Educational Synecdoches

In the Miami Herald, an odd reference to the five-paragraph essay. While the form is often cited in the press when standardized tests come up (since most require a FPE), Emily Schmall refers to the form as synonymous with being able to read, in particular, and being educated, more generally. The article (for context) is about how students interested in dance are finding they need to do well on standardized tests:
"Our pressure is to help the students read and then they can take dance," Granados said. "It motivates the kids in wanting to come to school and doing better in their grades to be in the dance program. They can be sent back to their home school if they can't maintain grades."

While Granados is not the only educator to argue dance students must know how to write a five-paragraph essay before learning pointe, Peter London, an internationally renowned dancer and instructor at New World, disagrees.

"We never see any academic records," London said. "All we see is their dancing. We judge them solely based on their performance at that audition, their ability to hold a space. If they're not well versed in the classical vocabulary, they have to have a phenomenal magnetic ability on stage."

In a doctor's office a few years ago, before being fitted with an enormous ligament-mending knee brace, my doc asked me what I did at the U. "I teach writing," I told him. "Hey, now that's a hard job. You can teach them a lot of things—spelling, punctuation, grammar—but the question remains: can they get it all to fit into five paragraphs?"

Already stunned from the pain in my knee, my mind reeled to figure out what this guy was saying. It seemed almost a joke—why would my knee doc be saying something so dopey?—but he was dead serious.

Reading this article in the Miami Herald, though, I tend to think that the FPE (and maybe other memorable things we learn) can act as educational synecdoches standing in for "literacy," in this case, and in other cases what students learn in math, social studies, science. Other educational synecdoches could be "learning the periodic table," "learning the Pythagorean theorem," and "understanding the three branches of government."

In all of these cases, the educational synecdoche stands in for much more that goes on at the scene of learning, while in the case of the five-paragraph essay, the synecdochal gizmo casts the learning in its entirety in a way that could be seen as reductive. Deciding to think more about this, I click "publish post."


City Birds

On a recent walk around Portland, I came across the results of some careful stenciling. Of course, I was drawn to these images in particular because of the birds: I love seeing artistic images of birds that are species specific. Something puffin-ish is outlined in red at bottom, while a vaguely kite-like bird chases what could be a Vaux's Swift at top.

I like to think it's a Vaux's Swift because there are so many of the little buggers in Portland, a particular unused chimney in the NW part of town being home to some thousand-or-so Vaux's Swifts each year. Plus, I like to imagine a hoodie-clad orni-stenciler running around Portland in the dark of night—perhaps a new face of the Audubon Society?

Here's some more detail of the puffin-ish stencil at bottom: it's a three-color job, and after seeing this one I started noticing other multi-color stencil art around town. A car. A potted plant. Though I didn't get pictures of those.


Rhetoric in Today's News

Like most people who teach courses with the word "rhetoric" somewhere on the syllabus, I often find myself defining the term. I've done this a number of different ways, but what I've found most productive is drawing the process out a bit—having students recall and research uses of rhetoric, come up with definitions and examples, and then add academic dimensions if need be. One of the more common ways rhetoric is used, of course, is to mean "b.s., often of a political nature."

In an article in today's Kansas City Star, that's pretty much what we see:
And the two major parties do little more than endlessly recycle their stale, overheated rhetoric.
Similarly, Senator Inhofe is quoted in today's Human Events, the National Conservative Weekly as saying:
Senator Clinton's rhetoric doesn't match her Senate record.
In another article published today, this one titled Ethiopia—Donor 'Good Governance' Rhetoric vs. Democratic Governance (in the Sudan Tribune), rhetoric is used to describe something more specific ("good governance"), but it is still a term with scope that does not extend beyond the political.

In yet another article published today, we can see the pejoration of the term rhetoric (that is: it's seen as "bad stuff") along with how it is largely limited to political commentary:
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Joe Wineke said Mark Green's campaign rhetoric just doesn't match up with reality.

In several of the articles published today that use the term rhetoric, rhetoric is posed against "reality" and/or reason. (Of course, this recalls Berlin's Rhetoric and Reality, though I don't recall Berlin engaging claims that rhetoric is devoid of reality in that book—but then, it's been a few years.) For instance, in the article "Shell rhetoric or reality?" for the Daily Guardian, Terry Macalister writes about the rhetoric of two major oil companies as it stacks up against actual performance. Similarly and in another piece published today, "Reason, not rhetoric, should guide debate" (Citizen-Times.com), we see such a juxtaposition.

Now, this kind of thing bothers some rhetoricians and scholars of rhetoric. This banter is devaluing my field! they call out over cocktails or in the ornate lobby of the conference hotel. I'm not bothered by these uses of rhetoric—neither the associations of rhetoric pretty much exclusively with politics nor the semantics of meaningless associated with the term. If you work on rhetoric, these uses of the term make it hard to define what you do—but that can be a conversation starter.

With that said, I think I could stand a few more popular associations between rhetoric and the representation in social domains outside of politics. "Audience members noted that Martha Stewart's rhetoric changed markedly after her recent return to the air," a TV Guide article might read, or "Have you ever wondered what rhetorical training employees at the Gap receive?" an op-ed piece could intone.

In another article published today, this one a bit odd since it's a republished excerpt from an essay by T.S. Eliot, we see a resurgence of another kind! Check it out: the article is in the Daily Times—what, you don't read the Daily Times?—and a section of Eliot's essay reads:
At the present time there is a manifest preference for the "conversational" in poetry—the style of "direct speech," opposed to the "oratorical" and the rhetorical; but if rhetoric is any convention of writing inappropriately applied, this conversational style can and does become a rhetoric—or what is supposed to be a conversational style, for it is often as remote from polite discourse as well could be. [...] if we are to express ourselves, our variety of thoughts and feelings, on a variety of subjects with inevitable rightness, we must adapt our manner to the moment with infinite variations.
I'm gonna start reading the Daily Times more often.


Interactive Shminteractive

Summer has to allow for some messing around, so I've been playing with this java-dealie-gizmo (okay, I guess I should call it an applet) that George Dillon (a Guru of Web) links to from one of his teaching pages. As you can see, I still have some bugs to work out in the code, but as it is you should be able to drag-and-drop the "interactive" pieces of the puzzle. (Update: Okay, well, maybe not: the applet is more friendly to macs than pc-ism.)

Interactivity is constantly touted as a buzz-virtue of the web. The web is decentralized, it's vast, and it's multimodal—but most of all, it's interactive.

The little applet (displayed above) makes me think about how the virtue we tend to ascribe to interactivity (dragging, dropping, rearranging, tweaking, co-creating) can be more of a wow-you-can-do-that? bedazzlement than a user-benefiting virtue. Interactive sites may engage users and make knowledge that is co-produced, but when we're in the user-position I think we often go W-O-W over interactivity simply because we're amazed such functionalities are even possible online.

Wow-you-can-do-that?, I think, drives a bunch of the appreciation of interactivity and is what makes some interactive pages sticky. (This is but one of a bazillion examples.) This is especially the case when what is "interactive" in an e-text is an electrified approximation (sometimes simulacral) of something that has been around in the unplugged world for some time. In my puzzle example above, we've known about little cardboard and plastic puzzles like this for a long time, and we've all futzed with them before; the e-version is not even as good as a cardboard or plastic slider-puzzle; it's just kind of amazing to be involved in the dragging-and-dropping of little images around on the screen.

This is all going to one conclusion: I find myself becoming increasingly reluctant to ascribe virtue to interactivity as I become equally adamant about the importance of rich content, be it interactive or not.


Turrell at UIC

From a friend who keeps her ear to the wire, news that there is a new skyspace up at UIC. Both the UIC campus and James Turrell are on my lists of Favorites (different lists, same notebook), so I can't wait to check it out.

Those of us at the University of Washington in the early 2000s had the chance to see and walk through a number of Turrell's installations, and a skyspace was constructed there circa 2003:

(.jpg from henryart.org

If you don't know Turrell's work, you don't have far to go to catch up to those of us who do: he's an environmental artist who works with light. A lot of his projects are inside, but he does work outside, too, including this crater (read: light observatory) he's working on.

"Uh, yeah, I'm working on a crater."

For fellow Midwesters/Midwesterners (I'm entirely unsure which term to use), there's this nice Turrell at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; what at first appears to be a gray rectangle on the far wall turns out to be a separate space behind the wall: what appears gray is simply diminished light back behind the false wall. I guess his work is a little bit about illusion, but not nearly as much as it's about glow, brightness/dimness, and color (in subtle transition).

Jennifer Price, writing about the Nature Company, says she wants this from her readers:
I'll be very pleased if readers ask a few new questions about their encounters with nature in everyday life—Where did this table come from? Why are all the Nature Company stores in glitzy upscale malls? Why are nature shows on the Discovery Channel so slow, with low-voiced male narrators and lots of flute music? Why do the trains in this park go to these places? Has this river always been straight? In sum, I'll be pleased if they question anything about their encounters with nature that they've taken for granted ...

Turrell insists on this kind of questioning, too—and that the new skyspace is on the UIC campus makes perfect sense given the dedication, on that campus, to art in interactive public space. Coming from a campus that is not urban, not very diverse, and seems to me more concerned with preservation than innovation in public space, I feel a kind of rejuvenating re- or dis-orientation every time I stroll around the UIC campus. Now with the skyspace, that rejuvenation will be twofold.


Best Academic Blog Goin'

When I first stumbled upon Oso Raro's Slaves of Academe (I think it was this past March of '06, and shortly thereafter I was dazzled by Raro's Fine Young cannibals harangue), I knew by the third or fourth paragraph that this was, without question, the best academic blog going. Campy, astute, acerbic, brilliant, and "oso" well written, I get positively giddy each time there's a new post.

Yesterday, Oso Raro posted a subtle and touching appreciation of Invisible Adjunct. Of course, Raro is in a very different position than IA was, but it's no surprise to see this post.

Oso Raro, by eulogizing IA and her now defunct blog, converses with Clancy's previous reading of IA to insist that IA demonstrated what a true cultural hub in the blogosphere looks like while questioning the labor practices our systems depend on.

Oso Raro writes:
The element of chance seems to be the most important factor in landing one of these coveted [tenure-track] placements, although we continue to believe, as a profession and a society, in the meritocratic principle that, in this instance, masks an abusive and exploitative labour system.
This reminds me of something my friend Erik once said about the perils of the academic job market:
We learn, through the process of going through graduate school, that academia is an appropriate shrine on which to sacrifice ourselves.
IA, of course, got out after a lot of sacrifice. But what I like about academic bloggers who are struggling in or on the margins of the biz, is that they make public the challenges that can so often remain masked.


Research 2.0

I get requests over email every few weeks to help people with their research. Is this normal? I really have no idea; I've never talked with anyone about this before. I just assume it's normal.

In response to an email that comes in today, however, I got nuttin':
I'm a 4th year Romanian student at the Bucharest University and I'm working at my research paper for my graduation in June. The title of my paper is "Stephen Crane: between fiction and nonfiction". Unfortunately, in my country I didn't find critical sources or appropriate materials for my research. I can't even have access on the "Muse" internet page because they are not accepting Romanian members. These days I run into your mail address and would like to ask you for an "intellectual" support. I need information about Stephen Crane's journalistic fiction (reportage) / nonfiction. I would really appreciate your help. Please find a little time to answer me back; I'm really short of time.

Churchill Report

The full text of the Ward Churchill review report is finally out and posted HERE. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Colorado but never took a class from Churchill; still, like so many others, I haven't been able to help myself from following the story as it's unfolded.

Though a final decision has not been made, the majority of the faculty committee have decided that Churchill should either be dismissed or put on leave without pay.
The Committee found that Professor Churchill'’s misconduct was deliberate and not a matter of an occasional careless error. The Committee found that similar patterns recurred throughout the essays it examined. The Committee therefore concluded that the degree of his misconduct was serious, but differed on the sanction warranted.
A lesser-known controversy surrounds this widely circulated image of Churchill:

As an image, I guess it could be said to remember this picture of Malcolm X, though the contexts were very different. I make the connection just because we seldom get "social theorists with guns."

Anyway, what was bizarre was when this doctored and rifleless version of the Churchill image was put online by someone at Shoreline Community College in Seattle. (Churchill was coming to speak at Shoreline; some blogging about this fiasco can be seen by clicking here.)

I'm left feeling mainly bummed that Churchill's research, writing, and citation practices were such that they made him oustable. Citation is easy. Standing out and saying something different is what's difficult, and now he'll be looking for a job.


Name That Icon

When you see this icon, what's the first thing that pops into your head? The second? The third?

The other night, I was hanging out in a friend's hotel room and spotted this sticker. It was next to the fire-sprinkler-dealie and the gist of the message was "Don't loop your hangers over the fire-sprinkler-dealies!"

But the icon itself doesn't mean that for me, not even close. Here are my first four associations upon seeing it:

1. Keep abortion legal, thanks to this kind of visual rhetoric.

2. Why use a wire hanger when you can use a plastic one?—thanks to this diva of the home.

3. Note to self: stop trying to break into the car (after locking the keys inside) using a wire hanger. It never works, and all I ever do is wreck stuff.

4. And lastly but perhaps most of all, the terrific news that a certain newly tenured Hawhee may never wear clothes that hang on a hanger again.



I once did a stint as the go-to-admin-person in a heart and lung transplant clinic, and while I never encountered Fosamax (alendronate sodium) in that gig, I did see about a bajillion logoified everyday office products like the pad used to make this list:

I guess this could be a "full-meal list" (as opposed to a "stocking up list," say), but that only really makes sense if you take the Buy as a header that overrides the preprinted "Fosamax"—a safe bet—and allow that someone out there enjoys dipping Not Dogs in syrup. Which could happen.


Writing With Knobs

This morning after breakfast, I dialed another image into my new Pocket Etch-A-Sketch. Contrary to what some people think when they find out that I can draw more than steps on an Etch-A-Sketch, it's neither a result of practice nor patience. A few years ago I picked one up and simply could draw on it, I'm not sure why. Some people can see those damned Magic Eye images and some can't, others can draw with an Etch-A-Sketch.

Anyway, for the minute or two that I was twirling the knobs (evidenced above) I thought of ways to use Etch-A-Sketches in my fall Writing Technologies course. I like hauling different writing gizmos into class every few weeks to have students learn to use and possibly hack different technologies, and an Etch-A-Sketch includes a particularly odd stylus in that it's manipulated with the two knobs that regulate directional movement differently but in tandem (which is why you can do more than just go up-down and left-right).

Of course, many writing technologies involve us in manipulations where one hand is doing one thing while the other is doing something else—typing is the most obvious example, for those of us who type with two hands (TT?), but even whacking letters into stone or wood has each hand up to something quite different.

But Etch-A-Sketch may be unique in manipulating a stylus in this way; pantographs move the stylus by remote control, in the way that Etch-A-Sketches do, but not in knobular fashion. Twist twist.

I remember once giving an Etch-A-Sketch to BP and asking her to draw a picture. First she said "No way. I don't do Etch-A-Sketch." But then after some coaxing—any picture, just something—she gave it a brief try, made a complete mess, and got royally frustrated.

Interactions with writing machines of that kind are useful, I think, as they reveal the embodied capacities we cultivate and then utilize when we write. I guess we take them for granted, too, and relearn some elements each time we go to use a new scribbler.


Moving Target

When my Google news alert ticker started spitting out reports of a bill to block access to Myspace, I put my eyes back in my head and thought: man is it ever hard to write about a moving target.

During the three or four months I spent working on an article about Facebook (which is now out and off and gone and done—for now), the site changed in about a dozen ways, as many students were expelled around the country because of their postings on Facebook, and facebook.com expanded to include corporate employees. Moving target.

Moving targets make writing like way, way difficult for the obvious reason that (for the sake of accuracy and "remaining current") you're always having to add, delete, and revise what you've just written. But the other thing that makes Moving Target Composition vertiginous is knowing that there is no way, when I think I'm done, I will really be done.

This is in part why, at the moment, I'm thoroughly enjoying starting to work on a chapter about the visual rhetoric of taxonomic discourse in the 19th century. The target, it does not move.

Look! There it is just waiting to be made sense of.



In screenwriting, adaptations are common: Cruel Intentions is based on Dangerous Liasons, Vanity Fair and Legally Blonde are adaptations of books, and Walk the Line emerges from biographies of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Election is just a really good movie. But I digress.

In academia, many first books are based on dissertations, but for whatever reasons, we don't call them adaptations.

Since I'm returning to my dissertation this summer to begin revamping, rewriting, and rethinking the sucker, I'm thinking a bit about filmic adaptation.

When one is writing an adaptation, the steps are pretty clear:

  • read original text
  • re-read original text
  • talk about original text with others
  • consider the strengths and weaknesses of original text
  • identify essential plot lines and themes
  • ask: will original text need to be updated for a modern audience?
  • imagine ways the story could work itself out on the screen
  • decide what to keep and what to cut; consider what might need to be added
  • choose a route for the adaptation
  • call Reese Witherspoon's agent

Anyway, welcome to my summer.



Ooo, the thrilling topics associated with five-paragraph essay writing. This in the news about the State of Minnesota mandated five-paragraph essay writing test:

"The state writing test was first given in the 1998-99 school year and if a sophomore doesn’t pass it, it can be retaken until it is passed. Students this year took the test on Jan. 31, with the task to write a five-paragraph essay about a leader the student looks up to, and why.

The makeup-day test essay was for the student to write about their favorite season or time of year. A minimum of two scorers graded each student’s essay.


End of Year Word Count

Strolling over to the campus post office to send off the Facebook article (the document was titled "Facebook 5.1.doc" by the time I finally got through with it), I found myself daydreaming about a Global Word Count widget.

Such a widget would count words produced across applications (ignoring cut-and-paste), totaling up and displaying:

  • number of words typed in all applications
  • words typed per day, week, or month in the form of a bar graph
  • words typed in each application, displayed in a chart

Thinking next about how hard such a widget would be to produce, I became my own widget and started thinking about the things I've written this academic year (proposals, conference papers, short articles, longer articles), and then the things I've written this year (emails to students, letters of recommendation, feedback on student writing, lesson plans, html for course websites, even things on this blog).

Oddly, I could come close to an approximation of total pages of scholarship on the academic year but had no idea about the other stuff.

A pie chart for my past academic year—with pieces of the word-count pie indicating words written on scholarship, teaching, and administrative stuff—might look something like this? (blue=scholarship, green=teaching, red=admin) Though I'm really sort of guessing on the proportions ...