Saturday, April 20, 2013

"The Actual, Pulsating Color of Human Blood": Beauty, Make-up, and Exterior Interiors


           After the recent release—and subsequent backlash—of Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, it seems only fitting to talk about beauty advertisements. While Dove’s sketches were criticized for purporting to question ideals of beauty while actually reinforcing a stereotypically thin, white, and blonde kind of beauty, they are redolent of a trend in advertising that has been around since the advent of fashion magazines in the late 19th century: beauty products are just that—beauty products, aimed to render one beautiful even as they create the very standard of beauty.

            In the last few months I have spent a lot of time with 1920s & 30s issues of American Vogue, and one thing that stands out is the intersection between beauty product (or article of clothing, or a fashionable hat, or even a luxury car) and a sense of individuality, of interiority. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Reading Cultural Objects: Conversations about Mad Men, Gender, and Ideology

After a hiatus of a few weeks, I would like to change course in my posts and reflect on the ways we—our individual selves, our society, and our ideologies—dictate reading. My last series focused on the ways in which one particular organization, Jumpstart, mediates questions of policy and literacy—a fairly explicit conversation about reading, what to read, who can read, and the values of reading.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Musings on Writing a Syllabus, Resisting the Canon, and Choosing the "Right" Book

Over the course of the last week or so, I have been developing a syllabus around the question “what is literature for?” Oddly enough, this would have been an easy enough endeavor for me—I wrote my undergraduate thesis on essentially the same question—except that I wasn’t simply designing a theory course. Instead, the syllabus is designed as an introductory literature course for community college.

How can I take up a debate that has gone on since Plato first threw the poets out of his imagined republic (with the notable exception of Homer) first, in the short length of a semester-long course, and second, with students who might not care or who have many other concerns like work and family filling their thoughts? In other words, how can I show that the study of literature can be personally impactful and socially relevant? [...]

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Educational Shenanigans: The Onion, Altruism, and “Making a Difference”

Because obviously there are only two options: learn, or go to jail.

Earlier last year, the Onion published an article titled “Point/Counterpoint: My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids/Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?”
Despite the rapid transfer of information over the internet, I only encountered this article recently; needless to say, I was immediately intrigued. While I do not serve as a teacher, the work I have been discussing in my latest blog series on Jumpstart fits into many of the features pegged by the article: fresh graduate works in underprivileged school to “make a difference.” Whatever that means. [...]

Monday, March 4, 2013

It Takes a Network to Raise a Child

  In my first post in this series on Jumpstart ( a national organization dedicated to developing literacy in underprivileged preschools, I raised the following question: how much can and does Jumpstart really accomplish? As this series has tracked social barriers to education and the political stakes of providing quality education, it has become clear that the impact of Jumpstart is tangled up in many different factors. No child is an island, separate from the circumstances of his or her life; with barriers like school closings and lack of resources affecting children’s educations, how can Jumpstart make a difference through the albeit noble and important cause of developing language and literacy skills? [...]

Monday, February 25, 2013

We Have to Remember the Book! Recapturing Enthusiasm in Reading

Week after week, the preschoolers I work with through Jumpstart request a books center during session. With a slew of other seemingly more exciting options, like art, dramatic play, science, writing, or puzzles, books seems an unlikely center to draw a lot of children, particularly in the under-resourced classroom in which I work. [...]

Monday, February 18, 2013

You are NOT my Friend: From Literacy Skills to Interpersonal Interactions

Fights are common in preschool: in a world where children are just beginning to form conceptions of sharing and empathy, personal space is constantly invaded, communal tubs of paint constantly upset, and toy animals constantly commandeered. As the students in one of A.O. Sexton’s classrooms, where I am part of Jumpstart sessions twice a week, learn to interact with another, with their new Jumpstart friends, and with the ever-more regulated educational day, they are developing behavioral skills which will help them succeed. However, this process of developing interpersonal skills is by no means easy or fast for children, who are still learning that when others’ feelings are hurt, it is the same as when one’s own feelings are affronted. [...]

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reading: A Solution to Society's Problems?

Can children succeed in society though reading?

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.

My last post discussed the perceived educational crisis that Jumpstart, a national early education organization that works to develop language and literacy skills in preschool-age children in low-income neighborhoods (read more at, faces. When very few people are going to contest the idea that teaching children how to read is a positive thing, both for fostering children’s future success in society and for helping them lead more fulfilling lives, then why is Jumpstart’s work so (very!) necessary in our current education system? What conditions prevent children from having access to the literacy education that seems to be an important value in our society? How does Jumpstart frame its mission in such a way to garner support?  The first post in this short series critically examined Jumpstart’s position on and role within education as an example of one particular literacy organization in the United States which both feels the need to defend its work and also to take as assumed the value of developing literacy skills, defending its work and promoting its values by pointing to a crisis in education. This crisis, which is based in the way society relies on and maintains boundaries between socioeconomic statuses, is depicted as one which can be eradicated by putting the right literacy and language resources (including the time of Corps Members) into lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. 

The Jumpstart Solution—Purposeful Play and Required Reading

In this second post, I will consider “The Jumpstart Solution,” the actual programming executed by Corps Members in preschools and community centers. [...]

Monday, February 4, 2013

Every Child Prepared to Succeed

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.

My last post mentioned Jumpstart, a national early education organization that works to develop language and literacy skills in preschool-age children in low-income neighborhoods (read more at It should be fairly obvious that I support the mission of Jumpstart [...]

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Spectacle of Reading

“Would you like a hug, a high-five, or a handshake?” 

The preschooler took up her teacher’s offer of a high-five, having successfully read all three sentences on the board by herself.

“Now give your brain a kiss.” 

At the teacher’s encouragement, the preschool girl kissed her hand and tapped it on her head. It may very well have been the cutest thing I have ever seen.

This ritual of reward marks the end of each of the preschoolers turns at the board, whether they read the whole text, or simply identify letters that they know. [...]

Monday, January 21, 2013

What is the Matter that You Read?

Maybe it seems like a moot point to define literature—debates about what literature is, what it includes or excludes in its canon, seem impossible to resolve. Although according to the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition) the initial definition of the word “literature” meant simply the use of letters or knowledge gained from reading any written text, “literature” often now indicates only the literary. [...]

Monday, January 14, 2013

Literacy, Literature, and the Literary: Defining Practices of Reading

           “Reading” is a complicated word: reading can mean the simple act of reading a novel, the process of constructing a perspective on a text (doing a reading), or a larger educational phenomenon which is often dedicated its own week in elementary school battles of the books. In any of these cases, the object one reads can vary—from children’s books to contemporary bestsellers to “high” literature to cultural objects and works of art—as can the process itself, whether for enjoyment, practical skills, or academic argument. [...]