Thursday, September 24, 2009

UC Walkout

I, like many others, tweeted the noon rally on Sproul (#ucwalkout). Aaron has great pictures here.
(Someone else's great Flickr set.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Still getting the Duns Scotus google hits. For serious.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Online teaching

I've come down with a cold, which is annoying. Normally I would just make soup and carry on, but it's autumn, I teach at a large university, and H1N1 paranoia is in the air.

So I've been instructed not to teach in person until my cold is gone.


This feels like overkill, but precautions are more or less overkill by definition, so I'll be holding class online through UCB's online course software tomorrow.

I must admit that, much as I value the face-to-face communality of a class, I'm pretty interested in how an online class will go. Perhaps my less talkative students will pipe up more, for instance. Some of my favorite teaching tricks -- moving around the room, using humor to correct a wrong assumption -- won't be available to me. But on the other hand, an archive of the entire discussion will be stored on the course web site.

I'm also curious as to how my students will choose to communicate. Will they use complete sentences, standard punctuation, and a more formal register than they use in everyday speech? Or will the medium of the chat room prompt lolz and wtfs?

My box of Kleenex and I will soon find out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Anthropology Department Fall Colloquium

UPDATE: video
Special Event

Monday September 14th 4pm

160 Kroeber Hall

"The University in Crisis - The Dismantling and Destruction of the
University of California"

A panel discussion with:

T.J. Clark, Professor, and George C. & Helen N. Pardee Chair of Modern Art
George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Linguistics
Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus of Physics
Introduction: Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chancellor’s Professor of Anthropology
Discussant: Laura Nader, Professor of Anthropology

Reception Follows the Event

Teaching "grammar" versus teaching rhetoric

It always makes me nervous to say that I agree with Stanley Fish, but he makes some good points in his recent column on teaching composition. (Standard Fish-related disclaimer: I deeply disagree with some things he's said previously on the subject.)
“If we teach standardized, handbook grammar as if it is the only ‘correct’ form of grammar, we are teaching in cooperation with a discriminatory power system” (Patricia A. Dunn and Kenneth Lindblom, English Journal, January, 2003).

Statements like this one issue from the mistake of importing a sociological/political analysis of a craft into the teaching of it. It may be true that the standard language is an instrument of power and a device for protecting the status quo, but that very truth is a reason for teaching it to students who are being prepared for entry into the world as it now is rather than the world as it might be in some utopian imagination — all dialects equal, all habit of speech and writing equally rewarded.
Of course, Dunn and Lindblom are completely correct when it comes to imputing moral value to different sociolects. You'll get no argument from me there.

But Fish is right to point out the problem with importing the concerns of one discipline wholesale into another. That's what happens when linguists (or, on occasion, people who took one linguistics class in undergrad) make it a personal crusade to eradicate "prescriptivism" not only within their discipline, where that label is meaningful, but in the entire wide world, where it is less so. (Please note: this is not a description of all linguists by any means.)

Fish's point is related to one of my fundamental convictions about teaching writing, which is that it's not about teaching morals (good grief) or about language-as-it-exists-in-the-world (as in linguistics, where "prescriptivism" versus "descriptivism" is a meaningful matter of methodology). Rather, it's about teaching rhetoric. And rhetoric means manipulating language in all its plasticity, not observing it like a creature in the wild. That involves mastering particular stylized linguistic patterns, sometimes informally known by the name of "grammar," no Chomskian implications intended.

I also quite like the exercises Fish proposes:
I have devised a number of exercises designed to reinforce and extend the basic insight. These include (1) asking students to make a sentence out of a random list of words, and then explain what they did; (2) asking students to turn a three-word sentence like “Jane likes cake” into a 100-word sentence without losing control of the basic structure and then explain, word-by-word, clause-by-clause, what they did; (3) asking students to replace the nonsense words in the first stanza of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” with ordinary English words in a way that makes coherent (if silly) sense, and then explain what they did, and how they knew what kind of word to put into each “slot.” (The answer is that even in the absence of sense or content, the stanza’s formal structure tells them what to do and what not to do.)

Notice that the exercises always come in two parts. In the first part students are asked to do something they can do easily. In the second part they are asked to analyze their own performance. The second part is the hard one; it requires students to raise to a level of analytical conscience the operations they must perform if they are to write sentences that hang together.
"Jabberwocky," by the way, is God's gift to teaching. I used it in a History of the English Language lecture last year. I can't tell you how my heart swelled with delight when a student proposed, based on the stem vowel, that "outgrabe" was a past-tense strong verb.

Listen up, NYT! More smart discussions of humanities pedagogy, please! Maybe someday if you work at it you'll even make it to humanities research...

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Zotero library

I've just added a Zotero widget to my sidebar using Yahoo! Pipes, pretty closely following the procedure that Mark Sample outlines -- and justifies -- with such clarity:
Looked at prosaically, public Zotero libraries may be the equivalent of a give-a-penny, take-a-penny bowl at a local store. This convenience alone would be useful, but the creators of Zotero are much more inspired than that. They know that sharing a library is crowdsourcing a library. The more people who know what we’re researching before we’re done with the research, the better. Better for the researchers, better for the research. Collaboration begins at the source, literally.
I wouldn't quite say I've drunk the crowdsourcing Kool-Aid yet, but I agree with Sample's subtext, that cultural shifts are needed to make the humanities more collaboration-friendly, and opening up your Zotero library is one step in that direction.

Happily, the Zotero widget gave me a lot less trouble than the Twitter search widget on my course blog, something I may whine about in the future, because the Twitter widget still doesn't really work properly, and the documentation is officially "unofficial." Argh.

Okay, well, actually, it seems like I just got that whining done.

Next project!

[Update: the little Dapper whozit that I'm using seems to like to screw up and display a lengthy error message every once in a while. It's a passing thing, apparently. You get what you pay for and all that.]

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Our reliance on the stupidity of computers is an endless source of comedy

Google's great achievement, supposedly, is using its search capabilities to match ads to keywords in order to target people who actually might be interested in them. But anecdotally I would say that this leads to a high percentage of unintentionally hilarious, supremely inappropriate ads, whereas in days of yore perhaps this was more rare.

Whenever I clean out my gmail spam folder, Google Ads never fails to offer me some spam casserole recipes, and if I notice them I tend to have a double reaction of dissonance: first, the switch from thinking of spam in the sense that I've explicitly gone into this folder to tackle to spam-in-a-tin, and then the slightly ill feeling one gets from thinking of spam-in-a-tin.

It occurs to me to wonder why one would put ads on the spam folder in the first place. It is, after all, by design and definition, the place where unwanted ads go to die. But then, maybe that's the only natural home for spam casserole recipes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On the cuts

Professor Catherine Cole has written a thoughtful open letter to students regarding the UC budget cuts:
As someone who has worked for the University of California for 13 years, I can say without reservation I LOVE this university and have chosen to work here, turning down offers to work other places. I believe deeply in our public mission, and the twin values of access and excellence that are central to our goals. I am proud to work for a campus of the UC that is ranked by many as the number one public university in America. I am especially proud and honored to have the opportunity to teach our extraordinary graduate students here at Berkeley, and I know for many of them, Berkeley’s twin values of access and excellence are the main reason they chose us over other institutions. I deeply value the fact that our undergrad student body is remarkably diverse. Berkeley has more students on Pell grants (government grants that fund students with the least economic resources) than all the Ivy League schools put together. Many of my undergrad students are the first in their families to get a higher education. Many of them are working, sometimes even full time, to put themselves through college. They approach our exchange together in the classroom as a privilege rather than an entitlement, and it is MY privilege to teach them because they are so committed, bright, and curious. I went into university teaching because of the ideals and values that guide my encounters with students every day. I did not choose this job for the money. I am distressed and deeply concerned that administrators at the top level of the University of California are using the present budget crises of the University of California to fundamentally alter the focus and mission of the university in ways that are instrumentalist and utilitarian, and show little respect for the role of the liberal arts in producing effective and thoughtful citizens.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A wordle about my dissertation.

I just sent off a manuscript; hurray!