Monday, October 22, 2007

Fargo is a global village, part ??

I know I have written about this before, but every once in a while the world converges in Fargo. This past weekend I had the great pleasure to spend quite a bit of time with John Dau, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as well as other Sudanese refugees. John and his cousin/friend Joseph spoke at the North Dakota Human Rights conference Friday and Saturday and were very warmly received. Sunday, I was part of a group that hosted 5 screenings of a documentary John is featured in, God Grew Tired of Us. John is an inspiring presence to be around--6'8" tall, quiet yet passionate, driven and wise. He thanked America for all it has done for Sudan, but persuasively pointed out "you must do more." He said that without aid for Southern Sudan, it will lapse back into civil war. If an infrastructure can be built, it will give his people hope and they will not want to fight any more. Enemies will converge in clinics and schools, but without the infrastructure or hope, they will fight.

I also got to hear damali ayo speak as part of this same Human Rights conference. She is a performance artist and activist from Portland who brought us 10 Action Steps for fixing racism in America. Very accessible ideas with tremendous personal and pedagogical implications.

Finally, I heard Jennifer Baumgartner, a Fargo native who lives and works in NYC now. She co-authored Manifesta as her breakthrough book, and she continues to work as a writer and activist. She repeated a message I had heard from John and damali--that I need to act, in very simple, small, and straight forward ways. It struck me as I listened to Jennifer that I really could organize a few friends on campus and let our administration know that straight young male white faculty at NDSU support diversification of faculty and student bodies, support getting a real maternity leave in place, as well as a real family leave policy, support the importance of service being counted towards tenure, support the highly marginalized (less than 10% of faculty) un-tenured female faculty members on campus.

Jennifer said that when she left Fargo, she thought of it as place where not much happened, but as she continues to return home (her parents are still here), she has come to see that the people of Fargo are much like the people of NYC (and that many of the people in NYC are from Fargo!), and specifically that there are tremendous pockets of activism and progressivism and energy in this city, and while she did not say it, that Fargo is very literally, not just figuratively, a part of the global village.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How do "we" really do research?

I've been trying out some new strategies for teaching research in my first-year composition class, and although students seem to have appreciated the practical information I shared with them and allowed them to try out (an intro to databases, keyword and natural language searching, from broad to narrow to research questions, etc.), I am always struck by how different my own research strategies are. I am struck by how "we" academics produce research based on years and years of study, by the delving into personal databases of information, often to write about texts we have been reading, teaching, and/or studying for years.

So it struck me--why am I not asking students to write about the texts they are most familiar with? Why am I not asking them to draw on their personal databases? The answer, in one respect, is that I am--I let them define research projects. But I don't think I have ever framed research for my students in this way, nor do I spend enough time on letting them tap their personal databases. I'm actually being flooded with ideas as I write, so I am just going to list a few options I need to consider for the future.

--I think I am after a research process somewhere between the I-search and the My-story.
--I'd like to talk to, perhaps video or audio record, people talking about their research process, especially some advanced undergrads, in order to share that process with first-year students.
--I use a profile assignment in class that is generally quite successful, but perhaps I could move it from the start of the class to the middle of the class, and the students could be interviewed about their ongoing research (i.e. the expert being interviewed.

Okay, maybe the flood was a trickle, but those are enough notes for now. Back to work on this fine Sunday morning in North Dakota.