smell it. (p. 100)

A sort of cultural antagonism and authoritarian control of children pervades the U.S., and during the current thirty-year cycle of accountability, children tend to face this formula[i]:

If children in the U.S. can survive the gauntlet that is the national formula for children, as young adults they can look forward to crushing debt to attend college so that they can enter a nearly non-existent workforce.

But there is a caveat to this formula: The U.S. formula for children above is for “other people’s children,” that new majority in U.S. public schools and those children living in homes of the working poor, the working class, and the dwindling middle class.

Children of the privileged are exempt.

This volume will collect a wide variety of accessible chapters from scholars and practitioners to explore pedagogies of kindness, an alternative to the “no excuses” ideology now dominating how children are raised and educated in the U.S. The genesis of this volume cane be linked to two poems by P.L. Thomas: “the archeology of white people” and “the kindness school (beyond the archeology of white people, pt. 2),” the second of which reads in full:

it simply happened one day
when the teachers decided
enough was enough

all the boys with OCD
spent the day playing drums
or riding their bicycles

and the introverts sat quietly
smiling periodically in the corners
while the extroverts laughed and laughed

and soon the pleasures became many
as varied as the children themselves
until one day a child stood to proclaim

after reading Hamlet all on her own
“I say, we will have no more tests”
to which there was thunderous cheering

yes it seemed simple and obvious enough
the founding of the kindness school
with open doors and children singing


Cisneros, S. (2004). Vintage Cisneros. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Kingsolver, B. (1995). High tide in Tucson: Essays from now and never. New York, NY: Perennial.

A new majority: Low income students in the South and nation. (2013, October). Atlanta, GA: Southern Education Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.southerneducation.org/getattachment/0bc70ce1-d375-4ff6-8340-f9b3452ee088/A-New-Majority-Low-Income-Students-in-the-South-an.aspx

Vonnegut, K. (1965). God bless you, Mr. Rosewater or pearls before swine. New York, NY: Delta.

See also:





Citation Proofreading Guidelines

APA — Please copyedit submissions carefully to be sure you have cited following the APA style sheet; below are key points of emphasis that still need addressing in many chapters (also see for guidance https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/):

Copyedit carefully references, noting APA format for titles of books and article (CAP first letter of title, first letter of subtitle and proper nouns ONLY [for example The handmaid’s tale]; journal titles use standard CAP conventions [for example: English Journal]). Essay and chapter titles do NOT require QMs, but book and journal titles remain in ITAL. Also be careful to ensure that each reference conforms to the type of work you are citing; the OWL link has a wide range of samples on the left menus, and it is crucial that you match the type of work being cited to the format. The initial information in each reference bibliography MUST match your in-text citations. For example:

in-text example

James Baldwin (1998), in “A Report from Occupied Territory” (originally published in The Nation, July 11, 1966), confronted an “arrogant autonomy, which is guaranteed the police, not only in New York, by the most powerful forces in American life” (p. 737) and the corrosive deficit view of race it is built upon.


Baldwin, J. (1998). James Baldwin: Collected essays. New York, NY: The Library of America.

In-text guidelines include the following key elements:

First paraphrased reference to a source in EACH new paragraph must include either Author (year) or (Author, year). PLEASE keep Author (year) or (Author, year) in conjunction; do NOT place the year isolated from the author name. All subsequent uses in that paragraph require only either Author or (Author). Please note that parenthetical cites in the flow of your sentences require that the period come AFTER the ( ). ; for block quotes, the period comes BEFORE .( )


America the Beautiful created a minority class out of a race of people who are as rich, vibrant, and beautiful as any race of people. America the Beautiful has also created a criminal class out of African American men, building a new Jim Crow system (Alexander, 2012) with mass incarceration masked as a war on drugs. America the Beautiful created a dropout class and future criminal class out of African American young men, as Alexander details, building school-to-prison pipelines and schools-as-prisons as zero-tolerance schools imprisoning urban communities (Nolan, 2011).

In-text citing of print sources, required page numbers:

First quoted reference to a print source in EACH new paragraph must include either Author (year, p. #) or (Author, year, p. #). All subsequent uses require only either Author (p. #) or (Author, p. #). Note that a comma must separate Author, year, p. # and that a SPACE must be placed after the p. preceding the page number. For a quote from a single page use “p.” and for a quote spanning multiple pages, use “pp.” Please note that parenthetical cites in the flow of your sentences require that the period come AFTER the ( ). ; for block quotes, the period comes BEFORE .( )


In 1963, Ellison (2003) spoke to teachers:

At this point it might be useful for us to ask ourselves a few questions: what is this act, what is this scene in which the action is taking place, what is this agency and what is its purpose? The act is to discuss “these children,” the difficult thirty percent. We know this very well; it has been hammered out again and again. But the matter of scene seems to get us into trouble. (p. 546)

Ellison recognized the stigma placed on African American students, a deficit view of both an entire race and their potential intelligence (marginalized because of non-standard language skills). But Ellison rejected this deficit perspective: “Thus we must recognize that the children in question are not so much ‘culturally deprived’ as products of a different cultural complex” (p. 549). Ultimately, Ellison demanded that the human dignity of all children be honored.

Citing literary sources with APA:

APA is somewhat cumbersome for citing extended literary analysis, but you must first create an accurate bibliography of the cited works (such as novels) you will cite, and then maintain the above formatting principles when citing from and offering an extended analysis of that work. APA uses Author (year) or (Author, year) and not abbreviations of titles. If you are citing multiple works from an author published in the same year, you must alphabetize them in your bibliography by the titles, and then add sequential alphabet denotes that then MUST be used in the in-text citations.


Typical of contemporary education reform, CCSS began as a political process driven by business interests—not as an educational process designed by classroom teachers or educational researchers (Ohanian, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2011a, 2011b, n.d). In the 1980s during the first wave of accountability, state governors became the primary voice for educational reform. Those governors often used their educational bully pulpit to pursue economic and business goals—improving the workforce or attracting new companies.

[note that proper hanging indent does not show in blog format]

Ohanian, S. (2012a, November 19). Common Core reality check: Here’s how Common Core assessments plan to certify workers for the global economy (with pix)…Let’s make sure the children read ALL of Ovid while we’re at it! Substance News. Retrieved from http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3778

Ohanian, S. (2012b, October 28). Snookered by Bill Gates and the U.S. Department of Education. The Daily Censored. Retrieved from http://www.dailycensored.com/snookered-by-bill-gates-and-the-u-s-department-of-education/

Ohanian, S. (2012c, February 4). NCTE allegiance to the Common Core is burying us. SusanOhanian.org. Retrieved from http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=1183

Ohanian, S. (2011a, December 7). We’re being steamrolled into one-size-fits-all. Learning Matters. Retrieved from http://learningmatters.tv/blog/web-series/discuss-are-common-core-standards-good-or-bad-for-education/8280/

Ohanian, S. (2011b, October 19). The crocodile in the Common Core Standards. Substance News. Retrieved from http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=2716

REVIEW: Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

A young woman in the Appalachian hills of the rural South finds herself pregnant far too young and marries her high school sweetheart, only to lose the child. Years later, living on the farm owned by her in-laws and now the mother of two children, she walks up a mountain on that land to a rendezvous with adultery.

The hike is taxing—she struggles without her glasses (left behind out of vanity) and with her incessant craving for a cigarette—but before she meets her would-be young lover, she encounters what appears to be the entire valley below her in flames. Except there is no fire, only a billow of orange spread out beneath her.

Is this a vision from God? Or a human-made disruption of nature? Of both?

Following The Lacuna (2009), a novelization of the relationship between artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico, Barbara Kingsolver explores the life of Dellarobia Turnbow in Flight Behavior (2012), as Kingsolver explains:

I had been wanting to write about climate change for some years. One morning I imagined millions of butterflies settling in the treetops – a drastically altered natural phenomenon that people would not understand as dangerous, one that looks really beautiful but is in fact dreadful. I don’t know how that vision came into my head as that is not how this business usually works. Most every book I bring into the world is like birthing a baby, it’s a lot of effort! So when it did, I thought: oh, this is a perfect starting point.

Kingsolver’s critical and popular reputations rest, still, on her tour-de-force The Poisonwood Bible (although Kingsolver praises The Lacuna as her most enduring), but she has published to date an impressive collection of novels, wonderful collections of essays, a collection of short stories, and a powerful bi-lingual collection of poems, Another America. Throughout Kingsolver’s writing, her most compelling gift is her attention to the craft of writing as it intersects with her politics. Barbara Kingsolver has a political agenda, but her messages remain beautifully housed in her gifts as a novelist, essayist, and poet.

As a Kingsolver fan, Flight Behavior transported me back to Prodigal Summer, my favorite Kingsolver novel, and Animal Dreams. In this newest narrative, the characters are diverse and compelling; Kingsolver is never condescending or unkind when she creates characters with competing world views and backgrounds—even when the characters stand outside Kingsolver’s own commitments.

Flight Behavior creates several complimentary tensions that rise out of what would seem to most readers a premise that is anything except compelling—the appearance of butterflies on a Tennessee farm. What drives the novel, however is Dellarobia and her own external and internal tensions as a young mother and wife:

But being a stay-at-home mom was the loneliest kind of lonely, in which she was always and never by herself….

The ones that lived through winter lasted longer, a few months, by going into something like hibernation. “Diapause,” he called it, a pause in the normal schedule of growing up, mating, and reproducing. Somewhere in midlife, the cold or darkness of winter put them all on hold, shutting down their sex drive until further notice.

Like life in an uninsulated house, she thought. Maybe like marriage in general. (pp. 59-145)

As an occasional Kingsolver scholar, I have examined and recommended her work for the classroom. And here is where I’d like to focus, emphasizing, of course, that I highly recommend Flight Behavior to anyone who has enjoyed Kingsolver before as well as readers of fiction who are drawn to rich narratives, engaging characters, and beautiful craft with language. Kingsolver delivers.

As well, Flight Behavior offers readers, teachers, and students a sort of double duty as a work of a novelist as a public intellectual and a narrative that forces readers and students to consider the role of scholars and academics as they interact with the public about large social issues.

As Kingsolver has explained, this novel is at its core about climate change, but Kingsolver also notes:

Motherhood is so sentimentalised and romanticised in our culture. It’s practically against the law to say there are moments in the day when you hate your children. Everyone actually has those moments. So to create this mother, who loves her children, of course, but is just so fed up of living in a house with people who roll plastic trucks on the floor, was a writing challenge.

In other words, although Kingsolver has a clear agenda, a political point to make about climate change, she also respects her artform, readers, and the characters she has created enough to avoid allowing this novel to slip into mere preaching or to be tarnished by simplistic representations.

Flight Behavior personifies the often reductionistic and misleading climate change debate that occurs in the U.S. over talk radio and among talking heads on TV.

Ironically, in Kingsolver’s imagined world she captures the all-too-real world of climate change as it intersects with the lives and jobs of typical people, people bound to the land, people bound to their faith, people bound to pasts they regret but cannot change or escape.

Flight Behavior soars when Kingsolver invites the reader to witness the intersections of scholars with people without much formal learning, of different races and cultures, of believers and non-believers, of privilege and poverty (importantly, I believe, the working poor).

As a Southerner and educator, I was nervous about how Kingsolver would portray Southerners, and I was very concerned in one scene when Dellarobia details her experience in high school with math and science, as well as her characterization of how schools continue to fail students.

In that context of my own sensitivities, I can anticipate how scientists and climate change deniers may read the novel. And this is where I have my highest recommendation: Kingsolver treads on thin ice often in this novel and masterfully makes her way to the other side of the pond without falling through.

I don’t expect any artist to be perfect, especially when artists venture into producing art with ernest political messages. In fact, I still cringe when I share with students Kingsolver’s essay rejecting TV—a topic about which I disagree strongly with her.

Flight Behavior may stumble (although I am hard-pressed to say so), but it definitely maintains it legs from the wonderful opening scene to the series of surprises and inevitable outcomes that tie together a beautifully weaved story that will not disappoint a wide range of readers who may choose this work for different reasons and with different world views.

Ultimately, there is no dichotomy between Kingsolver the scientist (she has degrees in biology) and Kingsolver the novelist—just as there is no dichotomy between science and faith in the novel.

In the end, then, the novel itself is both embodiment and testament to the message Kingsolver makes clear: We are all one.

9/11: Essays and Film

How could we best honor the tragedy of 9/11?

Become a nation and people of peace.

Art is our path to that too often ignored goal.

I recommend Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, a collection of essays spawned by 9/11. From the wonderful essay “And Our Flag was Still There”:

In one stunning statement uttered by a fundamentalist religious leader, this brand of patriotism specifically blamed homosexuals, feminists, and the American Civil Liberties Union for the horrors of September 11. In other words, these hoodlum-Americans were asking me to believe that their flag stood for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder? Well, our flag does not, and I’m determined that it never will. Outsiders can destroy airplanes and buildings, but only we the people have the power to demolish our own ideals. (p. 238)

Also Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man without a Country. From “Do unto others”:

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries. (p. 103)

And a film—Remember Me.



Made in America: Segregation by Design

“The woman in the gold bracelets tells her friend:,” begins a poem by Barbara Kingsolver from her collection Another America/Otra America. A careful reading notices “gold bracelets,” suggesting more than affluence, opulence. The poem continues:

I had to fire another one.
Can you believe it?
She broke the vase
Jack gave me for Christmas.
It was one of those,
you know? That worked
with everything. All my colors.
I asked him if he’d mind
if I bought one again just like it.
It was the only one that just always worked.

Her friend says:
Find another one that speaks English.
That’s a plus.

The woman in the gold agrees
that is a plus.

The two women speak interchangeably about the fired domestic worker and the vase, both reduced to “one,” and “worked” is repeated about only the broken vase, an object for decoration and a Christmas gift. “It” and “colors” also haunt the conversation. In this brief poetic scene, the callousness of two affluent women about the value of an ornament over a worker (one who apparently is not a native speaker of English, and as suggested by the Spanish/English versions of all the poems and title of the collection, likely Latino/a) is couched in a larger context found in the poem’s title, “What the Janitor Heard in the Elevator.”

This flippant conversation is overheard by another worker, a janitor (who do you see as the “janitor”?), standing essentially unseen, unacknowledged beside these women (who do you see as these women?), trapped momentarily in an elevator.

Kingsolver’s stark and vivid poem captures, as does Kingsolver’s entire collection, the existence of two Americas, a slogan trivialized by politicians and ignored like the janitor by much of the public in the U.S.

The two Americas include the few and affluent, mostly white, who have virtually all the power and, as the poem shows, a voice in the nation and the remaining many, disproportionately middle-class, working-class, working poor, and poor as well as African American and, increasingly, Latino/a.

Let’s consider for a moment what students may be asked to do if presented with this poem in a public high school in the U.S., specifically in this expanding era of accountability and the encroaching specter of Common Core and the concurrent new high-stakes tests.

Based on my having been an educator during the entire past thirty years of the accountability era, I would suggest that this poem would be reduced to mechanistic analysis, in much the same way we have treated F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for decades.

While many are rightfully concerned that the Common Core will significantly decrease the focus on fiction and poetry in schools, we have yet to address that even if we maintain great poetry and fiction in the education of our children, we do them or that literature little service to allow those works to be reduced only to their literary parts, mere interchangeable fodder for identifying lination, stanzas, diction, symbolism, narration, characterization, setting, and the endless nuts and bolts deemed worthy of dispassionate analysis in school.

How many generations of students, for example, have examined at length the symbolism of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and Gatsby’ yellow car? How many students have been guided through the technical precision of Fitzgerald’s novel while never confronting his vivid challenge to the American Dream?

Have students been asked to look carefully at the corpses of Myrtle and George (the wrong kind of people, George a mere worker and Myrtle left like roadkill in the middle of the road) as well as Gatsby (the wrong kind of rich) floating dead in his pool? Have students been asked why Tom and Daisy (the right kind of rich) go on vacation in the wake of these deaths, seemingly untarnished because of the Teflon coating of their affluence?

Have students been asked to consider carefully why Tom hits Myrtle but bends to Daisy’s taunts?

These are distinctions of analysis—suggesting that Common Core and curriculum are trivial debates if we do not address what happens in the classroom and for whom.

Made in America: Segregation by Design

The technical approach to literature that ignores critical literacy is a subset of the larger technical debate about education and education reform that focuses policy and public attention on the details of schooling (public versus charter and private, Common Core, high-stakes testing, value added methods of evaluating teachers) and ignores the substance of schooling like a janitor trapped in an elevator with two wealthy women.

The substance of schooling today is a stark contrast to the moment of cultural consciousness stretching from the early 1950s into the 1970s when separate but equal was confronted and rejected. As society in the U.S. wrestled with integration of institutions, the cancer of segregation was merely shifted from separate schools to schools-within-schools: White and affluent students tend to sit in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and honors classes with experienced and qualified teachers and low student-teacher ratios while AA/ Latino/a and impoverished students tend to sit in remedial, test-prep, and tech-prep classes with new and unqualified teachers (in the twenty-first century that means often Teach for America recruits as temporary workers) and high student-teacher ratios.

In-school segregation has been driven by affluent parents, who use their privilege to insure that their children get theirs, and damn the rest. But segregation by design has now been joined by two powerful and corrosive mechanisms—charter schools and segregated higher education access.

Charter schools (see Charter Schools: A Primer and Current Education Reform Perpetuating, Not Curbing, Inequity) have failed to achieve the academic miracles proponents have promised, but charter schools have exposed the most predictable outcome of choice, segregation. As Sarah Carr has shown, New Orleans is a disturbing record of the charter schools flood, the role disaster capitalism plays in destroying equity and opportunity for “the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard,” African Americans and people trapped in poverty.

While schools-within-schools and charter schools highlight K-12 segregation by design in the U.S., as troubling is the entrenched privilege of affluence found in higher education, augmenting Matt Bruenig’s conclusion: “you are better off being born rich regardless of whether you go to college than being born poor and getting a college degree.”

Carnevale and Strohl have identified the separate and unequal access to higher education that constitutes the full picture of segregation by design in the U.S.:

The postsecondary system mimics the racial inequality it inherits from the K-12 education system, then magnifies and projects that inequality into the labor market and society at large….

Whites have captured most of the enrollment growth at the 468 most selective and well-funded four-year colleges, while African Americans and Hispanics have captured most of the enrollment growth at the increasingly overcrowded and under-resourced open-access two- and four-year colleges….

These racially polarized enrollment flows have led to an increasing overrepresentation of whites at the 468 most selective four-year colleges….

At the same time, African Americans and Hispanics are increasingly underrepresented at the most selective 468 four-year colleges….

At the same time, African Americans and Hispanics are increasingly underrepresented at the most selective 468 four-year colleges…. (Executive Summary, pp. 3, 6, 10, 12)

The inequitable access to elite higher education mirrors the inequitable access to quality K-12 education and to experienced and qualified teachers. Inequitable access, then, creates inequitable outcomes:

[H]igh-scoring African Americans and Hispanics are far more likely to drop out of college before completing a credential….

Among high-scoring students who attend college, whites are far more likely to complete a BA or higher compared to African Americans or Hispanics….

Each year, there are 111,000 high-scoring African-American and Hispanic students who either do not attend college or don’t graduate.

About 62,000 of these students come from the bottom half of the family income distribution….

Racial inequality in the educational system, paired with low social and economic mobility in the United States, produces enormous differences in educational outcomes: Whites are twice as likely as African Americans and three times as likely as Hispanics to complete a BA or higher…. (Carnevale and Strohl, 2013, Executive Summary, pp. 24, 26, 28, 37)

Despite the meritocracy myth at the heart of the American Dream, then, Carnevale and Strohl conclude: “In the United States, parents’ education determines the educational attainment of their children” (Executive Summary, p. 38).

The cruel irony of education in the U.S. includes that most privileged children will find themselves in classrooms where color imagery (the gold bracelet in Kingsolver’s poem, the green dock light and yellow car in The Great Gatsby) will be the key to the already unlocked door leading to college and secure, high-paying jobs while AA and Latino/a as well as impoverished students are shown quite a different door.

All the while, the colors that matter—black, brown, white, and green—remain invisible and unspoken under the veneer of the American Dream of meritocracy that is less credible than any work of fiction soon to be dropped from the school day.