Friday, September 29, 2006

Titles: First or Last

My friend Michael Faris wrote about titles in his Collage of Citations, saying that he usually created titles for his blog post before writing but for his essays after he wrote them. I commented about students' titles. So now, here I am, writing about titles.

But as you see, the title of this blog post is not entirely helful because really what I am going to talk about is the beginning and the end -- of the first week of classes here at OSU. It's been pretty busy getting the graduate student teaching assistants settled into their own WR 121 classes and me settled into my own WR 222 classes and subbing for the business writing class of one TA who is at a conference in Georgia. Busy, busy.

But finally, it's Friday and I realized that I want to post something before I go home. It's also the end of September and the beginning of October. September is my favorite month - it's like the beginning of everything. Also, today is St. Michael's and All Angels day (see the picture above) in which the legions of light conquer the dragon / darkness -- but if you read Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea novels and read her comments on the recent television versions
you will see that the dragons are actually good. especially in the book The Other Wind, so that offers insights into Western / Christian views. My friend Deacon Chris (who teaches "The Bible as Literature" here at OSU) suggested that St. Michael might have overcome the dragon with counseling or freewriting. The students might agree.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

First Day of Fall

This has been a hectic week orienting 13 new graduate students to their new responsibilities at teaching assistants, teaching first year composition (WR 121 at OSU) to 25 students per class. So much to cover, too little time, of course.

I pondered the use of "orienting" - that is, turning them to the east - and mentioned this to Michael asking why we don't occident them, that is turn them to the west, as in fact nearly all of these students have come west to Oregon from somewhere east of here, though a few have come north from California, which made Michael ask if there is even a term for northing or southing. Undoubtedly there is, somewhere.

I want a reverse dictionary that will allow me to enter the concept and find the term.

Recto and verso, face and peen, alamo, alder, and aspen. All words that crossed my mind this morning during my crossword puzzle. Words are wonderful, like flowers, like tools.

Tomorrow I will go back to school to post to our online course module and get ready for first day of class Monday.

Fall always seems like the beginning of the year for me, probably because I love school so much.
Here's a poem I wrote six years ago about first days of school.

"First Days of School "

Fine white chalk lies straight,

paired stiff in trays waiting

to be worn away to dust. The blackboard

clean, free of the ghost lines it will bear

all year like hieroglyphics. Twenty four

desks and chairs rest in neat rows,

soldiers at attention, soon to fall out,

at ease, in disarray until June. Two U.S.

maps sleep neatly rolled. And the globe

sits still, not yet turning, the earth before

Galileo set all of us spinning,

© Sara Jameson

September 18, 2000

Friday, September 15, 2006

Public Intellectuals

This is a very quick post before the weekend to say that I am thinking about public intellectuals and blogs and found this interesting article by Tim Dunlop defining "public intellectual" which I plan to share with my WR 222 Writing Argument students. Here's Wikipedia's entry on intellectual for them to consider. We are using the textbook Everything's An Argument by Andrea Lunsford who is certainly a prominent public intellectual herself.

Audience Update --

Here's a thought - what I'd like more than audience is a conversation - ongoing - the Burkean Parlor (see Kenneth Burke and the Virtual Burkean Parlor . That is, I don't want to be talking AT but WITH interesting people.


I've been thinking about audiences quite a bit lately as I skim the daily feature list from ORBLog and wonder whether I should alert them to my own blog. How much attention do I want? Most of the comments that have come my way so far have been from spammers ("Check my site to make money!), but I was pleased yesterday with a nice reply from Geekygirl Dawn Foster to my response to her post on Wikipedia.

So - audience. Right now I am audience as I read ORblogs and other items. I am also audience as I listen to UO's KWAX Classical radio right now playing Felix Mendelssohn's lovely Violin Concerto - boy do I love that piece.

Then, there's the question of audience addressed versus audience invoked, as explored by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford in their 1984 essay "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy." CCC 35 (1984): 155-71. See references here Representing Audience which lists the 1984 essay in the Works Cited. In fact, looking at the listing from the Bedford Bibliography on Audience , there is much more about audience to consider.

Is a blogger a defacto - implicit if not explicit - public intellectual? Bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds seem to fit that idea. But an essay called "Women and Children Last" by Susan C. Herring, Inna Kouper, Lois Ann Scheidt, and Elijah L. Wright argues that the majority of blogs are journal style posted by young women, yet these are not valued in the same way as the political commentary provided by male pundits. In fact, looking back at my post from Tuesday I see that Will Richardson's definitions of "real" and "complex" blogging would rank pundits over teens.

Might the question by one of audience? If teen friends read teen blogs, are they valued less by society? If powerful (male?) politicians read "Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds , does that powerful audience make Reynolds's blog more valued?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Not in your own words?

Just found this item on student efforts to not turn in their own words At $9.95 a Page, You Expected Poetry? from the New York Times .

I subscribe to the thoughts of Stephen Greenblatt
"a Shakespeare scholar at Harvard and a confessed “soft touch,” said the grade he would give this paper “would depend, at least to some extent, on whether I thought I was reading the work of a green freshman — in which case I would probably give it a D+ and refer the student to the writing lab for counseling — or an English major, in which case I would simply fail it.”

He added: “If I had paid for this, I would demand my money back.”

"Oh brave new world that has such people in it"

Wikipedia vs. Britannica

When we ask our students in first year composition to expand their information literacy - particularly in connection with an argument essay based on research and "entering the conversation" (The Burkean Parlor), the students use a research activity that asks them to start with background information.

In the past, we asked them to check Britannica, but because Britannica has (or had) no entry for "biodiesel" -- a current topic, especially at Oregon State where Dr. Jovanovic has invented a microreactor for home-made biodiesel (here) -- our class activity has instead referred students to Wikipedia.

Thanks to this morning's post on the very helpful ORblogs, a summary of latest items from blogs by Oregonians, I found a great item on Wikipedia by Geekygirl Dawn Foster on her Open Source Culture blog . Her blog post today on Wikipedia versus Britannica brings up some of the important questions. Foster quotes from the Wall Street Journal here . For example, I sent this link recently to Anne-Marie Deitering, our contact librarian for the students' research activity. We talked about the question of "socially-constructed knowledge" and how many really participate. The question could be construed as authoritarian model (Britannica)versus a more democratic model (Wikipedia).

This summer, as I previewed the assignment for the students in WR 121, one said that her other professors would not let his students use Wikipedia. I said that I did allow Wikipedia because it provided a good general background on topics and I trusted the students to have enough sense to evaluate and verify the information given. For example, suppose students are studying the Formula One car racer Michael Schumacher Part of our assignment asks students to review the "History" and "controversy / discussion" pages in a Wikipedia article. In the case of Schumacher, the History page was just updated this morning, probably with reports on rival racer Alonso's criticism of Schumacher. The Discussion page tries to address both the accuracy of the article on Schumacher as well as the opinions - e.g. whether or not he should be considered the best race car driver ever.

Students, perhaps especially engineering and science students, often want to know "the truth" - and are frustrated when there is no once-and-for-all single right answer. And Wikipedia, then, by revealing the shifting nature of "truth", can frustrate them particularly.

But, with OSU's mission being "open minds" (a liberal agenda?), involving students in the creation of knowledge via Wikipedia in this case, is essential.

More on this later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My friend Michael says - on his blog Sisyphean Task-- that he hasn't been In Much of a Blogging Mood Lately, while I am trying to become a more active, thoughtful, blogger - but making the time is hard. Usually, it's best first thing when I come to work before all the emails arrive.

What does blogging mean for public/private life? Some folks, such as Will Richardson, in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom(Corwin/Sage Press, 2006) say that "real blogging" is "Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience response in mind" (Richardson Blogs p.32) and that "complex blogging" is "extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Richardson p.32). So, clearly, what Michael does is real and complex blogging, and on a number of sites, so it's no wonder someone who works that hard at thinking might not always be in the mood.

Especially when the question is the public/private question - or how many blogs does a person support. One question for academics is whether or not to visit or inhabit the world of Facebook/MySpace. Here's Michael's thoughts on FaceBook stimulated by a recent article I sent him from the Chronicla of Higher Ed (use his link to the article). I doubt I would ever move to Facebook/MySpace territory, but maybe that's because I'm what Richardson calls a Digital Immigrant, being much older than the younger generation of Digital Natives. But as accustomed to the internet as they have become since childhood, rarely do our freshmen do what Richardson calls "real" and "complex" blogging, at least not that I have seen in classroom blogging activities I have been involved with. Whereas, it seems clear from the classes that Lisa Ede has taught with graduate students, that their class blogs, such as the blog for the Language, Technology and Culture classThe Presence of Others or the blog for the Current Comp Theory Class WR 512. So maybe some maturity is needed for the real complex work Richardson aspires to. Yet Richardson teaches at high school.

More on this later.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Argument Culture

Reading Deborah Tannen's very interesting The Argument Culturebook, I see what I can use for my upcoming class in Argument. As Tannen points out, contemporary American society has a notion of fairness that seeks "both sides" of an argument or an issue. The problem, as she says, is that many issues have many more than just two sides - the abortion or death with dignity issues, for example -- while other issues, as expressed in student papers, only have a single side. Consider the student determined to argue that people should neuter their pets. Well, yes, of course. Who, other than breeders, says no? Or what about the student writing an argument that people should quit smoking because it is unhealthy and inexpensive, and who cannot find "opposition." He was determined to write the paper despite advice to change the slant. All I could help him with for opposition was Dorianne Laux's poem "Smoke" and Billy Collins' poem "The Best Cigarette". And in fact these two poems bring up the point of Aristotlean appeals that we discuss - that is, that while the Greeks wished that rhetoric could be based on logos-logic, that in fact people were swayed by emotion or pathos. Or as I like to tell the class (and I hope I'm right) about the episode of Star Trek in which Mr. Spock says "But Captain, that is not logical", and I conclude by saying, "That's because people are not (only, primarily) logical, but psycho - - logical. [This is always good for a laugh.] So it is psychological reasons why people smoke, not logical ones. So to convince smokers to quit, an argument would have to address the emotional aspect.

Here's another interesting argument: Evolution and(versus??) Creationism. Stephen Jay Gould's excellent essay "Evolution as Fact and Theory" - which addresses the simplistic use of the word "theory" to mean "just an assumption" - the way we use it in casual conversation.

Gould's essay is a great example, by the way, of the "They Say, I Say" configuration of argument, recently made explicit in an extremely helpful brand new textbook by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein They Say, I Say, which we are using this fall at Oregon State for our First Year Composition course (called WR 121 here). We are excited that Graff and Birkenstein will visit OSU in October and deliver a lecture called "Demystifying Academia," drawn somewhat from Graff's excellent book Clueless in Academe. I'll say more about this later. But here is what my friend Michael said about the book in his Recent Post on his BlogCollage of Citations, which I highly recomend.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Look what is now on my office wall!

My friend Jillian, a fellow instructor at Oregon State, broughback from Finland a poster of this self-portrait by Finish impressionist painter Helene Schjerfbeck . It's about 30x40" high and makes a wonderful impression on my office wall, especially as the other office art is a more modest pink and green watercolor of a tentative looking author.

Touring Scotland

When I took a literature class in American Travel Writing, I created an imagined "Crone's Tour of Scotland" drawing on Johnson and Boswell, etc. At that time, I didn't know Mendelssohn's wonderful "Hebrides Overture" or Fingal's Cave. That is assuredly something to add to this dream excursion.