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A piece in Inside Higher Ed caught my eye this morning: "What's Your Word for 2017?" Shakti Sutriasa gives advice on how to select such a word in an article in the Huffington Post. There’s even an online community for people who want to choose a word for this year and share it through blogging. And on this Community, Andrea Lunsford has reviewed dictionary picks for Word of the Year.


As a self-designated logophile, I couldn’t help but give this some thought. I’ve got three options, each of which hover around the theme of slowing down: margin, deliberate, and savor.


With a calendar full of back-to-back appointments, classes, and meetings, I have reduced and narrowed the white spaces of my time. I know better: I know that a lack of margin leads to clutter, to texts that are difficult to read, with cramped and pinched letters. Decisions are rushed; reflection is set aside. At the end of the day, without adequate margin, I teach less effectively. I respond to writing less thoughtfully. I read less critically.


Margin is never haphazard or accidental; it must be set and maintained by deliberate choice.  And it has to be valued. After all, margin is not just white space. Important thinking happens in the margins of the texts I read – and in the marginal minutes I create for myself.  Margin allows for possibilities otherwise lost.  Amazing people exist in the margins, too. I must make a deliberate decision to see them there, to linger there with them and learn from them.


And when there is margin, there is an invitation not merely to see or taste, but to savor. Yesterday, I set aside the myriad tasks of the new semester, and I read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence.”  Then I read it again. I read parts out loud, playing with sounds and rhythms. I made enough margin in my evening to savor a poem; I do not do this often enough.


In my writing classes this spring, I will once again be framing my courses as “Writing about Language,” my variation on writing about writing. As part of introductory activities designed to build a community of writers, I think I will ask my students to choose their own words for the upcoming semester.  And I will create some margin, deliberately, to read and savor—not just grade—their choices.

As I write this post, the situation around the live video of four young black people attacking and torturing a special needs white teen continues to develop.  When I first heard about the video, I thought of another Facebook live video that made headlines, the police shooting of Philando Castile, streamed to the world by his fiancée Diamond Reynolds.  Both are powerfully disturbing and quite frankly difficult to watch.  Both also suggest a potent intersection between technology and social media and race.  I’ve been thinking about how to teach these issues using Emerging, and here are some essays I would suggest.


Peter Singer’s “Visible Man: Ethics in a World without Secrets” is the logical starting point, since Singer explores not only our willingness to sacrifice privacy for panoptic security but also (and crucially for examining the Castile shooting) Singer discusses “sousveillance,” or the ways in which the watched watch the watchers, precisely what Diamond Reynolds was able to do.


Nick Paumgarten’s “We Are a Camera” is useful, too.  His discussion of the GoPro phenomenon isn’t just about the ubiquity of video technology, but also about the ways in which our experience of life changes by looking at it through a video lens.  It might be a way for students to think about the consequences of ubiquitous live video.


Bill Wasik’s “My Crowd Experiment: The Mob Project” is a great essay for thinking about the viral nature of digital media and Torie Rose DeGhett’s “The War Photo No One Would Publish” considers the power of images by examining a case of censorship.  Both of these offer additional ideas that students can use to think about the power and circulation of digital images.


Of course, race is even more central to both videos and so you might also consider Maureen O’Connor’s “Race, Ethnicity, Surgery” or Steve Olson’s “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples” or Jennifer Pozner’s “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas,” all of which consider the enduring persistence of race in America.


Since these videos also implicitly call us to action, inviting us to advocate for social justice, you could find Charles Duhigg’s “From Civil Rights to Megachurches” a valuable addition for thinking about the necessary elements that enabled the civil rights movement or Kenji Yoshino’s “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights” for exploring the future of civil rights and the kinds of actions that might be needed to bring new models of rights into being.


We’ve always wanted Emerging to be contemporary enough to engage with the world students live in.  I believe it offers ideas and concepts that can help them thinking critically about their world.  Facebook live certainly isn’t going away and our country’s racial tensions aren’t, either.  Hopefully students will gather the critical thinking skills they need to make that world a better, safer place by working with and through some of the readings in this text.


TAGS: social media, race, facebook, video, assignment idea, Peter Singer, Nick Paumgarten, Bill Wasik, Torie Rose DeGhett, Maureen O’Connor, Steve Olson, Jennifer Pozner, Charles Duhigg, Kenji Yoshino, Emerging, Barrios