Not What, But Who: Remaining Grounded as a Teacher of Students

Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Sandra Cisneros, “Eleven”

The field experience students complete as part of my foundations of education course has this semester blended well with their reading Chris Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too.

As we have discussed both during class sessions, students have been drawn to witnessing and reading as well as thinking about how teachers view and respond to their students.

Although these students have virtually no background in formal education, they have been very perceptive about the inordinate, and distracting, pressures on teachers to cover the curriculum (standards) and prepare students for testing—notably while observing and tutoring at a local majority-minority elementary school.

High student/teacher ratios have also been identified as making good classroom practice nearly impossible.

Running through our discussions has been a concern about how teachers treat students (often more harshly than my students anticipated or endorsed) and about the pervasive deficit perspective throughout the school.

Observing and tutoring in special needs classes and among Latinx students needing to acquire English have intensified how my students have responded to their field placement and their recognition of the myriad factors that impact negatively formal education.

Often unspoken, but what teachers and students share in far too many schools is a “no excuses” imperative that demands teachers perform well (even miraculously) despite being placed in circumstances that work against their efforts and that demands students somehow leave the pressures and inequities of their lives in order to excel at academics being imposed on them.

Teresa Watanabe’s Can a child who starts kindergarten with few reading or math skills catch up? is a snapshot of what my students have witnessed and what Emdin’s work challenges.

Responding to that article, Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, has identified the problem that my students have observed:

But there is no evidence that tougher standards lead to more learning, and no evidence showing that the Common Core standards are better at preparing children for college and career than other standards or than no standards….

Forcing young children to study flashcards in the car and spell words during family outings in order to “master” 100 words is turning kindergarten into kindergrind.  Children who develop a love of reading will master thousands of words, without suffering.

Although political leaders and the public often view the authoritarian classroom where teachers are charged with keeping order and demanding that students learn standards and content about which they have no choice or input as the solution, it is now far past time to recognize that this is the problem with formal schooling.

Of course, what we teach is important at every level of education, and that what is becoming even more important for our democracy as we are confronted with a new post-truth media and politics.

That what needs to be the sort of truth that empowers a free people.

That what also needs to include a clear focus on the civility of learning and wrestling with ideas since our post-truth media and politics are increasing and justifying the demanding and nasty tone that is already a problem in many schools.

However, the what must remain secondary to the who—who we teach is what makes teaching an essential calling grounded in the dignity of both teachers and their students.

And the what can never be well taught or learned unless we attend to the conditions of teaching/learning and living among our teachers and students.

The authoritarian classroom, deficit thinking, “no excuses” ideologies and practices—these are corrosive elements for teaching, learning, and democracy as well as liberty.

The very long era of standardized testing and the more recent and relatively shorter era of accountability and standards have inflicted immeasurable harm on teachers and students.

And even as educator autonomy and professionalism become daily further eroded, we are morally obligated to call for and remain grounded in our role as teachers of students.

The who of teaching and learning must always come before the what.

Adichie’s “danger of a single story” and the Rise of Post-Truth Trumplandia

In an effort to understand post-truth Trumplandia, this is one explanation:

However, this fails to confront that the rise of Trumplandia is but an extreme and logical extension of a mainstream media and political elite existing almost entirely on false narratives—the denial of basic reality.

The bootstrap and rising boat narratives, black-on-black crime, the pervasive threat of terrorism, the lazy poor, the welfare queen, and the relentless “kids today” mantra—these are all powerful as well as enduring claims but also provably false.

With Trump’s election, the post-truth reality now focuses on lamenting the plight of the white working class (also provably false) and masking racism and white supremacy as “alt-right.”

The media simply report that Source X makes Claim A—but never venture into the harder story that Source X is making a false Claim A—especially when false Claim A rings true within the Great American Myths that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie powerfully warns about:

I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call “the danger of the single story.”…

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So, the year I turned eight, we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner, my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday, we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Adichie artfully shares more examples in her talk, but her message from 2009 rings much more horrifying today in post-truth Trumplandia, where the elected leader of the free world can say damn near anything one minute, deny it the next, and remain safely cloaked in the lies that endure as the “one story” many in the U.S. believe despite ample evidence to the contrary.

The one story of black men as criminals that allows police to disproportionately execute those black men in the streets.

The one story of the lazy poor that allows political leaders to avoid their moral obligations to provide social services, including health care even for children.

The one story of objectified women that allows rape culture and the democratically elected leader of the free world to boast about his own cavalier behavior as a sexual predator.

And so: “Stories matter. Many stories matter,” Adichie concludes:

Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

For Adichie, “now is the time” to confront post-truth Trumplandia, and the media are on notice:

Yet a day after the election, people spoke of the vitriol between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. No, the vitriol was Trump’s. Now is the time to burn false equivalencies forever. Pretending that both sides of an issue are equal when they are not is not “balanced” journalism; it is a fairy tale—and, unlike most fairy tales, a disingenuous one.

Post-truth Trumplandia is creeping toward yet another of the very ugliest stories of a people claiming to embrace life and liberty but denying basic reality instead.

The question before us is whether or not we have the capacity for changing that arc of history toward, as Adichie expresses, the possibility to “regain a kind of paradise.”

See Also

Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I, Too, Am a Dangerous Professor if You Covet Ignorance, Hatred

We Marxists are rightfully criticized for being idealistic, but we are unfairly demonized by those across the U.S. who wrongly associate Marxism, socialism, and communism with totalitarian governments and human oppression.

You see, Marxism as a scholarly stance is a moral stance—unlike the amoral pose of capitalism.

We Marxist academics and scholars are all about the good, the right, and the equitable—including creating intellectually challenging classrooms in which every student feels physically and psychologically safe.

But this is 2016 Trumplandia, a sort of Bizarro World in which reality TV has become a real-life nightmare, including a professor watch list promoted by an Orwellian right-wing organization that claims to be protecting free speech and academic freedom by identifying dangerous professors.

George Yancy, professor of philosophy at Emory University, has responded with the powerful I Am a Dangerous Professor, and my home state of South Carolina has had three professors included on the list.

The responses to the list have run a range from fear (because professors have received very serious threats) to bemusement to anger about not being included.

I am a white male full professor with tenure, but I teach in the South—where before I joined a university faculty, I was an intellectually closeted public school teacher for 18 stressful years.

As a leftist and atheist, I was constantly vigilant to mask who I was, what I believe and live, because I was fearful of losing my job and career (SC is an Orwellian-named “right to work” state) that I dearly love.

When I interviewed for my current position, I was about as naive and idealistic as a person could be about the golden fields of higher education.

During my model lesson for my day-long interview, I explained to the class I was a critical pedagogue, and thus offering a Marxist perspective on literacy and power.

Later in the day, at the debriefing and in hushed tones, I was told I may want to not share the whole Marxist thing if hired at the university.

I was hired—although my being a critical educator, scholar, and public intellectual have all been problematic throughout my second career as a professor.

And I have bull-headedly remained true to my ethics as both a professor/teacher and a critical pedagogue, best expressed by my dear friend and mentor Joe Kincheloe:

Thus, proponents of critical pedagogy understand that every dimension of schooling and every form of educational practice are politically contested spaces. Shaped by history and challenged by a wide range of interest groups, educational practice is a fuzzy concept as it takes place in numerous settings, is shaped by a plethora of often-invisible forces, and can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive. (p. 2)

Recognition of these educational politics suggests that teachers take a position and make it understandable to their students. They do not, however, have the right to impose these positions on their students [emphasis in original]….

In this context it is not the advocates of critical pedagogy who are most often guilty of impositional teaching but many of the mainstream critics themselves. When mainstream opponents of critical pedagogy promote the notion that all language and political behavior that oppose the dominant ideology are forms of indoctrination, they forget how experience is shaped by unequal forms of power. To refuse to name the forces that produce human suffering and exploitation is to take a position that supports oppression and powers that perpetuate it. The argument that any position opposing the actions of dominant power wielders is problematic. It is tantamount to saying that one who admits her oppositional political sentiments and makes them known to students is guilty of indoctrination, while one who hides her consent to dominant power and the status quo it has produced from her students is operating in an objective and neutral manner. Critical pedagogy wants to know who’s indoctrinating whom. (p. 11)

In fact, yesterday in my foundations of education course, I reiterated to the class that as a Marxist I often seem obnoxious, even dogmatic because I teach and speak with a moral imperative, an impassioned moral imperative—seeking that which is right, good, and equitable.

About this watch list, then, I am torn, struggling between embracing Yancy’s brilliant rebuttal and my own belief that I am in fact not the dangerous one because the dangerous thing about this world is to remain both ignorant and without a moral grounding.

As a Marxist educator and scholar/public intellectual, as a critical pedagogue, I am not the person hiding who I am or what I am seeking.

The dishonest are those who claim to be objective when in fact they are endorsing uncritically an inequitable status quo.

The dishonest are those claiming a non-political pose that is itself a political pose.

The dishonest are waving flags and chanting the entirely dishonest “Make America Great Again.”

That is dangerous stuff—endangering the faint promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that I, in fact, hold sacred.

So I am left with this paradox: I, too, am a dangerous professor if you covet ignorance, hatred.

If you are seeking the Truth, however, as well as the right, the good, and the equitable, please call me comrade because I am no danger to you at all.

Call for Chapter Proposals: Critical Media Literacy and Fake News in Post-Truth America

Critical Media Literacy and Fake News in Post-Truth America

Co-editors P.L. Thomas and Christian Z. Goering

Critical Media Literacies and Youth series, Sense Publishers

Series Editor, William Reynolds

Rationale

In the fall of 2016, just after the U.S. elected Donald Trump president, a black female first-year student submitted an essay on the prospects for Trump’s presidency. The course is a first-year writing seminar focusing on James Baldwin in the context of #BlackLivesMatter; therefore, throughout the course, students have been asked to critically investigate race, racism, gender, sexism, and all types of bias related to the U.S.—through the writing of Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Teju Cole, and Arundhati Roy, among others.

The student’s discussion of Trump’s policies, however, were hyperlinked to Trump’s campaign website. Discussing the draft with the student revealed that the current post-truth America is a significant issue among youth who seem unable to distinguish between facts and so-called fake news.

To blame youth for this lack of critical media literacy seems misguided since the mainstream media itself plays a significant role in misinforming the public. For example, as a subset of the wider media, edujournalism represents a default lack of critical perspective among journalists.

Claims by mainstream media are impressive:

Education Week is the best independent, unbiased source for news and information on pre-K-12 education. With an average of 42 stories posted each weekday on edweek.org, there is always a news, multimedia, or opinion piece to keep you up-to-date on post-election changes in policy, and to help you become a better practitioner and subject matter expert.

The reality is much different. When journalists at Education Week were challenged about their lack of critical coverage of NCTQ, Juana Summers Tweeted, “I’m not sure it’s my place to say whether the study is credible.”

In other words, mainstream media are dedicated to press-release journalism and maintaining a “both sides” stance that avoids making informed decisions about any claims from their sources—including the campaign of Trump.

This volume, then, seeks contributions that address, but are not limited to, the following in the context of teaching and reaching youth in the U.S. about critical media literacy:

  • Unpacking the lack of critical perspectives in mainstream media.
  • Examining “post-truth” America.
  • Confronting issues of race, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia as related to the media.
  • Exploring the promises of the New Media as a haven for truth.

Contributions should seek ways to couch chapters in practical aspects of teaching and reaching youth in the U.S., but can reach beyond the traditional classroom into youth culture as that intersects with critical media literacy.

Send a tentative title, author information, and 100-word abstract of the proposed chapter as a Word file (use your name to label the file, please). Make sure your abstract clearly shows how the proposed chapter addresses the focus of the volume—critical media literacy, fake news, and post-truth U.S. as related to youth.

Contact: paul.thomas[at]furman.edu

Timeline, etc., TBD


Critical Media Literacies and Youth series, Sense Publishers

Series Editor, William Reynolds

cmls-3

#NCTE2017: Call for Roundtable

After a very inspiring roundtable at #NCTE2016, many of us are energized to propose a related by more hands-on roundtable for #NCTE2017.

Below is a draft proposal for NCTE 2017. Please email me ASAP (paul.thomas@furman.edu) if you are interested in offering a roundtable that is a workshop related to educators developing their public voices in a wide variety of media and purposes. The current roundtables below reflect the focus of the session, but different media and perspectives are strongly encouraged to join.

2017 NCTE Annual Convention

Teaching Our Students Today, Tomorrow, Forever: Recapturing Our Voices, Our Agency, Our Mission

St. Louis, MO
November 16-19, 2017

Proposal: Roundtable

Co-Chairs: Chris Goering, University of Arkansas, and P. L. Thomas, Furman University

From Advocacy to Agency: Workshopping Our Public Voices

This roundtable session will offer participants concrete and hands-on opportunities to investigate the “how to” of writing and speaking in a public voice that reflects our professional agency. Tables will address writing Op-Eds and letters to the editor, starting and maintaining a professional blog, participating in social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) as a professional educator, and creating and producing podcasts/radio programming. Additionally, participants will be given guidelines for blending scholarly and public work as well as how to integrate our professional advocacy-as-agency with our demanding work as classroom practitioners.

Tables:

Exploring the Op-Ed: Two Public Essayists Share Their Process for Writing in the Op-Ed Genre

Christina Berchini and Peter Smagorinsky

This table will discuss their process for identifying topics, locating a suitable publication outlet, and understanding and writing within the op-ed/blog genre. Participants will also be alerted to the risks and rewards of writing in the public forum.

Adventures in Edublogging: Finding and Developing a Public Voice

P.L. Thomas and Angela Dye

Blogging remains a misunderstood form of communication along with many types of social media. This table will discuss and workshop how to create a professional blog and social media presence while helping participants with the “how” and “why” of creating that professional voice for the public.

Guinness Stew in the Ozarks: The How and Why of Professional Writing Retreats for Teachers

Christian Z. Goering and Nikki Holland

This roundtable offers a rationale and practical advice for gathering teachers in a retreat setting to write for professional audiences. One way that teachers can develop agency in the larger conversations swirling around the punch bowl of education is by writing for professional audiences—broadly defined. The act of doing so is complicated, something that takes time, nourishment, and courage. But aren’t retreats expensive and elitist? The low cost, low maintenance model shared in this roundtable can be adapted and adopted by a wide range of teacher groups or even offered as professional development by a school district.

Blogging Advocacy in the New Latinx South

Bobbi Siefert

Blogging Advocacy in the New Latino South – In this roundtable session, presenters will discuss beginning and maintaining a TESOL Blog in the context of the New South. Discussion will center on initial steps to beginning a blog, responses to challenges, focus and direction, and sustaining momentum in an increasingly xenophobic regional and national environment. We argue that blogging is a virtual platform for our professional advocacy for Latino Transnationals K-12.

Writing Radio Commentaries for Local Stations

 Rebekah Buchanan

Local NPR affiliates can be an effective way of reaching the public about education issues in our communities. Based on my experience recording monthly radio commentaries, this roundtable will present ways to start writing for the radio, coming up with topics, and presenting commentary ideas to local stations.

What Will Attract and Persuade Blog Readers?

Patricia A. Dunn

Academics are used to writing for a particular audience with discipline specific expectations about academic evidence, research, and citation—the very elements that potential blog readers may avoid. How can we attract readers to our public writing, get them to rethink an issue in our blog, and get them to share it? We’ll look at some topics, titles, and formats of several blogs that have been shared widely. We’ll talk about selecting links for providing evidence, keeping the blog lively (and short), and using effective analogies.

Who wants to be the Village Explainer? Opening Conversations, Not Closing Them

Patricia Waters, Daneell Moore, and R. Buchanan

In rural areas the English teacher is often in the invidious position of being The Village Explainer: how can the professional communicate with non-professional audiences by meeting people where they are? How do we not lose sight of urgency but also not alienate where we need allies most?

Crafting Arguments for Change: Expanding Spheres of Influence

Trevor Thomas Stewart and George L. Boggs

This table will discuss the cultural resources employed by teachers who are speaking out in order to consider how teachers can position themselves as experts whose voices ought to count in education reform discussions. By discussing the rhetorical tools being employed by teachers who are currently speaking out online, our table will provide participants with an opportunity to develop practical strategies for engaging in civic action online while managing the risks associated with public dissent.

Telling the Positive Stories of Public Education

Steve Zemelman

To counter the ongoing propaganda attacking public schools, it’s essential not only to advocate for better education policies, but also to let the public know about the work of high quality teachers in their schools, and the meaningful learning their students experience. At this table, we’ll look at examples of published op-ed pieces by teachers, deduce some of their characteristics, get started on some writing ourselves, and brainstorm how to get through to news editors to get our stories published.

Know Thy Enemy

Jonathan Pelto

In his epic, The Art of War, Sun Tzu explains: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” This table will serve has a training session for understanding and tracking the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies through the use of opposition research techniques and tools.  Particular training will be provided on how to utilize federal and state campaign finance reports, IRS 990 forms reports submitted by non-profit corporations and for-profit filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission.   Participants will come away with a better understanding about how to learn more about the individuals and organizations seeking to undermine students, parents, teachers and public education.

Finding Our Public Voices: Building a Community of Writers around Writing for the Public

Ann D. David and Megan Janak

This roundtable will discuss how classroom teachers, preservice teachers, and a university professor developed their individual, public voices and began publishing for the public.  We will share both our process for forming and sustaining our writing community, and our individual experiences with writing for the public across a range of channels.

Blogging from the Inside Out: Mining Personal Stories for Larger Truths

Russ Walsh and Peter Anderson

As educators our days and nights are filled with stories of personal success and personal struggle as well as student success and student struggle. Stories, informative, humorous and tragic, are part of the life-blood of the veteran teacher. As bloggers, we can mine these stories to draw the reader into our world and then reach for the larger truths that these stories illuminate. In this round-table, we will share examples of how this has been done by education bloggers, analyze how it is done, and share techniques for developing engaging blogs based on personal, school-based experience.

Ed Philosophy Book Clubs: Creating Safe Spaces for Dialogue and Debate

Nicole Amato

Teachers are increasingly bound to curricular mandates or policies that directly conflict with what research argues is best for our students, teachers, and school communities.  This roundtable will look at the development and progression of an ed philosophy book club at a high school in Chicago, Illinois. The book club was designed with two goals in mind: to create a safe space for discussing campus polices and to arm teachers with high quality,timely, peer-reviewed research.

Podcast On Your Plan – Using Podcasting as Professional Development

Josh Flores and Lara Searcy

This roundtable will demonstrate how educators can use the podcast format to expand their voice, agency, and professional growth. Attendees will participate in a live podcast during the session in order to explore the hands-on application of “how to” podcast and become familiar with a currently active program, “Podcast On Your Plan.” “Podcast On Your Plan” episodes actively advocate for teachers’ voices by promoting teachers as a resource for professional learning communities and educator’s professional growth. Each podcast episode focuses on deconstructing the expertise of a classroom teacher and their pedagogy. Listeners are encouraged to discuss the practices and strategies presented in each episode with colleagues and reflect on their own pedagogical approaches to literacy.

Barbara Kingsolver: “everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up”

“So many of us have stood up for the marginalized,” explains writer Barbara Kingsolver in the wake of Trumplandia, “but never expected to be here ourselves,” adding:

It happened to us overnight, not for anything we did wrong but for what we know is right. Our first task is to stop shaming ourselves and claim our agenda. It may feel rude, unprofessional and risky to break the habit of respecting our government; we never wanted to be enemies of the state. But when that animosity mounts against us, everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up. Either one will have difficult consequences. That’s the choice we get.

She then calls for those of us with a social justice conscience to wear our hearts on our sleeves, including teachers:

If we’re teachers we explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in our classrooms under a bullying season that’s already opened in my town and probably yours. Language used by a president may enter this conversation. We say wrong is wrong.

I have been using the writing of Kingsolver in both my high school English classes and a variety of college courses since the 1990s, and my first book-length examination of teaching a writer focused on Kingsolver.

The most enduring writing from Kingsolver for me as a teacher has been her essay writing. And while Kingsolver’s politics drives her fiction—such as Flight Behavior—and her poetry, there is a artistry to her essays that allows her politics to meander instead of immediately provoking.

For example, her collection Small Wonder grew out of 9/11, and the essays speak powerfully with a progressive voice that is unlike the American character and that challenges the flag-waving patriotism/nationalism the terrorism spurred across the U.S.

And while Kingsolver actually lives her convictions, her newest confrontation of what Trump means for the U.S. reads as an intensified Kingsolver-as-activist.

“We refuse to disappear,” she announces.

The American character has long misread and misrepresented the label “political,” and the rise of Trump may have, as Kingsolver argues, brought about inadvertently the change promised by Obama: “everything we do becomes political: speaking up or not speaking up. Either one will have difficult consequences.”

But only one—speaking up in the name of the good and the equitable—has the potential for the sort of consequences a free people should be seeking.

“Out of Time” in Post-Truth Trumplandia

We’ve been through fake-a-breakdown
Self-hurt, plastics, collections
Self-help, self-pain
EST, psychics, fuck all

“Country Feedback,” R.E.M.

Maybe this is the stuff of Legend, or false memory—or that the Russians can hack even that—but it seems R.E.M. kept a running list of possible album titles as they recorded, a practice often including daring titles left to linger with the specter of a very unlike-R.E.M. outcome.

For the now 25-year-old Out of Time, that title, I recall, came from a final statement on that board—the band was out of time for submitting the recordings and title.

That the album most associated with R.E.M. and their delayed rise to pop culture fame, fueled as well by their becoming MTV darlings, has turned 25 in the year of electing Trump seems cruelly painful, and whether or not my recollection about how the album was named is factual has become irrelevant in post-truth Trumplandia.

Throughout the 1980s, R.E.M. was immediately loved by Rolling Stone and the so-called college radio crowd, and they were a touring alternative rock success—a reality that had much to do with fans and music critics recognizing that within the realm of popular music, R.E.M. took their craft seriously and were uniquely adept at that craft.

By the time the band angered those 1980s alternative fans by signing a huge record contract with Warner Brothers, and then (gasp) achieved fame with “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M. had become known as both a highly ethical band (making money but not selling out their artistic autonomy) and a political band; neither seemed to hurt the band in ways that other performers could not avoid (think many years later the fate of the Dixie Chicks).

Still now after the band has called it a day, after their fame dwindled into petty sniping at the albums produced after Bill Berry retired (Up, Reveal and Around the Sun unfairly slighted by critics and fans), after the inevitable rush to reconsider the enduring excellence once R.E.M. no longer was a practicing band—it is the politics of R.E.M. that fascinates me, from the more overtly political “Orange Crush” and “Ignoreland” to the ambiguously political “Fall on Me” or intimacy politics of “Tongue.”

Yes, Out of Time soared into the wider national and international consciousness with “Losing My Religion” as the least likely of hits (dare we say radio hit in the context of the album’s first song and the fact that this world is now a distant memory?) and an iconic tour-de-force in music videos.

But appreciating an album also requires taking the album as a whole:

Out of Time
01. Radio Song
02. Losing My Religion
03. Low
04. Near Wild Heaven
05. Endgame
06. Shiny Happy People
07. Belong
08. Half A World Away
09. Texarkana
10. Country Feedback
11. Me In Honey

The paradox of R.E.M., for me, is that the popularity of the band includes “Losing My Religion” and the odd controversy over the so-called too-poppy “Shiny Happy People”—and maybe that the album has guest vocals from KRS-One and Kate Pierson of the B-52s—but that many among those wider, late-to-the-party fans don’t understand: “I’m not sure all these people understand,” Stipe sings in the haunting and magnificent “Nightswimming.”

Maybe, just maybe, R.E.M. is about the politics of understanding, a call to the politics of intimacy.

Theirs is the art of the politics of the beautiful, of raising voices and instruments against all the unnecessary shit.

I fall in love hard with musical performers/groups and writers. And then I consume everything they create.

There is a direct line from my love affair with R.E.M. to The National, and especially with R.E.M. disbanding, my time and energy have been disproportionately committed to The National and CAKE.

So I have recently revisited Out of Time, and it has been lovely and tearful.

R.E.M. as the politics of the beautiful.

But the beautiful of Out of Time for me is “Low,” “Belong,” “Half a World Away,” and “Country Feedback.”

“I’ve had too much to drink/ I didn’t think, I didn’t think of you,” echoes into my bones—and then:

Oh, this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high-alive
Blind eye that turns to see
The storm it came up strong
It shook the trees and blew away our fear

The politics of the beautiful, the politics of understanding, the politics of intimacy.

“That’s me in the corner,” I suppose, “Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool.”

And I miss R.E.M.