Monday, July 29, 2013

Sample Conference-Length Paper

Students, please find below an example of the kind of paper discussed in detail here.  It derives from the position paper assigned earlier in the Summer 2013 term at TCI.  Accordingly, much of the material in this piece will be familiar to those who have read the previous.

Please note that, as with other examples posted to this blog, the formatting is medium-specific.  The content and pattern are offered as models; the formatting needs to conform to the class standards expressed as "General Paper Formatting Instructions 20130211" here.  When it is formatted appropriately for submission as a paper, it comes out to some six and a half pages, on the shorter end of acceptable length for the assignment.

My study of Japanese martial arts began when I was in sixth grade.  On a field trip, I had been beaten fairly badly by classmates, and my family and I determined that I would thereafter have the means to defend myself from assault.  A friend of the family had made a long study of Korean taekwondo and Japanese classical jiujutsu and offered to take me on as a student in the latter discipline.  In the years since, I have studied Kodokan judo and Aikikai aikido, finding the latter particularly enjoyable.  In no small part, this is because of the difference I have observed among students of jiujutsu, judo, and aikido.  The first seek to be able to render others unable to attack again, the second seek victory in competitions.  Students of Aikikai aikido, however, tend to pursue something different.  The art attracts students who wish to enact a just and ethical peace in the world.

There is, admittedly, something of a disjunction in the idea of a martial art attracting those who seek peace.  Popular media is replete with depictions--and popular ones--of martial artists in various traditions who directly and explicitly seek to wreak harm on others.  The popularity of Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts competitions offers one set of examples of those who are engaged in the martial arts not for the pursuit of peace, but for its opposite--as well as a financial payout, indicating that the fighting is done from a desire for money long recognized as the root of evil and therefore something far removed from justice and ethics.  In addition, the description of Aikikai aikido as a martial art belies the idea that its practitioners strive for peace.  The word martial means warlike, and war is regarded as the antithesis of peace.  For a person to practice a martial art, then, necessarily means that the person is preparing for war, which would seem to be far removed from the pursuit of any peace, ethical and just or otherwise.

The seeming, however, is only a seeming and not the truth of the matter.  One of the most widely recognized and authoritative commentaries on armed combat, written by Sunzi (more commonly known as Sun Tzu), remarks that "supreme excellence comes from breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting" (97; ch. 3, sec. 2), meaning that it is better to win without fighting than to win through fighting, a remarkable position for a manual of war to take.  It adds to the assertion that the object of war is "victory, not lengthy campaigns" (97; ch. 2, sec. 19), indicating that fighting is to be minimized, which is hardly the most warmongering of comments.  Indeed, it suggests that purpose of war is to return to peace with all haste--and Sun Tzu's comments also insist that high standards of conduct must be maintained.  For example, the text notes that "captured soldiers should be treated kindly and kept" (97; ch. 2, sec. 17), "The consummate leader [of warriors] cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline" (99; ch. 4, sec. 16), and "soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity" (107; ch. 9, sec. 43).  Each bespeaks restraint, control, and compassion--and all three are conducive to the correct and appropriate treatment of others in all circumstances, necessitating the regard for them as people.  Clearly, then, the practice of war is not incommensurate with the establishment of peace, and an ethical and just peace.  Its study, as by those who practice martial arts such as Aikikai aikido, cannot be thusly incommensurate, either.

Part of the Aikikai aikido students' work toward an ethically just peace derives from the fact that aikido is a relatively recently developed Japanese martial art.  The English-language website of the Aikikai Foundation, which is hosted at the world headquarters of organized study of aikido, notes that it was "created during the 1920s by Morihei Ueshiba" and was "Officially recognized by the Japanese government in 1940."  The grandson of Morihei Ueshiba, Moriteru Ueshiba, is the doshu or head of the art and of the Aikikai Foundation, as its website notes, so it is only in its third generation, making it quite young.  The United States Aikido Federation, the major governing body of aikido study in the United States, reinforces the idea of aikido's relative newness, noting on its website that the first aikido dojo was established in 1927.  The time of its creation coincides with a series of world events that point up the problems of ethics and justice attendant upon attempts to dominate groups of people, those leading up to and at the beginning of the Second World War.  During that time, several nations were engaged in the systematic subjugation and destruction of peoples based upon perceived ethnic and racial differences, actions far from respectful of individual dignity and so neither ethical nor just.  Those problems were doubtlessly in the mind of the founder of aikido, commonly called O-Sensei, as he set up his school, and they therefore almost certainly exerted influence on his teachings.  As such, a desire for peace, which cannot exist save in the presence of ethical justice, is tacitly embedded in Aikikai aikido, and so it is those who seek peace who are most likely to study the art.

Moreover, the enactment of an ethical and just peace is an explicit goal of Aikikai aikido.  Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere is a standard textbook on aikido practice, and one written by two early United States students of Aikikai aikido (9).  The authors, Westbrook and Ratti, speak explicitly to the "ethical imperatives" of the art (33).  They note that the "ultimate in ethical self-defense," and the "goal of all aikido self-defense arts," is in neutralizing an unprovoked attack in such a way that the attacker is left alive and without serious injury (34).  The textbook is an influential one, reaching even outside of Aikikai aikido, and it overtly links the pursuit of peace--the neutralization of aggression--with ethical concern for others and an immediate, personal justice--the just and appropriate defense of self against attack (20).  Consequently, it embeds in much study of aikido an aspiration for an ethically just peace, and those who continue to study the art do so in recognition thereof.

Further, the Aikikai Foundation remarks that because "contemporary values stress respect for human life, Aikido is a highly relevant form of the Japanese martial arts."  This necessarily implies that aikido is respectful of persons, which concern is inherent both to ethics and to justice.  More explicitly, the US Aikido Federation notes "Aikido strives for the ultimate goal of peaceful resolution rather than defeat," that its performance works "to subdue and neutralize attackers without serious injury," done "without belittling others, without the intention of harm or fear of injury," but under a "premise of mutual respect and caring."  In emphasizing resolution rather than victory is a direct call for peace and tranquility.  In the goal of not inflicting serious injury is a recognition of the right even the errant have to the integrity of their own bodies, which is a remarkably high ethical standard with which to treat an attacker.  Similarly, in working not only to respect the other participant in the act of aikido (both by refusing to offer insult and to appreciate the potential of the other to enact harm), but to work to the betterment of that other--for what else is caring?--there is a degree of compassion that underlies the highest principles of just conduct.  Each is a fundamental goal of the art, and so each is presented as something towards which students of aikido are expected to strive from their earliest days on the mats of the dojo floor.  They are not easy things towards which to work, and so those who practice the art are necessarily those who have a strong desire to enact a just and ethical peace.

Without such a desire, it is not likely that the student will remain dedicated to the art.  Yet Aikikai aikido tends to attract people who remain in study for decades.  A number of those at my own dojo have been on the mats for thirty years and more.  They would not have done so were there not something peculiar to Aikikai aikido to attract them and retain their interest through injury and child-rearing, relocation and economic worry.  The physical techniques of Aikikai aikido have antecedents and direct parallels in other martial arts (Westbrook and Ratti 30-31), and many of those arts are far more widely studied and accessible.  The uniqueness of Aikikai aikido is in its ethical imperatives, and so it must be in them that the students of the art find what they need to sustain themselves.

It is admittedly true that the initial intention of a thing does not always continue to guide it.  Jude Roberts, for example, argues at length that law is easily turned to ends for which it was never intended--and which can, in fact, be antithetical to the desires of those who frame the laws.  If so revered and solemn a thing as a nation's law can be directed away from its original intent, many other things may, as well, and it follows that a martial art may be similarly shaded away from its first thrust.  In fact, there are many sub-schools which have broken away from their origins.  Students of Aikikai aikido, however, overwhelmingly follow the ethical path established by O-Sensei.  My own study of the art has been influenced by senior practitioners who have told me that those on the mats, practicing the techniques of aikido, are all brothers and sisters, united almost as family in the pursuit of what the art can yield.  Although members of a family might come to strife, the family itself ultimately seeks harmony--and it is in harmony with the world that just and ethical peace is attained.

In addition, one of the foremost instructors of aikido in the world, Yoshimitsu Yamada, remarks on the New York Aikikai's website that "one of [the] goals in studying aikido to emulate as much as possible [O-Sensei's] admirable characteristics," among which are compassion and the elimination of selfishness.  Both regard for others and a willingness to act in the interests of others rather than the self are often held to be primary ideas of both ethics and justice, and enacting them is likely to produce an active tranquility that can easily be called "peace."  Yamada continues to be in a position to influence thousands of students, both directly through his own worldwide teaching (the New York Aikikai's website reports his seminar schedule, which takes him across the Americas and Eurasia) and through his own students having opened dojo of their own (as noted in biographies of the teaching staff of the New York Aikikai).  Accordingly, his views guide much of the practice of aikido, and since his views explicitly speak to adherence to O-Sensei's vision, that initial vision still guides aikido.  Aikido, at least in its main thrust of the Aikikai style, therefore remains tied to the desire for a just and ethical peace, in its statements and in its students.

Even the techniques of Aikikai aikido conduce to the goal of peaceful resolution of conflict and the minimization of injury when conflict cannot be avoided.  Many of the techniques of aikido open with a motion intended to remove the attacker form the line of attack, and the opening motion has repeatedly emphasized in classes I have taken as being among the most important parts of successful aikido.  Techniques begin in avoidance, rather than confrontation.  They continue, as my teachers have repeatedly commented, in blending with the motions of the attacker or attackers.  Aikido techniques integrate with the attacks to which they respond, uniting the attacker and the attacked in their performance and signaling the desire of the practitioner to be in accord with the attacker rather than in opposition.  They also often result in joint locks applied well away from the major organs of the body; a series of wrist-locks, in fact, are typical of aikido techniques.  The locks do carry the potential for grievous harm, yes, but inflicting that harm requires much effort, and the bodies of most people will not allow them to continue to attack once the specific pressures Aikikai aikido exerts on wrists and other joints are brought to bear; there is rarely any need for injury when aikido is successfully performed.  In the individual iteration of techniques, then, Aikikai aikido promotes peace through building connections among people, and it signals that the peace is ethically just through allowing for effective defense while minimizing the injuries inflicted upon others.

It is not the case that, in its techniques, Aikikai aikido is more or less effective than other Japanese martial arts--or other traditions of martial arts. The fact that the traditions have been transmitted for decades and centuries speaks to their effectiveness as techniques, as means to manipulate the human body and equipment to end individual physical conflicts.  The chief difference is in the intention behind the performance of the techniques.  Classical jiujutsu seeks to render the opponent incapable of further attack.  Judo seeks to render the opponent defeated, usually in a supine position in a prescribed tournament setting.  Aikikai aikido seeks to make the opponent not an opponent, to neutralize aggression in the interest of permitting people to find and maintain their best selves.  The enactment by more people of their best selves will lead to the improvement of the world in which they live, an improvement which is promoted through a peace founded on ethical concern for others and a justice born of compassion.  Aikikai aikido serves that end, and its study by those who seek that end is well worth increasing, to the benefit of all.

Works Cited
~"About Aikido." United States Aikido Federation. United States Aikido Federation, 2013. Web. 17 June 2013.
~Aikikai Foundation. Aikikai Foundation, 2005. Web. 29 July 2013.
~New York Aikikai. New York Aikikai, 2009. Web. 29 July 2013.
~Roberts, Jude. "'Circumcision: everyone's talking about it': Legislation, Social Pressure, and the Body." Journal of Gender Studies 20.4 (December 2011): 347-58. EBSCOhost. Web. 5 June 2013.
~Sunzi [Sun Tzu]. Sun-tzu on the Art of War: The Oldest Military Treatise in the World. Trans. Lionel Giles. Ed. Bob Sutton. EBSCOhost. Web. 29 July 2013.
 ~Westbrook, A., and O. Ratti. Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. Illus. O. Ratti. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle, 2006. Print.

Sample Conference-length Paper: Searching the Hoard in _Words like Coins_

Students, please find below a sample of the kind of conference-length paper discussed here.  It derives from the paper proposal assigned earlier in the Summer 2013 term at TCI, working to meet the proposed goals of the project outlined therein.  Accordingly, some of the material in this piece will be familiar to those who have read the previous.

Please note that, as with other examples posted to this blog, the formatting is medium-specific.  The content and pattern are offered as models; the formatting needs to conform to the class standards expressed as "General Paper Formatting Instructions 20130211" here.  When it is formatted appropriately for submission as a paper, it comes out to some six and a half pages, on the shorter end of acceptable length for the assignment.

Note also that it does not use all of the sources suggested as potentially viable in the annotated bibliography composed in support of the research project.  It is frequently the case that not all the information available finds its way into the text--but it is far better to have the information available than not.

An increasing amount of scholarly attention is being paid to fantasy literature, which may be defined as that literature relying upon the enactment of personal will in defiance of the normal constraints of reality, typically through ritual (Elliott, "Manifestations" 2-4).  The most notable work of fantasy literature is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which is abundant on bookstore shelves and enjoyed great commercial success and broad cultural attention in movie form.  Tolkien is far from the only author in the genre, however, and although there are many writers of poor quality who publish fantasy, many others produce works that bear literary critique and analysis no less than the works traditionally valued as part of the literary canon.

One such author is Robin Hobb, whose works are beginning to attract attention by literary scholars.  Much of her fantasy writing depicts a milieu containing the Six Duchies, a fictive kingdom very much in the Tolkienan tradition.  In addition to the novels of the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, which comprise the bulk of the Six Duchies material, she has set several short stories and other works in that fictional nation.  One of them, the novella Words like Coins, serves as a commentary on the craft of writing, noting the perils in sloppiness of language.

The importance of words in the text is signaled in the title itself.  The simile links words--utterances both verbal in encoded in visual symbols--to currency.  Words are thereby equated with money, linked with the primary means of access to material sustenance both within the text and for the early twenty-first century readers of that text.  Accordingly, they are established from the outset as things to be valued, and it follows that if words are to be valued, they are to be treated with care.  They are to be prized, not treated sloppily, an attitude reflecting that expressed by Strunk and White in their seminal work The Elements of Style.  White notes in his introduction to the text that it is in its origin a "summation of the case for cleanness, accuracy, and brevity" in writing (xiii), which tends toward precision and away from sloppiness.  Too, Strunk and White emphasize clarity, explicitly bidding writers to "Be clear" and remarking both that "clarity can only be a virtue" and that "Muddiness [the opposite of clarity] is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope" (79).  While it may be couched in hyperbole, the basic idea is one valued by many writers.  Clarity, the manifestation of precision in the encapsulation of ideas by language, is desirable, and its lack is perilous to writing.  In constructing the simile of her novella's title, Hobb indicates that the text will address the attitude Strunk and White express, both that precision is a boon and its lack a bane.

The attitude is carried on throughout the text.  Lack of precision in the use of language is repeatedly presented badly in the novella.  An early example comes in an exchange between the protagonist, Mirrifen, and a subordinate character, Jami.  The latter, a young, pregnant woman, has asked Mirrifen for a particular favor relating to Mirrifen's training as a hedge-witch.  In Hobb's Six Duchies, hedge-witches are makers of charms and other minor magical items that produce specific effects; Mirrifen had been apprenticed to a drunkard of a hedge-witch, from whom she was able to learn "how much water to mix with her rum" and "six different places to hide from her when she was drunk" rather than the mysteries of art that were supposed to have become hers.  She also learned a cautionary tale regarding the kind of request Jami makes of her, a sleep charm, and she relates it to Jami; a hedge-witch sought to make a sleep charm for herself, succeeding and consequently sleeping so long and so deeply that she died of starvation before being able to wake again.  Jami, who had asked for the charm as a sleep aid in her late pregnancy, reacts badly to the story, shuddering and calling it "'A pleasant tale to sleep on!'"  The reaction to the story and the story itself attest to the negative effects attendant on a lack of consideration for usage.  Jami's reaction suggests an unintended consequence of Mirrifen's story; told initially to explain refusal to comply, the story instead provokes a fear reaction that inhibits the sleep Jami had sought.  The story itself implies that the lack of concern for the outcomes of language--and the system of symbols Hobb's hedge-witches deploy in their charms is very much a language, as Mirrifen repeatedly notes reading specific ideograms in them--can have potentially fatal results.  Both therefore serve as an indictment of sloppy usage.

Other chastisements of sloppy language are more explicit.  At one point in the novella, Mirrifen falls asleep when she is supposed to be guarding a well.  When asked by a pecksie--a fairy-like creature repeatedly noted, if rarely depicted, in Hobb's Six Duchies--what she was doing, Mirrifen replies that she is guarding, prompting the pecksie to exclaim "with disdain.  'You not guard.  You sleep!'"  The lie, an imprecision, is reproved, marking such statements as undesirable.  It is not the only erroneous use the pecksie chastises.  For the pecksie had been the beneficiary of an attempt by Mirrifen to craft a charm against fever--one that was in need of correction, as the pecksie notes with seeming aspersion to Mirrifen, stating that it "Worked.  Just not as good as it could.  Lucky for me, it not do harm" [sic].  Also, as the conversation continues, the pecksie adds (in an authorial reference back to the novella's title) "Words are like coins.  To spend carefully, as they are needed only.  Not to scatter."  A later comment in the conversation between Mirrifen and the pecksie finds the latter ominously asserting that "Careless words are dangerous.  To all."  Here, again, Hobb echoes Strunk and White, who offer writers such advice as "Do not overwrite" (72), "Do not overstate" (73), and "Avoid the use of qualifiers" (73).  When, later, Mirrifen complains of pecksie actions taken in response to her own stated desires, the pecksie replies "You spent the words, and this is what they bought you" returning to the currency comparison and reasserting the peril of poor usage by connecting it to results not wanted or intended.  Linguistic precision and frugality are repeatedly emphasized by the pecksie, and their lack repudiated.  The fact of the repetition, occurring fairly often in a relatively short text, foregrounds in the text of Hobb's novella the idea that sloppiness in language is to be repudiated, suggesting that it is a key discourse of the text.

Hobb's pecksies themselves are much concerned with the effects of language, and therefore with its exactitude.  In discussions with Jami, who fears and loathes the pecksies for much of the novella, Mirrifen learns the power that words have over the pecksies.  Jami notes that pecksies become bound to those from whom they accept assistance, becoming obliged to perform the actions they are bidden by those people.  Jami reinforces the idea, stating explicitly that "Words bind pecksies," an idea that does much to explain the frequency with which the pecksie known to Mirrifen berates those who are sloppy in their usage; as happens in the novella--for Mirrifen had aided the pecksie with whom she speaks before speaking with Jami about pecksies--sloppy wording results in sloppy binding.  While any binding of a sentient being is likely to be objectionable, an inadvertent and careless one is particularly loathsome in its display of lack of concern for the rights of other thinking beings.  And Jami, continuing her conversation with Mirrifen, comments on the need to target commands issued to bound pecksies--and on the potential effects of not targeting them:
You can't just say, 'wash the dishes' or they'll wash the dishes all day long.  You have to say, 'wash the dirty dishes until they're clean, wipe the dishes until they're dry, and then put them in the cupboard.'  They do exactly what you say.  So when my mother told them 'Go away!' they had to go and keep going.  Forever.  Because no one ever gets to 'away', do they?  They had to keep walking until they dropped dead in their tracks. [sic]
The pecksies are themselves aware of such dangers.  The pecksie bound to Mirrifen flatly asks if Mirrifen will issue her the fatal command to "Go away!" and exhibits displeasure at what she perceives as an insulting and ill-considered command.  For pecksies, an accidental word or phrase can result in horrific consequences; a deliberately hateful one can kill off whole families.  They are therefore at pains to ensure that their utterances are exacting, giving no more than is necessary to be clear so as to minimize the possibility of unintended consequences.  Their demonstrated attention to precision in language, their repeated avoidance of sloppiness in it, highlights the perils attendant upon not taking care with utterances--something particularly true for those whose lives depend on the ways words work.

The primary textual example through which Hobb imparts the notion that inattention to the specifics of language use is a danger is in the birth of Jami's child.  That the danger proceeds from inattention to the details of usage is made obvious well in advance of the peril presenting itself; at Jami's request, Mirrifen attempts to make a charm to keep the pecksies out of the room in which Jami is to give birth.  As she does so, however, she realizes the limits of her understanding, but arrogantly pushes on anyway.  Hobb writes of Mirrifen that "She didn't know the charm symbol for 'pecksie.'  No matter.  She knew 'person' and 'small' and the warding words that prevented creatures from passing through.  Those would work well enough."  Mirrifen recognizes her incapacity, her lack of specific understanding, yet proceeds ahead with magic she knows from experience to be potentially dangerous, as her early comments about the sleep-charm-slain hedge-witch indicate.  She also knows that, in matters involving pecksies, specificity of language is of overriding importance; both Jami and the pecksie bound to Mirrifen repeatedly emphasize the point.  That Mirrifen disregards both concerns, and fairly blithely, does much to indicate that danger resulting from sloppy language is forthcoming.
That danger manifests in short order.  Birth is always perilous in a milieu such as that of the Six Duchies.  As remarked upon earlier, Hobb's fantasy kingdom is one very much in the Tolkienan tradition, which means that it is "loosely evocative of romanticized notions of Continental Europe in the High Middle Ages" (Elliott, "Divergent" 1).  The medieval period was hardly the height of obstetric practice, and even in glossed-over, sanitized versions of such narratives, mothers frequently die in childbirth--as do their children.  "Grittier" iterations of the Tolkienan tradition--such as the main line of Hobb's Six Duchies narratives--imply even more risk of death in childbirth.  Mirrifen is well aware of the already-existing potential risk; she "longed for the birth [of Jami's child] as much as she dreaded it....the closest midwife was a half-day's walk away," suggesting the danger in the event and the lack of access to convenient help for it.  The inherent risks of childbirth contribute to the sense of foreboding that Mirrifen's overconfidence fosters, making it no surprise that Jami's accouchement goes as it does.

How it goes is poorly, and all as a result of Mirrifen's lack of specificity.  Jami's delivery is long and arduous; it lasts from near dawn well into the night, wracking Jami's body without ceasing for hours on end without producing the child.  Mirrifen realizes that the delivery has gone dangerously, fatally wrong, leaving Jami weakened almost to the point of death by exhaustion, noting at length that "Jamie [sic] would die, painfully, the child dying within her."  The pecksies eventually are able to intervene, and their own skills leave Mirrifen deep in slumber--and Jami and her child alive and well.  The pecksie bound to Mirrifen notes that it was Mirrifen's charm that had held the baby--a "small person"--inside of Jami before the pecksies could intervene, and Mirrifen realizes that it was through her lack of specificity in language that the near-fatality of the delivery came to be.  It is through sloppy usage that Jami's child is imperiled, and as a direct result of it, Jami is herself imperiled.  Two lives are risked through an arrogant misuse of systems of symbols, making such misuse, such inattention to the details of language, something Hobb uses the novella to argue is very much to be avoided.

For a writer to be concerned with language is to be expected; language is the means through which writers seek to sustain themselves, so that words are very much like coins for them.  That Hobb's novella is preoccupied with pointing out the perils in poor use of language, then, is accordant with her identity as a writer.  Even for those who do not identify as writers, however, the message that exactitude in language is desirable is worth noting.  Those who have had to handle legally binding documents such as contracts and the texts of laws can easily be made aware of what dangers lurk in unclear wording and phrasing.  Those who have been given directions know that precision in them is vitally important.  And for all people, attention to the details of words is of a piece with attention to the details of all things.  In such attention is mastery, and in its lack, a path to potential ruin.

Works Cited
~Elliott, Geoffrey B. "A Divergent Medievalism in Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies." 2013. TS.
~---."Manifestations of English Arthurian Legend in the Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies of Robin Hobb." MA thesis. U of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2007. Print.
~Hobb, Robin. Words like Coins. Burton, MI: Subterranean P, 2012. E-book.
~Strunk, William, Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Pearson, 2009. Print.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sample Summary

Students, below appears an example of the kind of summary I have requested of my students in remedial English coursework, as discussed here.

In the 13 July 2013 New York Times article "The Trouble with Testing Mania," the editorial board of the New York Times argues that the testing situation in place across the United States needs substantial correction.  The board notes that although testing is well intentioned, it has been ineffective at improving instruction, largely due to the haphazard way in which it has been implemented and the institutional pressures it generates.  Other countries and other measures work better, as the board notes, but alternatives will be adopted only slowly it at all unless state and federal governments take measures to ease the transition.  Although substantially correct, the board's comments are late in coming; educators have been making such remarks for many years, and no real changes have been implemented.  It is therefore unlikely that the article will be effective in its implied purpose of driving changes to educational policy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Comments about an Article Read in Flight

Certain affairs required me to take a trip this July.  The details of the trip are not relevant, except to say that I flew via United Airlines, and so I had the opportunity to read the July 2013 issue of Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine offered by the airline.  It was a quick read and for the most part unentertaining, but one point did stand out as particularly relevant to teaching.  To wit, in Arnie Cooper's article "Mr. Fix-It," Kyle Wiens of iFixit is reported as refusing "to hire people with poor grammar.  'I understand missing a comma, but if you use "to," "too" and "two" [sic] incorrectly,' he said at the time, 'it shows me you have no idea what you’re talking about.'"  The remarks serve as a reminder that it is not only English teachers and professors who care about such things.  It is not only in the academy that adherence to prescribed standards of usage matters, but in professional contexts as well.

While Wiens's comments do seem to partake of narrowly prescriptivist views that are not necessarily in accord with the best understandings of language and usage held by linguists and rhetoricians, they do align with prevailing popular understandings of "good" writing.  Freedom from "error" is one of the things for which people look when they decide that a piece of writing is worth reading, and it is often (if incorrectly) used as an indicator of competence and intelligence--as Wiens indicates of his own hiring practices.  Having a firm command of the "standards" that have grown up through repeated use and tacit social agreement, then, is something that is immensely helpful for those seeking work, and not just in the "soft" fields of the academic humanities, but in the "practical" field of electronics repair.  It is likely true in other fields, as well, allowing for a quiet assertion of authority and credibility, as an authoritative, credible source is more likely to be believed and valued than one that is not.

Also to be noted is an issue of context.  In-flight magazines are frequently read by those who fly, and many of those who fly do so for concerns of business and profession.  Many of my own flights are taken to get me to research conferences, and I often overhear others talking about business they will conduct when they get where the planes take them.  The in-flight magazines are therefore poised to spread their messages through the middle socio-economic strata of mainstream United States society (the lower being unlikely to fly much and the upper enjoying chartered flights that offer different entertainments)--where much hiring and economic activity take place.  Wiens's comments thus have the potential to spread widely, and although there are problems with them, they do serve to spread the idea that control of one's prose is a skill not just for the classroom, but for far outside of it.  And that is a welcome vindication of the years-long efforts of those who teach English.

Work Cited
Cooper, Arnie. "Mr. Fix-It." Hemispheres. Illus. Carl Wiens. Ink, 2013. Web. 15 July 2013.