The Use of Athletics in Teaching Both Academic and Personal Voice, a Very Long Title Which I Will Shorten in the Near Future, but for Now Will Leave as Long Because I Am Feeling Whimsical

 Like I said, I owe another post on Graff: 

It’s fascinating to read Graff’s discussion of Hidden Intellectualism in sport and how his experiences in athletics invariably led to, influenced, and developed his intellectual development. I find it interesting because the sports he participated in are those of an accepted tradition, such as football and baseball, whereas I experienced many of the same tendencies, but in the much more marginalized sport of swimming.

In this intellectual context, Graff’s athletic experiences are comparable to the sciences, which in education never need to justify their own existence. And yet he is writing from a cultural context which connects sport to intellectual development in the area of argumentative formulation, most specifically in the humanities, which he—and most other literary theorists in academia—have always sought to raise up to a level of importance on par with the sciences. But my experiences, in a sport which was often derisively referred to as a sport for sissies (yes, swimmers often do wear small suits in anticipation of big meets; no, it does not bother us), are comparable to those of academics continually having to justify their own existences.


The inferiority complex of the humanities—“we are important! Really!”—is bypassed by equating the argumentation learned in English class to those sports which would, in any other metaphor, represent the sciences. In a way, Graff’s argument here is his first chance to get to be the bully, whereas athletes such as myself have to continue to justify the worth of our own sport (Really? You swim? Don’t you guys shave your legs?).

At present, this is just an amusing quirk of circumstance that doesn’t mean much to the overall teaching of academics; however, I plan to expand this post (in scope, but not really in length), to include the personally constructed mythos at the core of sport. Not only does sport—and the arguing over the trivial and/or specific aspects of it—train student’s for intellectual life in a statistical sense, it also trains them in the story-telling aspects of the humanities.

Athletics is an intensely melodramatic medium of expression (why else would we make so many by-the-numbers, inspirational films about it?), and arguing over the merits of its principal athletes is just part of how it can lead a student to join the field of academic discourse. After all, insomuch as Graff is intensely interested in the dichotomy between academic and personal voice, the melodramatic tendencies taught by athletic endeavors influence our personal voice as much as the statistical debates hone our academic ones.


Add comment April 9th, 2008 Boyle

Ideal Teaching Worlds

Leana Jensen
April 9, 2008ENGL 610
Professor Sample

I actually applied some Graff knowledge to my classroom today. Yes, again, I cannot help but think of my own teaching situation when reading these books. In the chapter, “Why Johnny Can’t Argue,” I couldn’t help but think of my own Johnnys and Jonettes. I think teaching kids to argue on paper and in discussions is a difficult feat. I agree that teachers and academics can sometimes make kids feel that are incapable of reaching some higher level thinking that involves a highly scripted literary masterpiece. First off, who defines a masterpiece and secondly, why can’t kids be just as persuasive in the language they are comfortable with.

Because teaching argument can be daunting, I appreciated the argument templates section of the book. Though I am very much against template writing, I think presenting template-like information in more of a model/bulleted points example will be less structured and will invite strong, critical thinking. A template might be good for very reluctant learner, or for those students that crave direction. I think the best method is taking making arguments more simplistic and therefore accessible to the student. Personally, I know a lot of teachers who complain so much about the job, but teach their students through textbook created handouts and an outdated vocabulary book. We complain that kids aren’t learning in school, but I know a lot of teachers who are unwilling to take the steps to fuse good teaching with state mandated requirements. I know I may sound like an idealist, but I think it’s possible. Instead of asking my students to write me a persuasive essay about the hero capabilities of Odysseus, they are writing a letter posing as Odysseus persuading the Cyclops, Polyphemus, not to eat him. I asked them to think about reasons why Polyphemus should eat Odysseus. I mean he’s a jerk, he doesn’t follow the god’s rules, but that’s who he is. Who’s to say all Cyclopes don’t eat people.

After we discussed and I gave them an example, they understood that to understand why Odysseus gets to live, they must think of possible reasons he shouldn’t. I was inspired to rethink my assignment and show them how to create a balanced, yet strong argument after reading Graff’s suggestions. I have a really small class, so I could write a sample paragraph because I wasn’t under 120 essays. I think it makes sense to make the directions simple and easy to understand. Teachers I work with won’t write their own samples and models, but that’s what needs to be done to teach good reading and writing. They need to write persuasively, but they need to learn how to read critically and extract those strong statements and images. I honestly think that’s how they will learn to do it themselves. I have no doubt that a 9th grader that can learn that a convincing argument sounds legit when you actually acknowledge the counterclaims, can go to college to write against or in support of the literary critics they will have to research.

I understand JJ’s concerns about Graff’s ideal educational world, and I do think it will be hard to really implement this kind of learning into the conformity known as forced school curriculums. I think teachers who are in it for the right reasons, can work with smaller class sizes and really get to teach to the students abilities, not state standards would be a great world. Perhaps Graff does need to go back to a contemporary 10th grade English class and rework how he’d implement these great ideas.

Add comment April 9th, 2008 leanajensen

More statistics…oh, and Graff too

Well, you all know that I’m a little leary of data and statistics from last class and here is the book that caused that scepticism. I’m not sure if this is one of the titles you offered up in class last week when I mentioned it Professor Sample.

The Manafactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle the book came out as a sort of response to the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report.

 So, now for the statistics - Teacher dropout rates kind of interesting to see that a higher percetage of teachers “drop out” of the profession than students, but with all the contradictions that we have highlighted between our readings and our (often forced) practice not surprising.

I am completely on board with Graff’s assertion that we should use students ability to argue conversationally to teach agumentative writing. Unfortunately, the point about summarizing possible objections is not (or at least in my experience) not the easiest thing for students to do. I think a better approach would be to find students who have differing views on a subject and let them argue. Then use this experience as a type of prewriting. What I’ve found is that students need to have this type of emotional encounter in order to help develop their logical commentary.

As far as the talk about using templates - I think they are very good for struggling students and for giving an idea to all students what the teacher hopes will be created through the assignment, but it should be emphasized that students shouldn’t limit themselves to just the templates and be encouraged to move beyond just the confines of the template. Regardless, you’ll have those students who will always attempt to do the bare minimum and this is when the grading on an ability scale come into play. No matter how ‘unfair’ students and parents may say it is, if you know a student is capable of doing more they should be graded harder - it is our duty to push them to do their best and if a student is capable of more and we only grade them on the lowest of standards - are we really doing them any favors?

The point in Graff’s book that made me laugh out loud was the 1 st sentence of chapter 11 on Hidden Intellectualism - 3 semi-colon and 1 colon - yeah, my students wouldn’t be intimidated by a sentence. Truthfully, I’m a little intimidated by this sentence. Yet, in the chapter he talks about valuing street smarts - I don’t see too many people writing a sentence like this to explain the drawbacks to using a carberator as compared to fuel injection. I fully value street smarts; however, the educational system in which we raise our children does not. Programs that value these talents and smarts are being cut in order to pay the testing companies for prep materials to prepare students to take the tests purchased from the same testing companies.

Does anyone else see a proble with the fact that we don’t make anything in America anymore? Or with the fact that people like Graff who have ‘pie in the sky’(not content, but practicality within our current system) ideas about education haven’t actually been in a K-12 classroom for years if ever?

2 comments April 9th, 2008 JJ

In Opposition to Education

As I enter my last few weeks of graduate school—which cannot come soon enough—I wonder where my next academic venture will begin. While typing this thought, I am silently screaming at myself for even considering another academic adventure. I have instructed all members of my family and my closest friends to slap me or ridicule me if I ever mention a doctoral program.

In my undergraduate days, I never thought of myself as an academic. Though Graff’s depiction of flabbergasted college students, in awe of textual material they just cannot understand, doesn’t accurately categorize me as an undergraduate either. I simply believed that a four-year degree was a necessity in the 21st century world; college was the expected route for students who excelled in high school and were clueless as to what to do upon graduation. I went to college because I didn’t know what else I could do. Did I excel while I was there? Sure…but I only did enough to maintain the level of success I had already achieved in high school.

Perhaps I was not intellectually engaged in college. Graff’s educational philosophies strive to engage students with the text and peak their interest in analysis and criticism. His tactics were used (intuitively, I presume) by many of the teachers I had in high school, though I’m sorry to say, many of my professors in college preferred giving lectures on the texts and assigning analysis papers. This “cult” of academia, that views the college classroom as superior to secondary education, seems as though it could learn much from the intuitive tactics of middle and high school educators. The successful secondary educator, with her varied students with multiple-intelligences, must believe that all of her students are capable of producing glimmers of genius, if given the opportunity. College professors, on the other hand, seem to assume that their student population possesses homogenous intellectual abilities and goals. Adopting the secondary educators’ assumption of intelligence might better prepare college professors and academia for the students they receive. Graff supports this assumption in Chapter 11, “Hidden Intellectualism.” He admits that his “own working premise as a teacher is that inside every street-smart student—that is, potentially every student—is a latent intellectual trying to break out, and that it’s my job to tease out that latent person and help it articulate itself in more public form” (212).

This is a smart assumption from a public forum—the University—that seems intuitive. I was guilty of the same assumption that many college professors and some secondary teachers adopt; I thought students who entered college were intellectually superior to their peers. Our assumptions harm our students and the collegiate education system. By assuming that our students know how to analyze and argue and write upon being accepted into a four-year program, we are negating, not promoting, the power of education.

Add comment April 9th, 2008 jcarterw

criticism and memorization -two not so popular concepts with students

Chapter eight’s concept of teaching students the art of writing an argument is indeed interesting.  Whether a template works or not, I’m not sure.   In elementary school, I used to love the exercises where we had to fill in the blanks.  They were easy, and they had a clear right or wrong / yes or no answer.  But as we grow older, we crave challenge.  If we don’t, its because we’re not understanding the concept, or it’s just boring. 

Ginny makes a nice point about the importance of engaging students in “cultural and academic debates”.  Debates challenge students to research and stand for what they truly believe in, to defend it.  A teacher’s job would therefore be providing a variety of intellectual and engaging topics for students to choose and work with.  Templates may confine student thinking.  I say this because when I started college, I had brought with me the idea that all that mattered was the grade.  I would follow the exact guidelines and templates of my instructors.  I would write papers based on the extent they agreed with the lectures.  But before long, I noticed I was not enjoying college.  I would receive the A that I desired, but the grade was still not satisfying.  This was the case until I took a class on Shakespeare plays, where the teacher helped me understand the material, required the students to take a stand on issues from the text, such as how it related to personal beliefs: i.e. bonds, honesty.  Then learning fell into place.  Debates enhanced learning. I didn’t learn to argue from a formula, but from a passion the professor helped me find toward the material.

In a previous comment I expressed my desire to acquire a more sophisticated vocabulary.  Graff’s section on A Word for Words and a Vote for Quotes reminded me of the vocabulary exercises I would do in high school.  In school vocabularies meant true/false or choose the correct definition from a/b/c/d.  Francois makes a good point about the method educators use in teaching vocabulary.  Memorizing was really not my thing.  But either way my school required that we memorize and learn twenty six words per week.  We had exercises in our workbook to help us learn the words, and quizzes to see if we had learned them.  But the teachers didn’t have time to explain each word, and we didn’t have time to really understand them.  So it was just another homework that was forgotten once turned in.  I had to restudy most of the terms for the SATs.  I succeeded, but not because of the vocabulary workbook we were handed in school, but because I had searched for different vocabulary software that helped me understand and digest each word through pictures, vivid examples and much more.  The best part was that I actually enjoyed the activities.  So my point is methods we use are very important in finding interest in the subject we are teaching.  Perhaps if we didn’t have to “memorize” 26 words per week, and instead worked thoroughly on only six, we would have been left with much more.

Chapter nine on criticism reminded me just how difficult understanding criticism can be for students.  I learned about literary criticism in English 325, sophomore year in college.  Every single one of our papers required that we read what critiques had to say about a short story, and then compare and contrast their opinions to each other.  We were allowed to jump in any time, but normally we had to take one side.  As if that was not scary enough, our professor would then return our papers having marked every single grammatical and syntax error he found.  We had to then rewrite the paper and hand it in to receive a plus on the letter grade we had received.  The class did help me understand criticism, but it didn’t help me enjoy writing about Literature.  Which is more essential I ask.       

1 comment April 9th, 2008 nafiseh

Let them use quotes!

Even though my last post complained that I was unsatisfied with Graff’s justification for plainer language, he at least seemed to be arguing for it. I felt that he agreed with my sentiment that academicease is not only a stumbling block for students trying to enter academia, but for academia to communicate within itself. I had hopes of solutions to come, of more on changing and improving the language we use to communicate our ideas. Chapter 13, however, made it clear that this, in fact, is not one of Graff’s goals.

Graff starts chapter 13 saying, “It is not surprising if students feel ambivalent about talking the talk of the academic world, since this ambivalence is pervasive in the larger society in which academics’ funny way of talking is a common joke” (246). By the middle of the chapter, Graff has morphed the topic into bringing “students into a debate over the pros and cons of learning literate intellectual discourse” (257). By the last page, he discusses getting students to “reflect on their contradictory feelings about intellectualism and its talk” (260). What was seen as a joke becomes literate intellectual discourse becomes intellectualism and its talk as if–despite all the earlier discussion of hidden intellectualism–in the end, for Graff there is no separating intellectualism from the way it talks. While my goal is to address the language we use, to address why this language is a common joke, clearly, Graff’s goal is not to change the language but the students.

It seems that all Graff is concerned about is a smoother method of introducing students into academia and academic jargon. He wants to make intellectuals of students, and he argues for a transition by gentle immersion rather than sink or swim, which is noble enough.

As we come to the end of the book, the solutions that Graff offers seemed to jump from too narrow to too broad. Graff concludes with Deborah Meier’s ideas, promoting the notion that “the world of school knowledge and ideas needs to be organized as a coherent and intelligible culture whose practices make sense” (263). Now I have to ask: Would anyone argue with that? I like some of her ideas, but it is too broad a concept to cover in one chapter. The middle chapters had some good ideas, but as Sara mentions, it is rather grab bag. Honestly, the best, most useful part for me was the epilogue. Ultimately, I finished the book feeling frustrated. I like the idea of the word of the day, where students and teacher alike try to assimilate the language of the other. But really? There’s a tremendous gap between students and academia; so, let them have a word of the day? Let them use quotes? I have to ask: Is this the best we can do?

Perhaps, I’m just grumpy because Graff abandoned the issue I want to battle against: academicease. But I think it’s more his overarching goal that rankles me. Graff says, “I see my goal as a teacher, and the bottom line goal of education, as that of demystifying the ‘club we belong to’ and breaking up its exclusivity. I want to help students enter this club” (24-25). Breaking up the exclusivity is nice, but is the goal really just to help students enter the club? If that’s the goal of teaching, what’s the point of the club?

I have been grappling with the purpose of teaching literature, with our goal, from the beginning of this class. The more I read of Graff, the clearer his focus on “the club” became, and the more turned off I felt. Is Graff so emerged in the academic club that he can’t come up with any goal beyond the club itself? In the end, despite Graff’s call for breaking up exclusivity, he seems so very far removed from the real public discourse, so very Marie Antoinette. 

2 comments April 9th, 2008 tlarson

Abbot vs. Costello

 I owe some posts, so this post concerns the first half of Clueless in Academe. The second will be posted tomorrow morning. It’s also long, so…sorry. 

On my first day as a high school senior, my English teacher passed out a poem and asked us to respond to it. All I remember about the poem itself is that I kind of liked it. My response to it, however, I have never forgotten.

I formulated a proof: incomprehensible poetry, by and large, is afforded a place of reverence in the canon of literary studies by virtue of the Emperor’s Clothes singularity. Nobody understands it; therefore, everyone affects a suitable level of comprehension/adulation for fear of being exposed as a fraud. Comprehensible poetry, however–and here I referred to the pleasant though forgettable poem assigned–is, to a large extent, marginalized for not living up to the standards of a hypothetically “brilliant” poem. Namely, not making sense.

(I was a bit cruder in my verbiage).

I thought this assertion was exceedingly clever. Brilliant poetry is chosen via mob mentality! Damn the accessible! While a bit smug, it did place the poem in a larger cultural context. At the very least, it was better than saying “I liked it. It was pretty.”

But since my contention was averred with a younger man’s conceit, my teacher thought I was derisively referring to the poem as an example of the “incomprehensible” poetry he was supposedly under fire for worshipping. I tried to reassure him otherwise–I had liked the poem, I had understood it; and, as per my argument, this was why I had never heard of it before, and probably never would again–but he ignored me in favor of demanding evidence as to why I found it incomprehensible.

There’s nothing worse than being asked to defend a claim you haven’t made by a man who’s not listening to the substance of your answers in the first place.

I changed tactics, pointing to the poetry of Emily Dickinson–which I had never been able to understand–as something that “sucked” but was beloved because of its incomprehensibility. At this he almost wept with triumph. Grinning from ear to ear, he told me “Au contraire. I find her poetry to be wonderful,” and then he launched into a rehearsed speech about why poetry was wonderful, and why idiots who didn’t understand it were idiots. Not that he called me an idiot; he just gave me an artificial, condescending smile which made him look like a bloated puppet.

Personally, I would’ve preferred being called an idiot.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I’d been played for a patsy. My teacher had laid out a path for discussion, but in order to segue to the next movement he needed a foil, a dupe, someone to play the straw man. He put words in my mouth the very same way that I–and many other students–have often taken sources out of context to support our own contentions in research papers. He was trying to fit me into the exemplary mold of the boy who didn’t like poetry because he didn’t “get” it.

It was a preemptive strike against Graff’s “problem problem,” the phenomenon by which academics seem to cultivate–or even invent–problems for the simple sake of argument. The student resists this syndrome, opting to disregard subtext–the invention if which is “profoundly counterintuitive,” since it is a needless complication–in favor of what the perfectly self-explanatory text has to say (45-46).

Or, in my case, what it failed to say.

To extend Graff’s contention, I would argue that, for many students, the very existence of certain texts–especially poetry–seems to be a needless complication. If the student is reluctant to read past the most obvious meaning of the text, it stands to reason that, if their superficial reading finds the text to be meaningless, they will presume the act of reading it to be a cultural prank on a worldwide scale. The student does not wonder “why can’t the teacher agree with my straightforward reading?” so much as they look at the text and say, “They can’t be serious.”

In my case, I wasn’t just saying that the meaning of “incomprehensible” poetry was being lost in a sea of specious reasoning; I was insisting that all interpretations were nothing more than water in that same sea. In short, difficult poetry was worthless.

But then, I was also being facetious. I was making a slightly tongue-in-cheek observation that most brilliant poetry seemed to be incomprehensible, and therefore was automatically deemed “brilliant!’ as a result, not because of its inherent value. I wasn’t attacking the text, merely the culture which taught it.

Which begs a question: how much of what students resist is the artificiality of rubric as opposed to the artificiality of subtext? I would argue that the student is not entirely rebelling against the need to dress the text up in meaning, but more that they are chafing against the methods by which they are directed to do so. A teacher can play devil’s advocate to a discussion about the “obvious” conflict of a text, and in so doing challenge what the student is saying and by proxy what they think.

But, like my senior English teacher, they aren’t interested in interacting, so much as playing the role they’ve already decided to play. The “problem problem” is as much a result of teachers wanting to maintain momentum in the lesson plan as it is an inherent natural desire of the student to maintain simplicity in the text.

Graff acknowledges that, “from a certain commonsense point of view, academia’s cultivation of problems looks manufactured, perverse, and silly,” so much so that it seems “tedious and pointless, an infinite regress that goes nowhere” (46-47). For students and for casual observers, it would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating. But my point concerns something different than the intrinsic need of academia–specifically within the arts–to justify its own existence. Consider an examples of this frustration that Graff offers; it’s almost droll: “the only thing overanalyzing leads to is boredom” (44).

If that particular sentiment couldn’t serve as a straight line, I don’t know what could.

To take the metaphor further, the student becomes the straight man, the feed, the stooge, the guy serving up softballs for the other comic/pundit to hit out of the park. They serve as a kind of collective Bud Abbot, continually trying to assure the professor “Who’s on first.” But they’re not doing so in order to be part of a joke. They’re making a self-consciously facetious statement in anticipation of being informed otherwise. Unfortunately, the teacher seems intent on fulfilling the other side of this vaudeville act, acting so deliberately obtuse that they have no choice other than to reply “that’s what I’m asking you!”

It’s a verbal dance that, once identified, can be better understood. I’d try and make it make more sense, but I’ve gone on way to long already.

 - Matt

1 comment April 8th, 2008 Boyle

Where is all this going?

Graff advocates for students to write argumentative papers as if they are in a conversation. He suggests they use a summary-response pattern. I like the idea of writing an argumentative essay similar to the way we argue in conversation. I believe the point of writing is to communicate, and we have a lot more practice communicating in verbal conversations than on paper. It only seems logical to me to make writing more like conversation in order to more effectively convey an argument in writing.

However, Graff also suggests that students “summarize the objections that [they] anticipate will be made.” This is where my questions begin. Although, a writer might be able to anticipate some counterarguments to his point of view, is it really adding a “naysayer” to your paper if you are both the sayer and the naysayer? It seems like students would have to be careful not to fabricate a counterargument. Or, is that what Graff is advocating? Although it may lead to a better developed argument, it still seems like a superficial type of argument to me. Is this an effective way of making an argument?

Graff also recommends that students not only be very explicit in what they say, but also “tell readers how and how not to read it.” To me this seems like it would also require a lot of assumptions on the writer’s part and an exertion of control that I’m not sure I believe the writer possesses. Can we really control how others read what we write? Graff indicates that the writer must tell the readers how to read the paper in addition to being explicit. How do you control how readers interpret what you write beyond writing as explicitly as possible?

Scholes recommends writing text against text. In the journal articles we skimmed in the last class, I noticed that the articles were not articles about a piece of literature but rather articles on articles that other people had written about literature, or even articles on articles on articles about literature. If an academic writes articles based on assumptions he has made about an article someone else wrote based on the assumptions that an academic made in writing an article and so on, how valid will those arguments be? It seems like the arguments would become further and further removed from the primary text.

I agree that argumentative essays could be more conversational and should address the already established points of view that might challenge the argument, and I believe in the idea of text against text, but I think we need to be careful that we are not diluting arguments and information by making too many assumptions about counterpoints that have never been established and trying to write in anticipation of any possible interpretation that could be made by a reader.

Add comment April 8th, 2008 jtemple1

Comments on Graff, Part 2

My thoughts this week are a bit more disjointed and scattered than my past posts have been. I have been sick, so this may have something to do with it. On the other hand, I found the last chapters of Clueless in Academe much more of a hodgepodge than the first seven. That being said, I found these chapters much more engaging and practical than those we read last week. (I previously commented that Graff identified problems, and even suggested some solutions, but offered no practical way to implement them). Although these last chapters seemed more of a grab-bag, Graff does suggest some practical approaches to engaging students and bridging the gap between academic and student life.

As Graff points out, students are steeped in their own culture of argumentation. Students argue passionately with their friends about any number of issues (as Graff points out in his anecdotes about sports, nerds, and tough kids). This argument culture starts much earlier, though. As anyone who has ever stood in line behind a four year-old and his mom at the grocery store knows, kids learn how to make claims, counterclaims, and pre-emptive arguments almost as soon as they know how to talk. Young kids (and the students they become) simply don’t recognize that what they’re doing is in any way “academic.”

According to Graff: “schools should be tapping far more than they do into students’ youthful argument cultures, which are not as far removed as they seem from public forms of argument” (155). When I first read this suggestion, I was a bit skeptical. Sure, some students argue passionately and articulately about things that matter to them; however, there are just as many students who “argue” with adjectives, i.e. “that sucks,” or “that’s cool.”

The key, as Graff points out, it isn’t enough to simply teach a unit on popular music and expect students to jump into an academic conversation. (Additionally, if it’s not done right, students might react negatively to teachers “being fake” or “trying to look cool.” Teachers need to give students the vocabulary of argumentation, which they can then apply to classroom conversations about any number of issues. As teachers and educational scholars, we are steeped in academic lingo. We forget that even if students have the skills to articulate their position on an issue, they may not have the right vocabulary. Graff identifies modeling basic argumentative structure and clarifying key terms (such as “claim,” “counter,” “maintain”) as two relatively simple things teachers can do to help imrove students’ argumentative skills.

Another great suggestion comes from Chapters 10, “Outing Criticism.” Although criticism is often confusing (even alienating), Graff makes a great argument for introducing students to it sooner and more frequently. Of course, teachers need to pre-select articles that are written clearly and are not steeped in excessive jargon. Bearing that in mind, if used properly, critical writing could radically alter the way students think about literature. In addition to demystifying the academic world, it could demonstrate that literature is relevant outside of the classroom, expose students to the larger “intellectual conversation,” and provide them with a potential “naysayer” for future essays they may write.

As I finish this post, I am realizing that I have to retract (or at least qualify) some of my earlier comments. I initially said that I felt this half of the book was not as cohesive as the first. While the topics were more varied, there is a common thread running through the last seven chapters: taking students seriously. If we take students seriously, we recognize that their interests are valid. We acknowledge their pre-existing conversational and argumentative skills. This type of validation, from a student perspective, is priceless. It creates a classroom environment in which students feel at ease, and are thus more likely to fully engage and participate in the learning experience.

Add comment April 8th, 2008 Sara

Progressive Traditionalism

Progressive Traditionalism:

A long time ago, my dad mentioned to me that discipline in our age is difficult because we do not work with our children. He said that in his day, his dad left him a list of farm chores to do, went to work as a carpenter, and then came home and helped his wife and children finish up on the work he had assigned that morning. As a greater challenge, my grandfather assigned my father the whole list and had him delegate the work among his siblings. It taught my father management skills that he used for his entire life. Not all of the children in my father’s immediate family went on to college, but they all succeeded in their own way. Two of the four children went on to college and professional degrees. Two worked as laborers. All of them were responsible and productive in the community and their families. What my father mentioned about his work beside his father is that it taught him responsibility and respect. He saw his father work and respected his authority because he saw his father’s expertise and ethics while they worked together. In a depression, my father’s family was fed, dressed and functioning.

Meier states that we must integrate the classroom in such a way that the students become a part of the same community as the adults. She insists that the teachers must maintain authority intellectually. The most compelling part of Meier’s theory is that she has applied it and we see that it is effective. Just as the students in this class have applied some of the ideas we have learned –difficulty papers and poetry

analysis– and have seen that they are effective in the classroom, Meier has applied her theories. To integrate progressive and traditional concepts, insisting on respect among students and teachers for each other and themselves, yet fostering intellectual thought, works. It works because it allows children to learn in an environment of respect, where they see their teachers working and delivering the goods. It divorces them from the pressures of social hierarchy and frees them to experience another type of challenge: realizing their own intellectual potential.

This is our last blog, and I have to say that this summer I will be making lists of lesson ideas. This chapter will be copied and put in my ideas folder. I believe that the concept here rings true as something we need desperately in our schools. When children take advanced classes just to avoid the mainstream population, there is something wrong.

The challenge will be to find a school that has adopted these ideas. I hear some schools have vertical teams that work to ensure progress through grade school and high school. I hear other schools try to mask grade inflation through no-flunk policies. I find that disrespectful to the students. Hiding from them their weaknesses is cruel. An F now at 16 can be a learning experience. A failure in the workforce can mean devastating consequences. It seems that Meier has got the idea. Many of our lessons during this semester are valid and meaningful, but to find a school that has these principles in place as an active part of the learning process may be a difficult task. I’ll let you know where I find it, if it’s out there.

Add comment April 8th, 2008 laurelchinn

I’m Kind of Excited to Teach Research

I’ve had a really tough time trying to teach the research paper in the past. I assign it, but I find that it’s very difficult for me to bring what I know about writing research papers down to my students’ level. I try to help, and I end up confusing them even more. Somehow, while reading Graff’s book and taking into consideration many of the conversations we’ve had in class, I became inspired. The argument templates on page 169 might be a little too structured, but that kind of structure might be what 9th graders need (they need something involving some kind of structure anyway. They’re animals!) at least to get started on organizing themselves a bit.

I know we’ve talked a lot about not adhering to traditional research papers and the debate over whether students should be able to write an interesting paper or a grammatically correct one, but I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t think we can break the rules until we know them, and so I want my students to know how to set up an argument. To reduce their anxiety over trying to come up with an argument in the first place (a problem I continually have, myself), I’m in the process of thinking of a way to trick them into writing about it before they even know what’s going on. This seems evil and deceitful, but it might work. Graff points out a few times that students know how to argue, but that when they’re told they have to do it, they seem to convince themselves that they can’t do it. This is completely untrue. I hope that I can get them to take an issue they feel strongly towards, and get them to flesh that idea out until it becomes something that they want to investigate. In the past I’ve used the same assignment and everyone in the class was writing on the same topic with some degree of variation (they chose their own sub-topic). I know some people in the class have mentioned how they allow their students to choose their own topics and they have success this way. I guess this is something that I learned in my education classes was bad, but then at the same time, learned that it was “progressive.” Those mixed messages mixed me up and I ended up doing a little of both.

I’m getting a bit off the topic of Graff here, but seeing those templates, as I mentioned before, got me thinking a lot about the research paper my classes are about to begin. I usually dread this. OK, I’m not kidding myself. I STILL dread it. Ninth grade writing is not my idea of a good time. But I’m more interested this year to try out some new Graff-inspired ideas and see where that gets me.

Add comment April 8th, 2008 renee.decoskey

What’s It All About?

(Instead of writing comments on paper as I read and then putting them in a coherent text, I stuck post-its in places throughout the chapters so my comments may seem a bit disjointed).

Chapter 8 - bottom of 169

I do like the idea of using a template to lay the foundation of an essay.  (It reminds me of a technique I use to engage my ten-year old son to write a story, which he hates to do-which kills me-anyway, I write several sentences leaving blank spaces that he must fill with the character’s name, description; the setting. Then using dialogue and exclamatory sentences, with plenty of blank spaces, he’ll develop the plot and finish the story. He’ll even edit before sharing it with me).  But this exercise is in addition to the work he must independently produce in school. My thought? Would the template prove to be a guide or a crutch for older students?

  Chapter 9 - bottom of pg178

…..”suggests to me that they (Smith and Rabinowitz) do not expect as much from eleventh-graders as I think they are capable of producing.” My initial thought was how would Graff know what they are capable of..unless he is speaking in more general terms that, as a whole, teachers have low (or lowered) student expectations.  And if that is the case, why? To lessen their disappointment?  Even as a long-term substitute or when I taught two-week, self-contained classes at an elementary school on the modified schedule, I had always incorporated my expectations into my lesson plans. Then on the first day, within the first twenty minutes, I’d call a class meeting to share my expectations with them. But I’d still be disappointed either because their behaviour or effort was less than desirable and acceptable .  I also found myself holding GT students to a higher level  because they’re supposedly the “cream of the crop.”  Several times, usually at lunch, I expressed my frustrations to senior teachers who would patiently listen, while nodding their heads, agreeing with what I’d said and then tell me to keep it up because they felt kids just didn’t have a sense for what an expectation is, in part, because nothing was/is expected of them at home.  It was exhausting though at times.

Chapter 10

Stating your love of literature/learning is the equivalent of a prospective med student stating they love to help people. So not only is it important to answer the “So what” or “Who cares” question as Graff says, but I think marketing of one-self is also vital in these select postions. (Not that I do this, being a rather under-spoken person, more on this later).

Chapter 11 - bottom pg 222

“It is self-defeating to decline to introduce any text or subject that figures to engage students who will otherwise tune out academic work entirely.”  I recall a mother complaining to me that her athletically inclined son could not use sports for his current event assignments, which was truly unfortunate because that was the only thing he was interested in at the time.

top of pg 226

last sentence before next section.

In reference to my previous comment of being under-spoken, I was the generation before educators took to promoting girls in academics.  Coupled with the fact that my family did not openly discuss any stimulating issues like religion, politics, and sex, and being raised to speak only when I had something nice to say, left me feeling hollow many a time, especially as an undergrad.  I often wondered how an out-spoken female student developed her ideas/opinions when I  wasn’t even aware of an issue.  I did feel more comfortable speaking aloud in an all- female class (one in four years), though I did scuff at my mother’s suggestion of attending an all-girls college. (Which was due to attending an all-girls weekend as a high school senior and truly not fitting in with the girls in my group who all wore pearl necklaces, and white mini-skirts with colorful underwear showing through).

Any further comments I’ll express in class.


Add comment April 8th, 2008 smaneec

I Didn’t Fail Out, but Dropped Out Three Times

Reading Renee and JJ’s posts allowed me to spend some time reflecting on my own journey through academe. Like Renee, I was a carefree student through high school graduation. I was absolutely consumed by my schoolish behavior-in elementary school, I would race through worksheets just to be the first one finished. I prided myself in slapping down my completed assignment on my teacher’s desk and proclaiming “Done!” before anyone else had that high honor. Despite my quick grasp of new concepts, I often lost points because of careless mistakes. I was so focused on getting the attention and praise of being the fastest thinker, I often didn’t take the time to think deeply about anything. My habit of cursory thinking and superficial completion of assignments was rewarded and continued throughout high school.

Like JJ mentioned, most of my classes covered a wide breadth of material without requiring much deep thinking. If I recall correctly, most of the critical thinking was done by my teachers, or whoever created the lesson plans they used in class. That information was then solemnly passed down to me so I could regurgitate it back to my teacher in the form of a mindless “research” paper, a conglomeration and rearrangement of the notes I had scribbled during lectures. When I finally got into a class that required me to develop my own interpretations, to think for myself (AP English Lit), I struggled, I resisted, I got a D+.

I also found myself floundering when I got to college. Putting aside my excessive partying and immaturity during my first three attempts at college, I also found that I had never learned to study or to think independently. I never learned how much time and effort it takes to come up with a new idea. To my relief, some of my classes still required and rewarded my refined abilities in schoolish behavior, but some wanted more. Some wanted me to work hard. Never in my 12+ years of education had I worked hard to receive an A. Though I appreciated the grading system at the time, I can now clearly see its flaws.

In this vein, and because of recent meetings at my school encouraging teachers to eradicate Ds and Fs on report card grades, I’ve been investigating trends in grade inflation: according to a NY Times article from 2007, ( high school students’ grades have gone up while their reading and math abilities have gone down. This study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress illustrates an unsettling disparity between grades and performance that my school is starting to contribute to. As compassionate a bleeding heart I can often be, I’m fed up with the second and third and fourth and fifth chances we (at my school) are being “suggested” to give students who consistently refuse to take responsibility for their actions (or, more often, inactions). I’m saddened and angered and frustrated by the disservice we’re doing to students: they are learning the lesson that they don’t have to do anything to merit a reward but still receive it. This strategy is creating a plague of entitlement among young people. Our feeder school even goes so far as to absolutely refuse to fail any students, regardless of ability or effort put forth.

I agree with JJ’s call for a complete overhaul of our educational system, as daunting as that may be. Instead of giving students grades based on what we hope they might one day possibly be able to achieve/learn/demonstrate/understand, I believe that a much more effective, meaningful, and honest method would be to give students grades based on demonstrated learning. I believe that authentic assessment tools can gauge this criteria quite well. However, more emphasis is often placed on repeating things that other people have learned, instead of using higher level thinking skills to demonstrate one’s own learning. In my school, emphasis is also placed on “How many times did the parents call complaining about the grade?,” “Will the student be able to wrestle if he fails your class?,” and “What good will it do the student to keep him here another year?”.

I apologize (to those of you who have read this far) for my ranting and raving. However, as we have been talking about the various purposes for reading and for writing, I’ve found this particular piece to be quite . . . therapeutic.

Add comment April 7th, 2008 Karen

Pedagogic Treatise or Academic Discourse, or Teacher Talk:

“Not knowing to any degree of certainty, I decline to elucidate lest I should prevaricate.” This was one of my grandfather’s favorite expressions and one that I use on my composition students when we talk about word choice and voice. Do you know what it means without using a dictionary or thesaurus? When I my students what I just said, they usually answer, “I don’t know.” I tell them they are correct. Then they are really confused.

Do academics talk the way they write? I don’t think so. Several years ago my father went on a weekend trip with a group of men from the church we attend. Among the men was the pastor of the church. My father came home amazed at the sense of humor, down-home attitude, and genuine earthiness of the pastor. He was surprised that a man with his education and devotion to God would tell jokes in the ice cream store at midnight. I think academics are the same. When they are with a group of people they are not trying to impress with their erudite dialogue (I did not look up either of those words), they probably use slang and begin their sentences with coordinate conjunctions. They may even split their infinitives and mix their metaphors. It is only when they try to impress an audience (or scare them) that they resort to multi-syllabic words from the academic-speak side of the chart. They probably speak from the other side of the chart. This is not to say that a few words won’t eventually cross over from academic-speak to Realspeak, but most will remain enshrined on the academic side.

This type of vocabulary building and use engenders inert knowledge. Think back to the vide we watched on our first night of class. Inert knowledge is that information we posses but do not use. This is the same as dividing our words, or encouraging our students to, into separate lists, some to be used regularly and others to be saved for special occasions. This is not to belittle the use of a thesaurus or dictionary. A good vocabulary is a wonderful thing. But it only serves its function when it enhances communication, not when it obfuscates it. (Do you like that word? It is on my academic-speak list. I know it but don’t use it. Is it better than obscures? No. neither is it worse because both are clear.) While building a good vocabulary is to be admired, the goal should be to communicate, to share ides, to be inclusive. Otherwise we are writing without an audience.

To change metaphorical horses in mid-stream, I want to tell you about my literature class this morning. The students are each leading the class discussion one time over the course of the semester. The instructions state that the student does not have to come to class with answers, or explanations, or an analysis of the reading. They simply need to have done several careful readings of the text. The presentation this morning was about “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. As the student was finishing, he referred to a criticism he had read that alleged that the jagged form of the right had side of the poem on the paper was a symbol for the violence in the African-American community. The jagged edge represented broken class or the points of a knife while the smooth lines of the ending stanza represented a razor blade. The class was amazed when I disagreed with this interpretation. They seemed to be of the opinion that if it is published it must be true.

The people who are creating these long-winded, dense, bewildering articles are doing a disservice to students and young scholars. While I don’t think we want the simplified language if elementary students, and while I strive to achieve and use a good vocabulary, the words must be used to enhance the ideas, not to obscure them.

Here is a P.S. for you. Each time I compose any writing to be submitted as part of a class, I check the Flesch-Kincaid reading level. If it is less than 12, I am mortified and revise until it reaches at least 12. (Does anybody know how high this thing goes? I read a 15 a few days ago.) Can you guess what this writing earned? Do you care? Did it make sense? Do you care?

3 comments April 7th, 2008 Edith

In Clueless in Academe, Gerald Graff’s chapter about building vocabulary lists and advocating an authentic voice bring to mind a number of issues.  His contention that vocabulary needs to be increased is certainly unique, but it fails to account for his own theory of compartmentalization. However, Graff’s argument about negotiating the minefield of authentic voice and scholarly support has far more credibility.

Graff’s example of a teacher building up two vocabulary lists, one for Realspeak and one for academic-speak, is initially appealing.  Students need to be able to have the variety of linguistic tools (words) that English offers.  Building up vocabulary appears to be a worthwhile goal.  How educators pursue that goal is an entirely different reality.  The Graff example of the two columns will certainly engage students during that particular class/semester.  Unless this process and the words themselves are repeated year after year, most of the students will simply divorce the vocabulary from their Realspeak.  A handful of students will incorporate it, just as a handful always manages to appropriate new scholarly words, but the majority of the class will simply discard the information.

While his zeal for engaging students is laudable, Graff has forgotten the incredible appeal of compartmentalization.  In an earlier chapter, he directly summarized this tendency and explored its powerful role within the academy.  Somehow this lesson has escaped his analysis of these word-building exercises.  The two-column approach to vocabulary only works if the students encounter these words in subsequent classes/semesters/years.  Otherwise, they will allocate this information to the “something we did in English” category and eventually delete it entirely.  Until this type of vocabulary or discourse becomes emphasized throughout the entire academy, only a few words will ever sink in.

Fortunately, Graff’s discussion of authentic voice is far more realistic and insightful.  Students are expected to show originality while writing in the language and tone of scholarly works.  This dynamic is an absurd paradox that should not be proposed at the beginning of the process.  Our current method of using these characteristics can easily confuse and stump even some of the more eager writers.  Using quotations can help students overcome this hurdle, but exposure is one of the best predictors of future use.

One of the difficult issues here is measuring outcomes.  How can we make sure that a particular lesson or strategy yields a specific result?  The answer cannot be defined in this computerized input-output methodology.  In interviews, many graduates will make a comment about how they wish they could retake courses using their current knowledge.  These graduates or “experienced” students learned a great deal of information spread out among an enormous variety of fields.  It is only at the end of the process that this seemingly disparate information begins to appear valuable.

Consider Graff’s vocabulary list activity.  While many students will compartmentalize the words and consequently discard them, other learners will hold on to a few of them.  Why?  Well, it is likely that these students encountered these new words in another class or outside of school altogether.  For these students, the activity connected with some other aspect of their lives.  Not surprisingly, the new scholarly words were deemed useful and retained (transferred).  Measuring the human mind and the learning process is not a linear or simple process.

1 comment April 7th, 2008 FrancoisGuidry

Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts

I think Graff’s notion of what high school student writers are capable of producing is exaggerated (”Like Scholes, I think high school and college students can produce this powerful critical talk” (182).) and his opinion of the value of reading literary criticism to improve their writing ignores the fact that they cannot understand it. Graff admits that teachers object to introducing their students to criticism because they find it “opaque and boring” (174). He criticizes teachers for tolerating “a low level of articulation and [letting] students vent opinions and feelings instead of engaging with their classmates” (177) in the interest of getting students to talk. I agree with the students that criticism is unreadable and boring, and it has certainly never sparked a desire to engage in conversation about the text.

Graff’s commercial for his book of critical essays about Huck Finn is supposed to overcome this objection. The failure to achieve stated goals with the text, Graff says, “did not weaken my conviction that published criticism is a vastly underused resource.” Graff relates a similarly disappointing experience of McCann yet concludes the chapter by saying “we came away confirmed in our conviction that working with critical texts can enable students to produce a higher quality of critical thinking and writing” (189).

In Graff’s narrow view, the only acceptable response to literature is engagement in the public conversation about the text. For students not yet ready for published criticism, I think the ideas Lynn Bloom writes in her article, Textual Terror, Textual Power: Teaching Literature through Writing Literature (WWTTL 77) would be more effective. Whereas Graff says British literature students write critical essays, not tragic dramas, Bloom asks, “Why not encourage students to write creative texts in the genres they’re studying, in response to and as a way of understanding these works?” Furthermore, Bloom’s students are given opportunity to use critical thinking by responding to each others’ criticism, making the conversation immediate and real.

So, I have entered the conversation, and I side with Bloom.

1 comment April 6th, 2008 naomip

An Argument: How “Being Jewish” Influenced Graff More Than He Admits

Gerald Graff says briefly and in passing in Clueless in Academe that he is Jewish and that others (presumably his classmates and teachers) therefore regarded him as intelligent. Graff says, “In my case being Jewish already carried a presumption of being smart that I did not entirely disavow” (p. 216). Graff then attributes his “hidden intellectualism” to a number of factors such as his interest in sports and movies (p. 217). However, I argue (you like that?) that Graff’s being Jewish carried much more weight and had a greater influence on Graff’s value system than he admits. I contend (ha!) that if Graff is like most Jews, being Jewish predisposes him to valuing education, argumentation, and interpretation of texts.

In our last class session, I mentioned that argumentation and interpretation of texts has been the primary pedagogical tool used in formal religious studies since ancient times. Yeshiva boys and rabbinical students read portions of text, considered them deeply, and toyed with how they might be applied in various situations, hypothetical and real. To put it in modern literary terms, they did close readings of texts, sometimes consulted secondary sources (the Talmud), interpreted them, and created arguments. They would often be paired with other students to argue their position, then switch positions and argue the opposite point. This ancient pedagogical practice is still part of rabbinical training today.

Text interpretation and argumentation is not a technique exclusive to the rabbinate; it is embedded in Jewish life for all practicing Jews. The most obvious place we see text interpretation and argumentation is in the synagogue service. Jews read the Torah during particular synagogue services each week and then look for ways to connect the text they have just read to their lives, usually with the guidance of the Rabbi’s sermon. That is why a key component of the modern Bar of Bat Mitzvah service is the reading of a portion of Torah by the child, who then shares his or her interpretation of the text before the congregation.

Interpretation and argumentation also occurs for most Jews outside of the synagogue service. Children who attend Hebrew school, for instance, do close readings of texts, interpret them, and formulate arguments about how that text can be applied to various ethical questions. Recently, for example, my daughter’s religious school class discussed how Torah can be used to argue for or against stem cell research, homosexuality, and various environmental initiatives. Furthermore, home-based Jewish rituals such as the Passover service provide further opportunities for Jews to read texts, interpret them, and formulate arguments. The Hagaddah (the text read aloud at a Passover service) describes the story of Exodus but also offers commentary on that primary text.

One must remember, too, Jews have always held education and the asking of questions in high regard. For example, the most revered person historically in Jewish communities was neither the wealthiest nor the most powerful person in the community; it was the Rabbi. This was so not because the Rabbi was considered to have special powers or to have a special connection with God; it was so because the Rabbi was generally the most educated member of the community and the one who could guide others in their own learning. The word rabbi, in fact, translates as teacher.

Graff, as a Jew, would be predisposed to valuing education, text interpretation, and argumentation. He attributes his status as “closet nerd” to other factors such as in interest in sports and movies. “Being Jewish,” as Graff puts it, no doubt carried at least as much weight as sports and movies in Graff’s pathway to intellectualism, and probably much more. — Laura Hills

1 comment April 6th, 2008 LauraHills

A Relevant Sunday Comic, and Getting a Clue Part II – Thoughts on “Teaching the Club”

Just wanted to share this link before I got into my post - it’s the April 6th strip of the comic Frazz and its take on school and intellectualism. I’m having a bit of trouble with the code side of things, otherwise I would have given a direct link. But in any case, here it is - sorry you’ll have to cut and paste:

And now, for my post…


What I am about to say is probably already evident from my previous posts this semester – I consider myself more of a writing teacher than I do a literature teacher. I do believe teaching literature is integral to a student’s development as a thinker, but the real thrust for me is literature’s role in a student’s development as a writer. My opinion regarding academic discourse versus more creative expression, then, is similar to Graff’s. There is no need for a sharply divided, contentious debate that one is superior to the other. Rather, students should be exposed to both modes just as they are exposed to multiple genres of literature. The key (as I have said in class) is to teach audience awareness and authentic voice, two elements of composition which allow the writer to walk the fine line between academic language and more personal prose. Jones provides a solid opportunity for his students to develop this sense of navigation, specifically in the way he asks them to evaluate their own writing and differentiate between the rhetorical requirements of various professors and assignments. This makes the idea of combining two voices more relevant to a student’s own academic achievement as opposed to reviewing samples of such work written by other (professional) writers. Once again, the student writer becomes more aware of what he or she already knows, an understanding of “discursive variations” that otherwise might not have been brought to the forefront. That Jones noticed his students still resisting the language while actively engaging in the process itself identifies immersion in an academic tongue and experience as fruitful pedagogy for the teaching of argumentation. It is somewhat like running in cooler weather – though the intensity of the act is still the same (or perhaps stronger) as it would have been in another climate, the reaction to such an experience is less exhausting and more effective (i.e., as a runner might push himself harder without noticing, so might a student adopt the offending discourse without as much opposition). As Graff points out, however, Jones does not go about this lesson in a secretive way. He is open with his students about the struggles they experience and places a name on a frequently ignored, esoteric quality of academia.


Meier’s theory is a strong one. Though I’m sure she would disagree with a number of educational theorist whom I hold dear (Peter Elbow most notably), I find the premise of her ideas engaging. She understand the reason why students gradually lose enthusiasm for school, turning into reluctantly shuffling automatons from the excited, “look what I did at school today, Mommy!” little ones who can’t wait to go to school every day. When children are young, school makes sense. They learn about the world through play (a relevant personal activity). As they age, however, the idea of school becomes more and more complex and disengaged from the lives they lead outside the building’s walls. The less sense education makes, the more likely a student is to shy away from it and find the experience pointless, if not exasperating.


I wonder what Meier would have to say about the current “unschooling” phenomenon in which children are left to do precisely what Meier says nonwhite teachers and parents find objectionable: find out everything they need to know on their own. Unschooling presupposes the idea that a child’s natural curiosity will lead to great discovery and learning as long as it allowed to progress unchecked. While homescholing families follow a traditional curriculum, unschooling families tend to eschew schedules and allow their children to do whatever they want, whether that means playing outside all day, devoting nine hours to online gaming or playing with a personal chemistry set just because the mood strikes. Parents who choose to unschool do so precisely because they object Meier’s strict adherence to adult authority. Many of them, in fact, are strong supporters of John Taylor Gatto and have probably read Dumbing Us Down several times, cover to cover. I am not a proponent of unschooling, and I find Meier’s premise intriguing, but I think there has to be a happy medium of sorts – an environment in which students experience self discovery under the guidance of adult authority.


I find it interesting that “staunch lefties” attack Meier and her schools for not removing the “wrong” beliefs from textbooks. I agree with Meier: if students don’t know that these debates exist, how will they ever learn to formulate their own opinions and be able to defend those positions in a public forum? The trend toward political correctness assumes that differences don’t exist, that all values in life are equal. Meier should be applauded for exposing her students to cultural debate.

Final Thoughts

Synthesis. It’s what we want from our students – and what we should expect from ourselves. Solid education requires cohesive instruction and inclusion in an intellectual community in which students are not only aware of cultural and academic debates but are guided in the process of such discussions and encouraged to take part in them as well. True thinkers flourish in an environment of thoughtful and engaging discourse. How much longer will it take for educators and policy makers to get a clue?


Add comment April 6th, 2008 vkochis

Clueless in Middle School

Graff’s introductory section “The Overrating of Fact” cited a calamity central to our county’s educational practices: “Displaying pointless information for its own sake—the activity rewarded by many standardized tests—is the mark of a bore, not an educated person” (31). I nearly shouted “Amen!” after reading Graff’s assertion; why then, does our educational system stress the regurgitation of factual information on our state tests? What can students learn through this practice, and what type of thinkers are we creating?

Graff offers a practical classroom solution, “Instead of imparting facts in a vacuum, teachers are likely to be more successful when they introduce information as it becomes necessary for students to make sense of an issue or a set of arguments” (32). As a teacher, I practice this method of back-loading factual information, but what purpose does my teaching philosophy serve when my students’ final challenge comes in the form of a standardized test? Surely our students, as Graff warns, see through our binary teaching practices. The paradoxical atmosphere of modern education harms students and teachers alike. How can we expect ourselves to teach higher-level thinking strategies when our state tests demand factual regurgitation?

Furthermore, teaching our subject in exclusion of other subjects, even through high-level thinking strategies, seems counterproductive to interdisciplinary teaching. Students in my English class seem thoroughly confused when I tell them that analytical thinking does not always produce an obviously correct answer. They are trained to produce a factual answer in math, science, and social studies and the uncertainties of literary analysis frighten them. As an English teacher, I worry that my students will be further confused in high school and college if their teachers demand a certain analysis of a piece of literature. How do I simultaneously teach them that literature offers uncertain answers (unlike other core subjects) yet some English teachers will require certain analysis? Could the job get any more complicated?

When learning becomes convoluted and teaching uncertain, what student or educator can flourish in this confusing academic world? During my teaching career, I have often felt like I cannot “do” my job correctly. Graff’s research and educational philosophies, as interesting and insightful as they are, leave me feeling like a failure. Are we, as educators and students alike, ever going to have a clue? Will there be any certainty in our uncertain careers and studies? The field of education seems to continually reinvent and question itself. While I appreciate this self-reflective cycle, it leaves one wanting stability and “a clue” in our clueless situation.

Add comment April 2nd, 2008 jcarterw

…I did fail out - twice!!

Okay,  so I know exactly what Renee is talking about. I breezed through high school without much trouble, but I did not learn what they wanted in college, nor did I learn how to study. When I started college, as an engineering major, I too had great difficulty because I wasn’t sure what was being asked or what was wanted and I didn’t know how to navigate the system. This is something I’ve also seen with some of my students who have gone to college as first generation college students.

This lack of understanding the expectations and the system is truly propagated by the system particularly in the Freshman and Sophomore levels when classes or study sessions are taught/lead by graduate assistants who typically have no teaching experience and expect you to sink or swim. I see it as a weeding out process. I still have not too fond memories of my Chemistry professor, who as Sarah pointed out in her post was in the position because of the money he brought into the University for his research, that did not have any office hours himself, showed up to lecture 3 times a week, and was not even present when tests were given. Our closest contact was our lab TA, and although he conducted study sessions prior to exams in addition to the running the lab section was much like one of those Chess geniuses that was mentioned in one of our first readings in that he did not connect with my level.

I truly applaude Graff’s intentions, but I am skeptical of it actually happening. Our whole educational system needs an overhaul and in my opinion it needs to happen from both ends: Colleges and Universities need to work from the top and Elementary schools need to work from the bottom and there needs to be a meeting in the middle. I do not pretend that I have the answers, but I think that it begins with a reoccuring theme in many of our readings: “The sheer cognitive overload represented by the American curriculum prevents most students from detecting and then learning the moves of the underlying arugment gmae that gives coherence to it all” (3). Once again, a mile wide and an inch deep.

Graff talks about the importance that has been placed on the college degree by society and the realization that high schools do not expect that all of their students will go on to college…the problem here is that even though the realization has been made as we talked about in class last week with the TED presentation - the money has been focused on preparing students to go to college so programs that would help prepare them for careers that do not require college and/or tech schools have been cut. This of course is because we rely on what the universities have told us they expect students to be able to do and this is what is focused on. Again the problem lies in the fact that there is no single answer - anyone ever look at the AP Biology or AP Chemistry curriculum - no way a student could learn all that or a teacher teach all of it successfully.

Then at the lower grades a focus needs to be placed on the ability to decipher…I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked a student to tell me what they have just read into their own words and they are at a complete loss…I know we’ve discussed this in class before, but it goes back to only asking basic info questions that recall specific events or things and not meaning.

 The whole system is broken and I just wonder…are we perpetuating the problem?

Add comment April 2nd, 2008 JJ

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ENGL 610:002 // Spring 2008

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