Dear Classmates,

I was thinking of you all as we enter this new year and wanted to share a recent finding with you; The Vision, by Wendell Berry. All the best in your teaching and learning endeavors!

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow-growing trees

on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

if we make our seasons welcome here,

asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead

the lives our lives prepare will live

here, their houses strongly placed

upon the valley sides, fields and gardens

rich in the windows. The river will run

clear, as we will never know it,

and over it, birdsong like a canopy.

On the levels of the hills will be

green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance

            cut down

the old forest, an old forest will stand,

its rich leaf-fall drifting its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have


Families will be singing in their fields.

In the voices they will hear a music

risen out of the ground. They will take

nothing from the ground they will not


whatever the grief at parting. Memory,

native to this valley, will spread over it

like a grove, and memory will grow

into a legend, legend into song, song

into sacrament. The abundance of this


the songs of its people and its birds,

will be health and wisdom and indwelling

light. This is no paradisal dream.

Its hardship is its possibilities.

                                    ─Wendell Berry

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creating a teaching philosophy

First, let me share what I have compiled, and then speak to this process… which is not easy.

Under “teaching” you can find my teaching philosophy in it’s current form– a form I am sure will change as I grow in the classroom.

To create my teaching statement/philosophy I looked to the guidelines provided, but I also searched through archives belonging to institutions I admire and teachers I hope to resemble as instructors. I have found that this process is beneficial for a few reasons:

1. It offers students an intimate introduction to the teacher as a learner

2. Philosophy’s or statements keep professors/instructors (somewhat) accountable to their students and their selves as learners,

3. The role within the classroom is defined– the instructors and the students, and the task of teaching is placed in the foreground

While these may be far too creative for many folks in GEDI, I found the faculty pages at Goddard very helpful. As an undergraduate there we would read faculty statements and then choose who we would work with for the following year. To read some examples please follow this link:


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Following Freire…

October 21, 2014

There is so much to take away from this week’s readings! For one, as educators we often do not take into account problems in language and translation—not just from one language to another, but from one field or discipline, to another. This leads to an additional problem—meaning making is not rational (to all). We have to re/learn to seek knowledge alongside students. Lastly, Kincheloe asserts that “the construction of a neutral curriculum is impossible.” By focusing on the individual and experience Freire alludes to pedagogy of growth rather than a set curriculum.

The talk of teaching can be overwhelming and the joy and radical possibilities lost when one individual (here, me, the instructor) is supposed to hold all the knowledge. When the process is just that—a process—learning becomes a journey. It is not always easy, but it is fun. Just as we have discussed that student do best when the “pressure is off” I believe instructors do as well. Pressure does not equal accountability. Often I believe it is pressure that leads us to enter the safe zone of lecturing—filling the bank—rather than taking risks and understanding and practicing education as an act of freedom. It is, according to Freire, our job to create possibilities for the construction of knowledge, not to construct and deliver.



Goddard’s philosophy (my undergraduate institution) focuses on Dewey more so than Freire, however it is interesting to see how the philosophy’s we are discussing can be radically applied.

Goddard’s Educational Philosophy:

Our philosophy of education starts with the individual and holds that each person is truly unique, and is based on the ideas of John Dewey: that experience and education are intricately linked.

Students at Goddard work with faculty to direct their studies according to their personal and professional interests, goals, gifts, and desires. Students develop the capacity to understand their lives in an ever-changing social context, and thereby to take meaningful action in the world. They are encouraged to question received knowledge and the status quo and to create new understandings of the world and of human experience. As a collaborative interdependent learning community, we respect, include and appreciate differing perspectives.

  • We challenge ourselves and each other to embrace uncertainty, experiment, and imagine unexpected outcomes. Recognizing our interconnectedness with others and with the earth, we hold our scholarship and our actions to the highest standards of integrity, authenticity, and compassion.
  • We recognize that teaching and learning are fully realized when they include a wide range of people, cultures, experiences, abilities and fields of knowledge.
  • Understanding that access to resources and social and political power are not equally distributed, we offer the means to explore and articulate a wide range of personal and cultural understandings of well-being and justice, and to take action to create a more just world.
  • In addition to keeping our education affordable, we create academic and campus environments that all Goddard community members can use.
  • We recognize the increasing impact of human activity on our planet’s limited resources.  In our educational and institutional practices, we are committed to thoughtful and sustainable action that increases individual and social capacity for environmental stewardship and an improved future.


This philosophy, while not perfect and too radical for some (there has been uproar against Mumia Abu Jamal speaking at this year’s graduation ceremony via a recording), it works with many of the difficulties pointed out in the Kincheloe article.

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Beyond Inclusion: Seeing Ability

We have been discussing diversity and inclusion and seem to come to the conclusion that awareness and framing are key to the process of creating an inclusive space. I am drawn to what we do not see as instructors. We do not even see the students full potential in the course, leaving their being–who they are and want to be–often a complete mystery.

The one stereotype or factor we did not discuss was mental health. I mentioned invisible dis/abilities in our class discussion, however that was taken a different route. This is a difficult topic at Tech were stereotypes and fears are connected to a collective memory. It is something we must talk about– and be aware of as instructors. The students in our classrooms are diverse in ways far beyond race, gender, and class. Understanding the emotional, psychological, and psychosomatic stressors of the college classroom can help us create space where we come together–truly together–to learn.

To avoid further polarizing students who are not “able,” one small step I have taken is to refuse to use anything other than “dis/able” for the required sections in the syllabus. We are all dis/able in some capacity– acknowledging that is a beginning to the creation of inclusive spaces.

This post does not even begin to unravel the stigmas and discrimination graduate students and faculty face… but that is a conversation I hope we have. I hope you enjoy the film below!    (Examined Life by Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor (!!))

“The religious and historical roles of madness in society are further reinforced with elaborations in these dictionaries of the stigmata, a further derivation of the word stigma in medicine, meaning a ‘mark that is a characteristic of a defect or disease’ – hardly very progressive and politically challenging,” writes Smith. “The focus of our efforts should be upon society and the perpetrators of this discrimination, not the subjects of it. If we accept the concepts of parity of esteem, then we should describe not stigma, but rather bigotry, hatred, unlawful and unjust discrimination. Accepting the application of the word stigma reinforces this prejudice and does nothing to challenge it. We must challenge the status quo not accept it.”

The word ‘stigma’ should not be used in mental health campaigns (The Guardian, October 10, 2014)

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grades, grading, and progress…


blooms taxonomy

Inspired by the readings and my own experiences as a student, I worked with my students to co-create an exam; they came up with questions and I organized them into the form the students said they felt most comfortable with. It was difficult to have students think beyond multiple choice and scan-trons, but it worked– students began to think about how they can show what they have learned and are learning, rather than what thy have memorized.  The test was made and taken; 34 questions, 50 minutes.

Now, I am grading. Should I create a rubric for the essay questions? Read the entire response and holistically grade each one individually? Of course it is nether this OR that, but a relationship between the two. What I dread is the numeric or alphabetical system which doesn’t tell students what they have learned, but rather where they land on a scale of 1-10, 1-100, A-f, unsatisfactory-beyond expectations. What I fear is that students will see that indicator and forget their progress– their new abilities and growing abilities to think critically, meta-cognitively, and across disciplines. I look forward to the day when I can have control over my syllabus and work around or remove exams.

Until then, I hope students neither fear or adore these systems, I hope we–together–find ways around the scales to the act of searching and researching and producing new knowledge(s) and possibilities for whatever our discipline or field may be; in my case, Appalachia.



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Bluegrass Music offered at VT, Spring 2015!

Please spread the word! COURSE Poster as PDF: Bluegrass Music course poster

NEW course offering!

MW 2:30-3:45| SPRING 2015

RLCL 2984 counts towards the RAC major, APS minor and may be substituted for CLE area 2 with permission.


     Wooten, Monroe, Cleo Davis

For more information, please contact the instructor: Jordan Laney

This course is designed to introduce students to the roots, influence, and influences of the bluegrass music genre. The material and course discussions will challenge students to identify pioneering artists, trend-setting regions and cities, and explore what it means for a sound to serve as a representation of an area, in this case, Appalachia. Bluegrass music allows for an intimate discussion concerning race, class, gender and labor movements in Appalachia.


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The Pain of Yearning


Yearning isn’t easy. In our readings it is pitted against the idea of “schooling” or what I would consider performing well and succeeding within typically traditional institutions. The binary is too sharp here. The reasons are hidden (in this analysis) behind personal attributes, disappearing the socio-cultural and economic realities of many yearning schoolers.

I must admit, however, I yearn. According to Seymour Papert, yearning is the desire to seek around the system, around grades and norms within higher education. I remember vividly the day I learned to read and wanting more. Soon I began making small books out of my mother’s parchment paper. I was used to glossy pages. School was not easy. Disciplines were hard to adhere to, as were seats and time periods and fill in the blank assignments. As I grew older this shifting focus began to emerge as interdisciplinary thinking, or at least that’s where I found an educational system that fit. Even there, in a radically independent, individualized and interdisciplinary program yearning was painful. The college, or “fit” I found was in a Dewey pedagogy. The need for traditional assessment and evaluation –or schooling which had been reinforced for nearly twelve years—was difficult to surpass. Learning to accept that working around the system was a system itself took a level of un-schooling that learners are simply not prepared for through the traditional system.

Similar to Seymour Papert’s explanation of schoolers and yearners I followed the path of working around the system, entrenching myself in the work and ways of John Dewey and then finding myself in a program built on the work of Paulo Freire. Reading this article I realized how truly amazing my academic path has been—I do not believe that all yearners find (non)establishments to search and seek and create in the short amount of time I have. My junior high and high school instructors noticed my need to expand beyond the classroom. Had I not received their support I would likely have given up on the system or rebelled. Had I not found a Dewey-based college, passing and maintaining the idea of strict disciplines and limited course options would have made completing college difficult and likely impossible? However, again, I was given space and it was acknowledged. In a Freire master’s program yearning was celebrated—unlike many of the stories I hear in the seminar. I realize how unique these experiences are and as an educator within a more traditional research institution I hope to offer such space as I can because yearning isn’t easy.

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Black Mountain College

Black Mountain College compelled me to continue my education. It’s pedagogy and process is what drives my research today. How to not acculturate oneself to the contours of the academy today*, when alternative learning spaces (vastly different than white washed rooms with desks neatly aligned) were (and are) the venues where I began to learn the art of inquiry and research is a problem I struggle with during each class period. As a learner outside of the traditional classroom (form, setting, construct) I became what Paulo Freire calls the subject. What does this look like within a traditional institute today?

Music - Lee Hall - BMC  


*As students ask me what will be on the exam, I feel their pressure. I immediately consider the losses if they do not feel satisfied with the assessment of their knowledge– if something beyond true/false and multiple choice answers is sought– will students feel practicing critical thinking and creation of knowledge over memorization is not adequate? I push these thoughts aside. The questions are why we are here– where is Appalachia, who is Appalachian, what is extraction, how to we imagine alternatives, rewrite history, deconstruct stereotypes, and create new knowledge–we are here, together to seek and in doing so we will grow.





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