This year’s 18th Annual Associated Core Texts & Courses Conference, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sponsored by Carthage College, and focusing on the theme: “Liberal Arts Education and the World: Inquiring into, Preparing for, and Living in the Real World through Core Texts” took place 29 March through 1 April at The Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel, where I presented with the following panel
“Conrad, Ellison, and Narrative Structure:
Blending Critical Thought and Student Engagement”
Aaron P. Smith, Marian University of Fond du Lac, “Authentic Self-Existence for the Visibly Marginalized;” Lamiaa Youssef, Norfolk State University, “Narrative Lenses and the Journey toward Self-Knowledge;” Justin Ponder, Marian University, “A Walking Personification of the Negative: Listening to Stories in Invisible Man;” Rashaan Meneses, Saint Mary’s College of California, “We’re All ‘Others’ Now: Revisiting Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the Age of Post-post-colonialism.”
Chair: Jean-Marie Kauth, Benedictine University
Some of the speakers and panels that caught my attention were the following:
Robert Gurval, Department of Classics, University of California, Los Angeles: “Harmony and Homer on the Pearl River Delta: The Foundations of a New Liberal Arts in China”-
China is looking at Western liberal arts colleges to help shape their higher education though instead of calling their undergraduate core curriculum “general education” they’ve opted to use the term “gateway education” to indicate that students are beginning the path to learning
self in search of self
self as social institutions
Liberal Studies as training for life
introduce poetry first as foundation to politics, which is the gateway to political and economic theory
From the panel, “The Function of Core Texts and Their Programs,” Nicholas D. Leither, Saint Mary’s College of California, “Skepticism Destroyed Their Paradise: Generative Thinking and and ‘Believing’ in the Text”-
argues that students lose innocence in college when they’re taught to become the skeptic
more often than not in the classroom creative thinking isn’t valued, nor seeing several POV’s simultaneously
Rational thinking limits
“When we take a critical approach, we forget to believe.”
Critical versus generative, students need to take a leap of faith
From the panel, “Concepts of the Self in East and West,” Yaqun Zhang, Xiamen University “Confucius’ Gentleman Personality and Its Influence on Academic Education”
education as a cultural mission
educating students to let them know they are part of a a social and civic commitment
seeking harmony not sameness
having a sense of appropriate conduct
From my own panel on Conrad and Ellison, Aaron P. Smith Marian University of Fond du Lac, “Authentic Self-Existence for the Visibly Marginalized” (concerning Ellison’s Invisible Man)
one must have existence to become authentic, meta-alienation
alienation requires confrontation
those who create new values need an audience to receive
This year’s conference not only emphasized true and vigorous cultural exchange between the U.S. and China since ACTC has been collaborating with Chinese universities to help shape their curriculum, but another important theme emphasized again and again was inter-disciplinary exchange and pairing texts that weren’t so obvious on the surface, but in comparing say Machiavelli to Lao Tzu, professors made profound connections and demonstrated an exchange of ideas and values that spanned time and geography.
Thanks to professor and poet Barbara Jane Reyes and the sponsorship of the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program and Asian Studies Program, I was able to guest lecture for Reyes’ Spring 2012 course “YPSP 195-01/ANST 195-02: Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature” at the University of San Francisco on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Before my presentation, sixteen savvy students read my short personal essay “Barbie’s Gotta Work,” published in Doveglion. The essay was included in the course’s unit on “Work and Domesticity.”
Reyes recently discussed this very same class and its inception in her recent post on the Poetry Foundation’sHarriet The Blog:
One day, I’d casually asked our program chair whether he was interested in an all Filipina/Pinay (Filipino women) literature course, and he said, yes, draft a syllabus, and we’ll get it approved by the curriculum committee. It was approved. It was quickly filled. This is the first semester I am teaching the course, and I’m still in disbelief. All Pinay Literature. I always think, wow, where was this class when I was young, and when I needed it most. It seems a lot of people have been asking this question too, as I have been asked by more people than I can count, for my syllabus and reading lists. So, in this space, I will be talking a bit about some of the items from my syllabus, in the hopes that it will prompt readers further.
For my guest lecture, after giving a brief power point presentation, featuring pictures of my family, my maternal and paternal grandparents at work and at play in their youth, the students asked challenging questions about the superficiality of Barbie and how that was complicated in the essay and what it was like to be a professor of color. Another student broached the gap between generations, wondering how to relate with family members who might not share the same educational experiences. This brought on the idea of exploring the roots that hold us together and the stories family members share no matter where their paths in life take them.
We discussed looking at life and literature through a prism of lenses, much like looking through a kaleidoscope; we can shift the angles. We also talked about family memories that shape who we are. Some of the students shared their own experiences, remembering the work of their mothers, fathers, and grandparents.
Below is a sneak peek at the writing exercise students worked on, sifting through their past and their parents’ and grandparents’ pasts to uncover half-forgotten memories concerning love and labor, two themes that I keep coming back to with my own writing.
Love & Labor Writing Exercise
How do your parents and/or grandparents use their body at work?
How did work define your parents and/or grandparents?
What sense of self and purpose did they find through their labor?
Describe one of your parents or grandparents at work: What is the setting? What are their hands doing? Explain the actions of the body and mind.
How are they interacting with their setting? With other people at work?
Reading the likes of Azedah Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, Fareed Zakaria’s Post-American World, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and revisiting Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for two new classes I’m teaching within Saint Mary’s College’s Liberal & Civic Studies Program. Students are coming to me in class proud about how conversant they’re getting concerning world politics, global matters, and environmental issues. I must confess, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut during class discussions. Its hard to keep silent when the readings and subjects are so stimulating.
122 Environmental Responsibility in a Global Community
Taken the semester immediately following L&CS 121 whenever possible, this courses focuses on the natural world in which we lie, and the complex interrelationship between human activities, the values which determine these activities and their consequences for the environment. Different societies’ belief systems along with their responsibilities and attitudes toward the environment are examined. Students are required to devote time each week to a service-learning project, write essays, intellectual integrations and a self-assessment. Class sessions are supplemented by a biweekly activity lab. Prerequisites: L&CS 121, English 5, Collegiate Seminar 20/110.
123 Modern Global Issues
The purpose of this course is to gain broad-based exposure to some of the cultural, political and economic issues related to and arising from the processes of globalization. Students will study recent critical dialogues and philosophies of globalization, including issues of ethnicity/race, gender, identity, urban culture, post-nationalism, multiculturalism and post-colonial studies. Students are require to participate in class, lead discussion, write essays and news articles responses, give an oral presentation and complete a midterm exam. Prerequisite:L&CS 121 or permission of instructor.
We’ve watched some of the following videos to supplement subjects and texts recently covered:
A former student of mine, Antonio Venegas, shares his story and lends inspiration with a recently published article in the magazine Against the Current. His piece, titled “Where to Occupy Next?” covers the Occupy Movement and his community engagement.
Here’s an excerpt:
I TRULY DON’T want to be another sob story. But when the rare opportunity comes along to tell my story and affect many, like a stone cast into the water, it is necessary to at least attempt to grab the hearts of people who will listen.
As I constructed the presentation that I was going to show my social justice organizing class at St. Mary’s College about my experience with the organization Causa Justa (Just Cause), I ran across something that froze me. I searched for “foreclosure” on Wikipedia in hopes of finding a comprehensive definition, and like most articles on that site, its words were displayed accompanied by an image.
On Wednesday, 16 November 2011, I had the pleasure of guest lecturing for an evening session of Interpersonal Communication at Ohlone College. The students prepared for our class by reading the previously published post “Digital Citizenship: Cultivating an Online Presence, Part I.” After a quick introduction, they broke into small groups to review the text and come up with discussion questions where we dived into what it means to be a digital citizen, how and why we use social media sites. For reference to digital citizenry check out the NY Times recent article “Protestors Look for Ways to Feed the Web,” which is about social media’s role with the Occupy Movement where Jennifer Preston writes:
The movement counts more than 400 Facebook pages with 2.7 million fans around the world. On Tumblr.com, the “We Are the 99 Percent” blog continues to publish the personal stories of hundreds of people struggling with student debt, health care costs and foreclosure. There are also dozens of new wikis and Web pages, including OccupyWallSt.org and HowToOccupy.org.
Interpersonal Communication is the study of how we communicate with self and others. Relationships remain an essential component of human existence. We must ask ourselves: How well do we function in our relationships, and how might we improve our relational competencies? The class was wonderfully diverse, with students from all over the world sharing insights about their experiences with social media. We discussed the following topics:
citizenship vs. consumerism
digital community vs. face-to-face community
what’s expected of citizens online
what’s expected of digital communities
how do different digital communities interact. For instance, Tumblr is for showcasing individual work and Facebook is for catching up with friends and family
The students then drafted group contracts between online users and online communities to determine what the community can do for digital citizens and what digital citizens can do for their community. Some of the policies they wished to implement included:
no kids ten-years or younger should be on Facebook because they don’t have much to contribute to the community
need to have expectations on what people can and should post
users need to understand that sites like Facebook are not games
time limits to ensure productivity at work and in school
cut unlawful browsing
We concluded the evening with two writing exercises to help students become more conscious of how they present themselves online and how they interact with others:
1. Self- Evaluation from the Point of View of a Friend or Family Member
(This proves highly relevant to course content as the class discussed ‘Significant Others’ and how the relationship(s) affects our perception of ourselves. ‘Perceived Self’ / ‘Presenting Self’, Ego Boosters and Ego Busters along with Perspective Taking.)
For this freewrite you will want to assume the point of view of a friend or family member who knows you well. You will be writing from their perspective to give a critical evaluation of yourself. Imagine that they’ve been asked to give an honest and thoughtful assessment about your self. Your friend or family member must give a truthful evaluation about your character, your motivation, and your ability to follow through with action. In addition, they are required to support their opinion with concrete experiences, memories and events that illustrate their assessment.
To assist with this exercise you may want to answer some of these questions, again from the POV of a friend or family member who is evaluating you:
How would you describe your personality?
What motivates or inspires you?
Who has influenced you and why?
What past events demonstrate your strongest skills and traits?
What are your weaknesses?
How do you handle your weaknesses?
If you could make changes to your life, your drive, your behavior, what kind of changes and why?
When are you at your best? When are you at your worst?
How well do you work with others?
How well do you take direction?
What kind of a leader are you?
How do you inspire others?
2. Personal Ad for Dating Agency
(This proves highly relevant to course content since the class addressed both mediated (digital) communication and the dynamics of ‘self-concept‘.)
Where did you grow up?
Get To Know Me:
About My Date (Describe who you’re ideal date is):
In My Own Words (give a paragraph description to entice potential dates):
If you could draw up a contract between digital citizens and digital communities what would be the roles each play for what purposes, and what policies would regulate the relationships?
For kicks, here’s a take on the internet from two favorite digital citizens:
On Saturday, October 22, at SMC’s Parent & Family Weekend, “Classes Without Quizzes,” I got to meet 25 parents and family members who were eager “to see Saint Mary’s through their kids’ eyes.” In my session, titled “Classroom as Kitchen Table: Education Through Conversation and Feeding Hungry Minds,” we read aloud Sandra Cisneros’ deceptively simple short short “Eleven.” As always this bittersweet narrative got the packed classroom buzzing and was the perfect inspiration for us to dive into our own childhood memories for a little creative writing exercise of our own. Here’s a quick review from one of the parents I met at the session, author Mitali Perkins:
I’m back from parents’ weekend at Saint Mary’s College of California where we attended classes without quizzes. I, of course, signed up for a writing class taught by Rashaan Meneses, who led us through a brilliant workshop on enhancing voice with detail.
On Saturday, May 14, I had the honor and pleasure of delivering the keynote speech for the Asian Pacific American Student Associaion Graduation Celebration at Saint Mary’s College. Upon arrival, Hagerty Lounge was transformed into an elegant venue dressed in gold and purple with red and white table cloths laid out in the back for some fine dining that would take place after the speeches and ceremonies. An undergrad named Craig, immediately welcomed me and got me situated. Organized by Joan Iva C. Fawcett, the Director of the Intercultural Center, which sponsored the event, the celebration opened with an address from Jef Aquino, the MC. Alex Carbonel, a talented musician, singer, and basketball player performed throughout the celebration, and her beautiful music really added to the ceremony.
Trying to hold my own, I gave my speech, included below. Three awards were soon presented: the Student Scholar Award, the Student Leader Award, and the Dean Grace Cardenas-Tolentino Award then Brother Camillus Chavez gave the candle blessing, after which all attendees were invited to taste some delicious dishes from James Na and Jim Fawcett’s catering company as well as listen to the beautiful ukulele played by Eileen Lindley, a former student of mine.
This was a happy, tear-filled event, which I am very grateful to have shared, and I hope to attend more since these students are so wonderfully inspiring.
Here’s the keynote speech, a tribute to my family, speaking of inspiration:
APASA 2011 Graduation Ceremony Speech
Thirteen years ago, I sat in uncomfortable folding seats, just like you. Tipsy from excitement, thrilled to be sharing this moment of arrival with family and friends, eager to finally be an independent adult. With all frankness, I don’t remember the graduation speeches. I couldn’t tell you which prominent speaker said what, but I remember feeling like I could catch air and fly. I also distinctly remember hitting ground after graduation and crashing into the reality of life after college. There were the student loans, the string of jobs to pay the rent. I floundered between careers and learned more about what I didn’t want to do rather than coming to some instant grand destiny. Life after college was a process of elimination. Messy and confusing. What kept me sane, tethered to my dreams, and confident in my sense of self were my friends from college and my family.
Every once in a while, like today, we get to step back and survey what we’ve accomplished, celebrate the distance we’ve covered, and chart the new heights we hope to achieve. We are always arriving. In 1947, a newly married Filipino bride and groom, my grandparents, arrived in the U.S for the first time. Traveling by ship, they crossed the Pacific from Leyte, Philippines. You’ve probably heard similar tales such as theirs. Between the bride and groom they had two ten-dollar bills to serve as a nest egg for their new life in the States. The young woman carried a smile that could rival sunlight. She admired the ideals and beauty America stood for so much that she decided she wanted to be just as pretty and fair as the Hollywood actress, Hedy Lemarr. So my grandma got it in her head to turn her dark Pilipina skin to lily-white just. She basked on the rocks next to the river where she washed and dried her family’s laundry, thinking she could bleach herself the same way her brothers’ shirts and sisters’ linens were whitened in the heat of the sun. When she got home, she found herself darker than the earth she walked on. She learned an early lesson to just be yourself.
My grandpa had been encouraged at age eleven by his mother to make a living in the States. She told him that if he ever wanted to be someone he had to go to America because the tiny island of Limisawa didn’t offer the same opportunities he would find in the States. And, after she died, he went to California, all alone, at sixteen-years old to discover himself and a world that he’d make his home.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to the Philippines to marry his sweetheart and they sailed back to California. On their journey they met another Filipino who had no money but hefted a load of responsibility and promises that he also made to his family back home. This fellow Pinoy, asked my grandparents, if they could lend him some money, and my grandpa, being the overly generous soul he was gave the man one of his ten-dollar bills. Of course, grandma was furious. “Why did you do that?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll be all right,” he answered.
My grandpa always knew whatever adversity he and my grandma would face they’d succeed. He hadn’t the smallest doubt that they’d find their way and be able to share their fortune, so he always took great lengths to help others. I look to each of you today, and I see you doing the same. You’re honoring community and family, supporting your brothers and sisters who journey into the unknown alongside you. I know that by your commitment to APASA, you each have stayed true to who you are and where you’ve come from.
With no safety net aside for their love for each other, my grandparents embarked on one of the scariest endeavors we could ever take, daring to make their way in a new country, living a foreign life among strangers. Imagine if they had Facebook, Twitter, or Skype to keep them connected to home and to warn them of the dangers they might come across.
Today you have so many tools and means to keep you informed and stay linked to your family and friends. My grandparents had only the relationships they’d make along the way and the ambitions their families inspired within them. Still, you’re every bit the pioneers my grandparents were. They, like you, embraced a new world, unsure of the next step or the step that would follow after the first one. Faith, hard work, and commitment to family, friends, and their heritage kept their nerves steeled, helped them grit their teeth, and hold fast to their dreams. I have every confidence you’ll be doing the same on your journey.
You’ve navigated some deep and choppy waters in the different classes you’ve taken at Saint Mary’s, and the different activities you’ve participated in. I’m thinking now of Collegiate Seminar which has given you the rare opportunity to reflect honestly and deeply about some of life’s most important ideas. Rarely will you get a chance to just sit and discuss some of our most muddiest concerns.
At the same time that you’re drawing upon your college education as a foundation for what’s ahead be sure to also remember the stories, experiences, and advice that your family and friends have shared. Think of all the challenges your grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins, and parents have faced to help you get where you are now. Keep learning and shaping your own wisdom, which rests on the wisdom of your loved ones. Honor their words and memories.
I’ll leave you with a couple life’s lessons and you can do with them as you will. Firstly, try with all your might to avoid debt or try not to get into any more debt. Credit cards are bad. Stay away. I learned that the hard way. Don’t be me.
Secondly, stay hungry and keep your thirst for knowledge and experience. Read everyday of your life. Always be inquisitive. Try to see the world from someone else’s eyes and walk in their shoes.
Thirdly, and lastly, keep engaged and connected to your communities. Don’t forget about us here at Saint Mary’s because we’ll miss you and we want to chart your success. Stay close to family and friends as you scale your ambitions and make your way in this world. Keep your communities close to heart because each of you inspire us.
Let’s take a moment to thank and congratulate one another for arriving here, celebrating all that we have accomplished and wishing only success and good fortune for what’s to come. Today is your day, and I wish you many successes. Peace and blessings!
Big thanks to APASA for including me in such a grand event!
All photos, except the pic of Hedy Lamarr, are courtesy of PJ Sanders.
Holland Cotter’s recent New York Times article, “Passion of the Moment: A Triptych of Masters” on the Boston Museum’s latest exhibit “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” is so brilliantly written, like a searing, soaring comet, we are urged to turn our gaze from our daily activities and pay closer attention to a specific corner of our artistic universe.
Titian first poked his head into our stunted and skewed Reality Bites in the 1990’s while we tripped through pseudo-scholarly undergraduate studies on the sun-beaten campus of UCLA. In Renaissance & Baroque Art, a survey class taken to fulfill our Humanities GEs, we snickered and yawned when our professor, whose name, unfortunately, is long-forgotten, tasked our ignorant Generation X for equating the great Renaissance artists with four ninja-fighting turtles. In a huge auditorium filled with some fifty to a hundred impatient and guileless students, over a scratchy microphone, she set us straight with a lecture about how Donatello pre-dated, by centuries, his supposed contemporaries, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. And, if the TV execs really cared about the youth, they would have named Titian as the purple masked, bo-staff wielding, amphibian super-fighter.