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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pawnee Bill, The Wild West Show and the Ever-Changing American Identity

21st-century American identity and the 19th-century Wild West Shows are tied together in deep, often surprising ways. They persist and shape our cultural productions and even the way the world frames their political and economic discussions with and about the U.S. To understand why and how, it is useful to take a look at historical documents, artifacts, and reenactments. The Pawnee Bill Wild West Show is an example, and it takes place June 10-11, 2016, in Pawnee, Oklahoma.

The Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum has arguably the world's most comprehensive collection of Wild West Show artifacts. It was the home and ranch of Pawnee Bill, whose Wild West Shows persisted in one form or another, always bigger and better, for more than 25 years, from the late 19th century through the early 20th century.

Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, Pawnee, Oklahoma
 The annual reenactment of the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show takes place each year the second week of June. It spans two days, and starts with a parade at the town square in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and ends up at the site of the Pawnee Bill Ranch, where there are permanent show grounds, as well as a museum and preserved mansion, barn, and other outbuildings. The site also contains a working ranch with American bison, horses, and cattle.

The importance of the Wild West Show as entertainment is indisputable. Wild West Shows were popular both in the major cities as well as in rural America. For the inhabitants of the urban areas, the Wild West Shows represented a dramatic spectacle that fascinated those who attended, and who held a complicated and complex notion of the American West, at once the great, vast frontier of boundless potential, while also representing the darkest recesses of the human psyche, where violence, lawlessness, unthwarted desire, and danger abounded.

Interview with Erin Brown, Curator of Collections, Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum

 If America was the place of the "Great Re-Invention" as immigrants arrived with the idea of establishing not only new prosperous lives, but also new identities, then the "Wild West" was a place of absolute flux in terms of identities. It was a place where men wore hair as long as women, and ornamented themselves in silver, turquoise, and gold. It was a place where women stood on the back of horses and out-shot the men in accuracy and aplomb. 

It was also a place of caricatures and pernicious stereotypes, as commonly held and communicated ideas were routinely strip Native Americans, African Americans, Mexicans, Asians, and other groups of their humanity and even their lives.

The Wild West Show was, above all, a spectacle, with dramatic costumes, sharpshooting, rope tricks, stage coach robberies, horseback football, and other events.  Like a Las Vegas show a century later, the goal was to entertain the masses, and to have them arrive with dreams and stars in their eyes, all conveniently manufactured by the mass media of the day: dime novels, early moving pictures, handbills, daguerrotypes, ink prints, serialized stories in newspapers, costumes, and jewelry.

But, the question becomes, which came first: the dime novel or the Wild West Show? And, then, how did that shape the notion of American Identity?

The barrier between the two is miscible: think of the Wild West Show and the notion of American identity as fluids that constantly move back and forth, constantly mixing and changing.

Why does it matter?  Here are a few questions that are triggered by considering the Wild West Show and American identity:

* What part of "Wild West" shapes current ideas of identity?
* Where and when did the exploits of the "Wild West" merge into science fiction genres?
* Where does the Wild West Show show up in science fiction movies, television, and novels?
*What are the key characteristics of Wild West personae and the dramas depicted in the enactments of the show?

On the day of the show, many people come to Pawnee and role play their favorite Western characters (historical, cultural, or mythical). Here is the film / literature character from True Grit, Rooster Cogburn (enacted by Dr. Benes)
 Here are a few initial thoughts about characteristics of the Wild West Show and the archetypes / mythos that are generated and perpetuated:

    Clash between good and evil
    Showdowns and shoot-outs (duels, updated)
    "Cowboy" values: what do you stand for if you wear the white hat?
    "Outlaw" values:  what do you stand for if you wear the black hat?
    A place where anti-heroes prevail (the outsider, the outlaw, the disenfranchised, the outside-the-norm)
        Independent women (female ranchers)
        Tribes fighting to the death against the forces have sought to destroy them
        Counter-Christian beliefs
        The outlaw (of all kinds)
        The saloon girl / prostitute as a normalized female
        The Mexican wanderer / seeker
        The warrior who subjects himself to a "dark night of the soul"
        The vision quester
        Uncorsetted female
        The loner (often traumatized veteran)

May Lillie, of the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show

Perhaps all these questions and ruminations would be simply a pleasing anachronism, except that the ideas persist.

While some of the stereotypes are pernicious, others are very liberating and they encourage acceptance of individual difference. Further, they are constantly in flux, and form a part of a cultural mythos that is perhaps not as well understood as we need it to be, particularly as we live in a time of instant mass communication and rapid-fire meme generation. 

We need to know when we're responding to an image or a set of behaviors because we've been conditioned to do so by the socialization processes embodied in cultural myth and mythos.

Scenes from the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, 2015
Blacksmith Adam

Chariot: Kevin Dibble

Drill Team Dibble

Mike Pahsetopah, Fancy Dancer

Contact information:  
Erin Brown /
Ronny Brown / 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid: A Worksheet and an Analytical Response

Jamaica Kincaid's short story, "Girl" (1978) is remarkable in the way that it captures a personal voice expressed through what appears at first glance to be either the voice of an admonishing mother, or a stream of consciousness or an internal dialogue. The voice is powerful and it conveys the identity of the narrator by means of a series of guidelines, reminders, and "notes to self" that show the social construction of identity, as well as the way that one defines oneself by means of daily tasks.

The original publication:

Because the story does not tell the reader who the narrator is, the reader may make assumptions.

In order to analyze the story, it is often a good idea to create a list of guiding questions and then systematically answer them as you refer to the text.

How does the story begin? What are the activities? What do they entail?

When I delve into the story, I find myself a bit off-balance. It’s hard to tell who the narrator is, and what exactly is going on. My first impulse is to assume it’s an internal monologue – one of the voices that tends to inhabit the recesses of one’s mind, and which, when analyzed, tend to be a composite of the voices that we listened to and abided, which is to say we respected them to the point that we internalized them, for good or for worse.

This voice is not a very nurturing voice, and after I read further, I see that there is a bit of “talking back” so that instead of an internal monologue, it is, at the very least, a dialogue.

The question is, “Is it internal? Or, is the voice an external one?” The next question is, “How and why might it matter?”

Who is the narrator? 

The narrative is speaking in second person and she is addressing the “girl” of the title.

There are at least two possibilities for the narrator: First, she could be the girl herself.

Or, second, she could be the mother of the girl.

How does the narrator express her thoughts?  How does her manner of expressing the thoughts in second person impact the reader? 

The narrator expresses her thoughts in the form of a series of commands, practical guidance, admonitions, veiled insults, and commentary on the kind of life / context she lives in. The reader can detect a rage at the limitations of her life and also the need to conform to social norms and adhere to strictures.

How does the author use concrete descriptions and vivid details? 

The passage is filled with specific names and unique terms which give the text a very unique flavor; they locate it squarely within the culture of the Caribbean, without actually saying which island.

The use of idiolect for the names of music and also the names of herbs, foods, and activities clearly locate the narrative within a specific place / time / socio-economic context.

“Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap” (, 1978)
 (hand-washing clothes, indicates the narrator is poor or at least that there are very basic clothes-washing techniques)

“is it true you sing benna in Sunday school?”
(benna refers a calypso-type genre, characterized by scandalous gossip – indicates the story takes place in Antigua)

“when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water”
(dasheen is a variant spelling of “dachine” which is the French for taro root, a starchy plant used for different dishes)

Where do you find repetitions?  Of activities? Of descriptions? Please list the specific examples or phrases.

There are a number of repetitions of the proper way to do household chores, but mainly the chores and tasks that a girl is expected to know

There are many repetitions of admonitions to not appear slatternly or “like the whore I know you are so bent on becoming”

From the details provided, what can you surmise about the narrator? What does she do? What is the level of technology that surrounds her? Please list the specific examples or phrases. What might the context be, in terms of socio-economic or cultural issues? 

The narrator lives somewhere in the Caribbean and is very concerned about the proper way to conduct oneself in order to be respected within her society.  It is not clear whether or not she is poor, working class, or middle class, but one senses that she is in a lower socio-economic level because of the number of tasks that have to be done, and there does not seem to be automation or assistance.
The narrator is female. She may be the mother of the girl. If so, she is very strict and exacting, and her admonitions are very clear. They may be done with the goal of protecting the daughter and giving her a future. However, there are so many insulting and demeaning sentences interspersed that one cannot read the passage without feeling a sense of tension and creeping despair.

If the narrator is the girl herself who has internalized the voice of the mother (or the collective consciousness of her context), it is very sad because one can see the internal landscape of repression, self-censoring, self-limitation, and above all, a profound inability to accept herself as she is.

Granted, a socialization process requires some changes to be made to oneself, but socialization processes should not require absolute extermination or extinction.

What are some of the values that are expressed in the passage?  How do you know? Please list the specific examples or phrases. 

This text is, in essence, a normative text.

It deals with social norms as well as family norms, particularly as they relate to the behavior and values of a young girl or an adolescent.

They are clearly sowing the seeds of rebellion, which may be healthy in its way, if it means being able to have the strength and courage to think for oneself.

However,  the micromanaging prescriptiveness of the admonitions (After all, why wash whites on Mondays?  Why not Tuesday? What are the reasons for the edicts?) is constant (and sets up a rhythmic structure in the text, kind of an anti-benna).

Further, the constant insinuation that there is socially reprehensible behavior just bursting to break free (“singing benna at Sunday school,” walking around in a dress “with the hem coming down and .. looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming” ) or having to conceal that nature (“they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming”), generates a remarkable tension in the text. It seems to be just the narrative to function as a self-fulfilling prophecy (!)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor, Western Governors University (WGU) Washington

Welcome to an interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. Western Governors University (WGU) has been a leader in the development and delivery of online learning and has been at the forefront of establishing best practices. A flagship and guide for all organizations seeking to provide accredited, high-quality online degrees, Western Governors University has maintained a commitment to competency-based online learning, and has maintained high standards. Now, Western Governors University has partnered with the State of Washington establish WGU-Washington specifically to accommodate the needs of the citizens of Washington. 

1.    What is your name and your involvement in eLearning?
I am Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. I’ve devoted my entire career to higher education – including over 22 years as the President of Bellevue College, where we were an early pioneer in e-Learning.  Drawn to its competency-based, mentor-supported, affordable online delivery model, I joined WGU in 2011 as the first Chancellor for Washington.

Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University Washington
2.    What is WGU Washington, and what is its history, mission, vision?
Western Governors University – WGU Washington’s “parent” organization – was founded by 19 governors of Western states in 1997.  At that time, they knew education was becoming even more important to meet the needs of a growing knowledge-based economy. Their vision was to make education more available to people in their states. They wanted to create a new type of university that captured the power of the internet to transform the way education was delivered and evaluated student learning and awarded credentials based on demonstrated competencies. They wanted it to be affordable – so people would not have to go into debt to earn a degree – and open to anyone who could benefit from the programs. 

WGU has not veered from this founding vision. It is what drives us today.

In 2010, Indiana  Governor Mitch Daniels entered into the first agreement to bring a state-based WGU affiliate into a state.

Then, five years ago this spring, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation establishing a partnership with WGU. The legislative intent was to expand access to affordable, higher education for Washington residents. The result of that partnership is WGU Washington – the first and only legislatively-endorsed, online university in our state.

The impetus for the partnership in Washington came from community and technical colleges and legislators who knew more enrollment opportunities were needed in Washington, especially for transfer students. While more capacity was needed, budget shortfalls during the recession were making its funding impossible. WGU Washington operates on tuition only and is not dependent on state-funding or tax dollars to operate.

WGU Washington offers more than 50 job-ready bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four, high-demand fields: business, IT, teaching and nursing. WGU is the innovator of competency-based learning, a model that evaluates students and permits them to advance when they’ve proven what they know and can do, as opposed to the traditional model of using “seat-time” to measure progress. Competency-based education allows students the flexibility to work and learn at their own schedule – at a pace that works for them.

The flat rate tuition of about $3000 per six-month term permits students to take as many classes as they can, often accelerating their progress towards a degree and reducing costs. And, by the way, WGU’s surprisingly low tuition includes text books and additional learning resources! All of which keeps the cost of one’s education very affordable.  In fact, the average time for this year’s graduates to obtain a bachelor’s degree was 26 months for a bachelor’s degree and 21 months for a master’s degree.  The national average is 60 months! 

Delivered online, the model is suited well for hardworking adults who often have trouble balancing school, families, and work. Because WGU’s content is delivered online, students may study at any time and from any place – during breaks, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, or on public transit.  This permits many people to work their education into already busy lives. 

Our students are non-traditional learners. Their average age is 37 and many of them, 68 percent to be exact, are classified as underserved, meaning they live in rural areas or have low incomes.   More than a third of our students are the first in their families to attend college – a fact that makes us proud. 

3.    What does WGU Washington do? How is it unique?
WGU Washington helps hardworking Washingtonians to change their lives by qualifying them for positions that carry a living wage – enabling them to take jobs as nurses, teachers, IT or business professionals, or to qualify for advancement or even change fields altogether.

WGU uses a pioneering, competency-based model that allows working adults to apply the knowledge they have gained through work experience and previous education towards their degree, enabling them to focus on learning what they need to, when they need to.  Rather than award credit for time spent in class and listening to a single message that goes to every student, WGU Washington presents content that students cover at their own pace. Additionally, the model allows students to advance when they demonstrate they’ve mastered the course material – at a level that prepares them for professional effectiveness – by passing “high fidelity” assessments, both objective and performance based.  This unique model allows time, place, and pace-bound learners to pursue their degrees.

Studies have predicted that by 2018, 67 percent of jobs statewide here in Washington will require postsecondary education. Washingtonians— including busy adults who already have jobs, families, and lifestyles that make a traditional university setting unrealistic — will need to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees to qualify for these positions. WGU Washington is able to open doors for these nontraditional students and make further education possible.  For example, WGU Washington is a perfect choice for registered nurses who received an associate’s degree from a community college and are now expected by their employers to complete their bachelor’s in nursing.  With the challenging hours nurses work, WGU Washington offers the flexibility to complete the degree on their own schedules.  It is also a great choice for military personnel and their dependents who may be transferred often. They can attend WGU and never have to worry about transferring credits at their new duty station.

4.    How did WGU start to achieve its goals?
WGU Washington is proud to be part of the higher education family in Washington.  It provides a viable option to many Washingtonians, because of its affordability and accessibility, who thought getting a degree was just a distant dream.

In just five years, the university’s enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 percent from roughly 800 students in 2011 to more than 9,000 full-time students statewide today.

WGU Washington is the locally-based affiliate of Western Governors University – or, simply, WGU. WGU currently serves over 70,000 students nationally. Interestingly, Washington is home to more WGU students than any other state in the country. In addition, nearly 6,000 men and women in Washington have earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees in career-focused fields from WGU.

This staggering growth highlights the demand for the type of education WGU Washington offers.  The needs of nontraditional students – those who are historically underserved – are different from the needs of a typical undergraduate.  WGU Washington provides access to higher education for people that wouldn’t be able to earn degrees otherwise.

And when students meet their goals, our university meets its goals – goals focused on high quality, affordable and accessible higher education for students statewide.

Both students and their employers report high satisfaction with WGU.  Student satisfaction is 96%, and 100% of our employers say our grads are well-prepared for their jobs. That is what makes it all worthwhile! 

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