Behind the Textbook: What Didn’t Work and Why

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When gathering potential readings, there’s always heartbreak along the way—pieces I desperately want to use that just won’t work, and pieces I so want to find that just don’t seem to exist.  Here are some examples:
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.Skloot’s history of Henrietta Lacks, whose tumor cells became the most important line of laboratory cells ever (called HeLa), touched on so many issues I would love for students to think about: race, the body, medicine, technology, privacy, social justice, and much more. The problem is that Skloot’s work is so narrative and so continuous. It’s just impossible to excerpt. That was a heartbreaker.
  • Lady GagaI really want to find a smart and savvy piece about Gaga. I know it she is someone students would find engaging, and I also know the subject has a lot of potential: pop culture, self-image, fashion, gender, and more. But I haven’t been able to find anything of any substance—at least not yet.
  • The Svalbard Seed VaultIf you haven’t heard of the seed vault in Svalbard, Norway it’s worth looking up. It’s a kind of “doomsday vault” built into a frozen mountain and designed to store seeds and genetic samples from crops around the world. It’s a cool project and also one that lies at the intersection of all kinds of ideas—such as globalization, genetics, world hunger, agribusiness, and monocultures. However, the piece I found about the vault was very short and very thin.
  • Lesbian Syrian Blogger HoaxI had also really hoped to find something about the controversy around Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, the lesbian Syrian author of the blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” whom the world at first believed had been kidnapped and consequently discovered wasn’t a woman at all but Tom McMaster, a 40-year-old man from Edinburgh. As with all of these readings, this situation has great potential. The entire incident involves so many issues: gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, new media, Middle East, Islam, feminism, the blog as a genre. Sadly, I’ve only been able to find news reports about the whole affair. No one has written the essay I have in my head.
I guess the good news is that for all we didn’t find there is so much more that we did find—some of it what I had hoped for but a lot of it that surprised me. In my next post, I’ll share a little about the extensive process by which these initial readings get winnowed down.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.