Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An External Work of Definition, Moving to Classification

It has been a while since this blog updated, and I suppose I will need to do more with it in the new term.  For now, though, a link and some commentary.

The link is to Christina H.'s Cracked.com article, "5 Reasons Calling Someone a 'Nerd' Is Officially Meaningless," published 20 December 2011.  In the article, Christina H. argues that the old label of "nerd," particularly defined as an intelligent social outcast who focuses overly narrowly and deeply upon an unusual field of interest, is no longer applicable.  She systematically overthrows many of the old components of the definition, highlighting their historical contexts and explicating how they do not apply anymore.  The article, being an online piece, is replete with links to referenced materials, helping the author to establish her veracity, and the combination of the adequate use of outside source materials and humor make for an effective article.*

I point the piece out because I find that it does represent an example of several things I wish to highlight in my classes.  First, Christina H. does go through and underpin the traditional understandings and definitions with which she works, finding a number of examples which support her claims and highlighting how they do so.  She also points out how those definitions fail to apply to many to whom the label "nerd" is often applied at present, so that she carries out classification according to the second option of my classification paper assignments in my first-year composition classes.  In doing both, she provides an example of how the specific tasks to which I assign my students can and do show in in the "real world" as well as how the work called for in my classes need not be stilted and boring, but can be engaging and entertaining.

It is an important lesson, I think.

*I am aware that the author of the article references Wikipedia, which I advise against in my students' academic and professional work.  The issue here is one of context.  Cracked.com advertises itself as "America's Only Humor Site Since 1958," so that it immediately marks itself as something other than a major academic resource; the label as a "Humor Site" calls for regard as such, and the "Since 1958," a year that far predates the Internet, reinforces the idea by means of comic exaggeration.  This is far different from the sober academic or technical prose that my classes call for my students to use; Cracked.com has the purpose of entertainment, and while that purpose necessarily requires that there be some informative work done, it lessens the obligation for scholarly rigor.  That obligation is quite strong for my students, since I seek to train them with an eye towards scholarship; it is easier to pull back than to push forward.