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Archive for August, 2017

Dar Williams used to make regular visits to the Concerts Under the Stars; maybe she still does?  Maybe that venue is too small now.  But as the days lumber through the summer haze towards the end of August, when the spines of new books get cracked open, and new backpacks creak with the weight, I think of this particular song, and the flash of stagelight on her guitar.

FogLiftsNearMarinaBay

Of course, this scene is nothing like a dark humid evening in Pennsylvania!  That’s the edge of a completely different section of the country, with the unfamiliar as far as my eyes could see.  The light might be spun to gold; I don’t know.  It might as well be the Moon…

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In a recent interview, I forgot to say what should have been at the tip of my tongue, namely that yes, of course I am familiar with motivating people who are not sufficiently engaged in the tasks at hand in the office: I was an English professor!  Rare is the student among hundreds who really latches onto assignments in freshman comp, eager to push their abilities to research, articulate, and argue according to the conventions laid down by Aristotle centuries ago.

Lady Rhetorica

I didn’t say that.  I didn’t say “I taught required courses for many years before I got to teach classes filled with students who chose to be there, deliberately choosing my sections, my topics, degree track, etc.  I said a few other things, and maybe those will lead to other interesting things; we’ll see where it all leads.  Hopefully forward, but at the moment there are so many, many things looping back again I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m told “no, not now, but later”…

Another example of scenarios looping around [other than Watergate and liberation theology] include the evergreen lament that students “cannot write”, which really is “students do not practice what x person remembers as prose style” and “teachers don’t seem to be making students do what x person recognizes as hard enough work”.  See the latest infuriating article here. That writer is shocked to find ‘little high-quality research’ on teaching writing, but doesn’t look hard enough to see that what she values is exactly what research over the last 35 years very specifically fails to support. In fact, based in part on the compilation of studies by George Hillocks in Research on Written Composition, we used to use grammar-driven writing lessons as our control groups because it was really well demonstrated that those had no lasting effect on writing quantity or quality.  Sentence combining does have evidence to demonstrate its success, but if you aren’t citing the Christensens, you’re missing the connection to both tradition and experiments.

<sigh>  But every so often, the “if only we drilled them on grammar” will come around again, and we’ll need people like George, Mina Shaughnessy, and other dogged, data-driven people to turn that tide back again.

 

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