Virginia Apgar’s Perfect Face

Gardner Campbell during his ‘Ecologies of Yearning’ keynote:

I now religiously, ritually give my students an APGAR test at the beginning of every class meeting so we can find out whether the class is likely to thrive or whether we have a ‘blue baby’ class that day. And I refuse to do it without Virginia Apgar at the top of the slide because look at her perfect face.

She was a paediatric anaesthesiologist who used to carry a trach kit with her on the subways of New York City and if your airway was blocked you would welcome the scalpel, she knew you would! She was ready to pop it up to another level. They wouldn’t let her become a surgeon because she was a woman, but she figured out something awfully mighty and I thought, ‘I wonder if I can transcontextualise that?’ I didn’t know that was what I was doing, I thought I was just being loony.

So I said, ‘What if we give a quiz to students to stress to them, not that they need specific recall this moment of the thing they just read (important as that is), they need to have a habit of being that would do very confusing things in their lives’ – like urge them to read the assigned material twice, or would ask them ‘did you read any unassigned material?’ Which of course they don’t do because we have syllabi that are 15 pages long specifying everything. They’re probably afraid that if they read something unassigned, they’d have a question, they’d raise their hand and the teacher would say, ‘What a great question! We don’t have time for that right now, we have to cover something.’ I mean, I have put this together as a way to suggest to students — here are some habits of being you might find helpful, certainly counter-intuitive.

I loved that talk the first time I watched it. I loved it so much I watched it a number of times. On one Saturday night I did something very confusing with Virginia Apgar’s perfect face. I took Gardner’s quiz and turned it into a little webpage, powered by Javascript. The idea was that you would nominate your responses, your teacher’s Twitter username and class hashtag (assuming it had one) and it would generate your score and post that information to Twitter.

The mechanics of it posed some interesting challenges. Working with radio buttons made me remember that they don’t function in the same way as other HTML form elements, each group is really a kind of array — you have to loop through all of the options to discover which one is true.

I had never created anything that interfaced with Twitter before. But even this proved relatively easy with Twitter’s development documentation on the Tweet Button.

There were syntax issues, bugs to find and rectify — the kind of stuff that makes programming maddening but also ultimately rewarding.

The thing that amused me in that moment, the thing that amuses me still, is that this took place as I was dragging my heels. Not only was this unassigned work, it was actually my way of procrastinating over the assigned work. I am a web design student. I was avoiding creating an interactive webpage with Javascript by creating an interactive webpage with Javascript. And in this moment it is hard for me to imagine anything more counter-intuitive than that.

[As an aside: while I am typing this blog post I am listening to a randomly selected Tori Amos concert on YouTube. As I re-read my draft one last time I realised Tori was performing a song titled, ‘Virginia.’]

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment