Monday, June 30, 2014

How to write almost anything (argument edition).

            One of the most important jobs that History teachers are tasked with is the teaching of argumentative writing.    Through writing, students learn that history is an argumentative discipline and more than just a list of disconnected facts or a description of what happened.  Historians – and history students – make active decisions about what to study, how to study it, and what counts as history.  This is especially evident in the argumentative essays.  Building on methods taught to me by my first department chair and history teaching mentor, Helen Grady, I have developed a system for essay writing.  This post is an overview of the system, and I’ll be breaking down each of the component parts in the subsequent four posts. 

            Today’s post is simply an overview of the system, which I call the ACRE system.  ACRE is an acronym.  It stands for: 

A rgument
C larity
R epetition
E vidence 

If you can master these four elements: argument, clarity, repetition, and evidence, you can write almost any argumentative essay. 

“But wait,” I hear you cry across time, space, and the intertubes, “how can good argumentative writing be so easy that it only requires mastery of four simple elements?”  It’s simple. 

First, an argumentative essay has to have an argument.  Second, the reader needs to be able to recognize the argument and follow it.   Finally, an argument needs to backed by good, solid evidence.  If we look at the four ACRE elements, we see that the argument part is covered by the A.  The reader being able to follow the argument is covered by C (for clarity) and R (for repetition). Evidence is, of course, E.  Anybody who masters these four elements will be able to write clear, persuasive arguments. 

“But wait,” I hear you cry across time, space, and the intertubes (because my hearing is excellent and let’s face it, you are kind of predictable), “what about style?” Style is not an element in this system.  High school students are often overly concerned with style.  In trying to sound smart, they use convoluted language and their poor readers have to struggle to understand what the high school authors are saying.  Also, high school students are often writing under time pressure.  I tell my students they can work on the style of the paper only after they cover the other bases first.  They rarely have the time to do this.  Finally, someone, somewhere invented the awful notion of “the hook” and told students to start their papers with it.  For my students, that often means writing the hook first and building their paper around it.  This is entirely backwards.  The argument should dictate the hook and not the other way around. 

The next post in the series will cover how to construct an awesome argument through a two-step brainstorming process. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Talain Rayne... still good

I saw Talain Rayne last night at WXPN's Live at the World Cafe Upstairs.  Here's my review of the first time I saw him slightly edited for context: 

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I'm not much of a music junkie.  I rarely get to listen to new music, and when I do it generally comes from the radio or from the teenage girls I teach (which led to me being huge Ke$ha fan, if only so that I can strut into Room 233 five minutes late and say with my best Cali girl accent, "the class don't start til I walk in ").  ... One of my jobs is head of assembly board, the group that does the programming for our flex periods.  The girls really wanted to book a music group, but we had no budget.  So I charged them with finding someone local. "Try singer-songwriters," I told them, "they're cheap." "How about this guy?" said Dena after about 10 minutes of Googling.  And she showed us this video:

There was a murmur from the girls.  "Catchy," "He's cute."  "Book him!"

And so we wrote him an e-mail.  And he wrote us back and pretty soon we had him and his band booked for a 10:30 AM show.  I had downloaded his album, Facebook friended him, the usual deal to make sure he was PG 13 and would understand the rules about performing at a girls high school.  (I still haven't lived down the time I brought in Ursula Rucker and she said she was anti-feminist).  It wouldn't be a problem with Talain.  He's a Born Again Christian and former youth minister who gave serious thought to going the Christian recording group, but he didn't want to limit  himself that way.  I liked his album, Attic Lights, which you can also find for free.  I got some of his backstory.  French dad, American mom.  Divorce.  Learning differences.  Discovered music and it changed his life.  College dropout.  He's not real great at writing coherent sentences or spelling.  His voice has a super nasal twang that comes from a Francophone Dad and growing up in the Philly burbs.

At 10:30, 200 still sleepy girls walked into a converted barn that's sometimes used for plays and sometimes for wrestling matches.  Most of them don't even know they are going to see a concert; we've kept it a surprise.  The lights go down and out comes Talain and his band, two bearded guys who kind of look like hippy Jesuses.  They launch into Family Wall and most of the girls are so shocked they don't know what to do. "It's Assembly," they're thinking,  "Where's the speech about drunk driving, the solar ovens for Africa, the girls' school in South East Asia?"  They're not sure what they are supposed to do.  And after the first song, Talain says,  "You can get up and dance if you want" and 200 girls are on their feet and for the next 35 minutes he has them sit, dance, and sing along.  The too cool for school North Philly black girls in the back call me over "Who is he, we love him, is he on the radio?"  The Mt. Airy girls with the PC inter-racial or same sex couple parents (or maybe hipster white parents who just like living around the other two groups)  the ones who buy organic at the coop are dancing up a storm in the front row taking pictures with their phones.  The suburban white girls are simply so stunned that they are allowed to stop thinking about their futures for a minute and have fun that they are starting to lose themselves in the music.
       And between songs Talain's preaching up a storm.  Not about God, but about the power of music.  It's power to heal the pain and make it better.  Talain's songs are pop, but the subject matter is all wrong.  He's got love songs, but they are to his Dad and his sister about healing past hurts or recovering lost innocence.  In Dear Sister, Your Brother he sings: "Please say, everything is ok, tell me we can go play, like we did when we were younger."  Before he launches into 16 he tells the story behind the song, about the day he was leading a youth canoe trip and one of the kids fell out of the canoe, and how instead of pulling the kid out of the water, he reached in and pulled out the body of a 16 year old raped and murdered girl. 
           The girls are rapt.  As I help them pack up after the show, I ask one of the Jesus look-a-likes, "Is he aware of the affect he has on teenage girls?"  "Nope."  "Geez, that's some powerful stuff to not be aware of"  "Yup." They come to lunch.  Girls line up for autographs and to buy CDs. He goes to the songwriting class and talks about how his songs aren't really narratives, hell they're not particularly coherent, he works more from feelings than from a structured relationship to language. He gets 50 new FB friends that night.
             Since he performed, I've seen him a couple of times.  Never as the headliner.  He's won over the crowd every time.  He cut a track for the WXPN Christmas album.  He got a name check on MTV.  I think he might get signed soon.  I think he's going to be big.  But right now, I'm just happy to have seen him play to a barn of teenaged girls and know that he was there preaching the gospel of music and for 35 minutes or so, the congregation was an Amen chorus.

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That was four years ago.  Talain was the headliner last night.  He's going to have an EP this summer.  He's got the theme song for a new MTV show.  He's able to make a living making music (and doing music related things).  I still think he's going to be big someday.  Check him out. 


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More stuff I don't want to write about (but will anyway).

Recently I had my 25th college reunion.  My old roommate and I rehashed the Viking incident.  In the middle of our discussion, I got this text from a former student (shared with permission):

Just stumbled across your blog. Weirdly, when I lived in Willetts my first year I had almost the exact same experience as your roommate - except I kicked the drunk person out before he passed out. My roommate was away (at a frisbee tournament) and a drunken football player stumbled into my room somehow,
I think he thought it was his room since he proceeded to lie down in my roommate's empty bed and try to go to sleep before asking me what I was doing in his room. Fortunately he did not pee in my fridge nor try to get in bed with me.  I dragged him out of her bed - not sure how since he was probably twice my size -- and threw him out and locked the door.

Clearly this was not a case of sexual assault, but more a case of a confused drunk who did not know where he was. What amazes me as I look back on it was that I think I still kept my door unlocked at night after that. I think I felt like locking my door would not have been in keeping with the trusting Quaker ethos of Swarthmore. As I look back on it I'm also not sure how I would have responded had he continued to insist it was his room and try to sleep in my roommates empty bed. Would I have felt comfortable waking up an RA? I don't know. I might have felt it was something that I should have resolved peacefully and amiacbly in the Quaker way since there didn't appear to be any malicious intent, just drunken confusion, even though the situation was obviously inappropriate.
My point in sharing that was twofold. I wanted to say how much I respect the work you're doing sharing the stories of women who have been victims of sexual assault and then been abandoned or discredited by the their college administrations. But more specifically to thank you for sharing a story that caused me to reflect more personally and deeply on how the pervasive culture on a college campus could prevent and discourage women from reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment or takings steps to prevent assault that would seem commonplace anywhere else (eg locking their door at night)
I think the writer hits on something really important here.  At SLACs (Small Liberal Arts Colleges), people are encouraged to think of themselves as temporarily living apart from the real world, that the college is an especially trusting intellectual community.  There is no doubt that the alumni who came back to the reunion are all deeply committed to Swarthmore and many of us are saddened by Swat's continued inability to solve the problems.    But it's not our problem to solve, at least not directly.  Many of us are trying to raise kids in sex positive, safe, consent oriented ways.  The problem here is that our generation didn't figure it out, so in raising our kids we don't have huge positive models.  It's a whole lot of "don't do this."  And as Withywindle has pointed out, some of these tropes predate the modern world.   

Taking down patriarchy is a long, slow slog that isn't going to happen overnight.  So as much as I don't want to keep writing these posts, I'm going to as long as people keep sending me their stories.  Someday, I hope I won't have to, but today is not that day.  Sigh.   

Friday, June 6, 2014

#boycott ISTE

So ISTE and I don't have a great relationship.  It's the only conference that's ever rejected me multiple times.  The more I learn about ISTE the more I realize that ISTE isn't an education conference.  Instead, it's a technology expo targeting education.  It's about sales.  And that's never been more evident than after Audrey Waters' and Ariel Norling documented the ongoing problems with ISTE's responses to women in ed tech.

The problem here is that ISTE isn't really about teachers.  Although only three of the ten Board of Directors are from ed tech companies, five of the six Governance Leadership Committee slots are held by corporate representatives.  In other words, the people who run the show, aren't the people that the organization allegedly serves.  The other organizations that I belong to and have belonged to in the past, don't operate this way.  Book publishers and testing agencies don't run the Organization of American Historians.  Coal companies don't run the American Society for Environmental History.      ISTE's conference fees are out of line with other academic conferences.  It's almost $100 more than American Historical Association's conference for members, $150 more for non-members.  And they don't offer scholarships for under-represented areas like reservation schools or teachers from poor urban districts.

So what to do.

Audrew Watters plans " as a speaker --  to say that [she] will not speak at events that do not have an anti-harassment policy as part of their Code of Conduct."

That's not strong enough.  ISTE needs to come to terms with the fact that is supposed to serve teachers first.  In order to do that it needs to make the following reforms:

1.  Adopt an anti-harassment policy as part of their Code of Conduct

2.  Half the governing board seats should be reserved for full time educators.

3.  Fees need to be lowered to those that are similar to other academic conferences

4.  A scholarship fund needs to be established to help bring in under-represented groups

5.  Put a cap on the number of corporate or product sponsored panels - say no more than 5 percent.  

 Until then, it's #boycott ISTE