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Winter Quarter ’06– <<>>


The Blackboard

We will be posting supplemental material to this site during the quarter. I don't expect to leave things up here indefinitely--so if you need it, read it or download it soon.

Posted 27 February:

Wow! Can’t really say that class tonight was way cool, but at least we got the air turned some dramatic color. I’m going to hope this is one of those incredible, memorable moments—and that in the end it will have been a good one.

For those of you who missed it, some folks in class this evening felt I had seemed to tell you to do one thing with the Utopia project, and then critiqued you for doing so.

I will grant that I didn’t quite know how to answer questions you asked about exactly what “I wanted.” I’d written the assignment as clearly as I could, and that’s why I had said I wasn’t entire sure what “I wanted” other than good faith efforts to write it well.

Unfortunately, some felt I had ruled out imaginative responses and that I wanted nothing but scholarly pieces instead. In complying with what they believed I wanted they had thus written a paper that they thought was terrible. That was bad enough, but now I seemed to agree that what they had written was indeed terrible. They thought, however, that they were only doing what I had told them to do; why was I punishing them now?

As one might imagine, that’s not what I would have liked people to think, and as we talked after class we did find the source of at least some of the misunderstanding.

But that’s all irrelevant at this point. The whole thing is very confused. So let’s begin again.

The assignment was as follows:

Knowing what you now know about your learning over the past few years, think both about what has made your work here good, and what might have made it even better. Think about what the ideal outcomes of an English or Humanities major would be for you, and then think about how those might best be achieved. Think about the kinds of courses such a major would require (or not require), the kinds of texts—literary and non-literary texts—you would read, the kind of classroom environment that worked best for you, and the sorts of projects, written or otherwise, faculty might ask you to do. Work from what you know—your own experience. What should a more perfect program emphasize? What should it de-emphasize?
Then write a 5-7 page Utopian view of an English major. What learning goals should such a major have? How would it best set itself up to achieve them? What should be required, and how should it be orchestrated? What would happen in the classes you took? What pedagogy would these courses adopt?
My reading criteria will again be: specifics, fullness, and So What—or Power; you are making an argument here. No one is going to change anything just by the force your assertion. But you have experience to draw on, and you know something both about how professionals in the field have been urging its reform, and about how your own classmates have experienced the major today.
As with the first paper, we will be publishing these for the class to read and respond to—and, I hope (but only with your permission), to share with members of the English Department faculty who have for the past three years been redesigning the English major.

So, what do I want from your revision? Two things.

First, I want you to read, think about, and find a way to respond to the assignment as it is written. (Something that many of you already have done.)

Second, I want you then to make it your own. Don’t try to figure out what I want. The assignment already gives you my best shot at describing what I want—along with my explaining to you that this is a new assignment for me, and to be any more specific I needed to see what you could do with it first. I tried to define that more refined sense tonight—and that didn’t work very well either. So forget all that beyond: Don’t be stuffy, or fake-professorial. Find a way to have fun with it. I've still got a secret guest coming on Monday, and she's quite excited to hear you talk about your thinking.

Two last thoughts: first, take a moment to reflect on how powerful the emotions are with which we must work as students and teachers. Nobody screamed or yelled tonight, but we certainly had a tense fifteen minutes. I’ve already got lots of theories about what all this “means,” and I’m sure many of you do, too. And perhaps we can talk about these on Wednesday. Anyone who thinks this stuff is easy to negotiate hasn’t thought much about the affective energies that underlie classrooms. I don’t know that I’ve ever tried a riskier course (for me and--I think some of you have thought--for you, too). I know how to teach a standard lit course. I do it all the time, and do it pretty well. But this has been very different.

Second, relax. I’m not going to grade you down for trying to be interesting. Were all my comments positive? No. Were they even all well-said or clear? I doubt it. That’s why if something is unclear or (worse) offensive, you really have to ask me about it. If you are angry, then you’ve simply got to talk with me. Miscommunication is really, really easy. Some in our field would even say that every act of speaking is an act of mis-speaking, just as every act of reading is by necessity a form of mis-reading. That means we need to go slow, trust as best we can that we all are doing our best to be clear, to be helpful, to do as well under the circumstances as we can.

It is difficult with night school schedules to have effective office hours, but you certainly can email me. I do answer my email—and if we can’t get straight on line we can set a time after or before class as well.

Posted 20 February:

Your portfolio project has two parts. The first is the course portfolio. This is a collection of your writing for the quarter, along with a short 2-3 page essay about your work in the course. I'll hand out a hardcopy assignment on February 22nd. This hardcopy portfolio is due on the last night of class--March 8.

The Second is the Major Portfolio--which I described on the opening course syllabus. Below is a somewhat expanded version of that assignment:

The Major Portfolio asks for an e-Portfolio display of three to five pieces of work you’ve done as an English major, along with a three to four page reflective essay that explains Why you have picked the papers you have, and How those writings show your strengths. You have great freedom about what to include—the only constraints are that these must indeed be papers you wrote for classes 200-level and above, and that these are pieces whose strengths and challenges your accompanying reflective essay will explain.

You will also choose your own audience. Possible audiences include a potential employer, the Department of English or Evening Degree Studies, your family, a graduate or professional school, or me, as the professor of this class.

In evaluating your Major Portfolio I will not be re-grading your papers. It really doesn’t matter to me what grades you received. What does matter is the acuity of your selection and the quality of your commentary. I will look at the clarity and focus of the way you articulate what you have achieved relative to the goals you have defined, and the appropriateness and relevance of the evidence you offer in support. Take care, too, not just to create a spin job! You should be aware not just of strengths, but of the ways in which you still are working to build strengths—and where you currently are in that process. In all, keep in mind that you are in effect making an argument. How you make that argument, and to whom, is up to you.

Due electronically no later than Wednesday, March 15, at 7pm PST.

Posted 6 February:

Utopian Dreams

Knowing what you now know about your learning over the past few years, think both about what has made your work here good, and what might have made it even better. Think about what the ideal outcomes of an English or Humanities major would be for you, and then think about how those might best be achieved. Think about the kinds of courses such a major would require (or not require), the kinds of texts—literary and non-literary texts—you would read, the kind of classroom environment that worked best for you, and the sorts of projects, written or otherwise, faculty might ask you to do. Work from what you know—your own experience. What should a more perfect program emphasize? What should it de-emphasize?

Then write a 5-7 page Utopian view of an English major. What learning goals should such a major have? How would it best set itself up to achieve them? What should be required, and how should it be orchestrated? What would happen in the classes you took? What pedagogy would these courses adopt?

My reading criteria will again be: specifics, fullness, and So What—or Power; you are making an argument here. No one is going to change anything just by the force your assertion. But you have experience to draw on, and you know something both about how professionals in the field have been urging its reform, and about how your own classmates have experienced the major today.

As with the first paper, we will be publishing these for the class to read and respond to—and, I hope (but only with your permission), to share with members of the English Department faculty who have for the past three years been redesigning the English major.

Posted 3 February:

Questions raised by Educating Rita

A film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters about (at the very least):

• what education is (change, alienating, deepening, entering new and different communities, an equipping for more-informed choice, and therefore a way of thinking),
• what it demands (change, patience, buy-in, generosity, resilience, honesty),
• the consequences it aims at (sophistication, “learning,” certification, change, choice, cultural knowledge, discrimination, acculturation and regulation, and?),
• and those it doesn’t aim at (alienation from self, conflict, confusion, failure, pretense and pretension, subordination/regulation, a breeder of cynicism, boredom),
• what education is not (automatic, automatically freeing or enriching, easy, an answer, “enough”),
• what teaching is (here it is a certain canny and cynical tough-mindedness in the tutorial, affectation and self-importance and self-revelation and [therefore] disguise, honesty, sympathy, respect, curiosity),
• what learning is (see above!),
• what education in English literature is (culturally valued experience with a canon, and thereby an introduction to a loose community of discourse that is informing, identifying, assuring, validating, separating—and for Rita, empowering);
• what the relation is between school learning (exam learning) and life learning, and life living, for that matter (not a given). (Indeed, it is complicated, both distant from life experience, and somehow necessarily so—as it is the distance it creates that enables the moving outside of the self—or an expanding of the self—to recognize other places, times, cultures, persons that enables the choices Rita finally makes. But with the distance comes the danger that the loop never gets closed, and education never comes back home to inform the life it has touched—which is the don’s problem, in a way.)

 

27 January: Letter to class

Thanks for a great class on Wednesday.

I wanted to send an update, summarizing the discussion we had about the "point" of the readings we have been doing so far--both for those of you who took part in it on Wednesday, and for those of you who couldn't get to class.

In essence, through the readings of the past three weeks I have been trying to enable you to write a deeper and more fully informed "Looking Back" paper by making available to you some sense of the conversations of the past 40 years about education in general and about English in particular. You have now read about some of the battles in our discipline—and you’ve read work from some of the major players in those disputes.

I don’t ask that these all pop up in what you write—I ask only that you write with a clearer, more problematic, more critical awareness of the educational experiences you have had. I’m not looking for you to declare either that you’ve been victimized by the banking theory of education, or that you’ve been born again transformed by liberation pedagogy. You certainly may write that, if that is a way of making sense of the dozens of different experiences you have undergone.

But my point is: none of the courses any of you has taken is value-free. Certain ways of thinking and certain goals for learning are implicit in any course, whether anyone talks about them or not. These trends, claims and practices are all out there.
So what have they done to, with, for, you? You have only your own experience to write from, and in that sense I locate your expertise solidly in the “personal.” That’s fine. It’s the only data set you have. But that’s why I want you to focus on specifics, and to be full in your discussion/narration. Being “personal” by itself does not an interesting essay make. Being full, and reflective, and informed about your experience does.

See you Monday.

John

19 January: Letter to Class

Thanks to those of you in class last night for being such good hosts for Vivyan Adair's visit. I told you I'd give you the URL for her project's exhibit site so you could revisit essays, or see some of those you didn't have time to see last night. It is: http://www.hamilton.edu/college/access/ACCESS_GALLERY_GUIDE.pdf

If you want more information about ACCESS, you can just do:

http://www.hamilton.edu/college/access

I didn't want to embarrass her by too fulsome praise, but Vivyan is not only an extraordinarily hard working and hard thinking teacher, she was recognized two years ago by the Carnegie Foundation as New York State's Teacher of the Year. I hope you could get some sense last night of both the committment and enthusiasm she brings to her work.

As far as changes to the syllabus go, I will post the whole thing later today--but for those of you unable to get to class, please look to see the assignment revision on the update/assignments page:

http://faculty.washington.edu/cicero/Eng498updates.htm

Main change: recognizing that with the two missed Monday classes, we just haven't done all I'd like us to do before the Looking Back paper is due, I've set the due date for that as January 30. Instead we'll read Utopia for Monday (a work of enormous power in the reconceptualizing of "education" in western culture--and it also has at least two jokes in it). See the Website for the response paper assignment.

See you Monday.

John

 
 

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