It is for a Doctoral Seminar on Rhetoric and Composition
I really enjoyed our first meeting today as am sure everyone else did as well, judging from the laughter and enthusiasm generating from everyone in there.
So I thought I would begin to explore a few things, possibly related to my focus, or maybe not. Although these entries may be more informal than the last. Please let me know if I am rambling too much or somewhat disorganized in my approach here.
I particularly found interesting a paper titled "Against Reading" by Katherine Haake
in -Can It Really Be Taught?: Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy. Edited by Kelly Ritter and Stephanie Vanderslice. Haake argues that extensive reading by itself is not a cure-all for what ails the creative writer, and that reading alone won't make the writer necessarily better at her craft. The implications of this are interesting as they relate to the "Bullshit" essay as well.
As an undergraduate Library Reference Assistant at UNLV, I worked with the Humanities librarian, who got her B.A. in English before pursuing her M.L.S. She admitted that she read very few of the assigned books in college and got by reading Cliff Notes, but now with a little more time on her hands, she went back and read all the stuff her professors had given her A's and B's for mastering in the past.
As a creative writer, I sometimes resisted reading or found it hard to take interest in a lot of poems depending on my relation to the content at the time. Emily Dickinson makes a lot more sense to me now at 35 than at age 18. I will continue reflecting on some more of the essays in this book for future entries.
Question: As you mentioned in class today, not everyone can read everything, especially in Graduate School. Often we skim or scan works quickly rather than spend time fully grokking the substance of the material as well as the context. Of course, we usually spend a lot more attention and devotion to our particular specialiity(s). How does the resistance to reading, or the impossibility of reading everything (well) fit in with your particular pedagogy of teaching writing to first years, upper class students, and graduate students as well as professionals?
I also am sometimes daunted by grading as a teacher and as a student
I was the underachiever in high school and college to a certain extent carrying a C average much of the time, although lifting it to a B by the time I finally got my BA in 2000. I also kept a B+ average in my M.A. program at NAU, and at Antioch, grades were not assigned, but narrative evaluations (Which still made us nervous!) As a student here at ISU, I am currently maintaining a 3.3. Most graduates I assume have higher GPAs, some are more studious or some are more strategic. I didn't particularly care about my grades until I learned they mattered in Grad school, although I flunked a few courses as an undergraduate, I was able to take it in stride, and my parents were proud of me for trying, and staying off drugs. Also, I could go to UNLV virtually free since my mom worked there.
In The Subject is Writing, edited by Wendy Bishop, Pat Belonoff asks this question in "What is a Grade?" She points out that grades are the indicators of assessment and then unpacks the problems of grading and subjectivity in the English classroom(147). Among these there are the questions of standards, expectations, and how can writing be assessed.
She then asserts that perhaps it is a good thing, although frustrating at times, that teachers have different expectations and what may get a student a B, might get another a C, or an A given the context of the assignment, the teacher, the weather outside, etc... Belonoff values that there is diversity of teaching methods and standards and aesthetics.
Question: I have often grappled with this myself as a teacher these last 8 years. Can we really grade fairly and objectively or will some students get the short end of the stick some of the time and that is to be expected?
I had a student who flunked my comp course last year, and I felt pretty guilty about flunking him, one because he is a nice intelligent guy and also because I kept on seeing him since he works for the Audiovisual Department where I teach. I felt bad about him wondering if I should have passed him with at least a D, even though he turned in none of the formal papers. Then this last semester he was in the same class, taught by my office mate, Todd. Todd liked him too, but apparently the student never turned in any of the formal work, although showed cogent writing skills during inclass writing. He also would brag about going to see the opening day of the new Spiderman movie, so it was not a question of lack of time to do the work.
I will write more about this grading issue later. I have a friend who is recently divorced from an assessment specialist at a large university, and he tells me that she often said that assessment is education. That may be true in a metaphysical sense, but the struggling student may need more than an F to motivate them.
I intend to propose that creative writing is critical writing. This analogy has flaws, in that critical writing is guided by purpose, argument, clarity, rhetorical awareness and contextual positioning. Often the key goal of a first year composition course is to write a well focused developed research paper. The goal of a creative writer is to produce a poem, a short story or an essay. We may for the sake of clarity consider that critical writing involves analysis, close reading, research, rigorous revision, and follows more or less a classical structure of beginning, body and conclusion.
So if I wish to assert that creative writing should be required at universities and high schools, I am sure I may evoke a few guffaws and chuckles. Creative writing wll help us think outside the box, to stop making sense, to connect on a human level... it is a place that requires we throw ink to page or finger tips to keyboard or voice to microphone. It is a venue that asks us to be original by imitating, by stealing, lying and being stupid. It is a vital tool that can enhance empathy skills but also complements critical skills.
Poetry, fiction, and belles letters need not remain mystified. These are not divine prophets that compose arias but humans that have learned enough tools of a craft, or mode of communication which exercises vital critical faculties. The ability to play, to interrogate language, to invent language, to negotiate concepts, and swim through ideologies and parlay their cultural differences into a common humanity. Creative writing/thinking allows us to formulate and articulate new methodologies of argument.
Let us look at a poem which uses argument By Edna St. Vincent Millay
a short story by Hemingway
and an essay by Richard Rodriguez.
The necessity of invention:
I will then propose that a creative writing course be a companion to Firstyear writing programs. These courses could be taught by full time faculty, part time faculty, graduate assistants, visiting lecturers, etc, although they will need to have some pedagogical background and creative writing workshop experience, except for the occasion where an auto-didact comes around.
Good writing should be
well organized, focused, argumentative/ purposeful direct
flow well [not read like a tax form (unless your are working for the I.R.S.)]
fit conventions of language, format
should define difficult concepts for lay readers if possible.
If we look at good research writing as including qualitative and quantitative research, and good rhetorical writing as balancing pathos, ethos, logos, and kairos, might we then respect creative letters and a field that allows conversation that often defies sense, gives voice, and enhances perspectives.
A Kind Word for Bullshit: The Problem of Academic Writing:
Phillip Eubanks and John D Schaeffer address similarly to Gerald Graff's essay "Our Undemocratic Curriculum, the notion of the larger public's perception of academic, particularly the social science and humanities habit of writing with jargon. The abstract theoretical writing that mimics science writing, and feigns complexity when it is often not making it self clear. Eubanks and Schaeffer also address the notion of bullshit as a masculinist loaded term which puts a positive spin on telling a lie, where as the term Chicken Shit, implies a more weak minded untruth. There is also mention of the notion that an English major can use bullshit to manipulate their way to a good grade without doing the reading.
My reaction: As a poet, I have been inspired by John Cage's phrase I have Nothing TO say and I'm Saying IT. This borders on DADAism, but the impression of ok this may be "shit", but you have to start somewhere.
I caught a little C-Span once while channel-surfing with my dad's Satellite TV.
Dave Horowitz debated Ward Churchill in front of an audience largely composed of college students, and Churchill spoke in academic jargon, and Horowitz used more down-to-earth populist language. The audience sided with Horowitz. Had Churchill spoke frankly and matter of factly, he might have not only won the debate, but also effected change in the national debate over American Foreign Policy.
I think I mentioned earlier
Susan B at the UNLV library who read Cliffnotes in her English classes, and then went back and read the books as a librarian.
Who was she bullshitting? She is reading the books now, and she paid her dues. One day in the stacks at the library, she discovered that some (presumably unhappy) patron had left a pile of feces on an empty shelf. It was on top of a paper towel, and not within a few feet of the nearest shelf of books.
Ironically, religion books in the library are listed under BS.
Can we say that a kinder word for Bullshit is
Improvisation, engaging, acting as if?
Hypothesis, testing, see results, evaluate results.
what we expect to learn, what we learn, what we experienced?
flow and grace
As a teacher, this semester I have been showing videos related to race, culture and mythology as a teaching method. I ask the students to take detailed notes of what is said, and what they think. We've watched Ethnic Notions, a documentary about race stereotypes of African Americans during the latter slavery and Jim Crow eras; Victim of Two Cultures: An Interview with Richard Rodriguez from the world of Ideas
I have the students talk in groups and then open it up to class discussion. I have to keep myself from dominating the conversation, and try and be more open and Socratic, but it is not that I think myself more knowledgable then the students, but that I feel excited and wish to share my opinion... but this is not about me.
Also, I wish to share with them my struggles with academia... I failed English 101, and 102 for various reasons, sometimes I dropped it , or neglected to drop it, or I had a case of writer's block on the final paper... or had an incomplete turn into an F. Needless to say, I have had trouble in the past. Once I got past those courses and discovered a passion for poetry writing classes, I felt liberated. Here was a genre where I didn't have to make sense, in fact, I got rewarded for being outlandish and chaotic at times.
Much of my trepidation with writing stems from the fact that I was learning disabled, or am still. I was in LD from 3rd to 8th grades, although I never knew what specific disability I had, but my cursive was lousy, although I was usually a good reader and speller, so perhaps it was Non Verbal or maybe it was Dysgraphia
That coupled with an alcoholic family, and frequent moves, made for an interesting childhood. Both my parents are writers. My father wrote for Billboard Magazine and my mom was a ghost writer for Dr Joyce Brothers and both of them moved on to academia, my father teaching mass communications at Suny Brockport, and my mother did PR for the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester NY, before taking a job at UNLV as the PR person for the Performing Arts Center and college of fine Arts in Las Vegas. Thus, I went to UNLV over ten years, going from a C- average to B, with a B+ in English, and then going to NAU in Flagstaff getting my Masters in 2 years in English before going to Antioch- Los Angeles for an MFA. My father, now retired saw me teach and was a guest speaker in one of my classes. I adjuncted at UNLV for 4 years, my colleagues being some of the professors that flunked me ten years before. Ironically, I get feedback today similar to what I got 15 years ago. I have a lot of talent, but I lack focus and confidence. I heard this from my teachers at UNLV, and I heard this from a teacher I had here at ISU.
Inclass (free)write from June 19:
I teach with a big picture argument approach investing time in broad content based thinking. This semester, I am showing lots of videos including Ethnic Notions, In Whose Honor, The Hero's Journey (Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers), Slam Nation, and other such films thus, I am trying to get the student to see the connection between self, society, media, culture, ideology and others in a casual, intellectual but not stifling manner. I don't spend much time on grammar or punctuation. This is a Comp II course and in some ways the general interconnectiveness of the course to their reality might be lost on the student, but sometimes I see the leaps of thought and excitement that perks up in our in class discussions and in their writing. MY own academic writing has tons of holes. I got a C in Modern Rhetoric because my writing didn't make sense. I jumped around in a locked cage of solipsistic contstraint. (I was also teaching 3 courses at ICC while taking 3 at ISU. My poetry, on the other hand, is where I shine, not fearing failure or embarassment. I come across well there, but in poetry, you don't always have to make sense.
> > Comment on Text: In the introduction from Lester Faigley's Fragments's of Rationality, Faigley first gives a brief overview of the key aspects of Postmodernism as it relates to various aspects of Western Culture, and shows that the post modern world questions much of what we took for granted before. Faigley then turns the discussion towards composition studies and points out that Composition studies, in general, has not quite caught up with other fields in regards to the multiple subjectivities and randomness that are conditions of this current era.
> > My reaction: I can relate as a creative writer to the problems presented in Hassan's list of oppositions. I tend to be less analytical, and more general in my thinking, leaning towards the big picture, and as a writer have difficulty narrowing things down to a small project when my desires careen toward randomness, tangents, and the liberality of free-writing. In other words, creative writing, in my case poetry, gives me the freedom of not making sense. The postmodern human must learn to juggle many different realities, ideologies, philosophies, and identities, and thus, as Jameson points out, we are in a schizophrenic age.
> > Questions: If we consider this schizophrenia that Jameson brings up as a malaise, and in a less intense form as a nihilism, that has resulted from this apparent lack of uniformity and order in the universe, might a holistic, globalistic consciousness as exemplified by the Gaia principle be a potential salve for this post- modern malaise? Does the cultural religious conservative movement for Intelligent Design demonstrate more of a fear of this uncertainty, or/and do they bring up problems with rigid compartmentalization in science and other dogmas?
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> > Graff
> > In Gerald Graff's paper "Our Undemocratic Curriculum" he puts forth the argument that argument should be the universal standard across all the disciplines and that the language of argument should be accessible across the fields. He essentially boils all argument down to a version of the formula "They say..., I say..." By making these formulas clear and visible, everyone will have a level playing field in academia, and Graff further suggests that academics rather than resist standardization of education, guide it.
> > My reaction: I like how Graff wishes to bring everyone in to the conversation, and at the same time, I worry that standardization may reinforce a gatekeeper mentality of tracking as well, separating the wheat from the chaff, rather than exploring the variety of learning styles. I also get frustrated with the lingo and jargon of academia, even though some of it, I eventually absorb. Graff holds the teachers accountable, but just as everyone should have a say in this conversation, everyone should take a certain amount of responsibility.
> > Question: Does the word argument get reduced to a narrow definition which limits its possibilities? Does all writing have to have a point? Let us consider the usefulness of "babble" Noise, and other nonsense. Does our specialized English Studies Speak alienate our general education students? Do you find yourself referencing theorists or other texts with difficult language to general first year students and how do they react?
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> > White, Linda Feldmeier. "From Learning Disability, Pedagogies, and Public Discourse" Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings Ed. Susan Naomi Bernstein. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2004. 159-172.
> > Linda Feldmeier White points out learning disabilities have often become pathologized in our culture with the emphasis on disability stemming from neurological dysfunction, although in many cases, some learning disabilities are not so easily diagnosed as neurological disorders. White argues that Learning Disability is social more so than biological, and that this is because of rigid teaching styles. White acknowledges that there is a conservative group that advocates a stricter approach to standards and suggests that students claiming learning disabilities, are either lazy or lack aptitude. In response to a insensitive college president who wrote about a hypothetical student with a learning disability, White points out that there are options beyond the disability/laziness dichotomy. White advocates awareness of different learning styles and places emphasis on the teacher to provide diverse learning activities.
> > My reaction: As a student who has had learning disability and was in LD resource classrooms from 3rd through 8th grade and remedial classes through 10th grade, I can make a claim for both the neurological and social. Having moved a lot and growing up in a somewhat dysfunctional family, I have lacked the social stability afforded most middle class children, yet my mother and oldest brother also had learning disabilities. Both recieved more personal attention in private schools and excelled, whereas I struggled in the mainstream public schools.
> > Question: Learning styles, different social and individual situations aside, would you say that you learned best with rigid rules or where you self regulated?
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