CALL for Chapter Proposals: Adaptation as Investigations: Critically Rethinking Medium, Genre, and Text

Series: Youth Culture and Pedagogy in the 21st Century

William Reynolds and Brad Porfilio, editors

Lexington Books

Proposed volume title:

Adaptation as Investigations: Critically Rethinking Medium, Genre, and Text

P. L. Thomas, editor

[A]s we put into practice an education that critically provokes the learner’s consciousness, we are necessarily working against myths that deform us. As we confront such myths, we also face the dominant power because those myths are nothing but the expression of this power, of its ideology. (Freire, 2005, p. 75)

Throughout the 1980s, music fans began to debate music videos as the popularity of MTV increased. Those debates often involved arguments about both the film quality of each video and whether or not the adaptation of song to video remained true to the original song.

As pop culture, music videos created a text for students to investigate media and genre as well as their own reading, re-reading, writing, and re-rewriting of the world. As Johns (2008) explains, students as both readers and writers need to gain genre awareness—in their roles as students but also in their emerging agency and autonomy. Text adaptations—multiple text versions across media and forms developing from one foundational text (see here for examples)—are ideal contexts for investigating how medium, genre, form, creator, and audience all interact to create meaning(s).

This volume seeks chapters that begin with an adaptation unit (texts across media and genres) in order to investigate medium, genre, form, reading, writing, text, and voice as elements of critical literacy. Chapter authors will be encouraged to investigate boundaries of texts and media by confronting texts such as traditional print texts, film, comics/graphic novels, songs, web-based texts, and emerging forms as they are represented in text adaptations (for example, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a traditional novel adapted into film and graphic novel).

Chapters should address the following points of emphasis:

  • The role of critical literacy in the broader focus on literacy in formal schooling.
  • The traditional assumptions about text as they are challenged and reshaped by a wide-range of media and genres.
  • School-based assumptions about reading and writing as they contrast with pop culture representations of reading and writing.
  • Traditional norms of “literary” texts as those inform and marginalize popular texts (among a wide range of media).
  • The tensions created when an original text is adapted or re-booted and how those multiple forms investigate “quality” texts in terms of remaining true to the original and as unique texts.
  • How adaptation, allusion, fan fiction, and sampling (for example) complicate traditional views of plagiarism and citation in formal academic settings (as opposed to pop culture).
  • How adaptation and collaborative texts (film, comics/graphic novels) confront text analysis and “ownership” of texts.
  • The role of the New Media (blogging, Twitter, etc.) in understanding text, reading, and writing as well as medium and genre.

Interested chapter authors are invited to submit proposals and the following information by May 31, 2014 (an initial list of contributors is needed before a contract can be issued):

  • 300-word proposal with title.
  • 50-75 word author(s) bio.
  • 10 key words.
  • Preferred deadline for first full draft ( a final timeline for the project will be designed once proposals have been accepted).

Preliminary plans are for including about 15 chapters of 6000-7000 words. Citations will be in the most recent edition of APA.

Send proposals and any queries to


Freire, P. (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach (D. Macedo, D. Koike, & A. Oliveira, Trans.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Johns, A M. (2008). Genre awareness for the novice academic student: An ongoing quest. Language Teaching, 41(2): 237-252.

Thomas, P. L. (in-press). Adventures in adaptation: Confronting texts in a time of standardization. In P. Paugh, T. Kress, & R. Lake, eds., Critical and new literacies: Teaching towards democracy with/in/through post-modern and popular culture texts. TBD.

Thomas, P. L. (2012, Fall). Lost in adaptation: Kurt Vonnegut’s radical humor in film and print. Studies in American Humor, 3(26), 85-101.

Common Core Movement Never about Teaching and Learning, Always about Testing

As of April 24, 2014, I am tired to the core of writing about the Common Core because I know three things:

  1. I’ve said everything I need to say about Common Core: (a) Arguing about the quality of the CC standards is a distraction from the essential flaw in continuing to chase better standards and tests, (b) because accountability based on standards and tests has never and will never address directly the equity problem in society and education, and (c) thus, education reform must drop the accountability paradigm and seek an alternative reform plan based on equity.
  2. Almost no one of consequence is listening to the rational and evidence-based criticisms of Common Core because of the political advantage afforded by keeping everyone convinced that the debate is mostly by loonies on the Right and loonies on the Left.
  3. And still, I feel compelled to try once again.

The discussion should focus, then, not on the quality of the Common Core or if and how those standards are being implemented, but on the very clear evidence of two things:

  1. The Common Core is a corporate-political movement designed from the beginning to disregard K-12 expertise in teaching and content.
  2. That movement also focused from the very beginning not on teaching and learning, but testing.

Since much of my argument depends on evidence and concerns about the lack of attention to the evidence, let me simply offer three places for you to consider my claims above:

  1. David Coleman is on the record, joking about the lack of expertise among those designing the Common Core; please listen.
  2. Mercedes Schneider has detailed carefully Those 24 Common Core 2009 Work Group Members.
  3. And if you need a wealth of evidence, please explore the Common Core Criticisms wiki.

If anyone is rational and diligent in examining the evidence, the only conclusion that stands before us is that the Common Core movement was never about teaching and learning, but always about testing.

And thus, as I have argued before, the Common Core debate cannot be separated from the high-stakes testing debate.

I begin this post with the date because—unless the zombie apocalypse happens—I invite anyone to return here in about 10 years when we are once again on the standards and testing Merry-Go-Round, with “better” standards and tests being championed by those decrying the failure of the Common Core movement. And that next round of advocates will be eerily similar to the list Schneider details above, mostly people who have a stake in wide-scale testing of children as a profit mechanism on the back of taxpayers in the U.S.

Kind of makes one hope for the zombie apocalypse

Standards May Achieve Equality, But Not Equity

Michelle Morrissey makes a case for Common Core in By ‘Common,’ We Mean Equity:

When the Common Core State Standards emerged, it was both a shock and a revelation — for the first time, the dominant model said that my students, who live in low-income neighborhoods and are predominately Hispanic or African American, would have some guarantee of the same kinds of educational experiences that students at high-performing schools across the country have. All students would be asked to do the hard stuff—and reap the benefits of those high expectations.

Setting aside the inaccurate hyperbole (“for the first time”) and that every single round of standards embraced in the U.S. since the 1890s has come with the exact same set of claims (and then has always failed, thus a new round of “better” standards), the fundamental problem with chasing better standards is that standards may achieve equality, but not equity.

Standards and equality are both about sameness; equity is about fairness and justice:

Equity vs. Equality

If seeking that all students learn and do the same things is actually a valuable goal (and I doubt that is), we must first insure equity. In other words, we are implementing the wrong policies and failing to first address the lingering racial and social inequities facing children.

Standards, as I have discussed before, are not correlated in any way with increasing student achievement or with equity, as Mathis reports:

There is, for example, no evidence that states within the U.S. score higher or lower on the NAEP based on the rigor of their state standards. Similarly, international test data show no pronounced tests core advantage on the basis of the presence or absence of national standards. Further, the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted in the “dumbing down” and narrowing of the curriculum. …

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself.

In the U.S., we have a blind spot to the inequity of privilege, but often have knee-jerk reactions that misinterpret efforts to achieve equity with “giving things away” to the disadvantaged.

Not unrelated is the political and public rejection of affirmative action, specifically race-based college admission policies.

But as privileged leaders and the public champion ending race-based college admission policies as a win for equality (everyone judged the same), virtually no one raises a peep about wealthy and connected teenagers entering colleges as legacy because we fail to see the inequity of privilege (see Justice Sotomayor’s dissent).

Common Core, or any set of standards, may achieve equality, but never equity, and as long as standards remain linked directly to high-stakes testing—which remains deeply biased by race, class, and gender—all standards movements will in fact perpetuate inequity.

No Country for Young Children of Color

While I have argued that we basically do not like children in the U.S., there is considerable evidence that being born a child of color puts those children at a disadvantage relative to white children.

Based on the Kids Count report, Race for Results, Smriti Sinha has declared:

Black families pondering a move to the Midwest might want to read this, especially if they have young children. According to a national report, Wisconsin has been ranked the worst state in the country when it comes to racial disparities for children.

But the entire U.S. does not fare well in terms of addressing the needs faced by children of color.

“Opportunity has been a constant theme in our country’s narrative, beginning with the waves of immigrants who arrived from across the globe in search of a better life,” the report begins, adding, “Last year, for the first time, more children of color were born in the United States than white children” (p. 1).

Opportunity, then, in the future of the U.S. will be increasingly multi-racial, but access to opportunity does not have to remain a race, a competition among those races.

Yet, children who happen to be born white in the U.S., and especially if they are born affluent, start well ahead in the so-called race of life.

Social inequity remains grounded significantly in race and class, as measured in 12 indicators in The Race for Results Index (see p. 6):

12 indicators of The Race for Results Index

[click to enlarge]

Broadly, the report finds:

As the national data show, no one group has all children meeting all milestones. African-American, American Indian and Latino children face some of the biggest obstacles on the pathway to opportunity. As Figure 2 illustrates, Asian and Pacific Islander children have the highest index score at 776, followed by white children at 704. Scores for Latino (404), American Indian (387) and African-American (345) children are considerably lower. (p. 8)

Index scores by race

[click to enlarge]

While the overall inequity for African American and Latino/a children [1] is nation-wide, many states—often high-poverty and high-minority states (such as my home state of SC)—rank low in childhood opportunity for children of color:

state by state Afican American

[click to enlarge]

state by state Latino/a

[click to enlarge]

The report concludes with four recommendations:


Gather and analyze racial and ethnic data to inform all phases of programs, policies and decision making….


Use data and impact assessment tools to target investments to yield the greatest impact for children of color….


Develop and implement promising and evidence-based programs and practices focused on improving outcomes for children and youth of color….


Integrate economic inclusion strategies within economic and workforce development efforts….(pp. 22-28)

Ultimately, the report argues:

As profound demographic shifts, technological advances and changes in global competition race toward us, no individual can afford to ignore the fact that regardless of our own racial background or socioeconomic position, we are inextricably interconnected as a society. We must view all children in America as our own — and as key contributors to our nation’s future. (p. 28)

As I have stated about the paradox of race, the U.S. is neither a post-racial country, nor should that be our goal. Along with genuinely acting as if “they’re all our children,” we must see race as a part of an equitable society and set aside reducing life to a race to the top that must sacrifice some for the good of a few.

[1] This post focuses on the racial dynamic of white, African American, and Latino/a since my work primarily addresses SC, where that dynamic is dominant. Not addressing the remaining ethnic groups in the report is not intended to marginalize those children or the significance of any racial minority.

REVIEW: Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, James Baldwin

For many, James Baldwin is associated with novels, fiction. But my greatest affinity for Baldwin lies with his nonfiction and his role as a public intellectual.

In the volume I co-edited, James Baldwin: Challenging Authors, chapter authors examine Baldwin as a powerful voice across genre and form. Concurrent with that volume is the publication of Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems.

Baldwin is rarely examined as a poet so this collection is significant for those new to Baldwin as well as those who have studied and treasure his complete canon.

The slim book of poetry is inviting as a paperback—the cover an electric blue to complement the rich use of “blues” in the title—color, music, mood:

Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, James Baldwin

“Playing by Ear, Praying for Rain: The Poetry of James Baldwin,” the introduction by Nikky Finney, opens the collection passionately and parallels Baldwin’s own challenging persona: “Baldwin was dangerous to everybody who had anything to hide,” Finney warns (p. ix).

Finney introduces readers to Baldwin as well as his poetry—his sexuality and frankness central to both:

Uninviting Baldwin was often the excuse for the whitewashing of his urgent and necessary 
brilliance from both the conservative black community and from whites who had never heard such a dark genius display such rich and sensory antagonism for them. Into the microphone of the world Baldwin leaned — never afraid to say it. (p. x)

Finney emphasizes that Baldwin always remained true to himself: “They could listen in or they could ignore him, but he was never their boy, writing something they wanted to hear” (p. xiii). Baldwin always sought Truth, compelled to speak the Truth:

In his work he remained devoted to exposing more and more the ravages of poverty and invisibility on black and poor people….

Baldwin was never afraid to say it in his novels, in his essays, and in his poetry — because Baldwin saw us long before we saw ourselves. (pp. xix, xxi)

For me, as someone drawn to Baldwin’s nonfiction and videos of his speaking, these poems fits into those contexts in ways that give his poetry a vibrancy beyond the grave.

Baldwin’s poetry is Baldwin’s voice.

“Staggerlee wonders”

A 16-page poem in four sections, this opening piece sparks, for me, Baldwin’s “Who Is the Nigger?” from Take This Hammer:

Simultaneously, “Staggerlee wonders” is deeply steeped in the U.S. of Baldwin’s lifetime and disturbingly relevant to 2014. The speaker mentions Russia, China, the Panama Canal, and Vietnam along with “Mad Charlie,” Patty Hearst, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Mohammad Ali. But the historical, political, and pop culture references do not date the poem since Baldwin uses them as vehicles for his truth-telling.

The poem rarely strays too far from colors, or more accurately skin pigmentation. And Baldwin deftly blends slurs and dialects in the voice of the speaker who appears both of the situation as well as above the situation: the racial and social inequities of being Black in the U.S.:

I wonder how they think
the niggers made, make it,
how come the niggers are still here.
But, then, again, I don’t think they dare
to think of that: no:
I’m fairly certain they don’t think of that at all. (3.1-6)

As an opening poem, “Staggerlee wonders” represents Baldwin’s complexity and richness, as well as his tensions—notably his use of Biblical references bracketed with “though theology has absolutely nothing to do/ with what I am trying to say” and “But we are not talking about belief.”

This poem reveals Baldwin’s craft, his ability to be deeply personal and bound by his moments of history while speaking against and to the great questions of being human when humans fail their humanity.

David L. Ulin poses James Baldwin, poet? But of course. in his review of this new collection from Baldwin, concluding,

This new version of “Jimmy’s Blues” features six poems that until now have only been available in a limited edition chapbook published after Baldwin’s death. Not all of this material is equally resonant, but when he’s on, Baldwin has the rare ability to contain contradictions — and not only to contain them, but also to evoke them on the page.

As National Poetry Month 2014 comes to a close and as we move toward Baldwin’s 90th birthday in August, now appears to be right for exploring Baldwin the poet.

Legalizing Marijuana Offers Lesson for Changing Course in Education Reform

The role of causality in educational research needs to be questioned on the basis that education is not the same as medicine. As Biesta says: “Being a student is not an illness, just as teaching is not a cure.” (2007, p8) We should never assume that education is a “push and pull” process of simply linear causal relationships.

Tait Coles, Take no heroes; only inspiration.

“Batman has officially been kicking the ass of Gotham’s villains for 75 years,” explains Ryan Kristobak, “and so to honor the Dark Knight, the Warner Bros. panel unveiled the ‘Batman Beyond’ animated short at this year’s WonderCon.”

For long-time and recent fans of Batman, however, the legends of the Dark Knight are complicated by the many versions that exist among the DC comic book and graphic novel universe, films, TV, animated series, and video games.

The Batman Myth has several foundational characteristics and common themes that are nested in the Caped Crusader’s first appearance in Detective Comics 27 in 1940: Batman’s essential nature as a detective and crime fighter, the ambiguous relationship between Batman and the Gotham police department and city officials, and the larger themes about justice that are contrasted by Batman’s vigilante tendencies.

In The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of the film trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, the opening scene framing the film also highlights a central message reflecting how justice is traditionally characterized in the U.S. The mayor of Gotham and Commissioner Gordon preside over Harvey Dent Day, named for the district attorney who is killed as Two-Face in The Dark Knight:

[the Mayor is giving a speech being at hosted at Wayne Manor]

Mayor: Harvey Dent Day may not be our oldest public holiday, but we’re here tonight because it’s one of the most important. Harvey Dent’s uncompromising stand against organized crime has made Gotham a safer place than it was at the time of his death, eight years ago. This city has seen a historic turn around. No city is without crime, but this city is without organized crime because of Dent’s act gave law enforcement teeth in its fight against the mob. Now people are talking about repealing the Dent Act, and to them I say, not on my watch.

[the audience claps]

Mayor: I wanna thank the Wayne Foundation for hosting this event, and I’m told, Mr. Wayne couldn’t be here tonight. I’m sure he’s with us in spirit….

Mayor: Jim Gordon, can tell you the truth about Harvey Dent. He could…but I’ll let him tell you himself. Commissioner Gordon!

[the audience claps as Gordon makes his way to the stand, Gordon looks down at his prepared speech and says to himself as he remembers the real truth of what happened to Dent]

Commissioner Gordon: The truth…

[he addresses the audience]

Commissioner Gordon: I have a speech telling the truth about Harvey Dent. Maybe the time isn’t right.

[he puts the speech away in his jacket pocket]

Commissioner Gordon: Maybe right now, all you need to know is that there are one thousand inmates in Blackgate Prison as the direct result of the Dent Act. These are violent criminals, essential cogs in the organized crime machine. Maybe, for now, all I should say about the death of Harvey Dent is this; it has not been for nothing. (transcript found here)

Justice in Nolan’s Gotham reflects the central elements of justice found in the U.S.: the right laws, the right people to enforce those laws, and the evidence those laws are working represented by a growing prison population.

Reagan Era Mass Incarceration and Education Accountability

As I have detailed in Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era, the 1980s and the Reagan administration planted the seeds of both an era of mass incarceration, labeled the New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and the high-stakes accountability era in public education.

The most troubling aspects of both mass incarceration and high-stakes education accountability are that the policies have created, not ended, the claimed problems they were designed to address.

Over the past thirty years, the criminal justice system in the U.S. has filled prisons with a disproportionate number of African American men as part of our most recent war on drugs—despite whites and African Americans using recreational drugs at the same rates.

The current era of mass incarceration has unintended consequences similar to prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s:

Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, made a mockery of the justice system, caused illicit drinking to seem glamorous and fun, encouraged neighborhood gangs to become national crime syndicates, permitted government officials to bend and sometimes even break the law, and fostered cynicism and hypocrisy that corroded the social contract all across the country. With Prohibition in place, but ineffectively enforced, one observer noted, America had hardly freed itself from the scourge of alcohol abuse – instead, the “drys” had their law, while the “wets” had their liquor.

The recent legalization of marijuana suggests a possible social recognition that traditional views of the right laws enforced by the right people and resulting in the right people sitting in prison is the wrong formula for either justice or a peaceful and equitable society.

Along with a growing number of states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana is a concurrent discussion of releasing prior drug offenders from prison, again suggesting a social admission that the laws we establish create criminals, but rarely deter crime.

Seeking justice must not be separated from seeking equity. If the shift in how people in the U.S. view marijuana signals anything, I think, it shows a broader concern for equity: Just as changing inequitable laws surrounding powder cocaine and crack came to represent an inequitable criminal justice system, legalizing marijuana is yet another effort to move the pursuit of justice in the U.S. toward a pursuit of equity.

Legalizing Marijuana: A Lesson for Changing Course in Education Reform

The war on drugs and the resulting mass incarceration have proven to be the wrong policies for achieving justice or equity in the U.S. Directly, we know that mass incarceration negatively impacts children (see Holly Yettick and Children of the Prison Boom).

But the parallel era of high-stakes education accountability shares the central flaws now being recognized in mass incarceration: high-stakes accountability creates failure in schools, teachers, and students (see FairTest’s Reports: High Stakes Testing Hurts Education).

Under Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, federal and state education policies have remained focused on identifying the right standards and the right tests, most recently Common Core standards and so-called “next generation” tests. Unlike the move toward legalizing marijuana, education reform remains trapped and unable to see the Bitter Lessons from Chasing Better Tests, as Duncan proclaimed in 2009:

Until states develop better assessments—which we will support and fund through Race to the Top—we must rely on standardized tests to monitor progress—but this is an important area for reform and an important conversation to have.

Debating the quality of Common Core and the related tests, however, are the wrong arguments because high-stakes accountability is the wrong policy paradigm just as the war on drugs and mass incarceration are the wrong policies for justice.

Adopting and implementing Common Core as yet another round of seeking the right standards and the right tests will not work. We have three decades of evidence on that approach revealing that there is no correlation between the existence or quality of standards and student achievement (see Mathis, 2012).

The war on drugs has proven to be finding ourselves in a hole and continuing to dig. Legalizing marijuana is dropping the shovel and choosing instead to acknowledge that failure and to try another approach, one more rightly attuned to equity.

This is a lesson high-stakes accountability advocates need to learn.

Common Core and the related high-stakes tests are the wrong approach to equity and high-quality education; they are finding ourselves in a hole we created and continuing to dig.

As legalizing marijuana signals a possible turn to the end of mass incarceration, we need also to end the era of high-stakes accountability in education.

Let’s choose instead An Alternative to Accountability-Based Education Reform.