Mid-Week Reminders of Why I’m Doing What I’m Doing

I had a truly incredible day today. To start, Marshall Jones, a spoken word poet, visited my Media Arts class at KIPP Charter School, where he performed his poem Touchscreen and provided my students with the opportunity to not only ask him questions–everything from “What inspired you to write this poem?” to “Do you get nervous when you perform?” and even, “Why did you decide to grow a beard?”–but also to share some of their work with him. Marshall’s poem is about how our high levels of media and technology consumption are taking away from our offline experiences and interactions. He concludes his poem with:

 “…because in a world where laughter is never heard/and voices are only read/we are so desperate to feel/ that we hope our tech-no-logic/ can reverse our universe until the screen touches us back/ and one day it will/ when our technology is advanced enough to make us human again.

A few weeks ago, when we watched the video of Marshall performing his poem, we spent some time with his last line–wondering what it meant, why he said it, and what that technology might look like. So I asked my students to “invent” a piece of technology, a gizmo or gadget that would help to make us human again, and they drew their ideas in their Reflection Notebooks. Ideas ranged from a scooter that could teleport you, to a watch that can read human emotions, to an iPhone app called “iHeart” that would allow you to send something like a text, but it would be a message of love that when opened would go into the receiver and they would feel the love coming through the “interwebs.” Well, after the class asked Marshall all of their questions, I told him that about the students’ designs. His eyes got wide, and his smile got big, and he said, “No way! Can I see them?!” Without skipping a beat, my kids opened their notebooks and prepared to present their inventions one by one around the circle. Marshall interacted with the kids, asking them questions and providing some incredible positive reinforcement, which translated to them as legitimating their creative processes and a different form of engagement with a “text” (a multimodal text that drew on audial and visual senses). It was pretty amazing to say the least.

Marshall Jones engaging with students in Media Arts class

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how educators can better engage students through multimodal and multimedia texts and projects. In my next post I will share both a reflection about my Culture, Media & Education course that I’ve taken this fall (which is built on a multimodal, participatory, and critical media literacy foundation) as well as the three-minute film that I made for my final project, and hopefully both will provide contextual examples of what exactly I’m alluding to here.

Culture, Media & Education class gearing up for the Social Issues Media Festival

Right after teaching, I headed back to campus for the very same Culture, Media & Education course. Tonight, in our last class meeting, we held our Social Issues Media Festival. Again, more information will be provided about this in my next post, but in short, for our final project, we had to make a piece of media (no more than 3 minutes long) that addressed/engaged a “social issue.” For two hours, I had the privilege to watch 20 films made by my peers that delved into issues ranging from hypermasculinity, heteronormativity, and male identity; to body art and piercings as forms of self-expression and the epidemic of skin bleaching; from cellphone etiquette and voter rights, to transnational identities and ideas of democracy; from dispelling assumptions to calling for action, this collection of media pieces was nothing short of phenomenal. I was in awe of both the high quality of content and production. After class, the only thing I could think to tweet was:

This project, reflective of the entire course, encouraged us all to engage and participate in ways that we are ever asked to participate or engage in other classes. In response to a comment at the end of the screening, my professor said, “You know, so many educators talk about how to make education fun; in this class, we are constantly working to make fun educational.” The past 15 weeks of this class have been nothing short of monumental in my studies and in my growth as an academic, as a woman, and as a member of the Millennial generation (someone who knew childhood without the Internet and cell phones, but who is also incredibly comfortable and excited about new technologies and media that have greater potential in educational settings). I’m also lucky enough to have this professor as my advisor. Her course embodies and demonstrates the ways in which the tenets of media literacy can be seamlessly integrated into curriculum. It’s inspiring to be a part of this work.

On screen: My film,  Let Me Pump Ya Brakes

As soon as class finished at 7pm, I sprinted downstairs to attend a “Hip Hop Battle” of sorts between Dr. Chris Emdin, GZA (from Wu Tang Clan) and an incredible panel of highly respected scientists from across the country. The topic at hand: the merits of bringing hip hop into the classroom to learn about science, particularly in urban public schools, and a new partnership between Emdin, GZA and rapgenius.com called Science Genius. It’s an incredible partnership, and I will get further into Dr. Emdin’s (dope, I mean, DOPE) work that he’s doing at another time. I was only able to catch the last 45 minutes of the event, but the auditorium was packed, the energy in the room was tangible, and all I could think about was something that Dr. Emdin said in his keynote speech at the Pre-Emptive Education Conference in September: “…there is an educational revolution coming, and this is part of it. You are part of it.” For more info on the event, look up the hash tag #sciencegenius on Twitter (also try #hiphoped).

Emdin, GZA, and panel of educators & scientists

To top it all off?? On Sunday morning, I woke up to a Twitter notification that hip hop scholar and author, Bakari Kitwana, was now following me on Twitter. I read Kitwana’s book, Why White Kids Listen to Hip Hop in an elective class on white representations of blackness in my senior year of college, and I’ve followed his work since, so needless to say, this was a big deal. Well, tonight, I’m tweeting from the Science Genius event when a tweet from Kitwana shows up in my feed. It’s about the hip hop event. And then I realize he’s just uploaded a picture. HE WAS AT THE EVENT. So, I waited for him afterwards, introduced myself in my mildly-awkward-but-strangely-charming way: hand out for the shake upon approach, and mouth moving a million miles a minute to the point where he had no choice but to pause for a second and allow me to introduce myself. We had a brief, but great conversation, that ended in him giving me his card and asking me to stay in touch (followed then by a tweet reading: “@emilybailin, great to finally meet you in person, thanks for reaching out”). A nerdy-celebrity-esque moment, but an amazing moment nonetheless.

All in all, it was a pretty incredible afternoon and evening. And while this entry is a slight departure from what I’ve tended to post about in the past, I was so overcome with gratitude, motivation, and encouragement by the time I got home tonight, I knew I needed to document how I was feeling so that on the days when I’m not feeling as sure-footed and I’m doubting every ounce of my being, I can revisit and reflect on days like today: those blessed, unexpected mid-week days that remind me of why I’m doing what I’m doing.

P.S. – Speaking of driving forces, this post is dedicated to my dear friend Cone who has been sending me borderline-threatening emails about posting a new entry. Thank you for your motivation, enthusiasm, support, and excitement about my journey into the blogosphere (and the work I’m doing in my Ph.D. program) it means the world.