Portfolio

Shot Across the River Styx: I met Nick when I was thirteen. We became fast friends. Nick shot himself when he was twenty-two. Nick’s parents attended my wedding ten years later. They were in such pain. I guess I was too. Nick often came to me in my dreams after his suicide. So I decided I would travel to him. This book is the story of my journey into the afterlife, that space between spaces. This is a funeral ceremony for my friend Nick.

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Determined Weeds: My mother lost her first three babies. The first was never named. The second, Jayson, was stillborn. Christa was four months premature. She lived one week before passing away in Mom’s arms. My sister Christie was born next. She was also four months premature. Despite assurances that she would not live, Christie left the hospital after an extended stay in an incubator. Christie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but she survived. Doctors told my mother that she should not try and have any more children. Despite their objections, Mom gave birth to me four years later. I was healthy. My father, a Jew for Jesus freak, named me Samuel. My Hebrew name was Sh’muel—this means “God Listens.” I was the answer to my parent’s prayers. Mom started drinking after I turned four. She was an alcoholic by the time I was seven. This was when my parents got a divorce. My father was awarded custody of my sister and me because Mom was destroying herself. Over twenty years after Mom left me, her second husband—my stepfather Jim—shot himself in the head. I tried to insert myself back into my mother’s life. I wanted to help this woman who had lived through so much trauma. Mom refused my help, choosing alcohol and pain pills instead of a relationship with her son. A mother’s love is a powerful force. Despite Mom’s determination, I loved her. In fact, Mom’s obstinacy was responsible for my birth. She was determined to have her own way. This was true when it came to creating life as well as destroying it. This book is a eulogy for my mother. It is the story of how I learned to take the good that was in her, separate it from the bad, and cope with her absence. This is a story of moving forward in an enormous, complicated universe.

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Playing with Sharp Objects: I’m surprised I became a high school teacher. I both loathe and love school, for what it is and what it could be. My feelings about education are complex. The book tells the schizophrenic, often humorous story of my teaching career—a career in which I was voted most inspirational teacher and suspended for inappropriate conduct in the same year. I open the book with my humorous, dysfunctional experiences as a student to foreground the more weighty story of my teaching career. This surreal work of linear nonfiction is bookended by a prologue and epilogue in which I discuss watching kids create and destroy card houses in a 9th grade study hall. I use this story to wonder how people can come together to create meaningful things. We are capable of so much, yes, but we have to build rather than destroy. My time in schools taught me this lesson over and over again.

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Whiteness, Pedagogy, Youth and America: This book employs a narrative approach to recount and interpret the story of an innovative teaching and learning project about whiteness. By offering a first-hand description of a nationally-recognized, high school-based Youth Participatory Action Research project—The Whiteness Project—this book draws out the conflicts and complexities at the core of white students’ racial identities. Critical of the essentializing frameworks traditionally given to address white privilege, this volume advances a distinctive and theoretically robust account of ‘second-wave critical whiteness pedagogy’.

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Check out a selection of my academic essays and articles.

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