Response from U.S. Representative

In early February, I emailed my U.S. Representative Doug Collins. He was quoted in a CNN piece on President Trump’s intention to build a wall. CNN reported asked Collins three times if he would support the large financial investment needed to build the wall. Collins declined a straight answer three times.

So, I emailed him my thoughts via my gmail account. As a private citizen and not a state employee. I posted the complete letter.

On March 8th, he wrote back.

I didn’t expect much of a response. Since the WALL topic, our President has created an avalanche of other pressing issues for Republicans to defend and Democrats attack. It kinda feels like the WALL is old news, almost welcome news considering what we have waded through since earl February.

But a response came. He didn’t agree with me.

Here’s the full letter.

View this document on Scribd

Why I Wake Early

5:30 am is early. Probably too early. But with three little kids, I seek out pockets of silence. Time where the little ones are asleep and I can do the work of an adult, free from the worries of crying, shouting, giggling that come from my kids, free from the messes, the challenges, the beauties, and the complexities that come with ushering three little breathing, thinking bodies from the wonders of childhood to the less wonderful world of adulthood.

So with the darkness still sitting heavily on the world, I wake. I roll out of bed, thumbing my alarm off. I stumble to the kitchen, often running into a corner or edge of the cabinet, switch on ESPN, pore a bowl of cereal and munch and watch in the dark, my face illuminated by the screen, the volume low, so low as to not wake the wife and three kids. If any one were to wake, this pocket of silence I so cherish would be gone. I would be filling little bowls with Cap’n Crunch and mediating an impeding fight over what to watch on Netflix: Lalaloopsy this time, Maddux, and then we can watch Skylanders Academy next. (Maddux often protests but eventually acquiesces).

By 6:30 I have downed a cup of coffee. The world is still dark and quiet. If it’s a weekday, I hear the school bus rattle by; its incessantly blinking lights light up the kitchen.

I empty the dishwasher. I pile the kid’s plastic forks, knives, spoons, bowls, plates on a towel to dry. I carefully place ceramic bowls and plates into the cabinets. I try to keep the clanging to a minimum.

I empty the dryer. I place the clothes into the ottoman and begin folding.

I open the blinds and look out at our backyard. The sun is still hiding but its forthcoming appearance is evident in the weakening dark. I think of the Gerald Manley Hopkins’s line “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.” I roll the line through my head marveling that I still remember it, especially since I haven’t a clue what it means.

I read my book. With another warm cup of coffee next to me, I read.

I put my book down and listen to the silence. The day feels wide-open, anything is possible. I’m full of optimism.

Now is not the time for music, for talking, for laughing, for crying. Now is the silent time before the rest of time. I feel like an actor waiting backstage for his cue, like a batter waiting on deck, like a yoga practitioner sitting on the mat and waiting for the first position.

Then I hear the water run through the pipes in my house. My wife is awake.

Then I hear my daughter begin to quietly cry. She is awake.

The dominos fall. Into place. The next kid wakes, then the next.

The sun pushes over the tree line.

The neighbors fire up their engines and leave.

The cereal bowls are filled with Cap’n Crunch.

The TV is flipped to Netflix and Lalaloopsy blares.

The kids are quiet, little zombies sitting on the sofa with vacant eyes and disheveled hair.

They place tiny fingers into bowls and then into mouths.

Then the fight over the blanket.

By 8am, I have mediated a fight, cleaned up spilled milk, changed a diaper.

By 8am, I am a parent again. I look out the window at the black-capped chickadees sitting on the feeder. They scurry into the air, taking with them my pocket of silence. They hand it off to another bird, then another, then another until it is halfway around the world and dropped in the lap of a dad in Australia who wakes early before the kids.

In a few short hours he will hand it back over and the birds will carry it back to me tomorrow.

 

 

 

Copyright for Authors

On January 30, I led the fourth of six scheduled workshops under the Write@UNG initiative I co-created with the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership at UNG.

Through this initiative, we are seeking to support faculty writing and research at teaching-focused university. We work through three core values, integral writing and research across the many disciplines composing our university: Connect, Cultivate, Create.

This most recent session was on copyright for authors and modeled slightly after a similar workshop offered at Emory.

Thanks to Amy Bear and Corey Parson from the University of North Georgia Press for lending their experience with copyright from a publisher’s perspective.

The slides from workshop are available here.

Open Letter to my House Rep

The Representative for my district was quoted on CNN.com about THE WALL. He was hesitant in his answers. So I thought I would share with him my thoughts on building a wall based on fear, poor data, and a misread of what the U.S. population thinks about immigration.
According to a Pew Research Center poll, only 39% of Americans thought it a “important” or “somewhat important” goal.

My full-letter, which I emailed today, is below.

_____________________________________________________________

Representative Collins,

Thank you for your work. I only imagine how challenging it must be to be a public servant and merge the needs of your constituents with your own personal values and beliefs for how best to steer our country and our state.

Though my family and I have only lived in your district for four years, we are thankful for the diversity of the people and for the spirit of community we sense.

I teach at UNG, where you received a degree, and like you, my family attends a Baptist church in the area and even visited your church when we were searching for a place to worship.

While you and I share many commonalities, I can’t nod along with the executive decision to build a wall. Please know, this executive action does not agree with the values I try to instill in my family or the values I feel are expressed in our diverse district 9.

The well-respected Atlanta news outlet CNN.com quoted you as saying recently, “When it comes to our budget, we’ll have those discussions,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins. The article then mentioned that you refused to say “three times if [you] would support Congress appropriating money for the wall.”

Though it would have been nice to have a straight answer, I am most concerned with the action of building a wall.

According to a November Pew Research Center report, Mexican unauthorized immigrant population has steadily declined since its peak in 2007. In 2007, the number was 6.9 million. Now it is at 5.6.

The report also mentions the number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined.

I know our President has made an agenda based on fear. The goal is to get the uneducated fearful of something. Anything. Right now that is illegal Mexican immigrants who supposedly are on rampant crime sprees and stealing our jobs.

But the data just isn’t there to support this position.

I’m thankful that 27% of the population of our county is Hispanic. I am thankful that your alma mater, where I now work, received a $2.1 million dollar grant from the Department of Education for working with first-generation, often Hispanic, students. And I am thankful that roughly 11% of students at our university identify as Hispanic.

Please know that I don’t celebrate building walls. I want to celebrate tearing down walls with you, my family, my students, and my church.

Talking to The Public about higher ed

Like many of my colleagues in American higher ed, I have been dismayed–but not surprised–but the steadily rising attacks on what many erroneously spin as liberal/radical professors.

And like many of my colleagues in composition studies, I have taken to writing public arguments against these rapid and ill-informed attacks on higher learning and the people who make a living teaching others to think critically, deeply, and to argue passionately about important ideas in sustained writing.

I wrote about Professor Watchlist in a letter-to-the-editor published in the Gainesville Times, a local, daily paper serving Gainesville, GA, a thriving town of roughly 35k nested against Lake Lanier in northeast GA.

I wrote about the National Association of Scholars in a letter-to-the-editor published in the Dahlonega Nugget, a weekly local newspaper serving the smaller town of Dahlonga, GA roughly 40 minutes northwest of Gainesville and where I teach.

I include this second letter below, and I signal my commitment to engaging (not disengaging) further with my local and national community.

___________________________________________

I’ve only been a college professor for a decade, but as 2017 begins, I feel my colleagues and I are under attack from outside stakeholders more so than we have been in a long time.

There seems to be a strong current of skepticism and even outright hostility directed toward professors and higher education. What’s more, these negative feelings seem largely grounded in ignorance, designed to incite more fear that professors and universities are maliciously dismantling traditional cultures and values.

Take for example, the website Professor Watchlist. This website lists a bio and picture of professors who advance a “radical agenda” in the classroom. My colleague Dr. Matthew Boedy on the Gainesville campus made this list for publically suggesting guns on campus aren’t a good idea.

Also, consider a recently released report “Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics” published by the National Association of Scholars. In this report, the NSA decries what they term, the “New Civics.” I’ve never heard this term before, but the NSA uses it is describe college programs designed to help students engage in community service and civic engagement projects. The NSA believes these service projects hide a sinister liberal and political activist agenda on the part of the universities.

The NSA specifically points an accusatory finger at the University of Colorado’s Writing Initiative for Service Engagement program run by my wonderful colleague Dr. Veronica House and argues federal dollars should not be allocated to such programs. According to the NSA, “At CU-Bolder, even learning to write a proper sentence has been suborned to progressive activism.”

Forget the fact that marrying community engagement and writing goes back to Aristotle and is exactly how the Declaration of Independence was penned. And forget the fact that service learning facilitates learning in remarkably ways and that UNG is dedicated to service learning a as a vital component of their mission.

What keeps me up at night is this growing fear of higher education and professors.

I’ll take the blame for some of this. Most professors, myself included, don’t do a good job communicating our work and research to people outside of our profession. If we are public researchers, teachers, and thinkers, then our work needs to be public and not just published in expensive journals and written in jargon-laden language.

But I’ll also chose to fight this darkness with light. Send me an email or Google my name. I’ve started posting all my course materials online and will send you research I have published for free. Let me know if you want to sit in my class, and I’ll tell you when and where we met.

I’m a public educator whose paycheck is tied to federal and state dollars and whose career is tied to how the public views my job. Instead of being caught in yet another wave of fear, reach out to me to find out what my colleagues and I are doing with the 17,000 wonderful students at UNG.

 

 

 

 

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FYC, Transfer, & Student-Athletes

I read Yancey, Robertson, and Tazcak’s award-winning book Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing.

I attended the 2016 CWPA workshop on Teaching for Transfer led, in part, by Yancey and Robertson.

I led departmental workshops on Teaching for Transfer during the Fall 2016 semester. And I secured a mini-grant from UNG’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership to purchase 10 copies of Writing Across Contexts.

I followed the UNG men’s basketball team for one season and published an article on these student-athlete’s prior knowledge, a key aspect of the transfer of learning.

Check, check, check, check.

Guess it is time to actually get this transfer stuff into the classroom. Enough reading and thinking and writing. I gotta DO something.

This semester, I worked with the UNG athletics department, particularly UNG’s faculty athletics representative, to teach a section of FYC with largely student-athletes. UNG’s student-athletes aren’t getting special privileges; the class was open to all students. The FAR just directed a lot of student-athletes to the class.

As I have argued elsewhere, student-athletes hone a different form of prior knowledge dependent upon bodily interaction with scripted plays. They, like learners, bring this unique prior knowledge to all sites of learning. As prior knowledge is vital during (successful or unsuccessful) transfer, I wanted to tap into this prior knowledge in FYC.

I’m writing a bit more about what I am doing elsewhere. But I include the course content here. 

More developments as the semester rolls on and on.

 

 

 

 

Vignettes of Writing Studies

I spent most of the winter break in Richmond Hill, Georgia, a small town just southeast of Savannah, a small town where Henry Ford summered and established schools for poor rural folk, a small town where Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band calls home.

There ain’t much in Richmond Hill. It’s a couple of long straight two lane roads running by old Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss and parallel to the Ogeechee river and marsh after marsh.

In the early morning before my kids awake and bring chaos to the day, I spent time browsing through journal issues I neglected during the semester. A few days before Christmas, as I sat on a wooden rocking chair by the bank of the low-tide Ogeechee, I returned to a 2013 special issue of College Composition and Communication. For this special issue, then-editor Kathleen Blake Yancey invited full-length articles and vignettes on “what profession means to those of us in writing studies.”

I remember this issue landing in my mailbox at a transitory time in my professional life. I walked across the stage, shook the hand of the president, got hooded, and received my PhD in May of ’13 and made the move with a pregnant wife and kid in August of ’13. When this special issue found its way into my mailbox at the University of North Georgia—just a few weeks into my first semester on the tenure-line—it got slide to the side.

I browsed it briefly because Michele Eodice—one of diss committee members has a co-authored piece it in—and I briefly marveled at and tweeted about the great definition of scholarship offered by Michael Day et al: “Being a scholar, in short, means engaging in reflective, well-informed practices that help us accomplish the goals of advancing and sharing our knowledge of what it means to write and be a writer” (186). I also spend some time with Caroline Dadas’s article on the job market and how search committees can work to accommodate job seekers (two years later when I chaired my first search, I inserted many of her helpful suggestions).

But the vignettes and other articles didn’t get my time.

So that early morning in December 2016 they did.

The reflective stance of the articles and vignettes struck me. The special issue feels like a State of the Union Address: Here’s where we are, here’s how we got here, here’s where we can go—with your help!

And I found myself mining the vignettes for use in my role as director of FYC, specifically as I lead professional development efforts with my 60 plus colleagues who teach FYC and our remedial writing courses.

Kathleen Sheerin DeVore introduces readers to her friend Steve. For DeVore, Steve is her richest “example of a writing teacher’s life” even though his “primary site of engagement was always the writing classroom.” Steve didn’t write textbooks, speak at national conferences, or see his works published in leading journals—he was a committed writing teacher to the students in his time and space of engagement.

Margaret Finnegan introduces readers to Amy, a student registered with the disabilities officer and for whom English is not a native language. Amy is struggled to pass a required writing class and has already failed twice (once by Finnegan). Finnegan takes readers to the table where Amy and her sit and poke at prose. And where Amy expresses confusion, doubt, fear, as the words struggle to come.

I kept reading the vignettes: I read about teaching in prison, sitting at a dinner table with “big-names” in the field, running a writing center while pregnant and writing a dissertation.

As the sun crawled over the reedy banks of the Ogeechee, my mind turned to my 60 plus colleagues back in the mountains of Northeast Georgia. I was preparing a beginning of the semester email about updated FYC outcomes and policy.

But maybe, I thought, I should include two of the vignettes.

Maybe the best push into a new semester in which we, as a department, will teach over close to a quarter of the entire undergraduate student population—and do so with dwindling financial and material resources, and do so with lofty and misguided expectations about what writing is and how it should be taught that are promulgated by many of our internal and external stakeholders, and do so, even though Geoffrey Sirc wrote, also in CCC, that “teaching writing is impossible”—maybe the best push isn’t a push, but a pause, an email giving an opportunity to reflect on the life of a writing teacher.

 

 

Response to Professor Watchlist

Turning Point USA, the conservation student movement, launched Professor Watchlist recently to highlight professors who have, what TPUSA considers, a “radical agenda.”

I wrote a letter this afternoon to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the website.

Not sure if it will be published. I am putting it here. After a day or so, I’ll send it along to other local newspapers, if needed.

________________________________

Recently the conservative student organization movement, Turning Point USA, launched the website Professor Watchlist. Through scouring news outlets and soliciting anonymous tips, Professor Watchlist provides pictures and brief bios of professors who run against the ideology of Turning Point USA.

In response, the satirical website Professor Watchlist Redux lists Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other incendiary teachers who bucked the trend and upset a large swath of the population through advancing different ideas.

I must admit, Professor Watchlist seems to have admirable aims. TPUSA has adjusted their stated mission within the past couple of days, but I found the most recent one on December 9. TPUSA “will continue to fight for . . . the right for professors to say whatever they wish” but highlight professors who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

Let’s set aside for a moment concerns about academic freedom and the vitality of introducing students to a kaleidoscope of thought that may run against dominant cultural norms. Let’s instead think about the tactic of TPUSA with their list, a list grounded in lack of transparency and anonymity on who makes the final decision to place Professor A on the list and a list grounded in fear-mongering instead of open dialogue.

With historical hindsight, other lists launched by organizations to highlight those with contradictory opinions have not fared well. In the 1950s, emboldened by the rabid fear of communism, senator Joseph McCarthy gathered his list of communists and communist sympathizers. Almost 70 years later, it would be hard to argue such a list advanced freedom of thought, facilitated open and honest dialogue, and helped heal a divided country under an umbrella of compassion, curiosity, and commitment to social justice for all.

Sure, Professor Watchlist and McCarthy’s blacklist is not a clean analogy. There are differences between the two, but at the heart it seems both are grounded in a fear of difference, in a belief that intellectualism and global awareness and commitment are traits to be feared and avoided, that listing names publically is the best way to silence those with whom you disagree.

I searched for my name on Professor Watchlist but found no results. I wasn’t surprised. My work focuses on how best to teach writing, specifically how best to work with struggling student-athletes on their writing. Nothing subversive there. Or, to use the words of Professor Watchlist, nothing “radical.” I haven’t publically advocated for gay marriage, the ACLU, universal health care, or suggested that because I am a white man, I benefit from institutions built by other white men, as an instructor at Calvin College argued in an op-ed in his school’s newspaper. The instructor made the list for his written comments. I haven’t publically advocated against allowing guns on campus, which landed my colleague Dr. Matthew Boedy on the list.

But these kind of lists have the opposite effect on me. Now I am thinking my research and teaching and thinking need to be more radical. Certainly I am committed to treating all my students with kindness but isn’t the advancement of knowledge in a free democracy always going to be radical?

Fall ’16 TFT Workshops

As director of FYC, one of my many roles is to be a conduit between the composition classroom and the composition journals. When I walk the halls of conferences, scroll through listserv threads, browse the TOC of recent journals, I do so with one eye on the composition classrooms at the University of North Georgia. The macro- and micro-level structures of our FYC sequence should be built upon best practices and current research.

Such a point seems obvious enough, but it ain’t easy. In 1963, Braddock, Lloyd-Jones (my academic grandfather!), and Schoer showed us that worksheets on grammar and mechanics did not improve student performance. But the worksheets aren’t going anywhere. They are still have their tentacles in our postsecondary writing classrooms.

The easy route is to give the same dang assignment each semester, the same dang reading, the same dang peer review sheet. But if we wade into the research, peek into the AAC&U’s high-impact practices, spend time with national consensus documents like the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, and read recent articles like Lisa Dush’s “When Writing Becomes Content, then we might find more fruitful ways with working with the unique writers we find ourselves with for the quarter or semester or longer.

 

In this spirit, I made my way to Raleigh, NC over the summer and sat in on a workshop at the Council of Writing Program Administrators annual conference. The all-day workshop led by Kathleen Blake Yancey, Matt Davis, Liane Robertson, and Erin Workman led attendees through a writing curriculum designed to teach explicitly for transfer. Termed “Teaching for Transfer,” this curriculum was launched at Florida State and detailed in the award-winning book by Yancey, Robertson, and Kara Taczak Writing Across Contexts.

Inspired by the book and the workshop, I launched a series of three workshops during the Fall 2016 semester at UNG to introduce colleagues to a TFT curriculum.

The content is below via Slides.com. We talked about:

“What is transfer and what does it have to do with writing?”

“What does transfer look like in a FYC classroom?”

“Designing a TFT FYC class”

With grant money from UNG’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, I bought 10 copies of Writing Across Contexts.

Finally, during the Spring 2016, I am encouraging my colleagues to launch some pilot sections of the TFT classes.

More then.