Monday, May 31, 2004


1. Best bad weather driving advice noted before speeding through tornado alley the other day: "If you see a tornado, drive in the other direction." noted.
2. Never slept on a Sleep Number bed, and I don't know my sleep number. Crashed hard last night on a perfectly new air mattress here in Detroit City. Since there aren't any coils in the mattress, I'm not sure the Sleep Number is calculable. Only when I rolled to my side did I sometimes bottom out, which meant my Sleep Number was scalable (where's my calculator?), and which meant D., over on the other side, was perfectly elevated on a firm bed of pressure (variously taut). It's not Erdos, but, well, may be the grounds for an interesting (if only to me) social analysis. Oh, and I slept fine, which is good because we're off to NY later today.
3. Glad to have Clancy's link to Berube's questionnaire. A certain family member started to riff on Kerry this morning (more talk on presidential politics, candidacies and damage control voting). No need to bruise close relationships with political hypotheticals. I didn't even bring up the torture question. Children in earshot.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Brooke, 1988, "Underlife and Writing Instruction"

 Brooke, Robert. "Underlife and Writing Instruction." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 229-241.

Brooke in 1998: "Now that we, as a field, understand this, perhaps the task of the next ten years will be to imagine programs which increase the self's possible roles, widening the ways literacy is used in the celebration and establishment of viable, sustainable communities" (241).

Big Idea
In his 1987 essay, "Underlife and Writing Instruction," Robert Brooke builds on the sociological trope of "underlife" to characterize classroom behaviors in writing instruction. Brooke's is a comp-related rendering of Goffman's Asylums and Stigma bent on ethnographic studies of the behind the scenes substrata of discourse in the writing classroom.  Brooke contends that writing instructors must understand the fundament of "underlife" because such scales of disruption underscore our aims in composition: attune students to identity-staked information games, help students to ride out the grand vacillations among systematized roles, create ways for students to try on more transgressive, contestatory, even counter-hegemonic agilities (as opposed to stances) toward critical literacy and toward disruptive rhetorics. Brooke teases out an interesting distinction between contained underlife (resistant yet functional within the structure) and disruptive (attempts to undermine and reset the institution) underlife.  His ethnographic method amounts to classroom observations; he taps into the murmur and buzz among students--the hum of quiet interchange unnoticed by the instructor.   

Wondering About
Reading this essay against a recent wrangle on techrhet this week, I carry forward a strong impression that Brooke's work should resurface more frequently, that it might inform tendencies in writing instruction that bow to the pressures to vocationalize students, to make them over into so many obedient widget-makers.  I probably ought to back up and explain.  Basically, a lister on techrhet left a link to this article from Fox News.  The article makes a case for the risky messages about identity inherent in cryptic email addresses. For example, probably isn't appropriate for a resume.  The article summarily suggests that the most decorous, normal candidates get jobs:

"There's no way we'd ever consider hiring someone with a silly e-mail address," said a human resource manager at a major financial institution, who wished not to be identified.

The bottom line, experts say, is that job seeking is a sales game, and resumes, cover letters, e-mails, Web sites and voice mail messages are all part of the ad campaign applicants put out about themselves.

"People have to remember that they are a product," Holland said. "You are the most important product you will ever represent."

The article link and the exchange that followed was lively, interesting.  As unsettled as I am by list culture, I even participated with a remark or two.  By and large, it was far less about inappropriate email addresses than our senses--as writing instructors--that we ought to steep the classroom in hegemonic forces, that we ought to shape curricula to the pressures that bear down beyond academe, that we ought to mold our pedagogies to the market realities, and that anything short of best preparing students for future employment shortchanges them and reflects poorly on academic programs and institutions.  Nutshell of a much meatier issue, here.

With that, I want to return to Brooke with the question, "underlife, under what?"  In other words, once the teacher and the students relish in disruption, what is the glue that congeals whatever subordinates them? What is that pressure?  Its source?  "Underlife," especially as Brooke characterizes it through his observations, suggests students are incredibly savvy about playing "information games" in the classroom, about being moderately dutiful, about appealing to the teacher's biases, about wooing the teacher's approval for successful acts.  And that, I guess, is the connection between the Fox article and Brooke: 1.  Students are incredibly adept at negotiating identities and making plays on representations of themselves that will win favorable regard.  2.  Writing classrooms, unlike many places, ought to be a space for tentative explorations of identities, consequences, transgression and subversions of convention.  3.  Rhetoric is inherently tensional.  A lack of discursive resistance (no need to compel assent, move, affect, charge, communicate) is more or less a-rhetorical.  Yes?  

Brooke's essay helped me think about recent recastings of  backchanneling--the fuzzy ring of communication that carries off through media channels (blogs, IM, conversation) following a formal speaking occasion. He notes students who work on assignments during class or who "disrupt" the teacher-centered classroom by talking with peers while the teacher is also talking.  So I want to tuck Brooke away for his ethnographic methods and his conclusions about "underlife"--a term that, perhaps, has been left back in 1987.  It seems to be a useful term in application to blogging.  For my own recall, I want to drop in bell hooks and Antonio Gramsci, too.  Teaching to Transgress and Gramsci's Notebooks on hegemony seemed to run faintly (and without specific mention) through Brooke's essay.  And I probably ought to look up Goffman's Asylums and Stigma.  I hadn't heard of it until now; rings of Foucault and Bentham. 

One last note: Early in the essay, Brooke drops in mention of "real academic success."  It involves the development of a particular kind of identity according to the line that follows.  But this idea of roles and disruption doesn't get framed in terms of "real academic success" later in the essay.  And I wondered about that.  Lots of side issues might attach to it: grade inflation, WAC, the parsed worlds of academe/outside.  But the adjective real stuck with me as I read, especially as I read Brooke in light of the sanitized self arguments churning through the techrhet list.  


"Writing involves being able to challenge one's assigned roles long enough that one can think originally; it involves living in conflict with accepted (expected) thought and action" (229).

"My understanding of 'underlife' stems from Erving Goffman's books Asylums and Stigma, although the concept has long been accepted in sociology.  As presented in these books, the concept of underlife rests on three assumptions about social interaction. First, a person's identity is assumed to be a function of social interaction.  Second, social interaction is assumed to be a system of information games.  Third, social organizations are assumed to produce roles for individuals which imply certain kinds of identities" (230).

"In Asylums, Goffman studies the underlife of a major American mental hospital, and comes to the conclusion that underlife activities take two primary forms.  First, there are disruptive forms of underlife, like those engaged in by union organizers, 'where the realistic intentions of the participants are to abandon the organization or radically alter its structure.' Second, there are contained forms of underlife, which attempt to fit into 'existing institutional structures without introducing pressure for radical change" (231).

"No one but the complete fanatic completely associates herself with only one role--instead , the self is formed in the distance one takes from the roles one is assigned" (232).

"The purpose of these evaluative comments, it seems, is the same purpose as the other underlife activities--to assert one's fundamental distance from the classroom roles" (235).

"In 'Reality, Consensus, and Reform,' Greg Myers shows how wanting to teach writing as a freeing process has historically been in conflict with (and undercut by) the ideological purposes of the educational institution, and argues that writing teachers need to recognize that 'our interests are not the same as those of the institutions that employ us, and that the improvement of our work will involve social changes' (170)" (237).

"Alongside these suggestions for classroom reform are powerful indictments of the traditional writing classroom for being teacher-centered rather than student-centered, focused on the product rather than process, being oppressive rather than liberating" (238).

"When we look at writing instruction from the perspective of underlife, it appears that the purpose of our courses is to allow students to substitute one kind of underlife for another.  Instead of the naive, contained form they normally employ, we're asking them to take on a disruptive form--a whole stance towards their social world that questions it, explores it, writes about it" (239).

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Swiss Cheese

Throughout the day Air America Radio folks have been talking about this report on bullet shortages. The Lake City, Mo., munitions factory (just south of Fort Osage H.S. off Missouri 7 Hwy, East away from the circular loop) produces a meager 1.2 million shells for the Army each year.  Article tells us the Army expects a need for 300-500 million bullets over the next five years. Mass destruction?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Burn Baby Baby

I know I promised to cut out the house repair posts, so this is just a bit off that pattern.  Others have been running name googlisms.  Thought I'd try the fun with Maytag, since the Affordable Maytag store in my neighborhood was more than a little rude to me yesterday.  Just snotty about knob glitches; nothing else.  You guessed it: the oven is still on the fritz. The new switch makes the pilot light come on.  And stay on.  Whether the burner dial is turned to a number or not.  Hmm.  That's not how it's supposed to work.  Here's what googlism told me about Maytag:

maytag is cleaning up its act
maytag is the big cheese in this small town
maytag is really showing the ability to increase its margins and come out with new exciting
maytag is broad
maytag is especially sensitive to macroeconomic factors because its products are relatively high
maytag is one of the world's great brands
maytag is in the least likely position to benefit from further growth in the housing industry
maytag is not liable for the defamatory
maytag is a family owned and operated maytag home appliance center
maytag is a leading manufacturer of major home appliances
maytag is not living up to the name
maytag is supposed to be a premium brand but the consumers we hear from aren't very happy about the extra money they spent
maytag is responsible for anchor brewing company in san francisco
maytag is a great american company
maytag is in
maytag is the only one to have done so
maytag is a leader in commercial laundry technology
maytag is the #1 consumer preferred brand in clothes washers and dryers and dishwashers; jenn
maytag is well aware of the fact that this part is not easily available
maytag is a multi
maytag is looking at possibly outsourcing some of its administrative jobs to pricewaterhouse coopers
maytag is among them
maytag is covering its
maytag is running
maytag is looking for a few more lonely people
maytag is betting on the horizontal
maytag is having problems
maytag is the catalyst for personal vulnerabilities to bear their teeth
maytag is a fantastic opportunity for me
maytag is expanding its role in energy star to include the retail sector
maytag is a premium product and food source is also at that top end of the market
maytag is happy because it gets to grow internet revenue
maytag is schuylkill

I ordered the new knob a partner (to complete what's clearly a flubbed pilot circuit because the other switch is faulty too...right?), but rather than pay another 36 bucks at Affordable Maytag (yeah! 36 bucks for an oven dial-knob), I found a cheaper one online from out of Edmond, Oklahoma.  I'd much rather ewire my money to Jowayne in Oklahoma than drive up the street to the rude neighborhood appliance store.  Should get the part in tomorrow or Friday.  Saturday morning?  Pancakes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Contested Subjectivity

Storms last night kept me from posting this photo I took Friday of Mr. Newspaper Reporter taking a photo of me.  Gimmick?  I tried to explain that he was being interviewed whilst he was interviewing me.  I'm not a very good subject; Q&A morphed to conversation, and although I didn't take notes by hand, I did ask him whether he cared if I blogged a few of the things he said.  Of course I mind!   Fair enough.  The blog gave me reportorial leverage: "Misrepresent me and I'll mediate you in return."

Synchronized Shooting

He left me a message to call him today so he could read the story to me before printing it.  The story: A lot has happened since you first came to the U. as an undergrad in '92, and now you're leaving.  As significant as the juicy premise of the story is, Mr. NR's writing me up due to the rained-out sports scene in the past week.  Mr. NR, after all, is a local sports ed.  The gripping story is really more of a eleventh hour grab.  All deadlines and filler.

And he's reading it back to me not because it's juicy or controversial but because we broached some of the more difficult angles of my job, administrative styles, tragedy--in short, stuff that still gets the tisk-tisk and finger-wag, forebodings of "Don't go there."  Mr. NR understands this, and so we proceeded with our formal interview not ever really agreeing what was on the record or off the record, since we're the record.  The representations are only parts.  I've been funneling the U.'s sports PR to Mr. NR for the last seven years; he has a thorough sense of what I do, what I've done.

Lest this entry dip any further into vanity, I wanted to note the latest hibbity over at the U.--my title is all wrong.  I wrote up the job description last week, winnowing away vital duties for my replacement, casting the spot in hirable terms, and reducing the title to its known standard--Sports Information Director.  The flap: directors can't report to directors.  Like I said, I only want to note it.  That should be enough.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Egg Fry and a Gentle Breeze

In the middle of frying up egg sandwiches last evening, the stove presented me with a loose knob and only two settings--(red) high and off--for the one decent sized heating coil.  The other coil is too small to cook anything much worth eating (it's like a Weight Watchers burner); the other side of the stovetop is a griddle thing--fashionable in the late seventies, I guess.  It would have worked for the egg fry, but it takes a while to heat up, and the stove didn't go on the fritz until after I'd made D. and Ph.'s sandwiches.  No, really, you go ahead and eat; I'll fume over this crappy appliance and the life-threatening popping sounds it's making (while my egg hardens to the faint heat of a might-be-on-might-be-off burner.  

So I pulled it apart today, figuring a knob can't be too hard to replace, even on an old stove.  Trouble is none of the hardware mega-stores around here carry appliance parts and the Maytag fix-it shop doesn't open until 8:30 Monday morning.  I had the camera out to take a pic of the wires on the switch I was removing, you know, to pixelate my memory because I would forget where each of the five wires should be reconnected.  Then I took a couple more pics--the ones you see here.  

Easy Bake Nest Temperature settings matter.

With any amount of luck, this will be my final post in a growing series about spiffing up the house for market.  We've had several inquiries, given out five tours of thePull the chain. house ("Aw...notice the splendid view.") No offers yet.  Twenty-three fliers have been pulled from the box hanging next to the sign stuck in the front yard--in two weeks.

My only planned house-fix for the day was the tug-chain switch in the house fan.  It's old, irregular.  Sometimes you pull on it and the fan works, other times you pull on it, nothing.  So I cut the power, started taking out screws.  And what I found was deeply troubling.  The insulation on the old-a*s fan wires were all cracked, revealing bare wires.  Plus, working on a house fan is physically demanding: my head was crookt into a tight space, the Sahara winds were drifting down from the attic space, the lighting was poor, my step ladder was quivering. The electrical line from the house was fine--that much was a relief.  So I chopped the power supply to the fan, grabbed some 18 gauge extensions, wrapped-spliced-routed, patched in the cycle switch, and affirmed my faith that miracles happen.  It works. From pure misery to pure joy, just like that.  Now, no more pictures or blog entries about home repair.  Promise.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Porter, et al., 2001, "Institutional Critique"

 Porter, James, et. al. "Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for Change." CCC 51 (2000): 610-642.

Big Idea

Institutions can be changed through rhetorical activism.  Porter and company develop broad model for institutional critique driven by rhetoricians as agents for change and pomo geographical interrogations to stage institutional dynamics (needing change).  The authors juxtapose "despair" as the unsatisfying alternative to a more hopeful and upbeat, even (re)visionary empowerment:  the field must vigorously imagine its potential for changing institutions, for transforming them through language, and for thinking about rhetoric and writing as activisms beyond academe.  The essay sets up a macro-micro paradigm for thinking about institutionality, then, invoking a model of "boundary interrogation," the space-made-over institutional critique ventures into the space between the macro-micro and into the "'zones of ambiguity,' or spaces that house change, difference or a clash of values or meanings."  

Wondering About

My impression is that this article and the premise it advances are much more compelling due to the group authorship.  A team-authored article suggests a formidable solidarity, a banding together of credibility and force--the very sort of coordinated leverage that makes institutional critique possible.  As I read the essay, I had questions about whose agency is staked in the critique.  Is rhetorical-discursive institutional critique most potent when it is pressed by clearly recognized members of the institution?  Membership and stability can work both ways; institutional critiques, I suppose, work best when they are formulated by stable bands of respected participants members in the institution.  Contingent faculty, like new students or new workers, probably have a more challenging time leveraging such critiques against their own proven records for longevity and loyalty. Hear this: "You haven't been here long" or "You won't be."  So I wondered whether this is a workable plan for all comp/rhet folks or whether it is much more realistic for WPAs and groups of faculty with a shared sense of how the institution should change.  Even if, as the article suggests, we rename "composition teachers" as "writing experts" and fashion thereby a public sensibility about the broad applicability of rhetoric and writing, we (must) continue to feel the tug of unsavory labor practices.  In other words, it's not easy to promote the *new and improved*  "writing expert" toward a public role when the writing program (employing said experts) relies on contingent and contract labor to cover courses. "Writing experts" like "composition teachers" can't be remade publicly until they are remade materially, validated and stabilized by the institution's commitment to capital support--all of which is why this works wonderfully at an institution with a well established writing program and works less swimmingly in places where the writing program is already in the institution's cellar (free of despair, not tribulation).  In such places, routing institutional critique through a writing program (in the name of rhetoricians for change) can be risky business--even riskier, perhaps, where comp/rhet is a subset of English.  So leaving behind the name "composition teacher" because it reflects the field's history of inferiority and subjugations of labor doesn't alter the legacy or the lingering (even prevalent) realities of exploited contingent faculty. That said, I'm sure Porter et al. don't take the plights of lesser established U's or contingent faculty lightly. 

The essay outlines the avenues of institutional critique, categorizing critique into administrative, classroom and disciplinary areas.  And in the administrative area, the WPA can make great strides toward institutional critique by 1.) establishing graduate programs in writing and rhetoric and 2.) establishing a writing major.  These in-house steps affirm the validity of the writing program; they give body to the power necessary for such critiques to be taken seriously. 

In a few places, I wished for clearer examples.  The critical geography references are terrific: Edwards Soja, David Sibley, Doreen Massey, Michel de Certeau and David Harvey figure into this essay, and for composition, I suppose this essay is attempting something new by calling on spatial analysis postmodern mapping and boundary interrogation--both of which play heavily in their analysis.  The single diagram in the article--a map of a site for institutional critique--is included without much of the boundary analysis said to be so promising. It maps the space "where Institutional Critique operates," but it left me wondering why the map wasn't subject to the interrogations promoted in the essay.  I also wondered why the space of institutional critique didn't bear out a productive tension with the composition classroom (in the map-diagram) the way it did with the discipline and the macro institution. I didn't pick up on much boundary interrogation of their diagram nor any acknowledgement of the problem that mapping (unanalyzed, two-dimensional) tends to be oversimplified for any complex system.

I wanted a few more examples of a "zone of ambiguity."  The article leads with one example in which a usability expert and former CWR student pushes for the term usability in a Microsoft development chart.  Is a space between macro and micro ambiguous to the extent that it is contested or institutionally unstable?  In such cases, institutional critique from all directions (not just from WPAs and faculty) inevitably continue to refigure the zone.  Its contestation is discursive and material, but can we say the same of an unambiguous zone?  Or are all institutional zones--all spaces, even--ambiguous to the degree that they are rhetorically charged?  Is this true more so when we conceive of space as, in Harvey's terms, "produced."  One example brought in is Purdue's OWL, which is atop the heap of online writing labs.  The essay describes the scientific appeal of a lab space (sig. of naming), the ongoing battle in an English department about the usability of space.  Question: how, if at a place such as Purdue, the tension rages on, might smaller, lesser established writing programs venture into such perilous matches.  Must they?  What are the risks?


"[I]nstitutional critique is an unabashedly rhetorical practice mediating macro-level structures and micro-level actions rooted in a particular space and time" (612).

"But we have a particular spin on institutional critique.  Our spin is more locally situated, more spatial, and more empirical than most theoretical discussions of institutions" (613).

"We are frustrated, however, with the gap between local actions and more global critiques (which are far more common in our disciplinary discourse). We are frustrated, in other words, when global critiques exist only in the form of ideal cases or statements, which all too often bracket off discussions of materiality and economic constraints in favor of working out the best case scenario--which, all too often, does not come to pass" (615).

"Talking about institutions at this macro level is extremely important (as we argued earlier in respect to WPAs) because it is one way to discuss how our public lives are organized and conducted (both for us and by us). But limiting our analytic gaze to macro institutions also encourages a level of abstraction that can be unhelpful if it leads to a view of institutions as static, glacial, or even unchangeable (i.e., if it urges us to see change as requiring large-scale action that few people rarely have the power to enforce). If institutions are conceptualized exclusively on this macro level, we may be restricted to visualizing an abstraction of institution that makes change difficult to imagine" (621). 

"Our discussion raises an important question about the relationship between institutional action and reports of action. Can dissertations and other publications themselves be instances of institutional critique?  Maybe, but as with idealized goals statements, we are suspicious of publications that do no more than recommend or hope for institutional change.  To qualify as institutional critique, a research project has to actually enact the practice(s) it hopes for by demonstrating how the process of producing the publications or engaging in the research enacted some form of institutional change" (628).

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Teacher Broke Free

(pronounced Mc-fur-son): A friend called today to solicit my opinion on McPherson, Kansas.  I said I had been there only once.  My impression: churches, train tracks, small town tidiness, two smallish colleges.  But I was only there for a few hours.  There's a KFC near the Interstate.  Friend wanted to know what people do for fun in McPherson.  Suppose I don't know the answer to that.  So I did some online research, found they have a pipe band and an art gallery.  The weather is beautiful in late August.  Maybe it's better to direct the question to somebody who knows.  So, McPherson, Kansas, what do you do for fun?

Retro-scholarship: Revisit walk-on policies?

The Teacher Broke Free: Seems that a group of five students at a nearby high school attempted to tape their English teacher to a chair as a senior prank.  One of the television reports suggested that the day was cast as a free day of preparation for the final exam.  It's a relief nobody was hurt, and, of course, it's in poor taste make light of it.  But I am curious what was on the exam.  Did they still take the test?

1/350: Here's a pic from Tuesday afternoon of Ph. at his first track meet.  It's a blur.  Set the shutter speed to multi-frame, but the light (cloudy) and distance (top row of bleachers) weren't in our favor.  No retakes at a track meet.  I won't say whether he won or where he finished; he's depicted with momentary potential to win the event.  Tracksters qualified from their respective gym classes then merged into a seventh-eighth grade combine.  Here, in the 200-meter, Ph. (left) had long strides, but you can see he was running against long-legged giants.

Either Or

So outside the school was a man with a drum, he was on a bicycle and he was drumming and when Rose heard him drumming she went to the door and the man was calling out either or either or, either there is a lion here or there is no lion here, either or, either or. (GS, The World Is Round, 58)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

In the place where you are

When Six Apart released MT3.0 (Beta-Developer) and a new pricing structure early last week, I started out with an uneasy feeling. Lots of froth and fray bubbled out from the announcement; some among the MT faithful cried out Betrayal!, some swiftly dumped MT...hooks to beefmeat.

Parts of what Clay Shirky wrote at Many2Many yesterday got me thinking about content management systems as social organizers, more specifically weblogging systems, as a kind of cybersocial fabric, a "community enabler" as he puts it.  He argues that social software built on a free now, pay later upgrade scale dupes the community by imparting a class system and, basically, the branches or divergences in the system are inimical to the sense of community shared among users.  It makes sense that "changes to the [social software] tool trigger anxiety." Many anxious variations have turned up in these six days (apart) from the announcement. FWIW, I have a less easy time making sense of the move to separate the rational users and emotional hooks. And I grant that I have, in the use of a handful of MT plugins, benefited from the fruits of an MT developer community that might shift, fade, vanish in the months ahead (toward other platforms or more recent versions).

The comments following Shirky's post are worth a read, too.  Perhaps it's because I've never fully realized membership in a community of MT users that I don't see my laggard attachment to the older, freer version of MT as a social rip-departure from the upscale 3.0 users.  I'll be able to read their blogs; they'll be able to read mine.  Presumably, I will be able to leave them trackbacks; they will be able to link to me.  In fairness, I really don't want to use Shirky's post daftly. However, as a blogger, I never saw myself as a member of an MT community more than, say, a member of a blogging community among people I admire and read regularly (mostly) in my field(s) of interest.  The self-defined blogroll trumps the CMS community, I think, and it's much more directed, much more real to me, having a greater effect by far on how I conceive of blogging as purposeful.  These are the people whose weblogs I keep up with.  So, Shirky's entry set me to thinking about a few other issues that have stirred in these six days--other material I want to dig my 2.65 anchor (temporarily, perhaps) against.

First, my blogroll, which has remained relatively stable lately, includes a array of platforms:

Mister BS - Blog-city; Clancy Ratliff and Charlie Lowe - Drupal; Dennis Jerz - Wordpress JWeblog; Will Richardson - Manila; Dr. B - Blogger; Ken Smith - pMachine; Marie Freeman - TypePad; John Lovas - Manila; Rich Rice - Who knows?; Amy Propen - Blog*Spot; Jeff Rice - Greymatter

These are most of the non-MT bloggers I keep up with (although aggregation isn't possible with a few of them, so I visit less frequently, attributable to business, absentmindedness).  Without gushing burning bloglove, their regular entries, getting to know people by their work, their ideas, their weblogs--that's the sense of community membership I identify with.  And...important and, here...I appreciate that they work from different platforms.  I'd feel uneasy if all of them used Movable Type or Drupal or Wordpress. Changes to platforms (upon which or through which our conversations unfold, our connections manifest) are less significant to me socially than their persistence as available, present, and connected bloggers.  In other words, it would matter less if John Lovas, for example, switched to Blogger or Manila than if he gave up blogging altogether--literally checking out of the "membership in a community."  

Second, software choices present ideological window dressing, perhaps more, perhaps less.  Hanna from join-the-dots makes this point squarely in her announcement of the switch from MT to Wordpress.  For folks committed to GNU GPU licensing, true open source, as I understand it, the point is crucial.  Honestly, I'm not sufficiently well versed in property law to give a responsible run-down of the differences between CC, GNU GPU (which applies to software source more than IP?) and all the gradations. Suffice it to say that I've always struggled to live out ideological fancies with lasting vigor--I have worn Nikes, munched on KFC, even thrown away perfectly recyclable materials in the trash.  So, without preferring to be an ethical slob or a hypocrite, I'll continue with MT 2.65, no matter how that reflects an ideological layer.  I on-ramped to blogging with a recommendation to use MT.  It was free.  I'm content with it.  I don't have time to tinker with Drupal or Wordpress.  MT will continue to meet my needs for writing here and teaching and so on.  Bunker the social and ideological gales along the way.

Third, I haven't observed any features in other blogging systems that vastly expand the potential of EWM to do what I mean for it to do. Maybe my mood would change if I got hit with 1000 spam comments, but that hasn't happened yet.  Drupal is the only system whose look, feel and usability appeal to me--for the wiki functions than the threaded comment functions. On that note, Drupal and Wordpress users have been out in full glory, converting the MT-disgruntled, inviting the dejected into the warm and gregarious open source alternatives.  Distracting us from smashed idols and empty dreams.  Please forgive the evangelical language. I'm just having a bit of fun.

This is less of a defense of sticking with an earlier version of MT or riding out the ripples of Six Apart's mustard-on-the-shirt announcement last week than it is an attempt to make sense (for me or for you) of why I'm doing what I'm doing.  Maybe, in the next six months, the competing platforms will feature collaborative entry authoring (co-authorship or tri-authorship functionality...for comments, too) and other stuff, such as [insert wishlist here].  In the meantime, I'm going to idle, wait it out and blog contentedly in this MT space, crossing my fingers that my delicate sense of community won't be obliterated.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Out the Way, Coach


...middle school...hoops practice...pass a few years...

Organized a Stampede swimming party yesterday at North Kansas City Community Center.  It was my farewell to the young men who've done mostly what I asked on the basketball court for the last four years.  Fine times.

Not much of a before and after comparison.  The crew on the left (in fifth grade, three years ago) morphed into the group on the right (yesterday's bunch).  Along the way, we expanded to two teams, holding open roster spots for seventeen players this past winter.  And, although I confess to whining once in a while, joking that it was a mistake to take on so much, I can't say I'd change any of it, trade any of the kids or their families for different ones.  Six of them didn't make it yesterday for the swimming and pizza.  Baseball, church stuff, graduations.  

My talk was briefer than usual yesterday; the lifeguard interrupted me to go over the important pool rules.  I told the boys and their families two things:  1.  Young players shouldn't play for the same coach for more than four years (which means my time is rightly served and we're both better for it being done), and 2.  Second place is a better teacher than first place (note that everyone was holding second place trophies from this winter--both teams, green and blue, finished one spot behind an unbeaten squad in their respective leagues).  All in all, we finished with a record of 60-32 over four years--including a couple of first places, second places, and even, um, well, a winless season in Smithville (against older kids).  In late December, we even matched up with an "eighth grader" who dunked three times against us in a 90-something-to-much-less-than-90 blowout.  Some days there just weren't enough timeouts.  Still have a few t-shirts in a box if faithful EWM readers want to claim one (various sizes, athletic gray).  They're like the one A. (front left in the photo on the right) is wearing.  Seriously--extra shirts.  Just shoot me an email.  Spare tees are free (to the first five readers who tell me they'd like one...kinda like a radio call in); the nostalgia, on the other hand, is priceless.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

D'Angelo, 1977, "Intelligible Structure"

 D'Angelo, Frank. "The Search for Intelligible Structure in the Teaching of Composition." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 51-59.

Big Idea
Look!  We, compositionists, are disciplinarily vital. We have an epicenter, proven radials, recognizable and defensible structures holding our work together.  D'Angelo's essay, I'd say, is best read as a freeze frame in composition's becoming.  In his afterthought, he notes, "Much has happened in the teaching of writing and literature that suggests that our earlier emphasis on structure and sequence may have been misguided and naive" (59). He cites a long list of folks (Leonard, V. Burke, Scully, Stade, W. Rice) whose critiques hammered at the (perceived to be) thin, 1976 shell of the dispersed ranges of academic writing.  Toward "new unity and order," D'Angelo diagrams the modes of discourse, partners them with Kinneavy's aims of discourse, and folds them together with the contention that the field must be drawn with a sense of coherence, visible chalk lines.  

Monday Morning
D'Angelo's essay, brief as it is, proceeds descriptively more than critically.  It's not an overtly political defense of the field of composition, but by leading with the allegations that "writing is the disgrace of American education" (Leonard) and that "many entering students are in fact 'functionally illiterate'" (Scully), the essay serves up an answer as well as a call for a recentering of stray pedagogies.  In one sense, I see D'Angelo's Braddock as a crucial moment: it carved out a future into which compositionists could proceed critically.  By promoting a disciplinary structure, it also sets up a core fade to (trained) corps fade to clubhouse fade to "what you're doing isn't composition."  

Because I had time yesterday to take on a decent chunk of the latest CE, I'm thinking about "Intelligible Structure" under beams of Bonnie Kyburz's essay on chaos theory in composition and at least one small bit of Joseph Harris' response to Beech and Thelin's critique of his article on "Revision as a Critical Practice."  First, Kyburz's chaos theory work probably wouldn't have been well received thirty years ago; "Intelligible Structure" is, in part, D'Anglo's response to Virginia Burke's claim that "there is chaos today in the teaching of composition because since the turn of the century, composition has lacked an informing discipline." Arguing for chaos could have been like rocks to a fragile figurine--hazardous. And I wonder: are these different brands of chaos?  In "Meaning Finds a Way: Chaos (Theory) and Composition," Kyburz writes;

I have long been fascinated (like Taylor and Walker) by the concept of writing as a chaotic process, and I find that this notion is encouraged by conversations regarding "alternative discourses" and "post-process" pedagogy.  These progressive, "alternative" discourses--which shape-shift, form, and reform according to rhetorical purposes, unbound by the strictures of traditionally bland, uniform, and regulated "academic writing"--have recently gained currency in composition studies.  Yet, as Gary Olson tells us, there remains within the field a conservative and nostalgic presence that denies these and other progressive discourses the sorts of disciplinary status that can create appreciable change for the composition classroom and for our notions of what we are about in composition studies ("Working"). Perhaps by returning in iterative fashion to the chaos metaphor--via chaos theory--that has for so long informed ideas about writing, we may find ourselves rethinking writing in increasingly complex and promising ways, effectively resisting pressures to define ourselves and our students through standardized testing and retrogressive pedagogies, among other ages practices, as the gatekeepers and worthy practitioners of "order" (that is, Standard Written--white, middle-class--English. (CE 66.5 505)

Retrogressive pedagogies.  Hmm.  Good stuff.  It reminds me of Joseph Williams' phrasal links interface shared via techrhet a few weeks ago--loosely associated links from among the spray of web texts--discovery and potentials in chaotic textual extension.  Wonderful.

And this clarification from Joseph Harris on his use of diverge fits with D'Angelo, too, I think:

The verb I actually use in my essay is diverge.  I don't see myself as trying to head off or rebut the work of Ira Shor, James Berlin, or Patricia Bizzell. Rather, I view us as starting out with a similar set of aims and values, but ending up in different places, doing different kinds of work.  Our approaches to teaching don't conflict so much as branch away from one another.  We need to find ways of talking about such divergences that don't lock us into fixed antagonisms--and especially that resist valorizing some teachers for "empowering" students while dismissing others as serving the "dominant ideology." (CE 66.5 557)

With this, then, I need only to note that I see D'Angelo's essay as a necessary, momentary assembling of the field toward "intelligible structure" so that compositionists could, again, diverge in good stead, loosely tied, supported, affirmed by some conceptual disciplinary guard--a force at once beneficent and differentiating, making divergence possible yet risky.

Detached Structures

"But one of the most important reasons for our inability to teach composition adequately is that we have failed to identify the most significant principles and concepts in the field which make intelligible everything we do" (52).

"My thesis is that composition does not have an underlying structure which gives unity and coherence to the field, that that structure can be conceived of in terms of principles and forms (akin to those found in music or painting, (for example), and that these principles and forms need to be taught in an orderly sequence" (53).

"Virginia Burke emphasizes this point even more forcefully: 'There is chaos today in the teaching of composition because since the turn of the century, composition has lacked an informing discipline, without which no field can maintain its proper dimensions, the balance and proportion of its various parts, or its very integrity. Consequently, the practice of composition has shrunk, has lost important elements, has become a victim of all manner of distortion'" (51).

"According to many critics, the composition curriculum was a loose amalgam of separate skills and content which tried to pursue its various objectives in a bewildering variety of ways" (57).

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Cold Showers

The sixteen-year-old hot water heater in our basement started to wet itself when the house-shopping plumber came in for the open house today.  Did I mention that we're selling this place ourselves? Yeah.  Great.  Part-time real-estating. Ask me anything about the "Statement of Condition" form. Anything. Maybe we'll turn it over to a professional in early June.

The water heater isn't gushing yet.  Probably got another hot shower or two in there.  I replaced the thermocouple this winter; figured that would get us through the sale of the house.  No such luck.

Fine with me that the plumber won't be buying the house.  He could've offered to fix the leak he provoked by tapping on stuff.  He just walked around the house, knocking on the walls, looking behind furniture, grumbling about the tangle of copper lines that *is* the ceilingof the garage.  No aesthetic sensibility, this guy. Those pipes all criss-crossing are beautiful and masterfully crafted. Unconditionally, he wins Most Irritating Visitor among the three shoppers who stopped by today.  The other two were upbeat and polite. 

Between online course conversions and house-selling, I've been swamped. And now I've got a hot water heater dilemma to sort through.  Took one call already from a guy who wants $525 to install a new one.  "No," I said, "It's spelled R-h-e-e-m."  Dunno if I can handle replacing a gas water heater on my own. But for 500 bucks, it had better come with a scalding sponge bath.

 Due to post a serious entry at the blog any time now.  Maybe even later today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


First, the quiz tells me: 

At work or in school: I need to be "hands on": I like to play games, to compete, and to perform. I enjoy flexibility, changes of pace, and variety. I have difficulty with routine and structure. My favorite subjects are music, art, theatre, and crafts. I often excel in sports. I like solving problems in active ways and negotiating for what I want. I can be direct and like immediate results.

With friends: Planning ahead bores me because I never know what I want to do until the moment arrives. I like to excite my friends with new and different things, places to go, and romantic moments.

With family: I need a lot of space and freedom. I want everyone to have fun. It is hard for me to follow rules, and I feel we should all just enjoy one another.

What Color is Your Brain?

brought to you by Quizilla

Well, yeah, I'll be something different tomorrow.  Shades of green, gold or blue. [via Culture Cat - tks!]

Syracuse U. announced yesterday that its mascot is now plain and simple: Orange.

Previously the [athletic] department had multiple marks and logos. In addition, Syracuse University's teams will now use the nickname Orange, replacing Orangemen and Orangewomen.

Fragmentation is bad for branding; fair enough.  Now Otto's rotund genderlessness perfectly matches the desexed mascot name.  I never cared much for the genderbent mascots anyhow.  It's been tricky at my current institution, where "Pirates" is *usually* engendered as male, and where "Lady Pirates" doesn't do the trick--in my thinking.  Our graphic solution was to prefer a skull;  the skeletal face is pretty much neutral, right?  Of course, the graphic of the skull scares the kids, so they drew up an alternative for "Little Pirates."  What a relief that SU is simply Orange (and portends to be the first U. with a single official color, rather than two).

Beats the heck out of rose pink and pea green (SU's original colors in 1872).  At Park, we've been dickering over Canary and Old Wine versus their modern cousins, Maroon and Gold.  Flipped back, forth and back again in my seven years there.  Old wine: is that the color left in the bottom of the wine glass the morning after a bottle of Chardonnay? Shiraz?

So I should be reading and working on course migrations into eCollege for the summer and pasting a trail of fresh caulk in the bathrooms for house showing in the days ahead.  I have to balance my priorities; SU trivia is going to come in handy when we visit in early June.  Maybe I'll find a sweatshirt freshly reduced to the discount rack as a result of the switch to the latest official logo. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Words Made Me Do It


A number of smart, insightful posts have turned up in recent days, working over the abhorrent prisoner abuse news out of Abu Ghraib; I'm not sure I have a lot to add.  I'm still not ready to dig my heals in on the whole issue; haven't come to many firm conclusions about what's happened, although I do find Mike's mention of command failures to be compelling.  Jenny's reading of Shaviro's post is interesting, too, for the suggestion that many of the young folks who follow the enticements of recruiters have few other post-secondary options, have vexed experiences with power and aggression, and find, in the recruiter's pitch, something promising.  

Lynndie England has become the poster child for U.S. military recklessness, gone to abuse and photo op celebrations of abuse.  In one story (whose link is down), England's uncle said, basically, she was just following orders.  Another story from the Baltimore Sun, describes England as a "paper pusher"; she's also termed a "scapegoat" by a family friend.  So what the world needs now is a resurrection of Stanley Milgram's experiment on subjects' willingness to inflict harm by subduing conscience in deference to authority: agentic shift. It's the same sort of critique applied to Adolf Eichmann who was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death.  Note: Some accountability went to his superiors, too.

I mention Eichmann because the corollaries are considerable.  And since Eichmann's role surfaced during the Nuremberg trials, I thought the following connection was good enough for the blog.  See, Mark Bowden's Atlantic Monthly report on "The Dark Art of Interrogation" seems almost prophetic now, in light of the torture.  In October 2003, Bowden's piece ran with its premise that coercive discomfort, while not exactly "torture," is militarily useful.  It saves lives, it enables intelligence officers to head off plots, and it's vital to criminal interrogation.  Fine. The project was eerily predictive as I re-read it over the weekend, during the garage sale when I needed something interruptible. From Bowden:

The official statements by President Bush and William Haynes reaffirming the U.S. government's opposition to torture have been applauded by human-rights groups--but again, the language in them is carefully chosen. What does the Bush Administration mean by "torture"? Does it really share the activists' all-inclusive definition of the word? In his letter to the director of Human Rights Watch, Haynes used the term "enemy combatants" to describe those in custody. Calling detainees "prisoners of war" would entitle them to the protections of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the "physical or mental torture" of POWs, and "any other form of coercion," even to the extent of "unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." (In the contemptuous words of one military man, they "prohibit everything except three square meals, a warm bed, and access to a Harvard education.") Detainees who are American citizens have the advantage of constitutional protections against being held without charges, and have the right to legal counsel. They would also be protected from the worst abuses by the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment." The one detainee at Guantanamo who was discovered to have been born in the United States has been transferred to a different facility, and legal battles rage over his status. But if the rest of the thousands of detainees are neither POWs (even though the bulk of them were captured during the fighting in Afghanistan) nor American citizens, they are fair game. They are protected only by this country's international promises--which are, in effect, unenforceable.

And this:

The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.

Apart from sensationalizing passages, it's a strong article for context, for digging into the semantics of "torture," splitting out what it is and what it's not, in legal terms.  "Torture," in this sense, is avoidable--duck the Geneva Compact, dodge international law and the Constitution, play the slippery terms.  

As I looked into Bowden's article and what follows, I was especially taken by the letter from Stephen Rickard, Director of the Nuremberg Legacy Project, an effort to memorialize historic atrocities of war.  Rickard's letter shows up in the Jan/Feb 2004 Atlantic Monthly, an issue with the White House Chiefs of Staff, including Don Rumsfeld, on the front.  In his letter (scroll down to "Interrogations"), Rickard defends the Bush Administration's definitive stance on torture and coercion:

Mark Bowden's article "The Dark Art of Interrogation" (October Atlantic) is an important survey of calculated cruelty. But when Bowden argues that the Bush Administration's position on the legality of "torture lite" (so-called "stress and duress" interrogation) is ambiguous and should be, he is wrong on both points.

Bowden correctly notes that Administration officials said for months that no detainee was being "tortured," but failed to rule out "cruel, inhumane, or degrading" treatment. Both are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution and international law. Specifically, he cites an April letter from William J. Haynes II, general counsel for the Defense Department, to Human Rights Watch, which ruled out only "torture," and says, "Haynes's choice of words was careful--and telling."

It'll be interesting to see how the Nuremberg Legacy Project responds to the atrocities now upon us, U.S. culpability in the fiasco, and the currency of it all.  So many other atrocities of war have been set against years of discovery.  Eichmann, for example, was pursued for years before he was tried in 1997 for crimes nearly fifty years past.  And while I'm not sure recent events match Eichmann's crimes, I recommend a quick read through Bowden's story and some of the letters of response.  If nothing else, they affirm the drastic shifts in meaning stemming from context: the meaning of these months-old articles has been overhauled in the last ten days.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Dear Marylou Hobson

Thank you for your very thoughtful spam letter.  I read it with great interest.  I tried hard, but I wasn't able to make sense of the cryptic word list at the end of your message.  The part where you said "splutter blank cutworm" is especially perplexing.  What did you mean by that? "Boric magnet budd" is unclear to me, too. But I know you use the word "meaningful," so I'll keep working on it.

I saved your note in my spam folder in case I decide one day to call.

Good luck peddling Academic-Qualifications by email,


Marylou's letter in its entirety:

Sun, 09 May 2004 14:03:39 -0500

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No exams. No classes. No books.

Call to register and get yours in days - 1 203 286 2403

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Saturday, May 8, 2004

Mo S. Tat

No need to overstate the obvious tonight.  More house stuff in the works. Notice the jump between the Rc terminal and the Rh terminal somewhere in 40 minute range.  It was an afterthought, an after-reading-the-directions afterthought.  Of course, by the time I read the directions, I already had mounted the new thermostat.  Only upon trying it out did its failure reveal phase two (take it apart, read the directions, marry the terminals in a union of white-coated copper wire. 

The garage sale today was a hit--constant traffic from 9 to 3.  Only one p'd off customer; we thought she was going to call the BBB, turn us in for selling the bunk bed to another fella before she could grab it.  Maybe I'll blog more about the garage sale tomorrow.  They're really extraordinary social experiments with elaborate codes (we didn't know), systems for negotiating and just plain weirdness (As in: Old Man: "Do you have any guns for selling?" Sales clerk: "We had a plastic water gun, but it's already been sold.")

On the photo: I see a clock says 1:50, a thermostatic map of our house's climate control switch, a look down R2D2's neck, and the face of a bot whose expression changes when set to "Cool" or "Fan On."  What do you see?

Friday, May 7, 2004

Smiling at Me

Art preservation isn't exactly my bag.  I understand the great pains museums go through to fight the agents of time.  But everything ages; the art object, in effect, can never be construed as materially permanent.  Right?

This article from earlier in the week started me thinking about the possibility that DaVinci could have imagined transformational deteriorations in his most famous painting, Mona Lisa.  So she's warping; the wood is bending, with it her expression, her "look": skew. Time has its way.  The certainty of decay evades the most technologically zealous efforts to counteract imminent physical forces.  What will Mona Lisa's expression be in thirty years?  three-hundred years?  three-thousand years? as she peers from behind the Lourve's sealed container and untold layers of varnish.

The material alteration--a warped original--is less concerning to me than the unmentioned details about the numerous ways in which her image has, through reproduction, been simulated and processed, pasted on t-shirts, etc. John Berger touches on this in "Ways of Seeing"; Walter Benjamin, too, divides the cult value from the exhibit value, differentiating between the object and its original. The cult value is more interesting to me; perhaps the diminishing of the exhibition value arouses the cult value, and, in turn, the cult value shifts the exhibition value into a grotesque copy of itself, as a sort of popular distortion. These value shifts underscore political revolution, too, I suppose, turning Fascism on its head. (Yep.  I need to go back and brush through Benjamin's "Mechanical Reproduction."  And all of this--Berger included--is in the Ways of Reading anthology, 6th ed.)

This brings me to a confusing mix of issues that I find fascinating.  Where Benjamin discusses "unconscious optics,"  I wonder about the extent to which conscious optics are akin to copyright infringement, to the controls creeping counter to the CC movement and twinkles of liberated IP.  Technologies are making mechanical reproduction--via fragmented pixelations as frequently as film photography or film-based moving pictures--more popular and accessible than ever before. I imagine conscious optics lining up with comp/rhet in ways they seek for students to engage in the -graphy that is openly, visually reproductive.  And this call for a mix of visual rhetoric, image and design is not new, nor should it ever be entirely divorced from the construction of meaning and its pal, hermeneutics.  That is, rather than leaving aesthetic making to inaccessible technologies and their expert operators, we ought to engage students in aesthetic reproductions tuned rhetorically, tuned textually. No doubt, this approach to composition is catching on in a few exciting places.  

This turn is also playing out against IP tensions, intractable media ownership issues, and Paleolithic systems for sharing (or not). It makes me wonder whether the fight for Creative Commons can buck the fangs-sunk-in monster of sole proprietorships in new media.  We have systems--albeit arcane--for documenting text, attributing origins(!), and giving credit when we must.  But systems for attribution in new media seem far less wieldy.  What are they?  Do they come in the form of a Works Cited at the end of a flash clip?  Consider this excerpt from an article in the NY Times this week (link via unmediated):

Mr. Routson's work, which is not for sale, is the latest to find itself in the murky zone between copyright infringement and artistic license, between cultural property rights and cultural commentary. On Oct. 1 a new Maryland law will make the unauthorized use of an audiovisual recording device in a movie theater illegal. Last week two people were arrested in California for operating camcorders in movie theaters. One was apprehended by an attendant wearing night-vision goggles.

It's not definitive (nor am I carefully read in these matters--sincere apologies!), but there comes a convergence between mechanical reproduction, media proprietorship, reproductive rights (as in copying media rather than making babies), and this business of conscious optics.  I have suspicions that as the gulf between technology and humans narrows, as assistive devices help us see, hear, remember with tech-stimulated consciousness (recorders, amplifiers, etc.), the boundaries between experience and mediation will blur and with them, the battles over IP will flourish, perhaps even crossing over into our minds (you can't think it if you don't have the rights!).  Mona Lisa's warp and laws against filming in a movie theater: pieces of a fascinating series of media twists.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Cooper/George/Lynch, 1998, "Moments of Argument"

 Cooper, Marilyn, Diana George, and Dennis Lynch. "Moments of Argument: Agonistic Inquiry and Confrontational Cooperation." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 390-412.

Big Idea
George, Cooper and Lynch, teaching from Michigan Tech, call for more sophisticated argument pedagogies in this essay.  They begin by waving off the slew of textbooks that introduce argument as a simplistic binary, a scheme of either/or, right and wrong, often setting up hypothetical tensions and straw-thin oppositions.  The trio historicizes cooperative models for argument, juxtaposing them with caustic models.  They invoke Susan Jarratt, citing, at length, her call for "composition instructors to rethink their objections to agonistic rhetoric and conflict-based pedagogy" (391), and John Gage, for his concern that "the real conflicts are already there at the outset of a disagreement" and that teachers ought to draw students toward cooperative, collaborative interchanges toward a shared sense of social resolve (394).  The authors also acknowledge the rootedness of their central research question--toward an improved model of argument in writing pedagogy--in their own teaching.  To that end, George, Cooper and Lynch, propose the blend of "agonistic inquiry" and "confrontational cooperation" so that teachers and students might see "argumentation as a crucial social responsibility--an activity that requires us to position ourselves within complicated and interconnected issues" (411). 

Monday Morning
Before wrapping these notes up and putting them to blog (this is the bit I'm doing last), just wanted to make a few pieces about my experiences teaching argument as argument.  Once I inherited an argument-based course.  Last minute appointment, two-alarm shortage.  Usual adjunct drill.  The syllabus was already written (ugh!) and the text already ordered.  I don't remember the name of the textbook, but I do recall its onerous simplicity with respect to polarized arguments.  

Sample assignment: Pick a side:  For war or for peace.  Go.  

I didn't have a good time of it.  Deep down, I think I was in favor of the kind of elaborative heuristics, question layers added atop question layers toward new perspectives, redirection, altered relationships, improved understandings.  But it broke down because the textbook didn't ask it of the students, and the students didn't ask it of each other.  

The approach in this essay--learn the legacy, understand that arguments are bound up in webs and forces, read historically to think futuristically--all of these factors make me think about Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past--a textbook I use for the online EN106 course I put together.  I know one of the editors well, and I admire the way the book builds a sense of legacy and patterns of language, then asks students to move outward from there.  I suppose there are other textbooks like it, but it seems to me that it encourages the work this essay describes.

The first question I had was about how this works differently in a classroom abundant with diversity. Specifically, I wondered what this approach would mean for the student--or group of students--who come to the course with a deep, personal (familial, cultural) attachment to the legacy of the issue debated.  In other words, if students don't regard the contested issue as naturally occurring to them in their extracurricular lives, then the issue is an academic construct--a piece glowing institutionally for its curricular situatedness. Make any sense?  

The contested issue's institutionalized situation doesn't necessarily weaken the potential to teach argument (as style or as cultural negotiation?), but it might.  In other words, students enter the course with various stakes in issues.  And we, as teachers, cannot always see inside of those stakes sufficiently to anticipate the dispositional oscillations that might lead to silence, discomfort or other forms of suffering.  Perhaps this is less of a problem when working with homogenous student populations as is suggested in the essay's postlude notes: "Our students combine the characteristics of relatively homogenous backgrounds, a willingness to investigate the world, a suspicion of new points of view, and a tendency to pull back rather than engage others" (412).  I hardly want to sit up here on my blog and renounce the good, provocative work of this award-winning essay.  But it leans into a contestation-loaded middle between Gage and Jarrett--a space where the rules are murkier, the consequences shadier, and the student experiences subtler with respect to their pre-course orientations.  Most specifically, I wondered how the teachers in the course on Native American naming of mascots knew whether they had any indigenous students among them.  Did they know?  Should they have known? How?

2. Sites and formality

"We need to see it as a complex and often extended human activity, or, rather, as an array of human activities, including institutionalized formal debate, legal trials, shouting matches that threaten to end in fist fights, conversational games of one-upmanship, disagreements among friends, and extended deliberations within a community over what course of action to pursue" (411).

This excerpt comes near the end of the essay.  It suggests a wide range of sites where the "human activity" of argument might manifest, governed in some cases by authoritative ordinance and in other cases by informal social codes.  It's quite a list; among these sites, argument emerges with vast, various differences.  But I wanted to push against the authors' claim that "first-year students often seem to dismiss the many issues that surround them daily, in the news, in classes, in work situations, even in the most mundane kinds of arenas--like what to name a football team" (398).  There are reasons for dismissal, to be sure.  Many dismissals stem from peer networks, social hierarchies, and the sense of value in expounding views aloud (which also brings up the place of intensional argument--the contemplative, self-ward negotiations and flux layered in all of this, never separate).  It's just that mundane arenas are capable of germinating richer and more dynamic arguments because the knowledge unfolds more naturally, less as an academic exercise.  This reminds me of Jabari Mahiri's work in Shooting for Excellence; his ethnographic studies present challenges to the idea that "students seem to dismiss the many issues that surround them daily" or that, following this logic, that they tend to argue poorly as a result. 

One other point stemming from this quotation: "Such a conception can remove argument from the (televised) boxing ring and return it not to the private domestic sphere but to the many ambiguous public spaces--meeting rooms, hallways, cafeterias, and, yes, classrooms--where it has a chance to become more productive" (392). I'm not sure the "ambiguous public spaces" ought to become more productive sites."  For them to be classifiably productive, they might rely on formal affirmations, measures, assessments, etc.  Argument in ambiguous public spaces is potentially richer than the official sort--the "institutionalized formal debate, legal trials," because it is informal, boundless in a sense, experimental, guided by deep wonder more than formal structure.  I'm more comfortable with the justification of argument-based pedagogies that points to civic discourse, the aims of democracy, and the vitality of critical consciousness that upholds freedom.  But I'm not sure the mundane sites and ambiguous public spaces would be helped by formalization.

Passages Passages
"What is important, to our minds, in teaching students to deal with conflict is that they experience the process of constructing a complex, historically knowledgeable position in light of what matters to, and what will arise for, those affected by the positions taken" (410).

"But when arguments are entered into hastily, the complexity of the issues is often lost, and with it (we might add) the basis for introducing important, higher level concepts such as ideology, multiple subjectivity, and contingent foundation" (410).

"Too many classroom strategies, too many textbooks, insist that students learn to take hold of and argue a position long before they understand the dimensions of a given issue" (402).

"From our perspective, though, the risk is not merely that your social position and identity may be challenged, or not merely that someone may disagree with your intellectual position, or not even that you may lose the argument; the risk is also that you may become different than you were before the argument began" (396).

"What we are seeking is a way of reconceiving argument that includes both confrontational and cooperative perspectives, a multifaceted process that includes moments of conflict and agonistic positioning as well as moments of understanding and communication" (392).

"Emulating others' classroom practice is tricky: you always need to determine what exactly in the practice is appropriate and applicable to your own teaching situation" (411).

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Cinco de Mayo


You have an array of talents from which to choose.  People find you attractive, charismatic and interesting.  You have a strong will and can be very convincing.  Your personal color helps you integrate joy with stability.  Wearing, meditating or surrounding yourself with Kelly Green allows you to honor any phase of life that you are encountering.  It reminds you to place equal value on both your inner development and your outer position in society including professional merits. [color-chooser via cgb]

Provided that Earth Wide Moth ages in perpetuity, there'll be future birthdays to blog.  On this one, my 30th, I'm content to note that I'm flat out exhausted from house refurbishing (two new phone jacks and glued-down carpet today) . If we had put candles on the cake tonight, I would have wished for a picnic with other May Fifthers: Karl Marx, Ann B. Davis, Kenneth Burke.  What would we talk about?  Stuff from this day in history could start us off.  From there I'm sure somebody would think up something to converse on. Or there'd be croquet, just in case.  Stuff that happened on May 5:

1382 - Battle of Beverhoutsveld - population beats drunken army
1862 - French army intervenes in Puebla, Mexico: Cinco de Mayo
1944 - Gandhi freed from prison
1955 - US performs nuclear test at Nevada test site (Teapot Apple)
1958 - US performs atmospheric nuclear test at Enwetak
1969 - 23rd NBA Championship: Boston Celtics beat LA Lakers, 4 games to 3
2000 - Conjunction of Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn & Moon

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Almost But Not Quite

Since I got home from work at 4:15, I've been on my knees doing two things: A. replacing the wooden base molding in the kitchen and B. scraping the nasty glue-carpet residue from the front step.
Altogether, it took me about four hours.
The molding turned out great, but I shouldn't be trusted with power tools.  
The things I was doing with the miter saw, well, they're not appropriate for any weblog.  
And I was home alone.  
Sawing outside while it was sprinkling.House4sale: electical plugs included.
Our realtor is stopping by tomorrow at 3:00 p.m.  
He's going to shoot a picture of the front of the house. 
An entry is creating a stir over at the weblog for EN106. 
The face-to-face semester ended for me this morning; exams will trickle in from the online crew through the weekend. 
All that molding stuff and glue scraping: my knees are swollen like seedless grapefruit.
Resorted to some kind of glue-softening gloop for the splotches of resistance on the front step.  
The gloop ate through my rubber gloves, probably altered my fingerprints.
Collin's entry from yesterday inspired me to mess around with a sideblog today during lunchtime. 
Following Anders Jacobsen's example, I learned that without succumbing to php, I could create a second, stripped-down index file for the second blog, save it as an .shtml file, then script it as an "include" in EWM.  
Okay, so this is horribly unintelligible.  
It ended up looking like this
Maybe I'll grow a sideblog (what for?) or an embedded photoblog (yeah!) one day.
Yesterday, it was switch upgrades.  
Out with the two-slotters; in with the grounded receptacles.  
Technicality: They're grounded through neutral, but it still prevents electrocution for the most part, so says my brother who showed me how to wire the switches.  
Main thing is for the appliances and such to come on when they're plugged into the new switches.  
And nothing in the house should emit smoke.
The important election-contest was much quieter today than yesterday. 
I was pleasantly surprised to find, upon review, that EWM doesn't have any off-topic, meandering posts.  
And only one random picture of dinner.
Tonight, sandwiches: near-Elvis sandwiches stacked with whatever we pulled from the fridge and smashed between two slices of potato bread.
Twenties for a moment: tomorrow would be my 30th birthday, except that I ascribe to the notion that there are no birthdays after 29.

Monday, May 3, 2004



May: bloom-bird-dunes, hail-bird-bud.

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Muchiri, 1996, "Importing Composition"

 Muchiri, Mary, et al. "Importing Composition: Teaching and Researching Academic Writing Beyond North America." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 352-371.

Big Idea
     Four university composition instructors collaborated on this article, "Importing Composition," to address the global reach of research and prevalent assumptions disseminating from the capital centers of knowledge in the field.  Composition research often suffers a narrowed utility when it makes its way into the variously removed, distant contexts.  Muchiri's group sets composition in the US against trends in English Language Teaching (ELT) abroad, where writing pedagogies are (almost always) combined with communication studies, where content reigns superior to personal narrative, where examinations hold greater assessment value than coursework, and where limited institutional resources make one-on-one mentoring and extensive essay-marking impractical. The project seeks to stir further conversations on these matters.  Other key issues are the political and institutional pressures proliferating a "dullness of correction and compliance"--the idea that students might not be willing to take risks because they fear failure or rebuke; Kenyan and Nigerian students often align into note-sharing groups whose solidarity is often seen as a form of resistance to the teacher's authority; the field's research map as a geography marked by "distant and powerful research centers"; and composition research's assumption that students have multiple chances and plenty of time to move toward proficiencies.

Terms of Export
L1 - primary language; L1 studies are language studies in one's primary, native language
English for Academic Purposes (EAP), English for Specific Purposes (ESP) - academic categories commonly used to name departments responsible for teaching practical communications in English aimed at mobilizing students' progression toward advanced study dependent on basic English literacy and "immediate needs."  
English Language Teaching (ELT) - Unlike L1, ELT sets out to work with students who come at English as a second, third or fourth language
mwakenya (Kiswahili, pro-democracy movement), Nondo (Kiswahili, crowbar), Kombora (Kiswahili, missile), Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States)--vernacular terms shared among students to name their systems of group resistance to institutional forces.  Such resistance takes the form of note-sharing and collaboration--collaboration that might be characterized as cheating in a rigidly individualistic assessment system

Monday Morning
    Near the end of the essay, the project turns to the clearly economic metaphor of import/export.  They note that throughout its draft stages, they preferred the term "export," but in the end, they switched to "import" because they didn't see research in composition as being fairly characterized by a neocolonial label or a term that suggests multinational monopoly.  It seems like an interesting turn; maybe all research is export--a produced knowledge-construct, delivered.  The farther and longer (in time) it travels, the greater its purported value and firmer its stance as essential(!) and centering. Their final set of questions--built up on the import/export logic--go, 

Imagine you could pack something of the world of composition, just enough to fit in a small box that would fit under an airline seat.  It is not for foreign aid, or for trade, both of which an be exploitive; let us think of it as barter. What would you pack in this box; what is essential in the composition enterprise?  That's the fun part.  Now here comes the hard part: Where would you send it?  And even harder: What would you expect to get in return? (370)

     I don't know where I'd send it, but a laptop with satellite wifi, loaded up with a blogging account strikes me as having greater compositional potential than anything else I can come up with.  (Shameful that I'd consider sending it to myself--if for only a brief, irresponsible moment...hehe.) 
     I thought the essay might have done better to complicate the language demographics of North America.  In places, it seems to gloss over linguistic diversities in North America and the deep challenges they present to composition teachers and researchers.  With something like 45 million US citizens (what, 13-15%) in homes where English is not the everyday language of the family, this becomes slightly more complex than a broad-strokes depiction of the US (even all of N. America!) as linguistically homogenous.  Of course, I come at this article after a year of teaching mostly international students in on-campus courses, and mostly domestic US students in online classes while they travel abroad.  So I wished for some acknowledgement of the cross-flow of compositional trade (if we must call it something like this...following the commerce metaphor).  In the fall, I taught a class called Reading and Culture for International Students on campus.  They were from Kosrae, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, Brazil, Morocco, and Nepal.  It was an advanced ESL course, but the cultural interplay was magnificent.  This semester, in an on-campus section of second-semester FY composition, students were from Northern Ireland, Tanzania, Poland, Kenya, and Somalia.  Meanwhile, in a current intro to humanities course, I am working with native English speaking students who are in Korea, Uzbekistan, Germany, a classified location in the British Indian Ocean Territory and twelve different US states. I feel like my experience has distorted my sense of still-standing boundaries that place an embargo on increasingly globalized understanding and interaction.
     One other intriguing side to this project is its insistence on opening a discussion.  It's a discussion that I haven't looked for, but it's also a discussion that I'm not certain advanced much after this article showed up in CCC in 1995. Composition research continues to center on N. American contexts, yes?  Where has this discussion gone?  Whose work is guiding it?  How badly do teachers in other parts of the world need the comparatively well-established, well-funded research efforts in the US?  

Passages Passages
"The purpose of this paper is to open a discussion of what happens to the published literature on composition in these new [internationalized] contexts. [...] Composition research makes assumptions about students, teachers, language, and universities.  Some of the assumptions from US research are refreshing in these new contexts; some have to be questioned, and some seem bizarre" (353).

"While there is no composition industry outside the US and Canada, that is not to say that there is no interest or research in academic writing.  But most studies are done to support programs for students whose first language is not English--the idea of teaching English to English speakers (L1, or first language, students) is seen as rather odd" (353).

"Another way in which the journey is different is that university attendance remains in most countries in the world the privilege of a tiny minority.  It is easy to forget in the US just what a difference this makes to students.  Students in these countries may come to university bearing not just the hopes of their family, but the hopes of an entire village, for whom they will become an important link to the worlds of government and business. The pressure to succeed, or at least to survive, is enormous" (355).

"But composition teachers, too, regularly express annoyance with the dullness and correctness of run-of-the-mill essays they receive.  The annoyance arises when the dullness seems to arise from a rejection of academic challenges.  Are we saying that such dullness is (horrible thought) a cultural university? No, we suspect that a very similar dullness may have quite different social causes.  The fear of failure in North American university may not be so great (of course we cannot say). Certainly the fear of political persecution should be less. Essays may be dull because the university means too little to the student, or because it means too much.  Can we tell the difference between the dullness of boredom, and the dullness of linguistic limitation, and the dullness of fear?" (356).

"For monolingulas in the US, ideas like 'speech community' or 'code-switching' or 'register' have to be painstakingly established as abstractions and illustrated with data.  In Africa, as in all multilingual countries, people to sociolinguistics on every streetcorner.  Someone in Nairobi market who switches from English to Kiswahili to Gikuyu in the course of buying a kiondo (a bag) is changing footing, and knows just what is going on" (364).

"Lest the composition researchers get too complacent, one should look for places where composition is difficult to transplant, and ask if these difficulties don't sometimes arise closer to home.  We have mentioned the dull errorlessness of the prose, and wondered how it related to similarly depressing prose in North American students, perhaps seeing a variety of causes, not all of them matters of laziness or lack of imagination.  We have mentioned apparently absurd arguments from authority in essays, vague reliance on consensus, uncritical use of written sources, treatment of teachers as parents, invocation of religious belief, all of which can be dismissed as simply conformist, but all of which may be valued differently from other perspectives.  North American teachers develop ways of dismissing some kinds of resistance to their reforming message as not worthy, while other kinds of resistance are to be promoted as progressive" (370).