On Week 3 #111cr #252ac

The first full week of classes witnessed lots of writing for a variety of purposes. Blogging, tweeting, and more traditional writing were all in play, the latter in particular used for expressing areas of interest and relating personal histories of writing. Each form, though, acted as a precursor of discussion and a reminder of purpose. 

Both #111cr and #252ac are structured toward course goals and students' interests, toward university learning outcomes and our own more particular curiosities. I'm here to help students fulfill both, but I also want students to learn to look to each other. As the semester stretches out and we go along together, it is my hope that we will come to rely on each other, to keep our ears and eyes out for interesting items related to our relative areas of expectation and interest. This is but one of the many reasons for the varied forms of writing required and performed so far.

We write for ourselves, but we should also come to write for each other. A student's written work is important and deserves to be seen and recognized by others in the class and even beyond the boundary of the course. I know that I'm more interested in coming to know what students find and know to be important than whatever I might have to say to or write for them. 

This leads us toward discussion of both the past week and the week to come. In #111cr, students cut and revised their writing from 750 words to 140 characters. I not only wanted to know more about what they wanted to know (hence, a 750-word piece prompted by "What do you want to learn?"), but I also wanted to get them thinking about the different kinds of writing they do and why. That many were able to pare down their work and maintain meaning even in 140 characters or less leads me to think Twitter use might be sustained for the entire semester. 

Students in #111cr also received overviews of Microsoft Word and online resources related to citation styles via the first student-led facilitation of the semester. Two more such facilitations are scheduled for next week. In asking students to led a class session on something of importance to college-level writing, I seek to accomplish at least two things: (1) provide students the opportunity to more directly fulfill their own expectations about the course and (2) help students learn from one another. Again, this relates to what I wrote above about coming to rely on each other instead of just the instructor. 

There's already plenty of evidence of this in #252ac as I mediated students' discussion of their lives with writing and opinions on troublesome aspects of today's communication styles. It remains a bit jarring, though, how many took to raising their hands before speaking. Such an act is more polite than interrupting, but I'm unaccustomed to keeping track of whose hand was raised first. Many students still tried to make eye contact with me while they spoke, even though the rest of the class showed just as much interest in their words. 

Students in #252ac also continue their work with the Media Representations of Writing (MRW) assignment. This is most evident so far on their blogs and on Twitter, but that changes next week with the pecha kucha presentations scheduled for next week. Having students talk about their ideas and observations of how various media portray writers and writing gives us all a chance to learn what we think. Many appeared nervous as I talked about the pecha kucha style of presenting and later performed a live example. I trust that nervousness to dissipate with preparation. 

 

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If you happen to not be a student in either of these classes but would like to keep up with what we're doing, you can follow our Twitter activity here and here

On Weeks 1&2 #111cr #252ac

Due to illness, I canceled the 9.12 sessions of English 111 College Rhetoric (#111cr) and English 252 Advanced Composition (#252ac). My third course, a team-taught Gen Ed offering on media literacy, continued without me thanks to the other instructor and our two student-peer facilitators. Sick as I was, I had some reservations about canceling class, but I ended up going ahead with it because I didn't want to risk infecting students. In a way, I guess I'd rather we all be behind together, which is most certainly what we are. 

While the 9.14 sessions of #111cr and #252ac were both illuminating and productive in their own ways, the list of things to do is longer than I'd like. Because we weren't able to air grievances and pose questions about course materials, Posterous, Twitter, and other aspects until 9.14, we remain in a kind of suspended animation. Watching the Twitter feed for each class, I can see students starting to grasp how to handle what I'm asking of them. This is great, of course, but I'm also frustrated as I should have been seeing this earlier in the week. However, there is no guarantee I would have seen it earlier in the week if I hadn't canceled the 9.12 sessions. If I hadn't canceled classes when I did, my illness may very well have forced the cancellation of the 9.14 sessions instead. 

When on a twice-a-week course schedule, canceling a session halves what might be accomplished. Still, I think the 9.14 sessions were good ones. I fielded queries about course materials, managed quick, helpful demonstrations of specific features of Posterous and Twitter*, and even introduced #252ac students to Media Representations of Writing. While I detect some reservations on the part of some students regarding course particulars, I'm optimistic. Both #111cr and #252ac appear full of bright, inquisitive minds willing to entertain my crazy ideas about blogging and tweeting in lieu of 4-5 more traditional pieces of written work.

As I pick up reflective writing about courses again, I want to continue concluding with student voices. In the weeks ahead, I'll be sharing snippets of blog entries and the like, but I want to offer here summary lists of their expectations for the next 14 weeks.

#111cr
Students want to learn how to write research papers, how to better organize their writing, and develop better reading skills. They want to write in-depth and figure out different and better styles of writing. They want to develop a greater vocabulary, acquire different perspectives, and get a grasp of proper grammar. They want to know how to cite sources, how to take good notes, and how to land good research. They want to craft solid thesis statements and smooth transitions and edit, edit, edit. They want to practice their speaking skills, engage in discussion, and have fun. They want to be better all-around writers. 

#252ac
Students want to learn the value of online communication and hone their skills in learning what to do and what not to do in writing. They want to develop better speaking skills in formal and informal settings and be presented with constructive challenges. They want to develop more confidence and motivation when it comes to writing, find gainful employment through their writing, and expand their vocabulary. They want to pass the class and/or earn an "A." They want to tweet, engage in professional writing, and figure out how to better construct stories. They want to find cures for writer's block. They want to learn a lot. 

In all of these expectations, I couldn't be happier to help.

 

*Thanks to all those who helped out tweeting hi and where they were from! 

Quick thought on @posterous Spaces

In episode 20 of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Master Shake receives the boxes of t-shirts he ordered to promote his superhero identity, the Drizzle. Upon seeing the jumbled mess of things on said t-shirts, he exclaims, "This is too busy. This is all too busy! By the time you read it, you're dead!"

I share this anecdote because it sums up my immediate reaction to Posterous Spaces. No longer a simple, effective blogging platform, Posterous is now a social network with more than a passing resemblance feature-wise to Google+. And it's all too busy, offering and, in some cases, doing more than I want.

If I was more of a digital nomad, I'd be packing up and looking for another oasis.

ENG 252 Advanced Composition syllabus, updated Fall 2011 #252ac

Course: ENG 252 - Advanced Composition (#252ac)
Semester: Fall 2011
Teacher/Guide: Dr. James Schirmer (@betajames)
Email: jschirm@umflint.edu
Office: 320D French Hall
Hours: Monday/Wednesday by appointment)

Writing Center: 559 French Hall
Writing Center Phone: 810.766.6602 (call ahead to make an appointment)
Writing Center Website: http://www.umflint.edu/departments/writingcenter/

Course Description:
As what constitutes composition (advanced or not) expands due to technological influence, the kinds of writing in which we engage also change. Everyday writing can often take on greater importance, informing other kinds of composition. This course endeavors to garner greater understanding and awareness of our past, present, and future practices of writing. The what and why of writing is as of much focus here as the how.

Course Objectives:
Upon completion of this course, you will have:

  • Read self-selected texts in preparation for advancing notions of writing
  • Developed a broader understanding of what signifies as composition
  • Practiced the application of said understanding through evaluative and reflective writing
  • Prepared one or more substantial compositions for peer/public viewing 

Required Texts:
All texts will be available online or provided via email.

Course Contributions: 
The grading contract outlines many parameters for the course, but not all. Below is more information about unique contributions to be made to the course by all students.

Presence: I expect you to come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute thoughts to class discussions, to listen with attentive respect to the thoughts of your peers, and to participate in all in-class group work.  I strongly urge you to attend every class, as most of the work done in class is necessary for successful completion of the course.

Posterous: Contrary to assumptions about writing, authorship is more of a collective process than an individual endeavor. To better illustrate this, you are required to create and maintain a Posterous blog for the duration of the course. Particular requirements for blogging are as follows: 

  • Blog entries of 400-600 words are due twice a week by session start.
  • Blog comments of 40-60 words are due thrice a week by 5pm every Friday.

Further guidelines are provided here.

Twitter: To create and sustain further conversation this semester, all students are required to maintain active presence on Twitter for a minimum of four weeks. One post (or tweet) per day is required, but there is freedom regarding content. Students are welcome to post original thoughts, "retweet" classmates' updates, @ (reply to) classmates' updates, and share course-relevant links with the course hashtag. Posts unrelated to course content are okay, but these will not count toward the requirement. I am very active on Twitter, so I encourage all students to check my profile (as well as those I follow) for potential models of engagement. Further guidelines are provided here

Sequences: For particular course themes, there are some longer assignments. These provide opportunities for not only greater attention and focus but also practice and preparation for later projects and beyond. They are as follows: 

 

  • Personal writing history 
    Reflecting on our relationships with writing can help us understand how and why we write and, by extension, how our own writing strategies are similar to and different from those around us. By putting such reflection into the form of an autobiography, we have a chance to get to know each other better in a unique way.
  • Media representations of writing 
    Given that what constitutes composition/writing expands, (in)accurate portrayals of composers and the act of composing persist. While some might offer evidence of future ways, others suggest more traditional methods. How various and sundry media present and represent composers and composing can often have as much influence on our thinking as what, where, and when we write. 
  • Distraction-free writing 
    Given the relative wealth of “distraction-free” writing programs available online, each purports to be unique in promising to deliver the same, basic thing: increased focus on the task at hand. Both the programs themselves and their descriptive pitches enable and frame the act, purpose, and value of writing in different ways. Some are very process-oriented; others are more expressive. Many exhibit stark, monochromatic styles, harkening back to simpler times. So, let’s see if any of these programs fulfill their promises.
  • Writing studies project
    You have the choice of putting together a critical or a creative piece for a semester-end project. This will involve several project drafts throughout the final quarter of the semester. Critical projects must be at least 2400 words; creative projects will need to be significant digital documents (produced for this class alone) accompanied by process notes that help contextualize the work.  

 

Class Facilitation: Student groups are responsible for facilitating class once during the semester. It should last 60 minutes with each group providing readings for the rest of the class prior to the facilitation. Student groups will meet with me at least one week prior to their facilitation to finalize readings and discuss approaches. 

Facilitation readings should be given to the instructor in time to allow for copies to be made (or files to be uploaded). Facilitation readings should be relevant to and provide insight on some aspect of the course. 

A facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student group presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities, etc.). The introduction and subsequent discussion of topics for facilitation will be based on students' interests and finalized as a class. 

On Technology Usage:
Because the core of this class involves how technology changes writing as well as our sense of self and culture, we will engage a range of computer tools and web-based applications. No prior skill is needed, however, only a willingness to engage and learn. I am more than willing to take extra time; all you need to do is ask.

The tools we will be using in and outside of class are web-based, so you will not need any special software. I do, however, have some recommendations (not requirements) that I will provide at the appropriate intervals. Furthermore, you should have an email address that you check regularly for this class. While I prefer to contact students via university email, I am open to other email addresses.

While technology makes life easier, it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, unavailable Internet connections, etc.). So, plan accordingly. "The computer ate my homework" or "the Internet was down" are not reasons to forgo the work assigned. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, especially in the first few weeks, to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your coursework.

How to Reach Me:
The best way to reach me though is by email, but you can find me on Twitter. I am online almost every day. If you email or @ me and do not receive a response within 24 hours, please feel free to email or @ me again (as I might not have received your first message) and give me a reminder. I promise not to consider this harassment.

If you are more comfortable with face-to-face communication, let me know and we can set up an appointment.


Final Note:
Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, don't hesitate to contact me.

ENG 252 Advanced Composition schedule, updated Fall 2011 #252ac

All due dates are tentative. Regular blogging is due every week unless specificed otherwise.

 

Week 1 - Expectations & Introductions
9.7

Week 2 - Justifications & Questions
9.12
Read: "Everyday Writing," "Internet-Age Writing Syllabus" & Stanford Study of Writing
Write: Personal writing history 

9.14 - Our Lives With Writing
Read: "Blogging essential for a good career," "On Blogging and Becoming A Better Writer," "In Defense of Twitter," "Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004" & "There's an art to writing on Facebook or Twitter"
Introduction: Media representations of writing (MRW)

Week 3 - Our Lives With Writing
9.19 
Read: "We Are All Writers Now," "Traditional Writing Skills Don't Work on the Web" & "Words for Print VS Words for Web"
Watch: TBD by students

9.21 
Watch: TBD by students
Write: MRW

Week 4 - MRW
9.26 
Pecha Kucha
Paul F., Corynn, Bob, Nicole, Alyssa, Kayla, Andrew
Write: MRW
9.28 
Pecha Kucha
Philip, Ashlee, Alex, Justin, Kurtis, Jenna, Alex L.
Write: MRW

Week 5 - MRW / Facilitations
10.3
Pecha Kucha
Kara, Adam, Kendra, Amanda, Amber, Melissa, Ben, Cody G. 
Write: MRW

10.5
Read: TBD
Student group: 
Paul F., Nicole V., Justin M., Kara B., Alyssa W.  

Week 6 - Facilitations / Twitter
10.10
Read: TBD
Student group: 
Alex L., Cody G., Adam C., Amber C. 

10.12
Write: Evaluation of & reflection on Twitter  

Week 7 - Facilitations
10.17
Read: TBD
Student group: Alex C., Manda O., Andrew R., Kendra B.

10.19
Read: TBD
Student group: Benjamin C., Melissa C., Kayla D., Corynn B., Phil H.

Week 8 - Facilitations / Distraction-free Writing (DFW)
10.24
Read: TBD 
Student group: Kurtis B., Bob H., Jenna F., Ashlee C. 

10.26
Read: “Growing Up Digital, Wired For Distraction," “Attention Versus Distraction? What That Big NY Times Story Leaves Out" &“Goodbye, cruel Word” 

Week 9 - DFW

10.31
Write: DFW

Read: “FocusWriter And Why I Now Despise Despise WriteRoom” , “Introducing u” 

11.2
Read: “Writing in the Age of Distraction,” “Better Than Renting Out A Windowless Room,” “Like Hammers," 
Write: DFW

Week 10 - Writing studies project (WSP)
11.7
Conferences

2PM - Nicole V.
215PM - Bob H.
230PM - Corynn B.
245PM - Benjamin C.
3PM - Alex C.
315PM - Amanda O.
330PM - Adam C.
345PM - Cody G.
4PM - Phil H. 
415PM - Kayla D.
430PM
445PM
5PM 

11.9 
Conferences
2PM - Melissa C.
215PM - Alyssa W.
230PM - Paul F. 
245PM - Kara B.
3PM - Jenna F.
315PM - Ashlee C.
330PM - Kurt B.
345PM - Amber C. 
4PM - 
415PM - Justin M.
430PM
445PM - Kendra B.
5PM - Alexandra L.

Week 11 - WSP
11.14
Pecha Kucha 
11.16
Pecha Kucha

Week 12 - WSP
11.21
Write: 1st draft
11.23
Write: 1st draft

Week 13 - WSP
11.28
Write: 2nd draft
11.30
Write: 2nd draft

Week 14 - Reflections
12.5 
Write: Self-reflective essay 
12.7
Write: revisions

Week 15 - Exam Week
Conferences 

Distraction-free writing, Fall 2011 #252ac

Given the relative wealth of “distraction-free” writing programs available online, each purports to be unique in promising to deliver the same, basic thing: increased focus on the task at hand. Both the programs themselves and their descriptive pitches enable and frame the act, purpose, and value of writing in different ways. Some are very process-oriented; others are more expressive. Many exhibit stark, monochromatic styles, harkening back to simpler times. 

In other words, certain programs invite certain kinds of writers. For instance, Writer for iPad implies concern about "destroying the voice and the organic structure of our original thought." Meanwhile, Ommwriter "believes in making writing a pleasure once again, vindicating the close relationship between writer and paper." Furthermore, WriteRoom "gets your computer out of the way so that you can focus on your work." These programs are pitched and presented more as environments than tools. They are more spaces for us to write from/within and less instruments facilitating the writing process, if it is a process at all.

So, let’s see if any of these programs fulfill their promises. Many are available for free or at minimal cost, so I encourage you to download a couple of the following:

For the more adventurous among us:

To better focus our discussion of and thoughts on distraction-free writing, I'd like for us to complete the following:

Part 1: Experience (blog, Monday, 10.31.11). Describe what it's like to write from/within the space of a distraction-free writing tool. Boot up one of the distraction-free writing tools listed above and write from and of the experience. Is this familiar? Is it foreign? Is it nostalgic? Even romantic? Furthermore, what kind(s) of writing or writer(s) does this tool invite and/or discourage? How does writing via this tool compare to your standard word processor? Think stream-of-consciousness. Whatever form this experiential writing exercise takes is fine, but it should be substantial. Be sure to post it by 2:30PM, Monday, 10.31.11. 

Part 2: Application (blog, Wednesday, 11.2.11). Write something else, something more specific within the space of a distraction-free writing tool. Boot up one of the distraction-free writing tools listed above and write about a course-related issue or topic. This can be a creative or a critical piece of writing, but do begin and complete it using one of the distraction-free writing tools listed above. Be sure to post it by 2:30PM, Wednesday, 11.2.11.

Personal writing history, Fall 2011 #252ac

Reflecting on our relationships with writing can help us understand how and why we write and, by extension, how our own writing strategies are similar to and different from those around us. By putting such reflection into the form of an autobiography, we have a chance to get to know each other better in a unique way.

So, compose a piece of at least 750 words detailing your life of/with writing. The approach you take is rather open-ended. The main focus should be on your relationship with writing, but you can take a chronological perspective, share a series of anecdotes about writing, and/or note particular progress in your ability and understanding of writing. If you have any questions about this, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to discuss approaches/ideas.

  • What early experiences with writing devices or artifacts can you recall? What do you remember about your earliest writing(s)?
  • Who do you identify as being most literate person in your life? What makes that person's relationship with writing so special; that is, what behaviors or characteristics does he or she exhibit? What have you learned from him or her?
  • Do you think there are social consequences or potential impacts on your lifestyle that depend on your writing capabilities? What might these social consequences or potential impacts be?
  • What will it mean to be a writer in the near future?
  • What's on your desk at home and/or office at work? What writing devices are you carrying now? What's on your writing “wish list?”
  • What writing technologies do you own or know about that would be of benefit to your classmates?
  • How do you learn new writing technologies? What process do you go through? Is it hard, fun, easy, traumatic, boring, annoying, or some combination?

Be sure to post it to your blog by the start of our 9.12 session.

 

On composition pedagogy, the syllabus, Twitter, journalism, privacy, copyright, and videogames #dyr

it’s too easy to allow the classroom work associated with composition courses to focus on activities other than writing. I’ve been in many composition classes here and at other institutions where the students discuss readings and approaches and the teachers facilitate work and manage discussion and sometimes stand at the front of the classroom and show students things. Compositionists know and agree and emphasize that the work of the writing class is writing, and yet — in many classes — students simply don’t produce much text, largely because of the way we apportion the work of the course.

 

we may be a little too fond of limiting and certainty. These days syllabi are looking more and more like those Terms of Service that pop up when we use software...They are contracts that we can’t negotiate, and they contain provisions we might not agree to, if we understood what they actually meant. But the most striking thing about TOS is that they are full of rules – and very few people read them.

 

what are the teaching and learning practices of the networked classroom? No doubt there are people out there doing that work, and those of us who have taught in computer labs have related, relevant experiences. In both cases, it's a matter of turning the focal point away from the professor. Even in the class discussion format, among faculty committed to "decentering" the classroom, conversation generally runs through the professor, or at least the professor steers conversation through its iterations. As we have discovered, nothing decenters the classroom quite like a room full of laptops and smartphones, eh? The networked students is only partly in the classroom and is partly distributed. 

 

The reality of the Twitter effect isn’t just that President Obama has Twitter town halls now where he talks directly to American citizens, nor is it just that someone with no journalism background sitting in a house in Pakistan can report on a military raid that kills the world’s most notorious terrorist. It’s that journalism of all kinds has now become something you do, not something you are. Anyone can do it, whether they call themselves a journalist or not.

 

Politics presented as entertainment charges the press with a failure to treat the serious stuff seriously. And that is a valid critique. But here’s a trickier problem: even when the press is trying to be serious, to provide, say, “analysis” instead of a good yarn, it increasingly relies on an impoverished notion of politics, a cluster of bad ideas that together form the common sense of the craft

 

The definition of privacy has been thrown out the window, and we have a new definition of privacy, which is whether we have control of what companies are doing with this information and if we have knowledge of how it’s being used.

 

you can’t motivate monopoly legislation based on your costs, when others are doing the same thing for much less — practically zero. There has never been as much music available as now, just because all of us love to create. It’s not something we do because of money, it’s because of who we are. We have always created.

 

Just like in the best zombie movies, the real drama in L4D lies in the relationships between the living, not the dead. The infected are just a pretext for collapsing the social order and forcing people to depend on one another to survive. It’s the ultimate online co-op experience, a game that requires not just headshot skills but communication, collaboration and confidence in your fellow player.

 

anger is a gift

In the past, I’ve been close to clarifying my vitriol about Blackboard and CMS/LMS in general. Reservations have kept me from doing so, though. I’ve had doubts about whether or not I dislike Blackboard for what it is, if maybe my frustrations had to do with broader concerns about higher education, if perhaps my operating methods and preferences were just different. I’ve wondered if I just needed to be more patient, more willing to discover how this CMS/LMS organizes and values the efforts of students and teachers alike.

Pushing up against those doubts are my recollections of past experiences with Blackboard. Having to comply with it this fall semester has only brought back all my prior frustrations. Atrocious loading times, a convoluted submission system, scrolling-heavy forums, and the requisite number of OKs for any given action collectively cause a rage within me to go from boiling to white-hot.

The option to download students’ submitted work in a single .zip file becomes just another obstacle as unzipped files have extensions removed and names that make finding certain documents impossible. The persistent disconnect between different screens regarding graded and ungraded work is an additional problem. I could keep better track of such course aspects with a notebook and pencil. 

At the 7:38 mark of the above video, Douglas Rushkoff talks about Blackboard from two perspectives. From the student/teacher perspective, Blackboard is a terrible piece of software. However, from the programmer’s perspective, Blackboard is brilliant because it decreases user agency and increases user dependency. According to Rushkoff, Blackboard was “written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a particular way.” In other words, students and teachers don’t use Blackboard so much as they have to figure out how to comply with it. 

While I agree with Rushkoff, I no longer think of Blackboard as software. Instead, I think of Blackboard as “institutionware.” For as much as Blackboard is about preserving itself as the top CMS/LMS option, it is also about preserving the traditional aspects of higher education. It is about keeping the ivory tower closed off from the rest of society. It is about grades and instructor control. It is about stifling creativity and minimizing opportunities for students to create fuller identities. Even more recent ‘features’ are about containment, keeping within the overall system. These are particularly frustrating as they often mark the introduction of new environments and tools for learning that only serve lectures and exams.

It pains me that many of the faults of Blackboard are also the faults of higher education, but I want to believe that raging against the machine isn’t a fruitless endeavor, that higher education can be salvaged from the CMS/LMS wreckage. 

On piracy, nostalgia, book publishing, New Yorker cartoons, composition pedagogy, education reform, and the humanities #dyr

The film industry loses $6.1 billion annually to digital piracy, according to a study conducted by economist Stephen Siwek and cited recently by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). And the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) says royalty rights for indie films have been halved from what they were five years ago. The John Doe lawsuits are a way for desperate movie studios and distributors to recoup those losses. Armed with a list of IP addresses and draconian copyright laws, lawyers for the scorned studios are treating a broad swath of the Internet-browsing public like their own personal ATM.

 

an undercurrent to grunge retrospection is the music media's and record industry's own nostalgia for the heyday of the rock monoculture. It was already crumbling in the early '90s, thanks to rap (the rebel music of black youth, obviously, but a lot of white kids had defected to hip-hop, too) and to the emergence of rave and electronic dance culture (in America destined always to be a minority subculture, but in Europe the dominant form of '90s pop). Grunge was the last blast of rock as a force at once central in popular culture yet also running counter to mainstream show biz values.

 

There is no way to limit the output of books. But the sense that there may be too many of them is a message to authors, agents, and publishers that they would do well to exercise judgment in choosing which books actually deserve to be written and supported. At the moment, however, the process is moving in the other direction: self-publishing as a business is booming, and Amazon, Apple, and Google, with their various devices and imprints, seem to be lowering the entry bar because these corporate behemoths see new publishing ventures as a source of revenue, pretty much regardless of quality.

 

If making graphic novels felt like a staid long-term relationship, then doing gag comics is like playing the field. One day I could draw a fortuneteller; the next, an astronaut. I went from sultans to superheroes, robots to rabbits. I felt liberated. I refused to get bogged down or fuss over the drawings. I spent no more than an hour with any one cartoon, and many took far less time than that. For the first two weeks I was feeling my oats. I already had a half-dozen keepers and was confident there were plenty more winners on the way. It was at this point that I started dreaming of actually selling a cartoon to The New Yorker.

 

When you are trying to teach writing, you are trying to teach something that, when it comes down to it, we don't know a lot about. Actually, that's not precisely true. We know a great deal about writing, if by writing one is referring to an abstract concept. There is a lot of scholarship that describes and theorizes writing, to say nothing of the scholarship about particular texts. But to understand writing, one would have to understand thinking. While there is a lot of interesting brain research going on, there's nothing that going to tell you "follow these steps to come up with a good idea for your paper." Instead what we have are lots of techniques that sometimes work. Or, to quote Anchorman, "60% of the time, it works every time." The problem lies in mistaking techniques for empirical facts. There is no definitive "how to write." In short, the goal of the course is to help students become better writers, but there is no definition of "better," there is no clear, general writing practice, and there is no set body of knowledge to impart. 

 

Real educational reform, as I see it, requires a fundamental shift in our understanding of the educational process...For starters, it requires that we abandon the idea that adults are in charge of children's learning.  It requires, in other words, that we throw out the basic premise that underlies our system of schooling. 

 

The humanities needs more courage and more contact with the world. It needs to extend the practice of humanism into that world, rather than to invite the world in for tea and talk of novels, only to pat itself on the collective back for having injected some small measure of abstract critical thinking into the otherwise empty puppets of industry. As far as indispensability goes, we are not meant to be superheroes nor wizards, but secret agents among the citizens, among the scrap metal, among the coriander, among the parking meters.