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Should I Blog? Reflections of a Doctoral Student

7 Apr


blog

My blog has lain barren for several months now, one of the many victims that fell in the final push towards the completion of my doctoral thesis and preparations for the viva voce examination.

Recently, a colleague @americasstudies wrote a piece on her experience as a blogger and the friction that lies, still, in academia when the term ‘blogging’ or ‘blogger’ comes up in conversation. This is a recurring debate – both for students and academics – and one which is, I feel, is an important discussion.

As I have just completed the doctorate, and am looking back on the experiences that I have had with social media and blogging during this time, I have decided that my re-entry into blogging will be with a post about blogging and the potential benefits this area holds for research students.

Fear of the white page and the red ink.

rewrite

The one thing that plagues every graduate student – the feeling that you need to read more.

‘I need to read more on these topics’ / ‘If I read x then I can write a better chapter about p because z mentions it’ / ‘I keep hearing this person’s name come up in conferences, I should read them before I write anything else in case I have to change something later’ / ‘I don’t really deal with that area but y is a big name and may be useful later on’…

The excuses are endless, and the sentiment isn’t (always) a reticence to write but rather a fear to write something that won’t be good enough. Unfortunately, a thesis cannot be written by reading alone.

The white page looms large. Not only do you have to write about something, you have to make sure you write using somebodies, even more worrying, the right somebodies. The true idea of a draft, especially to those starting out, is a concept not fully appreciated.   Before I met with my supervisor to talk about the first piece of written work I had submitted to her, I received one of the best pieces of advice about the drafting process:

“The more red pen you get, the better”.

Your first draft will have red ink. Hopefully, a lot. This is especially true if you have more than one supervisor.

I can see the dubious faces out there, but think about it. Take a look back at some of the essays you wrote as an undergraduate that received good marks and look at your work now. Would you receive the same mark for that undergraduate work if you handed that up at postgraduate level? 

Your supervisor has to read the work properly, not just gloss over it, to see the mistakes. Red ink means your supervisor/s care/s enough to help you learn and push your abilities to higher standards.

red ink

Blog posts are generally much shorter than academic papers. They can be multidisciplinary; you can add images, imbed videos, hyperlink to other information or people. They can be fun. The white page becomes less confrontational and more interactive. Blog posts do not require the same rigour as academic writing. That said, they can also be the beginning of an idea that you decide to expand into a larger, more formal written piece, later on.

Blogging makes you the writer, editor and publisher all in one. It makes you more self critical. It makes you demand more from what you write. Structure, tone, style, content, all become more intimately assessed. Nobody wants to publish something bad.

Blogging gives you the red ink.

What do I write and When? Shut Up and Write!

Blogging

The focus of a student’s blog does not necessarily have to directly reflect the student’s research. My thesis is entitled “Oppositional Consciousness, Dialogism and Re-membering in the novels of Helena Maria Viramontes“, my blog does not reflect the novelistic concerns or theoretical tools I engage with in that work, at all.

It does, however, deal with contemporary and historical Chicano/a concerns, which loosely ties in with Viramontes, who identifies as a Chicana writer. It has also allowed me to keep abreast of other research interests, such as border studies, the immigration debate, U.S. and Mexican politics, the media, education and digital technology in the humanities.

Not only that, it has given me a space where I can think about these things critically, and actively engage with these discussions rather than allow the information to passively pass me by. This critical engagement also complements the analytic skills you need to write a thesis.

When you write is different for everyone but, if you have time to procrastinate, you have time to blog.

There are also groups like the Shut Up and Write! movement, #AcWriMo on Twitter, and possibly a similar group or activity in your own university (if not, why not make one?).

Things I learned about my own writing through blogging:

A) I waffle.

B) I have a habit of swapping between US and British English spelling.

C) I have the ability to write something to completion.

D) Editing takes longer than writing.

E) My conclusions need more work.

F) I need to write more.

Blogs reflect the skill of the blogger. The more you write, the better you become.

gaiman writing

Blowout! Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice: review

12 May Blowout!

BLOWOUT!: Sal Castro & the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.

by Mario T. Garcia and Sal Castro

Blowout!

Blowout! is the testimonio of American educator and activist Sal Castro. A phrase adapted by a Garfield High School student from a jazz term that means “to be expressive”, Blowout! was heard from tens of thousands of high school students, primarily Chicano, as they walked out of their classrooms in 1968 in protest at the poor quality of education they were receiving in East L.A. Carried out over a ten year period, this book is the result of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations compiled by historian Dr. Mario Garcia with Sal Castro as well as with a wealth of other students, teachers, administrators, artists and activists who knew Sal personally, many of whom had also been part of the 1968 High School Blowouts.

These blowouts are hailed as the impetus of the urban Chicano Movement, following on from the rural Chicano Movement that had begun some time earlier with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers thus placing Sal Castro as one of the most important Chicano Civil Rights activists of the 60s and 70s. This is the first time his story has been written.

Garcia frames the main autobiographical text of Blowout! with an introduction and epilogue that situate Castro’s story within that of the larger Chicano Movement. In the afterword, Garcia outlines the strong links between Castro’s approach to teaching and the theories of Brazilian pedagogue and educational theorist, Paulo Freire. While Freire is no stranger to most educators today, during the 60s and 70s his work was not widely read outside of Latin America. Castro was completely unaware of his work. However, the concepts of conscientização (conscientization or critical consciousness) are undeniably present as you read through the testimony of Sal Castro.

Unlike most other testimonios, Garcia peppers Castro’s accounts with quotes from different people and news articles. While there is the obvious danger of fracturing the narrator’s story, in this case it has worked quite well and the fluidity of the text is maintained. Moreover, Castro repeatedly emphasises his desire to empower the students and community, to have them speak out so the infrequent additions adds a symbolic connection between teacher and community that suits the text.

Blowout! tells the story of Sal Castro from his early childhood in Mexico to his present retirement. His firsthand experience of discrimination in the U.S. educational system as both a student and educator; in the U.S. Army where he experiences Jim Crow during his travels in the South; and society in general like when his father is returned to Mexico after WWII as part of the “repatriation” program thus forcing his parents to separate, which ultimately leads to their divorce, all provide insights into the challenges faced by immigrant communities in the U.S. at the time. These experiences would also help Castro as he critically assessed and challenged the U.S. education system. He gives personal accounts of the Zoot Suit riots, the Watts riots, the Chicano Moratorium against the war in Vietnam and more. As a teacher of history and politics as well as his background in campaigning for various senators – including John and, later, Robert Kennedy – Castro masterfully contextualises the political and social climate of the 60s and 70s in the build up to, and the later repercussion of, the blowouts, all the while managing to maintain a sense of humour that can only endear him to the reader.

This book is a strong asset not only to Chicano Studies but also to U.S. History, Political Sciences and Education Studies. While it is the testimonio of Sal Castro, it is ultimately the story of young High School students who finally found a teacher who believed in them and gave them the courage and opportunity to protest the inequalities they already knew about and faced daily in their schools and colleges. Although many problems still persist in the education system, the enduring legacy of the blowouts is visible in the ever increasing enrollment of Chicanos and Latinos at third level institutions, a greater presence of Latinos as teachers as well as on educational boards and the emergence of Chicano Studies as an elective in High Schools.

The Drug Cartel’s Diamond-Studded Gun Cache

5 May

The Mexican Attorney General’s office uncovered an interesting cache this week in a raid on one of the hideouts of Oscar Nava Valencia aka “El Lobo.” El Lobo is recognised as one of the lead operators of the Milenio cartel, aka “La Familia Michaocana“.

According to the Attorney General’s Office Press Release among the cache were

• Un arma larga calibre AR-15, calibre .223 con lanza granadas.
• Una subametralladora MP-5, calibre .9 mm.
• Dos fusiles AK-47, calibre 7.62X39 de los conocidos como “cuerno de chivo” uno de ellos chapado en oro con silenciador.
• Dos Fusiles AR-15, calibre .223 chapados en oro y plata.
• 31 armas cortas de diferentes calibres, con incrustaciones en diamante y chapadas en oro y plata, además de constar con las leyendas “Lobo Valencia”.
• 706 cartuchos de diferentes calibres.
• 76 cargadores de diferentes calibres.
• Una bolsa con 200 gramos de marihuana.
• Un vehículo Escalade modelo 2009 con placas de circulación JHH-8323 del Estado de Jalisco.
• Joyería diversa.

  • An AR-15 long gun, .223 with a grenade launcher.
  • An MP-5 submachine gun, 9 mm.
  • Two AK-47 “goat horn” rifles, 7.62X39, one of them gold-plated with a silencer.
  • Two AR-15 rifles .223 caliber, silver and gold plated.
  • 31 handguns of various calibers, inlaid with diamonds, plated in gold and silver, and engraved “Lobo Valencia.”
  • 706 cartridges of different calibers.
  • Magazines of 76 different calibers.
  • A bag containing 200 grams of marijuana.
  • A 2009 model Escalade vehicle.
  • Various jewelry.

Photos are available from Gawker (English) and the PGR (Castellano)sites.