August 30, 2004

Another Maverick

While many eyes turned to one maverick who chose to support our current president in a speech this evening, I recalled the words of another. In a paper arguing the unconstitutionality of the Patiot Act, a student reminded me of the following quote from Ben Franklin, also considered a maverick of his own time. I find his words quite powerful in light of tonight's speech by John McCain.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Posted by c_jane at 11:07 PM | TrackBack

August 26, 2004

Exhausted and Excited

Today was the last day of new teacher orientations. I thought that I was so exhausted after the spring orientation sessions (I did give birth about 4 days later) that I wouldn't be nearly this tired the next time around. That was a complete misconception. I think orientation went fairly well. Of course, I probaby think orientation went very well, because I was talking for 1/3 of it... and I just *love* to hear myself talk. Seriously, though, this semester we have an exceptionally eager and excited group of new teachers. The excitement is contageous, too.

I'm not teaching this semester. I've decided that I simply have no financial means for teaching and working in the freshman writing office and writing a dissertation. There are a number of other reasons for that decision. One of them is that I want to spend serious time working on my dissertation this semester, and teaching would completely defeat that. At the same time, I want to be around for my daughter's first year. That isn't saying that she wouldn't grow and thrive and become equally as exciting and wonderful a human being if I were not her primary caretaker (despite what recent Time magazine articles and NIH studies will tell you... links to come later when I'm not ready to fall out of my chair sound asleep on the floor). It has more to do with selfish reasons. Today, I called home from work while I was taking a much needed "nursing" break. (This, by the way, is an example of true motherly multitasking... holding two cow-udder pumping devices to your breasts while balancing a phone on your shoulder and reading new teacher syllabi)... I learned from the sitter that my daughter had "officially" crawled (belly off the ground on all fours crawled) for the first time. My heart sunk. I've been waiting for this event anxiously for several weeks. Yesterday, I thought I saw her do it, but I missed it because I was running around trying to 1) finish a presentation for today; 2.) eat lunch, because I hadn't eaten a meal since dinner the night before besides a doughnut; and 3.) take care of that nursing problem I keep having. So, I plopped my little girl down in the middle of the floor while I was getting my stuff together. She started whining, which I simply couldn't handle, and so I barked at her, "Sit still, angel, because mommy has WORK to do..." and when I looked up, she was on all fours, looking dejected because I wasn't even paying attention... And then I realized she crawled. Anyway, that's the long version of saying that I was standing right there and missed it. And then today, she was doing it. Apparently, once she figured it out, she was unstopable.. and I missed it. According to one of my office mates, I should get used to it because, "it's just the beginning of a long string of disappointments." But what if I don't want to get used to it? Does anyone really get "used to it"?

Still, I'm excited about starting the semester and the freshman writing program. I'm excited that this year I get to do what I didn't have an opportunity to do last year and what was the real reason I took the job in the first place--I get to help new teachers make that difficult but eventful and enlightening first leap into teaching. This group of new teachers has me excited. I can see them nervous about the first day, checking over their syllabi and course policies over and over again. In fact, I'm still getting electronic copies of syllabi and course policies from teachers who have already had me look over them once before. I hope that this semester as we work together at making this transition into the classroom that I can help them maintain this level of excitement as they mature and develop in their classroom experiences. I know that sounds hokey... but, folks, I'm tired. Probably too tired to justify posting anything at all, because I really don't have any filter left (that's another side effect of orientation...)

OH! In all the excitement, I almost forgot to mention that I'm writing this post from our beautiful new laptop. I can't even begin to tell you how amazing it is to have wireless and to be able to sit in the comfy chair and do work. Otherwise, I'd be a wreck today. This was a necessary investment, because we're constantly trying to do work while watching the baby... and wireless is much more condusive to doing that.

So, this computer is a little more my computer than my husband's computer, which means that I got naming rights. I named our newest member of the family Penelope. The computer description is "the dissertation loom." My favorite part about the computer (aside from its lightening fast speed and incredibly light physique at just over 4 lbs.) is that when it shut down for the first time, I got the following message: Shutting down the dissertation loom.

How much of a geek am I that I love my computer for its remediation /mythical irony? Back to syllabi...

Posted by c_jane at 10:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 20, 2004

Once and Future Blogging

There are several blog entries that I've been working on, but I just haven't had the time to post them. If I at least post that I'm drafting them, then maybe I'll get around to finishing them soon.

1.) Virginia's "open carry" gun law went into effect as of July 1, 2004.
2.) Slot machines in Maryland... too much and too little being said there...
3.) Ekphrasis and the public sphere: John Ashcroft's Aesthetics
4.) The ex-Washingonienne

Of course, a complete set of final papers need to be finished and summer session grades need to be turned in... but hopefully I'll be able to finish something on this soon.

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August 9, 2004

Understanding Arguments

This summer I'm teaching the University of Maryland's "boot camp" version of its freshman writing course. We meet two times per week for 3 hours and 15 minutes over 6 weeks. Each night is worth an entire week of regular semester class time. We're 2 weeks out from the finish of the semester, and I have mixed feelings about how things are going. I'm exhausted from preparing whirlwind lesson plans that require constant activity and depend on sucessful student contributions. I'm encouraged by students' ability to absorb complex concepts fairly rapidly. I'm confused by student's reactions to the workload, the course material, and the assignments.

In the first place, coming up with a lesson plan for 22 eighteen-year olds to keep them actively engaged in material is a challenge. I, luckily, realized early on that if we spent more than 30 minutes per night in straight "lecture" format that the class would fall flat. So, I've designed the class in such a way that I am constantly moving students (both physically and mentally) through the material and in-class tasks constantly. I believe that this has met with a certain amount of success. Although I still have students who refuse to become engaged with the material, I do find that students are so active for the 3 hours that they are unable to actively ignore what's going on. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good thing... but I do know that even the most eager learner can begin to nod off after too much of the same thing.

One of the ways I've tried to reinvent the way I teach for this class is by adding a media component. After an introduction of the rhetorical appeals and common topics using the “Declaration of Independence,” I followed the discussion up with a multimedia project in rhetorical appeals, the rhetorical triangle, and the common topics of argument using Law and Order. During the past few months, I've had occasion to watch lots of 1/2 episodes of Law and Order. (That’s what happens when you’re still breastfeeding, but the baby is so distracted by the fact that you have a book in your hand that you can no longer read., because she wants to turn, or better yet eat, the pages. Occasionally, when the rest of the house is quiet, she’ll allow you to view ½ an hour of television—so long as the volume is down to a mumble and there aren’t too many flashing lights on the screen.) I realized that during the second half of the show is a smorgasbord of arguments made for various rhetorical situations. Each situation required a new approach to the same issue using multiple kinds of rhetorical approaches to constantly changing audiences. Additionally, the show demonstrated visually the way an audience responds to varying appeals. So, I decided to try to find a way to add it to the course.

What I did was to use the second half of the show (essentially the Law part) to teach students how good argument happens when rhetors adapt their appeals to the rhetorical situation. I divided the second half of the show into 5 scenes. Each scene had series of questions that asked students to reflect on the effectiveness of each appeal made given the rhetorical situation. What I’d hoped for, and what I think I achieved, is a sense that no good argument can be effective without first taking into account the purpose and audience for the debate. After viewing each scene and responding to the questions individually, students were divided into groups to answer the same questions collectively. This is, primarily, for pedagogical purposes… I wanted to prove to students that group activities are in fact more productive than individual activities because their score as a group was always higher than their scores as individuals (something I’ve also been working on for a long time which I think finally worked best with this assignment). In any event, students had completely discussed all of the intricacies of these 5 arguments by the end of an hour, and we simply had to confirm aloud what our discussions were about in small groups.

How do I know the activity was successful? Each time I’ve taught this course I’ve been dissatisfied by students’ ability to grasp that good rhetoric is audience-centered, not author-centered. This time, however, students have repeatedly demonstrated that they understand how integral the rhetorical situation is to successful rhetoric. Their “rhetorical analyses” (done in the form of a quiz) demonstrate this, as students note, without prodding, that the successfulness of an article’s argument depended on how well it met the values and interests of its audience (They were asked to comment on John Edwards’ “Two Americas” speech as delivered during the Iowa caucus).

That’s all I can write for now. The baby wants more feeding… so I’ll be surfing TNT to see if there’s any more Law and Order that I can use….

Posted by c_jane at 11:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 6, 2004

iPods and Cigarettes

I started this as a response to the post on Palms about Duke's gifting of iPods to students... but it got so long that I figured I'd include it here and see if the "trackback" feature is working correctly.

I can't agree more with Tanya's concern over the mixed messages that universities send to students when they shower them with "gifts" upon the students' arrival.

Based on my experiences with fundraising at the university-level, I'd assume that the "iPods" were probably an "in kind" gift that increases the amount of money on the books that the school has raised for that academic year. Gifts in kind can be recorded as dollars... making it advantageous for the company who can both write it off as a tax break and use it as free advertising. The university benefits because the more donations they receive the more money they can raise. One of the oldest adages in fundraising is that it "takes money to make money." (We all know this to be true with the Bush campaign.) People like to give money to causes they know other people have already considered worthy of given money.

On another note, I have to agree with the fact that universities are turning into "higher entertainment centers." It is, of course, related to population dips that lead to the need for more aggressive recruitment; however, it sets students up for false expectations. I realized this while teaching an honors course one year. Admissions programs are charged with the near-impossible task of making sure that recruitment each year far exceeds recruitment from the previous year. In actuality, this simply isn't realistic, but it is the expectation we have of a "competitive" school. Each year we expect to have better recruitment with higher standardized test scores, lower acceptance rates, and higher yield. So, what do admissions offices resort to? Bribery, basically. The most highly desired students are treated like little geniuses. Admissions offices promise them unfettered access to faculty, the very best in facilities, even special "better" dorm rooms without roommates and with special plush carpet. So, my guess is that the "gift giving" is like corporate "customer appreciation" days.

The real shocker comes, though, after the first paper (at least that's what I see). Little Suzie and Precious Bobby get their first F on a paper (one conceived in the shower the morning after a 2 AM kegger) that was written in 3 hours before the deadline, and the jolt is unnerving. Here, for the first time, the student isn't being catered to... it's time to actually work. The shift is so entirely antithetical to the way they've been treated, so who wouldn't be shocked!

Anyway, I believe that these things: gifting, fund-raising, recruiting, and increasing failure on first assignments (as well as dissatisfaction with teachers who "expect too much") are all part of a large domino effect that begins with something as innocent as a "free lunch."

Posted by c_jane at 9:51 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 5, 2004

White House West

If you have a sense of humor, you'll enjoy this video clip produced by ACT: Americans Coming Together. I believe ACT is funded and spearheaded by comedian Will Ferrell, who does perhaps the best parody of Bush I've ever seen. We keep hearing that the "TV ad wars" are going to really start flying in the next few months. If you see this clip, you'll never be able to watch another Bush ad without laughing out-loud. Find it at

Many thanks, by the way, to Wonkette whose blog pointed me in this direction. Here's what Wonkette has to say about it. I found Wonkette through the Critters and Spectacles blog.

Posted by c_jane at 10:28 AM | TrackBack

“There is no avant-garde only those left behind”


No, I haven’t fallen off my rocker to start pushing the apocalyptic, best-selling series of novels. This phase comes from a popular Australian artist named Richard Tipping. I recently became acquainted with Tipping’s work while visiting a gallery in the antique district in Kensington, Maryland. The artist whose native mediums are typography and poetry has produced work that questions the interrelationship of signs (as signifiers) and their context as “signifieds.” The catalogue Hear the Art from Eagle Gallery, London during a 1997 exhibition calls his work, “Signs of all the things we are here to read, this is poetry for those with verbal eyes.”

If you are, like I am interested in the verbal/visual signification of language, specifically as it relates to the purpose and mystery of poetry… Richard Tipping’s work is worth checking out. Be sure to also stop by the link for "Typping" if you're interested in "typographical" poetry.

Posted by c_jane at 10:11 AM | TrackBack

August 4, 2004

My Calendar

Ok... so it's been so long since I updated that, in fact, my calendar has even decided to revolt. It's so demoralized that it's been almost seven months since it's been used that it simply refuses to acknowledge that it's August. I can't say that I blame the poor calendar function... I kinda refuse to believe it's August, too.

LOTS is going on in the RL of CJ... so much so that if I were to try to bring y'all up to date you're eyes would pop out from staring at the screen for too long. So, I'll highlight. My daughter graced her father and I with her presence at the end of January. Since then, she's been learning how to be a person... with all the breathing, looking, smiling, holding, crying, sitting, and now crawling... it seems upon reflection that growing up is a remarkable thing. It has completely obsessed me with all its nuances. What is stunning... something I never imagined... is that there are actual "phases" that can last only 1-2 days and then it's gone! It's like she thinks "Well, that was fun, but it's old now... time to grow a little more." Now, don't get me wrong; not all development is forward progress. There have been days that stunned me because they were echoes of earlier developmental stages. Here I am thinking that she "got over" say... needing to cry for 15 solid minutes before falling asleep at each nap. I mean, for several weeks there were naps with no tears! (For those of you who have retained their sanity because they don't listen to crying for a net 3-4 hours per day, this may not seem like a big deal, but let me stress... silence is bliss even for an extra 15 minutes per day) But then suddenly she realizes "Hey, why am I not crying?!?" and the phase starts all over again!

That probably isn't the best example, though, because it doesn't stress how amazing it can be sometimes. For example, for the past two weeks she's been working on holding things and passing them back and forth between her hands. But for the past 3 days or so, she realized this very cool nuance about hands-- They come attached to these things called "wrists." Now, the name isn't really all that significant. What's cool is that if she has a quiet moment when she doesn't think you're looking, she'll take a minute to check out what wrists do. It will catch her by surprise... she'll take the rattle or the spoon in her hand and she'll turn it in and out... back and forth... and it's as if she's thinking "Whoa... I get Cubism!"

So, enough of the ranting of an overly attentive and sometimes hysterically obsessive mother. Back to the RW. Since I've been AFK, there's apparently been lots of discussion on my blog that hasn't really shown up on the main page... and not all of it has been the result of spam by frequent visitors like "Viagra" or "Big-Lovin." In fact, it turns out that the book that I "thought" was plagiarized WAS in fact plagiarized. You can see the comments on "Deja Vu All Over Again." The author of the original text, Marsha Meskimmon, very kindly posted to let me know which version was in fact "authorized." In my absence, I've been so rude as not to reply to her. Dr. Meskimmon, if you're out there, there's a response in the works... promise!

Well, it feels good to get the words flowing again... even if it is August, and even if I do wish that it were still July. However, the best part about August is that I'm writing again... and writing is healthy for the soul (oh wow... has motherhood made me this sappy?)

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