Monthly Archives: September 2005

My Good Teaching Day

We had a terrific discussion in my FYC section today, and I’m still excited about it, to the point where I feel guilty that my students so greatly exceeded my expectations: how could I have dared to underestimate them so?

We wrapped up Essay 1 and they turned in their final drafts with letters to me reflecting on the process of writing the essay. One student, whose classroom adversarial stance makes me grin every day and warms the vile, burnt and stunted little spleen in my chest that passes for a heart, accepted my offer and addressed me in the salutation of her letter as “Dear Needlessly Cruel Pedagogical Oppressor,” while another — OK, I’m embarassed to admit how much this pleased me — opened the letter with the Dead Poets Society standing-on-the-desk appellation (see the comments: the name rather than the act) the students gave to Robin Williams.

I love this job.

It was a wretched iron-gray thunderstorm of a rain day, and I’d expected to spend the last forty-five minutes of class on a dull plod-through of definitions of “text” and “difficulty” and the productive intersections of such, using the first section of Gertrude Stein’s “How Writing Is Written” as an applied model of such analysis, with me being the note-taker and facilitator and recording the discussion on the whiteboard.

They collaboratively knocked it out of the fucking park.

In ten minutes, we had a wealth of terrific material from them up on the board plus totally unexpected brilliant analyses of stuff that I’d (rather stupidly) thought was gonna take thirty minutes of teacherly guidance. In twenty minutes, we had an insightful class-authored summation and critique of Stein’s argument regarding contemporaneity that I’d put off until Tuesday on the syllabus (PDF). And by minute thirty, I had to put a halt to their fantastic riffing on Stein and pop music in order to give the homework.

I love this job.

The Preterite Proletariat

I hadn’t realized how busy I’ve been, but looking back and seeing that I haven’t posted in a week — well, I guess I’ve been busy. I’ve kept meaning to respond to the excellent things Clancy and Jenn have had to say about Kelly Ritter’s CCC plagiarism article, but revisions to dissertation chapters, getting the class weblogs going, gearing up for the job search, and prepping two pieces for publication have kinda gotten in the way.

So a quick thought tonight while I’m working on one of those pieces for publication: in his response to my three posts on the Wayne Booth rhetoric carnival Collin Brooke hosted (could that really have been only seven months ago, with John’s comments there and him now gone?), the Happy Tutor scolded me (in his generous and inimitable manner) for suggesting that a rhetoric that said different things to different people could be useful or ethical. My comment was in response to Booth’s caution “that one form of careful listening can produce one of the worst forms of deception. Really skillful rhetors can invent language that is intended to mean one thing to ‘insiders’ while appeasing ‘outsiders’” (121), and I offered in response Shadi Bartsch’s suggestion that “the discourse used before powerful figures, especially on occasions when it had an audience ready and willing to find unstated meanings, could undermine its own contents and the authority of the addressee. The meaning granted a given act, in interactions with emperors or their agents, was not always and not necessarily the sole province of the powerholder” (Actors in the Audience 65). The Happy Tutor wondered whether that wasn’t rather Straussian of me, to suggest that texts could or should be simultaneously (to use Strauss’s terms) esoteric and exoteric; that texts could communicate radically different or even opposite things to different audiences. (My favorite example is Cicero’s Pro Ligario, but Bartsch invokes the Dialogus de Oratoribus of Tacitus as another excellent example, as well as Quintilian’s borrowing from Cato the Elder of the ideal rhetor figured as a vir bonus dicendi peritus.)

And that made me think: Bartsch, Booth, and Strauss. All University of Chicago professors. Is there some institutional habit of thought that turns people at the U of Chicago towards problems of hermeneusis? But more significantly: isn’t this attention to the meaning-behind-the-meaning and the complexities of the hermeneutic unveil — isn’t this exactly the same thing that critical pedagogues purport to do? To show the text-behind-the-text, to help students see how ideology and interpellation truly function in today’s popular texts of advertising and mass media? Doesn’t critical pedagogy necessarily construct an excluded preterite proletariat who may never see the truth of how they are constructed/oppressed by discursive forces, as well as an elite who (having been coached by the insightful academic) speaks the shibboleth and “gets it”? Have left intellectuals like Giroux and Shor made the cultural-studies inheritors of Freire into the inheritors of the arch-conservative Strauss, as well? In sum: has Freire’s ideal of critical pedagogy, through a conception of texts simultaneously esoteric and exoteric, been co-opted into yet another instrument of domination?

I wish Booth would have had more to say on the topic.

Publishing Land Mines

Some good, smart people have already noted the troubling nature of a certain journal publisher’s attitude towards intellectual property, as well as the troubling nature of said publisher’s business practices. It’s rather more difficult to describe as merely “troubling” the fact that said publisher is involved in connected (via parent company Reed Elsevier; see comments below) to the international arms trade.

It might be worth thinking about the ten million land mines and eight thousand amputee children in Angola before submitting that article to Computers and Composition.

Underway

So here we go again. Now that it’s fall, I’m excited to be teaching again, although setting up all these student weblogs and getting them running smoothly has been a substantial task. That’s actually one of the things that I like about having student weblogs running in a centralized space, though; the coordination and attention to detail. Maybe there’s a little bit of what Donna would call the managerial mindset going on there, which wouldn’t be a bad thing: the Army trained Sergeant Edwards to be a logistician, and the times I was happiest were when I was running convoys and coordinating missions, making sure the right trucks went to the right places with the right cargo and the right soldiers. So there’s some pleasant overlap between what I do now and what I did then.

While we’re on the topic of composition, I feel obliged to observe that Joanna’s been handing out a lot of gifts lately, so I thought a composition-related gift for her might be appropriate.

Battered composition book

And it’s such a cool picture that I couldn’t resist.

My Imaginary Colleague

My Imaginary Colleague observes, rather tartly, that I haven’t had anything at all to say about the dissertation lately. She then adds that it might be a good idea get those two things sent out to journals for consideration before October comes, and wonders how my syllabus is coming along.

Always nice to know I can rely on the Imaginary Colleague for moral support. I haven’t had much to say about the diss because I’m working on revising Chapters 1 and 2 with my advisor’s comment, and there’s really not much to blog about when one’s revising, but also because I felt like I needed a few days’ break after that extended struggle that became Chapter 3.

My Imaginary Colleague, on the other hand, seems to have more time than she knows what to do with. I’m thinking I might nominate her for the Faculty Senate.

The Guard in NOLA

I was happy tonight to see some brief news footage of a convoy of National Guard truckers hauling food and water on HEMTT 985s through the flooded streets of New Orleans. The CNN newsreader described them as “amphibious,” which I guess they are, but it’s really just that the engine sits up high behind the cab and has a vertical stack. I never got to drive one — my gig was M931 5-ton tractor-trailers and M1070 HETs, the big 70-ton-capacity heavy-haulers with 40 wheels in 5 rows of 8 on the trailer — but I always wanted to, mostly out of curiosity about having two steerable front axles instead of one, since the HEMTTs had a total of four axles and eight big, big wheels, with 350-pound tires. And they never got stuck, as you could probably tell from the news footage. But the nice thing about the HEMTT — pronounced “hemmit”; it stands for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck — is that it’s got what they call (if memory serves) a palletized load system: there’s a little crane right in front of the cargo area, and the cargo area is actually a detachable flatbed with a hook on the front end. So the trucks can come in, use the crane to hook and drop the pallet with the load, and turn right around for another run. It’s a lot faster than waiting for a forklift to unload you, which is a good thing: those Guard truckers are gonna be busy folks.

Anyway. Seeing the footage brought back some 24th Infantry Division trucking memories, and made me hope that maybe things in NOLA are starting to improve. And it also gave me a little non-dissertational nostalgia and a sense of wishing I was doing that. At least after the end of a mission (if you weren’t busy munching on dry Taster’s Choice from MREs to try and stay awake) you could look and say, “I hauled that load, and helped some people.” Right now, the academic work feels rather less fulfilling, comparatively speaking — but I’m looking forward to next week, when the fall teaching semester starts.

Thank You, John Breaux

I hadn’t felt like it was my place to say anything about the hurricane’s aftermath, but this post from Daisy made me both angry and sad. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said yesterday that “It doesn’t make sense” to rebuild New Orleans, apparently relying on the same logic deployed by the adolescents on Slashdot who’ve been declaring that New Orleans residents deserved their fate for choosing to live there. John Breaux, quoted in the article Daisy cites, has it right: “That’s like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it’s built in an earthquake zone.” In the hope that more people share the perspective of former Senator Breaux than of Speaker Hastert, I’ve donated to the Salvation Army for their relief efforts. If you haven’t, I hope you might, too. (And take care, Daisy and Sharon.)