Monday, November 20, 2006

Good Thoughts

I've just started reading Anne of Green Gables. I feel the need to fill an alarming gap in my childhood reading. This thought will sustain me for some time:

"--when you are imagining you might as well imagine something worthwhile--"

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Joy and Beauty of Fluid Argumentation

The loftiness of this post's title points to the floaty feeling I get when I see a class make knowledge happen. Today my apprentice ran two "debates" in class--complete with rebuttals--that made my little teacher heart sing! The students used research packets they had constructed on Wednesday to support their arguments for or against propositions related to the driving age. Nothing really new there, I suppose. The joy and beauty came after the initial arguments were made.

Both teams taking the negative approach (arguing against the propositions) decided to make counter proposals that upped the ante higher. Sure, the second debate's effectiveness was lessened by the repetition of the approaches, but what was so fascinating to me was how quickly the students adapted to the changing landscape of the argument and how the quality of the argumentation and refutation developed over the course of the two debates. It was like watching a paper or two go through successive drafting processes right before my eyes.

I'm hoping that the fluidity of that experience will carry over to the next class, since we had no time to discuss the debates at the end. If we had to do it again, I'd videotape the experience and replay the tape in a subsequent class for further discussion. I'd forgotten how closely related speech and writing are; this class period reinforced that connection for me in some useful and productive ways.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Food for Thought

In his forward to Reconstructing the University (Frank and Gabler), John W. Meyer summarizes the authors's insight into the University as follows:

...the university is more about establishing the cultural or religious map of the cosmos and of human action and structure in this cosmos than about facilitating particular activities within this system. The university is more about creating and installing the frame for the demonic powers of "man" than about technically enabling the powers themselves. (xiii)

There are times when I read little truths like this one and I think, "yes, this is exactly what I would mean to say if I were trying to articulate this point." Meyer's summary perfectly captures this idea of the university and encapsulates the precise reason why, for example, we will never be able to fully "prepare" a student for any real-world work experience. His point about the creation of cosmologies and frameworks really resonates with me as well; what has our struggle been, after all, if not about changing mindsets and teaching students to think in certain precriptive ways (no matter how much we delude ourselves otherwise?)?

Food for thoughts and thinkings.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Alternatives to Race-Based Admissions

I've long wondered why universities needed to factor race into admissions policies at all. The public debate over race-based admissions indicates that the only way to get the student from a disavantaged background is to use their race as an indicator of said status.

Not so, according to this Chronicle piece. Researchers are working on a formula to identify "strivers," students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are working hard and may be worthy of the admissions risk. The plus? These students are likely to come from the very races admissions officers seek.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I knew there was a reason why I studied words, why I teach students to be aware of the ways the words in their words operate. Words, apparantly, are dangerous.

Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinions of the U.S.

Of course, stories like this one make teachers look pretty dangerous...of falling down.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Sometimes blogs only contain one item, and the blogger becomes one lone voice with one lone purpose. This appears to be one of those items. I link it, however, because the one lone question, how do we deal with the new opportunities for plagiarism effectively, is worth chewing on for a while.

The Concerned Professor

Read the blog post. Then read the comments, the majority of which castigate the writer for being a "lazy" teacher or a whiner or a plant from the "Student of Fortune" website described. What is happening in this world?

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Computer in Every Lap?

I haven't even read this article and I feel compelled to post.

"Saying No To School Laptops"

I'm not a big fan of laptop initiatives, especially when it comes to primary and secondary education. My friends may find this funny, since my primary research interests and my livelihood are inextricably tied to the use of technology in the classroom. Let me explain.

I have yet to see a "killer app" for educational purposes, an application of technology that eclipses any of the more conventional methods of learning AND necessitates 24/7 access to a computer. Students don't need them to learn. Administrators, hardware and software manufacturers, parents, and teachers extol the values of increased access to technology, but I haven't heard or seen one compelling argument or piece of evidence that demonstrates a clear educational advantage.

Don't get me wrong: students need to learn to navigate technology to be employable in the current workforce. They should learn to do basic tasks on a computer. But that doesn't mean that the computer should be considered on par with the textbook, the notebook, the pen or pencil. It just means it should be available to them, in a lab setting, where they can practice.

What do laptop programs REALLY teach students? They teach them how to be good consumers of technology. When we start teaching students to master and create the technology, then I may reconsider my opinion.

I guess I should read that article now.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

What a Ride!

I've had, to put it mildly, a month. New job, new office, new computer, new classes. So much newness, in fact, that I couldn't do much to care for and maintain the old.

School has begun. The halls are teeming with first year students still feeling their way around campus. This afternoon I was treated to the sight of a young lady who appeared to belong to an entirely different world. Red leggings. Denim mini-skirt. Red and white striped boatneck top with white tank underneath. Red headband. All about the 80's, this one. Had it not been for one small detail, I might have thought I'd travelled back in time.

But it was the dog that anchored me in 2006. A Louis messenger bag with a matching dog carrier carrying a small dog (maybe a Norwich Terrier?) completed the look.

And so begins another year.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Book Writing

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: "What Are Book Editors Looking For?"

In short, apparantly they want the same things I want from student papers and my own writing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Banned Books

In class today, we discussed banned books, and the discussion was led by my very capable apprenctice. I got to participate, and was not surprised to learn that Robert Warren Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die had made the list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books.

I love this book. I taught it when I worked for the Institute for Reading Development, and while it was in many respects alien to my life, the themes of the story and the skill of the storyteller still resonate with me today. The story, intended for the young adult market, is graphic. The scene is the farm, and the father in the story slaughters pigs for a living. The son is given a pig as a reward for assistance to a local farmer. You can see the problem, can't you?

This is a story about the capricious harshness of life, the difficult necessity of growing up, and the beautiful moments in life that happen along the way. It's tough to read at points, but it always makes me laugh and cry and marvel at the persistence of spirit and life. Being reminded of it today was really, really good.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Teaching and Learning and Purpose

Whew! Took me a while to resurface. I'm thinking of moving this blog from Blogger over to my hosting service, but likely won't do that until September. The connection? Well, I didn't want to create a whole bunch of posts here that would need to be moved eventually. But I'll get over that.

As I've been going through my data files on this poetry project, I've been wondering what the purpose of teaching is, at least with regard to teaching literature. I've been saying for years that I think we in English teach writing and reading, not writing and literature, but I must always question what that means when I step into a classroom. I generally think that my role as instructor is to model reading for students, to demonstrate what it can look like to read a document thoroughly, but all too often that turns into giving students a reading instead of training them to read.

When I took courses in various literary topics, I frequently found myself trapped between my own readings of a text and the current tide. At times I felt it necessary to sublimate my reading to the prevailing one so that I could "get along." I didn't really like that feeling. I don't want to transmit that feeling to my students.

But when I think about putting together a course for an undergraduate major or a graduate student, I have to wonder how to get around ME. How do you develop a topical excursion without including your ego?

Much to ponder.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Literary Loners

I recently read Andy Greenwald's Miss Misery, a novel that fits firmly into the Guy Lit genre discussed in Michael Kimmel's Chronicle of Higher Education piece.

Sidebar: I'm amused that this man writing on novels for wussy men shares a last name with Jimmy Kimmel, former host of the tongue-in-cheek-manly Man Show.

I don't agree with Kimmel fully, although I do agree that these boy lit books are not very interesting in general. As a genre, I hope to see fewer and fewer of them in bookstores in years to come.

Sidebar: I read Nick Hornsby when he first arrived. I was amused. I wanted the man/men I was dating at that time to grow up, and the fantasy of a guy who could actually recognize that he needed to grow up but was still fun and daring and a bit juvenile was appealing. Perhaps I'm just getting old.

But I think Kimmel is skirting an issue which can't be ignored. Why are these books being written at all? What do they tell us about our young men? Kimmel writes,

Virtually every writer of guy lit is an almost-thirtysomething graduate of an elite college or university. Their college pedigrees read like the college rankings at a certain national magazine: Brown (Sam Lipsyte), Harvard (Benjamin Kunkel), Stanford (Erik Barmack), Wesleyan (Scott Mebus), Yale (Kyle Smith). Each writer, and their characters, lives in New York City. Each work is written in the first person, by a destabilized, unreliable narrator; these books are like one long run-on sentence of self-justification and rationalization. "I don't want your wholesome values, your reasonably good judgment," says Jeb Braun, protagonist in Erik Barmack's The Virgin. "My goal isn't to please you. So if you're expecting the whole handshake and nod routine, you can stop reading right now."

Elite. Destabilized. Unreliable. Self-justfication. Rationalization.

The long, whiney, boring, unfulfilling, and hyper-selfish "I". These books are the products of a lack of balance. I think I'm going to read Little Women again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why Tenure?

The Ward Churchill situation leads me to question the entire practice of tenure itself. What is its purpose and why do we fight so mightily to keep it? A few thoughts:

On the What and the Purpose:

As I understand it, tenure exists to provide job security. A tenured professor cannot be dismissed for arbitrary reasons (or budgetary). Rather, the tenured professor is guaranteed a job unless said professor commits some horrid infraction that gives a committee cause to release them from their post. Some other thoughts on tenure and its purpose can be found in this brief Wikipedia article*.

Of course, many would point to the tenure job protection as being related to academic freedom. A professor cannot (and should not) be fired for research that runs counter to authoritarian interests, for speaking and studying that which is considered protected. In the interest of free inquiry, we do our best to make those who teach and research in our universities safe from punishment by those who may disagree with the work that they do. That's a good thing.

Why Fight to Keep Tenure?

Because it protects professors. That's the oft-cited and general rationale for keeping the system. But I would be naive to assume that there aren't other motivations at work, the greatest being job security, not merely as a protection for unpopular sentiment-weilding, but just for the human need to feel secure in one's employment.

Why Am I Thinking About This?

Because I'm deciding what to do with my career. Do I pursue a tenure-track position, thereby putting my 36 year old self on a 6-7 year post-doctoral proving of worth that may end with me out on the street if I don't suceed?** Or do I pursue other avenues of employment in academia, relegating myself to more service-oriented activities, thereby shutting myself away from the faculty realm?***

Thinking continues.

Oh, and Ward Churchill--I just think they should let him go. If he has been found to have conducted his academic work in an irresponsible manner, then he shouldn't be entitled to maintain his tenured status.

* Yes, I am aware that Wikipedia isn't the most reliable of sources. I encourage you to help build its accuracy.
** If you don't get tenure, you don't stay at that university. Really, what would be the point? It would be like continuing to date someone who left you at the altar.
*** While this is an attractive option, my sense of this path is that it can curtail your ability to advance, since you kind of operate in more of a support role for the faculty. I could be wrong about that. ETA: I'm probably not wrong.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I'm currently reading Shari Stenberg's Professing and Pedagogy. Stenberg "reads" the major metaphors that define the professoriate (teacher as scholar, teacher as trainee, etc.) and calls out for a professoriate that focuses not on the transmission of mastered knowledge, but the learning of that knowledge by teacher and student.

A few random thoughts in this vein.

I've spent the last year as part of a mentoring program at my university, working alongside other TAs as we prepared to enter the academic workforce as tenure-track professors. I often question whether the track is for me and this book has focused in on much of what I fear about the professoriate.

I know that I don't know everything. I'm a much better teacher when my students know that as well, but trust me as a knowledgable guide. I learn every time I teach, and if I feel as though the material is stale for me, I shake it up and use something else, something new and fresh.

I have long struggled against disciplinarity and love my discipline (English) because it encompasses so very much. I hope that as I continue to grow professionally that I never lose sight of my teaching mission.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Why It's Good to Be In Loco

I just read a request on a LiveJournal community that has me puzzled. The poster is a student at a large land-grant university. This student lives in a residence hall. This student has injured him/herself and suspects a broken foot. The student wants to know how to get to the campus health center.

My first thought was "Call your RA". This didn't seem too crazy of a thought.

But apparantly it is. An RA in that particular dormitory replied and suggested that the student get some friends to help them downstairs. Apparantly, we've gotten to the point where RAs aren't allowed to take injured students to the campus health center.

I call shenanigans.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sittin' in Kinko's

I'm waiting for my sweetie to pick me up and I'm paying for
the privilege to use Kinko's workstations, so I figure I'd
better get some posting that's productive out of it. If only
I'd brought along my diss work.

But I can write a bit about it. I'm studying student written
responses to poems they've read. Students were asked to
interact with 5 different poems over a series of assignments.
They could mark a particular poetic device, insert thoughts
and comments into the poem's text, and write a few paragraphs
to discuss the poem in relation to a prompt. I hope to find
out a bit about what types of things students will do when
reading a poem. What do they gravitate toward?

So far, it seems that they are most comfortable identifying
rhyme (big surprise) and are fairly clueless about how to
count meter (cause there aren't that many poems that utilize
heptameter). They love the iamb and are pretty sure when
something's being personified. They tend to think about poems
as stories or narratives unfolding and rarely will critical
theory pop into the discussion. When they try to place items
historically, they tend to gravitate toward the Renaissance,
even though none of the poems they were asked to read were
remotely related to the Bard.

They are more likely to mark and tag a word or phrase than
comment on their reading intertextually. They are relatively
good at responding to prompts, although they will often go
off on their own tangents. They can see that something is
being personified (or identify some other poetic device), but
don't often incorporate that device into their assessment of
the work.

In short--they are reading, and they have some skill with
reading, but they aren't really reading the way (I think) we
want them to read a poem. Knowing about the narrative impulse
gives, I think, a place to start with instruction. But how to
get students to identify their own emotional reaction to the
poem and to use that as a springboard for connection?

Mail Post

How cool that I can post via email. What silliness will this produce, I wonder?

The King. The I.

I'm watching The King and I on one of those cable channels. First I thought "Fairy Tale of Conquest", since to some extent that's what it is. The king dies in the end, having brought in this Western influence (mother and son) which will transform his country.

The scene between King and firstborn son, a scene following on the heels of that business about young lovers, made me think that perhaps the tale is of easy conquest--how easy it is/was to supplant non-literate cultural beliefs with literate ones. And how quickly the King tosses off the idea that he must Know all and becomes comfortable with ambiguity and Not Knowing. How very pomo.

And then I think...well, how hard it must be, then, to throw off/supplant/eradicate that which is founded in literacy, in the book.

And then I thought about My Fair Lady, which Steve and I chatted about last night. He thinks it's the perfect mucical, and I'm inclined to agree. But talk about conquest...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The New

Here's a new post for a new day...and maybe for a new life for this blog. With a new name and a new theme (or a continuation of the old one) I can get a new outlook on the new challenges that face me.

Or this can just be a (re)new(ed) way for me to not follow through. Tune in next week...