e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Ellen Cushman

For anybody out there in the Detroit, Ann Arbor, or East Lansing areas...

Ellen Cushman * Lecture * The University of Michigan Dearborn

Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Culture
at Michigan State University

"Toward a Red Pedagogy: The Cherokee Nation/MSU Collaborative as a Praxis of New Media"

Wednesday, April 4th * 3-4:30 * CASL Building, Room 1030

...thanks to UMD co-sponsors Civic Engagement Project, Writing Program, and American Studies


conference expenses

The professional listservs are buzzing with the usual post-conference conversations: the best way to deliver a paper, the (lack of) presence of technology at the conference site, and how expensive the conference was. The big three discussions. These discussions happen each and every year after 4Cs. I find myself deleting most of the messages, but I'm trying to keep up with the posts about expenses.

One thing that strikes me about the discussion is how much cash many attendees apparently spent. Some are reporting spending upwards of $1,500-2,000. What?

I get an even grand from my department to cover conference travel. Now, I had to be careful, but I came in *under* budget. A package that included airfare and four nights in a hotel (a Super 8 in Queens that required me to subway into the city each a.m.) cost me just over $600. Registration, including an all-day workshop, was $135. That left me over $250 for food and subway fare. Breakfast was free at the hotel and included a waffle station and good coffee. Between parties and a dinner with a publisher, I bought about one meal a day out of pocket.

Others on the list--including a few tenure-track folks--are reporting horrendous travel support from their departments. Some report only getting a couple hundred dollars. Not even the most frugal can work with such paltry support without paying lots of cash out of pocket, which many end up doing. A colleague of mine in the business school points out that this is the only profession where we essentially *must* (i.e., in order to get tenure) travel as part of our work but in which our place of employment doesn't always pay for those expenses.

Should the big conferences travel to cheaper sites? Yes. I'd love to see 4Cs set up a rotation including more diverse areas. How about the mountain west? How about the de-industrialized midwest? I know you need a hotel or series of hotels that can support thousands of attendees sleeping each night and going to sessions each day, but I don't think you have to go to NYC or Chicago to make that feasible. NCTE--the only NCTE I ever attended--was in Detroit about ten years ago. The Cs used to do Cinci. on a somewhat regular basis. Keep New York et al in the rotation but widen the range of locales.


going public

So I've been talking to my Comp 106 students--who maintain blogs as part of the work of the class--about issues like being accountable for the things they say/write and the potential that writing has for affecting change. In short, I value "public writing" and want the students to as well.

My student Brandon has been blogging about the conditions of the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve and Trail. On Sunday, the suburban newspaper in his community picked up his blog and published an article about his attempts to raise awareness. Brandon's humble about the whole thing and excited that an audience has actually read his work. I'm thrilled that his experiences so nicelly illustrate the lessons of "public writing" that I've been working to teach. I'm also thrilled the headline of the piece calls Brandon a "blogger" and not a "student."

new york post-mortem

Everybody's doing a 4Cs wrap-up post, so I guess I'll succumb to peer pressure and post a few random thoughts on the conference.
  • The value of respondents. At my session, Paula Mathieu served as a "respondent" and did an excellent job of synthesizing the three papers and setting an agenda for the q-and-a session. In just two or three minutes, she reminded the audience of what each of us had said and gave the conversation that followed some focus.
  • Parody. My own personal award for favorite session goes to A.06: "Parody and Pedagogy." David Seitz and Patty Harkin each spoke on their uses of parodic texts in undergrad rhetoric classes, Harkin focusing specifically on strategies for making use of Jon Stewart's popularity. Nancy Mack gave a talk about how graduate students in her introductory comp. pedagogy class use parody and multi-genre to map out the field. One of her grad students, the hilarious Bill Bicknell, delivered his parody, which was a take-off of the academy awards' best picture nominations from two years back, in which each nominated "film" represented a teaching philosophy. Several journal editors in the room (it was a well-attended session) approached Bill about submitting his paper for publication.
  • Public Transportation. Something we'll never have in Detroit, so I enjoyed the fine NYC subways. I stayed at a Super 8 out in Queens as part of my attempt to come in under budget (my school gives a grand for conferece travel) and not have to pay anything out of pocket, which meant taking a thirty-five minute subway ride into the theater district each morning. Glad I did. Most everyone complained about their digs in Manhattan: too small, too dumpy, too expensive, lacking in basics like irons. Saved a bundle. For only two bucks, you can get from one end of the metro area to the other. At peak times, trains run constantly. Awesome.
  • Special interests. As usual, the small communities within the behemoth organization made for a productive meeting. For me, the Rhetoricians for Peace and Working-Class Studies special-interest-group are two of those communities from which I gain ideas and energy each year.
  • Likewise, getting together with former institutions. Arizona had its annual party (combined with several other schools) and it was great to see old pals from grad school (one of whom captured some incriminating photos of the revelry, I hear). After the fuzz broke up the get-together last year, Miami didn't have a room party and just went straight to the bar. I got there late, after having dinner with a group from the special-interest-group, and just missed Bill Clinton and Kevin Spacey, who went to the bar and worked the room. How did I miss that?!
  • The little things. Randy took me to services at St. Thomas, just a block from the conference, which was a quieting way to spend the hour before an editorial board meeting I had. Seeing the book at Pitt's display and hearing from a dozen or so people that they had read it and/or anticipated using some of the chapters. The smoked salmon on onion bagel sandwich at the Carnegie Deli. Good times.
  • See ya'll in New Orleans...



Most 4Cs attendees probably grabbed a copy of the Bedford/St. Martin's film "Take 20," directed by Todd Taylor. "Take 20" presents clips of interviews with college writing teachers, who answer questions about their first teaching experience, their methods for designing a syllabus, and what articles and books have most influenced their careers.

One thing about this project I appreciate is the range of voices. Taylor assembles a combination of big names and emerging leaders in the field. Raul Sanchez, Ellen Cushman, and Nedra Reynolds in particular offer interesting and honest "takes" on teaching. Line that sticks with me: "[Teachers] ought to learn to read student work without a pen in their hands" -Raul Sanchez. It's sticking with me because I talk back to all student writing. I would have liked to listen to Sanchez say more.

And that seems to be the limitation of the film. Soundbites about teaching and learning provide the film's content and those soundbites are very engaging. I'm not sure the talking head format best extends conversations about such complex matters. Maybe the next version of the film can allow viewers to select content they want to hear more about. What if the DVD could provide "special features" wherein the talking heads expand upon those soundbites?

Just a thought. I appreciated the film very, very much as a representation of the range of teaching ideologies and methodologies within the field. Hats off to Taylor and the publisher for doing something new.



What can you say about New York that hasn't been said? I've visited maybe a half dozen times over the years and each trip is better than the last. Birthplace of punk rock and beat poetry. Tonight I fly to the 4Cs conference. I'm staying out in Queens and taking the subway into the city each morning. The chance to see friends from grad school, friends from my former institution, maybe meet a new mate or two.

A quick plug, for those who'll be at the conference. Check out the session:

"Labor of Love: Research as a Lived Process" featuring David Gold, Gesa Kirsch, Bill DeGenaro, Liz Rohan, and Stephanie Jeger (Session E.09, Thursday March 22, 4:45-6:00)


Canada vs. Canadian

So last night in my creative writing class, a student brings in a lovely poem about a "Canadian Goose." We workshop the poem and have a great conversation about line breaks, enjambment, and the piece's subtle rhythm. One of the best poems we've workshopped.

At the end of the discussion, I suggest that if the poem is referring to any old goose who happens to be from Canada, than "Canadian Goose" is correct, but that if the poem refers to the particular breed, it's technically "Canada Goose."

The class--and I'm not exaggerating--thinks I just got back from Mars. "How could that be?" they ask. Incredulous. "It's Canadian bacon," someone says. "Maybe you're thinking of Canada Dry," another says. "No, really, I'm pretty sure the breed is called Canada Geese," I say, but now I'm second guessing myself. Folks, now they're laughing at me! Somebody even cracks a joke about me being from Ohio (at what point did they get this comfortable?). "The breed of dog is called German Shepherd, not Germany Shepherd," someone insists and now I'm *really* thinking that I must be mis-remembering the terminology, because that German Shepherd example's a pretty good one.

Luckily, somebody whips out a laptop and in moments has multiple sites called up confirming that, yes, it's Canada Geese. Thank goodness, because at this point *I* am also starting to think I'm from Mars.

My question is, has the 'Canada Goose' label fallen out of the parlance? Is it even possible for the proper name of an animal to morph due to usage? Where are my linguistics colleagues when I need them?


when the weather turns warm

Although today the snow has made a surprise return to the motor city, we enjoyed a few days of sun earlier this week. Students wore shorts and asked if we could move class ouside. The delights of springtime's start.

On Tuesday evening, in the midst of these joys, in the middle of the warm snap, I met two members of Operation Get Down, a substance-abuse treatment program in Detroit. Gearing their services toward the city's homeless and working poor populations, the folks at OGD offer counseling for addicts as well as transitional housing for those in recovery. OGD also runs a speakers bureau that consists of addicts giving testimonials to various audiences: schools, community groups, and the like.

Tamika, a member of the speakers bureau, gave on Tuesday her first public testimonial. A gifted, blunt, and fearless public speaker, she spoke of being raped. She described the years she has spent living on the streets in Detroit. She admitted to abusing heroin and crack. She told us about prostitution. She expressed gratitude at having temporary shelter right now and anxiety about what will happen in a month when her tenure in transitional housing comes to an end.

The sun came through the window behind Tamika, brightening the meeting room at Gesu Church. She closed her eyes and told us that even the weather turning warm presents a temptation and a trap. "It's warm now," she said, "and it makes me want to go out and get my hustle on."



An old friend e-mailed me today, quoting Hillary Clinton's comments this morning in response to a question about whether or not homosexuality is immoral:
"Well I'm going to leave that to others to conclude," she said. "I'm very proud of the gays and lesbians I know who perform work that is essential to our country, who want to serve their country and I want make sure they can."
This friend of mine suggested that H-Clint's bland response brings to mind Bob Dole's noted blandness in 1996.

Amen. She's as bland as they come. At this point she's become virtually incapable of saying what she thinks. I think that one of two things has happened to H-Clint: 1) she's unaware that she's saying nothing, or 2) she's completely disinterested in stating ideas of her own. I think it's a little of both, but more of the latter. I would like to elect a president who believes there's a legitimate place in the political process for stating what one thinks. That ain't H-Clint.

That audio of her singing the National Anthem (poorly) is a nice metaphor for her persona: WASP-y, disinterested, milquetoast, hoping to just blend in so that nobody really hears her voice. She has latched on to inane issues in the senate: let's rate videogames. She's made cheap grabs for quick popularity: let's expand the prerogative of the executive branch (and let's do it while the executive happens to be a fool).

Forgoodnesssake, just answer the question. "No, I don't think homosexuality is immoral. And I regret that there are still serious minded people in this country that think that gays and lesbians are immoral." Or, if you want to shoot for brevity, a simple "no." Then, move on to the next question. Is that so much to ask?


clicking away

I suppose this is a continuation of yesterday's post about focus. Frequently I say that one of the joys of working at a non-research one school is range. I can teach a range of classes (comp! creative writing! an honors course in working-class studies! an upper-level writing course for education majors!), engage a range of subjects and conversations in my scholarlship (though they all seem to return to issues of class), and this variety keeps things interesting. I never feel tied down or as if I'm lost in the world of hyper-specialization.

And yet the choices can overwhelm. Should I devote energies to developing this sequence of courses? Focus on the first-year classes and how we might enhance them? Do more with the honors college? Do more with the campus's civic engagement initiatives? Continue focusing on this line of inquiry and maybe conceive of it as a book project? Keep doing "mini-studies" that turn into articles followed by sharp movement to the next topic? Decisions.

Usually I think of these Big Questions when particularly long and varied lists of tasks sit on my desk. This morning I spent a good amount of time writing and worked on both the 4Cs paper for the panel I'm on and the mini-paper for the Cs working-class special interest group meeting. The latter is finished. The former is getting there. Feeling productive (yeaa) but also a bit haried by these big picture concerns (boo).


how 'bout some focus?

I've wanted to blog more in the last two weeks, but a million different commitmentsprojectsetal have prevented that from happening. I probably assign one too many papers to my Comp 106-ers. Why not do an extra round of revision or two on one of the papers instead of tacking on so many separate-albeit sequenced-assignments? Why not work in more ungraded blogging? I like reading the drafts and recognize the value in the feedback I'm offering, but the steady stream of sets of papers does overwhelm--especially since I'm teaching two sections instead of just one.

4Cs paper almost done, thanks to spring break feedback from excellent UMD colleagues. Some discussion leader duties at working-class sig to prep for. Page proofs from a 'Teaching English in the Two-Year College' article (on using a class-conscious lens to understand student-teacher relationships) that I'm not done editing yet. Deadline's today. Article will appear in May issue-check it out soon. In the meantime, get those proofs back to editor. Still revising Detroit article to send back to jac; I realize I need to block off a day and just finish the thing.

This weekend, off to Youngstown for family fun. Tonight, if time and energy-level allow, hope to run over to the Knights of Columbus Hall in Hamtramck to see The Muldoons, whose 7 inch is outstanding. Three-person family punk band consisting of father and his two sons (10 and 13 yrs old, no joke). From what I've heard, their shows are like nothing you've seen, with antics-a-plenty...yet more than just novelty. If you click on their myspace page, give a listen to "Red and Black," lead track on their record.

Oh, yes, and be sure to buy three or four copies of my friend Steve Climer's new novel: James of this World. I hope to read it this weekend so I can't say much firsthand about the book. But we've read some of S.C.'s stories in my creative writing class--and the author has generously visited the students to talk about his writing process--and he's got an interesting voice. The work's creepy but also deeply affecting and human(e).

Scattered, yes. Who says life needs focus?


new lifestyle

I haven't eaten meat in the last two weeks. In large part my reasons center on the spiritual, and I've made a commitment not to eat meat during the entirety of the lenten season. Generally I don't give things up for lent and this isn't so much a matter of giving something up as much as it is an attempt to eat better things. Beef in particular, by most accounts, typifies non-sustainable foods and I've ignored that reality for years and years.

Beyond lent (which ends in about a month), I'm not sure. I don't have a firm commitment and obviously it depends on how I feel, both physically and spiritually. But I'd like to make a longer commitment. Yet when my new passport arrived the other day, one of the first things that I thought of was crossing the border into Ontario for a Harvey's hamburger. Never had Harvey's? I suppose praising the place would be sort of hypocritical after making reference to the ethics of beef, but let's just say those Canadians know from burgers. And I live five minutes from Woodward Avenue's own Redcoat Tavern, home of the finest bar burger in metro Detroit (sorry, Miller's in Dearborn, you come in second!).

STOP. Listing the best hamburgers in Detroit is not the best way to make this spiritual journey. And neither is thinking about shawarma sandwiches from Dearborn or tacos from that trailer that parks on the southwest side of Detroit.

Instead, let me share a recipe for the garbanzo bean soup we made yesterday. Soak 1# dry garbanzos over night and then bring to a boil and simmer for an hour. Sautee a diced onion and 5-6 cloves of garlic in a little olive oil. Add 1 teaspoon allspice and 1.5 tablespoons each cumin and coriander to the onions and then add mixture to the beans and let simmer another thirty minutes. Toss another sliced onion into a 350-degree oven with a little olive oil and let slices roast for about thirty minutes. Chop up a few handfuls of fresh parsley. Puree the beans and enjoy, garnishing bowls of the soup with the roasted onions and parsley.

Better than a burger.



I'm ashamed this is happening in Michigan.
Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse expects to decide by next week whether three challenged books used in Howell High School classrooms meet the legal definition of obscenity.
What are the three books? Erin Gruwell's "Freedom Writers Diary," Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," and Richard Wright's "Black Boy." Yes, all three books are about people of color. Yes, two out of three are written by people of color. The group leading this racist crusade is called LOVE (Livingston Organization for Values in Education). Love, indeed.

The U.S. Attorney General's Office and the FBI are also "reviewing the claim," which raises the issue of what members of LOVE generally think of big government intervention in small-town life. I suspect that, when it comes to most issues, they disdain the notion that the federal government would be involved. Now that their own twisted political agenda is being advanced, all of a sudden the tune changes.

This is inexcusable.

Here We Go Again

It's snowing again. A hard, blowing, particularly cold snow, too. As I walked Hyatt around the block this morning, the stuff pummled both of our faces. Enough with the snow already.

Spring Break week and I feel less overwhelmed. Already I've written my "long" 4Cs presentation (the regular paper) and worked a bit on the "short" conversation-starter I'm responsible for at the Cs working-class studies special interest group meeting. And today's the day when I'm going to work on revisions to the Detroit article.

But, mostly, a laid back Spring Break close to home. A couple lunches with friends. A couple courtesy-of-Netflix films: "Half Nelson," "Babel" (I thought that, thematically, it was facile and pretentious; in terms of vision, a rehash of last year's "Crash"), and "Shut Up & Sing."