Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sample Summary

Students, below is another example of the kind of summary desired from you, as discussed here.

Robyn Malo's "Penitential Discourse in Hoccleve's Series" appears in Studies in the Age of Chaucer 34 (2012: 277-305).  The article's central claim is that Thomas Hoccleve's Series uses the rhetoric of imprisonment to portray the narrator as both sane and without sin; Malo also asserts that the penal figuration serves as a unifying principle of the work.  Significant critical commentary is invoked to bolster the argument, both directly and as a point of refutation against which to push.  Malo also deploys comparative quotations from Hoccleve and his contemporaries to highlight the differences in their discourses.  In Malo's reading, Hoccleve's work becomes a means of self-investigation--unusually for the penitential mode in which much of the Series functions.  It is an intriguing reading of an author usually considered minor.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Announcement for ENG 202.210

Because I was unable to post the previous announcement sooner, the following:

The business letter may be submitted in hard copy at, or via email before, the beginning of class on Monday, 25 February 2013, without penalty.  Submissions after that time will be regarded as late, with the appropriate penalties to the grade (outlined in the syllabus).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Announcement, 21 February 2013: For Students in ENG 101 and 202

Students, I apologize for not getting this message posted sooner, but I am absent from work today.  Assignments are still due today, as indicated on the course calendar, but the next assignments (illustrative definition for ENG 101, resume for ENG 202) will be pushed back; more details will be forthcoming on Monday, when I fully expect to be back in class.

Be well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

About Office Hours on 20 February 2013

Students, please be advised that, due to a mandatory meeting, I will not be holding office hours on Wednesday, 20 February 2013.  Also, because I will be covering another instructor's classes that evening, meeting times after my regular instructional day will be sharply limited.

Friday, February 15, 2013

To What End All This?

Something occurred in my class today which has repeatedly happened before and yet surprises me each time: a student asked what the reason for the class is.  That students enrolled in practical, productive majors--particularly at a technical school, where I currently teach--should ask why they need to have courses in English or public speaking makes a certain amount of sense, I admit; it does not seem immediately obvious why someone in training to fix air conditioners, for example, or fill eyeglass prescriptions would need to be able to get up in front of a group and speak for a few minutes on a simple topic, to write a short contrastive essay, or to read a newspaper article and render up a quick summary of it.

There are reasons, however, that such things are and have for quite some time been fairly standard parts of collegiate curricula in the Western world (however fraught such terms as "standard" and  "Western world" can be).  One fairly instrumental reason that I tell my students and that I try to demonstrate to them through example is that there may well be circumstances, regardless of a person's field of study, that require such things.  Anyone may be called upon to give testimony in front of a judge, a jury, and lawyers, for example, and many people will have to make a solid argument for getting money--venture capital and initial investments, after all, do not come with the rain.  Practicing how to make such things happen then becomes potentially important.

Perhaps more important is that the students themselves are subjected to many such appeals.  They, and I, are inundated with arguments each day.  People try to get us all to do things, to give them money, to adhere to certain codes of behavior and standards of conduct.  They work upon us, and I work upon my students, and the students work upon me, to produce specific results, not all of which are to the benefit of those upon whom the work is done.  It is therefore necessary for all of us to understand how arguments are made so as to be able to perceive when others are trying to take advantage of us.  There is no way to offer meaningful resistance to manipulation otherwise, and I do not know many who delight in being manipulated.  Conversely, when we see that others are at least making an honest and sincere attempt to persuade us appropriately, we can see that they are at least according us some measure of respect, and we can therefore know better how we ought to treat them.

Related to unpacking how others attempt to manipulate or persuade us is unpacking what our utterances and those of others reveal about us.  The things to which we refer indicate much about what we value; they show what we think is important and what we think our audiences think is important.  If I say that something is a Sisyphean task, I am showing that I take as a common reference point certain aspects of Classical myth--or that I think my audience does.  (Such things also allow for an economy of speech and writing--I can say the task is "Sisyphean" rather than having to explain that it is one which I believe to be "fundamentally impossible and futile to pursue but equally impossible to set aside."  Many of my students express a desire to "get in and get out," yet they despise trying to master sets of knowledge that allow for such referentiality, and I do not understand it.)  They speak to our acculturation and our ability to understand and engage with the cultures in which others are enmeshed, promoting understanding of ourselves and one another.  In such understanding, we can come to better know one another and to realize the common humanity of which we all partake.

It is an unfortunate truth that many of the problems we have--the various "isms" that are so frequently decried come to mind--are a result of people not understanding one another.  Many other problems result from people not valuing one another, however well they may or may not understand each other--although I tend to think that the undervaluation proceeds from an incomplete understanding.  It follows that developing a superior understanding will help to solve those problems, and since study of the humanities helps to foster that understanding, it can help to improve how we interact with one another and, it can be hoped, the world in which we do so.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sample Narrative Essay

Students, please find below an example of the narrative essay, as discussed on the course website, here.  When formatted for submission as a paper (which it is currently not, due to the changes in medium), it is at the low end of acceptable length.

At a particular state university in the American South, there was at one time a policy in the English department that students, after missing ten percent of class, would suffer a letter-grade reduction for each additional absence.  The policy usually meant that students could miss six to eight classes before failing through a combination of missed assignments and outright grade reduction, and it inevitable happened that students would fail themselves out of classes for no more complicated and no better a reason than simply not showing up when they were supposed to.  Most who suffered such a fate acknowledged the justice of it, and either reformed their conduct in subsequent semesters or found another way to spend their time--and found out that failing a class is not nearly so bad as losing a job.

From time to time, however, a student would take exception to the policy, and would protest the treatment.  Usually, the protest began with a complaint to the instructor or professor, who would almost always calmly and resolutely refer the student to the stated policy in the syllabus and display the attendance record; the protest rarely worked well for the student at that level, and so the student would go on.  The next visit would be to the department chair, who would ask the instructor or professor for a copy of the attendance record and the course syllabus and, upon reviewing them, would generally confirm the decision of the faculty member.  From there, the student usually went to the Dean of Students, who might be a bit more sympathetic, but who would also usually confirm the decision of the department chair and the faculty member.

One student, however, a young woman who thought that "since we [in the class] didn't have an assignment or activity listed...thought there was no class on these days, and didn't come," despite the clear indication on the course calendar of when the faculty member, at the time a graduate teaching assistant, would be away: "Instructor will be away; class is cancelled" is quite overt, and its lack strongly suggests that class was still to meet.  And that is what the department chair told the student's mother when she came into the department chair's office after a month of calling the graduate teaching assistant's office several times a day for the entire month between terms.  It is what the department chair maintained when the student's mother complained of her daughter being taught by a "mere" teaching assistant, and it is what the Dean of Students maintained when the mother went to that office to complain.

It is not what the graduate teaching assistant said to the woman when, in the second week of the next term, she approached the teaching assistant outside of the classroom in which he was scheduled to teach.  Nor did he say it in the rare intervals over the next thirty minutes when the woman, lines and dark circles about her small and deep-set eyes, paused for breath among the thirty-minute attempt to badger him about her "little girl who just misunderstood and shouldn't be punished for something that isn't really her fault and don't you understand how much I paid to have her in a classroom with someone who knows what to do."  But he did say to her that he could not discuss the student's grades with her, certainly not without the student present, as it would be a breach of professional ethics and, possibly, the law.  The student herself, being of major age and therefore legally liable for her own actions, not the mother, would have to make the complaint, and to the teaching assistant's knowledge, the student had not.

It is also not what the teaching assistant said after the woman left in a huff.  What he did say, when he reported the incident to the department chair, is that the student's mother had cornered him outside of his classroom and tried for half an hour to get him to change the student's grade.  The department chair passed that word along to the Dean of Students, to whom the woman had gone to complain about "that damned graduate student" who had soured her on college entirely, such that she "wouldn't be paying for her daughter to sit in a class taught by someone like that ever again," despite the fact that most of the classes her freshman daughter would have to take--and pass--were taught, semester after semester, by teaching assistants such as the one who had done nothing more than follow the policy clearly written in his course syllabus.  The Dean of Students passed that information on to the campus police, who, chartered by the state, were duly empowered peace officers, authorized to carry out arrests and, at need, to do more.

They told the woman that her return to the campus would be viewed as an act of criminal trespassing.

Her daughter's attendance the following term was perfect.

The graduate teaching assistant went on to teach at other schools with at least one story to tell.