Category Archives: Teaching 2018_2019

The joy of models

We’re writing our own short versions of Between the World and Me in class. The book, in many ways, becomes a model for the essay I want them to write.

Quote of the day: “I know you want us to write like Coates, but I’m not Coates.”

No doubt. I’m not either. All the activities we did culminated with the question — how does this book help us write our final pieces? I embedded this question in the reading logs. I asked it in class.

Here’s the thing, though: this is a hard, hard question and a hard thing to do: using a true master of the craft as a model and breaking down exactly what makes their work so exemplary. But it’s a real process you do in almost every discipline. What’s important is that the more creative and open-ended the work, the more you need to understand the structure to either work within it or reject it altogether.

I can’t remember if it’s Sven Birkerts or Francine Prose, but in one of their books they talk about copying a long section from a favorite author because the very act of doing so would would allow their prose to wear off on you. I hope that’s happening with Coates and Whitman.

Anxiety: selling ourselves

Apart from this blog — 12 unique hits! This month! — I don’t do that much of this. Whippman’s points are solid, though, in a world where not everyone has the luxury of being an inner-city school teacher, a job with reasonable benefits and union protection from the worst vagaries of the market. She writes:

Kudos to whichever neoliberal masterminds came up with this system. They sell this infinitely seductive torture to us as “flexible working” or “being the C.E.O. of You!” and we jump at it, salivating, because on its best days, the freelance life really can be all of that.

But as long as we are happy to be paid for our labor in psychological rather than financial rewards, those at the top are delighted to comply. While we grub and scrabble and claw at one another chasing these tiny pellets of self-esteem, the bug-brooch barons still pocket the actual cash.

And I’d like to read this study and look at this “Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale.”

J. Haidt

I heard Jonathan Haidt on Start the Week and liked what he had to say.

Here’s a review of his most recent book, which I gather is based on a story in the Atlantic.

Here are the three points:

The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

The Untruth of Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

I tend to feel the first two while teaching university. The second is something I’ve spent my entire high-school teaching career railing against; kids and peers are undoubtedly sick of me saying “emotions aren’t evidence” alongside of “what’s your evidence for that claim.”

Drawing history

Wish I’d had this a few weeks ago when this conversation began:

“we study history so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

I counter with the “not the same man, not the same river” Heraclitus quote.

They respond with this quote, ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Today’s NYT had this bit of awesomeness. May use it for the next bit of the historian’s toolkit; may use it for next year.

Whitman poems on the way out…

Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We’d been struggling with Walt Whitman lately. Struggling. Struggling. On Tuesday we’d looked at a number of sections and fifteen proved a road block. It’s a Whitman list, a Whitman catalog, a compendium of people and places. So we wrote our own — what have we seen as we walk about Philadelphia — and then ended with these three lines:

And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

The results were astonishing. So much so that I think I need to make it a bonus activity to re-write their first draft and see what the final pieces look like.

And a Thanksgiving thought:

This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away…

Controversial in the 19th century, but how about now? Who is truly welcome?


You’re so old…

We’re drawing to the end of the quarter and there is anxiety everywhere. I’ve tried to minimize the stress as much as I can, but when people care about their work, there will definitely be some moments.

Today, after looking at Eric Foner’s review of Annette Gordon-Reed’s work in the NYT, we played a game of “What’s Clapper worried about ?” I listed the three things that I’ve been seeing and asked them whether I should be worried.

“I’m worried that students aren’t taking notes on their sources.”
“I’m worried that students are writing on the fly, i.e., writing before they’ve gathered all their research.”
“I’m worried that some students are missing context; that they’re missing the forest for the trees.”

(I followed the conversation with a google form for kids to share back what they’re feeling good about and what they need help with…)

It was a rich discussion with many solid ideas…It’s always helpful when the students point at requirements and rubrics instead of the teacher. I think everyone felt better, including me. At least until someone said,

“You’re so old, you shouldn’t be worried about anything.”

That’s funny.