Book Notes & Thoughts: Strangers, by Hochschild


Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild

This book isn’t exactly related to my personal research, though understanding the cultural and political landscape of America is always important in locating my own work. I actually decided to read this through a recommendation from my mom (Hi, Mom!) on GoodReads. She is a voracious reader and regular user on GoodReads, so I finally decided to join her. I logged in, followed her, then look through the books she had read and wanted to read. I suggested we read a book together, and picked this one out from her “want to read” list. Today I marked it as “read,” although I declined to write a review. My mom is much better about doing that than I am!

We both got the book from our local libraries, and checked in with each other’s progress along the way. The narrative of the book was perfectly woven somewhere between an academic ethnography and popular non-fiction. Hochschild takes the reader to rural Louisiana and explores the “keyhole issue”: the environment. Rather than take on an issue that is classed, where people of middle- to high-economic status clearly benefit and low-economic status do not, Hochschild chooses the environment as an issue that affects us all. Her driving question was to explore how people reconcile their vote in favor of the Tea Party and the environmental destruction from deregulated industries, such as Shell, Gasol, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and Citgo, among many others.

Hochschild writes about the “empathy wall” that stands between the right and the left. I appreciated her honest and aware internal dialogue as she questioned responses from locals that felt illogical to her. She interrogated their politics, cultural beliefs, religion, gender identities, the role of work, belief about what it means to be American, viewpoints on immigration, and each other. She uses the analogy of “standing in line” to describe what it feels like to be marching forward toward “progress” and the American Dream, which is just over the top of hill. We were all “in line”, with white men at the front, but the civil war, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, immigration and refugees, has been the government helping other people “cut” in line. Along with the sense of cutting comes the injustice and feeling of having been in line and followed the cultural norms of working hard and patiently waiting for rewards due. The (undeserving) cutters are not working hard and asking the government to push them ahead. This sentiment is the source of distrust and resentment toward government involvement.

Along with this is the cultural erosion of society as it was when “the line” was in tact (i.e. pre-Civil War? I’m not sure when the locals in this book would go back to.). I didn’t take any notes on this book, but I wanted to quote one long passage from near the end of the book that resonated with me:

But without a national vision based on the common good, none of us could leave a natural heritage to our children, or, as the General said, be ‘free.’ A free market didn’t make us a free people, I thought. But I had slipped way over to my side of the empathy wall again.

Mike agreed with a smidgen of this – a skeleton crew at the EPA, maybe. But the EPA was grabbing authority and tax money to take on a fictive mission, he felt – lessening the impact of global warming. This was just another excuse to expand, like governments do…..

In fact, after the 2009 government bailout of failing banks, companies, and home owners, the federal government seemed to side with yet more line cutters. Now debtors, too, were cutting ahead of people and the federal government was inviting them to do so. This was a strange new expression of social conflict, undeclared, appearing on a new stage, with various groups undefined by class per se – blacks, immigrants, refugees – mixed in. And by proxy, the federal government was the enemy.

And on the personal side, there was one more thing – the federal government wasn’t on the side of men being manly. Liberals were certainly on the wrong side of that one. It wasn’t easy being a man. It was an era of numerous subtle challenges to masculinity, it seemed. These days a woman didn’t need a man for financial support, for procreation, even for the status of being married. And now with talk of transgender people, what, really, was a man? It was unsettling, wrong. At the core, to be a man you had to be willing to lose your life in battle, willing to use your strength to protect the weak. Who today was remembering all that? Marriage was truly between a man and a woman, Mike felt. Clarity about one’s identity was a good thing, and the military had offered that clarity, he felt, even as it offered gifted men of modest backgrounds a pathway to honor. Meanwhile, the nearly all-male areas of life – the police, the fire department, parts of the U.S. military, and the oil rigs – need defending against this cultural erosion of manhood. The federal government, the EPA, stood up for the biological environment, but it was allowing – and it seemed at times it was causing – a cultural erosion. What seemed to my Tea Party friends to be dangerously polluted, unclean, and harmful was American culture. And against that pollution, the Tea Party stood firm. (p.202-203)

This book gave me a lot to think about in this political and cultural moment, and I’ll leave it at that.


Article Thoughts: Interaction Analysis, by Jordan and Henderson (1995)


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After reading Simon’s Sciences of the Artificial last week, my advisor recommended I read Interaction Analysis, a classic Learning Sciences article by Brigitte Jordan and Austin Henderson, published in 1995. It takes stock of the way that video recordings are being used in qualitative research to study the interaction amongst people and with their work/life/learning artifacts. It draws on a number of different fields, but particularly from health care, education, and the computer industry.

I was particularly looking for ideas of artifacts and representation, primed from Simon, and made notes throughout about how I could use this in the research design of my dissertation. I had intended to take a couple notes in my new “dissertation reading notes” Google document, but ended up with a long list of quotes and thoughts!

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Presenting at the Carnegie Summit 2018


I’ll be returning to San Francisco again this April. It’s my yearly escape from the winter-is-not-quite-over dreariness of early spring in Madison. This year I’m presenting in a session titled “Social Network Analysis in Phases of Networked Improvement,” as well as a poster about how teachers and students engaged in the design work that we did through PiPNIC, the Personalization in Practice Networked Improvement Community.

It’s not an overstatement that the improvement work that the Carnegie Foundation is doing through Networked Improvement Communities is what I had hoped I would find when I came to graduate school three and a half years ago. I have been fortunate to work with an advisor to get to test out some of these ideas. I’m looking forward to another summit, to share what I’ve been thinking about and learn from all the other ways people are making things happen!

Book Notes & Thoughts: The Sciences of the Artificial, by Herbert Simon


The Sciences of the Artificial, First Edition, by Herbert A. Simon

This book has been on my reading list for a long time. I started keeping a reading list in Evernote when I started graduate school. I’m making progress!

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Now that I have focused my dissertation topic on looking at instructional leadership through the lens of design, which builds on my advisor’s framework of education as design for learning, Simon’s book is usually cited as the foundation for design as a separate endeavor from the natural sciences.

To my delight, this book was wonderful to read – straightforward language, clear logical arguments – not like most of the older texts I have picked up! It was originally a series of lectures, so I could almost hear it as I read, thinking of how he is making his point to the audience.

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Spring Writing Group & Semester Goals


For the next 12 weeks, I’m meeting weekly with a group of graduate students to work through this book by Wendy Belcher. The book walks you through – day by day, week by week – developing a publishable paper from something you have already started. I’ll be working on the social network analysis proposal that I had accepted to AERA, the American Educational Research Association conference in New York this spring.

Our writing group started meeting last summer and fall as many of us transitioned out of coursework and into the pre-dissertation abyss. I struggled to structure my time, I didn’t have the intellectual stimulation of hearing about other people’s work, and I needed the informal but practical information from others about committee members, deadlines, credit registration, etc. So we started meeting every Thursday afternoon. This became a time to both connect and work together. I have blocked it off on my schedule and look forward to it every week. (One colleague and I also started another group across campus on Wednesday afternoons!)

That said, I needed a little something more than just showing up to write together. I wanted accountability to getting work done and a sense that we were all working on something together (though on separate tasks, obviously). I heard about this book and had the idea to use this with our writing group and AERA papers, which I knew I wanted to turn into a journal article. I started floating the idea to a few others, and pretty soon we had a group of 7 graduate students interested.

Generally, we’re planning to structure the time as follows:

  • 12:30-1:30: informal checkins, lunch, workshop ideas
  • 1:30-2:30: debrief the previous week, I’ll preview the coming week
  • 2:30-onward: write

I think what I am most excited about for her book is that she emphasizes doing a little every day. I tend to want 5 hours to work on writing tasks, which doesn’t usually happen with lots of meetings, commutes, and small children! This spring I’m committing to writing in shorter chunks of time and working on more writing projects at a time.

Her website also has a lot of the forms that you might need, and I also created this spreadsheet that has the topic for each day and allows you to print a weekly schedule.

My goals for this semester, May 15th:

  • Physical spaces paper is accepted to a journal
  • Social network analysis paper is submitted to a journal
  • Dissertation proposal drafted
  • PiPNIC how to guide written
  • 6 blog posts

Other big conferences and tasks this spring:

  • Presenting a session and poster at the Carnegie Summit in San Francisco in April
  • Presenting a paper at the annual AERA conference in New York
  • *hopefully* Presenting a paper and participating in a symposium and doctoral consortium at ICLS (International Conference of the Learning Sciences) in London in June
  • Working on formative assessment rubrics for personalized learning (IES and Joyce Foundation grant work)

I’m thankful for lots of good work to do and good people to do it with!


Book Notes & Thoughts: Organizing Locally, by Bruce Fuller

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Organizing Locally: How the New Decentralists Improve Education, Health Care, and Trade, by Bruce Fuller.

It’s been a full semester since my last post though I have certainly done a lot of reading in that time! My desk, nightstand, and bookshelves are perpetually stacked with library books or cheap used paperbacks from Amazon that I intend to read. And while I do read (or “Harvard“) most of them, I always intend to blog about them, but I don’t.

This first week back at work in my office, I sketched out my spring writing syllabus, made my plan for using Wendy Belcher’s “Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks” with my writing group, and stacked up six books I intend to read this semester. It all feels very productive – good new year kind of stuff.

My goal is to blog about 6 books this semester, and as part of that, to remind myself that these blog posts are NOTES and THOUGHTS. Mostly they include quotes I like or want to remember, thoughts or reflections that come up in the moment.They are not reviews, arguments, or critiques. This is my commonplace book in the cloud. One of Belcher’s strategies, if you are struggling to start writing, is to write down quotes from someone else. So I’m trying to put my blogging at the beginning of the semester – a way to warm up my fingers for typing the many things I need to write this spring!

With that, here are my notes and thoughts from reading Organizing Locally…


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Book Notes & Thoughts: The Making of Pro-Life Activists, by Ziad Munson


This book might seem out of my general topic area, but after hearing Hahrie Han speak at the Carnegie Summit last year (in which she mentioned this book) and reading her book about organizing social movements, I wanted to dig a little deeper into how social movements mobilize and sustain their work.

Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow’s 2011 paper Getting Ideas into Action is probably THE foundational piece of my graduate school inquiries (and likely the rest of my career). They describe improvement science in networked improvement communities as sustained, collective action. This is a phrase that I continue to circle and turn over. I like the pragmatic focus of understanding why people to do what they do, particularly things that have collective momentum and/or impact, but I also see how difficult this is. We have such a deeply held belief that “the more you know” will make change, but over and over again, we find that people have their own minds and act in unpredictable ways.

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