Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving potpourri

Campus is so peaceful at 5 PM on the day before Thanksgiving, the sun has set after a glorious blue and gold autumn day in Oregon. The building is empty and quiet, and I'm trying to finish things that have been waiting on my desk for weeks - about 3 weeks to be exact since I last posted. Many apologies! My colleagues here know exactly what's been going on with classes.

So this post will combine several things I really wanted to post on at more length, and which I hope to return to:

Questions of class: Ah, yes. America, the great classless society. Read "A Class Traitor in Academe" from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, (Nov 9) by Thomas H. Benton, aka William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich. Benton discusses the apparent lack of scholarship or lack of books about the intersection of academic life and social class. He lists 4 (not including Alfred Lubrano's Limbo. Benton points out the disconnect he feels in academia from his own background and wonders what he is doing about the situation: He says:

... at times I feel discontented with the larger purpose of my work. The overwhelming majority of my students come from social strata far above mine. I seldom feel like I am giving anything back to the community from which I came. I believe that my courses complicate and soften the aggressive certainties of future elites. But, as I become more secure and established, I wish I could do more to help other first-generation college students.
What's worse, says Benton, is that the education is no guarantee of upward mobility. He describes people
in the place where I grew up, and women in their 30's who live with their parents and can't start families because there are so few real jobs, even for the ones who put in a couple years at community college, transferred to a state school, and were the first in their families to get degrees that were sold as certain tickets to the middle class.A lot of those people end up delivering pizzas, mowing lawns, waiting tables, or working the checkout lane at Wal-Mart for $7.15 an hour, and the message spreads that education doesn't matter

From teaching at community colleges where the students are often working class to now at a 4-year state university where the students are more from the middle class yet many are still first-generation, I know what he means about issues of class. My own career track has been quite varied, and students are often surprised to hear me talk of the pre-academic days when I worked as a river guide, ski lift operator, etc. Jobs that can be counted as working class amid a resume that also includes museum administrator at one end and secretary at the other. (and it wasn't so long ago).

Switching Gears:
and certainly classes in society: new film The Jame Austen Book Club (from a book by Karen Joy Fowler I haven't yet read either). Here's what Stephen Holden at the New York Times has to say about the film:
“The Jane Austen Book Club” is such a well-acted, literate adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s 2004 best seller that your impulse is to forgive it for being the formulaic, feel-good chick flick that it is.
And will this film (and its book) give insights into literature? Says Holden:
You can question the story’s conceit that the novels of Austen are an ideal guidebook to personal fulfillment for the modern American woman. But as the members of a Jane Austen reading group, who live in Sacramento, analyze the behavior of the characters in her novels, the movie is also a savvy course on how to read a novel of manners. If that novel has any depth, the characters’ motives are open to interpretation. Is a knight in shining armor really Mr. Right? Does a happy ending really augur happily ever after? What are so-and-so’s real motivations?

Does every novel have to be unhappy (Tolstoy?). So, on my to-do list, rent this film (once we replace our dead VCR player with a DVD/VCR player, since nothing now comes out on VCR)

NEXT? German Deutsche Welle is expanding literature: in this article "New TV Company Aims to Switch People on to Books" saying that
Television has long been regarded the enemy of more traditional pastimes such as reading books. Now the first-ever German TV company (lettra) devoted to producing programs exclusively about literary matters wants to change that.
What they plan to do is
"[present reading] in a unique way with verve and in an entertaining manner -- for both old and young," according to Wolfram Winter. "Lettra also wants to let everyone with a passion for books have their say, giving a voice to readers, as well as writers and publishers."

And if I had time to watch TV (or a DVD), this sounds like something to check out.

Now - it's time to go to the store for some Thanksgiving treats. I hope you are all having a great holiday!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Weekend Reading

Although I have a stack of student proposals to read, I hope to catch up on last week's New Yorker with Jeffrey Toobin's article on the digital library (but wait, that's not last week's) HEre's another article more recently, but this one is Grafton's and online only. And here's a response from the Chronicle of Higher Ed. in case that sounds like something you want to read. My super cheap subscription to the New Yorker ($25/year!) means I feel I must read many articles. Last week's article on Paul Watson of the environmental group "Sea Shepherd" is a must-read as I met Watson in Portland in 1974 or so. He was breaking away from Greenpeace as being too tame! Clearly I am far behind.

Ah, Wikipedia

Inside Higher Ed has a recent piece on using Wikipedia in the classroom. They say:

If there’s one place where scholars should be able to question assumptions about the use of technology in the classroom (and outside of it), it’s the annual Educause conference, which wrapped up on Friday in Seattle. At a morning session featuring a professor and a specialist in learning technology from the University of Washington at Bothell, presenters showed how Wikipedia — often viewed warily by educators who worry that students too readily accept unverifiable information they find online — can be marshaled as a central component of a course’s syllabus rather than viewed as a resource to be banned or reluctantly tolerated.
I would agree. Here at Oregon State - at least in my writing classes - I teach students what Wikipedia is and how to use it sensibly and ethically. Students are going to Wikipedia anyway - I consult it regularly myself. Banning it doesn't make sense. And as the article points out:

shared, public online documents have characteristics in common with parts of the academic review process. “The shift to thinking about placing the term paper as a Wikipedia encyclopedia entry allows for another level of peer review,” Groom said. Such entries have references and citations; allow for a process of repeated, continual editing; and encourage collaborations between authors.
Students need to learn about audience, who is reading the work and what reactions they will have. Too often students claim that their audience is "everyone" which means "no one". They don't always take peer review as seriously as we hope. If they imagined that their term paper were a Wikipedia entry, they could suddenly wonder who would edit out errors and comment on their tone. Interesting concept! Also, as we ask students to think about writing to the world, engaging with a real, and broad, audience, Wikipedia is a good way to start the discussion.


Personal in the classroom / standardizing?

My friend and colleague Laura posted this link from Dartmouth on her blog about the use of personal writing in a first year composition classroom. Laura is writing about personal writing for a class, and I am avidly following her research and thinking. We use some personal experience in our first "ideas" paper in first year composition here at Oregon State. I would like to hear what other schools do regarding the use of the personal.

At the same time, I'm intrigued by what Clancy Ratliff says at Culture Cat about standardizing first year composition. Clancy is the new Director of First Year Writing at University of Louisiana and very savvy about rhetoric. I want to comment on her post. Our program is fairly standardized. I am interested in the arguments on both sides.

Intellectual curiosity satisfied? a Library Career?

Maura Smale's recent article "Gearing Up for My Third Career" from the Chronicle of Higher Ed gave me the thought that when I retire I could seriously consider getting a library degree and working in a small community library. Smale is looking for a job in an academic library, which I would not be, but there are important similarities. I think I would be good working in a library. I am organized - well, people seeing the papers on my desk would not think so -- but as long as someone else (Dewey? the Library of Congress?) determined the numbering system, then I can certainly put things away. (See my earlier post - when? - on the great new book Everything is Miscellaneous which will explain my difficulty categorizing.)

Other than shelving books, I am also great at research. After all, these years helping/teaching students to write researched argument papers have taught me to be persistent and imaginative in finding resources for them to enter the conversation in a variety of discourse communities (stakeholders) and on a wide range of topics.

Plus many of my favorite colleagues are librarians - right here at OSU and elsewhere.

Finally, it's genetic - my grandfather, historian J. Franklin Jameson, was chief of manuscripts at the Library of Congress in the late 1930's. And as a child, I remember going to the fiction stacks in the old LC annex where my father had stack privileges and checking out books. What fun.

A library job sounds perfect for my dotage.

UPDATE DEC 4: After my friend Paula commented (see below) I realized that I forgot to mention that I had already worked in a library - reference desk on call at Grants Pass public library in southern Oregon (before the budget crisis closed the libraries for 2 years). Helping patrons find what they needed - either a specific item or something for a project - was so satisfying. The same is true for my decade as a bookseller in Grants Pass at The Bookstop (since out of business) where I helped customers find books for themselves and others. Delightful. It was also fun to have them ask for a book based on a review I had written for the local paper!


Teaching & Studenting

A colleague pointed out this interesting feature from Poets & Writers by Kelly Ferguson on "Confessions of a Teaching Assistant." Although Ferguson is a MFA at U of Montana where they teach on semesters, it is a pretty good description of the job that our TA's do here at OSU on quarters and would explain why the first term can seem so overwhelming as the incoming TA's learn the school, the concept of first year composition (many are such good writers that they never had to take the course themselves), elements of rhetoric, techniques for classroom instruction, while simultaneously starting to work on their own writing. No wonder TA's feel overwhelmed at first.


Friday, November 02, 2007

What does Google mean by "books" and "literature"?

Because my personalized Google News page is set to locate stories about books & literature, I can find articles on J.K. Rowling and Russian publishers. Mostly it's very effective. However, the search function sometimes returns unexpected results. Today Google presented this article "Hospital's cost-shifting exposes bid to balance books" which uses "books" to mean business accounts and "literature" to mean scientific or scholarly research on the use of a certain medication.