Month: June 2003


It’s a wet and soggy night here, hardly the type of night it ought to be for the day of the year, and the moon’s in its last quarter. If you’re reading this tonight, I hope you’re in more pleasant weather.

It appears, by his small light of discretion, that he is in the wane: but yet, in courtesy, in all reason, we must stay the time.

Mankiw’s chapter on “Income Inequality and Poverty” wasn’t all that I hoped it would be. On top of that, I spent a good bit of my time tonight responding to a post over at Kairosnews, with which I disagreed kinda strongly, and I’m now hoping Clancy doesn’t get too frustrated with me, but the Jones article she linked to just absolutely drives me up the wall. We’ll see, I suppose.

Anyway: there were a couple things that were helpful, or at least gratifying, in Mankiw.
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I woke up this morning from a dream that I had come, alone, to a party. It was afternoon, Spring, outdoors behind the house where my family had lived when I was young. I didn’t know any of the people there. They were all wearing white.

There were dozens of cats wandering around. They looked well-fed; they were all striped grey and white. I kept telling people I was looking for Bird, but I didn’t see her anywhere. People would come up to me holding grey-and-white striped cats, and I would say, “No, that’s not her.” I kept calling her name.

That house was where I had found another cat, Missy, when I was in eighth grade. It was a Spring day then, too, and I was sitting in the window of my room, looking out at the street and the woods beyond, when a car coming up the street slowed down long enough for the driver to toss Missy out the window. I ran outside and picked her up and brought her in. She became my mom’s cat, and lived for nineteen years. She died this past Winter, two months after my mom.

In the dream, I never found Bird.

I’m going down to Christa’s new apartment this afternoon, to take the last of her things back to her. I’m also reading Mankiw’s chapter on “Income Inequality and Poverty.” More later.

Materiality and Cartesian Dualisms

After arguing that economic issues are not to blame for discrimination — it’s simply not profitable for employers to be bigoted, or so the Pollyanna argument goes — Mankiw does acknowledge that “differences in human capital among groups of workers may themselves reflect discrimination. The inferior schools historically available to black students, for instance, may be traced to prejudice on the part of city councils and school boards. But this kind of discrimination occurs long before the worker enters the market. In this case, the disease is political, even if the symptom is economic” (427). Furthermore, “competitive, market economies provide a natural antidote to employer discrimination,” namely, “the profit motive” (428), which Mankiw assumes will lead competitive firms to hire those workers whose wages are cheaper due to discrimination.
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Teleological and Other Fancy Words

So I was all happy about what I thought was this terrific insight about the vocational model of education, and after thinking about it for a couple days, I realize that I was actually just excited about using a big word, and actually kind of misusing it, to boot. My misguided notion was that the vocational model is teleological in nature because it looks to final causes (getting a good job) as the motivator for going to college.
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Permissions and Property

I’ve made some minor changes to the site, including licensing my material under a Creative Commons license (attribution, noncommercial, no derivative works), except for comments, which (like it says) belong to whoever posts ’em. I’m not particularly worried about the comment thing, but it just kinda makes sense to me after reading the previously mentioned (June 10) discussion over at Metafilter. And what with dealing with my mother’s estate, I’ve had enough of lawyers for a while. But so anyway I was a little uneasy about posting my ideas relating to the dissertation here, and now I feel like the material’s protected but still shareable, which is a good thing.

And I’m grateful to the kind Heather Champ for the permission to quote her obligatory legal statement 🙂 .

Four Perspectives on Class

The current (June 18) NCTE INBOX newsletter features a link to Susan Ohanian’s May 20 Phi Delta Kappan article, “Capitalism, Calculus, and Conscience,” where she makes a number of interesting points. While I found the article to be simultaneously diffuse and bombastic, with all-over-the-place examples and an overabundance of self-answered one-sided rhetorical questions that would put Donald Rumsfeld to shame, I agree with many of the sentiments Ohanian expresses (which I think actually points to another of the article’s shortcomings: the tone is so fierce and on-the-attack that it doesn’t have a chance of engaging anyone who doesn’t already agree with Ohanian’s point of view) regarding the increasing inequalities in the American educational system.
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Wages and Technology

Mankiw names labor as one of the “factors of production” (two other important ones are land and capital) that shape the production of goods and services. “Supply and demand,” he states, “determine prices paid to workers” (398), said price being the price paid for labor, or a wage. And the wage is equal to the value of the marginal product of labor (Mankiw 400), with the marginal product of labor being defined as the change in output (as output increases) divided by the change in the number of workers (as output increases). Apparently, in most cases, having some over-large number of workers will cause a negative profit, usually because of limited tasks and facilities at which to work (there are no infinitely long assembly lines, and Universities have a finite number of classrooms in which to pay their teachers to teach first-year writing), which explains why output doesn’t increase geometrically with the number of laborers. So where do computers come in?
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Dave Pritchard’s Allegory of the PhD

Christa sent me this link; I thought it was a hoot and worth sharing, especially given that I’m doing what my friend Margaret calls “the prospectus flail.”

Lord of the Rings: an allegory of the PhD?

She — Christa — moves out tomorrow. It feels weird. It’s a good thing, since we’ve been broken up for months now, but this apartment’s going to feel awfully big and empty.

And I’m really going to miss Bird, one of our two cats. Christa’s taking them both. I won’t miss Ivy so much, but Bird was really ‘my’ cat. Sigh.

After I get back from D.C., after the July 4th weekend, I’ll adopt a new kitten. Or maybe even two.

Work for August and April

My long-term goal with this weblog is to have it help me work towards finishing my dissertation. I’ve got a few sub-goals as parts of that long-term goal.

By April of 2004, I’d like to have a completed prospectus and at least a chapter or two, so I can apply for a university dissertation fellowship. The odds of me getting one are prohibitive, but I figure I might as well at least give it a shot.

By the end of this Summer — before Fall semester classes start at the end of August — I’d like to have (1) a one-page ur-prospectus and (2) a plan, with IRB approval, for a qualitative classroom study for the two computer sections of first-year writing I’m teaching. Here’s what I think that’ll involve. (This probably won’t be all that interesting to anyone except people like me semi-lost in prospectus-land; it’s more process writing than anything else, to help me get my ideas more concrete, and have a record of them. But I’d be really grateful for feedback from anyone who’s been there and has strategies for getting past the amorphous, giant-amoeba-like prospectus-beast.)
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Misguided Attempts at Anonymity

I’m realizing that my concerns about self-identifying here were pretty dumb, so they’ve basically gone out the window. First, I think that CCC’s “Guidelines for the Ethical Treatment of Students and Student Writing in Composition Studies”, specifically Paragraph G, “Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Reporting Student Statements,” are incompletely thought out in the context of students writing on the World Wide Web. Those guidelines, and the associated concerns about IRB approval, affect my research, and so I initially thought trying to shape this weblog around them would be a good idea; I’d do my best to make it so that any future representations I might make in talking about my teaching would not be obviously connected to any particular student.

Of course, given whois and DNS lookup tools, I knew it was more a matter of convenience to get the information than anything else; it just didn’t occur to me at the time that protections via inconvenience really aren’t protections. And besides which, I think the guidelines need rethinking or clarification when it comes to Web writing, and it’s kinda silly for me to adjust my practices in order to go along with something that I don’t think works.

But, for me, this obviously raises larger questions. The ethical representation of student writing is important. IRB approval of classroom studies is a good thing. And the study of writing and computers needs more rigorous classroom studies; we’re doing the theory side to death without sufficient grounding in practice. So what might be some productive ways to think about this stuff?