How can you write better?
by: Peter Elbow (UMass)
I got interested in writing because in my first try for a PhD at Harvard, I gradually couldn’t write. I had to quit before I was kicked out and felt like a complete failure because I had so much invested in my image of myself as a good student. When I went back to grad school five years later (at Brandeis) I gradually learned what became my philosophy of writing: I can’t write right, but I can write wrong; and then I can make it right. It’s too hard to take a mess in the head and turn it into coherence on paper; but it’s not so hard to take a mess on paper and turn it into coherence on paper.
My current interests (reflected in my new book) concern the wisdom of the tongue. Starting around age four, we all internalize a native language. No one’s native language is Continue reading “Talk Onto the Page”
Is imitation a form of flattery – or stealing?
By Paula Marantz Cohen (Drexel)
In recent years, I have come across something that I call creative plagiarism. Almost every time I teach fiction-writing, one or two students seem compelled to write a story that closely resembles a published work we’ve read. These students are not trying to perpetrate a deception, since the material they incorporate has been previously discussed by the class, usually only a week or two earlier.
I was able to shed light on what might be going on through an exercise I did with my creative-writing class. I asked them to read two short stories for discussion at our next meeting. I provided the stories in photocopy, with the authors and the dates removed.
The stories were “Mrs. Adis,” by the British writer Sheila Kaye-Smith, published inThe Century Magazine in 1922, and “Sanctuary,” by the African-American writer Nella Larsen, published in the magazine Forum in 1930. Larsen’s story, as those familiar with her biography will know, was quickly viewed as a Continue reading “Creative Plagiarism”
Do we have a moral obligation to care about our students’ futures?
By Leonard Cassuto (Fordham)
We can all agree, I expect, that the practical goal of graduate education is placement of graduates. But what does “placement” mean? Academics use the word without thinking much about it.
We can learn a lot about a practice by looking closely at how we describe it. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler, editors of the 2007 book Keywords for American Cultural Studies, say the study of such words shows “the way we think about the work we do.” Looking at the “genealogies” of keywords then, we can see not only where those words come from but also how they structure fields of inquiry, and where future thinking may go in those fields.
“Placement” is a great keyword for Continue reading “Keyword: Placement”
What do academics do wrong?
By James M. Lang (Assumption)
Over winter break, I made the decision to experiment with my survey course, which covers British and Irish literature from the end of the 18th century to the present. I wanted to see if I could inject new life into a course structure that has seemed, to me at least, increasingly tired and outdated.
I had really begun to wonder why we—by which I mean both my department and the discipline as a whole—felt it necessary to push our students through these hit-and-run overviews of the history of literature. When we’re covering James Joyce in 50 minutes on Monday, Virginia Woolf on Wednesday, and T.S. Eliot on Friday, are we really helping them learn content that they understand, that matters to them, and that will remain in their brains beyond the span of the course?
Last spring, on my most recent run through the survey, I experimented with Continue reading “The Best-Laid Teaching Schemes”
How will open online courses affect the future of education?
By James O’Donnell
I think I taught the first MOOC in history. It was the spring of 1994.
I call it the best idea I ever had in the shower. About to teach a standard course, introducing the life and thought of St. Augustine, I wanted to do better. What about, I thought in midshampoo, inviting the rest of the world into the classroom? The Internet, after all. …
By today’s standards the technology was primitive. The first graphical Web browser had just been released, but very few people had it—or enough network connection to use it. So we depended on Gopher, the early Internet protocol, to deliver the Continue reading “The Future Is Now, and Has Been for Years”
What do academics do wrong?
By Rob Jenkins
For fun, I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s marvelous fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, about a medieval-ish kingdom and its wars and intrigues. If you haven’t yet encountered the books (five in the series so far), I highly recommend them, as Martin deftly intertwines fantastical elements, such as dragons and wights (medieval zombies), with a quasi-historical storyline to create a kind of J.R.R. Tolkien-meets-Philippa Gregory effect.
What fascinates me most about the narrative, however, is the extent to which it parallels my experiences as a community-college professor and administrator. As I follow the political machinations of the fictional court at King’s Landing—the alliances and conspiracies, the jealousies and betrayals, the dalliances and beheadings—I am frequently put in mind of actual people I have known and events I have witnessed over my 27-year career. Sometimes I wonder if George R.R. Martin isn’t really just a Continue reading “A Song of Vice and Mire”
Is higher education the best thing for everyone?
By David Yaffe (Syracuse)
I just finished teaching a poetry class in which nearly every poet had a degree from the Ivy League or Seven Sisters. But plenty of great artists never went to college, or else they dropped out. Walt Whitman and Hart Crane didn’t seem to miss college degrees, and in Tin Pan Alley, neither did George and Ira Gershwin.
True, Cole Porter graduated from Yale, where he was the greatest Whiffenpoof ever. The inventor of the modern incarnation of singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, blew off classes at the University of Minnesota for a one-way ticket to New York City, Woody Guthrie, and destiny, but Guthrie’s fellow troubadour Pete Seeger attended Harvard (before dropping out), where his father was a musicologist. Suzanne Vega majored in English at Barnard, and Paul Simon did the same at Queens College and even did a little time in law school. (Like a litigator, Simon would sometimes begin his verses with facts: “They’ve got a wall in China / It’s a thousand miles long.”)
Leonard Cohen not only has a literature degree from Continue reading “Some Artists Really Are Too Cool for School”
How can you write better?
By Rachel Toor (Eastern Washington)
When I watch creative writers perform, I hear a host of mostly unspoken questions. In their body language, self-presentation, jokes, and post-reading interactions, they seem to be asking: Am I boring? Am I funny? Are my sentences flat and flaccid? Is the pacing right? Am I losing the audience? Am I making people feel something? Am I good enough? Ultimately, what I think they’re asking, behind all the bravado, posing, and posturing is: Am I attractive?
Listening to academics, I pick up a different set of concerns: Am I making a convincing case? Have I mentioned everything everyone else has said about this topic and pointed out the ways that they are (sort of) wrong? Do you see how much I’ve read? Have I dropped enough important names? Does my specialized language prove I deserve to be a member of your club? Am I right? At the end, I hear hope disguised as an attitude that asks: Am I smart? Continue reading “Becoming a ‘Stylish’ Writer: Attractive Prose Will Not Make You Appear Any Less Smart”
How can you become a better learner?
By Paula M. Krebs (Wheaton)
Humanities students should be more like computer-science students.
I decided that as I sat in on a colleague’s computer-science course during the beginning of this, my last, semester in the classroom. I am moving into administration full time, and I figured that this was my last chance to learn some of the cool new digital-humanities stuff I’ve been reading about. What eventually drove me out of the class (which I was enjoying tremendously) was the time commitment: The work of coding, I discovered, was an endless round of failure, failure, failure before eventual success. Computer-science students are used to failing. They do it all the time. It’s built into the process, and they take it in stride. Continue reading “Next Time, Fail Better”