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Category: Reading and Writing

Getting it Wrong in Public

Getting it Wrong in Public

The most recent Collective Twitter Gasp Event has been focused on Naomi Wolf and her book about men executed in England for the crime of sodomy throughout the nineteenth century. Wolf read decades of Old Bailey records, and built the premise of her book on the phrase, “death recorded”–which did not mean what she presumed it meant. The gasp is not so much that she misread her evidence, but that she came to understand this fact during a live BBC…

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The idea of Eternity

The idea of Eternity

To my great surprise, teaching On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection is a fascinating process of watching students fall in love with nineteenth-century prose. It certainly helps that it really is mind-blowing that Darwin in 1859 posits a theory that relies on what we now understand as the genetic heritability of certain traits. In writing a coherent theory of adaptation that depends on small changes in organisms to better suit their environments, Darwin argues that unless we discover that there is some…

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You mustn’t fancy!

You mustn’t fancy!

Bitzer is a child Not Left Behind. Give him your standardized tests. He will pass them above the fiftieth percentile. He will finish them with time to spare. Multiple-choice questions are his forte. He does not neglect to fill in scantron bubbles darkly and completely with his #2 pencil; he does not hesitate over which end is up when you place a computer mouse in his hand. During a computer-administered benchmarking test, he never, ever would sit, idly looking out…

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What if Those Books are “not for us”?

What if Those Books are “not for us”?

This past semester, an extremely bright student in my senior seminar recounted a story of how her high school debate team, which was very successful, found itself towards the end of the season facing debates against kids from swank private schools. Describing her own school as working-class, she said that the thing that stood out most for her was how extremely well-read those private-school kids were. She felt like there was no way she and her friends could ever catch…

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“Yes, but what will you DO with that English major?”

“Yes, but what will you DO with that English major?”

Towards the end of this spring’s Senior Seminar, we took up this question. I had given the class a 2013 column by Michael Bérubé to read as a jumping off point, with this as perhaps its most pointed bit: After all, who needs another 50-page honors project on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire? Well, strange as it may sound, if you’re an employer who needs smart, creative workers, a 50-page honors project on a 19th century French poet might be just the…

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In defense of making students study things they don’t always want to

In defense of making students study things they don’t always want to

I will be the first to admit that the student-as-consumer model of education that is touted by some university administrators drives me batty. This is not to suggest that I think that the needs and goals of students ought to be irrelevant to how we plan our classes or what we teach. Far from it. However, the model as it is propagated by much of the admin-speak that seeks to optimize university educations and lure students in often implies that…

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Pencils in the Lunchroom

Pencils in the Lunchroom

As my students are composing literacy autobiographies, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own early relationships to reading, writing, books, poetry, words. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, though obviously there was one. This may be because I learned to read fairly early (which I did) but also because I am too old to remember that far back (which I am). In any case, some of my earliest memories of literacy are of doing writing worksheets…

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