Last week’s This American Life on Tough Rooms has been lingering in the back of my mind since I heard it—again, as a podcast to make time pass on the elliptical. The first segment on headline-invention meetings at The Onion struck me at the time as a fantastic clip for orienting the ENGL121 students I will have in the spring to the idea of entering the conversation. As usual, I’m mildly conflicted (and I have the luxury of time before this conflict must be resolved): it’s a bit more agonistic than irenic, but I am still thinking about its possibilities for framing how some of our in-class discussions could go. The idea of tough rooms could also be a useful counterpart to echo chambers. Could the two be joined to suggest a spectrum that has different consequences on either extreme—too much believing or too much doubting?
I’ve also been thinking about a sequence in ENGL121 that would adopt in turn composing logics associated with Grammar A (conventions; writing mythos; “Inventing the University”), Grammar B (Winston Weathers; crots), and Grammar <a> (Rice; networks; hypertext). I don’t know yet how I would position the three in relation, but I can faintly imagine a promising sequence that would help us gain traction on their differences, their respective strengths and limitations, etc.
At this time of year–because it is semester’s end, the last Friday of Fall 2010 (before final exam week)–I am thinking again about patterned precarity. “Patterned” because the academy’s clock punctuates our lives with fairly arbitrary (if systemic) endpoints. That semesters end means for many students an intensified two-week window near the end of time when a flurry of deadlines, for admittedly complicated reasons, amount to a heap of dustbin deliverables and an even taller heap of stress. I know I am generalizing: it doesn’t always go this way, nor does it have to go this way. But often it does. End of semester grunt/strain/anguish is palpable, thick in the air.
Especially so this semester, it seems.
E., my friend in Kansas City, shared an anecdote with me once about the learner’s mindset and the thrill of close calls. The story I (mis)remember goes something like this: in Kaffa, the region of Ethiopia known as the original growthplace of coffee, there emerged an astonishingly widespread practice among teenagers of something like “fender glancing.” Fender glancing is a game of chicken with moving cars. Basically, participants in this activity enjoy a rush by close brushes with automobiles. A near miss is invigorating–literally life-giving. I made it! As you might imagine, this does not always turn out well. Almost being hit by a car–when the choreography goes badly–can be lethal or at the very least bone-breaking. E. explained how he saw many correspondences to this in those he was teaching (to play soccer), particularly when they were bored.
Thrill seeking isn’t a new discovery or even a new cultural phenomenon elucidated by the derivative (i.e., friend of a friend said; an admittedly lazy, heard-about method) anthropology above. But it nevertheless reminds me about revaluing the relationship between what happens all along, in a given semester, and what happens at the end, as well as rethinking how practices in a given course must spill beyond the time-bounded container of fifteen weeks. In other words, for teaching, how can we redistribute intensive encounters so that a class doesn’t reduce to an ultimate showdown at semester’s end?
I’m between classes: two sections of ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology. Today was our third meeting in the first section. The third meeting of the second section happens in 90 minutes. The only trouble with teaching two sections is that the session details collapse into one another. That is, I reconstruct an approximately full experience from bits of each, roughly as if the 150-minutes, divided in two, amount to a singular 75-minutes of layered memory. A memory so blended, so woven I cannot account for what happened in one section distinct from the other. No, I’m not complaining. Not that at all. I am taking the long way, the curving route to say that the 90-minute window between classes is the only time I can keep the sessions separate-in-mind. Confusion creeps in after.
I walked up from the third floor a few minutes ago thinking about the idea that a first class session is insufficient for grounding an initial impression. I mean, I left those first meetings last week with a reasonably strong, favorable impression of each group (perhaps I recalled them only after, in a “best of” blend). Seriously, the initial impression takes three sessions. After three meetings I can remember many names. We have a sense of the mood, the pace, the projects, and so on.
Verbal sauce? Well, preparing to teach this course has required for me quite a bit of reading on style. I’m learning a lot. And I’m really working to approach the course as an inquiry into the style-technology hyphen: their pedagogical-practical-experimental linkage(s). Style: from the fluff-stuff distinction, from perpetual literacy crisis alarmism, from its attachment to syntax or design. And technology: from the aging-unseen apparatuses, from technology as panacea, and from the onset of electrate logics. Create a collision, an encounter between style and technology, then understand it from the inside, by writing through it.
John. "Composition and the Circulation of Writing." CCC
52.2 (2000): 188-219.
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Anne, and Johndan Johnson-Eilola. "Blinded by the Letter: Why Are
We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else?" Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st
Century Technologies. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1999. 349-368.
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and Richard J. Selfe, Jr. " The Politics of the Interface: Power
and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones." CCC 45.4
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