Epic fail is epic.

((current status = fail Anon is fail))

I realize I haven’t posted in quite some time, and in fact, I shouldn’t be posting now–I should be finishing up a round of essays. I realize I am long overdue for posting about the comics/animation conference, and that fail macro is fail, as well as doing it wrong.

There has been a lot of turnover at my nonprofit site. A longtime staff member left two weeks ago, leaving me the only remaining member of last year’s personal statements team. Our most accomplished and well-connected advocate has been driven out by incompetent bosses who couldn’t seem to see the good he was doing for the kids. Our education coordinator is leaving, and supposedly her spot will go unfilled because “it was like that for a year and it was okay then.” Actually, no. I worked that year. It was not okay in any sense of the word.

None of this is actually why I’m posting. I’m posting because of 1) Wednesday’s site visit, the first one I was present during, 2) the ludicrously careless actions of a coordinator, which could have seriously threatened a kid’s life, and 3) my first time witnessing police brutality based on race.

From what I’d heard of site visits, I already knew it would be a debacle. I’d heard that only the well-groomed, articulate, academically sound kids were placed in the front rows of the room; the site visit I experienced was actually a far cry from that, if just as terrible. I was with the seniors and Rebecca, the new college coordinator, in the computer lab for personal statements and CUNY/SUNY application work. Usually the seniors trickle in around 5:00 or so, and it being 4:00 when I arrived, there were only 3 seniors in the room, all hard at work on their applications and statements. The whole room had been changed. The middle row of desks had been removed to give the illusion of spaciousness. One table at the head of the room held neat piles of sign-in sheets, statements, and other documents, a little reminiscent of a formal testing center. A dry-erase board I’d never noticed now bore the words, Seniors: College Seminar. Agenda: Personal Statements & Applications. Computer lab staff affiliated with my agency were suddenly bright-eyed and friendly even though they previously never acknowledged my existence. I didn’t reciprocate. This didn’t faze them. “Site visit,” Rebecca explained. “Awesome,” I said, and proceeded to pretend it wasn’t happening, until it actually happened.

“We have to fill the room with kids,” the computer lab staff was saying. Our director was saying it too. So they literally began filling the room. 6th graders. 8th graders. Whoever was around. They sat them at computers and said, “Well, if seniors show up, they can use another classroom.” It didn’t matter suddenly that the other classroom lacked computers. That the seniors needed computers to work on their personal statements. Then Marie, the advocate for the 8th grade and a coordinator who seems to rank 3rd from the top, said to me: “So, whatever you were doing with 12th grade, just do it with my 8th graders.”

She was texting on her phone. Her 8th graders squirmed in their seats, impatient and annoyed at having their recreational time taken from them. None of them had homework or anything to work on. In that moment I absolutely hated her. “I work with seniors on personal statements,” I said. “These kids are 8th grade.”

“Well, you know,” she said. “Have them write a story or something. Just so they’re doing something.”

I caught Rebecca’s eye after Marie left. “Bullshit,” Rebecca mouthed. I nodded. “What are we supposed to do?” an 8th grader asked me. “Write something,” I said. “A story. Anything you want. Just to practice writing.”

“Why we gotta do this?” another wanted to know, and before I could stop myself I heard myself say, “I don’t really know.”

Surprisingly, they all actually wrote something.

When Frank, a senior I’ve built a relationship with over the past year or so, finally arrived he was almost sent to the other classroom. I had to kick out an 8th grader so he could use a computer. He was clearly irritated, and I was already having a hard time hiding my annoyance. “Yo, miss,” he said, “I dunno why they gotta be all extra about it, like we some kind of social experiment, it’s bullshit, I mean, bullcrap. Why they gotta be all extra like this, like we don’t get nothing done by ourselves.”

“It is bullshit, and I have no idea,” I said. I was fuming, so much so I actually missed the moment when the board of directors glanced in the room. They didn’t even come in. If they had, they would have realized that it was all show–that only 4 of the kids were doing real work that needed to be done, and that the rest of it was an illusion. Really, if they’re so concerned about making sure the kids are learning, it would have made more sense to watch Rebecca and I do meaningful work one-on-one with the kids, to see them actually struggle with a personal narrative and revise it, to see them genuinely interested in the college research they’re doing. I find it really hard to believe that the board doesn’t know this is just a show–a kind of, “Oh, look at all the little black kids learning.” That’s what it felt like to us. That’s what it feels like to the kids. They know it’s a show. They watch and learn that the system can be played. Then they apply that knowledge to their individual sites, and voila–tutors and advocates are instantly reduced to ineffectiveness because a 9th grader might say, “You can’t punish me, I’m gonna call Miss Marie on you,” and because of favoritism and nepotism, you can’t even count on the higher-ups to always have your back.

Either the board of directors is willfully blind to the utter lack of learning transpiring at these moments, or its members are just plain dumb. I’m inclined to think the former. How do you plan a site visit and barely even enter the room? How can you call that a real observation?

I recently read these two articles about the Harlem Children’s Zone, the much-lauded model for inner-city education and the one Obama has promised to implement across the nation as the new model for education. And, to cop a grammatical meme, I am disappoint. (I am probably also DOING IT WRONG, but that’s a separate issue.) The Times article offers a closer look at what is wrong with the program (and there’s plenty to talk about), but rather than address these points Canada simply sugar-coats the issue and blames it on the teachers. Teachers are certainly accountable, but so are directors. If we aren’t supported on the ground level, how can we get anything done? If we aren’t managed by competent people at individual sites, how can we expected to be competent without disregarding instructions? I love these kids, and I want to do as much for them as I can, but the truth is that I don’t live with them, I can’t drive them to school, I can’t go to their classes with them, or go to college with them. If they aren’t taught to apply what they’re learning in program, the whole attempt is pointless. With all the hand-holding that the organization prides itself on, our kids are not learning independence, and in college they aren’t going to receive the benefit of the doubt. Professors won’t meet them at the office door and offer to take their homework out for them. It’s do it on your own, do it on time, or fail. And while we’re creating a slight bump in test scores and high school grades, we aren’t giving them the tools they need to succeed in college and beyond.

I could keep ranting about this, but instead, I’m going to talk about Marie. Two weeks ago, Marie reached into Frank’s shirt and pulled out his chain—a necklace with a photo of a dead friend, pretty common paraphernalia in these neighborhoods and almost always gang-related. They were standing on the corner, about 8 guys on the corner across the street. We’ve been in the middle of a gang war for a long time now, and Frank’s chain showed his dead friend, a member of the Bloods, wearing the colors and throwing up the Bloods sign. “No need to hide it,” Marie said, apparently wanting him to honor his dead friend, and walked away. Later Frank complained that she did that, and that was enough to show how uncomfortable it made him.

Rebecca has lost kids over these chains before–a kid forgets to tuck it under his shirt, crosses the street and gets capped; or an advocate unwittingly tells them they can untuck, and shots are fired into the group, killing two. For that matter, I’m barely on site as a part-time employee, and I know what the chains mean. Marie, and our director, came up in neighborhoods like this. They know better. I can’t believe they actually say things like, “Well, NYPD is on the block, so we’re safe.” This after the summer’s shootout when NYPD sauntered slowly up the block to check things out, or last Wednesday when I walked home through a block where black residents were yelling and running like shit had just gone down, and the block was lined with cops doing nothing. Leaning on cars, talking to each other on corners. Dismissing me with a glance, because I don’t look like I live in the projects, i.e., I’m not dealing, I’m not packing, they don’t have to worry about me. It’s the black community they have to worry about.

Frank is okay, but I’ve spent the past 2 weeks in fear that someone will run up on him. He lives in that neighborhood. 8 guys saw that picture. He’s about to go to college and escape it all, and I don’t know what I can do to prevent anything. Rebecca has asked about bringing in a gang workshop so staff can learn more about how to recognize the signs, talk to the kids about it, attempt to implement long-term measures to deter them, but the director apparently hasn’t gotten back to her about it. For that matter, the meeting between the director, Marie, and Rebecca hasn’t taken place yet. It should have been on Monday. As I left work on Thursday I overheard Marie saying, “I’m a hard worker. It’s almost Friday. If there ain’t meetings I got to go to, I’m going home.”

Because practically putting a death sentence on a kid’s head does not constitute important meeting material, even though being 5 minutes late to work does.

All of which brings me to my final subject. At Penn Station on Friday, while I waited for my train to pull in, a white cop entered the waiting area to chase out the homeless people sitting and sleeping there. This in and of itself is common: no ticket, no waiting area; those are the rules. On this particular day, a homeless black man was sleeping on two seats and didn’t wake up at the officer’s voice, so the officer struck him on the back of his shoulder. The man jolted awake. Everyone turned to stare. “You do not want to fuck with me today,” the officer said. “This morning my best friend was shot by one of you people. You do not want to fuck with me. Show me your ticket or get out.” The man had an expired ticket. The cop threw it to the floor and gestured. The man left. The cop left. I wasn’t close enough to see his badge number, but from where I stood I could see his partner, leaning against the wall, watching and saying nothing.

Who do you talk to when law enforcement can’t be trusted? I don’t know. I keep rereading these articles, thinking, What the fuck am I reading, hoping it’s going to be better when I go in today. It won’t be. What we need is a long-term solution, a good housecleaning starting at the top ranks, and changes to the NYPD. Not like any of these things are happening, or will happen any time soon. Forget tenure or my Ph.D. applications. This is the pipe-dream I’m having: that we are magically making it easier for the kids and improving these neighborhoods, instead of just concealing the grime.

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“Trying to find the right answer at any cost.”

Because Viral said so.((current status = up at 8am for Regents tutoring, none of my students showed up, and college seminar with 9th grade at 1pm…and found out they’re not going to get their field trip tomorrow, despite the improvements in their behavior. Sigh. At least my hair looks great.))

I’ve written a lot about secondary and inner-city education lately, since that’s what my summer employment entails, and a lot of it concerns a lot of emotionally difficult stuff. And I haven’t even gotten to the truly infuriating qualities of the organization itself, which, among other things, include rampant nepotism, cronyism, and deep-seated insecurities about power that lead to sabotage of coworkers or employees, backstabbing, and termination over asserting an opinion that differs from those of managing staff. That’s a multi-part series for another day. Right now I want to (gasp) bring it back to higher education, specifically an issue that plagues college writing classrooms: plagiarism.

I’ve been lax about keeping up with academic news what with the stress of dealing with the kids, the higher-ups, and standing a foot away when a tire blew out and everyone on the block, including me, froze, thinking it was a gunshot. I’m flippant about it in public but when I’m at home I brood.

The other day I tried to swap brooding for news-reading, and found this article about student plagiarism sitting in my university email inbox. In a nutshell, Brent Staples discusses the increasing need for professors to police papers, the seemingly widely-held student belief that plagiarism is “no big deal” (Staples), and the fact that plagiarism is largely viewed as an ethical issue when the real issue is that repetitive cheating, such “cut-and-paste” writing, hinders student learning and leads to greater attrition of understanding. Staples unfortunately doesn’t get into the ramifications of the cut-and-paste writing trend, but he does make the interesting observation that students “have a different relationship to the printed word than did the generations before them. When many young people think of writing, they don’t think of fashioning original sentences into a sustained thought. They think of making something like a collage of found passages and ideas from the Internet” (Staples).

This lines up with many of my own observations about what I’ll call “the culture of collaging,” the apparent student belief that cutting and pasting is a valid form of writing. Despite knowing the definition of plagiarism, my students tend to distinguish between it and collaging, which they see themselves as doing. “I can’t say it better,” they say, “I’m still creating something,” or, my favorite, “People borrow all the time online; it’s no big deal.” Whatever the reason, they genuinely perceive collaging not only as a legitimate form of expression but also as legitimately comprising their own ideas, even though they neither came up with these ideas on their own nor expressed them in their own words.

While there are multiple issues here–and only a few of them ethical–I’m going to boil them down to what I view as two primary underpinnings of the collagist mentality. One is the effect of cyberculture on students’ relationship to learning, research, and the written word. The other is the notion that collaging other people’s words and ideas, taken verbatim from various sources, is an act of creation similar to writing out your own ideas in your own words. I think it’s important to examine the cyberculture factor first, as it impinges on the latter notion as well.

As teachers, we know that each generation of students is more wired than the last. During spring semester, I polled my class and found that only a few had clear memories of being without the Internet, and many had never had to write a paper without Google Books or Google Scholar. A high school senior I worked with had collaged her entire essay from sources culled from Google Books. I’ve had several college students cut-and-paste from Wikipedia, eNotes, and Spark Notes, without so much as changing the formatting. Students copy whole passages from print books, Google Books, and scholarly articles taken from online databases like Project Muse or EBSCO. Some of them know they’re plagiarizing. But some of them have difficulty understanding why it’s wrong. I’m thinking particularly of the story of a student who failed a class for plagiarizing and wrote a letter to the dean, explaining that he paid for the paper he was accused of plagiarizing and that therefore it was his property. Of course the grade wasn’t changed. My reaction to this story was something along the lines of “Seriously?” but it seems to speak to the collagist mentality: that intellectual property is, well, no longer seen as property.

This is probably due (at least in part) to the existence of the Internet, which is, at best, an abyss of free, public information. Information is constantly being exchanged on chat forums and answer boards, displayed on user-generated sites like Wikipedia and Wikias, and appropriated on our own websites, in our IM chats and emails. You can’t look at anything on the Internet without being barraged by information, visually, verbally, relevant, irrelevant, interesting, dull. Perhaps most significantly, this info free-for-all seems to have shifted the traditional research model toward a “point-and-click” paradigm, where we click selectively on what we want to see and ignore what we think is unnecessary. In turn, all this pointing and clicking seems to have redefined general knowledge; where it used to encompass a set of facts that everybody should know, it now has been stretched to include esoteric information that the Internet has made obvious. (My students might not have known why we went to war in Vietnam, but they were all in agreement about the “horribleness” of the woman who gave birth in a Port-a-Potty, courtesy of Stupid Celebrity Gossip.)

In fact, the Internet is our go-to resource for anything we don’t know. And perhaps it is because they know they have that resource right at their fingertips (literally, since most of them have smartphones) that students don’t retain the “uninteresting” information that used to comprise general knowledge, such as key dates, capital cities, the names of presidents and other global leaders. I don’t doubt that students are learning while on the Internet, but it’s self-serving, point-and-click learning, where they can single out exactly what they want to know at the cost of everything else. I’ve had students express relief at not having to hit the stacks and scour book after book for information that’s relevant to their papers. Instead, they told me, they just Google Books or Google Scholar the word or phrase they want support for, and boom–the search returns the exact page on which the phrase appears. No need to look at the pages before and after, let alone the whole chapter, let alone the whole book.

I think–and I realize I’m entering the land of generalization and speculation–but I think the way we research impinges not only on what we write but also on the way we write. I find it significant that the meandering point-and-click experience of information prioritizes the search for knowledge over the acquisition of it: in short, keep clicking every time a link that seems relevant to your paper pops up, until you turn up the appropriate hit or run out of links to click. Whereas skimming a book requires basic understanding of the connections a given author draws in his or her argument, point-and-clicking requires only that you know what you’re looking for, resulting in learning that is extremely myopic. Students miss out on the reasoning skills being modeled in the sources they’re using; they miss out on facts that might be more relevant but worded less obviously; and, most obviously, they miss out on context that clarifies the information they’re lifting and as a result may be unable to fully explain its significance. All of this suggests that the Pritchard axiom is hard at work.

In short, Internet research is often not about learning; it is about successfully finding what you’re looking for. This affects the way we write in that papers produced by this research paradigm are likely to resemble pieces of information cobbled together, whether copied or not. Perhaps the copying occurs when students find themselves unable to provide context for the information they’re using, or explain it further, since point-and-clicking only gave them the information and not a deeper understanding of it. That is, the way we have learned to process information is reflected in the way we present information to others. Maybe. Just maybe.

I’d say more here but I want to return to this subject when my thoughts are more fully formed. At the moment I’m just trying to wrap my brain around this, and I certainly haven’t done any research of my own. But I think what I’ve suggested seems like a distinct possibility. That said, I do want to qualify some things I’ve said before I move on: 1) I am not damning Google Books or Google Scholar but am simply saying that students should skim them as they would print resources, rather than clicking “Find” and typing in their terms; and 2) Clearly not all students fall into this category. Many plagiarize knowingly. I’m simply speculating about those collagists who think their so-called craft is legitimate.

So, we finally arrive at the question: How does the shifted research paradigm lead to collagist mentality? I’m going to attempt to address this concisely (ha ha) here. Again, I am speculating and generalizing and am aware of that. Consider this a rough draft for a more developed, nuanced essay on plagiarism and cyberculture in the future. Also, it’s getting late and I’m hungry. But here is a jumbled paragraph of my initial thoughts.

For one, with a fundamental lack of understanding of authors’ reasoning in various articles, the student may be unable to paraphrase or write transitions of his/her own to bring different sources into conversation with one another. Therefore, they collage. Or they are so used to other forms of collaging that are acceptable on the Internet, such as status updates and AMVs, whether they are creating or perusing them, that they don’t think twice when collaging spills over into their own work. Or the presentation of an Internet source, such as a reputable blog, may seem so informal that the idea of free and public information seems to still apply. Or they apply the general knowledge rule to information gleaned from sites they visit constantly, because to them it seems obvious and they forget that others may not know. Or, the source may voice an opinion that the student agrees with entirely and because they think they might blog about it in the same language, they think it’s all right to collage it. Or they don’t see a name attached to the source and think that they are free to lift it for their own work. (After all, these words line up with their opinions and say exactly what they want to say.) Or they treat the Internet as they would spoken conversation, since it’s a tool for communication as much as it is a research tool; and as in spoken conversation, where we don’t usually credit the original narrator of a story we’re retelling, Internet information commerce doesn’t demand a citation.

I swore I was going somewhere with this, but I’m starving, so I’ll have to revisit this topic, and the idea that students see collaging as a legitimate act of creation, in a later post. I view plagiarism as plagiarism, regardless of why students believe their particular version of it is legitimate. As Staples states, “this is not just a matter of personal style or generational expression. It’s a question of whether we can preserve the methods through which education at its best teaches people to think critically and originally” (Staples). Besides just being curious about where this mentality comes from, I wonder if discussing it in its own terms would help students better understand the importance of originality and critical reasoning skills in essay writing.

To end on an instructive note, this post seems to model drafting pretty well: I start off strong, state what I want to talk about, and slowly begin to lose focus as I get bogged down in too many ideas and no real research. Not to mention the fact that my jumbled paragraph of ideas seems like a great model of what to do when you want to stop writing but are afraid you’ll forget what you wanted to talk about.

Posted in Brain food, Deconstruction, For the classroom, News | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We can’t teach them if we don’t know where they’re coming from.

May as well practice my macros, no?((current status = furious at the higher-ups, but the kids were wonderful))

There seems to be an unspoken law, at my nonprofit organization at least, that as the kids grow more and more chill, engaged, and cooperative, the higher-ups grow more and more unreasonable and, if I may be politically incorrect for a moment, completely insane. Today there was one classroom incident–a group of kids were bullying one of our 3 IEP kids, Ethan, by calling him “retarded”; he tried to ignore them and then finally snapped, though we managed to talk him down–but besides that it was a good day. I coaxed 5-7 sentences out of each of them, with the exception of Shaun (more on this in a moment). My coworkers got them to participate in all the icebreaker activities. They barely dragged their feet. After the class we decided that it would be best to address the incident in a future session. However, the word from above is that, instead of directly addressing the incident, we are to talk about diversity in general (ethnicity, religion, and so on) because we aren’t allowed to single out any one kid with any one problem.

I do agree with this on some level. Privacy is important, especially around sensitive issues such as disabilities. But the fact is that all of the kids know it happened, and most of them seem to view this student as “retarded” and didn’t understand why they should treat him as anything else. As such it seems like the best approach would be to educate them about MR. We don’t have to name names. They already know. Even if we stood up there and lectured about how Hindus and Christians are different, they would know we were trying to talk about Ethan, even if mental illness never once came up. To top this, this lesson will be a follow-up to a disciplinary lecture that was given to them today, and while I do think the lecture was needed, I don’t know that it should have happened first. It might have been more beneficial to try to get them to understand their actions and mental illnesses rather than reprimand them and take away their recess time.

Every time these kids have a good day, one incident ruins it, and they are always disciplined–lectured and punished–at the end of the day. My fear is that this might lead them to decide that it’s pointless to engage and be on good behavior, because they’re being punished regardless. And honestly, if you’re not in the classroom all day with these kids, you don’t know how best to deal with them. I’m with them very little, all things considered, and so when I’m teaching I allow the advocates to take care of classroom management. Sometimes a one-on-one talk in the hallway resolves everything. Sometimes all it takes is squeezing a kid’s shoulder to calm him down. Keep lecturing them like this, and I worry that we’ll undermine the positive reinforcement we’re giving them, as well as breed resentment toward all of us. After all, they don’t know that it’s just one or two higher-ups making the call. In their eyes, we function as one single-minded unit.

Instead of ranting about disciplinary systems again, I want to address the issue of IEP students and privacy. IEPs are education programs developed to work with individuals diagnosed with physical and/or mental disabilities that hinder learning. The students that are in these programs are understandably defensive about the disabilities they have, especially at this age, when any sign of difference makes you a prime target. Obviously the kids want to keep it private, as do families sometimes, and obviously we don’t want everyone and their brother gossiping about so-and-so’s disability up and down the block. But I fail to see why teachers and advocates can’t be apprised of these students’ conditions so we can better tailor our lessons to them. I found out today–from Shaun’s former advocate, not from a higher-up–that Shaun is one of my IEP students in that he reads and writes at a 2nd grade level and has likely been socially promoted to 9th grade. Today he wouldn’t write anything when I gave them an assignment; I assumed he didn’t want to, and because we’re just beginning to form a rapport, I told him he could work on it next class, when the truth is that he doesn’t write because he can’t. Spelling is difficult for him, as is sentence construction, and rather than be ridiculed by his classmates, he doesn’t do the assignment.

It might come as a shock, but this makes sense. There are ways to work with it. If he’d been a little less well-behaved today, I might have badgered him to write something, and he probably would have gone off on me. Now that I know he has difficulty, I’m going to plan to work with him one-on-one in the computer lab, where he’ll be slightly apart from the other kids and hopefully not as defensive.  But I can’t take these measures if I don’t know his learning abilities and habits and his overall situation.

We’re a program that targets these kids individually, so why not tell us about them as individuals? The advocates work with them from 9:00-4:00 every day. The teachers see them for 5-10 hours a week. Without knowing these things, it’s easy to mistake recalcitrance or backtalk for misbehavior, when it might be coming out of their own insecurities about their ability to do what’s being asked of them. If we keep demanding, they grow defensive, resistant, angry. They lash out. And I don’t blame them.

I’m furious to think that I made unreasonable demands of Shaun on Day 1 when I could have approached him in a more one-on-one basis and established a better rapport immediately. Had I been armed with the proper case notes (and I haven’t seen any, ever, for any student), I would have done this. Instead, it must have seemed to him that I was confronting him on his inability to read and write at the level of his peers, in a situation where his peers would ridicule him, and that I was then punishing him for this inability. Small wonder we didn’t hit it off.

It bothers me deeply that this thinking is pervasive in a program that tracks students individually, in its own words. We are managed by people who possess great enthusiasm for what they do but who don’t work with the kids on a daily basis and are apparently blind to the fact that if we don’t know a given student’s learning situation, we can’t tailor our lessons to accommodate him or her. In fact, without this knowledge, we may inadvertently end up reinforcing the students’ negative emotions about their disabilities, and thereby end up doing more harm than good.

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A typical good day.

((current status = hollow))

Shelonda is a junior. She’s buff, easily twice my size, with the kind of face that says, I grew up hard. She’s assertive but soft-spoken, and, like most of the bigger kids, great to work with–sure, they clown around, but they respect the teachers and will usually pull it together after being coaxed. Shelonda was self-motivated; she brought her essays to me without me asking to see them. I had to lean in to catch her words as she handed me her two attempts at a personal statement. What she was saying was, “This is all I got right now. I don’t think it’s any good.”

The main issue is that she, like most of these kids, talks around things rather than illustrating them directly for the reader. But after reading a half-page about her drug-addict mother, abusive foster parents who used her to get money, beat her, and worked her like a slave, a mention of being raped, a hint that she became pregnant and had an abortion, and the violent death of her father before she could be reunited with him, how am I supposed to tell her to write more?

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Cutting off your nose to spite your face.

May as well practice my macros, no?((current status = well, I have something new to feel anxious about: I was accepted to present at Purdue’s 2010 conference on Graphic Engagement. I’m interpreting as an excuse to rewatch Gurren Lagann. But god I hate public speaking and if my nonprofit keeps going the way it’s been going, I’ll be too exhausted to even write the paper))

Let me tell you a story.

Tyrone is a tough kid. He’s built like a 10th grader, if short, packs a hard punch, was spotted this weekend on the block sporting blood on his pants like a war trophy, from when he fucked up a kid outside of program. I say fucked up instead of beat up, because the advocates all say in hushed tones that he does a lot more than just beat up kids. That said, he’s improved by miles since he started in the program. When I had to deal with him on trips, he (plus Shaun and another boy, Kevin) were the Terrible Trio, pulling the hair of museum docents, stealing, throwing things, and so on. I heard he was good all day today–engaging in activities, helping teachers, being polite to advocates. Enter Richard, a new kid to the program, who gets picked on a lot, doesn’t back down, doesn’t quite fit in. He’s a button-pusher. Two days after he started, Shaun already wanted to beat him up, and so did some of the girls. At lunch, when only a coordinator was present–the same coordinator who noticed the blood on my eye–Richard apparently spat in Tyrone’s face. I don’t know what prompted this, if it was a specific incident that had occurred a split-second before or if it had been building all day. Whatever the case, Tyrone sat there for a moment, smiling, then wiped the spit from his face and stood up with his fists cycling the air like a cartoon boxer. Richard stood too. He was teary-eyed and about to erupt. And then Tyrone punched him in the face just as the coordinator grabbed Richard. Richard almost hit her with a broom and banged her hand repeatedly against a windowsill in his efforts to get free. In a gesture completely different from how he was even last year, Tyrone let staff members hold him back. Later he told the coordinator, “I stopped because you got in the way and I didn’t want to hurt you.” Richard is no longer a part of the program, for having attacked both the coordinator and the director and made some nasty verbal remarks. Tyrone has been suspended for a week. Which is a damn shame, since his good behavior today is essentially going unrewarded, but obviously this behavior isn’t tolerated, and disciplinary action is necessary above all else.

I wasn’t here for any of this. What I was here for was the moment when the coordinator, and three other top staff members, disciplined the rest of the 9th grade by canceling their field trip tomorrow, because being a community means that if one kid falls, they all fall. Therefore they all reap the consequences. This was met with instant resentment. Now I have to go in early tomorrow and help occupy them, and there’s no doubt they are going to be on their worst behavior.

I know little about discipline but I can’t think you win kids over by punishing them, seemingly unjustly, when as far as they’re concerned they were perfectly behaved. When I came in at 1:00, we split the time between independent reading (which could have been better but was decent, maybe 12 out of 15 kids actually read at least a page) and then I took them to the computer lab for writing, and miracle of miracles, they actually wrote. I was wearing my scorpion necklace–a real scorpion embedded in resin, maybe the length of your index finger–and managed to bond with some of the kids over it. One girl who was surly on Wednesday thought the necklace was “gnarly” and “dumb cool” and wanted to talk jewelry with me. One boy was like “Ewww” but clearly respected me on some level after looking closely at it. I also managed to win a few of them over on the basis of being a video gamer and a comic book reader. They actually wrote sentences. One girl wrote a half-page. Two kids wrote seven sentences each. I affirmed their good work every time I circled the room. They were happy and productive. I could have cried.

And yet I’m sitting here drinking because much of this has just been undermined by the disciplinary action taken today. I do think it is important to teach community and collective accountability. They should not get away with disrespecting their peers. But if none of the kids saw it happening, or knew what was going on until after it happened, why punish them? We call it “discipline” so it sounds less harsh, but the kids still see it as punishment. “It isn’t fair,” they complain. They’re animated with righteousness. As DeVon pointed out, “You didn’t punish us collectively when me and Shaun supposedly ‘fought’ last week.” That was the fight that injured me, but I agree with him wholeheartedly. We’re sending mixed messages, and guess what? They aren’t stupid. They know it.

I do agree that play-fighting and real fighting are on different levels, but punishing the whole group by taking away their field trip, and taking demeaning, meaningless actions like calling them “8th grade” instead of “9th grade” because they “aren’t ready for 9th grade yet,” erodes their good feeling about their own progress and their respect for us. They don’t care what we call them. Kids were snickering and shrugging as the coordinator said this. If they already care so little about the system that they disrespect authority all the time, why would they respect it any more when they’re being disciplined for what they feel is no good reason?

It seems to me that this is like cutting off your nose to spite your face: we want to show them that we’re in control, therefore we take something away from them without demonstrating that we see their good behavior. A pat on the back for a job well done isn’t going to do it with these kids. They need tangibles, like candy, ice cream, free time with their electronics, field trips. Reinforcement of good behavior is what makes it stick. Unfair gestures like this are just going to make them sour, and I can’t blame them. At the same time, I can’t blame the staff members taking these actions. Something has to be done, and it’s more than likely that the director or someone else further up the ladder who decided it. They make the call, but we’re the ones who have to live with it.

Tomorrow I go in early to help fill the hours that should have been taken up by the trip. I keep imagining the situation and what I would have done if I were there, and I don’t know. The coordinator talked about fight or flight making her separate them, but if I took a hit, my chronic pain syndrome would make it debilitating. I hurt enough from just standing all day. Of course I’m never supposed to be in a position where I have to separate them but last week clearly proved that it happens.

I realize I’m reaching them. I still feel inadequate. I’m hoping that tomorrow will be different, and remembering this feeling from last summer, spending every night drained at home hoping against hope for a perfect next day. It never happens, but I recognize it gets better. The kids saw that I came back. They let me talk to them. They actually listened for 10 whole minutes. They worked. They let me read their work, praise them, pat their shoulders; they talked a little to me. It’s not exactly perfection. But it’s progress. I just hope that the disciplinary actions–punishment, really–taken today don’t cause them to regress.

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First blood.

((current status = tenderness near the inside corner of my left eye but the cut has closed and anyway my glasses more or less hide the scab))

Wednesday was my first day with the rising 9th grade (the students who have just completed 8th grade) at the nonprofit organization where I teach full-time during summer academics. I have them for 2 hours Mondays and Wednesdays for essay writing. It’s their last class for the day. I have all 16 kids in one group, which presumably would be similar to last summer, where I had 2 classes of 15 kids each, though each class was 1½ hours instead of 2. These kids are angry. They are hot. The air conditioning in the school is often broken or barely effective, and the past couple of days have peaked at 102 degrees. The last time I worked with this group, during ELA prep in afterschool program, DeVon threw a metal folding chair at me, or at least in my direction. I’m still not sure how it just barely clipped my shoulder, when I was too startled to really move all that much. I’d chaperoned this group on field trips before too, and witnessed Shaun shaking hands with the skeletons at the Bodies Exhibit. My first class with them was on a 101 degree day, for 3 hours, from 1:00 to 4:00. I know some of them by face but I haven’t earned their respect yet. They don’t know me as someone who will stick around, or someone who gives a damn. Mainly, all they’ve seen of me is that I can’t command their attention in the classroom and I can’t project my voice enough to drown them out.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised when, after I was left alone in the room with them, DeVon and Shaun, who are friends, started play-fighting. While it’s usually not malicious, when unchecked, play-fighting can escalate into real fighting, and even if it doesn’t, it’s still disruptive and isn’t tolerated in or out of the classroom. DeVon and Shaun literally took it out into the hall, DeVon armed with another student’s walking cane, and I had a split-second of indecision—I suffer from chronic pain, meaning that a single punch could mean debilitating pain for days—before I followed them, got between them and urged them to break it up and go back into the classroom. They were still play-fighting, and while they didn’t immediately listen to me, I managed to get Shaun inside. DeVon was following me in when Shaun hurled something, probably a pen cap, at DeVon who was behind me. The object popped me just above the corner of my eye, right on my eyelid. Not a huge impact, but for a moment my vision stung, and then I heard the class go, “Ohhhhhhhh!”—the universal stand-in for “Holy shit, he’s gonna get it now”—and I realized that showing weakness would not only mean that the play-fight would continue but also that I’d lose the students’ respect forever. So I kept going, tried to get them to break it up, failed. Then one of the advocates came back from lunch and broke up the fight. And I managed to continue my lesson.

I realized I was bleeding about five minutes later, when it started trickling into my eye. My glasses hid it for the most part. I kept brushing it away with my thumb, tried to play it off like I had something in my eye, and managed to hide it until the end of class, when the education coordinator came up and I told her we needed to fill out an incident report and she looked more closely at my eye and saw the skin had been torn off. Not a big wound, and not too deep, but broad enough that my whole eye area felt tender all day yesterday. Of course, this isn’t the point. It’s the psychological ramifications of it that are more lasting. As a teacher, I’m supposed to maintain a safe classroom environment, and I couldn’t even protect myself, let alone break up a play-fight.

Some people would probably say that isn’t the point either, that just because they were play-fighting and hadn’t meant to hurt me doesn’t make it okay.  If they had respected my authority the way they respect those who have the real power (coordinators, directors) then I wouldn’t have been injured, however slightly. Whatever the case, I now hold the dubious honor of being the first incident report for the summer, injured on the second day. Kids have made subtle and pointed threats toward me before, but this is the first time one of them, though accidentally, made me bleed.

I’ll be returning to this classroom on Monday, when both DeVon and Shaun will be back from suspension. I stressed that I knew they were play-fighting, but I don’t know how they’ll view me now. They must be wondering if I “snitched” on them when the education coordinator came in, or if I demanded that they be punished for their behavior. I’m so anxious I could vomit. I wish they gave instructors basic training on how to deal with situations like this. I wish I had better control of my classroom. I wish I was the kind of teacher kids could look at and immediately know I could be trusted, that I was on their side. But that’s not what this is about either.

I’ve talked to a few people about the incident, and so far I’ve been met with “You have the patience of a saint,” or “I couldn’t do it, I don’t know how you can,” or “I would have walked out and quit right then and there.” Last summer, when a real fight broke out in my classroom, I thought about quitting. I almost cried in front of the kids. Two girls noticed and had to talk me down. I think the kids were surprised when I was back the next day. Yesterday I made myself downplay it all until I got home, got in the shower, and the stream of water on the wound made the entire left side of my face sting like hell. Then I put my head against the wall and allowed myself to cry for 10 minutes. I thought about the seniors I worked with all last year, helping to get them to college. I think about how young these 9th graders are, how little they know about the world outside their communities, how even if they never notice it, they do absorb things from class, how important it is to prove to them that people are willing to stick it out for them no matter what.

I’m not a saint. I’m not even patient. I am selfish, I have to fight the impulse to be lazy, I miss the little peace-of-mind I had before the shootout happened, before Wednesday’s incident happened. To be brutally honest, I’m torn between enjoying the feeling of being a sort of martyr–the first one hurt on the first day of summer program–and wanting to downplay it, to pretend I am not emotionally scarred by this or the shootout or anything at all. I dread going back. Not having control. Worrying about every little thing that could happen. It gets in the way of my ability to teach them. It makes me feel sorry for myself, which I hate. It makes me sick. But at the same time I know that, whatever the reasons, selfish or selfless, I’ll show up bright and early on Monday, swallowing my nausea, lesson plan in hand, and force myself to face them again. And again on Wednesday. And again the Monday after that. Rinse and repeat.

Why do I do it? Why do any of us do it? Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe it’s partly the pressure of needing a job that keeps me from quitting. Maybe it’s the fact that I know that quitting over an injury means broadcasting defeat to all the kids I’ve worked with here, and my pride won’t allow me to live with a bruised ego. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m trying to survive something, because I wasn’t there to survive Black July. Maybe it’s my war-fix. The closest I can get to no-man’s-land, standing on a corner that marks the boundary between two crews who have been banging all year.

I realize that what happened on Wednesday isn’t about any of this. I don’t know what it’s about, or I’m currently unable to put it into words. I’m lucky DeVon let me take the cane from him. Lucky that Shaun didn’t try to punch me in the face. Lucky, really lucky, that I wasn’t directly hit in my open eye.

So why do I do it? Is it worth it? I don’t know. At the university level I know I am making a difference. With the high school kids, I know I am making a difference. But it shouldn’t be about visible gratitude, or being able to perceive the improvement in their work. I am doing something for these rising 9th graders. I don’t think I’ll ever see evidence of it, certainly not gratitude, but I don’t want to think I’m doing this to feed my own ego. Call it a crisis of faith. Like many of us, I’m sure, I want to know that I’m doing the right thing. That I wasn’t bleeding for nothing, and won’t be, if it ever happens again.

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The view from the anonymous room.

((current status = wondering why people can’t 1. rationally explain their thoughts in as much detail as necessary for a reader to gain nuanced understanding of the subject and/or opinion, and 2. for the love of god, qualify your sweeping generalizations. If you’re above college age and writing prolifically, this is something you ought to know.))

Recently I read this article in Emily Magazine and was baffled by the sweeping statements it made in light of the narrowness of its scope. In the article, Emily starts by adding to previous thoughts on Facebook but expands her argument seemingly to the whole Internet, suggesting that the ideal approach to the Internet is not privacy and anonymity but anti-privacy and total, honest self-revelation. What she fails to mention is that most of the behavior that takes place in anonymous virtual space is often more genuine and self-revealing than interactions that occur in “meatspace.” Since I teach cyberculture, ranging from Facebook to less traditional exhibits such as 4chan, fan communities, fetish forums, and blogs such as PostSecret, I thought I would dispel my rage by formulating a few thoughts on the subject in response to Emily’s article.

Anonymity on the Internet and Internet handles that differ from one’s real name  may have originated in part as a means of preventing identity theft, but its most popular hubs indicate that its primary use is exploration of identity factors such as gender role, sexuality, and development of personality. According to cyberculture theorists and writers such as Henry Jenkins, Sherry Turkle, and Julian Dibbell, Internet anonymity provides users with more “freedom of movement,” in Jenkins’s words. Users can experiment with different personas under one or many Internet handles until they figure out which is closest to who they want to be in life. Often there is overlap between Internet persona and real life (RL) persona, and figuring out the details is almost second-nature to those who live on the world wide web. A user named “FSMVersion2” is probably referring to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Internet’s response to creationism, and we can assume s/he believes in evolution and has a healthy sense of sarcastic humor; the handle “TheBurninator” recalls Trogdor of Homestar Runner fame and suggests, for lack of a better term, a dork. These handles tell us what the users like, what they find funny, or maybe invite us to ask the user for back-story on the name: on the Something Awful forums, which constitute a large nerd community, “goons” (SA slang for users) use names and avatar images in non sequitur conjunctions that invite our curiosity. For instance: “Toad on a Hat” combined with a blind justice statue; “Medium Style” with a picture of a toad (oddly enough in the same thread); and “Seth Puked On Me,” accompanied by a picture of Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, though even without the picture we’re likely to wonder, who is Seth and why did he puke on you? (Something Awful, GBS). Thus, anonymity–i.e., the use of Internet handles with specific meaning–create an immediate sense of community and curiosity that networking sites, which operate on fixed RL identity, can only produce through passive-aggressive status updates. For example, the News Feed on Facebook (or Openbook, to stretch the data beyond a narrow sampling of friends) displays such status updates as “Jane Doe can’t believe that just happened… I’m never leaving my room again” that tell the reader nothing and thereby induce curiosity and user participation. Comments accumulate fast, ranging from the ubiquitous “Oh no, what happened????” to “I’m here for you” to “I’m so sorry you’re feeling down :(” and inevitably include the OP (original poster) explaining what happened. In real life, many would call this passive-aggressive or at the very least a bid for attention. To borrow Steven Johnson’s concept of immediate gratification in his book Everything Bad is Good For You, Facebook rewards passive-aggressive users with the appearance of others’ concern and curiosity, and, to the detriment of its users, in this way encourages similar passive-aggressive behaviors in real life because it is so closely linked to RL identity. While OP’s status change may be judged in RL, most of the comments are the typical, often empty reassurances we respond with in RL.

Now place this status change as an opening post on 4chan, a purely anonymous discussion board that not only is one of the largest but also spawns most Internet memes and viral sensations, and the reactions are totally different. For instance, responses to a thread beginning with the post “I hate my life” include: “I hate you”; “sure smells like newfag in here” (i.e., OP doesn’t know how to use 4chan or the Internet”; “Dear OP: Do the world a favor and die”; “Why exactly did you think we’d give a shit?”; “if you hate youre [sic] life why are you alive”; and “OP, you seem like a nice person, so I’m going to try to give you advice: pointless points will get you saged [thread taken off the board] and trolled” (4chan, /a/, /cm/, /x/, /y/). Rather than encourage the passive-aggressive behaviors Facebook practically insists upon, 4chan and other anonymous communities criticize and troll anyone who behaves in this way, driving home the point that this behavior is not acceptable–on the Internet or anywhere else. This points at the notion that anonymity on the Internet is more useful than Emily Magazine suggests.

However, this is not to overlook the kind of usernames that Emily points to: “SmileyGirl323” or “BigJimDorito,” though I’d actually argue that the latter invites us to wonder about back-story. As for “SmileyGirl323,” handles like this imply the user is what Julian Dibbell calls an Internet “transient” (“A Rape in Cyberspace”): someone who is simply passing through, using the Internet as a mode of communication with specific people s/he often knows in RL. According to Dibbell, a true Internet user is one who approaches online interactions as possessing the same weight as real-life interactions. In his essay “A Rape in Cyberspace,” he describes a text-based MOO, a community based entirely on writing and self-reinvention and reimagining, and how this community was disrupted by a user named MrBungle who hijacked two female characters, exu and Starsinger, and “forced” them to perform sexual acts, including oral sex and sodomy with a knife. The users were traumatized by this in RL, though everyone agreed the crime should not be judged in an RL venue. However, the impact of this incident on exu and Starsinger in real life tells us that Internet handles that don’t match our real names do not necessarily entail a fissure between real and virtual identity.

To speculate on what I’ve observed in my Internet travels, it seems to me that the main difference between “namefagging” and “anonymous” behavior (to borrow 4chan’s terms) lies in the kind of stakes the user faces. “Anonymous” behavior, as opposed to what most people think, is not synonymous with stakes-free interaction. While “namefags” on 4chan bear the brunt of most trolling or criticism (such as Pandy on /y/ or Vox on /x/), “anons” are trolled perhaps more frequently, especially OPs. In fact, it’s even more imperative to watch what you say, as sometimes a single word or phrase–e.g., Pandy’s “Why does /y/ suck”–can cause so much trolling that the “namefag” has to quit his/her name–e.g., the days-long uninterrupted slew of macros and comments like “PANDY SUCKS,” leading to Pandy’s virtual disappearance for several months (4chan, /y/). Good writing–that is grammatically sound, well-reasoned writing that lacks emoticons–is valued more than the slang and emoting that people have come to expect of Internet speech; if a user uses more than one emoticon, or sometimes just one, in a post, s/he is swiftly branded a “newfag” and told to GTFO (4chan, /h/, /d/, /cm/, /y/, /x/). For some odd reason, though, Facebook, email, blogging, and most other forms of Internet media that are closely linked to RL identity have openly accepted grammatical incorrectness and emoting. I emote in my emails to students who particularly need reassurance. Many people emote on Facebook and use slang like “u,” “ur,” “k,” “abt,” and so on in instant messages. I’m speaking from personal experience here but perhaps we feel shielded by the notion that the people we’re talking to know we aren’t “like that” in RL, whereas in an anonymous forum there is no such reassurance. Everything you say makes an impression and will be swiftly judged, and as such you have to vet your words and reasoning and argumentative skills carefully. Viewing it this way, it almost seems like RL-linked, fixed-identity Internet media is the sphere in which we aren’t being genuine and anonymity is the sphere better training us how to behave in RL.

Similarly, when Internet identity is linked to RL, the immediate stakes of personal confession may actually be lower than when Internet identity is completely anonymous. I stress immediate stakes and personal confession here, where the former means the instant response of those receiving the confession as opposed to the long-term effects of the confession, and the latter means the divulging of intimate, personal details on the Internet, as I lack the sources to speak to real-life public interaction without generalizing.

Since Emily mentions the prevalence of “I’m gay” statuses/comments on the FB phenomenon, let’s use that as our example. When someone announces “I’m gay” on Facebook, the stakes are similar to real life–the people who see this announcement are friends and family the user knows–whereas when someone announces “I’m gay” on 4chan, an almost purely anonymous image board, the stakes are different. I stress different because it’s easy for misinformed/uninformed people to misconstrue this as the stakes being gone altogether when the online identity is anonymous, but this is far from true. On FB, the responses to personal confession from other users mirror responses one might receive in real life, since the responses–like the confession itself–are linked to an RL-based user identity. At one extreme, homophobes are less likely to voice their feelings; on a milder level, users who are unsettled by the confession may not comment at all, choosing instead to avoid future interaction by ignoring the user, or by defriending him/her (Facebook). Really, this is in keeping with what Emily terms “Internet abstinence,” saying that “if you’re not comfortable letting the world see what you’re really like, you shouldn’t be online at all” (“Online self vs. real self”). Of course the logic in this statement is lacking–if you’re not comfortable letting the world see what you’re really like in real life, should you be alive at all?–but more importantly, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the value of anonymous online interaction, some of which I’ve discussed above. Anonymity isn’t simply about (pardon my French) “airing your shit in public.” While anonymous personal confessions may not directly impinge on real life, it gives the user the opportunity to see what it feels like to come out, and in a setting that’s often just as critical in different life (I wonder if Emily would ask PostSecret submitters to mail in their secrets under their real name). On 4chan, some of these announcements are followed by statements like, “yay now go kill yourself,” “GTFO,” “not another one of these threads, fucking die,” “I think OP [opening poster] was touched by his daddy in his special place too many times” and, most commonly, “stfu gtfo fucking fag” (4chan, /y/). Thus, the user is able to read and emotionally respond to insensitive statements and outright verbal attacks in an environment that simulates RL repercussions without actually isolating the user in RL. As such, this allows the user more time to figure out how to script his/her RL coming out.

Anonymity also allow users to see that that the ramifications of personal confession aren’t as daunting as they might initially seem, and that there are plenty of people in the world who “dont give two shits in hell” (4chan, /y/) about issues that are momentous in RL, such as sexual orientation, race relations, religion, and any number of taboos in relationships. Hate words such as “fag” and the n-word are casually slung about on 4chan mostly as an expression of welcome and acceptance rather than of hatred. While a dissertation could be written on this alone, I wonder if it possibly indicates that anonymity on the Internet does more than just alter RL identity through use of a virtual one: rather, it suggests that anonymity is a counterpart of RL-linked identity, a tool used to figure out RL-interaction, especially for those who have grown up almost entirely on the Internet. As such, Emily’s assumption that the two are mutually exclusive seems flawed.

I have lesson planning to do, so I’m going to cap this for now. In short, my concern with the post in Emily Magazine is that she boils down the reason for online anonymity solely to privacy and identity theft. I myself am guilty of relative anonymity here because my name isn’t obviously attached to this blog for reasons of job security, it being a well-known fact that at most institutions, adjuncts with voices lose their jobs. But assuming that this alone prevents us from “being ourselves online” (“Online self vs. real self”) is a ridiculous generalization that betrays a lack of knowledge of numerous other factors at work in online identity construction and interaction, both through RL-linked media and anonymous media.The prevailing stereotype of Internet interaction is that we unveil the most horrible parts of ourselves online to “truly” be ourselves, whether we have an “S&M hobby” or often “comment on Twilight message boards” (“Online self vs. real self”). However, these examples fail to appropriately illustrate Emily’s point, since both of these interactions can be acceptable in RL in the right communities–S&M with your significant other, and fangirl squeeing with the other Twitards in your book circle, for instance. The notion of “the right audience” is what’s key in Emily’s argument that by revealing these details we risk exposure to the wrong audience–our boss, our students, our parents. But we hide these same things in real life from the same wrong audiences and reveal them to the same right ones, namely people who share those interests. Talking to them in an S&M sex club is analogous to talking to them in an S&M chat room, while debating Team Edward vs. Team Jacob with readers in Barnes & Noble is similar to debating it on MyLifeIsTwilight.

An even more important point is that the username essentially fixes a user’s identity within the community they are in. The online self and meatspace self aren’t being maintained separately so much as they’re simply named differently. As the comments on Emily’s post suggest, users with “non-realname” Internet handle–not the same thing as anonymity–may very well be behaving online as they would in real life. As discussed earlier, Facebook interactions, which occur under “realname” handles, encourage behaviors we don’t actually want spilling over into real life, and completely anonymous interactions–such as on any of the -chans, where all posters automatically post under the name “Anonymous”–actually serve to check this kind of behavior. Viewing the three together, it seems like the most detrimental is the RL-linked persona, where pretense and false flattery and concern are, more often than not, the rule rather than the exception.

But perhaps Emily is only talking about Internet transients, whose behavior is more in keeping with the kind of split she describes. The difference is, though, that instead of “personality-halving” this split is actually sociopathic pretense. According to Dibbell, the transient is an Internet sociopath, one who doesn’t understand that online interactions have RL ramifications, and that the online self and meatspace self are irrevocably linked (“A Rape in Cyberspace”). These are the trolls, the hackers who rape other avatars online, or who spout vicious slander they would never repeat in real life, RL-linked media, or that they might not even believe in real life. These people view the Internet as a kind of “un-reality,” where there are no consequences because nothing is real, and they troll users who respond emotionally to online name-calling or other insults. The fact is that non-realname users who aren’t transient are deeply invested in their Internet forums by virtue of the time they spend their and the relationships they cultivate with other users. These relationships are cultivated in the same way they would be cultivated in real life but with more “freedom of movement,” and so perhaps these users are not personality-halved but personality-augmented. While there might be an overarching RL taboo uniting the group–furries, for instance, who are prolific on the Internet but hard to detect in reality–most of the conversation they have is as mundane as the non-taboo, like Yahoo! Answers or comments on a blog. I’m not discrediting Emily’s observation that some of this desire to not “namefag” stems from fears of identity theft or job security–though these fears should not be dismissed outright, as she does–but I want to stress that this isn’t the only reason. Society pounds into us from birth what we are “supposed” to be, and as adults (the largest sector of the population of YouTube and Facebook being 35-60 years old (Right Across the Atlantic) and between 25-44 (Softpedia) respectively, the use of non-realname handles allows us to retain an individual identity and role-play ourselves as we want to be. Role-play does not necessitate personality-halving, false being, or transience and sociopathy. Rather, by granting us greater freedom to move, it provides us with the opportunity to grow more in touch with our inner selves, which many have been taught to suppress in real life and, by proxy, real-life-linked media.

Posted in Brain food, Rant | Tagged , , | 3 Comments