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Blue Unit: Computational Tinkering

4A: Sharing Our Counterstories

Background Knowledge Probe

  • What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read or hear the word community?
  • The word culture and/or ethnicity?
  • The word wealth?
  • What is the first thing that you say when someone asks you about yourself in relation to one or more of these terms?

A Self-Reflection on Sociotechnical Systems

My mother and my father’s parents came to the United States in their 20s. Each of their journeys began in Eastern Europe, where they were a part of Volhynian German communities. My family’s roots in the Volhynia region go back to the 1850s. Of those family members who lived through destruction of lands, forced starvation, and deportation to Siberia, some of my relatives have remained there, while others of my close family moved to Germany, the United States, and Canada. Some moved before World War I, including a great grandfather, some moved between the wars, including my father’s parents, and some only moved at the end of World War II, including my mother. Some participated as soldiers in the German military, some the Russian military, some the American military; some were soldiers, some interpreters, some medics. Some were early Eastern European participants and leaders of a Midwestern American Christian religion with a commitment to pacifism. Others claimed to be 13 generations “pure” — a racist concept of purity that does not have a scientific basis — and so were allowed by government officials to become members of the Nazi party. All made great sacrifices to protect other family members directly and indirectly. But always we sang, played instruments, and celebrated life to its fullest.

I was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in the same hospital as my father. My grandfather, grandmother, and all my uncles and aunts on my father’s side lived within a one-mile radius. Much of my grandmother’s family, including my uncle, lived a few miles away in another nearby community. Later in life, I learned that my father faced challenges in elementary school because of his health issues, immediate connection to German immigrants, and the associated name-calling based on these. The region where I grew up was one of the areas where the Volhynian Germans found the needed support to immigrate. And they remained together to provide essential community cultural support, just as they had in the Volhynian region before they fled violence, forced recruitment, and civil wars. I am a child and grandchild of immigrants, and I am ethnically of this culture.

My middle and high school days, and my junior college days as well, brought me from the farming community into spaces primarily attended by students of color. And I thrived, participating in a range of in-class and extracurricular music and acting events. I am from a family of tinkers, although recent generations are not the formally-defined tinkers: people within itinerant communities who travel from place to place to mend metal utensils and other home and farm implements. It is from these many different lenses that I reflect on my past and present cultural and ethnic identities and values and explore my future possibilities.

I am one of the first in my families’ direct line to receive advanced degrees, even though my speaking, writing, and explorations sometimes haven’t fit within expected norms and practices. I also reflect on my identity as a white, cisgender, heterosexual male scholar working at a higher education institution in the United States. Through this, I have great privilege that arises in significant ways through the arrival of the first European settlers on the shores of this continent centuries ago and the introduction of a culture in which the relative worth of whites has been placed above all others.[1]

In this self-reflection, I come to see myself as a person born into and thereby inheriting many different socio-cultural-historical components. I am a first-generation German American; I am ethnically a German Christian socialist pacifist who also has disturbing, close links to Nazism and who inherits the centuries-long embeddedness of American white supremacy. But in addition, I also see myself as a person further shaped by my ongoing interactions with family, neighbors, schoolmates, the broader community, and more as my sphere of influence continued to evolve. Importantly, while much of this shaping comes from those whose socio-cultural-historical components are similar to mine, at times, whether through chance or through choice, abductive leaps in my development have occurred through associations with groups different from me.

In “Whose Culture has Capital?” Tara Yosso brings forward the essential importance of focusing on and learning from “the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged” brought forward by communities of color. In this context, she states that:

Culture refers to behaviors and values that are learned, shared, and exhibited by a group of people. Culture is also evidenced in material and nonmaterial productions of people.[2]

Community cultural wealth is an array of knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist macro and micro-forms of oppression.[3]

Tara J. Yosso, “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth”

My own cultural influences have come in conflict with the dominant systems within which I have been shaped over my personal lifespan. But it is also true that I sometimes, and perhaps often, fit into these dominant systems specifically because of my white, cisgender, heterosexual male identity. And sometimes I fit in because I have taken on as part of my practice the dominant systems. And sometimes, perhaps even often, I inculcate the practices of those dominant systems into my students and into my socio-technical artifacts. Rather than focusing on and learning from socially marginalized groups, I emphasize dominant narratives, structures, artifacts, and systems.

Yet, I also continue to consider the ways my culture and ethnic identity matches that of my family — who often de-emphasized income and wealth accumulation and instead emphasized the broader community cultural wealth within Yosso’s model, which includes aspirational, familial, social, navigational, resistant, linguistic, and cultural capital.

In what ways do the pedagogy of this textbook and the hands-on exercises therein serve the goal of education “to ‘fit’ students constructed as ‘other’ by virtue of their race/ethnicity, language, or social class into a hierarchical structure that is defined as a meritocracy,” as so effectively highlighted by Gloria Ladson-Billings in her seminal article “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy”?[4]

The Blue Unit has sought to introduce the essential skills needed in support of the data-to-information pipeline fostering computational tinkering. We’ve explored the journeys of hardware and programming logic that have brought us to this point within the socio-technical artifacts of our daily lives, and the methodological landscape we can use to decodify the dominant understandings of these artifacts. Now the question turns to ways we can “systematically include student culture in the classroom as authorized or official knowledge,” leading to recodification of the essential defining terms and skills of our everyday technologies.[5] To do so, we need to continuously research the self, research the self in relation to others, join in engaged reflection and representation, and shift from self to system. These four key points constitute the framework brought forward by H. Richard Milner IV in the article “Race, Culture, and Researcher Positionality.”

And directly as related to this session of the book, these four key points hopefully provide a means by which we can question anew our own counterstories.

The essential resources listed below have been an active part of my more recent works to structure my own courses and structure the layout of this textbook. My personal reflections at the start of this chapter are not placed in this section to defend or justify the works of the Blue Unit, or of the textbook more generally. Rather, I bring them forward as a hopefully useful example of an individual’s self-reflection and location within a unique, interdependent system of cultures and ethnicities. This system influences my participation in, and attempts to counter, the webs of oppression which discriminate against and disadvantage certain races, classes, and genders over others. And it seeks to prompt a guiding question for the remainder of this unit: how can we, as a community of practice, work to further design and prototype our work in ways that allow us as professionals to counter the normative webs of oppression around us as we move forward?

Lesson Plan

As you work in our hands-on exercises, consider the influencing factors shaping the information system you create. MakeCode, the capacitive touch sensors and the momentary switch buttons of the Circuit Playground Express come together to collect inputs and determine audio outputs. These inputs can even be stored to track requests. Why is this information system the primary technical exercise for the Blue Unit? What cultural and pedagogical factors might have shaped the design of this unit? For the advancement of what capital? In what ways is the design of these coding exercises helping or hindering the advancement of the core learning outcome objectives for this unit? Why?

Essential Resources:

  • Yosso, Tara J. “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.” Race Ethnicity and Education 8, no. 1 (March 2005): 69–91.
  • Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” American Educational Research Journal 32, no. 3 (September 1995): 465–91.
  • Milner, H. Richard. “Race, Culture, and Researcher Positionality: Working Through Dangers Seen, Unseen, and Unforeseen.” Educational Researcher 36, no. 7 (October 2007): 388–400.

Professional Journal Reflections:

  1. Take time this week to pause and silently reflect on the reading of the words within this chapter and within the essential resources. Silently reflect on the different contexts from which these come. And silently reflect on the coding activities of this session. Reflect but don’t write. Not yet.
  2. Now silently reflect on your self, and your self in relation to others in this community of inquiry. Reflect but don’t write. Not yet.
  3. Now silently reflect on your ongoing explorations of what it means to be a professional within the information sciences, within informatics, and/or within a profession that facilitates the selection, adaptation, training, and use of information systems. Reflect but don’t write. Not yet.
  4. Yet: Bring these silent reflections together into one or several written, drawn, or spoken Professional Journal Reflections.

  1. Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Implementation Guide, December 2016, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 7.
  2. Tara J. Yosso, “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth,” Race Ethnicity and Education 8, no. 1 (March 2005): 75.
  3. Yosso, “Whose Culture Has Capital?”, 77.
  4. Gloria Ladson-Billings, “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” American Educational Research Journal 32, no. 3 (September 1995): 467.
  5. Ladson-Billings, “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” 483.


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology Copyright © 2020 by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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